Category Archives: Theological

Fundamental Belief Number 28 (The New Earth)

On the new earth, in which righteousness dwells, God will provide an eternal home for the redeemed and a perfect environment for everlasting life, love, joy, and learning in His presence. For here God Himself will dwell with His people, and suffering and death will have passed away. The great controversy will be ended, and sin will be no more. All things, animate and inanimate, will declare that God is love; and He shall reign forever. Amen. (Isa. 35; 65:17-25; Matt. 5:5; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 11:15; 21:1-7; 22:1-5.) (2 Pet. 3:13; Isa. 35; 65:17-25; Matt. 5:5; Rev. 11:15; 21:1-7; 22:1-5.)

There were no changes in this fundamental, other than the usual rearrangement of Bible texts. Revelation 21-22 are the key chapters behind this fundamental. These chapters build very strongly on a number of Old Testament contexts; Genesis 1-2, the Hebrew sanctuary, the historical accounts of the original Jerusalem and Ezekiel 47. This fundamental focuses on the conclusion of the Great Controversy story when “sin and sinners will be no more.” One of the mysterious things promised in these chapters is the “healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2). This is not so much a reference to the healing of human bodies and minds, but rather healing between peoples and nations. But as a part of this prophecy, it is a call for readers to anticipate the New Jerusalem by seeking social justice on this earth now.

There are a couple of other beautiful promises in Revelation 22:1-4. It is said that the saved will “see His face.” It is not clear if the “His” refers to “God” or the “Lamb” (Jesus Christ). Face to face contact with God was extremely limited in Old Testament times but became real on earth with the incarnation of Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14). The ultimate privilege of human existence is to be face to face with God, but without any fear (unlike Genesis 3:10).

Both the Bible and this fundamental belief indicate that death itself will have passed away. That makes sense on the large-scale human perspective. But does that cover all forms of death? Cell death and replacement are an important piece of healthy existence as we know it. The death and decay of plants provides nutrients for the soil. The human process of eating involves the extinction of plants and their fruits. So how literally are we to take the “no more death” (Rev 21:1-4)? Death itself is literal, but some death is necessary for life, at least as we experience it. Since the Bible was not written in the distant past to provide modern scientific information, we should probably be cautious as to how far we take this assertion.

Also, what does it mean that suffering will have passed away? Will we never stub a toe? Bump heads accidentally? Some suggest that true enjoyment is enhanced when you have something else to compare it to. In The Matrix it was argued that the complete absence of suffering would not be a desirable state for human beings. It is contended that suffering at some level is necessary for paradise and true happiness to exist. So FB 28 is clear in practical terms, but doesn’t answer all the questions that could be asked. When it comes to eternity, our ignorance exceeds our knowledge.

The statement talks about a “perfect environment.” This suggests a new ecological order, one that is symbiotic (where creatures co-operate with each other in meeting their daily needs) rather than predatory. Such a return to the original order of things is forecast in texts like Isaiah 11:6-9, where predators and prey are on genial terms with each other. The new earth signals the end of predation. Ethicists speak of moral evil, natural evil and ecological evil. God’s new order will overcome all three.

God’s willingness to dwell with His people is amazing, given the size and scope of the universe as we have come to know it through astronomical science. While not stated explicitly, this reality implies a divine commitment to human well-being that exceeds all other divine/creature relationships. God chooses to be with humanity on earth in eternity, to permanently share His life with us. The promise of special relationship that is experienced in the Sabbath will fill the whole of eternity.

While the new earth will be real, it would probably not be wise to make too much of the details (streets of gold, gates of pearl). These are imaginative visions couched in the language of the ancient world and the historical context of God’s people as chronicled in the Old Testament. The details of such prophecies are tied more closely to the traditions of the past than to some movie of the future. This is evident, for example, in Isaiah 11, which was referenced above. Verses 15 and 16 are a prophecy of the exile to Babylon and the return. This picture of the future is grounded in the Exodus and in Isaiah’s own context. According to the chapter, Israel will come out of Assyria when a wind from God dries up the Euphrates so Israel can escape on foot through the dry river bed. Not one detail this prophecy is fulfilled as written. It is Judah that escapes Babylon, not Israel that escapes from Assyria. Why the discrepancy? Because Babylon as an empire did not exist in Isaiah’s day, it was assumed under the Assyrian Empire. And Israel had not yet been destroyed. Isaiah met people where they were at the time of the prophecy. In reality the Euphrates was not dried up by a wind from God either but through the efforts of Cyrus’ engineers. And the people of God crossed the river on bridges not the river bed. Why the discrepancy? Because the Exodus was the model for the prophecy. God projected the future in the language of Israel’s past.

With the above in mind we can say that until a prophecy is fully fulfilled, it is unwise to project every detail in advance. When God gives a vision to a prophet, that vision views the End as a natural extention of the prophet’s time and place. When the fulfillment comes, all will be clear (John 13:19; 14:29). But until then, we don’t get to decide just how the prophecy will be fulfilled. Our job is to study, pray, and wait.

While the previous paragraph may disappoint some, it is important to remember the purpose of prophecy. Prophecy was not given to satisfy our curiosity about the future, but to teach us how to live today. These texts are much more powerful than the details of their picture of the future. They are designed to change who you are. They are in the form of stories that teach principles and shape people. They give clues to the future in order to shape who we are today. Getting the details right is less important than being transformed by the vision of the prophet.

Daily healing and transformation is what Loma Linda University Health is all about. Something similar can be said about the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists. They have been carefully crafted and each line is important. But unless we allow these ideas to transform our lives they are but “sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). While they can help to shape our ideas, what really counts is whether we allow them to shape our lives, to change who we are. As we conclude this series on the 28 Fundamentals, I invite you to do just that.

Fundamental Belief Number 27 (The Millennium and the End of Sin)

The millennium is the thousand-year reign of Christ with His saints in heaven between the first and second resurrections. During this time the wicked dead will be judged; the earth will be utterly desolate, without living human inhabitants, but occupied by Satan and his angels. At its close Christ with His saints and the Holy City will descend from heaven to earth. The unrighteous dead will then be resurrected, and with Satan and his angels will surround the city; but fire from God will consume them and cleanse the earth. The universe will thus be freed of sin and sinners forever. (Jer. 4:23-26; Ezek. 28:18, 19; Mal. 4:1; 1 Cor. 6:2, 3; Rev. 20; 21:1-5.) (Rev. 20; 1 Cor. 6:2, 3; Jer. 4:23-26; Rev. 21:1-5; Mal. 4:1; Eze. 28:18, 19.)

There were no changes in this fundamental, other than the usual rearrangement of Bible texts. When first introduced to the millennium many wonder as to its purpose. Why a resurrection of all the wicked simply to face a second death? Sigve Tonstad, in his dissertation at St. Andrews University in Scotland, notes the odd reality that everything seems settled and the victory of Christ is assured at the Second Coming, yet there is a new resurrection and a new conflict after the millennium. This only makes sense in light of the cosmic conflict articulated in Revelation 12 (and FB8) and hinted at in many other parts of the Bible. There are broader issues in the universe than simply the salvation of humanity or the superior power of God. There are issues in the cosmic conflict of the character of God and the accusations of Satan. These issues require one final confrontation at the end of the millennium, where God’s character is finally vindicated and Satan’s character finally and fully exposed. So in the larger picture of a cosmic conflict, the millennium plays an important role.

The release of Satan at the end of the millennium is a big surprise. After all, he is the ultimate villain of universal history. Confining him (Rev 20:1-3) seems like the intelligent thing to do. Yet at the end of the millennium he is not only released, the text says that he “must be set free.” Why does this happen? Clearly the capture and release of Satan means that he is an extremely important character in the story. In spite of all the suffering and anguish he has caused, it is necessary for him to be released one last time to demonstrate what happens to an individual who nurtures rebellion and sin. After a thousand years to contemplate his deeds, his character is completely exposed by his actions after his release. Repentance and reform are no longer of interest to him, he is bent on destruction of the most magnificent thing any creature has seen, God’s amazing New Jerusalem. But he also contains within his sinful self the seeds of his own destruction (Ezek 28:18).

As noted in this fundamental, Revelation 20 describes the destruction of the wicked as “fire from God” (Rev 20:9). The cosmic conflict is often portrayed in graphic military language (see Rev 19:14-15, for example, see also Rev 12:7-8). Yet under the surface of the military language there is a spiritual reality in play (Rev 12:11-12; 19:11, note also the spiritual context of Armageddon—16:15). So one can read Revelation through two different lenses. The first is the more popular reading which focuses on the surface of the text and seems to portray earthly battles, sometimes even in a Middle Eastern context (Rev 16:12). But a careful re-reading of the book shows a deeper dimension, a cosmic conflict behind all the earthly conflicts, a universal war of words over the respective characters of Christ and Satan. This more detailed reading can reconcile the seeming conflict between the idea that God destroys the wicked and sin’s own tendency to self-destruction. Throughout the Bible, the wrath of God often turns out to be God sadly turning away from those who no longer want Him and allowing them to reap the consequences of their own choices (Ezek 28:18; Hos 11:1-9; Rom 1:24-28). Why would it be any different at the End?

Modern cosmology has certainly changed the size of the universe in our minds. It is infinitely larger than anything the ancients might have had reason to suspect. The ancients did, however, know that the universe was very big. Because of electric lights, we don’t see the sky as clearly as they did, so we miss many things. Modernity has a certain superiority complex that we know infinitely more than the ancients did. That certainly true in some ways, but the opposite is also true in some matters.

Fundamental Belief Number 26 (Death and Resurrection)

The wages of sin is death. But God, who alone is immortal, will grant eternal life to His redeemed. Until that day death is an unconscious state for all people. When Christ, who is our life, appears, the resurrected righteous and the living righteous will be glorified and caught up to meet their Lord. The second resurrection, the resurrection of the unrighteous, will take place a thousand years later. (Job 19:25-27; Ps. 146:3, 4; Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10; Dan. 12:2, 13; John 5:28, 29; 11:11-14; Rom. 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; 1 Tim. 6:16; Rev. 20:1-10.) (Job 19:25-27; Ps. 146:3, 4; Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10; Dan. 12:2, 13; Isa. 25:8; John 5:28, 29; 11:11-14; Rom. 6:23; 16; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 20:1-10.)

There were no changes in this fundamental other than the usual rearrangement of Bible texts. The Adventist view on the “state of the dead” actually depends on the “state of the living.” The foundation of this perspective is the unified view of human nature (see FB 7, The Nature of Humanity). In the Adventist view, which increasing numbers of scholars consider the biblical view, body and “soul” are necessarily interconnected, the one cannot live without the other. When the body dies, therefore, all consciousness ceases. There are no thoughts or plans without the body, and there is no return to life without the body, hence a bodily resurrection is needed for life to return.

In spite of its strong biblical foundation, this is one of the most controversial of Adventist doctrines in the wider world. Major figures like Rob Bell and Nancy Murphy, who have adopted positions on death similar to Adventists, have faced more opposition on this issue than any other. Many people recoil from the doctrine because it seems to take away the assurance that “mom is in heaven now.” The idea that the person is “asleep” in death does not strike them as comforting. But in fact, the Adventist teaching takes nothing away and gives much in return. If the person is completely unconscious with no sense of the passage of time, then the next thing the believer experiences after death is the face of Jesus. In their experience their “ascension to heaven” will truly have occurred in an instant. But the bonus in the biblical perspective is that the whole community is resurrected together, at the same time (1 Thess 4:15-18). So the community is preserved. Mom is not up in heaven alone for a time, but is immediately joined in resurrection by all her loved ones, living or dead, at the Second Coming of Jesus.

This fundamental mentions two resurrections, a resurrection of the righteous and a resurrection of the unrighteous, separated by a thousand years. So everyone who ever lived will be resurrected, it is their relation to Jesus that will determine the timing. But an important aspect of the biblical teaching on resurrection is missing. John 5:28-29 is mentioned in the text list because it describes the two resurrections mentioned in the statement. But John 5:24-25 is left out. There resurrection is not just a future bodily event, it becomes a metaphor for the life transformation that occurs when the gospel is received and the Holy Spirit enters the believer’s life. In the words of Paul, believers in Christ can “know the power of His resurrection” (Phil 3:10). The life-giving power of God, which raised Christ from the dead and will one day raise all others, can also bring resurrection life into our experience today. This theme is widespread in the New Testament.

I was once talking with Lyn Behrens, former president of Loma Linda University. She said something quite startling. She said, “I have come to believe that it is possible to die whole.” Death is inevitable in this life, but how one dies matters. It is possible to face death as a whole person in spite of the deterioration of the body. She felt that Loma Linda University should be the place where people can experience a “good death,” if there is such a thing. The biblical doctrine of death and resurrection should not only benefit those who remain living but also those going through the process of dying itself.

In our faculty discussion at the School of Religion, someone raised the issue of “baptism for the dead” (1 Cor 15:29). This mysterious text has baffled scholars through the years, it is a concept unique to that text in Scripture and neither the biblical context nor ancient practices illuminates what Paul was talking about. The most that can be said is that it must have been a local practice of the church at Corinth that Paul wasn’t sure he could buy into, but was willing to use as an illustration of his larger point on death and resurrection. He was meeting them where they were. The core message of 1 Corinthians, which we do understand, is that the resurrection of Christ guarantees the resurrection of those who trust Him. Faith is not for this life only, but is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with God that climaxes in a new order at the resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-23).

Fundamental Belief Number 25 (The Second Coming of Christ)

The second coming of Christ is the blessed hope of the church, the grand climax of the gospel. The Saviour’s coming will be literal, personal, visible, and worldwide. When He returns, the righteous dead will be resurrected, and together with the righteous living will be glorified and taken to heaven, but the unrighteous will die. The almost complete fulfillment of most lines of prophecy, together with the present condition of the world, indicates that Christ’s coming is near imminent. The time of that event has not been revealed, and we are therefore exhorted to be ready at all times. (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; John 14:1-3; Acts1:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:1-6; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:8; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; Rev. 1:7; 14:14-20; 19:11-21.) (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:1-6; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:8; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; Rev. 1:7; 14:14-20; 19:11-21.)

There was just one minor change in this fundamental in San Antonio, the word “imminent” was changed to “near” because the latter word is a biblical term, the former is not. As with the other FBs, the biblical reference texts have been reorganized.

We cannot overestimate the importance of the doctrine of the Second Coming to Adventist theology and experience. For many Adventists this is probably the single most important of all the fundamentals. At the very center of Adventism is the conviction that whether or not we live until the Second Coming, the first face we will see is that of Jesus.

While this fundamental speaks about heaven, there is no mention at all of what heaven is or where it is located. The Adventist fundamentals are written for Adventists and often assume things that others would not understand. Adventists have tended to take the Second Coming very literally, hence the location of heaven in the general direction of Orion has been for many an important insight. But the framers of these fundamentals were often wise in leaving out things that were not central or were held by some Adventists but not most.

The imminence of Jesus’ return has been a central theme within Adventism until very recently. Most Adventists have thought that Jesus would return within five or ten years, certainly within their lifetimes. But it is hard to maintain that kind of urgency, certainly not over several generations. This doctrine has also been infused with a lot of fear. The Second Coming is not so much a beacon of hope as a time of trouble and many other horrible things. It is the destruction of wicked people as much as the rescue of the righteous. But as time goes by Adventists are increasingly realizing that the time of trouble theme in the Bible is not nearly as pervasive as the narratives that have grown up around it.

More recently Adventists have assumed more of a New Testament approach to this doctrine, the Second Coming is about a theology of hope. It is the experience of Christ’s presence in the here and now that creates the anticipation of the “then.” The Second Coming provides the vision and incentive for Loma Linda’s mission of healing. So one of the goals of healing at Loma Linda is to provide a down payment on the glorious wholeness of God’s New Earth. While our efforts today can never equal that future, they can provide a foretaste of it. But because of this focus on healing, the how and when of the Second Coming seems less important than the meaning of the Second Coming. The Second Coming means that human suffering, as in refugee camps and Ebola clinics, is not the end of all things. Something better is coming. It is particularly when you lose someone close to you that the theology of hope that we find in the Second Coming becomes more real.

As one reads the end-time texts of the Bible it is helpful to know that the visions of the end that God gave in the Bible were always natural extensions of each prophet’s time and place. As a result, the pictures of the End were constantly shifting and it is wise not to take the details too seriously, as the Pharisees did. The Pharisees had the future so carefully charted out that they rejected the Messiah when He came, because He didn’t fit their prophetic expectations. So it is important to study the prophecies carefully, but not to take the details so seriously that we miss the real thing when it comes.

In many ways, Adventist expectation of the End has been a lot like that of the Early Church. The Early Church passed through a period of intense and imminent expectation followed by a long-term settling in to the mission that Jesus left them. An important delay text is 2 Peter 3. A day with the Lord is like 1000 years. The answers to the delay in the New Testament are great ones, but they are not found in this fundamental or in the texts listed below it (although 2 Peter 3 is mentioned in Fundamental 28).

The doctrine of the Second Coming is important enough to Adventists that four different fundamentals are needed to address different aspects of it (FBs 25-28). And the story does not end with the Second Coming itself. In John 14 and 1 Thessalonians 4, the Second Coming means that we go to God. But at the end of Revelation 20, God comes to us. None of the Second Coming hymns talk about this! God is coming to us. He wants us in heaven, but then when the new earth is renewed, He comes to earth with us! He not only comes to us but He stays with us. In the larger picture of the Bible, God comes to us at least four times; in creation, in salvation, at the Second Coming and at the Third Coming (see also Fundamentals 27 and 28).

Fundamental Belief Number 24 (Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary)

There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle that which the Lord set up and not humans man. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. At His ascension, He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and (at the time of his ascension, He) began His intercessory ministry, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the holy place of the earthly sanctuary at the time of His ascension. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the most holy place of the earthly sanctuary. It is a work of investigative judgment which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. The investigative judg­ment reveals to heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have part in the first resurrection. It also makes manifest who among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the com­mandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore, are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom. This judgment vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus. It declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the kingdom. The completion of this ministry of Christ will mark the close of human probation before the Second Advent. (Lev. 16; Num. 14:34; Ezek. 4:6; Dan. 7:9-27; 8:13, 14; 9:24-27; Heb. 1:3; 2:16, 17; 4:14-16; 8:1-5; 9:11-28; 10:19-22; Rev. 8:3-5; 11:19; 14:6, 7; 20:12; 14:12; 22:11, 12.) (Lev. 16; Num. 14:34; Ezek. 4:6; Dan. 7:9-27; 8:13, 14; 9:24-27; Heb. 1:3; 2:16, 17; 4:14-16; 8:1‑5; 9:11-28; 10:19- 22; Rev. 8:3-5; 11:19; 14:6, 7; 20:12; 14:12; 22:11, 12.)

As you can see, there were a number of changes made in 2015 (the San Antonio General Conference session) toward the beginning of this fundamental. “That” replaces “which” to improve English usage. “Humans” replaces “man” in the service of inclusive language. “At His ascension” is a shifting of position for the idea behind “at the time of His ascension.” Then two major clauses were added to the FB. The original statement mentions Christ’s work of intercession and judgment without tying those acts to the sanctuary typology, where the High Priest ministered in both the holy and most holy places of the earthly sanctuary. These connections are provided by the two lengthy clauses added above. Note that this fundamental does not settle the issue of whether there is a heavenly building (upon which the earthly sanctuaries were modeled) or whether the earthly typifies heavenly realities without requiring a geographical component in heaven. For more on this, see the comments below on the three main views of the sanctuary within Adventism.

Sanctuary/temple language is found all through the Bible. There are sanctuary allusions in the stories of Genesis. Besides Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, references can be found throughout the Psalms, the prophets, the gospels, Hebrews and the book of Revelation. It is one of the richest threads in all of the Scriptures. But while this fundamental focuses on a number of important things, it is critical not to lose the big picture for all the details. Here is the big picture. All religions recognize the darkness of life. Everyone is looking to heaven for a word that we are not alone, that God cares. That is the heart of the sanctuary message. You are not alone. When you hit absolute bottom, it’s not over. You can begin again, God has opened the way. The sanctuary is a huge theme in the Bible and it is experientially very powerful when handled in a biblical way. Until you have fully grasped the darkness of human existence, you cannot fully appreciate the power of the atonement. The cross is not the great exception to how God works, it is the very embodiment of how God works.

In the sanctuary model, intercession is one of the more difficult concepts to understand. It expresses that God somehow sent His Son to be the one in-between even though there was no need to have anyone in between (John 16:23-27). God offers an intercessor because we need it. In reality, however, the Father Himself loves us and delights us to come to him. If the Father Himself had come down and lived among us He would have been no different than Jesus (John 14:9). But God provides what we need even if it isn’t what we think we need. Intercession is one of the ways God assures us that we don’t need to believe lies about Him. We can trust Him because we have seen the trustworthiness of Jesus.

Adventists often struggle with issues of sanctuary and investigative judgment even though these very things were given to us for our encouragement and comfort. What was designed to encourage is often perceived as frightening. But let me summarize the positive side of the Adventist view of the sanctuary. The sanctuary helps us to view reconciliation in two important ways: 1) it helps us become reconciled to God, and 2) it illustrates the reconciliation of the entire universe. Thus the sanctuary is a window into the cosmic conflict and its implications for our daily lives.

Adventists have three main views of the sanctuary. The most traditional view is that the earthly sanctuary represents a literal heavenly building, with two apartments and services much like the earthly. While this is considered an acceptable view for Adventists to hold, it does face a major challenge. There are actually four sanctuaries in the OT (Mosaic tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, Zerubbabel’s temple and Ezekiel’s temple) and each of them is different. Which of these is the true model for the heavenly building? Because of the challenges that come with a literal view, most Adventist scholars see the earthly sanctuaries as representative of heavenly realities, the things that God is doing for our salvation in heavenly places. In this view “heavenly geography” is of lesser importance. What truly counts is the actual work God is doing in our behalf in heaven. This view is also acceptable for Adventists to hold and is the view most clearly implied in FB 24, particularly the new additions, which express this perspective without ruling out the possibility of a literal building in heaven. The third view was articulated by Kellogg, that the earthly sanctuaries represent what God is doing in our hearts. While that connection is clearly taught in the NT and by Ellen White, Kellogg’s view has fallen out of favor because of its presumed association with pantheism and Kellogg’s seeming denial of a heavenly sanctuary (although historical research has questioned whether or not these accusations are fair).

One Adventist leader recently said, no doubt provocatively, “I love the sanctuary but, I hate the sanctuary doctrine.” In its traditional form it doesn’t seem to address the deepest needs of today. Intercession based on fear may encourage study and investigation, but it doesn’t often lead to the joy and celebration that the bigger biblical picture of the sanctuary supports (see Luke 15 as an example). The beauty of the sanctuary is that there are so many paths to God illustrated there. There are lots of mini-stories that all point toward the big story.

Many other religions struggle with the concept of redemption. If human need is all about law-breaking, then if God hadn’t given the Ten Commandments there would be no need of an atonement. But if the core issue addressed by the sanctuary is relationship, it changes how we look at the doctrine. The sanctuary is all about reconciliation with God (2 Cor 5), drawing us back to the One who gave the sanctuary for that very purpose.

One side note that should be mentioned here is the desire of some sincere and faithful Seventh-day Adventists to practice the feast days of the Jewish calendar (Passover, Pentecost, Feast of Tabernacles, new moons). This FB makes no mention of this perspective at all, positive or negative. So the practice of the feast days is neither required nor forbidden by Adventist doctrine. How shall we relate to feast-keeping enthusiasm then? The lack of mention in this FB suggests that it is OK to practice these things and to even encourage others to follow them as a spiritual benefit. But when people seek to make these a requirement for all Adventists or all Christians, it tends to divide people and their churches. So “enthusiasts” should be cautioned to practice and share in such a way that it does not divide. Should they ignore that advice, churches and conferences may be tempted to discipline them on the grounds of schism (dividing the church) rather than theology.

The Loma Linda perspective recognizes that the sanctuary is one of the many and various ways (Heb 1:1) that God has tried to communicate with us (see also PP 364). So its significance should not be overplayed, especially since in its typical form it does not appeal to most people. At the same time, we should not be embarrassed about the sanctuary’s seeming irrelevance to most people today. This is our story. This is how the Adventist people found their way to God. It doesn’t have to be an either/or, either accept the tradition in every detail or throw it out entirely. Even if most people never figure out the depths of the sanctuary story (my own mother was an Adventist for seventy years when she confessed to me that she had no clue how to explain the doctrine to anyone else), it doesn’t have to be universal. It is one of many metaphors that Scripture provides for us to understand God and the way that He is reconciling us to Himself.

Seventh-day Adventists in FB 24, therefore, bear witness to one of the richest themes in all of Scripture. If we were to stop pointing to the sanctuary, it might be totally ignored by all readers of the Bible. So even if aspects of this doctrine don’t appeal to many or most people today, it is a witness worth preserving.

Fundamental Belief Number 23 (Marriage and the Family)

Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship. For the Christian a marriage commitment is to God as well as to the spouse, and should be entered into only between a man and a woman partners who share a common faith. Mutual love, honor, respect, and responsibility are the fabric of this relationship, which is to reflect the love, sanctity, closeness, and permanence of the relationship between Christ and His church. Regarding divorce, Jesus taught that the person who divorces a spouse, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery. Although some family relationships may fall short of the ideal, a man and a woman marriage partners who fully commit themselves to each other in Christ through marriage may achieve loving unity through the guidance of the Spirit and the nurture of the church. God blesses the family and intends that its members shall assist each other toward complete maturity. Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message. Parents are to bring up their chil­dren to love and obey the Lord. By their example and their words they are to teach them that Christ is a loving, tender, and caring guide loving disciplinarian, ever tender and caring who wants them to become members of His body, the family of God which embraces both single and married persons. (Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message.) (Gen. 2:18-25; Exod 20:12; Deut 6:5-9; Prov. 22:6; Mal. 4:5, 6; Matt. 5:31, 32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:11, 12; John 2:1-11; 1 Cor 7:7, 10, 11; 2 Cor 6:14; Eph 5:21-33; 6:1-4.) (Gen. 2:18-25; Exod. 20:12; Deut. 6:5-9; Prov. 22:6; Mal. 4:5, 6; Matt. 5:31, 32; 19:3-9, 12; Mark 10:11, 12; John 2:1-11; 1 Cor. 7:7, 10, 11; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:21-33; 6:1-4.)

There were multiple changes made in this FB at San Antonio last year. The phrase “a man and a woman” replaces “partners,” and then “marriage partners.” It was felt that the word “partners” is commonly associated with same-sex marriages today, to it was necessary to replace them in order to remove any ambiguity. The phrase “through marriage” reintroduced the word “marriage” which had been removed in the previous line. “Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message” was moved from the last sentence of the fundamental to the next to the last sentence. The phrase “loving, tender, and caring guide” replaced “loving disciplinarian, ever tender and caring” because the English word “disciplinarian” has taken on a negative tone in recent years. The final change comes at the end where the words “which embraces both single and married persons” was inserted to make the point that single members are as valuable to the family of God as married persons are.

It is not clear exactly what the writers intended by “short of the ideal.” But if they were implying that every marriage is salvageable, that is not correct. For complex reasons, not every marriage can be fixed. One may pray for the restoration of a leg that was lost in battle or a car accident, but one should not expect the leg to magically re-appear in most instances. To imply that all marriages can be fixed is not only false, but on many occasions it can be cruel.

For most church members, the lines between doctrine, standards and policy are not clearly defined. They are often treated in practice as if they were the same. When it comes to divorce and remarriage, the reality is that the church does not always follow policy and this statement may be an attempt to address that.

It is probably not a good idea to rhapsodize regarding the joys of heterosexual marriage in a congregation that is half single people. There may be a fine line between encouraging healthy marriages and discouraging singles and divorcees. It may be helpful to keep in mind that according to Jesus, marriage may be a temporary institution (Matt 22:23-33). In the future things will be different, so singles in this life won’t necessarily miss out on something in the next. One could argue from Jesus and Paul that singleness is an ideal for the follower of Jesus. Having said this, it is commendable that in the latest version of this statement, there is a positive statement with regard to singles.

The implication that divorce is simply not an option can be a dangerous idea, in some circumstances urging or even compelling people to stay in a relationship with an abuser or even at times a murderer. The issue of marriage and divorce was debated in Jesus’ day. You had among the Pharisees the schools of Hillel and Shammai. Hillel believed that divorce, for men at least, should be fairly easy to obtain. Shammai had a much stricter view, which Jesus seems to adopt in the gospels (Matt 19:1-9; Mark 10:2-13; Luke 16:18). The intent of the teaching was to protect women in a society where they had no standing. Jesus was arguing for protection, not endangerment! To insist that women stay in a dangerous relationship may seem pious in a “plain reading” sort of way, but actually undermines the original intent of the rule. Taking an extreme position on this issue can encourage violence in some circumstances and adultery in others (trapping the partner into adultery so you can free yourself from the relationship).

It is the terrorist mindset that tries to carry out every detail of Scripture without deviation or accommodation. The reality is that Scripture often presents an ideal, then recognizes that in the real world the ideal often doesn’t work out. In 1 Corinthians 7, for example, Paul six times lays out an ideal for believers to live up to, then follows that statement with “but if” (the real). Moses lays out God’s goal for marriage in Genesis 2 (the ideal), then lays out rules to regulate divorce in Deuteronomy 24 (the real). Jesus makes strict divorce statements (the ideal) but tells the woman taken in adultery that He doesn’t condemn her but instead invites a change (the real). Ellen White makes strict statements (the ideal), but in actual situations was surprisingly lenient (the real). This fundamental lays out a strong ideal, and that is needed. It could, perhaps, have said a bit more about the real.

At Loma Linda University we are forced by reality to deal with issues not fully addressed by this FB or any other. Should same-sex marriage be treated the way the state does now or should it be treated as a form of promiscuity? Is there some mediating position between those extremes? When required by the state, should an institution like Loma Linda give health and retirement benefits to the partners in a legal, state-recognized same-sex marriage? How do you handle the issue of test-tube babies? What about requests for trans-gender surgeries? What about surgeries to correct intersex anomalies? And these are only the tip of the iceberg. When you are seeking to continue the healing ministry of Jesus Christ in today’s world, how far do you go? There are lots of intelligent people at Loma Linda, yet we struggle with many issues that the church has not clearly defined for us. This is why the work of expressing Adventist belief in human language will never be over. Circumstances alter cases and we are continually confronted with new questions that are not directly addressed by revelation, reason, common sense, or tradition. Pray for us as we seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in matters that are too great for us to handle on our own.

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.

 

Fundamental Belief Number 21 (Stewardship)

We are God’s stewards, entrusted by Him with time and opportunities, abilities and possessions, and the blessings of the earth and its resources. We are responsible to Him for their proper use. We acknowledge God’s ownership by faithful service to Him and our fellow men human beings, and by returning tithes and giving offerings for the proclamation of His gospel and the support and growth of His church. Stewardship is a privilege given to us by God for nurture in love and the victory over selfishness and covetousness. The steward rejoices Stewards rejoice in the blessings that come to others as a result of his their faithfulness. (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15; 1 Chron. 29:14; Haggai 1:3-11; Mal.3:8-12; Matt. 23:23; Rom. 15:26, 27; 1 Cor. 9:9-14; 2 Cor. 8:1-15; 9:7.)  (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15; 1 Chron. 29:14; Haggai 1:3-11; Mal. 3:8-12; 1 Cor. 9:9-14; Matt. 23:23; 2 Cor. 8:1-15; Rom. 15:26, 27.)

A number of minor changes were made to this fundamental in San Antonio. Most had to do with inclusive language. “Men” was changed to “human beings.” “Stewards rejoice” moved to the plural so that “his” could be replaced with their. The only other change was shifting “tithes” to “tithe.” The reason for this change was that “tithes” could be understood to include the second tithe from the additional laws of Moses. The intent of the FB was only to address the basic tithe.

Genesis 1 and 2 contain many allusions to the Hebrew sanctuary. In the garden God was setting up a spiritual center for the whole universe. The word “image” in Genesis 1 is often used for idols later on in the Old Testament. Humans were intended to be God’s “idols,” reflections of who He is to the rest of the universe. According to these chapters, humans were intended to be doing what God does, sustaining the creation through their efforts in the garden. And in the “fruitful and multiply” phrase (Gen 1:28), humans were designed to be like their Creator also in the creation of little people who look and behave like them. The one concern that arises with this concept is the implication one could draw that those who for physical reasons or singleness cannot reproduce are in some sense less than fully human. Disabilities are part of the reality of a sin-cursed world. So Scripture often states an ideal, while acknowledging elsewhere that reality may require accommodation to the real (see further comments on this in FB 23).

What does “stewardship” actually mean? Unfortunately, it is a term that has largely dropped out of use in the English language today. One wonders if there is a more up-to-date word available in today’s English. What about management?  Administration? Care-taking? Both the garden and the body were intended as a temple for God, so stewardship is a holy task, even though it concerns itself with mundane, everyday matters. For example, if the body is meant to be a temple, then there is a health component to stewardship. The health of the body matters and everything one does to keep oneself and others healthy is part of good stewardship. Eating, drinking and exercise can become holy tasks.

One wonders about the implications of stewardship for ecology and things like a consumer society. How we use our possessions and our money is related to our stewardship of the environment. The concept of “dominion” over the earth can sound counter-ecological. Some have suggested that the Christian roots of the ecological crisis go back to Genesis 1. Too many have taken from Genesis 1:26 that everything on earth exists for human beings to use and then dispose of. Fortunately, the first two sentences of the fundamental belief modulate that perception in a helpful way. The earth’s resources are a blessing, not a right.

We are more and more aware of the threat to the environment that technology creates. What we have learned about the environment over the last few decades should help us to read the biblical texts more faithfully. Our mission is not to exploit the earth, but to care for it and improve it (Gen 2:15). The General Conference has prepared a companion statement (1996) which asserts that environmental depredation is largely cause by human greed, and human greed is related to selfishness and sin. We are also learning that there is a close tie between the health message and the environment. An environmentalist who is not a vegetarian is somewhat of an oxymoron today. Meat production, particularly beef, uses vast quantities of water, land, fertilizer and plant feed. It produces more polluting gases than all the cars, planes and trains in the world combined.

This doctrine may be of more significance to the secular world, therefore, than we had imagined. Every five years or so, Loma Linda University puts on the International Conference on Vegetarian Nutrition, the most significant conference of its kind in the world. At the last one a major shift occurred. Vegetarianism was not promoted only or primarily for its health benefits. It was particularly promoted for its environmental benefits. This would appear to be a trend that has a strong future and is hinted at in this fundamental. Environmental sciences now also have a foothold at Loma Linda.

In early Adventism there was a passion for sustainable agriculture. There was an agricultural component to every program in early higher Adventist education. But we have moved away from this, plowing up our vegetable gardens and turning them into baseball and football fields. Yet that old philosophy may not be so out-of-date anymore. Wendell Berry published a book called “The Greening of America” which promotes a lot of those values for a new generation of Americans.

Fundamental Belief Number 20 (Sabbath)

The beneficent gracious Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom. The Sabbath is God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God’s creative and redemptive acts. (Gen. 2:1-3; Exod. 20:8-11; 31:13-17; Lev. 23:32; Deut. 5:12-15; Isa. 56:5, 6; 58:13, 14; Ezek. 20:12, 20; Matt. 12:1-12; Mark 1:32; Luke 4:16; Heb. 4:1-11.) (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; Luke 4:16; Isa. 56:5, 6; 58:13, 14; Matt. 12:1-12; Ex. 31:13-17; Eze. 20:12, 20; Deut. 5:12-15; Heb. 4:1-11; Lev. 23:32; Mark 1:32.)

Aside from the Scriptural references, the only change in this fundamental is using the adjective “gracious” instead of “beneficent.” Gracious is considered a clearer and more up-to-date word.

It is interesting that this statement makes no reference at all to Judaism and its role in preserving the Sabbath through the centuries. One would expect such a reference here. According to this fundamental belief, Adventists start the Sabbath at creation, touch base with the giving of the commandments in Exodus 20 and then jump straight from Exodus 20 to the Adventists as “His people.” The entire history and role of Judaism is bypassed. This statement unintentionally supersedes the Jews as if they are and were of no importance to God. But we should give thought to the fact that more people in the world know about the Sabbath because of the Jews than because of Adventists. In fact, the influence of Abraham Joshua Heschel (a Jewish scholar) helped to bring about a change among Adventists back in the 1960s, he helped move Adventism as a whole from legalism to celebration with regard to the Sabbath (he had an equally strong impact on Judaism).

On the positive side, a major Adventist contribution to the Sabbath is to underline its universality. Many people don’t know that Jews are often puzzled by Adventist fascination with the Sabbath and the law of God. For Jews, Gentiles are not obligated to keep the Sabbath or the Ten Commandments. These were given specifically for the Jews in a specific context. But Adventists rightly note the universality of the Sabbath and the law of God for all people, including Gentiles.

We often think of the Jews as rather burdened about Sabbath keeping, but actually it is quite different from that. For Jews keeping the Sabbath holy is not a somber thing, Sabbath is more of a celebration, even a party! Sabbath for Jews is a day of joy. It is more about carrying a sack of diamonds (delight) than a bag of rocks (drudgery). Adventists have not always captured that side of Sabbath keeping. We are the ones who are most likely to be legalistic and burdened about the Sabbath. That probably comes from Puritan influence and is somewhat of an American phenomenon (along with anywhere influenced by American missionaries). But there is at least a hint of joy and celebration in the above where it says, “a day of delightful communion” and “joyful observance of this holy time.” Rightly handled, the Sabbath can be one of the best things about Adventism that people can experience. To be fair, many Jews have experienced Orthodox Sabbath-keeping as lifeless and burdensome and left it, so this is not a black and white case. On the other hand, the very diversity in Sabbath practices is one thing that holds Jews together. They all have the Sabbath in common even though they celebrate it differently. Perhaps Sabbath-keeping should unify Adventists more than it divides them.

Synagogue worship on Sabbath only started during or after the Exile to Babylon (Daniel’s time). Before that, worship at the temple occurred three times a year for most Israelites and less often for those outside the country. Sabbath as a day of worship, therefore, was not typical in ancient Israel. The Sabbath was more of a day off from work and from the drudgery that often comes with the struggle for survival.

Like good Americans, Adventists think of the Sabbath in individualistic terms, rather than social terms, as expressed in Exodus 20. In the Hebrew context the Sabbath explicitly affected their relationships, not only with family (son or daughter), those who worked for them (manservant, maidservant), but even visitors, refugees and foreigners who might have resided in their households. The Sabbath was even applied to the animals in the house! So it was designed from the beginning as a very social experience. Adventists today are increasingly embracing the social side of the Sabbath, even though it is not highlighted in this fundamental (except for the brief remark about “communion. . . with one another.”

A missing element that could be emphasized a bit more is the idea of God’s presence in the Sabbath. The Sabbath is more than a memorial of creation or salvation, it is an agent of God’s presence. Perhaps the Sabbath is as much about God’s commitment to be with us as God’s commandment to us. In John 5, the Sabbath is not about rest, it is about working in line with God’s mission of healing and blessing on the Sabbath.

Another missing element in this fundamental is the concept of Sabbath as resistance against the demands of the consumer culture. Such a view of the Sabbath is very appealing to millennials. Those who keep the Sabbath are not accommodating to the system, they are resisting the demand to produce more and more, and to fill our lives with texts, emails, phone calls, pressures and other distractions. Sabbath as resistance is a very Jewish thing and it is also a very liberating thing.

At Loma Linda the Sabbath has had a widespread impact even among those who have come from other religious backgrounds. The Sabbath tells us that it is OK not to produce. Highly driven people tend to “produce” around the clock, creating value for their employers or for their own bottom line. But the Sabbath teaches us that production is not the primary goal of life and that it is alright to take time off from “production” to nurture the deeper values of human existence. The Sabbath also teaches us that it is OK to take care of yourself, to avoid burnout by taking time for reflection, social interaction and rest, both psychological and physical. More than this the Sabbath teaches us to put God first in our lives every day of the week. But by a special focus once a week our relationship with God is renewed every day. The Sabbath also encourages us to care for the environment. In the biblical context, even the land was to experience Sabbath and be allowed to restore itself. So although many employees of Loma Linda University Health are not practicing Seventh-day Adventists, the Sabbath has had a powerful impact on their lives as well.

Fundamental Belief Number 19 (Law of God)

The great principles of God’s law are embodied in the Ten Commandments and exemplified in the life of Christ. They express God’s love, will, and purposes concerning human conduct and relationships and are binding upon all people in every age. These precepts are the basis of God’s covenant with His people and the standard in God’s judgment. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit they point out sin and awaken a sense of need for a Saviour. Salvation is all of grace and not of works, but and its fruitage fruit is obedience to the Commandments. This obedience develops Christian character and results in a sense of well-being. It is an evidence of our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow men human beings. The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives, and therefore strengthens Christian witness. (Exod. 20:1-17; Deut. 28:1-14; Ps. 19:7-14; 40:7, 8; Matt. 5:17-20; 22:36-40; John 14:15; 15:7-10; Rom. 8:3, 4; Eph. 2:8-10; Heb. 8:8-10; 1 John 2:3; 5:3; Rev. 12:17; 14:12.)  (Ex. 20:1-17; Ps. 40:7, 8; Matt. 22:36-40; Deut. 28:1-14; Matt. 5:17-20; Heb. 8:8-10; John 15:7-10; Eph. 2:8-10; 1 John 5:3; Rom. 8:3, 4; Ps. 19:7-14.

 Only a few minor changes were made to FB 19 at the General Conference in San Antonio during the summer of 2015. Right in the middle was the statement: “Salvation is all of grace and not of works, but its fruitage is obedience. . .” It was voted to replace “but” with “and” to express that obedience is complementary to grace, not in opposition to it. The word “fruitage” was changed to simply “fruit.” And in the next to last sentence, “men” was changed to “human beings” in harmony with a general attempt to use inclusive language wherever possible in the 28 Fundamentals.

Usually, when Seventh-day Adventists talk about the law of God in the Bible, they do it to defend the Sabbath, so the absence of Sabbath talk here is surprising until you realize that an entire Fundamental (number 20– Sabbath) will be dedicated to that topic next. Fundamental 19 is a more general exploration of the topic of obedience, followed by a more specific focus on the Sabbath.

While this Fundamental talks about the Holy Spirit and “fruit” in passing, there is no sustained reference to the fruit of the Spirit. The reason for that is the fact that this theme also has its own Fundamental (number 17—Spiritual Gifts and Ministries). The problem many people have with the SDA Fundamentals is the seeming lack of balance in many specific fundamentals. They are read most safely when looked at as a whole, as we are trying to do in this series of blogs.

Another seeming omission in this Fundamental is the absence of any reference to the ceremonial laws of ancient Israel. My immediate guess was that this topic would be handled by Fundamental 24 (Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary). But the ceremonial laws are not mentioned there either. The SDA Church apparently does not have an official position on either the ceremonial laws or the Jewish feasts, whether or not Adventist can or should keep them. In practice then, no harm is thought to be done if a member of the SDA Church chooses to celebrate Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles. Such a practice only becomes challenging when it is aggressively marketed to other Seventh-day Adventists as a divine obligation.

It is interesting that a fundamental on the Law of God would make no mention of Galatians 3. Galatians 3:19 tells us that “the law” was added because of transgressions. In other words, in a sinless world there would be no need for a written law. Such a law was given as an emergency measure because we needed it (PP364). At Loma Linda, Galatians 3:19 has played a major role in how law is viewed. Law is a very important guide to the mind of God, but it can be overplayed. While Matthew 5 is mentioned in the fundamental, Matthew 5 underlines the deeper principles that lie behind the law. Mere surface or slavish obedience is not what God delights in, it is a heart commitment to the principles behind the law that makes up true obedience. A related matter of importance can be found in Romans 8. There it tells us that the law isn’t everything, there are things that it cannot do, and those are the things God accomplished at the cross of Christ. The Adventist pioneers were truly on to something when they emphasized God’s law, but if taught outside the context of the cross and the gospel, it can make people “dry as the hills of Gilboa, which have neither dew or rain.”

An interesting omission in this fundamental regards the cultural significance of the law. The Reformers (particularly Calvin) talked about the three uses of the law. The law was useful to 1) restrain evil and motivate what is good in society, 2) lead sinners to Christ, and 3) serve as a guide to Christian behavior after conversion. The second and third uses of the law are strongly expressed in FB 19, but the social and cultural role of the law is not. The law of God has certainly played a very important role in all societies that have been strongly influenced by Christianity.

Matthew 22:36-40 is mentioned among the Bible texts and the fundamental speaks about “love for the Lord” and “concern for our fellow men.” Perhaps the theme of love to God and love to others is a bit more central to the teachings of Jesus than one might conclude from reading this statement. The New Testament concept of law seems broader and more positive than this. You can “obey” the negatives of the law, but that is only the beginning, obedience is much more than simply avoiding evil. It is easy for Sabbath-keepers to become more concerned with the exact time of sundown than how one behaves during the Sabbath hours. On the other hand, many Adventist rules and regulations provide helpful reminders of God in a distracting world and should not be lightly discarded.