Today in the Church of God, the debate over dining out on the Sabbath continues to capture the attention of virtually thousands of its members. Tragically, those who defend this practice advance an endless stream of the most bizarre excuses imaginable when making their point, with each excuse touted as biblical truth.
Over the years, Blow the Trumpet has heard some real "doozies" from church leaders concerning this issue. And just when we thought we've seen them all, a new stream of "whoppers" is offered up in defense of this sin. Consider just a few examples of why some of the premier COG figures are convinced that the Lord of the Sabbath actually condones the practice of His people seeking out unbelievers who profane the fourth commandment, and paying them for the fruit of their sacrilege.
One prominent leader contends that those who work in restaurants on the Sabbath are, in fact, performing a levitical duty when serving God's people. Therefore, they are not profaning the Sabbath, as we claim. This leader also asserts that "restaurant-like facilities" will be operating in the temple on the Sabbath, during the millennium. Therefore, by dining out on the Sabbath, God's people are actually picturing what will take place when His Kingdom is established on earth. How's that for "new understanding"? By the way, this leader's assertion that meals will be served from the temple, on the weekly Sabbath during the millennium, or, at any other time in history, is totally false. To see why, click HERE.
Another advocate of dining out on the Sabbath has officially declared that because some people travel significant distances to services, the Sabbath must now to be treated as a "Pilgrimage Feast," with its own unique rules for observance. Therefore, because food is permitted to be prepared on high days (Ex. 12:16), save for the day of Atonement, it may now be prepared on the Sabbath as well. He made this declaration despite the fact that the only scriptural mention of food preparation on the Sabbath specifically states that it is NOT to be done (Ex. 16:5, 23). The Almighty prohibits it. God actually said it was a test of our obedience to Him (Ex. 16:4).
By the way, after his decree, this gentleman, who described himself as a "critical thinker," drew the following conclusion: If food can now be prepared by God's people on the "pilgrimage Sabbath," then hiring unbelievers to prepare it for them must also be acceptable with our Savior. He then had the nerve to accuse Blow the Trumpet of manipulating the scriptures to serve our own purpose. But there is more.
Several advocates of going to restaurants on the Sabbath have attempted to persuade us that there is no difference between having a pot luck after services and having a meal at a nice eatery with brethren. After all, either way you are "dining out." Some actually offered the same rationale for sharing a Sabbath meal at the home of brethren because, according to them, that is "dining out" too.
Then there is this one, offered up by the doctrinal committee of one of the largest COG associations. They had the audacity to claim that because God no longer rains down manna from heaven, His instructions in Exodus 16 are no longer applicable. Therefore, His people may now go out and acquire their food on the Sabbath and even pay unbelievers to acquire it for them as well as prepare it.
The UCG vs the Apostle Paul
One of the most disappointing arguments presented in defense of dining out on the Sabbath, was offered up by the United Church of God in their rebuttal to a paper Blow the Trumpet submitted to them early this year (2007). At one point in their 17 page counter argument, which appears on our website (click HERE), these church leaders argued that just as the apostle Paul [allegedly] went contrary to the law by permitting Gentiles to eat meat offered to idols, they too may go contrary to the law by dining out on God's Sabbath and holy days. Here is how they put it.
Yet Paul permitted the eating of meat offered to idols under different circumstances, therefore they were not an accessory to the sins committed while the food was prepared. Each situation has to be weighed individually.
At this point it is interesting to note that the UCG didn't explain what the "circumstances" were that prompted Paul to present this teaching.
They didn't. But we will.
Furthermore, the facts pertaining to Paul's words on this issue disprove the very practice the UCG is advocating. In truth, Paul doesn't come close to contradicting God's law. Additionally, his teaching not only defends the scriptures concerning meat offered to idols, but also stands as incontrovertible proof that God's people should never dine out on the Sabbath or holy days. To better understand this, a little background is necessary.
The Jerusalem Conference
One of the most significant events in the history of God's Church took place in Jerusalem in 49 AD. At that time a conference was held pertaining to the issue of Gentile converts and what was required of them as new members of the Christian faith. The conference was prompted by a severe debate that had emerged over the issue of circumcision. As a result, the leading apostles, including Paul, came together to resolve the conflict.
Ultimately, the Church concluded that circumcision was not required for salvation, or for inclusion in the body of Christ. However, in addition to this pronouncement, four other decisions were rendered by the conference. Each of these decisions was announced by James, the brother of Jesus, and the bishop of the Jerusalem Church. Notice that James referred to them as "necessary things."
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye (1) abstain from meats offered to idols, and (2) from blood, and (3) from things strangled, and (4) from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well (Acts 15:28-29 see also: Acts 21:25).
While the Church leadership agreed that Gentiles were not required to be circumcised, they WERE required to abstain from meat offered to idols. On this there can be no doubt. Furthermore, Paul could not, and did not, change this ruling, or God's law, regardless of what the UCG argues!
What did Paul Teach?
The question for us to consider today is: What did Paul teach Gentile converts concerning this ruling? The answer lies in his epistle to God's Church at Corinth.
Paul's first letter to this congregation was written approximately four years after the Jerusalem conference, so it is obvious that they were well aware of the Church's position regarding this issue. However, there was a problem.
Although we do not know for certain what prompted Paul' to write on this subject, it is reasonable to conclude that various Gentile converts in Corinth were reluctant to purchase meat sold in the open market because it might have been used in a sacrifice to a false god. Since there was no way for them to know which meats may have been used in pagan worship, they were uncertain of what to do.
Paul not only addressed their concern, but also offered some keen insight into the heart of the matter. In doing so he explained how the pronouncement at the Jerusalem conference, as well as God's law, should be applied within this Gentile community.
As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6).
Here, Paul is explaining that the idol to which the meat MAY have been offered is not really a god at all. In truth, it is NOTHING. This is because there is only one TRUE God. Therefore, if these Gentile converts INADVERTENTLY ate something that was offered to an idol, no sin would be imputed to them. After all, the idol does not contaminate the meat. The point here is that this issue is not about food, but rather the act of willfully partaking of the sacrifice which was the point of the conference's ruling.
A Grave Misunderstanding
However, there are some who now contend that Paul was teaching that because the idol is worthless, God's people were free to eat meat offered to it even if they were aware that it was used in a sacrifice. This is totally FALSE. Paul gave absolutely no dispensation for knowingly eating food consecrated in pagan worship. On the contrary, he forbade it.
But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof (1 Corinthians 10:28).
God's apostle also explained that these sacrifices were actually to devils, and as such, followers of Christ were to have nothing to do with them.
What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils (1 Corinthians 10:19-21).
The point being made is that unknowingly eating food that was sacrificed to a pagan god is NOT a sin because the idol is NOTHING. However, Paul then explains that to knowingly eat it is another issue altogether. He does so by identifying the true object of the sacrifice. He states that when the Gentiles offer their sacrifices, they sacrifice not to God, BUT TO DEVILS! This is because of the worship of false gods is promoted by demonic beings. Therefore, Paul admonishes the Church to have nothing to do with it. Such practices are totally incompatible with God's way (v. 21).
Not Causing Offence
Although meat offered to an idol cannot defile God's people, the same cannot be said about proactively seeking it out. To suggest that Paul taught otherwise is a distortion of the Biblical record. In truth, Paul was upholding the teaching of the Church which prohibited such things (Acts 15:28-29, 21:25). However, when exhorting the Corinthians, he also offers another reason for refraining from this practice. It involves how it could be perceived by those who may have doubts.
Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled (1 Corinthians 8:7)
The “knowledge” Paul was speaking about is the understanding that an idol cannot defile the meat because the idol is nothing. Therefore, to UNKNOWINGLY eat meat offered in a pagan sacrifice was not a sin.
However, God’s apostle was also aware that there were some who still felt uncomfortable with the possibility of making that mistake. Simply put, they didn’t want to take any chances. Because of this, Paul presents a wonderful lesson to those who were strong. At the core of this lesson is Christian charity. Notice what he says.
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. (1 Corinthians 8:9-12)
Here, Paul is saying that even if you could innocently consume the meat because you are totally unaware if it was used in a sacrifice it would still be wrong to do so if it would offend someone who was weak in the faith. He then punctuates this point by offering a personal example of how he shows consideration toward others.
Wherefore, if meat makes my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world stands, lest I make my brother to offend. (1 Corinthians 8:13)
The point God’s servant was making is that in order to prevent his brother from stumbling, he would not only abstain from eating meat that may have been offered to an idol, he would abstain from eating meat altogether.
A Lesson to God's Ministers Today
With this said, is there a lesson from the example of Paul for God's ministers today? In other words, what would Paul do as a pastor if he knew members of his congregation were offended by him dining out on the Sabbath or holy days—assuming that such a practice was lawful? Would he still do it? Or, out of respect for the "weak," would he abstain? In other words, would Paul bring a meal on holy days and eat it with those who, for conscience sake, will not dine out? Or, would he go to a local restaurant and let the "weak" eat by themselves?
Are You Required to Investigate?
We now come to another problem requiring Paul’s attention. What responsibility did the Corinthians have in determining whether or not, food was offered to an idol?—since the meat offered to idols was often sold in public markets right along side other meat that was not used in such a way? Paul acknowledges this dilemma and provides the perfect answer. He explains that because the sacrifice could not contaminate the meat, there was nothing wrong with unknowingly eating it. Furthermore, it was not even necessary to ask if it was offered in a pagan sacrifice.
Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: For the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof. (1 Corinthians 10:25-26)
In essence, Paul is saying that since the meat itself is not affected by the process of offering it to an idol, it may be eaten, provided one DOES NOT consciously seek it out. Furthermore, it isn't even necessary to ask. It is totally irrelevant to the purchase. In other words, your purchase does not require someone to commit idolatry. You could just as well have selected food that was not sacrificed.
What About Dining Out on the Sabbath?
However, this is NOT the case when one dines out on the Sabbath. When God's people engage in this activity they are relying on the fact that the Sabbath is being VIOLATED. Why? Because it is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL for them that someone desecrate the fourth commandment in order for them to enjoy their meal. In other words, in order to dine out on the Sabbath, God's people must actively seek out those who profane what God has made HOLY. Without that sin they can't eat. Does anyone honestly believe that Paul was advocating that God's people seek out the pagan altar and partake of its delicacies simply because the false god is nothing but a piece of wood? Sadly, this is exactly what defenders of Sabbath dining are advocating.
At this point it is important to understand that Paul's ruling contradicts NOTHING in God' law. This would be similar to going to a market on Sunday and purchasing food that may have been prepared on the Sabbath. Paul is teaching that you are under no obligation to ask whether Sabbath labor was involved. Why? Because it has no bearing on the food.
However, if you are informed that your purchase required Sabbath labor, that is a different case altogether (1 Cor. 10:28). This is because not only does the fourth commandment prohibit seeking out labor to be performed for your benefit (Ex. 20:10), but by eating such a meal you could be accused by detractors, of breaking God's Sabbath law, which by the way is exactly what the UCG attempted to do to Blow the Trumpet.
This prominent COG association actually suggested that when Blow the Trumpet purchases goods during the week, it is possible that those goods required Sabbath labor. Therefore, we are no different than they are when dining out on the Sabbath—both of us could be paying for Sabbath labor. The obvious difference, that they choose to ignore, is the fact that we do not know if our purchase required Sabbath labor, while they absolutely know that theirs does. Furthermore, Paul explains that we are under no obligation to lead an investigation into when food was prepared. However, in the case of the UCG, when dining out on the Sabbath, they absolutely know that God's law was violated by those who serve them. And according to the instruction of Paul, that is when God's people are to abstain.
Returning to the UCG Argument
The whole point the United Church of God was attempting to make when invoking Paul's teaching regarding eating meat offered to idols, was that just because they dine out on the Sabbath does not mean that they are complicit in the Sabbath labor of the employees of the restaurant, any more than Gentiles living in Paul's time where complicit in idolatrous worship if they ate food that was used in a pagan sacrifice. However, this assessment is totally FALSE. What the UCG is advocating and what Paul was teaching is light years apart. In order for their assessment to be correct this is what Paul would have to teach.
"Because you enjoy the taste of food offered in sacrifices by pagan priests, to Baal, you may now enter his temple and request that they offer a sacrifice for you, because, you know that Baal is a false god and has no power whatsoever, and you don't even believe in him. Furthermore, they would be offering their idolatrous sacrifice for someone else if they didn't do it for you, so it's not like you are making them sin."
Does anyone honestly believe this is what Paul was teaching? We ask this question because it describes exactly what the UCG does when they dine out on the Sabbath. These church leaders believe that they can actively seek out, on holy time, sinners who profane God's Sabbath, and pay them for it simply because the employee would be sinning for someone else anyway. They then argue that they play no part in this trespass even though they are directing it for their benefit.
What part of this thinking sounds like it came from God's apostle? Our answer: ZERO! Furthermore, when the UCG attempts to rehabilitate their sin by associating it with one of God's most faithful servants, they reflect an attitude of desperation. There isn't a hint in Paul's words that remotely suggest this is how he would approach eating meat offered to an idol, let alone dining out on the Sabbath.
A Final Thought
While the United Church of God tries to argue that Paul contravened the law regarding eating meat offered to idols, he did no such thing. The truth is that he upheld, and actually magnified its meaning. Furthermore, for these church leaders to use this teaching to prove that God's people may now actively seek out unbelievers, whose Sabbath labor is another offering to a false god, and then pay them for it, is an insult to the very apostle they cite.
Honoring God's Sabbath