During the last few years, a controversy has been brewing among brethren in the various post-WCG splinter groups: whether or not Christians may dine in restaurants on the Sabbath. Some critics claim that this is “a Sabbath test,” and imply that those who fail it are Laodicean—or worse.
Is this claim true?
The debate regarding Christians eating out on the Sabbath is a recent phenomenon. One article promoting this idea—“Should Christians Frequent Restaurants on the Sabbath?”—was written during or after 1995, and was circulated among certain splinters. To prove his point, the author wrote, “I understand that Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong even began to eat out on the Sabbath, he said due to his continual traveling [sic]. An old saying comes to mind, ‘As goes the leadership, so goes the church!’”
This implies that Mr. Armstrong never ate in restaurants on the Sabbath during his early years, that he later compromised, and personally started the Church down the wrong path.
The author, after discussing a Holy Day during which a potluck meal was served, states, “I’m told that such was the norm during the 50s, 60s, and early 70s. Obedient Church members never went out to a restaurant for a meal on a Holy Day or on the Sabbath.”
(It is possible that there may have been a few brethren whose conscience would not permit them [Rom. 14:22-23] to eat at a restaurant on the Sabbath, but such cases were extremely rare.)
Notice that the author did not cite a specific source for his information, but merely stated, “I’m told.” Is his statement true? Is it based on solid evidence—on concrete facts?
Researching the Early Years
In examining Mr. Armstrong’s member/co-worker letters and literature, dating back to 1947, nothing was found in writing as to whether Christians should avoid eating at restaurants on the Sabbath—either for or against—yet, in practice, he regularly ate in restaurants on Sabbaths. We will also momentarily see anecdotal information about the Church’s beliefs. Though restaurants were mentioned quite often in Mr. Armstrong’s personals, articles and letters, they were virtually always in reference to his dining with various dignitaries such as the Mayor of Jerusalem, the President of Hebrew University and others—occasionally on the Sabbath.
Although we cannot find where Mr. Armstrong had written on the subject of dining out on the Sabbath, he addressed the subject in a Bible Study given on Friday evening, October 23, 1981, “The Sabbath Question.” His comments are definitive:
“Now if you go out to a restaurant on the Sabbath, that restaurant’s going to be there and the food’s going to be prepared whether you go or not, and the other people are going to be working anyway. They don’t keep the Sabbath—they pay no attention to that...God gives us a kind of a principle here, and I think that we can see how to apply it to a given circumstance.”
Shortly after the above comment, Mr. Armstrong acknowledged not having focused in detail on that subject prior to being questioned at the time of that particular Bible Study: “Now I had never thought until this evening when the question was brought up to me about whether it was wrong to go to a restaurant to eat. And I know when I travel I have to do it or go without, and so I do. [Note that God did not require Mr. Armstrong to go hungry on the Sabbath due to the fact he was often traveling and away from home.] On the other hand, those who eat at home should do all the preparing they can—like baking, and things that take time. For example you could prepare a salad, a cold salad, on Friday, put it into the refrigerator…that’ll keep it fresh.”
Regarding the proper use of the preparation day, Mr. Armstrong touched upon this subject earlier in the same Bible study: “Well, preparation of food so far as possible ought to be made on Friday—that is the preparation day. And a little bit of cooking, a little preparation of food is allowable on the Sabbath, but remember it’s a day that is holy to God. It’s not for our work. It shouldn’t be work like regular daily work for the housewife or anyone who does the cooking. It should be cut down to an absolute minimum.”
To summarize the gist of this Bible study, Mr. Armstrong stressed the avoidance of making the Sabbath a “straight-laced yoke of bondage,” while not going to the opposite extreme of a liberal, “we can do as we please” approach. He stressed the Sabbath was made for man and intended to be a delight instead of a burden. Proper balance within God’s Law is to be sought.
In effect, the above understanding was the Church’s previous teaching—established doctrine and policy—arrived at through what was obviously at least a de facto administrative judgment prior to the time Mr. Armstrong articulated this matter in 1981. This is important because the Bible commands that God’s people even hold to traditions established in the Church: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (II Thes. 2:15; also 3:6). Notice that traditions were binding based merely on “word” without having ever been in writing (“epistle”). Recognizing that God permits dining out on the Sabbath was certainly more than a mere tradition. It was well understood by scores of thousands that eating in a restaurant on the Sabbath was not wrong!
For example, when discussing special events at Spokesman’s Club, the Pastor General’s Report stated, “Such occasions are often held at a banquet room in a restaurant where the Club members and their wives or dates simply sit down to a served meal and fellowship until the end of the Sabbath” (Sept. 3, 1982). Of course, such a policy would have been approved by Mr. Armstrong.
Additionally, there are individuals at the Headquarters of The Restored Church of God who knew and closely worked with Mr. Armstrong—one of them going back as far as the mid-1960s. They confirmed that Mr. Armstrong never communicated, in any way, that God’s people should avoid dining in restaurants on the Sabbath.
The attempt to associate this controversial issue with the early years of the Philadelphian Era was an obvious effort to portray a doctrine born exclusively in Laodicea as having deeper, older roots. Such attempts become transparent upon objectively investigating the past.
In order to promote their theories, advocates of this new movement must discredit Mr. Armstrong and portray him as having compromised on this issue, as did the writer of the article cited earlier. As a result, he is presented as having fallen short on their “yardstick” for measuring righteousness. Not wanting to overtly denigrate Mr. Armstrong, authors of the book to be addressed later, A Sabbath Test, have been more subtle, suggesting that Mr. Armstrong simply never “grew” to understand Sabbath observance as they did. In the identical spirit and thinking of the apostates before them, these have also introduced error under the guise of “outgrowing” Mr. Armstrong.
Regarding the new groups forbidding Christians to eat in restaurants on the Sabbath, we have to carefully consider the spirit motivating them. The wise always discern where “another spirit” has entered (II Cor. 11:4)—in this case, the same old spirit that guided the world and the apostates who were taught by its theologians.
Thus, such single-issue groups have emerged bearing their main message: “Thou shalt not eat in restaurants on the Sabbath.” What was Mr. Armstrong’s response when certain individuals proceeded to judge others for eating in restaurants on the Sabbath? The Bible Study mentioned above made his position quite clear: “Well, I understand some others are condemning one couple for doing that [dining out on the Sabbath]. Now I say that you can’t sit in judgment, and I don’t condemn them.”
Breaching the Four Walls of Defense
To prepare the reader for all that will follow, we must first create an overview—a backdrop—to properly approach this new teaching before looking thoroughly into it. This involves several elements, and some of these have been added to this new, expanded edition of the article because the advocates of Sabbath bondage have misrepresented the truth we explained.
Think for a moment! God does not take violating the Sabbath command lightly. Properly observing the seventh day points one to the true God, the Creator.
The two great national sins—the “twin sins”—for which Israel went into captivity were idolatry and Sabbath-breaking. Breaking the Sabbath always leads one away from the true God and into idolatry. Having judged Israel to be guilty of breaking the Sabbath and committing idolatry, God allowed her to be defeated, overcome and taken captive by her enemies.
Grasp this! Judgment is now only on the house of God—spiritual Israel (I Pet. 4:17). With so much at stake for His people, would God leave us in the dark, unable to figure out whether eating at a restaurant on the Sabbath breaks the Fourth Commandment? Would He have left Mr. Armstrong (whom Christ used as the end-time Moses â Mal. 4:4) in the dark about this? If this was the “test” to come on the Church in these last days, as some self-appointed experts claim, would the Bible not be clear and definitive about it?
Of course it would! And those who clearly understand Mr. Armstrong’s role, as both an apostle and Moses, who laid the Philadelphian eraâs doctrinal foundation (âlawâ), know that he correctly taught the Church how to keep the Sabbath, and do not fall victim to the multitude of heresies that this last era brings.
On the other hand, those who dismiss Mr. Armstrong’s end-time role are most susceptible to stumble over such human opinions peculiar to the Laodicean age. In doing so, they breach the four scriptural walls of defense that protect the body of truths that were given to the true Church:
1. No one may alter the established doctrinal foundation (Mal. 4:4).
2. Truth is only revealed through apostles (Eph. 2:20; Acts 2:42).
3. Philadelphians “hold fast” to what has been established (Rev. 3:10-11).
4. Those who constitute the body of unified believers are to “continue in the things that they have learned and have been assured of, knowing of whom they have learned them” (II Tim. 3:14). They are to take heed and continue in the truth, which will lead to salvation (I Tim. 4:16 and other verses).
These four walls protect the one true Church, which is unified and uncompromising in its embracement of true doctrine. The identifying factors of the Church are defined exclusively by the Bible—not by prevailing opinion. The common bond of loving the truth is what distinguishes this one Body, as it continues unified and dedicated to sound doctrine (I Cor. 1:10; Phil. 1:27; Eph. 4:1).
In today’s Laodicean age, whenever you hear statements such as “Mr. Armstrong was wrong” or “he compromised on this or that,” take these as sure signs that false teachers are about to spew heresy upon you.
A book was published some time ago, arguing that Christians must not eat in restaurants on the Sabbath. Titled A Sabbath Test, the authors devoted 136 pages to disputing virtually all objections that they anticipated might be raised. Yet, the authors were mindful not to mention Mr. Armstrong by name, only referencing him indirectly. This was done in a carefully crafted attempt to reprimand him for holding to traditions and past teachings, as opposed to “progressing” to their “enlightened” point of view.
The book, A Sabbath Test, was clearly an expansion of the existing article cited earlier, “Should Christians Frequent Restaurants on the Sabbath?” The book offered no credit to the 14-page article as a forerunner in this school of thought, although both publications were equivalent in substance—using a loose interpretation of “substance.” It appears that the writers of the book sensed that a movement was beginning in the splinters without a spearhead. Hence, it appears that these followers aspired to the lucrative position of quasi-leaders of this trend, by virtue of offering a much bigger publication expounding their idea. Since they so obviously desire to lead this movement, one must ask, are they “teaching things they ought not for filthy lucre’s sake” (Tit. 1:11), and thus “making merchandise of” (II Pet. 2:3) unsuspecting brethren?
The only significant difference between the former article and the book patterned after it was that the authors of the book were most careful to not directly attack Mr. Armstrong. They were well aware that, from the public relations standpoint, bashing Mr. Armstrong was not expedient. However, as we will see later in this article, they consider him to have compromised, labeling him as having accepted the “mark of the beast” (by their own definition) by his dining out in restaurants on the Sabbath, which he practiced at least throughout the final years of his life. Again, these authors, however, are careful not to explicitly accuse Mr. Armstrong.
This towering question arises from the outset: Would Christ allow His apostle to be wrong on such a crucial point and then to be set straight or corrected, after the fact, by self-appointed “leaders” (actually lay members) arriving in the age of Laodicea? Such a prospect would be laughable, were its effects not so serious. Yet, significant numbers of weak or relatively new brethren across the landscape of God’s people seem to have bought in.
It appears that the leaders of this thinking have extended mercy “to whom they would show mercy,” in this case Mr. Armstrong, because they know this makes their doctrines more palatable to independent-minded potential converts, many of whom view him favorably and who are the ones most likely to send contributions. Yet, the facts are that they have leveled character assassination (John 8:44) at any who dare bring their doctrines to the light of the Bible, as would Mr. Armstrong.
What the Church Taught in 1988
In October 1988, the Personal Correspondence Department (PCD) of the Worldwide Church of God responded to questions about dining out on the Sabbath. The PCD letter reads as follows (emphasis ours):
“Thank you for your question concerning whether it is proper to eat in a restaurant on the Sabbath.
“The Church has long taught that it is not wrong to eat out on the weekly Sabbath occasionally or on the annual Holy Days, depending upon one’s circumstances and preferences.
“Those waiters, waitresses, chefs, and the like, who may serve in a restaurant, are not our ‘servants’ in the way described in the Fourth Commandment. They are the employees of the owner of the restaurant. They would be working regardless of whether or not we ate there. God does not hold us responsible for their working on the Sabbath just because we use their services—unless we were the only ones who ever ate in that restaurant on the Sabbath. Obviously, we make up a very small portion of the customers served in restaurants on the Sabbath or Holy Days.
“Further, eating out occasionally on the Sabbath can enhance spiritual fellowship with brethren and allow family members more time to be with one another.
“Some may still feel that eating out is not included in those things a Christian may do on the Sabbath and Holy Days. No person should violate his own conscience in this matter, nor should he judge someone else on this subject. It is a matter of personal conviction. However, whatsoever is not of faith is sin. See Romans 14:22-23. Therefore, be fully persuaded in your own mind according to your own faith in Christ Jesus.”
Critics have attacked this letter, dissecting every phrase of every sentence and disputing each point. They especially dispute the phrase “eating out occasionally on the Sabbath,” insisting that if it is wrong to dine in a restaurant on the Sabbath in any event, then it is wrong under all circumstances. They go to great lengths to argue that restaurant employees work at the behest of customers; therefore, the very presence of Church members adds to the employees’ workload, and involves conducting business on the Sabbath.
Again, are these arguments valid? Are they founded on what the Bible teaches—or do they derive from human reasoning? (See Jeremiah 17:9 and Proverbs 14:12.)
Why This Article Was Needed
The WCG form letter was somewhat weak and certainly incomplete. It was written after Mr. Armstrong’s death, when the apostates were in control. The letter seemed to be somewhat dismissive, although their reference to Romans 14:22-23 was tactfully stated. Within a decade from the time of their letter, the apostates had completely abandoned the keeping of the Sabbath and the rest is history.
We cited this letter because it was the only rebuttal in existence, however weak, with respect to the movement forbidding dining out on the Sabbath. During that time and later, true defenders of the faith became few and far between. This issue had not yet reared its head, or certainly not in any major way.
The movement condemning dining out on the Sabbath began to grow in the confusion of the 1990s. All this time, there was essentially no rebuttal in existence which questioned its legitimacy. The decade of the 1990s was a time of unparalleled turmoil in the Church of God. By the time of the printing of this article in 2005, the movement condemning dining out on the Sabbath had enjoyed free reign with no formal opposition (to our knowledge) throughout the splinters.
Why have the leaders of the splinters not addressed this issue? Could it be that they have assessed the liabilities of opposing something of this nature? Could it be that they are not necessarily committed to what Mr. Armstrong believed in the first place? Could it be that they are afraid of offending segments of their groups—or of incurring the authors’ explosive wrath, as have we?
Someone has to stand up for what Mr. Armstrong taught. There is no other voice among God’s people that is both willing and able to stand in the gap in this final Church era and defend what all used to believe. What other group has documented all the changes that occurred in the WCG in the 1990s? Who else has come out with so many separate and distinct books explaining the confusion which has led to the splinter groups during this time? Who else has worked tirelessly in recapturing all the truths that God used Mr. Armstrong to bring? Who else is willing to expend the effort to amass an even greater bank of literature exceeding that of the WCG during the time of Mr. Armstrong?
We do not retreat from the fact that it has fallen to us to defend the truth, taught by Mr. Armstrong. We truly wish all the other groups were equally determined to follow this same track. However, we understand the nature of the present age, and this is not what God knew could any longer be possible. Being willing to spotlight and counter false teaching means stepping into the line of fire from a growing array of false ministers and teachers who sponsor a host of unique doctrines specific to this time. We will continue to counter heresy, in spite of the inevitable false accusations and slander that will surely follow those set upon demolishing false idols.
One reason some advocates of particular doctrines react with viciousness when their positions are brought into question is that their single-issue doctrines often represent 95 percent or more of what makes them unique, and thus their identity. In fact, there are numerous “one-issue” groups among the various splinters and slivers of the WCG. Some advocate sacred names, and their universe centers around the practice of the precise pronunciation of specific names of God. To question them is to provoke a vicious reprisal. Others have created their own version of the Hebrew calendar, and this is their main focus in life. Still others keep Passover a day late. And still others focus upon secret, coded Bible messages, while some promote their unique interpretation of prophecy. There are now dozens of groups promoting single-issue Christianity and most are of recent vintage.
Those condemning Sabbath dining out are primarily single-issue religionists set to defend their turf against any who would bring their lone doctrine into question. Yet, in the process of defending the body of doctrines established for God’s Church in the 20th century, it is inevitable that we will call such doctrines into question and incur wrath as a result. Yet, we dare not ignore false teaching. We will not back off to avoid conflict, trying to “live and let live,” and falling back on popular forms of “lovespeak,” “understanding” and “tolerance.”
When false teachers arise, we are obligated to distinguish between Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5, and to endure their deceitful character assassination, knowing that “the wise will understand” who sent them (John 8:44) and that they are of “another spirit” (II Cor. 11:4). Because there is nothing new under the sun, we understand that modern Pharisees will react exactly as their ancient counterparts and seek to shoot the messenger (John 16:2).
The authors of A Sabbath Test find it literally inconceivable that the real reason we have addressed their book is that it is plain, simple error and God’s people need to be protected from them.
Our Duty and Your Duty
Let’s state this plainly: Our duty is to defend the truth—and Mr. Armstrong did not mince words about this in MYSTERY OF THE AGES: “It is the duty of Christ’s true ministers (and how scarce today) to protect the begotten but yet unborn saints from false doctrines, from false ministers” (p. 262; emphasis his).
We can call issues to the attention of those who are oblivious to danger, but the remainder of the obligation rests with the readers. God holds His people accountable for what they take into their minds. Here is Christ’s warning concerning the source of the doctrines you choose to internalize: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them” (Matt. 7:15-20).
This particular false doctrine is already resulting in the “fruits” of division within various groups and congregations, creating factions within the United Church of God and the Living Church of God, and among other segments of God’s people. While the book’s authors feel thrilled by this “progress,” and feel validated as a result of this growing turmoil, seeing it as more coming to the truth of their thinking, they are actually sowing division and bringing an ocean of blood on their own heads.
(The inset at the end of this article will revisit another astonishing element of these authors’ very visible fruits.)
Would a victim’s plea of “It wasn’t my fault, I was deceived” carry weight with God? Of course not! God gives the necessary warnings and leaves it to individuals whether to choose to heed them. Concerning the government in God’s Church, would not God require that we heed the protocol we learned decades ago within the Philadelphian Era? Would God honor decisions to follow self-appointed ministers, as opposed to ministers thoroughly trained in the Church of God under Mr. Armstrong, who refuse to compromise doctrine? Ask: On what basis could Christ expect that His servants would, could—or should—know that He had decided to send pivotal crucial “new doctrine,” supposedly representing the nexus of the test at the end of age, through men that are completely unqualified to teach by every biblical definition—and who are virtually unknown?
When the Church was on track, none would have taken seriously such reckless individuals—never mind that they are not even ministers. Even though confusion reigns in this era when the people judge, rule and decide (the meaning of “Laodicea”), those with sound minds stop and take heed before aligning with leaders promoting new ideas. God has neither relaxed His standards nor reduced personal accountability simply because false teachers and ideas have multiplied.
As you study further, decide whether you will base your decision upon scriptural principles and sound reasoning. For instance, serious Christians should easily recognize the absence of logic in defining the Mark of the Beast as dining out on the Sabbath. You are, indeed, accountable for what you accept.
A crucial duty of every Christian is to guard the door of his mind!
Let’s pull no punches. This problem illustrates why Christ told the Pharisees that they were in danger of the unpardonable sin—of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Regarding misguided teachers, to be Laodicean involves lethargy, but it also indicates that one has God’s Spirit—and thus at least a degree of sound mindedness (II Tim. 1:7). Yet, Christ also said that by their fruits you know them! The thinking that assigns the Mark of the Beast to dining out on the Sabbath is so wrong—so alien—so unrelated to God’s true test at the end of the age—so confusing to His great purpose—so far from biblical reality!—that it is in the same category as the mindset of the apostates who left God’s Way completely. To call such teachers “Laodicean” is to pay them an unmerited compliment.
The reader should recognize what is at stake as he continues.
Necessary Transactions on the Sabbath
Dining out in restaurants is equated to profaning the Sabbath for numerous reasons. One is that it involves conducting business or monetary transactions. If exchanging money for food is wrong, then according to their own reasoning, any transactions at all during the Sabbath should be forbidden, as long as they are “within our control.”
Consider. In many of the world’s larger cities, such as London and New York, brethren must ride metro trains to get to services. This sometimes means having to invest hours traveling to and from services, and riding two or more separate trains. And of course, none of this is free! Sometimes, multiple cash transactions must take place. Early in his ministry, Mr. Armstrong rode streetcars—exchanging money—to get to Sabbath services.
Yet, those brethren who pay these transactions—in order to obey God’s Sabbath command and attend His service—are condemned by critics who forbid dining out on the Sabbath. In their minds, no exceptions are allowed.
Suppose a Church member has to wait an hour for his train to arrive, and he becomes thirsty or hungry. If he buys something to eat from a food stand, these critics would condemn him, insisting that everyone should prepare their food on the preparation day (Friday) and bring it with them.
But not every elderly lady or gentleman is equipped to carry more than a carrying case, which would contain a Bible, a notebook and other personal items. For many brethren, adding a pre-packed lunch, along with a drink, is not feasible when traveling by public transportation.
Some would even condemn others for buying bottled water instead of drinking from a public fountain.
In the Philippines, some brethren in Manila must take taxis to get to services—which requires exchanging money for services rendered. These “taxis” are more like short buses, and hold well beyond the maximum number of passengers allowed. Riding in them can involve a considerable amount of risk, not to mention the discomfort brethren must endure during long rides through the city.
It is always convenient for critics, who live in the modern nations of Israel and benefit financially from the birthright blessings, to proclaim the “errors” of brethren who live in less affluent regions. Apparently, these detractors are unaware that the world actually extends beyond the borders of North America—they do not comprehend the kind of sacrifices that so many brethren around the world make—and have long made—week after week in order to attend Sabbath services.
(For the sake of brevity, throughout this article, we will refer to those who condemn eating in restaurants on the Sabbath as “critics.”)
Suppose a Sabbath service was being held in the downtown area of a large U.S. city, such as New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles (which was done in Mr. Armstrong’s day), and you decided to drive your car. Where would you park? Most, if not all, major American cities are notorious for their lack of parking space. More than likely, in order to park in a safe and convenient location, you will have to use a parking lot or a parking garage. This means having to pay a parking attendant, which is condemned in the eyes of those who oppose dining out on the Sabbath.
Driving your car to services could also involve using toll bridges and taking toll roads. For those who use them, traffic tolls are mandatory business transactions. Sometimes toll areas can be avoided. However, in many cases, detouring around them could amount to extra travel time, as well as additional fuel consumption.
Do you begin to see a trend here? For many brethren, there are legitimate expenses that must be paid in order to attend God’s commanded assembly—and these have nothing to do with fulfilling personal pleasure or profaning the Sabbath.
To illustrate the extent to which some will go to justify or highlight their own standard of righteousness, notice an example cited by Mr. Armstrong in the Bible study noted earlier: “Now I knew a man when I was a boy, and I was brought up in a Sunday church. And, of course, he thought Sunday was the Sabbath. And this man would not ride on a streetcar, because then he would cause other men who were working on that day to work to carry him. Of course, they were going to work anyway, whether he got on the car or not. He didn’t stop to think about that. But he walked, from way over on the west side of Des Moines to the east side of Des Moines, Iowa to attend church, every Sabbath. He walked about two or three miles over, and three miles back to prevent riding where other men were working that were going to work anyway whether he did it or not. Well, that seems like a kind of foolishness—you see what I mean.”
In considering this account, one could ask, who “worked” harder—the man who walked six miles, or the driver of the streetcar who was sitting all day?
Ask yourself: Would Christ understand the necessity of having to pay traffic tolls, parking fees, and transportation expenses for trains, buses or taxis? Would He understand His brothers and sisters paying for food and drink as they travel to Sabbath services? Is Christ scrutinizing whether a transaction becomes one too many, immediately condemning that person for profaning the Sabbath? Does He eagerly stand ready to enforce “yardstick Christianity” and punish us for such “oversights” or “infractions” (particularly, in this case, when it was He who commands Sabbath fellowship and assembly – Mark 2:28; Heb. 10:23-26)?
Or, does Christ measure our intent in context with the spirit of the Law?
A Misunderstood Teaching
In Matthew 12, Christ and His disciples were immediately accused of breaking the Sabbath when they acquired some grain: “At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and His disciples were hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat” (vs. 1).
Critics of those who dine out on the Sabbath might suggest that Jesus and His disciples should have prepared their food on the day of preparation. After all, the critics might argue, was it not their lack of diligent planning that led to them becoming hungry in the first place?
As the following verses show, there is never a lack of detractors to point out where others appear to fall short.
Now read verse 2: “But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto Him, Behold, Your disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day.”
The Pharisees condemned them for merely gleaning on the Sabbath. But gleaning was not (and still is not) wrong, unless the quantity that was harvested was so much that it had to be stored in crates or hampers. Gleaning food on the Sabbath was permissible as long as the person gathered enough food to be eaten on the spot, and therefore did not break the spirit of God’s Law.
Now notice verses 3-4: “But He said unto them, Have you not read what David did, when he was a hungered, and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?”
According to the letter of the law, David was forbidden to eat this showbread, which was intended for the priests. Only after Ahimelech the priest had inquired of God were David and his men allowed to eat it (I Sam. 22:10).
But why did God permit this? He was able to consider the circumstances, recognize that a need had to be fulfilled, and judge accordingly. Of course, Christ was the Old Testament God making the judgment.
The letter of the law has a definite purpose, and should be followed. Yet, God is capable of extending His mercy and applying the spirit of the law—something the Pharisees could not extend to others. They could not comprehend mercy and judgment. Lacking God’s Spirit, they could not see the big picture.
The account continues in Matthew 12: “Or have you not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, that in this place is One greater than the temple” (vs. 5-6).
Exactly how did the priests profane the Sabbath, and why were they blameless? They carried out vigorous, servile labor every Sabbath. For instance, much work was required for the double offerings that were presented each Sabbath. Fresh showbread had to be prepared and baked each Sabbath morning. Besides this, there were occasional duties, such as circumcisions that occurred when the eighth day of a baby boy’s life happened to fall on the seventh day of the week. God considered the priests blameless because He extended His mercy to them in light of their required duties within the spirit of the law—again, something the Pharisees could not comprehend.
Neither can today’s critics!
Now we come to the crux of this account: “But if you had known what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless” (vs. 7).
This means that the spirit of the law must be taken into account with the letter of the law.
The account paralleled in Mark 2 concludes with this, “He said unto them, The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (vs. 27).
Man is not to be deprived of attending to his physical needs, such as hunger, finding warmth from the freezing cold, or even being denied the opportunity to assemble on the Sabbath because it might involve exchanging money when traveling.
Matthew 12:7 quotes part of Hosea 6:6—“For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
Sacrifices and burnt offerings were commanded physical duties. Their purpose was to lead God’s people (unconverted Israel) to establish a pattern of obedience in the letter of the law, eventually leading them to internalizing mercy and the knowledge of God.
In Micah 6, the prophet asks if God would be pleased with an abundance of sacrificial offerings (vs. 6-7). His question is answered with another question: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (vs. 8).
Mercy does not, however, equate to license to disobey or latitude to do whatever one wishes.
Now notice Psalms 130: “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (vs. 3-4).
If God marked every single transgression, no matter how diligently we tried to walk according to His ways and laws, we would fail—we could not stand. But God’s mercy increases our reverence for Him, and His forgiveness enables us to stand.
Had the Pharisees come to fully grasp the meaning of mercy, they would not have condemned the guiltless. Could the same be said of modern Pharisees, who focus on the letter of the law, while ignoring the spiritual intent?
Here is how Christ described the Pharisees of the first century: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matt. 23:23).
Jesus was showing that the Pharisees were correct in tithing, but obeying the letter of the law should have led them to appreciate the spiritual intent of the law—judgment, mercy and faith.
The Pharisees of today see only two alternatives: Keep the “letter of the law” or abandon it. They mistakenly view “the spirit of the law” as a Protestant platitude translated “the law is done away.”
As we conclude the topic of the Pharisees condemning Christ and the disciples for gathering food on the Sabbath, we repeat the fact that their main objection (evidenced by the subsequent replies by Christ) was their “servile work” in the gathering of food. It is significant that these carnal Pharisees were savvy enough not to invoke Exodus 16 to bolster their position. It was obvious to all familiar with God’s laws that the prohibition against gathering manna did not apply to gleaning on the Sabbath to relieve hunger.
By way of review, as manna was first given to Israel, the instructions were to gather enough manna on the sixth day to cover for the Sabbath, as well—enough for two days (vs. 23). Note this instruction specifically applied to the gathering of manna. Then, Exodus 16:25-26, 29 continued with further instructions to not gather manna on the Sabbath. As noted above, gleaning in order to fill one’s hunger on the Sabbath was not forbidden for all time, especially after manna was to cease at some future time.
The Pharisees were smart enough not to cite the Exodus 16 prohibition to condemn Christ and the disciples for Sabbath gleaning. Do any doubt that they would have overlooked this point, had it applied? The modern critics who use Exodus 16 reveal themselves to be uneducated. Outdoing their counterparts, these modern Pharisees “rush in” where even the original Pharisees would have “feared to tread.”
However, these modern critics do not even stop here. They take the matter another step further by quoting the latter part of verse 29, which states: “…abide you every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” Although this instruction was primarily given to restrain Israel from going out and seeking manna on the Sabbath, today it is misapplied by the authors to suggest Christians are forbidden to be “among the world” on the Sabbath.
When using public transportation, as some brethren must to attend Sabbath services, being among the world is virtually unavoidable. Sometimes rented halls for services place brethren “among the world.” God’s people are widely scattered today—not gathered into one camp as was Israel. To misapply the intent of verse 29 reflects, again, a mind that even the Pharisees did not have.
Let’s make a comparison. In Matthew 23, Christ said of the Pharisees: “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (vs. 4). Yet, the authors present a form—a level—of Sabbath bondage that even the Pharisees would not dare enforce!
Nehemiah’s Sabbath Reforms
A growing number of people equate dining out on the Sabbath with ancient Judah buying and selling on the Sabbath. They point to the account of Nehemiah, who confronted and drove off nomadic merchants who sold their foods and wares on the seventh day. They conclude that exchanging money for a restaurant meal during the Sabbath is no different from how the Jews violated the Sabbath in Nehemiah’s day.
Yet, there is a significant difference between these two situations!
Nehemiah was the governor of Judea when the wall and the second temple were being constructed, following the Babylonian captivity. Like Ezra, his contemporary, he was zealously determined to reform certain trends that had developed among the Jews in and around Jerusalem.
The issue of their Sabbath-breaking was spelled out in Nehemiah 13:15-16: “In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the Sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.”
As governor, it was incumbent upon Nehemiah that he did not allow an open market to develop on the Sabbath. The next two verses show the measures he took: “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” (vs. 17-18). Breaking the Sabbath was one of the main reasons that God sent the Israelites into captivity.
Nehemiah commanded that Jerusalem’s gate be shut at the beginning of each Sabbath, and that it not re-open until that day had passed (vs. 19). Despite this, the more persistent merchants camped outside the city walls, and only left after being threatened (vs. 19-21). This was but one of the many problems Nehemiah faced during this volatile period in Judah’s history.
It is important to understand that not all the sins of Israel and Judah anchored around the issue of buying and selling on the Sabbath. It is possible for someone to sin, in a spirit of wickedness, while actually observing (at least in the letter) such restrictions during the Sabbath.
A Closer Look
Consider the following account, which typifies the sentiment of many in ancient Israel: “Hear this, O you that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail, saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? And the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?” (Amos 8:4-6).
At least these Israelites, however reluctantly, waited until the Sabbath was over before practicing their deceitful transactions. Perhaps the critics of today would give such people high marks, since they were not involved in buying and selling on the Sabbath (yet they were still involved in wicked practices).
Buying from an open-air market during Nehemiah’s time would more accurately be equivalent to shopping at an open farmers market or perhaps a super market today for groceries to last for some duration. In a restaurant, one buys a meal that is consumed at that time—which is not the same as shopping for food and taking it home to be eaten later. Dining out at restaurants, as opposed to shopping in volume for the next day’s meals, is comparable to Christ and His disciples gleaning corn to be eaten on the Sabbath, as opposed to gleaning enough for tomorrow’s meals.
Just as the Pharisees could not discern the difference and, as a result, condemned any and all gleaning done on the Sabbath, critics of today condemn dining out on the Sabbath altogether.
Consider the following comment from the book A Sabbath Test: “There are some who have suggested that Nehemiah’s indictment is against those doing business with MERCHANTS selling food in open markets, not specifically restaurants. Therefore, in a very technical sense, God appears to be silent on the subject of dining out on the Sabbath” (p. 30; italics ours).
What an amazing (and unexpected) admission! Yet, despite this weak acknowledgement, the authors try to spin the matter in their favor. The quote continues: “But, could this possibly be true? Why would God forbid buying food at a market, while permitting buying the same food at a restaurant?”
The answer is simple: Gleaning corn on the Sabbath and eating it on the spot is not the same as gathering food in volume for tomorrow’s meal. Likewise, going to a restaurant on the Sabbath and eating the meal where it is served is different from grocery shopping for large amounts of food. Those who are obsessed with dissecting the letter of the law lose the ability to discern just how much gleaning would be acceptable on the Sabbath. To the Pharisees, it seemed to magnify their “righteousness” by simply condemning any gleaning.
Becoming obsessed with such “yardstick Christianity” can lead to debate such as whether it is permissible to operate a light switch during the Sabbath, using Exodus 35:3—as do Orthodox Jews—altogether missing the spiritual intent of observing the seventh day of the week!
But what about the argument that eating out during Sabbath time causes extra work for restaurant employees—and that the customer is an accomplice to the employee breaking the Sabbath? Detractors claim that, even though the employee is working by his own volition, any extra work of preparing additional food, or causing the clerk to tabulate and collect payment, results in the customer becoming a party to their sin.
Is this claim true?
Consider the following analogy: Suppose that, while driving your car on the Sabbath, you approach a highway construction site en route to services. As you draw near, a flagman waves for you to stop. Then, a few minutes later, he waves you on through the construction zone and back into free-flowing traffic. By driving through the work zone, you caused extra labor for the flagman.
Though it might not be proportionate to the work that restaurant employees do in accommodating an additional customer, the fact remains that (in this analogy) you caused the flagman an extra measure of work—thus making you cause him to break the Sabbath. Work is work. This analogy cannot be dismissed. Those who oppose dining out on the Sabbath, yet would drive through a highway work zone on that same day, would be guilty of utter hypocrisy! If one truly opposed eating out on the Sabbath on the grounds that extra labor might be produced, then he would be obliged to bypass all construction zones during Sabbath time.
Let’s go further and take their thinking to its natural and logical conclusion. Let’s look at other details at Sabbath conduct that have been conveniently overlooked.
If one believes that it is wrong to dine in a restaurant on the Sabbath, then he should also refrain from watching television for the same reason. Viewing the fruit of someone else’s labors (the news and other programs that are presented) would be utter hypocrisy, since doing so involves taking advantage of their work during the Sabbath. The same would apply to listening to radio news programs.
Also, newspaper subscriptions would have to be cancelled to avoid the hypocrisy of reading what others have labored to produce on Friday night and deliver Sabbath morning. In addition, one would be obligated to cancel his mail so that it would not be delivered on the Sabbath.
While the authors of A Sabbath Test dismissed the use of utilities as beyond one’s control, is this true? By their standard, should a Christian not refrain from turning on his lights or air conditioning (electricity) because someone at the power plant must be on the job for this to be possible? Similarly, what about gas heat in winter? Should not a kerosene space heater—or heating by wood—be used instead? Then, should a Christian refrain from turning on the water, including showering, on the Sabbath so that others are not further burdened (the water is heated by supplied energy)? What about not flushing the toilet, and using a bucket instead, to eliminate any kind of additional work at the sewage treatment plant?
These examples are all under our control. Utility workers must be there to make available the services you are taking advantage of. In doing this, why are you not, therefore, “a partaker in other men’s sins”?
Have most forgotten—or were they never aware—that brethren in western states often drove so many hours to and from services on the Sabbath (and did so routinely) that it was necessary to buy gasoline to get home? By the standards of these authors, these brethren were doing business on the Sabbath and should have stayed home in supposed obedience to God—never mind Hebrews 10:25-26.
But let’s go further. Suppose one goes to the Feast of Tabernacles intending not to “sin” by eating out on the Sabbath. According to this standard, he would be sinning by renting a hotel room during that time. Even if he requested that his room not be cleaned on the Sabbath, he still benefits from what the hotel has to offer—water and electricity, security, heating, air conditioning, use of elevator, use of phone and daily updating of charges. These are all paid for, and require a support staff to do them.
Leaving the family pet in a kennel during the Feast incurs charges on the Sabbath, as a worker must feed and groom the pet. To dismiss factors such as these, while exclusively focusing on dining in restaurants, would be more of the same utter hypocrisy.
Anyone who listens to this pet doctrine of these false leaders must be prepared to do all of the above.
To quote Paul, we “speak as a fool” (II Cor. 11:23), and any reasonable person reading this will understand that those of “sound mind” (II Tim. 1:7) will see the valid comparison. They will be embarrassed for those who “suffer fools gladly” (II Cor. 11:19).
We must ask: Do you see how utterly ridiculous their thinking is? Are you able to see why Mr. Armstrong never bought into this confusion?
Of course, God knew that some minds crave, even require, such pharisaical do’s and don’ts to make their religion complete. This article is not intended for, and cannot reach, such people.
Are “Strangers” and Unbelievers Now Held Accountable?
When God proclaimed the Fourth Commandment to Israel, He—knowing that the Israelites would seek to get around the restriction against work on the Sabbath—forbade them from allowing “strangers” (foreigners) to work on their behalf on the seventh day. Of course, all national law was under Israel’s control.
The book A Sabbath Test argues the following: “The ‘stranger’ is an unbeliever—one who does not embrace the faith. The world today is filled with such people. There are virtually billions who do not know the true God or His plan for mankind. As a result, these people think nothing of working on the Sabbath and holy days” (p. 20). We can certainly agree with these points, thus far.
The authors continue: “However, even though this is the case, God’s position regarding His Sabbath shall not be compromised. His command is unwavering—the stranger shall not be compelled to labor on behalf of His people. The unbeliever may, through ignorance, choose to profane God’s Sabbath, but they are not to be encouraged to do so by those God has called.”
At this point, they proceed to make analogies between the “strangers” in the days of Moses and the “strangers” who work in restaurants today. At first glance, their position appears to be plausible. Nonetheless, we need to understand how God viewed the strangers or foreigners of Moses’ day. To what extent did He hold them accountable for His laws?
If dining out on the Sabbath causes employees to sin, then we must conclude that God contributed to the sin of foreigners when He decreed that animals that die of themselves should be given or even sold to “strangers” among the Israelites! Notice: “You shall not eat of any thing that dies of itself: you shall give it unto the stranger that is in your gates, that he may eat it; or you may sell it unto an alien: for you are a holy people unto the Lord your God…” (Deut. 14:21).
Some people misunderstand this verse and conclude that God has a double standard—that somehow His laws do not apply equally to foreigners as it does to Israelites. This misconception might expand to conclude that God is a respecter of persons—in this case, Israel.
Let’s review the issues at stake here. First, we need to acknowledge that Israel was the only nation that had been given God’s laws, which covered a wide spectrum of areas, with clean and unclean meats being but one. This is summed up in Psalms 147:19-20: “He shows His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel. He has not dealt so with any nation: and as for His judgments, they have not known them.”
Deuteronomy 14:21 shows that God has never held the other nations accountable in following His laws as He did Israel. Though placed in the chapter regarding clean and unclean meats, this verse shows that even clean animals that die of natural causes become “unclean,” “common” or unfit for human consumption. Thus, the Israelites were not to eat of it; yet God did not hold foreigners accountable to the dietary standards that He taught Israel. God’s focus was upon the nation with which He was working—ancient Israel. He will focus on and work with all other nations later.
The apostle Paul wrote, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). All around the world, people are breaking God’s Law (I John 3:4), ignorant of the fact that it exists. Moreover, every person has earned the death penalty (Rom. 6:23). Ignorance of the law is not excusable in the courts of men; neither is it with God.
Yet, Paul said: “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men every where to repent: Because He has appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He has ordained; whereof He has given assurance unto all men, in that He has raised Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
Here is the point: While all men should repent “yesterday,” so to speak, God will only truly judge them when they are called.
Israel was supposed to be a model nation and serve as an example in teaching all the other peoples and nations (Deut. 4:6-8). Israel’s government was both Church and state, and had authority over all its citizens, along with the foreigners who dwelt among them. It could regulate whether or not everyone within its borders observed God’s Sabbath—and it could mete out swift judgment on those who worked on that day. (Of course, physical Israel failed to set this high standard, and turned away from God’s laws.)
Today, God is working with spiritual Israel; His judgment begins with His Church (I Pet. 4:17; Eph. 2:19). Colossians 2:16-17 and Ephesians 1:22-23 show that God’s government within His Church has authority in how those within the Body of Christ keep the Sabbath and Holy Days. However, that authority does not extend to people in the world, those whom God is not yet calling.
Accountability changes altogether when one’s mind is opened and becomes convicted to the truth: “Therefore to him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin” (Jms. 4:17; Heb. 10:26).
Is Pleasure Forbidden on the Sabbath?
Isaiah 58:13-14 states, “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words: Then shall you delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.”
Verse 13 does not condemn one having pleasure on the Sabbath. Rather, it condemns seeking “your own” pleasure—“your own” ways—“your own” words. The negative focus is upon “your,” rather than on “pleasure.”
The term “pleasure” is translated from the Hebrew word chephets, which means “pleasure; desire concerning a valuable thing.” It pertains to delight, things desired and things pleasant. In verse 13, God condemns things that detract from or cheapen His Sabbath day. Today, this could include such things as going to sporting events or amusement parks, shopping, or to the beach to swim or sunbathe. It could also include going to a restaurant that provides an inappropriate environment—for example, a congested restaurant that places diners in a rowdy atmosphere of worldly chatter, cigarette smoke or loud, intrusive music. (Of course, there are some restaurants that a Christian should not visit on any day of the week.)
A more acceptable atmosphere would be a restaurant with spacious seating, subdued lighting and quiet, sensible background music.
God does not forbid pleasure that is appropriate for the Sabbath. It is not profaning the Sabbath to listen to pleasing classical music. Neither is it sinful to appreciate a beautiful landscape or to walk out into God’s creation to better enjoy His Sabbath. Certainly smelling the fragrance of flowers or taking in fresh mountain air is pleasurable—would God have us abstain from enjoying these things on the Sabbath? Does enjoying a delicious, wholesome meal profane the Sabbath? Of course not! Even in I Corinthians 7:5, in which Paul instructs husbands and wives to abstain from the pleasure of marital relations while fasting, he does not command them to refrain from this on the Sabbath. Clearly, God does not condemn pleasure that is within reason and within His Law.
Yet, statements from the book A Sabbath Test paint a much different picture. After quoting Isaiah 58:13, the authors write, “By this statement, God makes it abundantly clear that we are not to seek personal enjoyment on His Sabbath. It is true that the Sabbath was made for man (Mk. 2:26) [sic – actually Mark 2:27], but it is God’s day (Ex. 31:13-17). Therefore, His people are to honor His instructions regarding how it is to be kept” (p. 34).
They then conclude, “Therefore, God was instructing His people to avoid physical activities which cater primarily to personal pleasure. Tragically, this is exactly what dining out on the Sabbath is. It is something that is geared toward personal pleasure. It is what millions of Americans and Europeans do for entertainment and recreation every single day and especially on the Sabbath.”
Do you grasp what these authors are saying? They are equating the physical necessity of eating—ingesting food in order to obtain necessary nutrients for life—as entertainment and recreation. Who is missing something here? Should such a rift in logic or judgment not serve as a warning flag to reasonable, spirit-led minds? Should it not also be painfully obvious that the authors simply do not know and understand the true God?
As with all the other “proofs” used to support their unstable hypotheses, this “proof” is tailored to fit the authors’ predetermined conclusion.
Traditionally, in the Worldwide Church of God (when it was “on track” under Mr. Armstrong), everyone looked forward to enjoying a meal between or after services on the first Holy Day at the Feast of Tabernacles. Virtually all the brethren went to fine restaurants with the second tithe they had saved for this special occasion. They enjoyed memorable meals, along with drink and fellowship. This was indeed a God-ordained pleasure.
Now notice God’s instructions concerning the Feast of Tabernacles, which includes annual and weekly Sabbaths: “And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place which He shall choose to place His name there, the tithe of your corn, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks; that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. And if the way be too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from you, which the Lord your God shall choose to set His name there, when the Lord your God has blessed you: Then shall you turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and shall go unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose” (Deut. 14:23-25).
Food for the Sabbaths and annual Holy Days could not always be prepared on the day of preparation. Often, on long journeys, their food supplies were, of necessity, converted into money, which was spent upon arriving at the festival.
Verse 26 shows that finding pleasure, within reason, at God’s Feast is actually commanded! “And you shall bestow that money for whatsoever your soul lusts after [desires], for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever your soul desires: and you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you, and your household…”
God tells His people to rejoice at the Feast of Tabernacles—even including the high Holy Day.
For the critics, it becomes somewhat of a “catch-22” to pretend that, although God commands His people to rejoice, His people are warned not to experience any personal enjoyment or pleasure on the Sabbath. When one keeps God’s command to rejoice, it will be pleasurable.
Should Women Never Get a Break?
These modern critics seek to make the Sabbath a burden, but especially upon the women. They fail to recognize that their misguided zeal in not adding to the burdens of restaurant employees on the Sabbath automatically transfers over to their wives, mothers and daughters—who labor in cooking, reheating, setting up tableware, etc. Like chauvinists, these critics do not take into consideration the fact that their wives, mothers and daughters would appreciate an opportunity to occasionally have their burdens lightened on the Sabbath. How ironic—and revealing—that these critics give this consideration to the restaurant employees—unbelievers who have no regard for, or understanding of, this holy time—but give no consideration to women who are believers! In other words, “Let’s worry about people who are not being judged and whose burden will not be reduced, and ignore the workload of those who are being judged and whose burden would be reduced.”
Much like the Pharisees, these one-issue critics seek to make the Sabbath a burden—something that Christ condemned. Notice again the double standard of those willing to burden others: “Then spoke Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matt. 23:1-4).
Kitchen and Dining Facilities in the Millennial Temple
During the Millennium, throngs of people will come to the temple complex on Mount Zion and offer sacrifices, especially on the weekly Sabbaths and annual Holy Days.
Yet, the writers of the previously quoted book make this blanket statement: “In the millennium there will be no restaurants [implying dining facilities in general] operating on the Sabbath” (p. 10).
This contradicts what is described in the book of Ezekiel. In the huge temple complex, four large kitchens in the outer court (Ezek. 46:21-24) will be in operation, providing food for many thousands who will dine in 30 separate dining rooms, each about 6,400 square feet. The kitchens provide a place to cook the sacrifices that people will bring to the temple. They will be allowed to have a portion of the offerings they present; a portion will also be reserved for the priests.
Two larger kitchens will exist in the inner court (vs. 19-20), providing food for hundreds of priests, in two large, immaculate dining facilities described in Ezekiel 42:1-13. One will be located about 40 ft. north of the main temple structure; the other will be located about 40 ft. south of the temple. Each will be about 200 ft. long by 100 ft. wide, and three stories tall. Each progressive story will be slightly narrower in width than the story below it, allowing for a beautiful terrace and overlook on the upper stories.
Recall what Christ said about the priests who served at Solomon’s temple: “Or have you not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?” (Matt. 12:5).
Just as this was done in ancient times, it will also be done in the world tomorrow. The future temple will be a huge complex that will accommodate the many thousands—and later, millions—who will come to worship there each year. This complex will need to accommodate far larger numbers than Solomon’s temple or the temple that was renovated in the days of King Herod. In the future, certain types of service will be done on the Sabbath—and this will be done with God’s full knowledge and blessings!
While privately-owned restaurants are different from Church-operated dining facilities, both require labor. The millennial temple complex will involve specialized workers who will serve in distinct capacities, meaning they will be compensated.
The food menus at the millennial temple will not solely consist of meat (beef, lamb or goat). Ezekiel 46 also mentions meal (grain) offerings and baked bread. Certainly, God will allow vegetables, fruits and various trimmings to make the dishes attractive, as well as nourishing. Again, all these things spell W-O-R-K. Much of it will be pre-assembled on the preparation day, but also much will be done on the Sabbath.
During the Millennium, as the world’s population escalates into the billions, only a tiny fraction of the people will be present at the temple at any given time. There will be hundreds of other locations in which Sabbath services will be held. Provisions will be allowed for people to eat. This means that there will be dining facilities to accommodate larger groups numbering into the thousands. Perhaps on many occasions, the people might bring potluck meals prepared the day before. But there will be times when potlucks for such large gatherings will not be practical.
Ezekiel’s vision of the future temple gives us a glimpse into how God will conduct things in the world to come. From this, we can readily discern that feeding large congregations on the Sabbath will entail a degree of real labor. If God can make—and always has made—allowances for His priests when they worked on the Sabbath, is it not possible for Him to make allowances for others who serve God’s people?
Those who condemn brethren for dining out on the Sabbath do not think so. Nevertheless, the glimpse that God inspired Ezekiel to record, along with many other scriptures, shows us a more realistic picture.
Let’s understand: There are circumstances under which God says that work on the Sabbath is wrong and other times He makes plain that it is not. Thus, it comes down to: What are the circumstances involving the work?—who is doing the work?—why, for what purpose, is it being done?—who is being burdened and who is being unburdened?
God always answers these questions in principle, but does it through His faithful leaders (Tit. 1:9), not through any “Tom, Dick or Harry” who gets a notion in his head about the who, what, why, when and where of that work according to his personal opinion or feeling.
Here is why following personal opinions of misguided, unqualified, self-appointed teachers becomes a truly serious issue.
Is Dining Out on the Sabbath the “Mark of the Beast”?
In order to avoid confusing anyone as to what these critics actually believe, it is necessary to quote them extensively. This will help brethren to understand the prophetic significance these critics attribute to their pet doctrine.
The first quote is from the article “Should Christians Frequent Restaurants on the Sabbath?”:
“What does the apostle John tell us about this mark in Revelation 13:16-17: ‘And he causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And no man might BUY or SELL, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.’
“The ‘forehead’ signifies submitting one’s mind, will power, and intellect. The “right hand” signifies willingness, action, and more importantly, co-operation.
“Which is the biggest BU$INE$$ day for buying and selling in all of the world? Is it not Saturday, God’s Sabbath day?
“The fact is, if you have the mark of God, you are limited in your buying and selling because you will not be buying and selling on His Holy Sabbath day. If you have the mark of the beast, you have no restrictions, you will buy and sell on God’s Sabbath day. The mark of the beast is spiritual! The mark of the beast has always been here!...ALL of these resurrected saints [mentioned in Rev. 20:4] REJECTED the mark of the beast! They had to make a “conscious choice” and they REFUSED the mark of the beast, which means that they KNOW WHAT IT IS!
“Don’t you see? The mark of the beast has always been here! God is marking His own. Are you numbered among them?” (pp. 13-14).
According to the author, the marking process of the beast is now in progress—and has been for quite some time. He feels that the separation process is virtually complete, and those who have gone to restaurants and conducted business on the Sabbath already bear the Mark of the Beast. Absolutely incredible!
Now let’s read an extensive quote from A Sabbath Test:
“God’s church has rightly understood this mark [from Rev. 13:16] to be a rejection of the true Sabbath and holy days and the embracing of false religious customs and festivals. This understanding is drawn in part because of the remarkable contrast that can be drawn between God’s Sabbath and this ‘mark.’ The mark of the beast even has the appearance of being a counterfeit Sabbath.
“To illustrate this point, consider the following: one is called a mark (Rev. 13:16), the other is called a ‘sign’ (Ex. 31:13, 17). The mark of the beast is placed in the right hand and the forehead (Rev. 13:16). The Sabbath, which is part of God’s law, is placed in the right hand and as frontlets between the eyes (Deut. 6:6-8). The mark of the beast is very popular: ‘all receive it.’ The Sabbath is very unpopular, almost all reject it. Those who refuse the mark will be persecuted by the Beast. Those who receive the mark will be punished by God. But there is more. Perhaps the most unique quality of the mark of the beast, is its connection to buying and selling. Notice what the apostle John writes when describing this ‘mark.’ ‘And no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark…’ (Rev. 13:17).
“With these words you almost get the impression that while God is commanding His people to refrain from buying and selling on the Sabbath, the beast, under direct authority of Satan the devil (Rev. 13:2), is doing the very opposite. He is declaring that unless you reject the Sabbath, he will make it impossible for you to ever buy and sell. With this in mind, is it possible that the rejection of God’s Sabbath is defined more by engaging in business on this day than any other activity? After all, commerce drives so much of man’s physical existence. A leading industrialist once put it this way, ‘nothing happens in this world until something gets sold.’ The point here is that the exchange of money represents a huge part of man’s profane existence. This practice touches virtually everyone on earth.
“This is a fact that is undoubtedly not lost on Satan the devil. He knows all too well what makes the world go‘round. This being the case, it is almost certain that this great deceiver (Rev. 12:9) will use commerce to persuade God’s people to reject their Creator. In essence, he will attempt to compel them to profane the Sabbath by buying and selling on that day. If they refuse, they will never be able to buy and sell. What an incredible test of faith that would be! It is true that Satan will use the beast to deceive all the people on earth to accept his mark, but the real target will be God’s people” (pp. 47-48).
The authors were very careful to stop short of an official explicit statement—that the Mark of the Beast is defined as eating at restaurants on the Sabbath. Yet their implication comes across quite loud and clear.
Consider what their point of view means: If eating out on the Sabbath is the Mark of the Beast, exactly how will it be enforced during the coming captivity? Are those hoping to endure to the end going to be forced to eat and pay for a meal in a restaurant, thereby violating their conscience?
This is simply ludicrous!
Grasp this firmly! The Mark of the Beast is enforced Sunday observance, as well as enforced slave labor on the Sabbath, with the penalty of death for non-compliance.
Once again, we cite a particular comment from the book, A Sabbath Test, page 30: “There are some who have suggested that Nehemiah’s indictment is against those doing business with merchants selling food in open markets, not specifically restaurants. Therefore in a very technical sense, God appears to be silent on the subject of dining out on the Sabbath” (emphasis ours).
Notice their admission that God is silent in prohibiting Sabbath dining out. God is not only silent on this, but He also says nothing that relates it to the Mark of the Beast.
Since there are no explicit biblical explanations that exist for what they conclude is the single most important issue facing the Church of God today, the authors have to fill in the blanks with their own abundant, then redundant, and then even tediously repetitious explanations. Just as much explanation is required to lay the groundwork for their interpretation of the Mark of the Beast, they have to be very careful and allow their readers to “fill in the blanks” and “connect the dots” themselves. An explicit explanation by the authors, here, would be all too transparent and would risk exposure.
By contrast, the understanding of the Mark of the Beast as taught by Mr. Armstrong was simple to define and required no extended, convoluted explanation. To repeat the simple definition from above, the Mark of the Beast is enforced Sunday observance, as well as enforced slave labor on the Sabbath, with the penalty of death for non-compliance. Here is what Mr. Armstrong taught, with his emphasis: “Sunday observance—Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, etc.—this is the MARK of the BEAST!” Later in the same section, he continues, “Yes the MARK OF THE BEAST will once again be enforced!…Those refusing will again be tortured and martyred…at the behest of the [Roman] church!” (Who or What is the Prophetic Beast?, pp. 44-45).
Shunning Profane and Vain Babblings
The Bible is explicit and straightforward about what is allowed and what is forbidden. Some attempt to attain a new threshold of “righteousness” by setting up a unique hurdle of their devising. Such is the case with this recently-contrived issue of avoiding restaurants on the Sabbath. We have seen that it was necessary for the advocates of this belief to subtly trash Mr. Armstrong, since he was “out of step” with their newly established definition of righteousness.
Ironically, the same scriptures upon which these modern critics base their beliefs were also in the hands of Paul and all other apostles and ministers of the early Church. When people traveled in those times, they did not always bring all their food along with them. The modern critics might consider Paul and other ordained leaders guilty of negligence for not addressing such issues in their letters.
However, what we do find is an admonition from Paul, warning Timothy about various people who shun wholesome words and resort to petty arguments about miniscule issues, which are then inflated out of proportion. Paul had to quiet such teachers who failed to consider the big picture, while focusing upon their pet theories to the detriment of others. He continues by declaring of such a teacher: “He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof comes envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw yourself” (I Tim. 6:4-5).
Now read I Timothy chapter 1: “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: from which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law [in this case, the Sabbath]; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm” (vs. 5-7).
As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun! Such poisonous heresy is very much alive in these last days—and, in this issue, is disguised as ultra-righteousness Sabbath-keeping.
In this second letter to Timothy, Paul actually names some of these false teachers, and mentions how they entrapped brethren. “Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as does a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows them that are his. And, Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (II Tim. 2:14-19).
Heresy can and does overthrow the faith of some—especially newer brethren. The restaurant-Sabbath issue has affected hundreds throughout the splinters. Rather than recognizing this as plain false teaching, and contrary to the teachings and practices of Mr. Armstrong, certain weak splinter leaders have actually signed on and endorsed this heresy.
How Did They Do It?
Consider one example of false and incredibly foolish teaching in the first century. One might ask, by what means were Hymenaeus and Philetus able to persuade some brethren that the resurrection was already past? Since the New Testament scriptures were not canonized until many years later, those brethren could not study the details of the resurrection in a point-by-point manner as discussed in the New Testament writings. Most likely, these false leaders declared that the physical resurrection of some of the saints at the time of Christ’s death and/or resurrection fulfilled the resurrections prophesied in the books of the prophets such as Isaiah 65:17-25 or Ezekiel 37. However incredible it might seem to us, gullible people did buy in.
Here is one account that is falsely considered to fulfill a prophesied resurrection: “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (Matt. 27:50-53).
The false teachers of that time probably presented this account accurately, but then proceeded to skillfully spin the matter to fit their conclusions. Their presentation was so convincing that many of those new in the faith, lacking the roots and foundation to discern between genuine truth and intimidating arguments, signed on to this thinking.
Likewise, the majority of those who have bought into these cunning restaurant-Sabbath arguments appear to be relatively new brethren—and thus candidates to be more easily confused and fooled by seductive thinking (II Tim. 3:13). Many of them have turned away from the truth even before becoming grounded in the most basic understandings. The “modern Pharisees” have come across as “wonderfully” righteous to such unsuspecting novices. These teachers usually state facts and present them in an accurate manner, but proceed to draw their crafty conclusions by weaving webs of convincing deception.
It usually turns out that false teachers who raise the bar to the highest level of conduct do so in the most hypocritical fashion. This is because their own personal track record falls abysmally short of what they expect of others. For example, those demanding the highest level of expectations of others have rarely attained that level in their personal lives or in their past inconsistent track record with the Church. Yet they readily set the bar for others to follow their projected image of righteousness while they live by a different standard. False teachers have consistently followed this type of pattern. Again, Christ says of them, “…for you laden men with burdens grievous to be borne, and you yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46).
In contrast to the hypocrisy of this age, true Christianity reflects the simplicity and purity that Paul wrote to Timothy: “Hold fast the form of sound words, which you have heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 1:13).
We must ask: If the restaurant-Sabbath issue were so dominant that it was foremost in God’s mind, again, would God have left Mr. Armstrong and His Church in the dark as to the importance of this supposedly towering doctrine? If eating out on the Sabbath were an issue crucial to salvation, as it has been implied, certainly Christ would not have failed to emphasize this—in fact, with so much at stake, a fair, just and loving God would have inspired His servant to explicitly spell this out in no uncertain terms.
Truly, the greatest danger in regard to the restaurant-Sabbath issue is not whether we cause someone already working to “perform extra labor” on the Sabbath or whether we make a cash transaction, not unlike paying a toll or parking fee. The greatest danger associated with this issue involves whether we fall into the trap of this heresy. The assumed righteousness—self-righteousness—that accompanies acceptance of this heresy adds to the loss of vision for those who buy into it. Few have been known to recover from such a risky endeavor.
Most will agree that a Sabbath meal at one’s home or at that of other brethren offers a better atmosphere than most restaurants, and the quality of the food may be generally more acceptable, as well. It is true that some have, most likely, gone overboard in their use of restaurants on the Sabbath. Yet, for some brethren—such as singles, widows, widowers and those who travel relatively long distances to attend services—a Sabbath meal at a restaurant can and should be a special, enjoyable event.
True Christians should be wary of humanly-devised legalism and pet doctrinal ideas that try to define the liberty and latitude that Christ allows. Paul tells us to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).
People who are caught up in this new, ever-growing Laodicean mentality seem eager and willing to give up the liberty they had been given upon coming to the knowledge of the truth. They relinquish liberty in order to buy into a recently devised form of “yardstick Christianity” produced by the era defined by Christ as “the people rule, judge and decide.”
Verses 13-14 adds, “For, brethren, you have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
One of the greatest ways of encouraging one another and communicating sincere love for the brethren has been to share a meal upon coming together on the Sabbath. Someone who is single or a widower hardly ever has the opportunity to serve others a meal. Yet, they can use the liberty to invite other brethren for a meal on the Sabbath or high Holy Day at an appropriate restaurant. Mr. Armstrong never condemned this practice. And, according to their thinking, why is this extra effort to serve food at home when entertaining Sabbath visitors not unnecessary labor, and thus Sabbath-breaking?
Dining out on the Sabbath (in moderation) has always been a special treat for those honored to serve others, as well as for the guests. The motive should always be to lift up, encourage and show other brethren that they are appreciated. For many brethren, who are scattered in various locations, eating at a restaurant offers the only possible opportunity for fellowship after services.
Many Sabbath services have been held in a city near the downtown area, many miles away from where any of the brethren live. Those in attendance are themselves usually scattered long distances from each other, making quality fellowship a rare and precious golden opportunity. In such cases the only opportunity for fellowship is for the group (while they are together) to go to a nearby restaurant for a meal and fellowship. Else fellowship would be scrapped in order to comply with this “Pharisaical Laodiceanism”—where the people rule, judge and decide doctrine!
No reasonable mind believes that the God who said that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” would forego wonderful, vital fellowship among His children on the Sabbath so that worldly restaurant employees will still render the exact same service anyway—but now at someone else’s table.
Critics have attempted to debate a range of reasons for why dining out on the Sabbath has become “a” (if not “the”) central issue facing true Christians in these “perilous times.” Their movement is gaining ground in certain splinters.
The article you have just read was written to give people—both older brethren and those new to God’s truth—an advance warning, so that they will not be captured by the cunning arguments of those who appear to be standing fast for the truth. In reality, the advocates against eating out on the Sabbath are teaching a new form of bondage that appears to follow the letter of the law, while ignoring the weightier matters. As the apostle James wrote, the Law of God is not a surrender of liberty; it allows us to continue in God-given liberty (Jms. 1:25; 2:12).
Titus 1:9 instructs God’s true ministers to “hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught” so that “he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convict the gainsayers.” Verses 10 and 11 describe today’s age: “For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision [legalistic Jewish teachers of the law, like these today]: whose mouths must be stopped…”
Of course, we cannot literally restrain those who are deceiving God’s people with their humanly-devised nonsense about how to keep the Sabbath of a God they so obviously do not know. But, we can present you with the mind of God—and we have done that here—so that you can resist their designs to make you another captive, joining the others who have fallen prey to such deception!
May all of God’s people keep straight the plain truth of God’s Way!