It must be a strange sensation to go to bed on a Thursday night as usual, and has been usual for many years, only to wake up and it is Saturday morning! To our surface thinking, it could be like going to bed with a mouth full of teeth and waking up with one missing! The difference with the teeth, there is physically one tooth missing and not replaced, but with a day missing. There is no gap. One wakes up and another day follows. It may have a different name, but there is no gap, the day closes off into evening, and another day follows regardless of a title or meaning man may invent.
Most of the world would have no idea of such a change – and need not trouble itself with such trauma when so unnecessary. But there is one nation that has had to deal with such a change. The country of Samoa went through this very experience on Friday, December 30, 2011. For most people, it would have been ho-hum. Just a day different. We got up on Saturday morning instead of Friday, no big deal: but for one group of people, there was an issue that has caused some major knock-on consequences; that group being the Seventh-day Adventist Church with its Sabbath observance. Decisions had to be made as to whether they would change the Sabbath to what has always been on their usual Saturday, or keep their seven day cycle and choose to go to church on what would now become Sunday, the first day of the new week.
Here is a little of the history of what has happened in Samoa over the last 123 years.
“The Samoan Islands, now divided into Samoa and American Samoa, were west of the International Date Line until 1892, when King Malietoa Laupepa was persuaded by American traders to adopt the American date, three hours behind California, to replace the former Asian date, four hours ahead of Japan. The change was made by repeating Monday, 4 July 1892, which was American Independence Day.
In 2011, 119 years later, Samoa shifted back to the west of the International Date Line by skipping Friday 30 December 2011. This changed the time zone from co-ordinated local time from UTC-11 to UTC+13. The International Date Line now passes between Samoa and American Samoa, with American Samoa remaining aligned with the American date.
Samoa made the change because Australia and New Zealand have become its biggest trading partners, and also have large communities of expatriates. Being 21 hours behind made business difficult because having weekends on backward days meant only four days of the week were shared workdays.
In Tonga, Seventh-day Adventists (who usually observe Saturday, the seventh-day Sabbath) observe Sunday due to their understanding of the International Date Line, as Tonga lies east of the 180° meridian. Sunday as observed in Tonga (as with Kiribati, Samoa, and parts of Fiji and Tuvalu) is considered by the Seventh-day Adventist Church to be the same day as Saturday observed in most other places.
Most Seventh Day Adventists in Samoa planned to observe Sabbath on Sunday after Samoa's crossing the date line in December 2011, but SDA groups in Samatau village and other places (approx. 300 members) decided to accept the International Date Line adjustment and observe the Sabbath on Saturday. Debate continues within the Seventh-day Adventist community in the Pacific as to which day is really the seventh-day Sabbath.
The Samoan Independent Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is not affiliated to the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church, has decided to continue worshipping on Saturday, after a six-day week at the end of 2011.” ~ www.wikipedia.com
Well what happened when the Friday was dropped out and the Sabbath came when the Friday should have been? The decision was made by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in general, to not observe the new Sabbath – Saturday, but wait until the seventh day cycle took its traditional pattern that had been in the lifetime of all of Samoa at that time, which was now going to be Sunday – the new first day of the week.
This does raise some questions to the questioning mind though, and let’s be honest, there will be strong arguments either way, but which day is the Sabbath?
We do live in a round world and in our day, we have Greenwich Mean Time measured from its point and time in parts of Europe, being United Kingdom, Iceland, Isle of Man, and in some of the West African nations to name some. If we were to take Ezekiel 5:5 literally, Jerusalem would have been the hub of time at one time as we read “Thus saith the Lord GOD; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her.”
But in today’s world, we find the centre of the time-zone at what we know to be Greenwich International Date Line based in the countries as named above. So if that is the case, we have to trace around the globe both east and west of our round world to eventually come together again on the opposite side of the world, which is in our vicinity of the globe. New Zealand in the South Pacific, and Anadyr in Russia in the North Pacific (Bering Sea) are two of the more major landmasses just on the western side on the time-zone at the join of the days, but many Islands of the Pacific are even closer.
So thinking of that date line, what makes Kiritimati on Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean well east of the International Date Line one particular day, and directly above it on exactly the same longitude is Honolulu in Hawaii the exact same time, but a day previous? Or closer to home, what makes Samoa Thursday one day and Sabbath the next? It's really a matter of man's political inventions and manipulations of timing. In Samoa's case, it was changed for business reasons. But what about God's timing? It does raise many questions, and perhaps we won’t be able to get all the answers that we would like.
New Zealand has not had to deal with such an issue, as we are far enough to the west of the International Date Line for any change to affect us. Upon pioneering this country, the seven day week was settled and established. Seventh-day Adventism wasn't yet established at that time. One of the first people to arrive here with the Seventh-day Sabbath message was Elder A .G. Daniells, who with his wife, was sent to New Zealand in 1886 as a missionary.
Ellen White came to Australia in December 1891 and was very instrumental in establishing the Seventh-day Adventist Church, along with education at Avondale College. She also visited New Zealand in about 1893, also confirming the establishment of the Seventh-day Adventist Church honouring the then known Sabbath, local time.
The question arises, did Ellen White, upon the very early days of the church here in Australia and New Zealand, condemn the inhabitants of the land for keeping the wrong day for worship? She could personally have started her Sabbath much later to be in keeping with her usual Sabbath pattern in USA; but she kept the commandment according to local time. We have counsel to keep the Sabbath beginning at sunset of the preparation day and to close at sunset on the Sabbath day to begin the first day of the week. But I have never found record of her rebuking Australia and New Zealand for keeping the wrong day, but rather encouraged Sabbath in these countries as we know it today.
If Sabbath is going to start at sunset, then it has to be the time that is registered as local time in each part of the world. It is recognised at local time when the sun sets on what we know as the beginning of the seventh day. If we travel to the USA today, what day would we honour as the Sabbath? Would it be to stick to our seven day cycle and start our Sabbath on Friday, or to embrace the Sabbath as the Americans do? We would naturally keep the Sabbath as observed in America local time from sunset preparation day (Friday as we know it) through to Sabbath ending sunset the following day.
So coming back to Samoa, there is a dilemma that complicates this issue more than a cut and dried shift from one day to another. Before King Malietoa Laupepa changed the day to American timing in 1892, the Sabbath would have been observed on the same day as we observe it west of the International Date Line. Then the King decided that they would change the day to relate to the American pattern. This shifted the Sabbath one day and the church was established on this Sabbath – the then known Saturday in Samoa – for 119 years from 1892 to 2011. Then, because Samoa has been trading much more from its western nations of Australia and New Zealand, it changed the day for business transactions. This has now changed everything back a day. So what does the church do? Ultimately, it has raised more questions than answers. Some have said we must keep the seventh-day cycle regardless of what man has done to naming the days. Even though the nation of Samoa has returned to its pattern pre-1892, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has decided it will keep the same seventh-day cycle that they have embraced for those 119 years.
Local time in Samoa now brings sunset preparation to usher in the Sabbath a day previous than it used to for those 119 years, which now lines up with New Zealand. Two groups have developed over this issue in Samoa, some are set on keeping their seven day cycle, others have decided to change their week to work in with the time-line shift.
A number of problems arise in regards to outreach programmes. If we teach the Sabbath day observance to be the true fourth commandment, do we direct the uninformed new interests from others faiths, or completely secular backgrounds, that have no idea of Sabbath at all – to uphold the Sabbath, but unable to settle which day? An evangelistic series was held in Samoa since the date-line shift, many were baptised, but even though the emphasis on the importance of Sabbath keeping was preached, many went back to their original churches because, despite the preaching of the message, they didn’t experience any change from their usual day of worship.
But then one may ask why does the change of the time-line for trade and business have to dictate God’s Sabbath day? Well, New Zealand also builds its week around business as well, and the seventh day is the Sabbath in this land - and we keep it from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday evening. But a bit more on that, what about for Samoa, if in ten or so years time, if time should last, run an evangelistic outreach, and non-believers come to a knowledge of the true message as it is known in the Bible, hear the message and want to embrace the seventh day Sabbath as they have been living in their weekly cycle, but are told it is actually the same day as the Sunday churches observe?
On that same theme, what about another thought, could there be more power and opportunity to emphasise the Sabbath incorporating the change of the day?
Well again, take the scenario of ten or twenty years, or even fifty years from the change of the date line, with a new generation of people up and coming who have only known the week as it currently runs. A series is held to reach people, which includes the Sabbath message. The speaker emphasises the importance of keeping Sabbath as in the fourth commandment, explains the papal system and its persuasion to think it could change times and laws in changing worship to the first day of the week; then explains how the week changed with the date line, and at the conclusion of the outreach series, urges the people to go to worship on the very same day they see the church keeps that thought to change the Sabbath of the fourth commandment to the first , being Sunday? How it will leave the contacts, especially when they see a growing number of Seventh-day Adventist's attending worship on the known and locally understood Sabbath, while others attend on the Sunday? The date line change will not even be a reality to them as it will be too far back for the new generation to remember, even less to recognise. It will leave them very confused to say the least.
Another question arises. With Samoa trading with its closest business associates, Australia and New Zealand -- when people from that country come to either Australia or New Zealand, what day will they be looking for worship? Already it has been reported of one encounter in Australia resulting in some fists flying over a disagreement on which day should be observed. Yes, it was an isolated case perhaps, but could it happen again?
Personally if I was to visit Samoa, as a visitor if I left New Zealand on Friday and arrived in Apia on Friday, which is virtually straight above New Zealand, I would be looking for a church the following day, which would be Sabbath in my understanding. Yes, and we would definitely find an ever increasing number of others doing the same.
But in fairness to this dilemma, what about those who are keeping their seventh-day the day after? I have my understanding and bias on the topic, and feel I have good reason; but are not all souls in need of the patience of God, which ever side of the discussion they may find themselves on? We are here discussing one church, meant to be one unified body, yet seeing two separate worship times. Should not an effort be made to eliminate such dissension?
There is so much more that could be written to arouse the thinking, and this brief editorial really does an injustice to such a wide topic. But think we must. From the very limited space we have, we certainly have not exhausted the questions, answers and arguments that arise, but I guess we just have to close with, “What answers do all these questions settle for an on-looking world of unbelieving people, looking for the true message of Jesus Christ and His Ten Commandments?”
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” ~Exodus 20:8-11