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Sabbath-Keeping Christians in Ghana Face Voting Challenges

Sabbath-Keeping Christians in Ghana Face Voting Challenges

The Gospels record a famous confrontation involving taxes between Jesus and the religious leaders. They were trying to drive a wedge between Him and the Jewish people, who were being drawn to Him because of His miracles and teachings. Matthew wrote that “the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk” (22:15). They then sent people to ask Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth. … Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (vv. 16, 17).

Jesus saw through their flattery and confronted them, calling them “hypocrites” to their faces. He then asked to see their tax money. When they showed Him a coin, He asked, “Whose image and inscription is this?” (v. 20). When they answered that it was Caesar’s, Jesus replied, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 21).

With those words, Jesus gave His followers throughout all ages a principle on how to be good citizens in whatever nation or country they lived in: Follow the laws of the land—unless they conflict with the laws of God.

A Sabbath Conflict

But what happens when Caesar’s requirements conflict with God’s? In some cases, particularly in the early years of the church under Roman emperors, many Christians were jailed, tortured, or killed for refusing to compromise their devotion to God’s commandments.

Though nowhere near a question of life and death as it was in ancient Rome, a similar challenge has confronted some Seventh-day Adventist Christians in the West African country of Ghana. Seventh-day Adventists are known for keeping the seventh-day Sabbath as depicted in the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work” (Exodus 20:8–10).

Their adherence to this biblical commandment, however, has created a problem in Ghana because national elections this year, December 7, fall on a Saturday. Because they believe that voting would violate the fourth commandment, this would leave them out of the democratic process, a big deal in Ghana, which prides itself on its democracy. 

As a result, the church has requested from the government—appealing to the Ministry of Justice and to the Attorney General—that the voting day be changed to accommodate them. There are about 342,000 Seventh-day Adventists in the country.

Evangelical Opposition

Not making things easier for them, however, is a well-known pastor of Heaven’s Gate Ministries International, who has openly criticized Adventists and their request for the date change. Pastor Nicholas Osei, popularly known in Ghana as Reverend Kumchacha, gave a radio interview in mid-January arguing that what the Adventists are asking could bring chaos to the country; therefore, their request should be denied.

A recent online article in Modern Ghana reported that “he took issue with the church’s plea to change the voting date due to it falling on the Sabbath day. Rev Kumchacha questioned the church’s decision to prioritize God’s rules over the laws of the land, emphasizing that both should be respected. He argued that failing to respect the laws of the land while claiming to abide by God’s rules could lead to potential chaos.”

He also warned that “if the Seventh-Day Adventist Church were granted a change in the voting date, other religious groups, including Muslims and pagans, might also demand alterations whenever the election day coincides with their congregational days.”

At one level, it’s not hard to understand Reverend Kumchacha’s concern. Suppose every religious group came up with one reason or another to challenge existing laws on everything from food, clothing, and holidays, all based on their own doctrines or traditions. It has been a perennial challenge for democratic governments to accommodate the religious practices of their citizens, and this balancing act has not always been easy. The United States has been struggling with this for more than 200 years. At times, even in free societies, religion and the government clash. It’s an ongoing struggle.

What will happen in Ghana now? The government has yet to decide, and the Adventists hope that its decision will, said the article, “prevent the exclusion of any individual based on religious observances and to foster an inclusive electoral environment.” Is it too much to ask for a group of Ghanaians who have, for the most part, been good citizens?

Obeying God or Man?

The question of obeying God over man is not a new issue. One of the most famous Old Testament stories tells of three young Hebrews who refused to obey the laws of the land when they were ordered to “fall down and worship the gold image” (Daniel 3:10). To obey Nebuchadnezzar’s decree would have meant violating the commandment of God that forbids worshiping idols.

[PQ-HERE]Interestingly enough, in the last days of Earth’s history, faithful Christians will be presented with something similar to what the Hebrews faced: Worship God or something else. The book of Revelation, reflecting language directly from the fourth commandment, calls people to “worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (14:7). In contrast, on pain of punishment, even death, people will be pressured to worship what is called “the beast and his image” (v. 9). However, a more terrible consequence will come upon all those who yield to the beast (v. 10).

Only God knows when all this will unfold. Yet the situation in Ghana, on a small scale, reflects principles that will, indeed, play a big role in last-day events. To learn more about these final events regarding worship, we invite you to watch Revelation’s Final Warning, which will give you a heads up on what Scripture says will soon overtake the whole world.

This article contributed by Clifford Goldstein
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