Church issues statement on Sabbath in Samoa


The office of the president of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has issued a statement on the question of the Sabbath in Samoa. The statement also refers to the Sabbath in Tonga, Wallis and Futuna, and Kiribati.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church fully believes that the seventh day was set apart as holy by God at creation. The church further believes that in the Ten Commandments, the holiness of the seventh day is once again reiterated. Jesus as well as the disciples and apostles kept the seventh-day Sabbath. This is one of our fundamental Biblical beliefs and foundations of church practice as is amply indicated even in our name. The Sabbath is a wonderful day of worship, time with family and a break from all the busyness that can crowd out the most important things in life.

The General Conference wishes for all to support the efforts of the division, union and local field as they work toward resolving issues in this matter.

Recently, Pastor Wilson provided an article to Adventist World which talked about the wonderful subject of the Sabbath. It is a core belief of the church. However, some have unfortunately misused that article to imply that perhaps Pastor Wilson could have been referring to the Sabbath subject discussion in certain islands of the South Pacific where the International Date Line has changed. In a conversation with Pastor Wilson, he indicated that there was absolutely no intent on his part to connect that article with any discussions that may be taking place. Anyone trying to draw a direct connection is misusing the material.

For over 100 years, Seventh-day Adventists who live in countries of the South Pacific close to the international date line (eg The Kingdom of Tonga) have been ordering their worship practices around changes to the drawing of the date line that have been made by specific governments. They have done so in a consistent manner that has long been accepted by both the local people and the Church. More recently, Seventh-day Adventists in Kiribati, Wallis and Futuna, and most recently Samoa, have had to make decisions about Sabbath observance. With respect to Samoa, the decisions of the Executive Committee of that local field as supported by the Trans Pacific Union and the South Pacific Division have maintained the integrity of the seven-day cycle and the consistency of Sabbath worship across all of the countries that have been affected by changes in the drawing of the dateline by national governments.

This has been a difficult time for those Seventh-day Adventists who are living in countries where changes to the date line have occurred recently. Our members around the world are upholding them in prayer as they endeavor to locally review and adjust to this very unique situation. In as much as the South Pacific Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists has been delegated by the General Conference to care for the activities and responsibilities in that region, we urge all individuals interested in this subject to work with the South Pacific Division, the Trans Pacific Union and the local fields concerned. It is at those levels that these concerns are to be reviewed and cared for. In this responsibility, the Division has the full support of the General Conference. The General Conference wishes for all to support the efforts of the division, union and local field as they work toward resolving issues in this matter. It is important that all prayerfully work to advance the mission of the church in lifting up Christ, His righteousness, His sanctuary service, His Sabbath, His three angels’ messages and His soon return. 

Click here to download a copy of the official statement.

The following information is provided by the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in support of the General Conference’s statement.

To understand the question of the correct day on which to keep the Sabbath in Samoa, it is first necessary to understand why Seventh–day Adventist Christians keep the Sabbath day holy:

• The seventh day was set apart as holy by God at creation

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:2-3 NIV).

• In the Ten Commandments, the holiness of the seventh-day is once again reiterated

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11 NIV).

• Jesus kept the Sabbath

“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” (Luke 4:16 NIV),

• Every reference to the Sabbath in the New Testament record of the early Christian church makes clear the Christian Sabbath was kept on the same day as the Jewish Sabbath

“When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women” (Acts 17:1-4 NIV).

Today the Seventh-day Adventist Church, while not unique, is the most numerous among Christian denominations that keep the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week. It is a wonderful day of worship, time with family and a break from all the busyness that can crowd out the most important things in life. For most of us, it is our favourite day of the week.

Around the world, the name of the seventh day of the week changes from language to language. For example, in Korean it is Toyoil, in Swahili it is Jumamosi, in Hindi it is Sanivāra. The name of the day used by society isn’t important to us. What is important is that we rest on the seventh day of the weekly cycle. As Saturday is generally the name given to the seventh day of the week in English, we sometimes use the term Sabbath and Saturday interchangeably. But this should not be confused with an endorsement of Saturday as the Sabbath, only an acknowledgement that in most of the world, the day we refer to as Saturday in English is, indeed, the seventh day of the weekly cycle. We know this with certainty, as the Jewish community has maintained the weekly cycle unbroken over thousands of years.  

For 120 years, Adventists in Samoa kept the Sabbath in the same weekly cycle that early Adventist Ellen White kept when she visited Samoa on her way to Australia. During those years, Samoa and American Samoa, which are only 64 kilometers apart, kept the same weekly cycle. When the government of Samoa decided to switch sides of the dateline, the Seventh-day Adventist Church faced a difficult decision: should it join the government in breaking the weekly seven-day cycle to remain worshipping on Saturday? Or should it retain the integrity of the seven-day cycle, and hence meet on the day the government had renamed Sunday? After significant discussion, the Adventist Church leaders in Samoa decided to retain the integrity of the seven-day cycle. Why? Because God instructs humanity to rest on the seventh day of the week, not on the day we refer to in English as “Saturday”. That said, in making the decision, they acknowledged that Samoa is in a small area of the globe where legitimate ambiguity exists on which day of the week is actually the seventh day.

Why is there ambiguity? Like the Jewish community in Auckland, we believe the seventh day of the week in New Zealand is the day we call Saturday. Similarly, Adventist Christians and Jews believe the seventh day of the week in Chile is the day of the week called, in Spanish, Sábado. The question is, where in the space between New Zealand and Chile should the dateline be drawn? For that we don’t have anything in the Bible to guide us. So as a community we have proceeded with much prayer and consultation to decide how best to honour God in a region where ambiguity exists. In so doing, we recognise that for every commandment in the Bible, there is always ambiguity on the margins. The fact that ambiguity exists does not undermine or negate the commandment. Precisely how to apply Christ’s instruction to “love your neighbour as yourself”, for example, is ambiguous. Should we all sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor as Jesus instructed the Rich Young Ruler? Or should we keep what is necessary to sustain ourselves and give all else away? If so, by what standards do we measure what is necessary? Or should we, like Abraham, enjoy both the spiritual and the material blessings that come from God? Easy answers to complex spiritual questions are seldom right. Complexity is a natural part of reality that Christians of all denominations navigate every day—sometimes with much thought and prayer, sometimes with less thought and prayer than we should.

Today a majority of Seventh-day Adventists Christians in Samoa are meeting on the day now commonly called Sunday in Samoa—which is the same day of the week that their Adventist church family in American Samoa, only 64 kilometres away, worship on and call Saturday. A minority of our community is meeting on the day now commonly called Saturday in Samoa, but is called Friday in American Samoa. Both groups believe they are meeting on the seventh day of the week. The Adventist Church acknowledges the unusual ambiguity that exists in Samoa, and accepts communities meeting on both days for the time being. Unfortunately, not everyone has been as respectful as they should be of the differences over this question. The South Pacific Division encourages all those involved in the discussion to remember that even the Apostle Paul said that we see spiritual matters through a dark glass or mirror, not a complete picture (1 Corinthians 13:12), and therefore a good spirit of humility is necessary for all followers of Christ. It is hoped that in time, unity will be restored. Discussions continue towards that end.