How Are We to Keep the Sabbath? (Part 2)


In the first installment of this series, we addressed questions related to God’s command not to do “work” on the Sabbath; not to pursue our own “pleasure”; and not to engage in “business.” In this installment, we will concentrate on the question as to whether it is permissible to eat out in a restaurant on the Sabbath. We addressed this question in a previous Q&A, stating the following:

“The Church of the Eternal God in the USA and its corporate affiliates in Canada and Great Britain have consistently taught that it is not wrong to eat out on the weekly Sabbath or annual Holy Days (which are also called ‘Sabbaths’ in the Bible), depending on the circumstances. At the same time, we must always keep firmly in mind that whatever we do or say or think on the Sabbath should be in realization of the fact that we are spending time that God has set aside for a holy purpose (Isaiah 58:13-14)… This is not to say, however, that a Christian should engage in shopping on the Sabbath [but see our comments below], except in a real emergency… Nor should this… be used as justification or an excuse for a refusal to prepare for the Sabbath on the previous day…

“If Church members today eat occasionally in a nice, quiet restaurant on the Sabbath or a Holy Day after Church services, for instance, while, at the same time fellowshipping with other brethren and speaking about the things that pertain to God, then we must not condemn them for that. For instance, Church members might be traveling for quite a distance to attend Church services, looking forward to spending additional time with their brethren after services…

“This teaching, that it is not wrong to eat out on the Sabbath, is in accordance with the long-held understanding of the Church of God. In a letter from the Letter Answering Department of the Worldwide Church of God, dated October 1988, this understanding was correctly explained, as follows: ‘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 are 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.’

“Mr. Armstrong, the late human leader of the Church of God, who died in 1986, explained once during a Bible study that he did not feel that it was inappropriate to go to a restaurant on a Sabbath… [since] eating or not eating did not stop the cooks and servers at a restaurant from working on the Sabbath…  He would go out on a Friday night if he had guests, and if he had served his guests in his house, it would have meant a lot of work for Mr. Armstrong’s housekeeper and cook.

“The Church of God in Germany published a booklet in the early 70’s, titled ‘Gottes Sabbat–ein Tag der Freude’ (‘God’s Sabbath — A Day of Joy’). It reflected the Church’s understanding on the issue, and stated: ‘In Matthew 12:1-5, Christ shows clearly that it is not prohibited to acquire food on the Sabbath, when one is hungry and has nothing to eat. If one is not at home, it is not wrong to go to a restaurant on the Sabbath. There are people who do not have the means of cooking at home. In such cases it is permissible to buy food on the Sabbath.’…”

Some have no problem with going to a restaurant on the Sabbath to be with Church members, but reject the concept that when they get together for a picnic after Church services, some participating members, who have been traveling from a distance, go to a shop to buy some beer or some sandwiches for the picnic. Some may object to others stopping at a coffee shop on their way to Church services to drink coffee there or eat a sandwich, but they have no problem with buying coffee at the hotel where they are meeting, or at a restaurant where they might meet after services. We must not have double standards. If one set of actions is accepted, why not the other set? In addition, we do not know why the member would stop at a coffee shop on his way to services. Maybe, his family situation is such that he would rather enjoy peace at the coffee shop than having coffee at home, where he might be facing antagonism and rejection because of the Sabbath. As mentioned before, these are questions which must be answered pursuant to personal choices and convictions. It is not for us to condemn or criticize those who might not act in a way which we might approve or disapprove.

To continue with the above-mentioned Q&A:

“[In years when] the Passover evening falls on the Sabbath… work will have to be done during the ceremony. In addition, the Night to Be Much Observed falls [in such a] year on an annual Holy Day, following a weekly Sabbath. Some members of the Church of the Eternal God keep the Night to Be Much Observed in a nice, quiet restaurant, so as to reduce the work load on the women that night. Otherwise, the ladies would have to work during the weekly Sabbath to prepare meals for the evening. To prepare meals on Friday might pose several problems, as Friday, being the preparation day for the Sabbath, should be spent more properly to spiritually prepare for the Passover evening (in addition to finishing removing all leavening from the house, which must be completed [in such a] year by Friday evening).

“In the early 70’s, it was the practice of the Church of God in Germany to meet together in a restaurant during the Night to Be Much Observed. This was always a most inspiring experience, and rightly observed, did not at all take away from the spirit of that occasion…”

The Church of the Eternal God in Germany has followed this example for several years, with great success. In addition, Church members meet for at least eight days in rented facilities during the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day. Some might object to this, claiming they can’t rent rooms at an hotel, as this would include renting on the weekly Sabbath and two annual Holy Days. They would rather stay home and just attend services. However, in doing so, they would violate God’s command to stay during the entire Feast of Tabernacles in temporary dwellings (excluding some extraordinary personal circumstances).

To elaborate on this, we should take note of the following comments from our free booklet, God’s Commanded Holy Days:

“God instructs us [in Exodus 35:3] not to kindle a fire for the purpose of working. He is not talking about kindling a fire to warm ourselves, or to cook a meal, or, as some interpret this today, to turn on a light switch. In the original Hebrew, the thought is conveyed of ‘kindling a consuming fire.’ The context in which this command was given was the work of building the tabernacle (compare Exodus 35:10–19)… heavy baking or boiling should be done on Friday, but… it is not prohibited to ‘kindle a fire’ to cook or heat a meal on the Sabbath day… ‘Customary work,’ by Biblical definition, does not include kindling a fire to warm oneself or cooking or heating a meal, and it does not include the bringing of sacrifices by the priests…

“[In Nehemiah 13:15-22], we see a description of a very common practice in our Western world today—a farmer’s market being conducted on the Sabbath. People were carrying burdens into the city to sell them there. But God did not—and does not—approve of such practices. If we want to be God’s people, we are not to participate in such activities… Further, the command against carrying burdens applies foremost, as we have seen, to carrying merchandise to be sold. This does not mean, however, that we should engage in the work of moving our belongings from one house to another on the Sabbath, except, of course, in a real emergency…

“Christ did not do His customary work as a carpenter—but He did do the work of God, that is, He did do good things on the Sabbath, including healing people…”

We may want to clarify here that this does not justify the work of a Church member as a doctor or a nurse on the Sabbath, since this is their customary work. This would also include an employed caretaker in a hospital or convalescent home for the elderly. In those cases, they need to find a replacement for their work on the Sabbath, as everyone needs to do, who does customary work.

Continuing with quoting from our above-mentioned booklet:

“Since both the weekly Sabbath and the annual Holy Days are Feast days, the Christians in Colossae kept them of course as FEAST days. They would eat and drink on those days (except, of course, during the ‘Fast’—on the Day of Atonement). Some, though, apparently criticized them for that, teaching that no eating and drinking should take place on any of those days.

“Colossians 2:16, correctly translated from the Greek, states: ‘Let no one judge you regarding eating and drinking.’ Paul is addressing here the ACT of eating and drinking, not the KIND of food and drink being partaken of. Some critics felt, however, that Christians should fast on those days, rather than eating or drinking anything… Rather than agreeing with these human ideas, Paul states that this kind of philosophy is useless and is a doctrine of man that is derived from the ‘principles of this world.’ He specifically condemns such teaching in Colossians 2:8: ‘Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.’

“Some were apparently trying to introduce those philosophies into the Church, especially pertaining to how to keep the Sabbath and the Holy Days. Paul, in addressing these attempts, essentially told the Colossians: ‘Let no one judge you for keeping the Sabbath or the Holy Days with eating and drinking, rather than fasting, but let the Church determine or resolve this.'”

The Church has resolved that the Sabbath should be kept as a Feast day, with eating and drinking. Occasional fasting on the Sabbath may be in order, but it should not become a habit. In addition, the Church has also resolved that it is not wrong, in certain circumstances, to eat out in a restaurant on the Sabbath.

In the next installment, we will begin to address God’s teaching on Church attendance.

(To be Continued)

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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