SDA church may need to go into damage control

The controversial decision by the SDA church administration in Samoa to worship on Sunday has drawn many letters on the issue from Seventh-day Adventists around the world.

Many are critical of the inconsistency in the position of the Samoa-Tokelau Mission by rejecting Saturday as the 7th day of the week following the Government’s decision for Samoa to align with Australia and New Zealand (west of the IDL), hence the reason for now worshipping on Sunday; and on the other hand accepting the new ‘working week’ from Monday to Friday.

Bloggers on www. (Sabbath School Network site) and have also raised an observation regarding a convenient compromise by the SDA church in Samoa should there be a Sunday Law.

“Can I flee to Samoa to avoid persecution when the worldwide Sunday law happens and at the same time keep my Sabbath with a clear conscience?”

“I wonder indeed if we can move to Samoa when the Sunday Laws come — and keep Sabbath on Sunday?”

Dr. Allen Sonter a respected Seventh-day Adventist educator and missionary from Australia who lived and worked in (Western) Samoa and Tonga for a number of years, and also worked in the SDA (CPUM) office for 6 years highlighted the complexity of the Samoa issue.

“My work then involved crossing the date line frequently. In fact, I recall one 8-week period when I did not have two consecutive weeks of the same length. My weeks would be 7-days, 8-days, 7-days 6-days, 7 days, 8 days, 6-day, 7-days. Sometimes the only flight we could get from Rarotonga to Auckland was on a Friday afternoon, so we would take off late Friday afternoon, cross the date line in the evening, and land in Auckland on Saturday night.  Where did Sabbath go? I hated that flight, because I missed a Sabbath!  Incidentally, I also missed my birthday one year, and Christmas day another year.”

“The Bible gives no instruction about how to handle the date-line issue, and it also says nothing about where on the surface of the earth the Sabbath begins and ends. Therefore, if God has not seen fit to make that issue clear, it is obviously not a matter that is vital to our salvation. Therefore, in seeking a solution to the issue we must look to underlying principles that govern our relationship to God and to our fellow believers.”

“The Sabbath is a sign of the fact that the LORD is our God (Ezekiel 20, 12, 20). Therefore in handling the date-line issue the basic principle that should guide our decision is that our keeping of the Sabbath should mark us as being loyal to God, as opposed to following a man-made day of rest. If the Adventist teaching about the mark of the beast being the false Sunday/ Sabbath is true, then to worship on the Sunday (even though sunset to sunset instead of midnight to midnight) gives a mixed message in regard to our loyalty to God.

“To argue that Sunday in Tonga, and in the new-order (Western) Samoa, is really the seventh day of the week, is to mount an argument to which there is no definitive answer, because, as I noted earlier, the Bible is silent on the facts that are needed to prove one's point.

“Which solution to the issue most clearly applies the principle that the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is a sign of our loyalty to God? When I was traveling frequently across the date-line, I took the view that the right thing for me to do in being loyal to God, was to keep the day accepted as the Sabbath wherever I happened to be. Applying the same principle to the (Western) Samoa situation, the right thing to do might be to continue keeping Saturday in the new-order (Western) Samoa.

“I recall that on one occasion in Tonga I was speaking with a delegation from the British government, and one senior officer said, "The Adventist church in Tonga has been very astute in getting around the strong Sunday legislation in Tonga by arguing that in Tonga the seventh day of the week is really Sunday.

“So from the point of view of an educated outsider looking at the situation in Tonga, it appeared that the Adventist solution to the moving date-line problem did not indicate loyalty to God, but rather the opposite — a convenient compromise, and a rather opportunistic one at that!

“I realize that if the church in (Western) Samoa were to change with the changing date-line, and worship on the new Saturday, that would constitute a de-facto admission that the Tongan church had made a mistake by deciding to keep Sunday in Tonga all these years, and that would be an embarrassment to the Tongan church. We must also realize that the church in American Samoa is affected by whatever decision is made.

“Now, just to complicate things even further, another underlying principle comes into the picture. That is the principle that we are to consider the effects of our behavior on our fellow believers.

“Paul tells us that we are not to behave in a way that offends our brother who is weak in the faith (Romans 14: 13). If the church in (Western) Samoa were to change to the Saturday Sabbath in the new-order (Western) Samoa, they may seriously offend their fellow believers in Tonga, and will affect the members in American Samoa. So should the church in Tonga also change and start worshipping on Saturday? I do not know the answer to that, but what I do know is that the churches in both (Western) Samoa and American Samoa, as well as in Tonga, are in this together, and that the final decision should not be imposed by anyone else.

“I believe there should be a combined meeting  of a wide representation of the Tongan and Samoan churches, with a small number of representatives from the NZP Union, the SPD, and the General Conference present to give counsel, but not to take part in the actual decision making process. The matter should be prayerfully discussed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit until a clear consensus among the believers is reached.

“When consensus has been reached, the believers in (Western) Samoa alone must make the final decision about the Sabbath in (Western) Samoa. If a decision were to be reached to keep Saturday as the Sabbath in (Western) Samoa, Tongan representatives may wish to make some recommendation about the Sabbath in Tonga, which in turn would need to be handled by the believers in Tonga. Any attempt from the outside to impose a decision on the church in (Western) Samoa is likely to cause a split in the church.”

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