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.

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