Trust in the LORD with all thine heart;
and lean not unto thine own understanding.
Sometimes there is no telling how far someone will go to prove the unprovable. In the case of John Ritenbaugh, he contends that there is no moral distinction between the authors of A Sabbath Test flushing a toilet or turning on a light in their home and him making Sabbath reservations at a nice restaurant. After all, both require Sabbath labor from unbelievers. Therefore, if God permits one He has to permit the other. Here is how he put it.
"Some complain that just the use of their service is breaking the Sabbath. Let us just set the table for you here. If one still believes that we are responsible, then are they willing to do without the use of the toilet on the Sabbath because it takes the services of the water company and its employees to keep its use available in one's home? Are the services of the water company any different in principle than the services of the restaurant's employee?"
"Let us carry this further. How about the use of electricity in your home on the Sabbath, because one is using the services of the people who are working on the Sabbath to supply you with electricity? So what about the Internet that allows one to listen to sermons right in one's own home? What about the telephone? What about drinking water service? And what about the gas service that keeps one warm and enables one to heat food on the Sabbath, and all the other public safety facilities like traffic signals?"
It is amazing to see the lengths people will go to when justifying themselves. In the case of John Ritenbaugh, he attempts to blur the lines between acceptable Sabbath behavior and his sin. He does so because he desperately wants to believe that the Lord of the Sabbath respects the fact that he teaches God's people that they may go out into spiritual Egypt, on a day consecrated by the Almighty, and purchase the fruit of its sin. Remember, when one dines out on the Sabbath, he or she must consciously seek out Sabbath-breakers who desecrate holy time and pay them for the fruit of their sacrilege. This is done despite the fact that God specifically prohibited His people from acquiring their meals on the Sabbath, preparing their meals on the Sabbath, and going outside their place (community of faith) on the Sabbath (see Ex. 16). He also prohibited His people from buying any food on the Sabbath (Neh. 10:31).
While Mr. Ritenbaugh desperately wants God's people to believe there is no difference between using utilities for one's home on the Sabbath and going to a restaurant on God's day, this is simply not true. Furthermore, we believe this is an intentional deception on his part. He knows full well what the differences are, but simply chooses not to share them. Consider some obvious differences.
First, God's people do not, or at least they should not, seek out utility companies on the Sabbath. In other words, they should not subscribe to utility services on that day. Furthermore, we don't believe John Ritenbaugh would condone such a practice either. However, when it comes to dining out on the Sabbath, that is exactly what must take place. Those, like Mr. Ritenbaugh, who engage in this sin must seek out, on holy time, unbelievers who are desecrating the fourth commandment and place an order for the fruit of this sacrilege. We think this represents a huge difference in these two behaviors.
Secondly, God's people do not, or at least they should not, pay their utility bills on the Sabbath. Once again, we believe Mr. Ritenbaugh would agree. However, when it comes to dining out on this day, that is exactly what they do. They are purchasing a specific service that was provided for them, at their request, on a specific day—GOD'S DAY! We think this also represents a huge difference in these two behaviors.
Thirdly, when God's people subscribe to a utility service, they are not requiring that labor be performed for them on the Sabbath. That is not how utilities work. It is not as if someone at a power plant must crank a generator so that your home receives its power on God's day. As a matter of fact, power generated by utility companies can be sustained for considerable periods of time without the aid of any manpower. When one subscribes to receive energy, his home, which is already connected to a power source, is simply allowed access to that source.
However, when it comes to dining out on the Sabbath, the opposite is true. Manpower is absolutely essential. Those who engage in this practice depend on that labor--without it they don't eat. Although Mr. Ritenbaugh argues that going to a restaurant on the Sabbath is the moral equivalent of turning on a light switch, it is NOT! These behaviors are vastly different and we believe he is aware of this fact.
Finally, we at Blow the Trumpet believe that it can reasonably be argued that utilities are a necessary part of the operation of a modern home. However, no such argument can be made about restaurants. Furthermore, although the Bible is silent on the issue of using utilities on the Sabbath, it speaks with great force regarding Sabbath meals. The Bible specifically mentions that food is not to be acquired on the Sabbath, prepared on the Sabbath and that God's people are not to go outside their community of faith to procure it on the Sabbath (Ex. 16). However, instead of heeding the scriptures, John Ritenbaugh cites the "utility defense" to justify his behavior.
What about Renting Halls?
Mr. Ritenbaugh continued:
"What about the motel where the meeting room is used for the services?"
Although Mr. Ritenbaugh fails to admit it, there is a HUGE difference between renting a hall for services and going to a restaurant on the Sabbath. The halls which are rented by COGs around the world are specifically dedicated to the service of God's people and their worship of Him. Furthermore, John Ritenbaugh doesn't seek out halls on the Sabbath and negotiate rents. He also doesn't sign leases or give deposits on the Sabbath. Even he has the sense to know that to do so would be engaging in business (Neh. 10:31).
Additionally, although some halls require their personnel to be there, it is not a requirement of the Church. In other words, the Church does not need facility staff in order to conduct services. In essence, such personnel provide NO SERVICE whatsoever to God's people. They are simply protecting the interests of those who own or manage the hall. In truth, the Church is renting space, not manpower.
When it comes to dining out on the Sabbath this is not the case. In truth, the personnel working at a restaurant are absolutely essential to what Mr. Ritenbaugh is advocating. Labor is what is being contracted. In other words, there must be people there to prepare and serve the food as well as a host of other functions.
If Mr. Ritenbaugh really believes what he is arguing in this point, here are some questions for him: What would happen if the halls you use for services gave you the option of not having any of their people present? Would your services be able to go on without them? The answer should be obvious—of course they would! Now let's suppose that the restaurant you go to on the Sabbath gave you the option of not having anyone serve you or prepare your meals on the Sabbath.
Do you see the difference now?
What about the Feast of Tabernacles?
Mr. Ritenbaugh continued:
When we keep the Feast of Tabernacles it covers at least two Sabbaths, and sometimes three. What do we do on those days? Do we just go out into an empty lot in order to hold our meeting? Can you see, brethren, how selective they are in regard to this subject? It is just nothing but narrow-minded critical judgments being made by people who are not really thinking this thing through. It would virtually wipe out any opportunity of fellowship if you are really going to follow it."
Before we comment on Mr. Ritenbaugh's assertion regarding the Feast of Tabernacles, we feel compelled to address his claim that without going to restaurants on the Sabbath the opportunity for fellowship would be "virtually wiped out."
If this statement is true, then why wouldn't he advocate dining out every Sabbath. Or, does he just resign himself to the "reality" that there will be occasions when there will be no fellowship on this day.
This argument reeks with insincerity and brings Mr. Ritenbaugh's deceit to a new level. To suggest that restaurants are the key to Sabbath fellowship is laughable. It is desperation masquerading as wisdom. Furthermore, it is an insult to God and his law.
There are virtually thousands of God's people who have decided to obey the Almighty and not the utter nonsense Mr. Ritenbaugh espouses. Furthermore, when doing so they continue to enjoy wonderful Christian fellowship. Many congregations host monthly pot lucks where brethren may enjoy extended time with their spiritual family. On the other Sabbaths most congregations can still fellowship for an hour or two after services.
The bottom line is this. Whatever good John Ritenbaugh is seeking out on God's Sabbath, he will NEVER find it by going back into spiritual Egypt. It just isn't there.
Regarding the Feast of Tabernacles
When advancing this phase of his argument, Mr. Ritenbaugh hides behind God's command to keep the Feast of Tabernacles in order to justify a practice that goes totally contrary to the scriptures. Remember, God specifically prohibited His people from acquiring their food on the Sabbath, having it prepared on the Sabbath and from going outside their place on the Sabbath to gather or consume it (Ex. 16). Additionally, He prohibited them from purchasing goods and services on the Sabbath and holy days (Neh. 10:31). Despite this, Mr. Ritenbaugh remains a steadfast champion of this practice.
Blurring the Lines
Somehow, Mr. Ritenbaugh believes that going to a restaurant on holy time is the moral equivalent of staying in a hotel during the FOT. He then reason that if God's people may do one, they most certainly may do the other. But is this really true?
The Sabbath is sacred. As such, it is to be treated with great deference and respect. It is not a time that should be spent engaging in the normal activities of the week. It is a time to come out of the world, not go back into it. The reason God's people should not dine out on the Sabbath is the same reason they should not check in or out of their festival housing on a Sabbath. The appropriate time for arriving at and departing from the FOT is prior to its start (a Sabbath) and after its conclusion (another Sabbath). Sadly, just as so many of God's people take a more casual approach when it comes to dining out on holy time, many of them also take a more casual approach to honoring this special festival.
Some have argued that because hotels are staffed with manpower on the Sabbath God's people would be responsible for their labor as well. However, this does not have to be the case. Although a staff is there, God's people do not have to avail themselves of their service on the Sabbath any more than they would have to avail themselves of golf course personnel at a resort during holy time. The fact that it is there is irrelevant.
There are many amenities at hotels that are available to guests every day. However, when it comes to the Sabbath, God's people are commanded to conduct their lives differently. The scriptures make it abundantly clear that labor profanes the Sabbath. Therefore, He prohibits His people from being a part of it. Of course there are exceptions, but dining out is NOT one of them.
At this point some may ask, "What about housekeeping services offered by most hotels and resorts? After all, they will clean your room on the Sabbath. Isn't it a little hypocritical to accept their service on this day?" The answer is YES. The good news is that God's people do not have to accept this service, let alone solicit it. Those who correctly observe the Sabbath and holy days will generally place a "Do not disturb" sign on their door. They do this in order to not compel hotel personnel to labor on their behalf on holy time. Although these people will be working anyway, this is not an excuse to take advantage of their labor.
A Final Thought
Although Mr. Ritenbaugh accuses Messrs, Fischer and Braidic of "not really thinking this thing through," it is he who is grouping in the dark with his Sabbath-breaking excuses. Furthermore, he would never tell his people the actual differences between the examples he offers and the sin he advocates. Why? Because he wants to hide the truth from them. Quite frankly, his arguments are silly. However, he offers them as "well thought out."
An Ox in a Ditch
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