And remember that you were once a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the
LORD your God brought you out with a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm:
therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
Deuteronomy 5: 15
In an attempt to justify the sin of dining out on the Sabbath, John Ritenbaugh employs one of the most arrogant claims in this debate. He contends that despite the fact that he purchases the products and services of restaurant personnel on the Sabbath, he bears absolutely no responsibility for their labor. After all, they would be working anyway. Here, this COG leader attempts to have his Sabbath-breaking cake and eat it too.
When advancing this claim, Mr. Ritenbaugh argues that because Sabbath breakers are not being called at this time, they do not bear the full weight of their sin. However, at no time does he explain how such a fact proves that he is not complicit in their labor. He might as well have said that because restaurant workers are created in God's image he is not responsible for the work they perform on HOLY time. Although the first half of this assertion is true, it has absolutely no bearing on the second half. This sleight of hand is offered as Biblical wisdom when it is nothing more than sophistry. Here is how he presents it.
"Now by the same token, the idea that just by eating out at a restaurant on the Sabbath one is making or employing a servant is also nothing more than a hair-splitting procedure that is not justified by Scripture. Let me prove that to you. Every one of you knows what John 6:44 says, that no man can come to Christ unless he is called of God."
"I want you to apply this principle here to working on the Sabbath by the unconverted. One must be called of God to believe and obey His Word. Now how can one say the Sabbath-keeper is making the restaurant people work as his servants when he enters the restaurant and takes a meal? He is not making the person work. Keeping the Sabbath is a voluntary act of submission to God by a believing person."
First of all, the Sabbath-keeper is not "taking a meal," he is BUYING a meal—which, by the way, is also prohibited in the scriptures (Neh. 10:31). Secondly, Mr. Ritenbaugh is attempting to convince his audience that because God's people are powerless to FORCE Sabbath observance, it is impossible for them to be complicit in Sabbath labor. However, this is utter nonsense. Today God's people may hire plumbers, electricians, gardeners, maids, auto mechanics, maintenance personnel, and a host of others to work on their behalf on the Sabbath. Is Mr. Ritenbaugh suggesting that they would not be complicit in the labor they specifically contracted simply because these Sabbath-breakers would be working anyway? If he is, would he condone his members doing such a thing? If not, why? What part of Sabbath observance would they be violating?
In truth, it is Mr. Ritenbaugh who is "hair-splitting" when he claims God's people are not complicit in the Sabbath labor of restaurant personnel. Furthermore, the relationship he thinks doesn't exist between a restaurant and God's people goes far deeper than simply orchestrating their work. In a very real sense, those who dine out are engaging in a genuine business transaction—one that requires both a provider of services and a consumer of them. In the case of dining out on the Sabbath, God's people voluntarily assume the role of the consumer. And contrary to what Mr. Ritenbaugh wants you to believe, virtually no labor takes place without both parties. The authors of A Sabbath Test understand this reality and explain it without employing the trickery used by Mr. Ritenbaugh. Notice their words.
A Sabbath Test
"Whether one wishes to believe it or not, those who go to restaurants on the Sabbath are engaging in a commercial enterprise. This enterprise involves the purchase of goods, the contracting of labor, the agreeing on a price, as well as the appropriate method of payment. There is even a provision for the payment of bonuses (tips).
Furthermore, in this business relationship the restaurant patron possesses a considerable level of authority over personnel. These patrons define what they will purchase, how it will be prepared, and when it will be delivered. Additionally, they have expectations of personnel as well as products, and reserve the right to exercise disciplinary action if expectations are not met. Patrons can lodge complaints, refuse payment, and even engage the services of governmental agencies that protect the rights of consumers. They can do this because they ARE CONSUMERS. They are participants in a very real business arrangement. The restaurant understands this principle well, and to think otherwise is simply untrue." (A Sabbath Test, p. 27)
The fact that a restaurant will engage in labor regardless of whether or not Mr. Ritenbaugh patronizes it dose not absolve him of complicity in its work if he chooses to engage its services. Furthermore, for Him to suggest that he is totally powerless over the labor performed by unbelievers on God's Sabbath intentionally ignores a greater point. Here is a question for him to consider.
Can you prevent the unbeliever from laboring for
YOU on God's Sabbath?
The obvious answer is YES! If John Ritenbaugh would refrain from going out into spiritual Egypt and refuse to purchase its goods and services, this world's slaves would not be laboring for him. Sadly, he refuses to exercise this power. Why? Because he wants this world's slaves to prepare his meals on God's Sabbath, serve them on God's Sabbath, and then clean up after him on God's Sabbath. That is what he is paying for. That is what he is buying. Despite this truth, he thinks he has nothing to do with the work they perform.
For any COG leader to hide behind the ignorance of unbelievers is shameful. It not only mocks the Sabbath, but the very God who created it. Here is a news flash for John Ritenbaugh: God specifically prohibited His people from being a party to Sabbath labor, even the labor of unbelievers (Ex. 20:10). However, instead of obeying the command, John Ritenbaugh claims, "I'm not ordering them to do anything." At this point, his server arrives and says, "May I take your order, sir?"
Mr. Ritenbaugh knows full well that God's word prohibits participating in profane labor on holy time. Therefore, his justification for doing just that is DENIAL. However, his denial is as transparent as the rest of his arguments. It is the contrivance of a man who refuses to come to terms with his own sin. He knows restaurant personnel are breaking the Sabbath. He then reasons that he may exploit this sin for his own benefit because he is not forcing them to do so. The real tragedy is that he actually thinks God Almighty buys this reasoning.
Mr. Ritenbaugh continued:
"God says that each person is held responsible for obedience in his own order: 1Corinthians 15:23. But I want you to turn to Luke 12, for this very principle came up, and this is how Jesus responded."
And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his [God's] will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he [the ignorant person] that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
"It is those who know God's will who are held responsible for not working on the Sabbath. That is so clear. Our responsibility in this is far greater."
Remember, the point Mr. Ritenbaugh is attempting to make is that he bears no responsibility for the Sabbath labor of unbelievers who serve him at a restaurant. However, what he cites to prove his point PROVES NOTHING. Nowhere do these verses state that because the unbeliever is unaware of his sin, the believer is not complicit in it if he is the one placing the work order. Furthermore, his claim that it is only "those who know God's will who are held responsible for not working on the Sabbath" is contradicted by the very verses he cites. Remember, the unbeliever in Mr. Ritenbaugh's example is beaten with "few stripes." They are held responsible too.
Furthermore, when he states that the burden of judgment on God's people is greater, he is correct. That is why they should not be a party to the sin of the unbeliever. God's people should know better. As the apostle Paul put it:
Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them (Eph. 5:11)
Mr. Ritenbaugh continued:
"Now Jesus shows that responsibility varies. Read the whole portion of Luke 12. We just read the last two verses. Jesus shows that responsibility varies according to the gifts given, and the teaching also shows that the ignorance of the uncalled is not an absolute. In other words, if we want to get real particular, God is going to dish out punishment to them for working on the Sabbath, but they only get a few stripes. They do not get away with breaking God's law. They are not held responsible the way we are. We are not making them work. That is their choice for not believing what God says."
"The issue for you and me is that we are not capable of judging their level of responsibility. Those uncalled will work or use the Sabbath as they please until God calls them and opens their minds to Sabbath-keeping responsibilities. Furthermore—and this is important—because the unconverted are not breaking their belief-system, their conscience is not defiled; therefore their mind is still open to conversion. So a Sabbath-keeper is not making them work."
What Mr. Ritenbaugh is attempting to sell in this particular argument is that because God's people are not forcing restaurant personnel to labor against their will, they are not providing impetus for that labor. However, this is totally false. The motivation for restaurants operating is provided by the revenue their business generates. That revenues comes directly from customers like John Ritenbaugh, who purchase their products and services. For this pastor to assert that there is no correlation between his order and their labor requires a massive distortion of basic logic. It is not only untrue, it is silly.
Whose Servants are They?
Perhaps the greatest error in Mr. Ritenbaugh's thinking is in claiming who the waiters and waitresses, as well as other restaurant workers, serve. Most think they serve restaurant managers and owners. But is this true? At this point, it is important to understand that those who labor in restaurants on the Sabbath are SINNING! That's RIGHT, it is a SIN. It may look like just another person trying to provide for themselves and their family, but looks can be deceiving. God calls labor on His Sabbath a sin, unless it is performed by those He specifically designates. This being the case, those who work on the Sabbath are actually SLAVES to SIN! The apostle Paul understood this profound truth. Notice what he said in a letter written to the Church at Rome.
Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (Ro. 6:16)
Today, those who work on the Sabbath are truly slaves to sin—a sin that has been sold by mankind’s greatest enemy (Rev. 12:9). Furthermore, those in God’s Church who avail themselves of this sin are condoning both the slavery and the SLAVE MASTER (2 Cor. 4:4). This is what God was conveying when He gave the fourth commandment. This Great Lawgiver actually explained why His people were to release their servants from labor on the Sabbath. Notice the commandment:
But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shall not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy 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 a slave in the land of Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day. (Dt. 5:14-15)
Here God is telling His people that labor on the Sabbath is a form of bondage. This is the very bondage He freed them from when He delivered them out of Egypt. This being the case, it is hard to understand why anyone would want to return to that bondage, even to look at it. Now think of this in terms of our own lives.
The scriptures reveal that just as the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt until God miraculously delivered them, those whom He has called in this present age were also once enslaved in “spiritual” Egypt. God’s people today were once in bondage. We once believed the things the world believes, taught the things the world teaches, and practiced the things the world practices. We even profaned God’s Sabbath and holy days. We did so because we served the same SLAVE MASTER the world serves today.
However, our calling reveals that a Great Deliverer has again rescued His people from a world that does not know Him or His way (Eph. 2:1-5). For this reason, God’s people today should never compel the unbeliever (a slave in Egypt) to work on their behalf on the Sabbath. We must refrain from this practice because we were miraculously delivered from this very practice ourselves. Remember, YOU were once a SLAVE in Egypt.
With this in mind, God’s people must understand that their Great Deliverer would no more permit His people today to return to this world and avail themselves of its sin than He would permit the Israelites of yesterday to return to Egypt and avail themselves of their sin. As much as Mr. Ritenbaugh may want to go back to Egypt, God forbids it and warns of its consequences. Notice what He says.
And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, My people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues. (Rev. 18:4)
Consider these words in the context of dining out on the Sabbath. In order to engage in this practice, God’s people must return to a world that does not know Him—a world that tramples on this great day. In the Old Testament that world was called Egypt. In the New Testament it is called Babylon. But make no mistake about it; these worlds are one and the same.
When God commanded His people to cease from working on the Sabbath and to not compel others to work on their behalf, He was making a powerful statement. He was commanding His people to COME OUT OF EGYPT, to COME OUT OF BABYLON! In other words, God’s people are not to be a part of the very sin that once gripped their lives. This is because they are now FREE!
Although the world today is truly in bondage, God’s people stand as proof that it will not always be that way. By refusing to allow the slave of this world to labor for them on God’s Sabbath, His people are proclaiming a great hope – a hope that one day all who are enslaved will be FREE. At that time they, too, will “remember the Sabbath and keep it HOLY.”
A Final Thought
God’s plan is that all mankind will ultimately be free from the tyranny of ignorance and sin. The Sabbath pictures that freedom. It is not by accident that when giving the fourth commandment, God reminded His people that they were once slaves in Egypt (Dt. 5:15). It is for this very reason that every Sabbath God’s people are to be liberators. In other words, they are to declare everyone they come in contact with as "FREE!" Nowhere in the commandment does it remotely hint that God condones His people going back into “Egypt” to avail themselves of the very sin they were once a part of (Dt. 5:14-15). The Sabbath is about liberty, not bondage.
Those who work in restaurants and are ignorant of God’s law may not understand why the faithful would be so considerate of them by not compelling them to labor for their benefit on the Sabbath. But God’s people do understand -- or should. By releasing the unbeliever from labor on the Sabbath and holy day, they are acting out what their King will ultimately do when He returns to earth.
They declare all the slaves FREE!
The Devil's Diner
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