The Bible, Sunday Observance and Samoa the Christian Sate

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Afamasaga M. F. Toleafoa

In one of Samoa Observer’s editorial comments a week or so ago on noise on Sunday and mandatory Sunday observance as a solution, readers were invited to have their say on the subject. 

Well, here is a contribution to the conversation. It will be in two parts, mainly because the subject is a great deal more than simply stopping people from making noise on Sunday. Mandatory Sunday observance will also bring into question Article 11 of Samoa’s constitution on freedom of religion and worship.  It also raises the issue of worshipping God and what the Bible, God’s Holy Word, say about it. After all, we don’t want  as a Christian nation to mandate a form of worship that is right with us, but not with the God we claim to worship. 

Cain thought he was worshipping God in the best way possible when he gave as an offering the best fruits of his garden. His offering was rejected because that was not what God had instructed. He ended up murdering his brother Abel out of pique and jealousy. (Genesis 4:3-8)

But the most recent call in the Samoa Observer for mandatory Sunday observance comes as no surprise. The idea of mandatory Sunday observance for Samoa is not new.  It’s been around for a while, given voice from time to time when some event like someone doing heavy work or going to the beach on Sunday raises the ire somewhere. And as might be expected, the argument for mandatory Sunday observance now receives added traction from Samoa being officially made a Christian state with the recent amendment to Samoa’s constitution. Also as expected, exponents of mandatory Sunday keeping  have not been slow to use Samoa’s new status as a Christian state to push their point of view.

 In fact the complaint brings back to mind Attorney General Lemalu Herman Retzlaff repeatedly reassuring the nation that Government’s intention was not to do away with Article 11 which guarantees freedom of religious thought and practice in Samoa. Government he said only wanted to formalize what was already in the Preamble of the Constitution, “that Samoa should be an Independent State based on Christian principles……..”

 One was tempted at the time to remind Attorney General Lemalu that the concern about the change was not that freedom of religion as given in Article 11 would be done away with. That would be a very hard sell indeed, both in Samoa and more especially to the international community, on which Samoa relies heavily for its economic survival and wellbeing.  The concern rather with Samoa being declared a Christian state is the potential conflict this will create between the new Article 1 and Article 11. After all, religious freedom as a concept has never really been fully understood and embraced by the majority of the population, either at the start when the Constitution was drawn up, or in the intervening fifty five years since independence.

A reading of the proceedings of the 1960 Constitutional Convention for example will show that Article 11 was adopted by the Convention in spite of strong reservations by members. The main grounds for the opposition were the fears that freedom of religion could leave the heads of families (the matai) without their family members “au tautua,” to support them (do the matafale) in the church of their choice.  In the end, Article 11 was passed into law mainly to facilitate the work of the Convention, and more significantly, to meet United Nations’ standards on human rights, without which it was argued, Samoa’s wish for independence could encounter opposition. 

But we can see from the very beginning of Samoa’s journey to modern statehood a mindset that has been present all along when confronted with concepts of fundamental human rights which like Christianity itself are new to Samoa. And that mindset is a failure to distinguish between the universal and immutable nature of fundamental rights such as religious freedom on one hand, and on the other, local custom and usage that apply in Samoa and nowhere else. It is the difference for instance between as the United States’ Declaration of Independence eloquently puts it “……the self-evident truths that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and manmade traditions that change with circumstances and that fade away like man himself.

This refusal to acknowledge the universality of these rights of the individual and the priority they have over culture has remained to this day in Samoa for a large part of the population, including those in leadership positions in government, in the church and in village administration. In fact it may have received a boost in recent times with renewed interest by some people in the old pagan worship beliefs and forms of pre-Christian Samoa. But it’s a mindset about the primacy of Samoan culture that has seen the religious establishment itself taking a leading part in undermining religious freedom in Samoa. With its un-Biblical and misleading teachings of “E tua le Tala Lelei i le aganuu, ae tua le aganuu ile Tala Lelei” (The Gospel and Samoan culture are dependent one on the other) Samoan custom and tradition with its origins in pagan worship and beliefs has been equated with and put on the same level as God’s Everlasting Gospel itself. 

And with that grotesque distortion of Biblical truths, advocacy for mandatory Sunday observance, for having Samoa declared a Christian state, for limiting the number of new denominations coming into the country, and for banning the entry of non-Christian religious beliefs has come easily to their advocates. 

 

All but one of these if put into practice directly contravene Article 11 of Samoa’s constitution. But the justification as always is that in one way or another, these are either contrary to or in support of Samoan custom and tradition.  

And as for the recent call for mandatory Sunday observance for all, the desire for peace and quiet on Sunday when people are at worship or at rest is an entirely reasonable and justifiable one.  The practice of Sunday worship and rest was introduced together with Christianity and has become a part of Samoa’s highly visible religious practices. But worship and rest are best done in an environment of peace and quiet, free from the noise and hustle and bustle of today’s modern world.  We might also add that they are also best done free from the bedlam and noisy chaos  of a number of new forms of Christian worship today that seem hell bent on creating as much noise and confusion as possible with the help of electrical instruments and mechanical noise makers.

The problem of noise is relatively new to Samoa with increasing urbanization but the means to control and manage it already exist and have been successfully applied elsewhere in far more challenging environments. But urban planning is very much in its infancy in Samoa. When it finally comes of age and gets around to setting standards for what is acceptable work and noise levels in new urban communities like Vaitele, the issue of noise on Sunday whether from people working or engaged in recreation should be less of a problem. That way, those who regard Sunday as a working day like every other day of the week can go about their business without disturbing others worshipping or sleeping. Bigger and noisier countries have managed to control noise levels with proper noise management and planning and we need not reinvent the wheel.

Unfortunately, the call for mandatory rest on Sunday is motivated by more than just a desire for peace and quiet.  Sunday it is claimed is the Lord’s Day and as such; should be set aside for worship and rest as given to us in the Holy Bible. Sunday keeping, it is claimed has also become a Samoan tradition and should be respected by all, including newcomers to Samoa from Asia especially. In the first place, any such blanket prohibition of Sunday activities on religious grounds would be a violation of Article 11 on religious freedom. And on the question of Sunday as the Lord’s Day of the Bible, Christendom is deeply divided on the theology of Sunday rest; on whether Sunday the first day of the week or the Biblical Sabbath, the seventh day of the week is the Lord’s Day of the Bible.  

We won’t get involved in the argument of which day God has ordained for worship and for communion with Him, but fact checking of the subject  tells us that the seventh day Sabbath was ordained by God himself at creation (Genesis 2:1-3). He rested on the seventh day from His work of creation; He sanctified the seventh day, and He blessed the seventh day and made it a day of rest (Shabbat) for man to commemorate His work as Creator.  Its sanctity is also reinforced in the Ten Commandments handed to Moses by God Himself on Mt Sinai. (Exodus 20:1-17))  Sunday on the other hand was slowly adopted for worship starting in Rome from around the second century AD until its formal adoption by the Roman Catholic Church in 336 AD after the Council of Laodicea. 

There is no Biblical record of it being the Lord’s Day, but the change to Sunday from the seventh day was by the power of the Roman Catholic Church to commemorate Christ’s resurrection on the first day of the week. Jesus did say he was Lord of the Sabbath but he was referring to the seventh day of the week Sabbath. 

Those are the bare facts of the theology and history of the Sabbath and Sunday rest. But the universal principle of religious freedom allows the individual to worship on the day he or she believes is acceptable to God, and that is a matter between him and his conscience and no one else. Mandatory Sunday rest is something entirely different however. Irrespective of whether the first day of the week or the seventh day is the Lord’s Day of the Bible, mandatory Sunday observance in Samoa will involve the government of Samoa interfering with that all-important relationship between each individual and his or her Creator. It will also involve doing away with Article 11 and freedom of religion; something Attorney General Lemalu repeated said was not the Samoan government’s intention, when it declared Samoa a Christian state. 

And as for mandating Sunday observance because it is a Samoan tradition as claimed, we know the origins of Sunday observance in Samoa and we also know how recent those origins are. We know from the Bible that investing Sunday observance with the mantle of Samoan tradition does not make it any more acceptable to God.  Jesus himself had the following to say to the religious leaders of his time on the subject of man’s traditions perverting  the worship of God.

 “This people honours Me with their lips …….

And in vain they worship me.

Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6, 7)

 

To be continued on “Samoa the Christian State”

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