For most of my life I have said that if anybody wants to argue the Sabbath with an Adventist they really should do it on the basis of the dateline, not on the Bible. 1After all, Sabbath is the day between Friday and Sunday according to all four gospels. Now we have a disagreement between ourselves as to which day is the true Sabbath of the Bible, not because of any new or present truth but because of the international dateline, and between Seventh-day Adventists in the same country!
I first found out about this on Friday, 30 December, 2011, as our family was returning from my brother-in-law’s funeral in Palmerston North, en route to Tui Ridge for Camp Meeting, when we stopped for fuel at Turangi. My daughter bought a copy of the NZ Herald, our largest daily paper, which she began to read as we resumed our journey. It wasn’t long before she gave me the paper which had the headline, “Pacific Nation Does The Time Warp Again.” In short, it explained that Samoa was going to “skip a day, tomorrow, to align its dates with New Zealand.” The paper reported the concerns of the only objector, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, whose “leaders in Samoa have declared they will continue to observe their holy day on what would have been Saturday – therefore observing Sabbath on Sundays from now on. But in the village of Samatau, church members say they will not be following the rule and will worshipping [sic] on the new Saturday.”
Sitting beside me in the car were my daughter and youngest son, both of whom stopped attending church many years ago. My daughter pointed out the article to me and seemed to relish the dilemma that the church has found itself in.
The news item was a shock to me. However, I was well aware of the dateline issue, since my son had shared it with me nearly twenty years ago when he was a student at Longburn College. There he learned that Seventh-day Adventists in Tonga attended church on Sunday because of a previous dateline consideration. He had accepted that they knew what they were doing, and so had I – until now.
When we arrived at Tui Ridge, I pursued the matter with Pastor Eddie Tupai, who had a camp meeting to run, but he informed me that worship on Sunday was the recommendation from the South Pacific Division. I was absolutely amazed and said, “I thought we were to call people out of confusion, not lead them into it!” He supplied me with some documents to read on the subject and my disappointment grew.
I involved my friend, John Wallace, who also had the newspaper and was able to download the discussion documents. We worked to try to get a response written by the end of Camp but were unable to, even though the correct course of action was so obvious to us. How to explain it was another matter, but we have had valuable insights since and are thankful to God for the Sabbath School Lesson, Glimpses of our God.
We both have been brought up in the church and the church is our life, so how could all of our understandings on SDA uniqueness and mission, judgment and grace, be swept aside and ignored in mistaken legalistic zeal to protect an “unbroken seven-day cycle” of time for Sabbath keeping, as has occurred in Samoa? As Jesus said, we have strained a gnat only to swallow a camel. Maybe it has served a purpose, since the problem has been in Tonga for a long time and needs to be resolved.
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- Note that this essay was originally written in January 2011 ↩