[Originally published on Helium 25 February 2009]
It’s a global economy. If nothing else, the latest financial woes of the US make that very apparent. As Disney used to say, “It’s a small world after all.” We now have project teams that span the globe. We might have to set up phone conferences for 7:00 am or earlier because of the time differences between countries. In this fast-paced 24 x 7 world, it is easy to see how different time zones and the International Date Line can have an effect, some desirable and some undesirable, upon business.
What about its effect upon religion? Perhaps you have never taken this into consideration. It is important to remember that the International Date Line (IDL) is simply the summation effect of different time zones throughout the world. In other words, a discussion of the IDL
without a general discussion of time zones is not very practical. So, let’s think about the meaning of time, how it relates to religion and worship, the effect of different time zones upon religious activity and the effect that the IDL can have upon religious activity.
What is the purpose of time? Albert Einstein said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” Without time, everything would be a chaotic jumble. The entire notion of cause and effect would be nullified. Logic would fail. You would not be able to travel because someone else would be occupying that space that would have otherwise been at some other time. Time and space separate organisms and events, bringing order to the universe.
All events, including religious events, are subject to time. We make appointments on a specific day to worship, for example. If the worship services are to be at 10:00, but I don’t show up until 1:00 pm, then I will have missed the service. We have to establish standards for time in order to be able to gather together.
In this example, if my watch said 10:00, but it was in a different time zone, then I have not followed the standard. This can get more complicated, though, when we talk about when the Jewish Sabbath starts. Do we used the time in Jerusalem? Do we use the local sunset? What about calendar calculations based upon the new moon? Islamic holidays are also based upon the phase of the moon. Do we use the local calculation for when the new moon begins or somewhere else? It is important that we not only establish a standard, but that we establish that standard for a global community, or else chaos is the result. It is indeed a truism that is pointed out in the question of Amos 3:3 (Amplified Bible), “Do two walk together except they make an appointment and have agreed?” Not just an appointment is necessary, but it is also a requirement to agree upon the standard for time calculation.
Because the earth is round and rotates on its axis, these different time zones are necessary. However, at some arbitrary point, it is necessary to also advance one day (if travelling east to west) or subtract one day (if travelling west to east). So, by international agreement, the IDL was set up. This can have an interesting effect. Crossing the line going west at precisely midnight means skipping an entire day. Crossing the line in the opposite direction means doing over an entire day. So, if someone observes Sunday as the day of rest, they might either not be able to observe it or be able to observe it twice as long, depending upon the direction of travel. The same could be said about sundown Friday evening for the Jewish Sabbath or for those Christians who keep the seventh day Sabbath (which they should, but that’s another article).
We see then that there is a direct effect upon travelers. However, it can also effect communications. If a service is being webcast, the times and dates must be adjusted accordingly. Even communications with friends and family in other parts of the world must be planned out for specific dates and times.
So, what is the effect of time zones and the IDL upon religions? It causes the need for standardization, considerations of observance of religious days while traveling and communication with friends and family in other countries. All of these, just like in business dealings, create the need for greater coordination and cooperation.
As a post note to this, who decides? Should it not be someone who has been given the authority to do so? Should it be the Church? What of individual believers? Who has the authority to make the decision? The former is an orderly process, whereas the latter is a recipe for chaos.
17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
Note that this is not granting anyone the power to change the Law. However, in ancient Israel, whether while it was one nation, two nations or a returning body of people under foreign rule, they were given the power to interpret the Law within certain limits. There will always be that need because God is not like our civil governments, giving crushing legislation that no one can read in a single lifetime. The author of Hebrews obviously thought this authority resided within the Church.