A Family History of Sabbatarianism

By Dustin Bruce

Hearing bits of anecdotal family history is one of the most interesting parts of holiday gatherings. When aspects of family history intersect with theological concepts, I find them even more fascinating. Recently I enjoyed learning of the Sabbatarian practices my grandparents experienced as children in the early twentieth-century rural south.

Growing up in a devout Baptist family, my grandfather was not allowed to work or attend any worldly amusements on the Lord’s Day. Slight exceptions were made to allow for some cooking and feeding of animals. Work was not allowed, but the Sabbath was not to be spent frivolously. Fishing and hunting, common pastimes in rural Alabama, were simply out of the question. 

It is interesting to note how quickly the practice of keeping the Lord’s Day has faded from the church culture. Area churches that would have encouraged Sabbath keeping just 70 years ago likely have no current members who give the concept much thought. The shift away from Sabbatarianism has been so swift and decisive that my grandfather’s childhood experience in this area more closely resembles that of Andrew Fuller’s than my own.

In an 1805 letter to a friend, Fuller defends the practice of keeping the Lord’s Day. Responding to doubts as to its observance, Fuller asks, “If the keeping of a Sabbath to God were not in all ages binding, why is it introduced in the moral law, and founded upon God’s resting from his works. If it were merely a Jewish ceremonial, why do we read of time being divided by weeks before the law?”[1]Fuller possessed a theological conviction that compelled him to set apart the Sabbath as a holy day to the Lord. He instructs, “The first day then ought to be kept as the Lord’s own day, and we ought not to think our own thoughts, converse on our own affairs, nor follow our own business on it.

One wonders if Fuller first learned this Sabbatarian practice as a child growing up in the home of Particular Baptist parents. Like my grandfather’s mother, Fuller’s mother may have prevented him from hunting or fishing or attending to other worldly amusements, setting an early example of keeping the Lord’s Day.

Anecdotal family history is interesting, but should also be instructive. Like other types of history, learning of the religious beliefs and practices of those who form my family tree should cause me to reflect on whether I am being more or less faithful in my Christian walk. Feel free to share any interesting examples of your family’s religious history in the comments below.

[1] Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, Volume 3: Expositions—Miscellaneous, ed. Joseph Belcher (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 828.


Dustin Bruce lives in Louisville, KY where he is pursuing a ThM in Church History at Southern Seminary. He is a graduate of Auburn University and Southwestern Seminary. Dustin and his wife, Whitney, originally hail from Alabama.