Reflections on Annual Council: Fundamental Belief 6

A number of changes in Fundamental number 6 (Creation) have been recommended by the Annual Council. This was in response to the action at the General Conference in 2010 to revise FB6 in light of the Affirmation of Creation document produces at the Science and Creation Conference of 2004 (Glacier View, Colorado). Among the changes is the adjective “recent” in relation to the creation of “the heavens and the earth.” The chronologies of Genesis 5 and 11 were added to the list of Scriptures because they offer the only basis for calculation of ancient biblical dates.

The new statement itself seems to me to support so-called young earth creationism (everything, including the rocks, was created in recent times), which is popular with some protestants outside the SDA Church. This is different from the “young life” position (earth may be billions of years old but life was a fairly recent creation) I generally heard in my years at the Seminary (Andrews University). The chair explained that the statement was intended to leave both options open. In his view, this was done by referencing Exodus 20 in the statement instead of Genesis 1. Exodus 20 does not refer to “in the beginning” but has to do with the creation of this earth only.

This stimulated a vigorous discussion in the Biblical Research Institute Committee (BRICOM). Many members are clearly uncomfortable with the “young earth” position. They note that the Institute for Creation Research (evangelical operation) goes so far as to state a “young universe” position (the entire universe, including galaxies, was created a few thousand years ago). The SDA statement must be worded in such a way that people don’t think it advocates young-earth or young-universe positions.

The chair of the FB committee (Angel Rodriguez) responded that the statement begins with “God created the cosmos,”and no reference to six days or recent history is made. Then the “six days” are brought in and Exodus 20 is quoted. The statement, to Rodriguez, is deliberately ambiguous on the creation of the universe and the physical planet earth. Room is left for theologians to discuss the details.

But some committee members were not satisfied. They noted that Exodus 20 is merely quoting Genesis 1 and that most readers of FB6 are likely to read “heavens” in Exodus 20 as the entire cosmos. Unless the statement is more nuanced, literalistic readers are like to attach the Seminary and other educational institutions simply for teaching what most Adventist creationists have believed for years.

This discussion was most interesting. Even in a group that is firmly committed to SDA beliefs and traditional readings of Scripture and science, there was considerable disagreement on just how FB6 ought to be worded. It was then reported that when the 27 Fundamentals were written up in 1980, not one of the original fundamentals was voted unanimously by the committee. The fundamentals should be understood as a statement of what most Adventists believe, rather than what all believe or should believe.

That raised the question of the purpose of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. In legal terms, are they prescriptive (indicating what everyone “should” believe) or descriptive (describing what most Adventists believe). The Preamble of the Fundamentals suggests they are descriptive. They are intended as a helpful resource for explaining what Adventists believe and inviting others to consider and embrace those beliefs. But more and more voices are treating the Fundamentals as prescriptive, spelling out exactly what people must believe. It seems to me that this is a dangerous turn, one that the early pioneers of the Church would have vigorously opposed.

The fact that the Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists can be changed suggests that they are not a creed. But it is a strange thing to have changeable fundamentals and then enforce them. That suggests that early pioneers like James White and J. N. Andrews could be disfellowshipped today for not believing everything that is now present in the fundamentals. Are we moving toward a fixed creed that all must subscribe to? Or is it still true, as our pioneers said, that the Bible is our only creed? Do we submit our understanding to the Bible, or to our understanding of the Bible. There is an important difference. If the “biblical view” is not what is contained in the Bible, but is now what we think the Bible says, we have made a significant shift. In a very subtle way tradition begins to supplant Scripture. I hope we don’t go there.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on Annual Council: Fundamental Belief 6

  1. Ken Marsh

    Thank you Dr. Paulien for this brief article. I do hope that your views are seriously considered by a wide audience.

    I am happy with a statement of beliefs that is representative of what many SDAs believe, but if the day comes when that statement becomes a test of fellowship then we die as a Bible believing and honouring organisation. It is imperative that we create an environment where Church members are encouraged to search the Scriptures, question, express different views, in a way that leads to deeper understanding. A creed, I fear, will not help such an objective.

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  2. Brendan James

    Hi Pastor. From what I remember reading, our early pioneers for some time resisted putting any of our beliefs in any formalized written form in fear that such a move would result in the formation of a creed in similar vein to the rest of Christendom, and the ultimate ‘test of fellowship’ the former writer above refers to. Yet do we not today have Baptisms into our churches incumbent on accepting those beliefs? And membership conditional on same?

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