Since the Seventh-day Adventist Church has just completed the process of re-evaluating and re-wording its 28 Fundamental Beliefs (finalizing in July, 2015 in San Antonio), as called for in the Preamble to the Fundamentals, I thought it would be interesting to toss these 28 to my faculty one at a time and see what kind of dynamic that would create. And if you’d ever wanted to be a mouse in the corner at one of our faculty meetings, I plan to give you a chance. We will consider them one by one and I will reflect on that conversation here. The goal will be to post one a week at the blog site (www.revelation-armageddon.com) until we’re done.
Since I mentioned it, we’ll begin next week with the Preamble, which provides the basis for re-evaluating the 28 Fundamentals from time to time. Oddly, when I began preparing for this project a couple years ago, I had great difficulty even finding the Preamble online. Apparently, for some time the official web site of the SDA Church published the 28 without the Preamble, which is odd. There may have been a certain logic to that, since it is not a part of the 28 themselves (I have sometimes called it “Fundamental Zero”). But it is not a throwaway, it is really critical to the whole philosophy by which the Fundamentals need to be understood. I don’t know if I influenced the decision (I complained loudly about his in a number of places), but the Preamble is now once again proudly lodged at the top of the 28 Fundamentals on the General Conference web site: https://www.adventist.org/fileadmin/adventist.org/files/articles/official-statements/28Beliefs-Web.pdf.
Ideally, the fundamental beliefs are not a “creed,” they are descriptive rather than prescriptive. “Here is what Seventh-day Adventists generally believe. We invite you to consider these and decide whether you’d like to join us.” That is a description of how most SDAs look at things. But these days more and more people seem to be treating the Fundamentals as prescriptive, telling us exactly what we must believe. And threatening consequences should we differ in as much as a word.
Such a perspective on the fundamental beliefs goes directly contrary to the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, who would say things like, “We have no creed but the Bible,” and “The Bible is our only rule of faith and practice,” and “let us not think that all our expositions of Scripture are without error.” How could an Adventist ever change and grow in the understanding of Scripture unless someone, somewhere, questions something in one of the Fundamentals? To reduce the Bible to a set of propositions that cannot be reconsidered seems the height of apostasy to me.
An early Adventist pioneer, John Loughborough, agreed. In a General Conference session he opined as follows: “The first step of apostasy is to get up a creed, telling us what we shall believe. The second is to make that creed a test of fellowship. The third is to try members by that creed. The fourth to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed. And, fifth, to commence persecution against such.”
In the spirit of Loughborough, the 28 Fundamentals of the Seventh-day Adventist Church begin with a Preamble as follows: “Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. These beliefs, as set forth here, constitute the church’s understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture. Revision of these statements may be expected at a General Conference Session when the church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God’s Holy Word.”
In the spirit of the Preamble, this blog will report discussions of the School of Religion faculty on the Preamble itself and each of the 28 Fundamentals. These discussions will not be prescriptive, telling you what you must believe, but descriptive of what a significant group of Adventist thinkers finds of value in these fundamentals and suggesting ways to understand them better. I can’t promise this process will be a lot of “fun,” but I hope all who read these columns will be drawn closer to God and be more ready for the return of Jesus.