The Samoan Sabbath Dilemma Revisited
“Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed… He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” Revelation 13:11-17 (NKJV)
Seventh-day Adventists believe that, according to this prophecy in Revelation, all of the world’s governments will (perhaps unwittingly) join in a conspiracy against God and His holy law, requiring that everyone on earth worship the “beast” and receive its mark, which we understand as having to do with the day of worship. In light of this expectation, how shall we view any current relationship between our Sabbath observance and the government?
What really caused the Sabbath Dilemma in Samoa?
On January 1, immediately after the date line shift in Samoa, Sabbath School Net published my article called The Samoan Sabbath Dilemma. The Samoa government calls a certain day of the week the 7th day, while the Seventh-day Adventist church leadership (in the South Pacific Division) says that the true 7th day in Samoa is actually the next day, locally known as Sunday.
Now, the Samoa government is not trying to tell anyone how to worship, nor when to observe a Sabbath rest, but our members do want to keep holy the 7th day. So they have a dilemma. “Shall we believe the government and observe what is locally known as Saturday, or shall we obey our church leaders and choose what the whole society around us knows as Sunday?”
A great deal of discussion followed the publication of my article. Some wondered which day is the “correct” Sabbath in Samoa, based on where the date line “ought” to be. These generally sought a zero-degree reference point, for a “Sabbath-keeping date line” on the opposite side of the world. Jerusalem seemed to be the favourite. However, someone pointed out that this city lies 35 degrees to the east of Greenwich, so using it as a zero-degree reference would actually require Friday observance in some places, not Sunday. In Samoa, what is generally accepted as Saturday would still be the “true 7th day.”
Some expressed the desire to maintain a personal or national unbroken 7-day cycle, but many pointed out that the 2011 date line shift in Samoa was merely the reversal of an earlier shift in 1892. Others noted that Seventh-day Adventists (including church administrators) often cross the IDL, accepting a 6-day or 8-day week in the process. So, why couldn’t a whole country also accept such a one-time week, if necessary?
John Wallace pointed out that each day takes over 48 hours to complete its journey around the earth, from its beginning just west of the IDL to its end just east of the date line. The IDL shift means that Samoa has merely moved its 24-hour participation in each day from the latter portion of those 48 hours to the earlier portion. There has been no calendar change at all.
The way Jesus related to Sabbath observance, especially as revealed in Mark 2:23-27, was brought out. This suggests a reasonable degree of flexibility in our Sabbath observance. If a one-time 6-day week must be accepted in order to maintain Sabbath observance on what the general public will recognise as being the 7th day of the week, this would seem to be in harmony with the purpose of the Sabbath which, according to Jesus, was made for man — not man for the Sabbath.
Ellen White and the Date Line
We also examined what Ellen White had to say about Sabbath keeping and the date line, as recorded in Selected Messages, Volume 3, Chapter 40. (See pages 317-319.) One particularly pertinent statement seemed to be the following:
“When men are so careful to search and dig to see in regard to the precise period of time, we are to say, God made his Sabbath for a round world; and when the seventh day comes to us in that round world, controlled by the sun that rules the day, it is the time in all countries and lands to observe the Sabbath.”
This would seem to be advocating the simple and common-sense approach which Ellen White herself appears to have followed — using the locally accepted reckoning of the days of the week in order to determine when the Sabbath is to arrive. When some sought to promote, in the SDA Church, a theory that would have made Sunday (i.e. the locally determined 1st day of the week) to be the true 7th-day Sabbath in parts of the world,1 her words were unsparing.
“Now, my sister, … I write … to tell you that we are not to give the least credence to the day line theory. It is a snare of Satan brought in by his own agents to confuse minds. You see how utterly impossible for this thing to be, that the world is all right observing Sunday, and God’s remnant people are all wrong. This theory of the day line would make all our history for the past fifty-five years a complete fallacy. But we know where we stand….”
It was shown that the present-day theory, which uses the idea that the date line ought to follow the 180th meridian (in order to justify Sunday observance among Seventh-day Adventists on certain South Pacific islands), is essentially a variation on the Eden day line theory. True, a smaller geographical area is affected, yet the theory’s implementation has led most of our Seventh-day Adventist brothers and sisters in Samoa & Tokelau to join those in Kiribati, Tonga, Wallis and Futuna in meeting for worship on the local Sunday, alongside the Mormons, Anglicans, Baptists, Roman Catholics, etc. Again, the right answer for Samoa would have to be the generally acknowledged 7th day of the week – Saturday, on the official Samoan calendar.
Where do we go from here?
Eventually comments were turned off because they were getting repetitive, and some felt it was time for a season of prayer on the subject. Prayer is good, but Proverbs 28:9 (NKJV) reads:
“One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.”
Thus prayer without right action will get us nowhere. What is the right action in this case?
Some participants in the discussion argued that since God chose the church leaders, therefore members should do as the leaders say — observe Sabbath on the local Sunday, according to the recommendation of the Samoa-Tokelau Mission (STM), the Trans-Pacific Union Mission (TPUM) and the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SPD). This presupposes that our leaders cannot make mistakes, or at least that they have sufficient authority to support this decision. Should Seventh-day Adventist members yield unquestioning submission to their leaders? Or should the members understand for themselves the implications of their choice of day for the sacred meeting, so that they can make an intelligent decision? To deal with these questions, we shall examine the question of Sabbath Keeping and Authority in an upcoming article.