SDA Fundamental Belief Number 5 (Holy Spirit)

God the eternal Spirit was active with the Father and the Son in Creation, incarnation, and redemption. He is as much a person as are the Father and the Son. He inspired the writers of Scripture. He filled Christ’s life with power. He draws and convicts human beings; and those who respond He renews and transforms into the image of God. Sent by the Father and the Son to be always with His children, He extends spiritual gifts to the church, empowers it to bear witness to Christ, and in harmony with the Scriptures leads it into all truth. (Gen. 1:1, 2; 2 Sam. 23:2; Ps. 51:11; Isa. 61:1; Luke 1:35; 4:18; John 14:16-18, 26; 15:26; 16:7-13; Acts 1:8; 5:3; 10:38; Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 12:7-11; 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Peter 1:21.) (Gen. 1:1, 2; Luke 1:35; 4:18; Acts 10:38; 2 Peter 1:21; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:11, 12; Acts 1:8; John 14:16-18, 26; 15:26, 27; 16:7-13.)

As usual, the Scripture texts were re-arranged in this fundamental. Aside from one major addition, the wording is identical to the 1980 version of the statement. The added sentence, “He is as much a person as are the Father and the Son,” is clearly intended to rule out the view that is popular in some Adventist circles; that the Holy Spirit is not a unique person or entity, but is simply the omnipresent power of God the Father (and sometimes also Jesus Christ—in the latter case something of a “Binitarian” view). It also affirms by implication the divine personhood of the Son, in case anyone would ever challenge that.

According to the way this doctrine is written, the Holy Spirit never acts alone. In all of His activities the Father and the Son are also involved. Adventists are, by profession, monotheists, not “tritheists” (believing that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three separate and distinct gods). It was the relationship between Father and Son that split the early church into Eastern and Western traditions. The Eastern church wanted to clearly distinguish the work of the Father and the Son, the Western church wanted to emphasize the unity between them. Seventh-day Adventists have adopted the Western side of the debate, not surprising, since they are rooted in American Protestantism, which arose in Western Christianity. Eastern Christianity has never had a reformation like that of Luther and Calvin in the West. A result of this split (formalized in the year 1054 AD) is that Western Christians, including Adventists tend to subordinate the Holy Spirit to a degree. Father and Son are both seen as “sending” or having authority over the Spirit.

Exactly how the members of the Trinity relate to each other is debated among all Christians. Does the Trinity represent three “centers of consciousness” (note that the NT does not use the term “persons” with reference to God as most Christians today do, including SDAs in Fundamental 2)? Or is the Trinity one center of consciousness that we experience in different ways and at different times? The first leans toward “tritheism” and the latter toward absolute “monotheism.” Furthermore, the Eastern church tends to have a social view of the Trinity, emphasizing the inner relationship among them, while the Western church has a more psychological view of the Trinity, emphasizing their distinction and uniqueness. Each side of the debate does what it can to balance its own over-emphases. Clearly, the sharper you try to define your view of the godhead, the more mind-bending the outcome. Some things are best left a bit blurry, lest we subtly come to think we can control or manage God.

The Loma Linda view of these things tends to heighten a focus on the Father and on the wholeness of God as a model for the way we view human nature. If one makes the distinctions among Father, Son and Holy Spirit too strong, one can end up with three gods. At Loma Linda Jesus is the clearest revelation of what God (including all three) is like, if you have seen Him you have seen the Father (John 14:9), and by implication also the Holy Spirit. But enough on the godhead as a whole, this fundamental is about the Holy Spirit.

Once again this fundamental seeks to be clear without being too specific, it is careful in what it says and what it doesn’t say. For example, the Holy Spirit “draws and convicts human beings” (ironically, in the NT it is the Father [John 6:44] and Jesus [John 12:32] who do the drawing, that term is never used for the Spirit). The “convicts” part is firmly based on Scripture (John 16:8-11), yet does not probe very deeply into that process. How the Holy Spirit works in our lives is largely left open to experience, research and individual impressions, which is as it should be. The Spirit is described as the active agent of the godhead in the present age. “He” inspires, fills, draws, convicts, renews, transforms and empowers. All of these activities can be known in human experience, yet are hard to detail and define.

Throughout church history, people who emphasize the Holy Spirit tend to be spiritual “insurgents,” people who press for change and new ideas (see John 3:8). So it is not surprising that Adventists today tend to de-emphasize the Spirit. It would be interesting to research what happens when people over-emphasize or under-emphasize the Spirit. When people over-emphasize the Father (at the expense of the Son and the Spirit), it tends to lead to a dark and foreboding religion, where God is severe and punitive and people are fearful. When people over-emphasize Jesus Christ, the religion tends toward sentimentalism (like the song “In the Garden”), an over-focus on one’s own sinfulness, and a loss of majesty and awe in relation to God. When people over-emphasize the Spirit, it can produce a focus on self and the need for more and greater experiences with God. When those experiences don’t happen it can lead to disillusionment and loss of faith.

SDA history includes periods of Holy Spirit over-emphasis and ecstasy. One of these was at the very beginning, when the “shouting Methodist” background (the charismatic roots of Ellen White herself) led to noisy gatherings with people being “slain in the Spirit.” There was a strong emphasize on manifestations and less on sober research and reasoning. Another period of over-emphasis was the “Holy Flesh” movement around the year 1900. Adherents sought a physical experience of the Spirit, shouting and praying until someone fell unconscious, after which they would be considered ready for translation and no longer able to sin. When the Holy Spirit is emphasized too much we tend to baptize our own impulses.

One of the first “heresies” of the Christian Church involved the Montanists in the second Christian century. Arising in Asia Minor, they were doctrinally orthodox in general, but believed that the Bible (the OT and the apostolic writings at that time) is not the most direct path to God, the experience of the Holy Spirit is. So they practiced the spontaneity that comes from the Spirit and believed that, in a sense, every believer is as inspired as the prophets and the apostles. They sought to reform the church but were soon isolated and marginalized.

A concluding note. There is nothing said in this fundamental about the charismatic phenomenon of speaking in tongues. While that phenomenon has rarely been part of Adventist experience and would be awkward in most Adventist worship gatherings, there is no specific condemnation of it in the SDA fundamentals. In practice this means that Adventists who wish to are free to practice some form of speaking in tongues as long as they do so privately and do not agitate within the larger body over the matter. When the issue is agitated, it quickly leads to strife and division, which becomes a problem of order rather than one of theology. It is like keeping the feast days of the OT. It is permissible but must not be mandated.

4 thoughts on “SDA Fundamental Belief Number 5 (Holy Spirit)

  1. Olaf Bacon

    John Pauline, in your rejection of the authority of the instructions contained in the words of Sacred Scripture, and the necessity of the implementation of these instructions in the life of every follower of God and by those who endeavor to walk alongside God’s uniquely begotten son, Jesus Christ, concerning the specific instructions which the LORD gave to Moses, concerning which days of the solar-lunar calendar are to be commemorated on an annual basis, instead of following the days determined by systematic theology based on mythology and traditions and customs in all the other nations of this planet, as recorded in The Third Book of Moses, Called Leviticus, in chapter twenty-three, was recorded in your decision, “It is like keeping the feast days of the OT. It is permissible but must not be mandated.” How can you legitimately vote against the decision of many Bible teachers, and jettison the value of the lives of millions of faithful observers of these commanded holy days, from the time of the first Adam and his son Abel, and throughout the years since then, including the horrors of the martyrs of the Holocaust in the twentieth and the twenty-first century, both of Hebrews and Christians, who have striven to obey the commands of God in the face of godless persecution by the New World military hordes, and to observe the sabbath-keeping commands of God? In the letter to the Hebrews, in chapter four verse nine, I read in The Holy Bible In Its Original Order, A New English Translation, A Faithful Version With Commentary, “There remains therefore, Sabbath-keeping for the people of God.” Please reconsider your rebellion against the instructions of the LORD, and return to observe these days with growing thousands of observers, in all countries, in all nations, in many languages, who thank God for instituting these days which so wonderfully portray the life of salvation, from being under the protecting blood of the savior who died to reconcile us to God and to save us from the death angel, and progressively through baptism under the water level of the sea, the receipt of the laws of God engraved on our heart and mind, the walk together with God throughout life, the crossing over of Jordan into the promised holy land, with the festival of trumpets which heralded the birth of the savior in Bethlehem, and the rebirth from the grave of millions of faithful martyrs, our cleansing from all sin in the atonement or covering of our sins and reconciliation with God, and the festival of sharing holidays together in fellowship in peace and with God Himself and with His Son, our beloved Lord, Jesus. If God mandated these days to be observed, why placate the Catholic Faith which instituted and mandated totally other festivals in opposition to all God’s holy days, deliberately on other days of the Calculated Hebrew Calendar, and say that your God has no authority to mandate the observance of these days by Seventh-day Adventists on a global world-wide scale? Could all words of the Catholic Faith in the 28 Fundamental Beliefs, including the heading TRINITY be removed please, and words exclusively quoted from the Holy Scriptures be used instead? Refer to the documentation on the Seventh Day Adventist Reformed Movement website for further details. There are many who are not concientious Catholics, and yet remain in heart, Adventists, following God’s instructions, previously both Jew and Greek, within and without the present SDA movements, who deplore the words in the present FB, which was specifically stated, in The Editors To The Readers of This Book, “We have not written this book to serve as a creed – a statement of beliefs set in theological concrete. Adventists have but one creed: “The Bible, and the Bible alone.” See Thank you for your reconsideration of your stand before God as to the validity of your testimony of the enduring worth of the commandments of God in our life today, wherever we live, in whatever prison we are, and for our constancy of faith in the face of the sharp edges of the Catholic-Moslem swords which attempt to eradicate all traces of the true God from humanity on a global basis, and to replace it with the worship of Lucifer and his leaders at the Vatican, emanating from a citadel built over the graveyard of dead men’s bones.

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      I admire your passion, but your conclusion goes against the settled weight of New Testament scholarship, both Adventist and otherwise (I’m not saying 100%, but nearly so), and I do not see that level of understanding in your post to convince me otherwise. Thanks for caring enough to write.

  2. Julie

    Since we have not been given full knowledge of the godhead isn’t it wise to steer clear of all speculation about it? Our human level wisdom is so infinitesimal I believe that we should concentrate on the gospel and sharing it with the world as Christ directed.


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