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On December 15, 2007, Mr. John Ritenbaugh, who serves as the Director of the Church of the Great God, presented a sermon on the issue of dining out on the Sabbath. His purpose was to defend this practice as well as to refute a book titled A Sabbath Test, written by Art Braidic and Dennis Fischer. This comprehensive work presents an overwhelming Biblical case for God's people to cease this behavior immediately. Mr. Ritenbaugh, on the other hand, did no such thing when presenting his message. This prominent COG leader spent 75 minutes denigrating the book's authors, misrepresenting the book, and thoroughly distorting the scriptures in his defense of this sin.
Mr. John Ritenbaugh
Church of the Great God
At no time during his message did he cite the fourth commandment, mention Nehemiah's prohibition against buying and selling on the Sabbath and holy days, or quote one syllable from A Sabbath Test. He did however, suggest that demon possession may be the real force behind Braidic and Fischer's belief on this issue. When describing Mr. Ritenbaugh's assertion, the Church of the Great God's web site put it this way:
"Extreme positions taken by some presumptuous individuals may have been influenced by demons."
This is a stunning accusation about the authors of a book that shows such profound deference toward God as a loving Father and His wonderful Sabbath law. However, that is exactly what Mr. Ritenbaugh intimated in his message. At every turn, he vilified Fischer and Braidic with impunity. What is so alarming about this is that A Sabbath Test attacks nobody. Notice its words as recorded in an introductory letter to readers:
As you proceed through each point, it is important to understand that the authors are not trying to judge God’s people. This booklet is not an attempt to condemn the wonderful community of believers who are called according to His purpose. Instead, it is written with the profound hope that these believers will carefully examine their approach to a day God Himself calls “HOLY.” (A Sabbath Test)
Throughout his message, Mr. Ritenbaugh paraded a steady stream of excuses when attempting to justify why he may seek out unbelievers on God's Sabbath and pay them for their sin. He claimed that if the disciples were permitted to pick a handful of grain with the permission of the Messiah on the Sabbath, then he (Ritenbaugh) could hire others to pick it for him and prepare it. This, even though Jesus specifically acknowledged that the act itself went contrary to the law.
This COG leader also claimed that there is no moral distinction between Fischer and Braidic turning on a light or flushing a toilet and him (Ritenbaugh) making Friday evening dinner reservations at a nice restaurant, where unbelievers are paid for their Sabbath labor. He even asserted that the Sabbath should be treated as a "Pilgrim Feast" because the church is so scattered. It is interesting that even God's instructions concerning His annual festivals make no provisions for purchasing meals or hiring others to prepare them. On the contrary, God's word forbids that as well (Neh. 10:31). However, this fact was subtly omitted by Mr. Ritenbaugh.
At every turn, this teacher manipulated the clear meaning of God's word in order to make it fit his conclusion. To him, nothing was as it seemed. He repeatedly argued that because God's people lived in a "closed society" when His Sabbath law was given, that law must be altered to accommodate our modern world. In other words, what the Almighty abhorred during the days of Moses and Nehemiah, he embraces today.
Why Are We Doing This?
Over the years, Blow the Trumpet has read numerous position papers as well as heard an endless stream of messages offered in defense of God's people seeking out unbelievers who profane the Sabbath and actually paying them for the fruit of their sacrilege. The general approach by those who embrace this practice is to:
We at Blow the Trumpet have carefully reviewed Mr. Ritenbaugh’s sermon and have done so with great interest. Additionally, we asked the authors of A Sabbath Test if we could respond. They consented. We made this request because we feel imminently qualified to weigh in on this subject. For starters, Blow the Trumpet has written prolifically on the issue of dining out on the Sabbath and we understand all too well how the emotional dynamics of this debate can play out. And believe us, they can be very emotional. One only has to listen to the insults offered by Mr. Ritenbaugh to see our point.
But there is an even greater reason we feel compelled to once again lift up our voice and cry aloud. We have watched as this generation of God’s people have become desensitized to the evils of this world. We have seen Sabbath afternoons become protracted socials (complete with secular games) disguised as acts of faith. We have seen members of God's church dine out on Friday evenings with business associates and unconverted friends and use the same arguments employed by a host of COG leaders when advocating this sin. After all, Jesus ate with the unconverted on the Sabbath, too. Sadly, this is no longer a rare exception. It is becoming more the rule. Why? Because the leaders of His church, like John Ritenbaugh, have winked at this sin. They have even redefined this practice as a positive expression of Christianity. Sadly, they couldn't be further from the truth.
A Defining Issue
We are also keenly aware that the Sabbath has been a defining issue for God’s people down through the ages and its contamination has even provoked the Great Creator of Heaven and Earth to execute His judgment on those He so deeply cares about (Ezk. 20:11-13). If history has said nothing else, it is that God's people do not have a good track record when it comes to Sabbath observance. For this reason alone, leaders like Mr. Ritenbaugh should think long and hard on this, especially in the age of Laodicea.
God's Sabbath Cries Out
Additionally, we continue to be convinced that God’s Sabbath cries out to be heard on this issue. Furthermore, its voice will not passively accommodate those who think they can call the holy "profane" and the profane "holy" (Ezk. 22: 26). As you proceed through our response to Mr. Ritenbaugh's message, you will hear that voice thunder, and it will be blunt, to say the least. It will speak with clarity and conviction. It will expose the human reasoning woven throughout his points. And in the end, you will see why the arguments presented by him are little more than a desperate attempt to defend the indefensible.
Furthermore, contrary to Mr. Ritenbaugh's contention that the Sabbath Test controversy has caused division in the body of Christ, and for this reason alone should be terminated, we see it much differently. As this debate continues to capture the attention of God’s people, it is also revealing a clear spiritual state within the Church. Mr. Ritenbaugh may find this hard to accept, but we are absolutely convinced that God Himself is the force behind this storm. He is the One driving it, and in so doing, He is appealing to His Church to not be swayed by cunning arguments disguised as "spiritual insight." It does not require a scholar to understand God's will on this point. Nor does it require someone with an "apostle's sheen," whatever that is. What it demands is HONESTY and a mind willing to accept the TRUTH, even if it hurts. In reality, God's will on this issue is quite simple and His word is very plain.
With this in mind, it is important to understand that neither Blow the Trumpet or the authors of A Sabbath Test bear any ill will toward Mr. Ritenbaugh or anyone else who believes as he does. Quite frankly, we were once in his position ourselves. We once believed as he does. We made many of the same arguments he makes and possibly with the same passion. Our point is that we feel no moral superiority over him or those of like mind on this issue.
For the sake of our response, we have arranged Mr. Ritenbaugh's arguments into several categories. This was done for the purpose of clarity and not to manipulate his words. Each category begins with a brief introduction, followed by Mr. Ritenbaugh's position and our rebuttal.
Finally, although we are very aggressive in our criticism of Mr. Ritenbaugh's view, we do NOT for one minute believe this issue stands as a referendum on his legitimacy as a true minister of Jesus Christ. It is the official position of Blow the Trumpet that this man is totally dedicated to God's way and His work. However, he is hugely mistaken on this issue. Because of the gravity of this error, we feel compelled to cry out to him and to all who hold to his view.
Blow the Trumpet
The Scriptures are Silent
An Apostle's Sheen
Honoring God's Sabbath