Monthly Archives: October 2016

Fundamental Belief Number 18 (The Gift of Prophecy)

One The Scriptures testify that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and we believe it was manifested in the ministry of Ellen. G. White. As the Lord’s messenger, her Her writings speak with prophetic authority are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. (Num. 12:6; 2 Chron. 20:20; Amos 3:7; Joel 2:28, 29; Acts 2:14-21; 2 Tim 3:16,17; Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 12:17; 19:10; 22:8, 9.) (Joel 2:28, 29; Acts 2:14-21; Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 12:17; 19:10.)

This was perhaps the most thoroughly changed of all the 28 FBs, even more than number 6 on creation. The phrase including “Scriptures” makes the point that Adventists recognized in Ellen White’s ministry the biblical gift of prophecy. The multiple changes in the third sentence seek to avoid the impression that Ellen White and the Bible are equal sources of truth. The word “source” is difficult to translate into some languages without leaving the impression that her writings are equal to the Bible. “Authoritative source of truth” was the phrase that troubled many people, leading to the significant changes in this FB. This is one fundamental that isn’t based solely on Scripture. The biblical writers didn’t know Ellen White, so it is necessary to know a lot about her life and work to evaluate the gift that is claimed for her. To understand the relationship of Ellen White and the Bible within Adventism I strongly recommend the 1982 “Affirmations and Denials” document on the Ellen White Estate web site:

The church is beset by the tension between those who revere Ellen White and a generation that hardly knows her. This is unfortunate on both counts. Those who revere Ellen White often use her writings in ways that appear helpful to them but may diminish her reputation among many or most others. The way we present her ideas is probably as important as the content we share. On the other hand, those who are ignorant of her writings are missing out on a key element of a healthy Adventist mindset. To ignore John Wesley would be totally inappropriate for a Methodist. To ignore Ellen White is to miss out on an essential element of what it means to be an Adventist.

Loma Linda University has a long history of taking Ellen White seriously but not uncritically. To take her seriously means to talk about her and her writings a lot. It means to ponder their significance for a very different world than the one she lived in. It means to weigh both what is crucial for our ongoing heritage today and what is peripheral. Like most of us do with our mothers, it is important for Adventists to take Ellen White very seriously even when they discover that she was human and sometimes made mistakes. Recent Ellen White research has helped us to better understand both her best intentions and her limitations. Faculty at the School of Religion are in the process of evaluating all courses and putting more focus on Ellen White and Adventist heritage whenever appropriate.

The major challenge with this statement is that it largely lacks definition. It uses words like “prophecy” without defining them, assuming that readers will understand what was intended. What is meant by “prophecy” here? Is prophecy primarily about the future, about where history is going? That would not be the case with Ellen White. Like most of the biblical prophets, Ellen White was primarily a “forth-teller” rather than a “fore-teller.” Her mission was understanding history, speaking to the present and preparing for the future. To be a prophetic movement is more than just talking about the future, it includes speaking out against injustice and disobedience to the covenant.

In 2009 there was an important conference of scholars interested in Ellen White and 19th Century American religion. A third of the scholars were not of the Adventist faith and most were fairly unfamiliar with Ellen White. As they learned more and more about her, they came to believe that she had had more impact on American history than perhaps any other woman. They often asked questions like, “Why are you hiding her? Why don’t you place her in her historical context so that everyone can benefit from her contribution?” Most Adventist scholars seem interested only in Adventist sources and Adventist issues, but such an approach locks Ellen White away from others who might be quite interested if we were more willing to engage mainstream scholarship.

The sheer volume of Ellen White’s writings has made it a challenge to understand the balance and main emphases of her work and life. All that many enthusiasts seem to be interested in are her end-time writings and her guidance on diet. But these two issues, while important, do not come close to encompassing her entire life and thought. We desperately need good hermeneutics and balance as we study her writings.

The fundamental above starts with a broad approach (“one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. . .”), building on the previous fundamental, but quickly narrows its discussion of these gifts to focus exclusively on the ministry of Ellen G. White. But that raises the question. Was Ellen White the only prophet since John the Revelator? Is there not more to the New Testament gift of prophecy than simply the work of Ellen White? Similarly the phrase “gift of prophecy” is probably better than “spirit of prophecy.” The latter makes it appear as if the Holy Spirit has done little else in the last twenty centuries than inspire Ellen White. The Holy Spirit is a living voice and many of today’s youth would be more excited about Ellen White’s work if they understood the “living” nature of the Spirit’s work.

Another issue with the statement is how it ties the Spirit’s work to the church. If taken at face value, one might get the impression that the Spirit has nothing to do with the rest of the world, but that would not be biblical (John 1:9; 16:8-11) or true to experience. Missionaries have learned that their first responsibility is to find out what the Holy Spirit was doing in the local culture before the missionaries got there. Every culture and religion is a battle ground in the Great Controversy. The Holy Spirit is the primary agent of God’s activity within and in behalf of each culture.

Fundamental Belief Number 17 (Spiritual Gifts and Ministries)

God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts which that each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity. Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained functions. According to the Scriptures, these gifts include such ministries as faith, healing, prophecy, proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation, compassion, and self-sacrificing service and charity for the help and encouragement of people. Some members are called of God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by the church in pastoral, evangelistic, apostolic, and teaching ministries particularly needed to equip the members for service, to build up the church to spiritual maturity, and to foster unity of the faith and knowledge of God. When members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of God’s varied grace, the church is protected from the destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with a growth that is from God, and is built up in faith and love. (Acts 6:1-7; Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)  (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:9-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)

The changes in San Antonio were very minor. The change from “which” to “that” was editorial for the sake of current English usage. “Apostolic” was dropped because it was felt to be unclear to most readers without definition or elaboration. As with the other FBs, the Bible texts at the close have been re-arranged.

The wider Christian Church basically ignored the spiritual gifts for centuries, so it is not surprising that other Christians criticized Ellen White and the Adventist Church for receiving and promoting the gift of prophecy. Adventists themselves, on the other hand, basically ignored all the other gifts, emphasizing only the gift of prophecy. Now the pendulum is swinging the other way in both contexts. Evangelical churches are much more open to spiritual gifts, including the gift of prophecy, and Adventists are emphasizing the broader panoply of gifts, although prophecy still has pride of place (Fundamental 18). So the very existence of this fundamental is an advance and an expansion on the original Adventist tendency to emphasize only the gift of prophecy.

It is interesting that the church’s practice in regard to women in ministry is not entirely in line with this fundamental. There is no gender language at all in the statement, in implying that the gifts of the Spirit are equally available to all. Yet many parts of the church question whether some of these gifts are available to women or at least whether we are allowed to publically recognize that these gifts are available to women. If the Spirit called another Ellen White today, many in the church would probably reject her for the very same reasons that they reject the ordination of women.

The statement makes no reference at all to speaking in tongues. One might have expected a negative reference, but there is none. Speaking in tongues is not encouraged by the church but is not forbidden either. In practice members can speak in tongues as long as they do so privately and do not make it a public issue. When speaking in tongues goes public in the Adventist Church it leads to unnecessary division, but it is not forbidden in principle. In many ways, speaking in tongues is like keeping the feast days of the Old Testament. It is permissible under some circumstances, but must not be mandated.

This fundamental is particularly important for the work of Loma Linda University.  The purpose of the School of Religion at Loma Linda is not generally the training of ministers, but the training of laity for ministry. And the spiritual gifts provide the biblical basis for such a mission (note the wording “all members of the church”). It is interesting that the statement moves from a focus on general gifts that all might exercise in behalf of everyone else to a more narrow focus on the kinds of gifts more typical of clergy.

Interesting question. Can non-Christians have spiritual gifts and in fact be part of the body of Christ even though they don’t know His name? John 1:9 indicates that the light of Christ to some degree enlightens every human being (see also Acts 14:14-17 and 17:26-28). So there is a healthy tension between what God is doing in the church and what He is doing through the Holy Spirit more broadly in the world. I have found in dialogue with non-Christians that a lot of spiritual learning can take place in both directions. There is mutual transformation when open hearts encounter each other. The Spirit is the agent of transformation among Christians, but also is present wherever genuine inter-religious dialogue occurs. The Holy Spirit can use people from very different backgrounds to change us.

Loma Linda is a place where people of other faiths, including non-Christian faiths, have found common cause with Adventists in the mission of continuing the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus in today’s world. The Hebrew of Malachi 1:11 affirms that people ignorant of the biblical God may yet offer acceptable worship to Him from a sincere heart. At Loma Linda we have often experienced this. So I have suggested a unique Loma Linda application of this belief. I can say to non-Christians, “If God brought you here (to Loma Linda), you belong here and you are called to contribute to the unique mission of Loma Linda University Health. If God called you here you have something we need.” So even non-Christians can have a role in training laity for ministry. That’s the way the Spirit works.

A final observation. All the Bible texts for this fundamental come from the New Testament. This pattern has been increasingly the case as we move through the fundamental beliefs. One wonders what that says about the value that is placed on the Old Testament in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Fundamental Belief Number 16 (Lord’s Supper)

The Lord’s Supper is a participation in the emblems of the body and blood of Jesus as an expression of faith in Him, our Lord and Saviour. In this experience of communion Christ is present to meet and strengthen His people. As we partake, we joyfully proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again. Preparation for the Supper includes self-examination, repentance, and confession. The Master ordained the service of foot washing to signify renewed cleansing, to express a willingness to serve one another in Christlike humility, and to unite our hearts in love. The communion service is open to all believing Christians. (Matt. 26:17-30; John 6:48-63; 13:1-34; 1 Cor. 10:16, 17; 11:23-30; Rev. 3:20.) (1 Cor. 10:16, 17; 11:23-30; Matt. 26:17-30; Rev. 3:20; John 6:48-63; 13:1-17.)

 This fundamental was unchanged at San Antonio, except for the re-arrangement of biblical texts. It is interesting that the statement makes no reference whatsoever to the Adventist tradition of communion once a quarter. This once a quarter tradition is rooted in the Calvinism of Geneva, with its strong resistance to the daily eucharistic tradition of Roman Catholicism. The absence of the tradition in this statement leaves open the possibility that churches could do communion more often if they wished. After all, would we want to receive tithe only once a quarter? Some Adventist communities do the supper more often than once a quarter, but without having the foot washing every time (a colleague, on the other hand, noted that Mother Teresa did the foot washing every day).

The core of this belief is not related to the time when communion is performed, nor the liturgy or manner in which it is performed. The greater emphasis is on preparation for the service and the ideal follow through afterward. There is more focus on what you do before and after the service than on what occurs during the service itself. The spirit of the foot washing and the Lord’s Supper is to continually permeate our lives. Every aspect of church life could benefit from this kind of preparation and seriousness.

There is a quasi-sacramental tone to this statement. Unlike Catholics and some Lutherans, Adventists do not see a real presence of Christ in the emblems of communion (bread and juice). But there is a real presence of Christ in the “experience of communion.” In a secular world, this is a promising perspective. We need to expand people’s opportunities for living, real encounters with God. It is interesting that in the Western world Adventists tend to treat things like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day more seriously than they do Easter, Christmas or even communion. Loma Linda, on the other hand, takes the foot washing and communion principle and applies it broadly to the work place and the classroom. How can we “wash the feet” of those we lead or those we serve? How can our hearts be more closely bound in communion to God and each other as we continue the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ?

One of the best aspects of Adventist community is the open communion that is affirmed here. It is a powerful counter to the tendency to take the remnant doctrine of FB 13 to an extreme of exclusivism. Adventism rightly acknowledges the importance of avoiding the appearance of evil and experiences that might degrade our spiritual commitments. On the other hand, “abstaining from the world” can quickly degenerate into exclusivism and triumphalism (the sense of ultimate superiority). Given the Adventist tendency to exclusion, the openness of this fundamental is refreshing and affirming of the Christian commitments of others.

One reason people tend to avoid communion is that the service is often much longer than the regular service of worship. A long sermon on communion day can overwhelm the liturgy. So it might be better, given the tone of this fundamental, to have a sermon about communion the previous Sabbath and allow the communion Sabbath to be focused on the experience of foot washing and the Lord’s Supper.

An interesting suggestion was made to include communion in Adventist weddings. There is much marriage imagery in John 13 and 14 (the context of the original foot washing service—particularly John 14:1-3). It could be a beautiful experience for bride and groom to wash each other’s feet (signifying the daily forgiveness that both foot washing and marriage imply) and then share in the Lord’s Supper together. When both parties are lifelong friends of God it is inevitable that they will be lifelong friends of each other.

Issues with the Blog Site

Friends, I just went deep into the blog site and discovered that eight months of comments had not been approved or responded to. My web master has had a lot of things to deal with recently and has not been able to play that role. It never occurred to me that I could or should approve comments on a regular basis to keep things flowing. My apologies. I have responded to nearly every comment now and hope that you will forgive the delay. I appreciate this online community very much.

Fundamental Belief Number 15 (Baptism)

By baptism we confess our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and testify of our death to sin and of our purpose to walk in newness of life. Thus we acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour, become His people, and are received as members by His church. Baptism is a symbol of our union with Christ, the forgiveness of our sins, and our reception of the Holy Spirit. It is by immersion in water and is contingent on an affirmation of faith in Jesus and evidence of repentance of sin. It follows instruction in the Holy Scriptures and acceptance of their teachings. (Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 2:38; 16:30-33; 22:16; Rom. 6:1-6; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12, 13.)  (Rom. 6:1-6; Col. 2:12, 13; Acts 16:30-33; 22:16; 2:38; Matt. 28:19, 20.)

This fundamental is also unchanged, with the exception of the re-arrangement of texts. It equates baptism with joining the church. While the statement doesn’t specify who “the Church” is, one presumes the SDA Church is in mind here. Aligning baptism with church membership is pretty common practice among Seventh-day Adventists around the world, but it can be challenging at the local level. It collapses two things that should probably be distinct. As a pastor I often felt that I was baptizing people too late and bringing them into the church too soon. When a person is clearly committed to Christ they long for baptism to seal that full commitment. Yet at that point they are often far short of the theology and practice expected of members in good and regular standing.

Some other dilemmas occur with regard baptism: Do we baptize people primarily in light of their spiritual achievements (“you have made all these changes in your life”) or in recognition of a sinful past that is being abandoned? Is baptism an individual thing, a personal commitment, or is it entry into a community?

Matthew 28:19-20 places baptism in the context of discipleship. It is not so much a single act along the way as a step on a journey that is lifelong. It is the starting point to a way of life. Even after baptism, we are to keep learning and keep growing. In Romans 6 baptism is not the key reason for the passage, it is mentioned in the context of Paul’s doctrine of renewal. This fundamental calls people to newness of life, the beginning of a journey. Many people feel that baptism is a great moment of change, and they often feel disappointed when afterward little seems to have changed. We need to emphasize to new believers that baptism is the first step on a journey and that there will be pitfalls along the way.

Baptism is also immersion into a grand narrative, it relives the history of a people, the Exodus, which was the foundational act of God in the creation of Israel as a people. Baptism also ties people to the death and resurrection of Jesus as the great act of God in the New Testament era. Just as the Israelites passed through the sea to take on a new kind of life, so individuals experience freedom and restoration as a consequence of baptism. Like baptism, the Lord’s Supper also connects the believer to both the cross and the Exodus.

In our discussion, questions arose about the concept of “union with Christ.” What exactly does that mean? Does that mean absorption of the individual into the divine in some fashion, or is the term to be understood more on a bridal analogy. At a wedding, two individuals are united together, but they don’t lose their own individuality and personality.

As often happens with this subject, the conversation ended up with a group of pastors swapping hilarious stories of baptisms that went wrong, such as small preachers trying to baptize large men in knee-deep water! Feel free to share your favorite baptism story in the comments section.