Fundamental Belief Number 17 (Spiritual Gifts and Ministries)

God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts which that each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity. Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained functions. According to the Scriptures, these gifts include such ministries as faith, healing, prophecy, proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation, compassion, and self-sacrificing service and charity for the help and encouragement of people. Some members are called of God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by the church in pastoral, evangelistic, apostolic, and teaching ministries particularly needed to equip the members for service, to build up the church to spiritual maturity, and to foster unity of the faith and knowledge of God. When members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of God’s varied grace, the church is protected from the destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with a growth that is from God, and is built up in faith and love. (Acts 6:1-7; Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)  (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:9-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)

The changes in San Antonio were very minor. The change from “which” to “that” was editorial for the sake of current English usage. “Apostolic” was dropped because it was felt to be unclear to most readers without definition or elaboration. As with the other FBs, the Bible texts at the close have been re-arranged.

The wider Christian Church basically ignored the spiritual gifts for centuries, so it is not surprising that other Christians criticized Ellen White and the Adventist Church for receiving and promoting the gift of prophecy. Adventists themselves, on the other hand, basically ignored all the other gifts, emphasizing only the gift of prophecy. Now the pendulum is swinging the other way in both contexts. Evangelical churches are much more open to spiritual gifts, including the gift of prophecy, and Adventists are emphasizing the broader panoply of gifts, although prophecy still has pride of place (Fundamental 18). So the very existence of this fundamental is an advance and an expansion on the original Adventist tendency to emphasize only the gift of prophecy.

It is interesting that the church’s practice in regard to women in ministry is not entirely in line with this fundamental. There is no gender language at all in the statement, in implying that the gifts of the Spirit are equally available to all. Yet many parts of the church question whether some of these gifts are available to women or at least whether we are allowed to publically recognize that these gifts are available to women. If the Spirit called another Ellen White today, many in the church would probably reject her for the very same reasons that they reject the ordination of women.

The statement makes no reference at all to speaking in tongues. One might have expected a negative reference, but there is none. Speaking in tongues is not encouraged by the church but is not forbidden either. In practice members can speak in tongues as long as they do so privately and do not make it a public issue. When speaking in tongues goes public in the Adventist Church it leads to unnecessary division, but it is not forbidden in principle. In many ways, speaking in tongues is like keeping the feast days of the Old Testament. It is permissible under some circumstances, but must not be mandated.

This fundamental is particularly important for the work of Loma Linda University.  The purpose of the School of Religion at Loma Linda is not generally the training of ministers, but the training of laity for ministry. And the spiritual gifts provide the biblical basis for such a mission (note the wording “all members of the church”). It is interesting that the statement moves from a focus on general gifts that all might exercise in behalf of everyone else to a more narrow focus on the kinds of gifts more typical of clergy.

Interesting question. Can non-Christians have spiritual gifts and in fact be part of the body of Christ even though they don’t know His name? John 1:9 indicates that the light of Christ to some degree enlightens every human being (see also Acts 14:14-17 and 17:26-28). So there is a healthy tension between what God is doing in the church and what He is doing through the Holy Spirit more broadly in the world. I have found in dialogue with non-Christians that a lot of spiritual learning can take place in both directions. There is mutual transformation when open hearts encounter each other. The Spirit is the agent of transformation among Christians, but also is present wherever genuine inter-religious dialogue occurs. The Holy Spirit can use people from very different backgrounds to change us.

Loma Linda is a place where people of other faiths, including non-Christian faiths, have found common cause with Adventists in the mission of continuing the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus in today’s world. The Hebrew of Malachi 1:11 affirms that people ignorant of the biblical God may yet offer acceptable worship to Him from a sincere heart. At Loma Linda we have often experienced this. So I have suggested a unique Loma Linda application of this belief. I can say to non-Christians, “If God brought you here (to Loma Linda), you belong here and you are called to contribute to the unique mission of Loma Linda University Health. If God called you here you have something we need.” So even non-Christians can have a role in training laity for ministry. That’s the way the Spirit works.

A final observation. All the Bible texts for this fundamental come from the New Testament. This pattern has been increasingly the case as we move through the fundamental beliefs. One wonders what that says about the value that is placed on the Old Testament in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Fundamental Belief Number 16 (Lord’s Supper)

The Lord’s Supper is a participation in the emblems of the body and blood of Jesus as an expression of faith in Him, our Lord and Saviour. In this experience of communion Christ is present to meet and strengthen His people. As we partake, we joyfully proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again. Preparation for the Supper includes self-examination, repentance, and confession. The Master ordained the service of foot washing to signify renewed cleansing, to express a willingness to serve one another in Christlike humility, and to unite our hearts in love. The communion service is open to all believing Christians. (Matt. 26:17-30; John 6:48-63; 13:1-34; 1 Cor. 10:16, 17; 11:23-30; Rev. 3:20.) (1 Cor. 10:16, 17; 11:23-30; Matt. 26:17-30; Rev. 3:20; John 6:48-63; 13:1-17.)

 This fundamental was unchanged at San Antonio, except for the re-arrangement of biblical texts. It is interesting that the statement makes no reference whatsoever to the Adventist tradition of communion once a quarter. This once a quarter tradition is rooted in the Calvinism of Geneva, with its strong resistance to the daily eucharistic tradition of Roman Catholicism. The absence of the tradition in this statement leaves open the possibility that churches could do communion more often if they wished. After all, would we want to receive tithe only once a quarter? Some Adventist communities do the supper more often than once a quarter, but without having the foot washing every time (a colleague, on the other hand, noted that Mother Teresa did the foot washing every day).

The core of this belief is not related to the time when communion is performed, nor the liturgy or manner in which it is performed. The greater emphasis is on preparation for the service and the ideal follow through afterward. There is more focus on what you do before and after the service than on what occurs during the service itself. The spirit of the foot washing and the Lord’s Supper is to continually permeate our lives. Every aspect of church life could benefit from this kind of preparation and seriousness.

There is a quasi-sacramental tone to this statement. Unlike Catholics and some Lutherans, Adventists do not see a real presence of Christ in the emblems of communion (bread and juice). But there is a real presence of Christ in the “experience of communion.” In a secular world, this is a promising perspective. We need to expand people’s opportunities for living, real encounters with God. It is interesting that in the Western world Adventists tend to treat things like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day more seriously than they do Easter, Christmas or even communion. Loma Linda, on the other hand, takes the foot washing and communion principle and applies it broadly to the work place and the classroom. How can we “wash the feet” of those we lead or those we serve? How can our hearts be more closely bound in communion to God and each other as we continue the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ?

One of the best aspects of Adventist community is the open communion that is affirmed here. It is a powerful counter to the tendency to take the remnant doctrine of FB 13 to an extreme of exclusivism. Adventism rightly acknowledges the importance of avoiding the appearance of evil and experiences that might degrade our spiritual commitments. On the other hand, “abstaining from the world” can quickly degenerate into exclusivism and triumphalism (the sense of ultimate superiority). Given the Adventist tendency to exclusion, the openness of this fundamental is refreshing and affirming of the Christian commitments of others.

One reason people tend to avoid communion is that the service is often much longer than the regular service of worship. A long sermon on communion day can overwhelm the liturgy. So it might be better, given the tone of this fundamental, to have a sermon about communion the previous Sabbath and allow the communion Sabbath to be focused on the experience of foot washing and the Lord’s Supper.

An interesting suggestion was made to include communion in Adventist weddings. There is much marriage imagery in John 13 and 14 (the context of the original foot washing service—particularly John 14:1-3). It could be a beautiful experience for bride and groom to wash each other’s feet (signifying the daily forgiveness that both foot washing and marriage imply) and then share in the Lord’s Supper together. When both parties are lifelong friends of God it is inevitable that they will be lifelong friends of each other.

Issues with the Blog Site

Friends, I just went deep into the blog site and discovered that eight months of comments had not been approved or responded to. My web master has had a lot of things to deal with recently and has not been able to play that role. It never occurred to me that I could or should approve comments on a regular basis to keep things flowing. My apologies. I have responded to nearly every comment now and hope that you will forgive the delay. I appreciate this online community very much.

Fundamental Belief Number 15 (Baptism)

By baptism we confess our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and testify of our death to sin and of our purpose to walk in newness of life. Thus we acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour, become His people, and are received as members by His church. Baptism is a symbol of our union with Christ, the forgiveness of our sins, and our reception of the Holy Spirit. It is by immersion in water and is contingent on an affirmation of faith in Jesus and evidence of repentance of sin. It follows instruction in the Holy Scriptures and acceptance of their teachings. (Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 2:38; 16:30-33; 22:16; Rom. 6:1-6; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12, 13.)  (Rom. 6:1-6; Col. 2:12, 13; Acts 16:30-33; 22:16; 2:38; Matt. 28:19, 20.)

This fundamental is also unchanged, with the exception of the re-arrangement of texts. It equates baptism with joining the church. While the statement doesn’t specify who “the Church” is, one presumes the SDA Church is in mind here. Aligning baptism with church membership is pretty common practice among Seventh-day Adventists around the world, but it can be challenging at the local level. It collapses two things that should probably be distinct. As a pastor I often felt that I was baptizing people too late and bringing them into the church too soon. When a person is clearly committed to Christ they long for baptism to seal that full commitment. Yet at that point they are often far short of the theology and practice expected of members in good and regular standing.

Some other dilemmas occur with regard baptism: Do we baptize people primarily in light of their spiritual achievements (“you have made all these changes in your life”) or in recognition of a sinful past that is being abandoned? Is baptism an individual thing, a personal commitment, or is it entry into a community?

Matthew 28:19-20 places baptism in the context of discipleship. It is not so much a single act along the way as a step on a journey that is lifelong. It is the starting point to a way of life. Even after baptism, we are to keep learning and keep growing. In Romans 6 baptism is not the key reason for the passage, it is mentioned in the context of Paul’s doctrine of renewal. This fundamental calls people to newness of life, the beginning of a journey. Many people feel that baptism is a great moment of change, and they often feel disappointed when afterward little seems to have changed. We need to emphasize to new believers that baptism is the first step on a journey and that there will be pitfalls along the way.

Baptism is also immersion into a grand narrative, it relives the history of a people, the Exodus, which was the foundational act of God in the creation of Israel as a people. Baptism also ties people to the death and resurrection of Jesus as the great act of God in the New Testament era. Just as the Israelites passed through the sea to take on a new kind of life, so individuals experience freedom and restoration as a consequence of baptism. Like baptism, the Lord’s Supper also connects the believer to both the cross and the Exodus.

In our discussion, questions arose about the concept of “union with Christ.” What exactly does that mean? Does that mean absorption of the individual into the divine in some fashion, or is the term to be understood more on a bridal analogy. At a wedding, two individuals are united together, but they don’t lose their own individuality and personality.

As often happens with this subject, the conversation ended up with a group of pastors swapping hilarious stories of baptisms that went wrong, such as small preachers trying to baptize large men in knee-deep water! Feel free to share your favorite baptism story in the comments section.

Fundamental Belief Number 14 (Unity in the Body of Christ)

The church is one body with many members, called from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation. Through the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures we share the same faith and hope, and reach out in one witness to all. This unity has its source in the oneness of the triune God, who has adopted us as His children. (Ps. 133:1; Matt. 28:19, 20; John 17:20-23; Acts 17:26, 27; Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12-14; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17; Gal. 3:27-29; Eph. 2:13-16; 4:3-6, 11-16; Col. 3:10-15.)  (Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12-14; Matt. 28:19, 20; Ps. 133:1; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17; Acts 17:26, 27; Gal. 3:27, 29; Col. 3:10-15; Eph. 4:14-16; 4:1-6; John 17:20-23.)

Aside from the re-arrangement of Bible texts, this fundamental was unchanged in San Antonio. Like Fundamental Belief 12, this statement is quite open and inclusive. Since Fundamental 13 is more exclusive and potentially divisive, it seems that there was a deliberate attempt to “sandwich” the harsher (at least toward outsiders) fundamental between two others that are more irenic and inclusive. But even so, the focus on unity in this statement could be balanced with the concept of diversity (how about titling this FB “Unity and Diversity in the Body of Christ”?). Unity can be hollow if it means everyone conforming to a single culture or a single standard of appearance. “If you’re not united with us, if you don’t do and think exactly like us, you are out!” Unity is not complete until we value the diversity of the other. The civil rights of others are not truly appreciated until we value the differences that they bring to our attention. It is interesting that the text of this fundamental mentions the differences, but they find no place in the title!

A question that came up when my faculty discussed this belief related to the meaning of “high and low” in line three. Who are the high and the low? We couldn’t figure that out. In relation to the other points of diversity (male and female, rich and poor), it seems to express the idea of people who are powerful and weak, or famous and insignificant, in the larger scheme of things (see Ezek 21:26). The exact phrasing is found in Psalm 49:2 (along with rich and poor—see also Psalm 62:9) but the text is not cited as the source. Regardless of meaning the phrase does point out the importance of diversity and differences within the larger goal of unity.

Actually, at the surface level of any congregation, what you see are the differences, the diversity. Unity, when it happens, is not on the surface, but is something that happens at a deeper level and may not be obvious to casual observers. The sense of oneness in a community can be profound, even when the theological and cultural differences are obvious.

One wonders how this fundamental would play out in the real world when it comes to things like the regional conferences in the North American Division (organizational entities of the Seventh-day Adventist Church). It would be a huge challenge to change the current administrative system, in which there are parallel church entities for work among blacks and for all others. The system arose in order to empower black leadership, but in a world where blacks are found more and more in leadership, is such a system still needed or helpful? Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?

One faculty member suggested that women are less concerned with being treated equally than they are with being treated fairly or justly. Equality needs to be grounded in a recognition of God-given diversity and in the practice of inclusion.

It’s interesting that there is a group called “Atheists for Paul” who believe that the body metaphor of community is very promising for the wider society, even those who don’t embrace Paul’s religion. Paul emphasizes that all parts of the body are important, though their roles may be different, they are all critical to the full functioning of the body. From a believing perspective, 1 Corinthians 12:13 ties both baptism and the Lord’s Supper into the body image of the community. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two things that unite us as a church body because we all experience them.

While the language of this fundamental could be applied to all followers of Christ, coming after FB 13, there is a sense that “church” in this fundamental does not mean all followers of Christ, but is limited to Adventism, although this FB does not state that in so many words. We would be interested to know if those who wrote this fundamental intended that these things would apply only to the Adventist church or equally to other denominations?

In John 17:20-23 we are invited to take unity even further than what is stated in this fundamental. We are invited to participate in the divine community (the Trinity and the angels of heaven) and then reflect that to the world. How to do this is not spelled out, but it is a breath-taking challenge and opportunity.

Fundamental Belief Number 13 (Remnant and Its Mission)

The universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ, but in the last days, a time of widespread apostasy, a remnant has been called out to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. This remnant announces the arrival of the judgment hour, proclaims salvation through Christ, and heralds the approach of His second advent. This proclamation is symbolized by the three angels of Revelation 14; it coincides with the work of judgment in heaven and results in a work of repentance and reform on earth. Every believer is called to have a personal part in this worldwide witness. (Dan. 7:9-14; Isa. 1:9; 11:11; Jer. 23:3; Mic. 2:12; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Peter 1:16-19; 4:17; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Jude 3, 14; Rev. 12:17; 14:6-12; 18:1-4.)  (Rev. 12:17; 14:6-12; 18:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:10; Jude 3, 14; 1 Peter 1:16-19; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Rev. 21:1-14.)

 Aside from re-arranging the texts, there were no changes in this fundamental and that was a bit of a surprise to us. There is language here that sounds awkward and exclusive in today’s world. For example, “apostasy” is a strong word for this generation; it comes across as elitist and disparaging to all who might disagree with any of the assertions in this statement. In a diverse world, language like this is hard to sell, it can come across as mean and divisive. How would we feel if other Christians applied that term to us?

On the other hand, the fundamental goes out of its way not to name the apostasy, which might be surprising to many. The traditional Adventist teaching on the Mark of the Beast is popular in evangelism, but is not actually specified at the core of Adventist belief. This is as close as any of the 28 fundamentals come to naming the Antichrist, but it refrains from doing so. In the broadest sense, this is a fundamental written by a Christian minority to warn other Christians not to accommodate to Rome.

Of all the Fundamental Beliefs, this is the most parochial. The very language of the statement would be largely meaningless to the average person on the street (next most parochial is probably number 24). One needs a certain amount of context in Adventist history and ways of thinking to understand what is being said here. In San Antonio it was voted to use more in-house language in Fundamental 6 as well, breaking the general practice of fundamental beliefs staying as close to the biblical language as possible. It will not be surprising if that trend spreads to other fundamentals in the future, but it can be questioned whether the trend is positive or negative for the future health of the church.


In a way, this fundamental comes across as self-congratulatory. Note how the language of believe/believer shifts from beginning to end. The first use is universal. All who believe in Jesus Christ are part of the universal church. But in the last sentence, the word believer clearly refers to Adventists and their unique mission. The statement would be less jarring to outsiders if it recognized that what is wrong with the world is also wrong with the church. But the statement in its present form does not go there. Instead it implies, without saying it directly, that the SDA organization is the ideal, not the real. On the other hand, the statement does not actually say that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is, in fact, the remnant church. The language chosen to express this belief is of the kind one would more likely use for a movement more than an institution.

Jack Provonsha, Professor of Christian Ethics at Loma Linda University several decades ago, wrote a book on the theme of this statement. He preferred to use the term “prophetic minority” to state what Adventists actually mean by the remnant. Although the new book on the remnant from the Biblical Research Institute clearly outlines three different types of remnants in the Bible, the language of this statement does not allow for multiple remnants. Allowing for multiple remnants takes away the sting of exclusivism, recognizing that at different times and different places God has worked with a variety of groups, like the Waldensees, the Reformers, the Methodists and others. Such a multiplex approach would probably eliminate the charge of elitism and also be more true to the biblical evidence. For more on this see

It is important to see this statement in its historical and social context. It arises out of a movement made up of victims rejected by society. Under those conditions language adverse to society’s mainstream is understandable. But now Adventists themselves are mainstream in more and more countries and in such contexts this statement can sound more arrogant and self-absorbed than was originally intended. It is shocking to realize that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is now the fifth largest Christian denomination in the world! It will be interesting to see how Adventist self-perception changes as its role in the world becomes more accepted and more mainstream.

Fundamental Belief Number 12 (Church)

The church is the community of believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. In continuity with the people of God in Old Testament times, we are called out from the world; and we join together for worship, for fellowship, for instruction in the Word, for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, for service to humanity all mankind, and for the worldwide proclamation of the gospel. The church derives its authority from Christ, who is the incarnate Word revealed in the Scriptures , and from the Scriptures, which are the written Word. The church is God’s family; adopted by Him as children, its members live on the basis of the new covenant. The church is the body of Christ, a community of faith of which Christ Himself is the Head. The church is the bride for whom Christ died that He might sanctify and cleanse her. At His return in triumph, He will present her to Himself a glorious church, the faithful of all the ages, the purchase of His blood, not having spot or wrinkle, but holy and without blemish. (Gen. 12:1-3; Exod. 19:3-7; Matt. 16:13-20; 18:18; 28:19, 20; Acts 2:38-42; 7:38; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:22, 23; 2:19-22; 3:8-11; 5:23-27; Col. 1:17, 18; 1 Peter 2:9.)  (Gen. 12:3; Acts 7:38; Eph. 4:11-15; 3:8-11; Matt. 28:19, 20; 16:13-20; 18:18; Eph. 2:19-22; 1:22, 23; 5:23-27; Col. 1:17, 18.)

There were a few changes in this fundamental, voted in San Antonio 2015. The switch from “all mankind” to “humanity” was for the sake of inclusive language. The major change was to follow “the incarnate Word” with “revealed in the Scriptures” and eliminating the rest of the original sentence. The original sentence was thought to imply that there are two sources of authority for the church, Christ and the Bible. Here it is clarified that the church’s authority rests in Christ, but that what we know about Christ is what the Scriptures reveal to us. The last part of the eliminated wording (“which are the written Word”) was felt to be redundant in light of added phrase “revealed in the Scriptures.”

The only Old Testament text cited here is Genesis 12:3. In it Abram is promised to be a blessing to all the nations. This is a foundational text for Old Testament understanding of Israel and New Testament understanding of the relation between Christ and the church (Gal 3). In Isaiah 19 the promise to Abram is expanded to include the Assyrians and the Egyptians. But to read the text in light of the ancient culture is even more interesting.

It was unique in the ancient world for a deity to take the initiative to bless someone. Generally, blessing came only after the right incantation or a significant period of obedience. So the graciousness of Abram’s God comes through strongly here. In addition, it was unique in the ancient world for a deity to use His own people to bless outsiders. Back then, various gods were only interested in their favorite people. But the God of Abram cared about the whole world and its people. This was quite startling in the ancient context.

This statement is very positive and inclusive, one could even guardedly use the term “ecumenical,” although that word is overloaded with negatives in many people’s minds. This statement is not about the Adventist Church primarily, it is about the universal church, all who are in Christ. The next Fundamental, number 13, focuses specifically on the role and mission of the SDA Church within the larger body of those who follow Jesus. The challenge we will address when we get there is, how do you put those two statements together? One statement is more universal, seeing God at work among all who confess Christ. The other is more particular, focusing on the unique role of the Adventist Church in the world.

This statement is full of symbols derived from the Scriptures. We need to see these in terms of the ideal and the real. The authority of the church, for example, is an ideal, but it is not always achieved. The visible church is far from being a perfect embodiment of Christ. But in spite of those flaws, Matthew 16:13-20 places a great deal of authority in the visible church, even though that point is handled lightly in this fundamental. Perhaps one could say that the authority of the church is potential, as Christ works through its flawed members, but it is also real and significant.

It may be helpful to distinguish between the church as an organization and the church as an organism. As an organism (like the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12), the church feeds me every day, in one way or another. As an organization, it often disappoints all of us. Another way to express this– there are many that God has that the church doesn’t have, and there are many the church has that God doesn’t have. The body imagery of the church is a rejection of hierarchy, the only head of the church is Christ. All other members of the body are important in their submission to Christ’s headship. The body parts function well to the degree that each is connected to Christ.

In today’s world, it is harder and harder to convince the younger generation that they need the visible church. Many of them relish community, but prefer open and accepting communities that don’t require commitment to a long list of beliefs in order to participate. This development is particularly challenging to the Adventist Church in Western countries and is becoming increasingly so elsewhere. Loma Linda University embraces the inclusive side of Adventism express in this fundamental.

Fundamental Belief Number 11 (Growing in Christ)

By His death on the cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil. He who subjugated the demonic spirits during His earthly ministry has broken their power and made certain their ultimate doom. Jesus’ victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us, as we walk with Him in peace, joy, and assurance of His love. Now the Holy Spirit dwells within us and empowers us. Continually committed to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we are set free from the burden of our past deeds. No longer do we live in the darkness, fear of evil powers, ignorance, and meaninglessness of our former way of life. In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of His character, communing with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His Word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the Church. We are also called to follow Christ’s example by compassionately ministering to the physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual needs of humanity. As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience. (1 Chron. 29:11; Ps. 1:1, 2; 23:4; 77:11, 12; Matt.20:25-28; 25:31-46; Luke 10:17-20; John 20:21; Rom. 8:38, 39; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Gal. 5:22-25; Eph. 5:19, 20; 6:12-18; Phil. 3:7-14; Col. 1:13, 14; 2:6, 14, 15; 1Thess. 5:16-18, 23; Heb. 10:25; James 1:27; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:18; 1 John 4:4.) (Ps 1:1, 2; 23:4; 77:11, 12; Col 1:13, 14; 2:6, 14, 15; Luke 10:17-20; Eph 5:19, 20; 6:12-18; 1 Thess 5:23; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:18; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Phil 3:7-14; 1 Thess 5:16-18; Matt 20:25-28; John 20:21; Gal 5:22-25; Rom 8:38, 39; 1 John 4:4; Heb 10:25.)

This is the newest of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs (they were 27 before 2005). It grew out of a series of observations made by the Mission Issues Committee of the General Conference around the turn of the millennium. One of these observations was that many Adventist believers in Africa and parts of Asia did not have any problem combining occult practices with Adventist faith. Another observation was the absence of a devotional life in many of the same places. A third had to do with the relative absence of Christian education in much of the world. The excuse given for non-practice in all of these areas was: They aren’t in the Fundamental Beliefs! If we need to have a devotional life, tell us plainly. If we need to avoid the occult, tell us plainly. If we need to put our children in Adventist schools tell us plainly. So this fundamental attempted to address the issues of the devotional life and avoidance of the occult (the issue of Christian education as an expectation for all Adventists did not make the cut in 2005). Fundamental 11 is, therefore, something of an awkward mixture of two different themes. The framers of these changes didn’t want to add two or three new fundamentals so they combined two into one here.

In addition to the changes in the text list at the end of the statement (as voted in San Antonio 2015), a sentence was added toward the end: “We are also called to follow Christ’s example by compassionately ministering to the physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual needs of humanity.” There was strong pressure to add a new Fundamental on Christian Social Responsibility. Rather than proliferate fundamentals further, it was felt that adding a sentence here could cover that concern in the larger context of Christian spirituality. References to mental and emotional needs indicate the church’s increasing awareness of mental and emotional illness and of the therapies needed to deal with them. That is a very positive development.

The irony here is that this fundamental calls for the very kinds of practices that are involved in what many call “spiritual formation.” Spiritual formation was taught at the Seminary for more than twenty years of my term there. During that time, however, I never heard the kinds of things that people today associate with “spiritual formation.” So phrases like this can have different meanings in different contexts and different meanings at different times. In order to avoid confusion, the Seminary has decided to change the title of this discipline to “Christian Spirituality.” The content has not changed significantly, and in my mind didn’t need to change, but the mere use of the phrase has become controversial. That is, perhaps, another reason to combine the occult and the devotional life together in one fundamental. “Spiritual formation” is thought, in many parts of the church, to open the way to the occult and Satanic influence. Since those are never good things, the topic of spirituality requires vigilance.

At Loma Linda University we have a number of classes in “religion and culture.” When dealing with culture the lines between truth and error, light and darkness, are not always as clean as we would like, or as many would like to paint them. For example, after the tsunami in Indonesia, western healers went in and often made things worse, especially in terms of emotional healing. The locals seemed to respond better with native methods of healing. That was a surprise to the Christians involved. There are principles in yoga and acupuncture that seem to have scientific evidence behind them, the line between a health practice and a dark spirituality is not always as clear as we would like. In a mission book called Bruchko, a Western missionary recognized an illness and had a medical cure, but the people wouldn’t take the medicines from him! He found it much more effective to convince the witch doctor to dispense the medicine for him, and then the people were cured. Did he do the right thing in intervening in that way or should he have allowed them to die by their own choice?

Another challenging line we wrestle with is the one between demonic oppression and mental illness. In the New Testament, behaviors that we would describe as mental illness were almost always attributed to demonic oppression or possession. Does that mean there was a lot more demonic activity back then? Or were they simply more conscious of demonic activity? Were they confusing the demonic with what we would understand as severe mental illness?

I was asked to address these issues at a psychiatry conference at Loma Linda a couple of years ago. From my reading of Scripture and experience with both mental illness and demonic symptoms I drew the following distinctions between the two, in order to help practitioners distinguish them. 1) If the patient is hearing and seeing things no one else can see, it is likely to be mental illness, not demonic possession. If the healthy people in the room can also hear and see bizarre things, the phenomena are likely demonic. 2) If a person exhibits symptoms associated with mental illness but demonstrates knowledge or abilities that there is no reasonable expectation for them to possess (such as speaking foreign languages they have never been exposed to), demonic manifestation may be involved. 3) Where the presence of certain objects (talismans) seems to aggravate symptoms of mental illness, a demonic element may be involved. 4) If symptoms of mental illness are relieved by medication or medical interventions, the issue was probably mental illness. If symptoms are instead relieved by prayer or spiritual counseling the chance of demonic involvement is much greater. Today’s world is more complicated than the ancient world was.

In the Western world it is often thought that demonic possession and spiritualism are largely manifested in more “primitive” parts of the world. But vampire movies and movies about exorcism give evidence of a latent spiritualism in the West as well. There is much of the demonic in Western culture. For example, the Hollywood concept of a spider-man is widely accepted as a reality in primitive cultures. In addition, many people in the West consult psychics or horoscopes.

An important distinction that is worth mentioning is the distinction between healing and curing. People are cured by the right medicines at the right time, but true whole-person healing comes by other means. We may not in this life be completely sure of the line between physical and mental illness, on the one hand, and afflictions that have a more spiritual origin. Both maladies may often present themselves in the same person. Jesus was able to heal both, but relied on a process when dealing with mental illness (based on John 5:14 in the Greek). Since demonic involvement provokes both physical and mental symptoms, mental illness and the demonic may sometimes interweave with each other.

The entire world is becoming multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, so the cautions in this Fundamental are most appropriate, especially the middle sentence beginning with “No longer do we live. . .” Various cultures see things differently, and there are positive things in many cultures, but much that is taken for granted in every culture is worthy of criticism, avoidance, and/or careful reflection.

When dealing with matters such as this, it is helpful to remember that memories are very creative, so we must be cautious when we hear reports of demonic possession. If someone says things like God spoke to me, or I had an encounter with the demonic, we have to honestly say that we cannot be sure on the basis of such a report exactly what took place. But the spiritually wise thing to do is treat the reports as if they were true and then assess them with all the tools one has available.

Fundamental Belief Number 10 (Experience of Salvation)

In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God. Led by the Holy Spirit we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our transgressions, and exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Saviour and Lord, Substitute and Example. This saving faith which receives salvation comes through the divine power of the Word and is the gift of God’s grace. Through Christ we are justified, adopted as God’s sons and daughters, and delivered from the lordship of sin. Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our minds, writes God’s law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life. Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature and have the assurance of salvation now and in the judgment. (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 45:22; 53; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 33:11; 36:25-27; Hab. 2:4; Mark 9:23, 24; John 3:3-8, 1616; 16:8; Rom. 3:21-26; 5:6-10; 8:1-4, 14-17; 10:17, 23; 12:2; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; Gal. 1:4; 3:13, 14, 26; 4;4-7; Eph 2:4-10; Col. 1:13, 14; Titus 3:3-7; Heb. 8:7-12; 1 Peter 1:23; 2:21; 2 Peter 1:3, 4; Rev. 13:8.) (2 Cor. 5:17-21; John 3:16; Gal. 1:4; 4:4-7; Titus 3:3-7; John 16:8; Gal. 3:13, 14; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; Rom. 10:17; Luke 17:5; Mark 9:23, 24; Eph. 2:5-10; Rom. 3:21-26; Col. 1:13, 14; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26; John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23; Rom. 12:2; Heb. 8:7-12; Eze. 36:25-27; 2 Peter 1:3, 4; Rom. 8:1-4; 5:6-10.)

A couple of small changes were made in the middle of this FB in San Antonio. “Lord and Christ” was replaced by “Saviour and Lord.” The meaning and purpose of “Christ” here seemed unclear to many readers and replacing it with the word Saviour seemed more helpful. “Saviour and Lord” parallels “substitute and example” in the last clause of the sentence. Placing “saving” ahead of faith instead of after it, ties the salvation to the person rather than to the word faith. This was felt to be better English grammar and more accurate theologically as well.

This fundamental belief has quite the individualistic tone. Although there is the repeated use of the plural (“we” and “our”), the things discussed in this statement are things that happen in and to individuals, not in communities. So the statement is lacking in social ethics. It is about dealing with personal sin, exercising faith, being justified and adopted, and becoming born again. On the other hand, while Romans 3 may seem individualistic at first glance (3:10-12, 20), Paul’s view of sin is quite social and community oriented, at least in the examples he chooses to share. Sin happens when people shed blood or heap curses on each other (3:13-15), there are societal consequences when sin occurs and healing from sin has social consequences as well. Sin affects “all” (3:23) and so does the remedy for sin. The solution to sin is God’s “right-making” in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (3:22). In making individuals right with God (justified) God is also making them right with each other, at least within the saved community.

There is also a surprisingly strong focus on “participation” in this statement. That emphasis builds on the statement in 2 Peter 1:3-4, we are “partakers of the divine nature.” Adventists here maintain a strong focus on what comes after salvation. Participation in the divine nature means that there is not an infinite gulf between God and the creation (as in Greek philosophy and some Islamic theology). The Hebraic God is very much involved in the material world, He is near as well as transcendent. Adventists generally try to be as balanced as possible on the great theological issues.

One of the great questions of salvation is whether God accounts us righteous or makes us righteous. The former is often thought to be the Protestant view and the latter the Catholic view. This statement affirms both perspectives, not forcing people to make a choice. The SDA Fundamental Beliefs as originally written try to include more than to exclude. These statements are reflective of the community’s positions rather than an attempt to be prescriptive.

But being open and inclusive does not mean anything goes. You cannot accept this statement and still buy into everything that has been said by other Christians on the subject. For example, this statement excludes “Five-Point Calvinism,” with its strong focus on predestination and a lack of human freedom. It also rejects the concept of “double predestination,” that some people are predestined by God to be lost. This statement affirms that Adventism is strongly on the side of Arminianism, which sees human beings as free to make decisions for or against God and to be deeply participatory in their relationship with God. The Holy Spirit clearly plays a major part in orchestrating that freedom, but Adventism emphasizes human choice and freedom as a crucial theological element.

A number of my colleagues noted that this statement seems rather flat and uninspiring. It is as if a committee sat down to design a horse and ended up with a camel! It is careful to say all the right things but does not say them in a way that would be inspiring. Another seeming lack in the statement has to do with the eschatological element of salvation. It is hardly mentioned until the very last phrase. This future aspect of salvation is certainly emphasized in texts like Romans 5:9-10 and Titus 3:7. One final point seems worth mentioning as well. The statement is full of metaphorical language (righteousness, faith, gift, deliverance, Lordship, adopted, born again, sanctified, hearts) yet offers no indication that the language itself is metaphorical, which could lead to extremism and misuse (taking a metaphor too literally and trying to apply it in inappropriate ways).

Fundamental Belief Number 9 (Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ)

In Christ’s life of perfect obedience to God’s will, His suffering, death, and resurrection, God provided the only means of atonement for human sin, so that those who by faith accept this atonement may have eternal life, and the whole creation may better understand the infinite and holy love of the Creator. This perfect atonement vindicates the righteousness of God’s law and the graciousness of His character; for it both condemns our sin and provides for our forgiveness. The death of Christ is substitutionary and expiatory, reconciling and transforming. The resurrection of Christ proclaims God’s triumph over the forces of evil, and for those who accept the atonement assures their final victory over sin and death. It declares the Lordship of Jesus Christ, before whom every knee in heaven and on earth will bow. (Gen. 3:15; Ps. 22:1; Isa. 53; John 3:16; 14:30; Rom. 1:4; 3:25; 4:25; 8:3, 4; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4, 20-22; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15, 19-21; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 2:15; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; 1 John 2:2; 4;10.) (John 3:16; Isa. 53; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4, 20-22; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15, 19-21; Rom. 1:4; 3:25; 4:25; 8:3, 4; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Col. 2:15; Phil. 2:6-11.)

Aside from a reshuffling of the biblical evidence at the bottom, there are no changes in the wording of FB9. Since this fundamental focused on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, one wonders why it isn’t listed after number four, which dealt with the nature of Christ. The answer probably is that the first five fundamentals focus on the persons of the godhead and the next five or so focus on the actions of the godhead. There is never a perfect grouping of beliefs like these, the order that was chosen is probably as good as any.

The religion scholars at Loma Linda have historically expressed concerns that legal substitution not be seen as the controlling metaphor of the atonement, as it often is in Protestant Christianity. But this statement certainly does not limit itself to legal substitution. This statement offers an excellent balance among the various biblical metaphors of the atonement. Legal, substitutionary atonement was seen as liberal and “new theology” in the 1970s, and therefore suspect, but now it has become the conservative view. It is interesting how theology changes over time and people hardly notice, because a new generation sees what was recently new and the new normal. In our resistance to change we often end up changing without realizing it.

In the broadest sense, atonement is seen as having both objective and subjective elements in it. The objective side of the atonement focuses on what happened outside of us on the cross. Did the cross in some way change God’s mind? Did it defeat Satan in some way? Did it somehow satisfy the justice of God? The subjective side of the atonement, on the other hand, focuses on how the cross changes us. Through the cross we learn that God is fair and just, that the law is for our good, that God is on our side. We are moved from serving God on account of fear to trusting Him. Another way to express this contrast is this: Which is more important, the Christmas story or the Easter story? Do you focus on the life of Jesus or on His death and resurrection as the driving forces behind the atonement? At Loma Linda there is a tendency to focus on the life and death of Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God’s character, the strong emphasis of chapter one in Steps to Christ, whereas at Andrews and other places, the emphasis is more on the death and resurrection of Christ as an atoning sacrifice. This fundamental affirms both as part of a balance and tension.

For SDAs it is good to see an increasing focus on atonement at the cross, but it would be unwise to lose the pioneer sense that the cross has ongoing significance. It represents the way that God behaves and rules in all times and places. The gospel is not about sinners in the hands of an angry God, it is about God in the hands of angry sinners. In addition, the cross is not just about how God behaves on this earth; past, present and future. It also has a cosmic dimension, it changes everything at the level of the whole universe, not just earth.

2 Corinthians 5 has an interesting universal tone. God was reconciling the whole world to Himself in Christ. But a universal tone is not the same thing as universalism. The very ones who are reconciled to God at the cross still need to “be reconciled” to God. Having said that, the availability of universal salvation involves the possibility of universal salvation. No one is excluded, all have equal access to God and salvation at the foot of the cross.

In our discussion we considered one possible corrective to this excellent fundamental. The way this fundamental expresses the cross focuses much more on us than on God. It might have been helpful to explore a bit more questions like, What did it cost God to go to the cross? What does it mean when divinity suffers? Did the experience of sacrifice leave a mark on God? Did He lose something that He doesn’t get back? The natural human tendency to focus on ourselves is not easy to overcome, even in the writing of fundamental beliefs!