Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of
my pasture! saith the LORD.
At several points during his defense of going out into spiritual Egypt and paying for its Sabbath labor, Mr. Ritenbaugh appealed to his audience to believe that because the issue addressed in A Sabbath Test was "divisive and contentious," it should be rejected. Here is how he expressed his point, followed by our response.
"Since Herbert Armstrong died in 1986, many individuals have contributed to the disunity and scattering of the church after the same manner as did the doctrinal issues raised by the Tkach group. This subject that we are going to go into is one of those doctrinal issues, and it looks into the subject of going out to eat on the Sabbath."
"The church of God is not united, and the subject of this sermon is one of the reasons why it is not united. It is an area that we are not united on."
"This paper regarding Sabbath keeping is nothing more than a tool to create confusion and division amongst the brethren. Satan's aim is to draw brethren into arguments and to create cells of self-righteous judging within the camp."
"Now from the beginning I mentioned to you that people in the book of Romans were making judgments—wrong kinds of judgments—that were similar to this. They were straining at gnats and swallowing a camel, and Paul told them to get their judgments right and work toward creating unity within the congregation because their self-righteousness was driving the congregation apart over something that did not even matter spiritually."
This is not the first time church leaders have tried to silence those who bore the truth. Peter and John were given "cease and desist" orders from the religious leaders of their day as well (Acts 4:18-19). Furthermore, when the Worldwide Church of God started preaching heresy, they tried to silence the truth with threats that to preach contrary to their doctrine was also divisive. Tragically, most ministers tried to keep a low profile rather than boldly take a stand.
Here is a news flash for Mr. Ritenbaugh: Truth is often very unsettling to those who embrace a lie. In a very real sense, it is a line in the sand—one that forces God's people to make hard choices. The issue over going out to gather (acquire) Sabbath meals was profoundly serious to God Almighty. John Ritenbaugh may call it "straining at gnats" if he wishes, but the Lord of the Sabbath called it a TEST for His people (Ex. 16:4).
Furthermore, for Mr. Ritenbaugh to advance his position on this critical end-time issue and then demand that those who oppose him remain silent is typical of the many bullies who preside over the church today. If he was genuinely committed to unity in the Church, he would be anxious to publicly debate this issue and expose it for what he thinks it is. Tragically, he won't because he wouldn't be able to offer the mountain of human reasoning and contorted logic he calls "proof." As a result, the best he can do is to proclaim: "This is a gnat! Don't talk about it!"
It is interesting that this COG leader only requests that those who refuse to dine out on the Sabbath keep their opinion to themselves, not the other way around. Today there are scores of COG brethren who have been pressured to give up their belief on this issue. Even pastors have exerted pressure on them.
Furthermore, for Mr. Ritenbaugh to characterize A Sabbath Test as a tool to create confusion and division amongst the brethren" is a self-serving claim that attempts to negate the scriptures. Although he asserts that this issue "does not matter spiritually," this is NOT TRUE!
But don't believe us, believe your Bible!
What Does God's Word Say?
The scriptures make it abundantly clear that those who labor in restaurants every Sabbath are slaves to sin (Ro. 6:16) and the great slave master, Satan the devil (2Cor. 4:4). Equally true is the fact that God's people were once slaves to sin as well. But we were mercifully delivered from this bondage.
Now for the question of the day:
Why would anyone believe that God would condone His people going back into spiritual Egypt to purchase the fruit of the same bondage that once enslaved them? To believe such a thing is utter madness! This is why the Almighty commanded His people to not compel servants to work on the Sabbath.
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor the stranger that is within your gates; that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you.
And remember that you were once a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. (Dt. 5:14-15)
These words are so clear it is remarkable that any of God's people would debate them. Sadly, Mr. Ritenbaugh argues that although we must be "balanced" in this activity, God's people may periodically go back into spiritual Egypt and pay its slaves to labor on their behalf on HOLY time. What an insult to GOD and His Sabbath!
The bottom line is this: what takes place in restaurants every seventh day is a perfect example of bondage. On the other hand, God's Sabbath is a perfect picture of FREEDOM and deliverance from bondage. There is nothing compatible between these two practices, regardless of what Mr. Ritenbaugh claims.
A Note from Blow the Trumpet
Returning to Unity
The scriptures make it clear that God loves unity (Ps. 133). It is something that will define His Kingdom when He restores it on earth. At that time, God’s law will be a great unifying force. Today however, this is not the case. This now brings us to the Church and its role as a unifier. Consider that role in the context of the following question:
Would it be appropriate for the Church to permit people to
profane the Sabbath in order to preserve unity?
The answer to this question is obvious. Virtually all of God’s people would rightfully say, “NO!” The problem is that many today (including church leaders) don’t regard dining out on the Sabbath as a violation of the fourth commandment and an egregious SIN. Thus they argue: why fight over it? However, that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when this issue exploded before God’s people. It was presented by one of the most courageous, blunt-speaking men in the history of scripture.
Nehemiah, a great servant of God, saw buying and selling as a clear breach of the fourth commandment. Furthermore, he made a direct link between that sin and Israel's CAPTIVITY. When Nehemiah contended with the nobles of Judah over engaging in commerce, as either the provider of goods or the consumer of them, he did not qualify his words. His warning was clear and direct, and to suggest otherwise is a distortion of the Biblical record. Nehemiah was so passionate regarding his opposition to engaging in commerce on the Sabbath that he actually threatened to use physical force against those who defied his word (Neh.13:15-21).
At this point, it is important to understand that there were numerous options available to this servant of God. For example, he could have employed Mr. Ritenbaugh's approach and reasoned: “These people are going to sell their wares regardless of what we do. Therefore, what difference does it make?” Or, he could have said, “We are not causing them to work. They would be working anyway.” Nehemiah could also have looked to his predecessors for the answer. He could have thought, “Other respected men of the past have purchased foodstuffs on the Sabbath, why should I pass judgment on such a matter? After all, it will only stir up contention and even cause possible division among God’s people.”
Each of these responses was available to this great leader so very long ago. Furthermore, they remain so to the leaders in God’s church today. Sadly however, many ministers, like John Ritenbaugh, seem content to take a different path than that taken by Nehemiah. They balk when confronting this issue. Many reason that it just isn’t worth the risk.
However, the faithful and uncompromising Nehemiah did not hesitate when addressing what he saw was an unspeakable evil. And make no mistake about it, that is exactly how he viewed buying or selling on the Sabbath. To him, this practice represented a mortal threat to God’s people. Furthermore, he realized that the very future of his nation hung in the balance on this issue. Therefore, He took immediate action. Notice what he did.
Then I contended with the nobles of Judah and said unto them, What evil thing is this that you do, and profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us and upon this city? Yet you bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the Sabbath. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the Sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the Sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the Sabbath day. (Neh. 13:17-19)
With these words, Nehemiah was warning Judah that they were in captivity, in no small part, because they had profaned the Sabbath. Specifically, they were buying and selling on this day.
God’s servant was so concerned over this sin that he took what could only be regarded as radical measures. He expelled the street vendors from the city. Furthermore, when they returned the following Sabbath, Nehemiah was furious. He actually threatened them with physical force if they dared to return to sell their products on God’s day.
So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge you about the wall? If you do so again I will lay hands on you. From that time forth they came no more on the Sabbath. (Neh. 13:20)
The example of Nehemiah’s uncompromising love of God’s law is a great lesson for all Christians everywhere. This champion of faith boldly confronted those who were complicit in causing God’s people to profane His Sabbath. His remedy was forceful and reflected God’s thinking about engaging in commerce on the day He made HOLY. Furthermore, God not only abhorred this practice then, but His opinion on the subject has never changed, regardless of what John Ritenbaugh claims.
Today it would be impossible to do what Nehemiah did during Judah’s captivity. God’s people do not have that kind of power or influence. Therefore, they couldn’t possibly lock up restaurants to prevent believers from buying food on the Sabbath. However, God’s people can do something else. They can lock the vendors out of their lives on God’s day. Regrettably, many, including John Ritenbaugh, don’t.
A Final Thought
Is this debate divisive? It may be. But it won't be the first time righteous positions have divided God’s people. And that is what this is—A RIGHTEOUS POSITION—one driven by a genuine LOVE for God and His law. Jesus once warned that following Him would be a shortcut to accusation and condemnation. He even promised that the division caused by following Him would be so great that it would even touch families (Mt. 10:16-42).
Do we like this fact? NO! Do we want to cause division? NO! Do we accept it as a reality in the Church today? Regrettably, yes.
I'm Not Responsible
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