Fundamental Belief Number 22 (Christian Behavior)

We are called to be a godly people who think, feel, and act in harmony with biblical principles the principles of heaven in all aspects of personal and social life. For the Spirit to recreate in us the character of our Lord we involve ourselves only in those things which that will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives. This means that our amusement and entertainment should meet the highest standards of Christian taste and beauty. While recognizing cultural differences, our dress is to be simple, modest, and neat, befitting those whose true beauty does not consist of outward adornment but in the imperishable ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit. It also means that because our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, we are to care for them intelligently. Along with adequate exercise and rest, we are to adopt the most healthful diet possible and abstain from the unclean foods identified in the Scriptures. Since alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and the irresponsible use of drugs and narcotics are harmful to our bodies, we are to abstain from them as well. Instead, we are to engage in whatever brings our thoughts and bodies into the discipline of Christ, who desires our wholesomeness, joy, and goodness. (Gen. 7:2; Exod. 20:15; Lev. 11:1-47; Psalm 106:3; Rom. 12:1, 2; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20; 10:31; 2 Cor. 10:5; 6:14-7:1; Eph. 5:1-21; Phil. 2:4;4:8; 1 Tim. 2:9, 10; Titus 2:11, 12; 1 Peter 3:1-4; 1 John 2:6; 3 John 2.  (Rom. 12:1, 2; 1 John 2:6; Eph. 5:1-21; Phil. 4:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 6:14-7:1; 1 Peter 3:1-4; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20; 10:31; Lev. 11:1-47; 3 John 2.)

In addition to the usual alteration of order and, in this case, the addition of a number of texts, there is one major change in this fundamental belief. In San Antonio it was voted to replace “the principles of heaven” with “biblical principles in all aspects of personal and social life.” This change was felt to accomplish two things. First, to underline the biblical foundation of the statement. People were unclear what was meant by “principles of heaven.” Second, the addition seeks to clarify that Christian behavior is not just about health, dress and adornment, but also about how we interact with others in business or the market place. Honesty, integrity and fairness in our relationships are at least as important as what we eat and how we look. There is also a minor change to improve English usage, “which” is replaced with “that.”

What is striking about this fundamental, even in its modified form, is not so much what it says as what it doesn’t say. Missing in this belief is any mention of the cross as a paradigm for Christian faithfulness. That is a very important concept at Loma Linda. Also missing is the theme of non-combatancy, which was very important for the early Adventist pioneers. Also missing in this statement is any mention of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus lays out His own expectations for Christian behavior. There is a sense in reading this fundamental that it is a collection of behaviors that owes more to the SDA tradition and practices than to any thought out theology of Christian behavior. To a large extent this list of behaviors and practices seems culturally driven rather than biblically driven. We seem to avoid the weightier matters of the law (Matt 23:23) to focus on things that are more minor, not unimportant, but not as important as some things that are left out. There is no mention, for example, of the dangers of excessive consumption of sugar, neither is there mention of the importance of mental health. If 90% of all physical illness is rooted in the mind, mental health probably deserves mention in a statement like this. The addition of the phrase on personal and social life in San Antonio is a small step in the direction of recognizing the larger implications of this FB.

Romans 12 is an important New Testament passage regarding Christian behavior. In that chapter the Christian community embodies God’s mercy to the world. Fully carrying that out would suggest acknowledging the value of animals as part of God’s creation and also the value of the environment (though that is touched on in FB 21).

It is, perhaps, good that the statement doesn’t get overly specific about some things, such as abortion and euthanasia. Neither does it mention the theater. In many ways the statement is quite restrained compared to the lists that one might encounter in many local churches. At Loma Linda there is a conscious attempt to recover the principles behind the practices. The outside world is discovering that the Adventist lifestyle as a whole package has dramatic impact on health and longevity. Life at LLU is not only longer, but the quality of life is greatly extended as people age. Retirement is often postponed into the 80s and 90s. Would that such “blue zones” would be increasingly observed wherever large numbers of SDAs congregate. The concept of “Adventist clusters” can be a negative, but the Blue Zone discovery in southern California wouldn’t have happened without it.

These brief comments may seem overly negative. There are a number of very good expressions in the statement, such as rooting all behaviors in the guidance of the Spirit, a positive approach to amusement and entertainment, rather than a list that can be used to selectively judge others, and the principled statement regarding dress and adornment. But there is some danger that with the passage of time, Adventist behavioral standards are losing their undergirding rationale and drifting into a rote listing of behaviors rooted mostly in previous practice.

 

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