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Sam Bacchiocchi dies

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Sam Bacchiocchi,
advocate for Sabbath observance, dies

by Dixon Cartwright

A dedicated, educated and articulate advocate for observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, Samuele Bacchiocchi, died Dec. 20, 2008, of cancer at his home in Berrien Springs, Mich., at the age of 70.

Dr. Bacchiocchi, a Seventh-day Adventist and retired theology professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, was known by Church of God members and other Sabbatarians for his teachings and scholarship, including several books, on the shift from Sabbath observance toward Sunday worship in most of Christianity.

A statement from the Bacchiocchi family noted that "during the early Sabbath hours of Dec. 20, Sam passed away" while "surrounded by his faithful wife of nearly 47 years" and their three children.

The next day was the Bacchiocchis' wedding anniversary.

In the shadow of the Vatican

Samuele Bacchiocchi was born Jan. 29, 1938, in Rome, Italy, only a few yards from the Vatican.

The oldest of five siblings, Sam grew up in a religious household headed by his father, Gino, and mother, Evelina.

A year before Sam was born, his father, who worked as a mason and had only a third-grade education, acquired a Bible from a Waldensian acquaintance.

The elder Mr. Bacchiocchi studied that Bible and thereby became convinced of the appropriateness of worshiping on the Sabbath.

The family began, on its own, keeping the Sabbath, leading to Sam's young friends and even his teachers ridiculing him as il judeo, or the Jew.

Sam grew into a hardworking adolescent. To pay for his schooling he took up colporteuring, the selling of religious books. Often Catholic priests would chase him out of town.

He earned enough money for his sister and him to attend the Seventh-day Adventist academy in Florence, Italy.

In 1960, at the age of 22, Sam earned his bachelor's degree from Newbold College in Binfield, England, and then traveled to Andrews University in Michigan to work on two master's degrees, one in church history and another in divinity.

Mission to Ethiopia

On Dec. 21, 1961, he and Anna Gandin, also from Italy, married on campus.

In 1964 the young couple left for Ethiopia, where they served as missionaries for five and one-half years. Their daughter Loretta was born there.

Sam came to be in charge of the teaching at an SDA junior college in Ethiopia. Among his many activities and interests at that time, he taught students how to make brooms out of locally abundant broom grass and then how to build and sell desks and chairs from wood and metal piping.

As a result, the students at the college helped the school become debt-free, allowing many more young scholars to earn their tuition.

Another child, Daniel, was also born to the Bacchiocchis in Ethiopia.

Although Yale University had accepted him as a student, an Italian Catholic priest Sam had befriended in Ethiopia convinced him to apply to the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, even though Sam was a Seventh-day Adventist.

Thus Sam became the first non-Catholic to attend the university in the more than 450 years of its existence.

Five years at the Gregoriana

Beginning in 1969 Sam spent five years at the "Gregoriana" working toward a doctorate in church history.

"During his many years of being taunted as il judeo for his Sabbath beliefs," said a press release from his family shortly after he died, "Sam had developed an intense passion for defending Sabbath observance as the true biblical day of worship, honored by Jesus Himself and the apostles after Him.

"Now he had access to the rich history in the Catholic archives, and he poured his heart and soul into his research."

Halfway through his studies in Rome, the Bacchiocchis' third child, Gianluca, arrived. To support his family, and pay for the expenses of his education, Sam developed and sold real estate in Rome.

In 1974 Samuele Bacchiocchi's efforts at gaining an unusual education earned him a gold medal from Pope Paul VI for graduating summa cum laude after his classwork and the writing of his doctoral dissertation.

The dissertation became the book From Sabbath to Sunday, which many Church of God members and other Sabbatarians have purchased and read over the years.

This would become his "defining work," stated the family.

The newly designated "Dr." Bacchiocchi offered to provide the location -- the Bacchiocchis' residence -- for his class's graduation celebration because "he was the only family man among a sea of celibate priests" and therefore the only student with a house.

Pass the sauce

The Bacchiocchis moved to Michigan that same year so he could begin his teaching career at Andrews, a school sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

He served at Andrews for 26 years until his retirement from teaching in July 2000.

Said his family: "Over the past 30 years, he contributed numerous articles to religious journals and magazines and authored 17 books, which have been favorably reviewed by many scholars of differing persuasions."

Dr. Bacchiocchi traveled extensively, lecturing and presenting seminars at universities, seminaries, professional meetings and churches, where he liked to remind his listeners that "a week without the Sabbath is like spaghetti without the sauce."

After his diagnosis of cancer in February 2007, Dr. Bacchiocchi prayed for God to extend his life so he could write his "legacy to the church."

In March 20-08 he completed Popular Beliefs: Are They Biblical?

Contact with the COGs

Samuele Bacchiocchi made significant contact with Church of God members over the years, especially beginning in the early 1990s.

Back before The Journal there was In Transition, an independent Church of God newspaper published by John Robinson, a United Church of God elder who lived in Decatur, Ind.

In In Transition's second issue, dated May 26, 1995, Mr. Robinson (who died in 2006) published an article based on his interview with Dr. Bacchiocchi about the then-recent events in the Worldwide Church of God and its rapidly escalating loss of members.

After talking with Dr. Bacchiocchi on the phone, Mr. Robinson, with his wife, Alice, drove from Indiana to meet the Seventh-day Adventist at his home in Michigan. There they visited with Sam and his wife, Anna, even attending church and a Sabbath-school class with them.

Mr. Robinson reported that, when WCG members began calling Dr. Bacchiocchi by the hundreds because of the WCG's dramatic change of doctrines and beliefs, the SDA professor tried to contact Joseph Tkach Sr., pastor general of the WCG, to offer him his assistance.

"I thought that my research could be helpful to the church," Dr. Bacchiocchi told Mr. Robinson.

He was not able to get through to Mr. Tkach, but he did receive a written response.

"One of Mr. Tkach's assistants wrote me," he said. "The letter thanked me but said Mr. Tkach declined to accept my offer of help."

Accepting the feast days

Dr. Bacchiocchi, in another reported contact with Church of God members, said his correspondence with Church of God member John Merritt, then of Oconomowoc, Wis., led him to rethink his position on the annual feast days.

As reported in In Transition Nov. 20, 1995, Dr. Bacchiocchi said at the time he was spending 12 to 15 hours a day learning all he could about the days.

In In Transition's Dec. 18, 1995, issue Dr. Bacchiocchi explained his position on the annual days in an essay titled "How I Came to Examine and Accept the Holy Days."

"In His wisdom, God has keyed the unfolding of the plan of salvation to the spring and fall harvest seasons for pedagogical purposes," he wrote.

"The beginning of the harvest in the spring and the completion of the harvest in the fall can serve as constant reminders of the redemption accomplished at the first advent and yet to be consummated at the second advent."

At the end of the essay he announced the publication of the first of two eventual volumes on the subject, God's Festivals in Scripture and History.

In it he concludes that the feast days are profitable and relevant for Christians to observe, although his understanding of them is not identical to the traditional teachings of the Churches of God about the days.

In its March 5, 1996, issue In Transition reported on Dr. Bacchiocchi's then-famous open letter to Joseph Tkach Jr., who had begun serving the WCG as pastor general after his father's death a few months earlier.

Tom Lapacka's idea

The WCG's manager of church relations, Tom Lapacka, had written Dr. Bacchiocchi to suggest a meeting between the SDA professor and Mr. Tkach.

Dr. Bacchiocchi agreed to the meeting, but Mr. Tkach decided not to participate after he read an article the professor wrote in Adventists Affirm magazine. The article, "A Church in Crisis: Causes and Lessons," analyzed the WCG and its recent doctrinal decisions.

"Dr. Tkach's basic complaint," said Dr. Bacchiocchi, "was that I was using the Worldwide Church of God as a whipping boy to rally support around what he called my traditionalist views. After reading the article, he felt a meeting between us would be nonproductive.

"And, after reading his letter, I agree."

In Transition printed Dr. Bacchiocchi's open letter, in which he criticized Mr. Tkach's handling of the WCG. Specifically he critiqued Mr. Tkach's method of implementing doctrinal changes in the WCG and "the organizational structure of your church."

"Pastor Tkach," he wrote, "the moment that you felt that in good conscience you could no longer subscribe to the fundamental beliefs of your church, you had two options:

"Submit your new doctrines to the consideration of your ministers and members and wait for them to accept them and support you.

"Or, if that proved impossible:

"Resign and start your own church, as some of your ministers have done when they could not accept the doctrinal changes that your father began to introduce."

Dr. Bacchiocchi then explained that "I am not critical of all the doctrinal changes you have introduced. On the contrary, I believe that some of them were desperately needed.

"What I find unethical is the autocratic method you have used to bring about such changes."

Mr. Tkach responds

Mr. Tkach, expressing disappointment that Dr. Bacchiocchi would go public with their discussion about his church and its changes, responded publicly himself in a posting on the WCG's Web site, along with his earlier letter to the professor.

In his second letter Mr. Tkach defended his actions in the WCG by arguing that the effecting of so many changes in such a short time showed the power of God.

"That a denomination such as ours can make so many dramatic, biblically sound changes in such a short time is a powerful witness to the work of the Holy Spirit," Mr. Tkach wrote.

Mr. Tkach advised Dr. Bacchiocchi that, by upholding "God's law" and the Sabbath in his writings, he was also "unwittingly supporting" such tenets as a belief that "people will become very God when Christ returns, the Sabbath and annual festivals are required for salvation, there are two separate Gods," and "the Holy Spirit is only a power," as well as lending credence to "the pseudo-historicity of British-Israelism."

In response to critical statements from Dr. Bacchiocchi that church government is properly and biblically democratic, the WCG leader argued that the WCG was holding to a hierarchical tradition, therefore the only appropriate way to introduce new doctrine or a new form of government was through the hierarchy.

On the other hand, the WCG was moving away from hierarchy, Mr. Tkach seemed to be saying, because it was "seriously examining" the "priesthood of all believers" and "behaving more graciously toward one another."

Mr. Tkach told Dr. Bacchiocchi he should promote unity within the Body of Christ rather than try to sell his books.

Unnamed scholar

In Dr. Bacchiocchi's answering letter he defended his earlier reference to a brief telephone conversation he had had with an "unnamed scholar" who was still a WCG member.

Apparently Mr. Tkach had doubted the existence of such a scholar.

Dr. Bacchiocchi revealed that the mystery man was a longtime WCG evangelist.

"You might be interested to know that the 'unnamed scholar' is not 'someone from another organization' but none other than Herman L. Hoeh, Ph.D., executive editor of The Plain Truth [magazine] ...

Saved by the Sabbath?

"In our telephone conversation, Dr. Hoeh reassured me that he still believes in the validity of the Sabbath and Holy Days.

"It was this experience that led me to assume that you also may be rethinking some of your doctrinal changes and wanted to meet with me here at Andrews to discuss these topics."

Dr. Bacchiocchi responded to Mr. Tkach's accusation that the SDA professor taught that the Sabbath is required for salvation. "Salvation is first and foremost a divine gift and not a human achievement," the SDA scholar wrote. "No person will ever be saved or lost because he or she observed or did not observe the Sabbath. We are not saved by observing commandments but through Christ's atoning death."

Further, he said, the acceptance of God's gift of salvation means "accepting God's conformity to His will through the grace of Christ," and God wills that people be willingly obedient.

The Sabbath offers a "unique opportunity," Dr. Bacchiocchi wrote, "to respond to God because the consecration of the Sabbath time to the Lord enables us to consecrate our life to Him."

He thanked Mr. Tkach for granting him "the opportunity to have this dialogue with you and your members ... Rest assured that our theological differences do not detract from the respect that I have for you as a person.

"I still hope that someday we might be able to sit down and discuss these issues in an informal setting."

As far as The Journal knows, that hoped-for meeting never happened.

Christians shouldn't debate

A front-page headline in the June 24, 1996, issue of In Transition announced that Mr. Tkach and Dr. Bacchiocchi had agreed to end their debate.

In Transition reported that the open discussion "abruptly ended after the WCG leader called it quits."

Mr. Tkach said he pulled out because he decided that cyberspace is an "inappropriate" forum for Christians who disagree.

Dr. Bacchiocchi, in a letter he released to In Transition that month, said he would honor Mr. Tkach's request for a cease-fire.

Newsletter will continue

Friends and family of Samuele Bacchiocchi plan to continue publishing his Bible Perspectives newsletter. To subscribe visit, or write Biblical Perspectives, 4990 Appian Way, Berrien Springs, Mich. 49103, U.S.A.


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