Monthly Archives: September 2016

Fundamental Belief Number 14 (Unity in the Body of Christ)

The church is one body with many members, called from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation. Through the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures we share the same faith and hope, and reach out in one witness to all. This unity has its source in the oneness of the triune God, who has adopted us as His children. (Ps. 133:1; Matt. 28:19, 20; John 17:20-23; Acts 17:26, 27; Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12-14; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17; Gal. 3:27-29; Eph. 2:13-16; 4:3-6, 11-16; Col. 3:10-15.)  (Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12-14; Matt. 28:19, 20; Ps. 133:1; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17; Acts 17:26, 27; Gal. 3:27, 29; Col. 3:10-15; Eph. 4:14-16; 4:1-6; John 17:20-23.)

Aside from the re-arrangement of Bible texts, this fundamental was unchanged in San Antonio. Like Fundamental Belief 12, this statement is quite open and inclusive. Since Fundamental 13 is more exclusive and potentially divisive, it seems that there was a deliberate attempt to “sandwich” the harsher (at least toward outsiders) fundamental between two others that are more irenic and inclusive. But even so, the focus on unity in this statement could be balanced with the concept of diversity (how about titling this FB “Unity and Diversity in the Body of Christ”?). Unity can be hollow if it means everyone conforming to a single culture or a single standard of appearance. “If you’re not united with us, if you don’t do and think exactly like us, you are out!” Unity is not complete until we value the diversity of the other. The civil rights of others are not truly appreciated until we value the differences that they bring to our attention. It is interesting that the text of this fundamental mentions the differences, but they find no place in the title!

A question that came up when my faculty discussed this belief related to the meaning of “high and low” in line three. Who are the high and the low? We couldn’t figure that out. In relation to the other points of diversity (male and female, rich and poor), it seems to express the idea of people who are powerful and weak, or famous and insignificant, in the larger scheme of things (see Ezek 21:26). The exact phrasing is found in Psalm 49:2 (along with rich and poor—see also Psalm 62:9) but the text is not cited as the source. Regardless of meaning the phrase does point out the importance of diversity and differences within the larger goal of unity.

Actually, at the surface level of any congregation, what you see are the differences, the diversity. Unity, when it happens, is not on the surface, but is something that happens at a deeper level and may not be obvious to casual observers. The sense of oneness in a community can be profound, even when the theological and cultural differences are obvious.

One wonders how this fundamental would play out in the real world when it comes to things like the regional conferences in the North American Division (organizational entities of the Seventh-day Adventist Church). It would be a huge challenge to change the current administrative system, in which there are parallel church entities for work among blacks and for all others. The system arose in order to empower black leadership, but in a world where blacks are found more and more in leadership, is such a system still needed or helpful? Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?

One faculty member suggested that women are less concerned with being treated equally than they are with being treated fairly or justly. Equality needs to be grounded in a recognition of God-given diversity and in the practice of inclusion.

It’s interesting that there is a group called “Atheists for Paul” who believe that the body metaphor of community is very promising for the wider society, even those who don’t embrace Paul’s religion. Paul emphasizes that all parts of the body are important, though their roles may be different, they are all critical to the full functioning of the body. From a believing perspective, 1 Corinthians 12:13 ties both baptism and the Lord’s Supper into the body image of the community. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two things that unite us as a church body because we all experience them.

While the language of this fundamental could be applied to all followers of Christ, coming after FB 13, there is a sense that “church” in this fundamental does not mean all followers of Christ, but is limited to Adventism, although this FB does not state that in so many words. We would be interested to know if those who wrote this fundamental intended that these things would apply only to the Adventist church or equally to other denominations?

In John 17:20-23 we are invited to take unity even further than what is stated in this fundamental. We are invited to participate in the divine community (the Trinity and the angels of heaven) and then reflect that to the world. How to do this is not spelled out, but it is a breath-taking challenge and opportunity.

Fundamental Belief Number 13 (Remnant and Its Mission)

The universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ, but in the last days, a time of widespread apostasy, a remnant has been called out to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. This remnant announces the arrival of the judgment hour, proclaims salvation through Christ, and heralds the approach of His second advent. This proclamation is symbolized by the three angels of Revelation 14; it coincides with the work of judgment in heaven and results in a work of repentance and reform on earth. Every believer is called to have a personal part in this worldwide witness. (Dan. 7:9-14; Isa. 1:9; 11:11; Jer. 23:3; Mic. 2:12; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Peter 1:16-19; 4:17; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Jude 3, 14; Rev. 12:17; 14:6-12; 18:1-4.)  (Rev. 12:17; 14:6-12; 18:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:10; Jude 3, 14; 1 Peter 1:16-19; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Rev. 21:1-14.)

 Aside from re-arranging the texts, there were no changes in this fundamental and that was a bit of a surprise to us. There is language here that sounds awkward and exclusive in today’s world. For example, “apostasy” is a strong word for this generation; it comes across as elitist and disparaging to all who might disagree with any of the assertions in this statement. In a diverse world, language like this is hard to sell, it can come across as mean and divisive. How would we feel if other Christians applied that term to us?

On the other hand, the fundamental goes out of its way not to name the apostasy, which might be surprising to many. The traditional Adventist teaching on the Mark of the Beast is popular in evangelism, but is not actually specified at the core of Adventist belief. This is as close as any of the 28 fundamentals come to naming the Antichrist, but it refrains from doing so. In the broadest sense, this is a fundamental written by a Christian minority to warn other Christians not to accommodate to Rome.

Of all the Fundamental Beliefs, this is the most parochial. The very language of the statement would be largely meaningless to the average person on the street (next most parochial is probably number 24). One needs a certain amount of context in Adventist history and ways of thinking to understand what is being said here. In San Antonio it was voted to use more in-house language in Fundamental 6 as well, breaking the general practice of fundamental beliefs staying as close to the biblical language as possible. It will not be surprising if that trend spreads to other fundamentals in the future, but it can be questioned whether the trend is positive or negative for the future health of the church.


In a way, this fundamental comes across as self-congratulatory. Note how the language of believe/believer shifts from beginning to end. The first use is universal. All who believe in Jesus Christ are part of the universal church. But in the last sentence, the word believer clearly refers to Adventists and their unique mission. The statement would be less jarring to outsiders if it recognized that what is wrong with the world is also wrong with the church. But the statement in its present form does not go there. Instead it implies, without saying it directly, that the SDA organization is the ideal, not the real. On the other hand, the statement does not actually say that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is, in fact, the remnant church. The language chosen to express this belief is of the kind one would more likely use for a movement more than an institution.

Jack Provonsha, Professor of Christian Ethics at Loma Linda University several decades ago, wrote a book on the theme of this statement. He preferred to use the term “prophetic minority” to state what Adventists actually mean by the remnant. Although the new book on the remnant from the Biblical Research Institute clearly outlines three different types of remnants in the Bible, the language of this statement does not allow for multiple remnants. Allowing for multiple remnants takes away the sting of exclusivism, recognizing that at different times and different places God has worked with a variety of groups, like the Waldensees, the Reformers, the Methodists and others. Such a multiplex approach would probably eliminate the charge of elitism and also be more true to the biblical evidence. For more on this see

It is important to see this statement in its historical and social context. It arises out of a movement made up of victims rejected by society. Under those conditions language adverse to society’s mainstream is understandable. But now Adventists themselves are mainstream in more and more countries and in such contexts this statement can sound more arrogant and self-absorbed than was originally intended. It is shocking to realize that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is now the fifth largest Christian denomination in the world! It will be interesting to see how Adventist self-perception changes as its role in the world becomes more accepted and more mainstream.

Fundamental Belief Number 12 (Church)

The church is the community of believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. In continuity with the people of God in Old Testament times, we are called out from the world; and we join together for worship, for fellowship, for instruction in the Word, for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, for service to humanity all mankind, and for the worldwide proclamation of the gospel. The church derives its authority from Christ, who is the incarnate Word revealed in the Scriptures , and from the Scriptures, which are the written Word. The church is God’s family; adopted by Him as children, its members live on the basis of the new covenant. The church is the body of Christ, a community of faith of which Christ Himself is the Head. The church is the bride for whom Christ died that He might sanctify and cleanse her. At His return in triumph, He will present her to Himself a glorious church, the faithful of all the ages, the purchase of His blood, not having spot or wrinkle, but holy and without blemish. (Gen. 12:1-3; Exod. 19:3-7; Matt. 16:13-20; 18:18; 28:19, 20; Acts 2:38-42; 7:38; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:22, 23; 2:19-22; 3:8-11; 5:23-27; Col. 1:17, 18; 1 Peter 2:9.)  (Gen. 12:3; Acts 7:38; Eph. 4:11-15; 3:8-11; Matt. 28:19, 20; 16:13-20; 18:18; Eph. 2:19-22; 1:22, 23; 5:23-27; Col. 1:17, 18.)

There were a few changes in this fundamental, voted in San Antonio 2015. The switch from “all mankind” to “humanity” was for the sake of inclusive language. The major change was to follow “the incarnate Word” with “revealed in the Scriptures” and eliminating the rest of the original sentence. The original sentence was thought to imply that there are two sources of authority for the church, Christ and the Bible. Here it is clarified that the church’s authority rests in Christ, but that what we know about Christ is what the Scriptures reveal to us. The last part of the eliminated wording (“which are the written Word”) was felt to be redundant in light of added phrase “revealed in the Scriptures.”

The only Old Testament text cited here is Genesis 12:3. In it Abram is promised to be a blessing to all the nations. This is a foundational text for Old Testament understanding of Israel and New Testament understanding of the relation between Christ and the church (Gal 3). In Isaiah 19 the promise to Abram is expanded to include the Assyrians and the Egyptians. But to read the text in light of the ancient culture is even more interesting.

It was unique in the ancient world for a deity to take the initiative to bless someone. Generally, blessing came only after the right incantation or a significant period of obedience. So the graciousness of Abram’s God comes through strongly here. In addition, it was unique in the ancient world for a deity to use His own people to bless outsiders. Back then, various gods were only interested in their favorite people. But the God of Abram cared about the whole world and its people. This was quite startling in the ancient context.

This statement is very positive and inclusive, one could even guardedly use the term “ecumenical,” although that word is overloaded with negatives in many people’s minds. This statement is not about the Adventist Church primarily, it is about the universal church, all who are in Christ. The next Fundamental, number 13, focuses specifically on the role and mission of the SDA Church within the larger body of those who follow Jesus. The challenge we will address when we get there is, how do you put those two statements together? One statement is more universal, seeing God at work among all who confess Christ. The other is more particular, focusing on the unique role of the Adventist Church in the world.

This statement is full of symbols derived from the Scriptures. We need to see these in terms of the ideal and the real. The authority of the church, for example, is an ideal, but it is not always achieved. The visible church is far from being a perfect embodiment of Christ. But in spite of those flaws, Matthew 16:13-20 places a great deal of authority in the visible church, even though that point is handled lightly in this fundamental. Perhaps one could say that the authority of the church is potential, as Christ works through its flawed members, but it is also real and significant.

It may be helpful to distinguish between the church as an organization and the church as an organism. As an organism (like the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12), the church feeds me every day, in one way or another. As an organization, it often disappoints all of us. Another way to express this– there are many that God has that the church doesn’t have, and there are many the church has that God doesn’t have. The body imagery of the church is a rejection of hierarchy, the only head of the church is Christ. All other members of the body are important in their submission to Christ’s headship. The body parts function well to the degree that each is connected to Christ.

In today’s world, it is harder and harder to convince the younger generation that they need the visible church. Many of them relish community, but prefer open and accepting communities that don’t require commitment to a long list of beliefs in order to participate. This development is particularly challenging to the Adventist Church in Western countries and is becoming increasingly so elsewhere. Loma Linda University embraces the inclusive side of Adventism express in this fundamental.