Monthly Archives: December 2016

Fundamental Belief Number 23 (Marriage and the Family)

Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship. For the Christian a marriage commitment is to God as well as to the spouse, and should be entered into only between a man and a woman partners who share a common faith. Mutual love, honor, respect, and responsibility are the fabric of this relationship, which is to reflect the love, sanctity, closeness, and permanence of the relationship between Christ and His church. Regarding divorce, Jesus taught that the person who divorces a spouse, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery. Although some family relationships may fall short of the ideal, a man and a woman marriage partners who fully commit themselves to each other in Christ through marriage may achieve loving unity through the guidance of the Spirit and the nurture of the church. God blesses the family and intends that its members shall assist each other toward complete maturity. Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message. Parents are to bring up their chil­dren to love and obey the Lord. By their example and their words they are to teach them that Christ is a loving, tender, and caring guide loving disciplinarian, ever tender and caring who wants them to become members of His body, the family of God which embraces both single and married persons. (Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message.) (Gen. 2:18-25; Exod 20:12; Deut 6:5-9; Prov. 22:6; Mal. 4:5, 6; Matt. 5:31, 32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:11, 12; John 2:1-11; 1 Cor 7:7, 10, 11; 2 Cor 6:14; Eph 5:21-33; 6:1-4.) (Gen. 2:18-25; Exod. 20:12; Deut. 6:5-9; Prov. 22:6; Mal. 4:5, 6; Matt. 5:31, 32; 19:3-9, 12; Mark 10:11, 12; John 2:1-11; 1 Cor. 7:7, 10, 11; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:21-33; 6:1-4.)

There were multiple changes made in this FB at San Antonio last year. The phrase “a man and a woman” replaces “partners,” and then “marriage partners.” It was felt that the word “partners” is commonly associated with same-sex marriages today, to it was necessary to replace them in order to remove any ambiguity. The phrase “through marriage” reintroduced the word “marriage” which had been removed in the previous line. “Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message” was moved from the last sentence of the fundamental to the next to the last sentence. The phrase “loving, tender, and caring guide” replaced “loving disciplinarian, ever tender and caring” because the English word “disciplinarian” has taken on a negative tone in recent years. The final change comes at the end where the words “which embraces both single and married persons” was inserted to make the point that single members are as valuable to the family of God as married persons are.

It is not clear exactly what the writers intended by “short of the ideal.” But if they were implying that every marriage is salvageable, that is not correct. For complex reasons, not every marriage can be fixed. One may pray for the restoration of a leg that was lost in battle or a car accident, but one should not expect the leg to magically re-appear in most instances. To imply that all marriages can be fixed is not only false, but on many occasions it can be cruel.

For most church members, the lines between doctrine, standards and policy are not clearly defined. They are often treated in practice as if they were the same. When it comes to divorce and remarriage, the reality is that the church does not always follow policy and this statement may be an attempt to address that.

It is probably not a good idea to rhapsodize regarding the joys of heterosexual marriage in a congregation that is half single people. There may be a fine line between encouraging healthy marriages and discouraging singles and divorcees. It may be helpful to keep in mind that according to Jesus, marriage may be a temporary institution (Matt 22:23-33). In the future things will be different, so singles in this life won’t necessarily miss out on something in the next. One could argue from Jesus and Paul that singleness is an ideal for the follower of Jesus. Having said this, it is commendable that in the latest version of this statement, there is a positive statement with regard to singles.

The implication that divorce is simply not an option can be a dangerous idea, in some circumstances urging or even compelling people to stay in a relationship with an abuser or even at times a murderer. The issue of marriage and divorce was debated in Jesus’ day. You had among the Pharisees the schools of Hillel and Shammai. Hillel believed that divorce, for men at least, should be fairly easy to obtain. Shammai had a much stricter view, which Jesus seems to adopt in the gospels (Matt 19:1-9; Mark 10:2-13; Luke 16:18). The intent of the teaching was to protect women in a society where they had no standing. Jesus was arguing for protection, not endangerment! To insist that women stay in a dangerous relationship may seem pious in a “plain reading” sort of way, but actually undermines the original intent of the rule. Taking an extreme position on this issue can encourage violence in some circumstances and adultery in others (trapping the partner into adultery so you can free yourself from the relationship).

It is the terrorist mindset that tries to carry out every detail of Scripture without deviation or accommodation. The reality is that Scripture often presents an ideal, then recognizes that in the real world the ideal often doesn’t work out. In 1 Corinthians 7, for example, Paul six times lays out an ideal for believers to live up to, then follows that statement with “but if” (the real). Moses lays out God’s goal for marriage in Genesis 2 (the ideal), then lays out rules to regulate divorce in Deuteronomy 24 (the real). Jesus makes strict divorce statements (the ideal) but tells the woman taken in adultery that He doesn’t condemn her but instead invites a change (the real). Ellen White makes strict statements (the ideal), but in actual situations was surprisingly lenient (the real). This fundamental lays out a strong ideal, and that is needed. It could, perhaps, have said a bit more about the real.

At Loma Linda University we are forced by reality to deal with issues not fully addressed by this FB or any other. Should same-sex marriage be treated the way the state does now or should it be treated as a form of promiscuity? Is there some mediating position between those extremes? When required by the state, should an institution like Loma Linda give health and retirement benefits to the partners in a legal, state-recognized same-sex marriage? How do you handle the issue of test-tube babies? What about requests for trans-gender surgeries? What about surgeries to correct intersex anomalies? And these are only the tip of the iceberg. When you are seeking to continue the healing ministry of Jesus Christ in today’s world, how far do you go? There are lots of intelligent people at Loma Linda, yet we struggle with many issues that the church has not clearly defined for us. This is why the work of expressing Adventist belief in human language will never be over. Circumstances alter cases and we are continually confronted with new questions that are not directly addressed by revelation, reason, common sense, or tradition. Pray for us as we seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in matters that are too great for us to handle on our own.

Fundamental Belief Number 22 (Christian Behavior)

We are called to be a godly people who think, feel, and act in harmony with biblical principles the principles of heaven in all aspects of personal and social life. For the Spirit to recreate in us the character of our Lord we involve ourselves only in those things which that will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives. This means that our amusement and entertainment should meet the highest standards of Christian taste and beauty. While recognizing cultural differences, our dress is to be simple, modest, and neat, befitting those whose true beauty does not consist of outward adornment but in the imperishable ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit. It also means that because our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, we are to care for them intelligently. Along with adequate exercise and rest, we are to adopt the most healthful diet possible and abstain from the unclean foods identified in the Scriptures. Since alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and the irresponsible use of drugs and narcotics are harmful to our bodies, we are to abstain from them as well. Instead, we are to engage in whatever brings our thoughts and bodies into the discipline of Christ, who desires our wholesomeness, joy, and goodness. (Gen. 7:2; Exod. 20:15; Lev. 11:1-47; Psalm 106:3; Rom. 12:1, 2; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20; 10:31; 2 Cor. 10:5; 6:14-7:1; Eph. 5:1-21; Phil. 2:4;4:8; 1 Tim. 2:9, 10; Titus 2:11, 12; 1 Peter 3:1-4; 1 John 2:6; 3 John 2.  (Rom. 12:1, 2; 1 John 2:6; Eph. 5:1-21; Phil. 4:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 6:14-7:1; 1 Peter 3:1-4; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20; 10:31; Lev. 11:1-47; 3 John 2.)

In addition to the usual alteration of order and, in this case, the addition of a number of texts, there is one major change in this fundamental belief. In San Antonio it was voted to replace “the principles of heaven” with “biblical principles in all aspects of personal and social life.” This change was felt to accomplish two things. First, to underline the biblical foundation of the statement. People were unclear what was meant by “principles of heaven.” Second, the addition seeks to clarify that Christian behavior is not just about health, dress and adornment, but also about how we interact with others in business or the market place. Honesty, integrity and fairness in our relationships are at least as important as what we eat and how we look. There is also a minor change to improve English usage, “which” is replaced with “that.”

What is striking about this fundamental, even in its modified form, is not so much what it says as what it doesn’t say. Missing in this belief is any mention of the cross as a paradigm for Christian faithfulness. That is a very important concept at Loma Linda. Also missing is the theme of non-combatancy, which was very important for the early Adventist pioneers. Also missing in this statement is any mention of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus lays out His own expectations for Christian behavior. There is a sense in reading this fundamental that it is a collection of behaviors that owes more to the SDA tradition and practices than to any thought out theology of Christian behavior. To a large extent this list of behaviors and practices seems culturally driven rather than biblically driven. We seem to avoid the weightier matters of the law (Matt 23:23) to focus on things that are more minor, not unimportant, but not as important as some things that are left out. There is no mention, for example, of the dangers of excessive consumption of sugar, neither is there mention of the importance of mental health. If 90% of all physical illness is rooted in the mind, mental health probably deserves mention in a statement like this. The addition of the phrase on personal and social life in San Antonio is a small step in the direction of recognizing the larger implications of this FB.

Romans 12 is an important New Testament passage regarding Christian behavior. In that chapter the Christian community embodies God’s mercy to the world. Fully carrying that out would suggest acknowledging the value of animals as part of God’s creation and also the value of the environment (though that is touched on in FB 21).

It is, perhaps, good that the statement doesn’t get overly specific about some things, such as abortion and euthanasia. Neither does it mention the theater. In many ways the statement is quite restrained compared to the lists that one might encounter in many local churches. At Loma Linda there is a conscious attempt to recover the principles behind the practices. The outside world is discovering that the Adventist lifestyle as a whole package has dramatic impact on health and longevity. Life at LLU is not only longer, but the quality of life is greatly extended as people age. Retirement is often postponed into the 80s and 90s. Would that such “blue zones” would be increasingly observed wherever large numbers of SDAs congregate. The concept of “Adventist clusters” can be a negative, but the Blue Zone discovery in southern California wouldn’t have happened without it.

These brief comments may seem overly negative. There are a number of very good expressions in the statement, such as rooting all behaviors in the guidance of the Spirit, a positive approach to amusement and entertainment, rather than a list that can be used to selectively judge others, and the principled statement regarding dress and adornment. But there is some danger that with the passage of time, Adventist behavioral standards are losing their undergirding rationale and drifting into a rote listing of behaviors rooted mostly in previous practice.


Fundamental Belief Number 21 (Stewardship)

We are God’s stewards, entrusted by Him with time and opportunities, abilities and possessions, and the blessings of the earth and its resources. We are responsible to Him for their proper use. We acknowledge God’s ownership by faithful service to Him and our fellow men human beings, and by returning tithes and giving offerings for the proclamation of His gospel and the support and growth of His church. Stewardship is a privilege given to us by God for nurture in love and the victory over selfishness and covetousness. The steward rejoices Stewards rejoice in the blessings that come to others as a result of his their faithfulness. (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15; 1 Chron. 29:14; Haggai 1:3-11; Mal.3:8-12; Matt. 23:23; Rom. 15:26, 27; 1 Cor. 9:9-14; 2 Cor. 8:1-15; 9:7.) (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15; 1 Chron. 29:14; Haggai 1:3-11; Mal. 3:8-12; 1 Cor. 9:9-14; Matt. 23:23; 2 Cor. 8:1-15; Rom. 15:26, 27.)

In these modern times, tithe still remains a staple of the Christian tradition. Churches seeking to update the process of receiving the generosity of their congregations should look towards technological solutions as detailed on this page which also breaks down what the scriptures have to say about tithes and offerings.

A number of minor changes were made to this fundamental in San Antonio. Most had to do with inclusive language. “Men” was changed to “human beings.” “Stewards rejoice” moved to the plural so that “his” could be replaced with their. The only other change was shifting “tithes” to “tithe.” The reason for this change was that “tithes” could be understood to include the second tithe from the additional laws of Moses. The intent of the FB was only to address the basic tithe.

Genesis 1 and 2 contain many allusions to the Hebrew sanctuary. In the garden God was setting up a spiritual center for the whole universe. The word “image” in Genesis 1 is often used for idols later on in the Old Testament. Humans were intended to be God’s “idols,” reflections of who He is to the rest of the universe. According to these chapters, humans were intended to be doing what God does, sustaining the creation through their efforts in the garden. And in the “fruitful and multiply” phrase (Gen 1:28), humans were designed to be like their Creator also in the creation of little people who look and behave like them. The one concern that arises with this concept is the implication one could draw that those who for physical reasons or singleness cannot reproduce are in some sense less than fully human. Disabilities are part of the reality of a sin-cursed world. So Scripture often states an ideal, while acknowledging elsewhere that reality may require accommodation to the real (see further comments on this in FB 23).

What does “stewardship” actually mean? Unfortunately, it is a term that has largely dropped out of use in the English language today. One wonders if there is a more up-to-date word available in today’s English. What about management? Administration? Care-taking? Both the garden and the body were intended as a temple for God, so stewardship is a holy task, even though it concerns itself with mundane, everyday matters. For example, if the body is meant to be a temple, then there is a health component to stewardship. The health of the body matters and everything one does to keep oneself and others healthy is part of good stewardship. Eating, drinking and exercise can become holy tasks.

One wonders about the implications of stewardship for ecology and things like a consumer society. How we use our possessions and our money is related to our stewardship of the environment. The concept of “dominion” over the earth can sound counter-ecological. Some have suggested that the Christian roots of the ecological crisis go back to Genesis 1. Too many have taken from Genesis 1:26 that everything on earth exists for human beings to use and then dispose of. Fortunately, the first two sentences of the fundamental belief modulate that perception in a helpful way. The earth’s resources are a blessing, not a right.

We are more and more aware of the threat to the environment that technology creates. What we have learned about the environment over the last few decades should help us to read the biblical texts more faithfully. Our mission is not to exploit the earth, but to care for it and improve it (Gen 2:15). The General Conference has prepared a companion statement (1996) which asserts that environmental depredation is largely cause by human greed, and human greed is related to selfishness and sin. We are also learning that there is a close tie between the health message and the environment. An environmentalist who is not a vegetarian is somewhat of an oxymoron today. Meat production, particularly beef, uses vast quantities of water, land, fertilizer and plant feed. It produces more polluting gases than all the cars, planes and trains in the world combined.

This doctrine may be of more significance to the secular world, therefore, than we had imagined. Every five years or so, Loma Linda University puts on the International Conference on Vegetarian Nutrition, the most significant conference of its kind in the world. At the last one a major shift occurred. Vegetarianism was not promoted only or primarily for its health benefits. It was particularly promoted for its environmental benefits. This would appear to be a trend that has a strong future and is hinted at in this fundamental. Environmental sciences now also have a foothold at Loma Linda.

In early Adventism there was a passion for sustainable agriculture. There was an agricultural component to every program in early higher Adventist education. But we have moved away from this, plowing up our vegetable gardens and turning them into baseball and football fields. Yet that old philosophy may not be so out-of-date anymore. Wendell Berry published a book called “The Greening of America” which promotes a lot of those values for a new generation of Americans.

Fundamental Belief Number 20 (Sabbath)

The beneficent gracious Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom. The Sabbath is God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God’s creative and redemptive acts. (Gen. 2:1-3; Exod. 20:8-11; 31:13-17; Lev. 23:32; Deut. 5:12-15; Isa. 56:5, 6; 58:13, 14; Ezek. 20:12, 20; Matt. 12:1-12; Mark 1:32; Luke 4:16; Heb. 4:1-11.) (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; Luke 4:16; Isa. 56:5, 6; 58:13, 14; Matt. 12:1-12; Ex. 31:13-17; Eze. 20:12, 20; Deut. 5:12-15; Heb. 4:1-11; Lev. 23:32; Mark 1:32.)

Aside from the Scriptural references, the only change in this fundamental is using the adjective “gracious” instead of “beneficent.” Gracious is considered a clearer and more up-to-date word.

It is interesting that this statement makes no reference at all to Judaism and its role in preserving the Sabbath through the centuries. One would expect such a reference here. According to this fundamental belief, Adventists start the Sabbath at creation, touch base with the giving of the commandments in Exodus 20 and then jump straight from Exodus 20 to the Adventists as “His people.” The entire history and role of Judaism is bypassed. This statement unintentionally supersedes the Jews as if they are and were of no importance to God. But we should give thought to the fact that more people in the world know about the Sabbath because of the Jews than because of Adventists. In fact, the influence of Abraham Joshua Heschel (a Jewish scholar) helped to bring about a change among Adventists back in the 1960s, he helped move Adventism as a whole from legalism to celebration with regard to the Sabbath (he had an equally strong impact on Judaism).

On the positive side, a major Adventist contribution to the Sabbath is to underline its universality. Many people don’t know that Jews are often puzzled by Adventist fascination with the Sabbath and the law of God. For Jews, Gentiles are not obligated to keep the Sabbath or the Ten Commandments. These were given specifically for the Jews in a specific context. But Adventists rightly note the universality of the Sabbath and the law of God for all people, including Gentiles.

We often think of the Jews as rather burdened about Sabbath keeping, but actually it is quite different from that. For Jews keeping the Sabbath holy is not a somber thing, Sabbath is more of a celebration, even a party! Sabbath for Jews is a day of joy. It is more about carrying a sack of diamonds (delight) than a bag of rocks (drudgery). Adventists have not always captured that side of Sabbath keeping. We are the ones who are most likely to be legalistic and burdened about the Sabbath. That probably comes from Puritan influence and is somewhat of an American phenomenon (along with anywhere influenced by American missionaries). But there is at least a hint of joy and celebration in the above where it says, “a day of delightful communion” and “joyful observance of this holy time.” Rightly handled, the Sabbath can be one of the best things about Adventism that people can experience. To be fair, many Jews have experienced Orthodox Sabbath-keeping as lifeless and burdensome and left it, so this is not a black and white case. On the other hand, the very diversity in Sabbath practices is one thing that holds Jews together. They all have the Sabbath in common even though they celebrate it differently. Perhaps Sabbath-keeping should unify Adventists more than it divides them.

Synagogue worship on Sabbath only started during or after the Exile to Babylon (Daniel’s time). Before that, worship at the temple occurred three times a year for most Israelites and less often for those outside the country. Sabbath as a day of worship, therefore, was not typical in ancient Israel. The Sabbath was more of a day off from work and from the drudgery that often comes with the struggle for survival.

Like good Americans, Adventists think of the Sabbath in individualistic terms, rather than social terms, as expressed in Exodus 20. In the Hebrew context the Sabbath explicitly affected their relationships, not only with family (son or daughter), those who worked for them (manservant, maidservant), but even visitors, refugees and foreigners who might have resided in their households. The Sabbath was even applied to the animals in the house! So it was designed from the beginning as a very social experience. Adventists today are increasingly embracing the social side of the Sabbath, even though it is not highlighted in this fundamental (except for the brief remark about “communion. . . with one another.”

A missing element that could be emphasized a bit more is the idea of God’s presence in the Sabbath. The Sabbath is more than a memorial of creation or salvation, it is an agent of God’s presence. Perhaps the Sabbath is as much about God’s commitment to be with us as God’s commandment to us. In John 5, the Sabbath is not about rest, it is about working in line with God’s mission of healing and blessing on the Sabbath.

Another missing element in this fundamental is the concept of Sabbath as resistance against the demands of the consumer culture. Such a view of the Sabbath is very appealing to millennials. Those who keep the Sabbath are not accommodating to the system, they are resisting the demand to produce more and more, and to fill our lives with texts, emails, phone calls, pressures and other distractions. Sabbath as resistance is a very Jewish thing and it is also a very liberating thing.

At Loma Linda the Sabbath has had a widespread impact even among those who have come from other religious backgrounds. The Sabbath tells us that it is OK not to produce. Highly driven people tend to “produce” around the clock, creating value for their employers or for their own bottom line. But the Sabbath teaches us that production is not the primary goal of life and that it is alright to take time off from “production” to nurture the deeper values of human existence. The Sabbath also teaches us that it is OK to take care of yourself, to avoid burnout by taking time for reflection, social interaction and rest, both psychological and physical. More than this the Sabbath teaches us to put God first in our lives every day of the week. But by a special focus once a week our relationship with God is renewed every day. The Sabbath also encourages us to care for the environment. In the biblical context, even the land was to experience Sabbath and be allowed to restore itself. So although many employees of Loma Linda University Health are not practicing Seventh-day Adventists, the Sabbath has had a powerful impact on their lives as well.