The 2004 Spring Meeting of the General Conference Executive Committee took the following action on April 14, 2004.
VOTED, To submit to the world Church for discussion and suggestions the document entitled "The Fundamental Beliefs and 'Growing in Christ': Proposal for a New Fundamental Belief" with the under standing that it will be brought back to the 2004 Annual Council for final discussion before it is presented to the 2005 General Conference Session.
In harmony with this action, we reproduce the proposed new fundamental belief and accompanying rationale. Members who wish to comment or make suggestions should send them (by email) to Stella Thomas ([email protected]) or by regular mail to Biblical Research Institute office, c/o General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904-6600.—Editors
The Fundamental Beliefs and "Growing in Christ": Proposal for a new Fundamental Belief
The purpose of this document is to bring before you an invitation to initiate a formal dialogue that will hopefully reveal whether or not the Spirit is leading the church in the direction suggested here. In Adventist praxis the formulation of a fundamental belief is not something that happens in a particular office under the leadership of a group of individuals, but rather some thing that is the result of a consensus created by the Holy Spirit in the community of believers. We should see ourselves as facilitators, as channels through which the Spirit can work in the expression of that consensus.
Consequently, what we are initiating cannot be pushed on the church but must be a clear expression of where the church itself stands today. What we bring before you carries a disclaimer: We do not own it, neither do you. It should belong to the church; it should be, as already indicated, an expression of the thinking of the Spirit through the church. We bring this document to you to listen to your counsel as we seek to determine whether the perceived need of a new fundamental belief is real or not. After the discussion you may conclude that there is no need for a new fundamental belief or that it seems pleasing to all of us and to the Spirit to seek His guidance through the consensus of believers. At the present time some of us feel that this is pleasing to the Spirit, but this perception needs the external witness of the Spirit through the church.
This document contains four main parts. The first is a summary of the process that brought us here today; the second is a discussion of the nature of the Fundamental Beliefs; the third is an analysis of our existing Fundamental Beliefs in order to see whether a new article is needed; and, finally there is a sample of what the new fundamental belief could look like. If it is concluded that a new statement is needed, then the sample will help in the formulation of the final draft.
II. Summary of the Process
Seventh-day Adventists have always had a well-defined biblical theology describing God's greatness and power. Bible study and prayer have always been fundamental Seventh-day Adventist values that facilitate having a relationship with Jesus. These beliefs are not new.
Adventism originated from a Western culture with deep roots anchored in the Reformation. Bible study and prayer as a way of under standing God's greatness and accessing His power were so fundamental that much has been assumed through a verbal understanding.
Since the beginning of the church, mission has been seen as a primary responsibility. This message quickly spread across America. By the late 1800s the church's concept of mission ex tended to all the world. Over the past 120 years the Three Angels' Messages has spread to almost every country in the world and certainly to most major people groups. The pioneers met the challenge of establishing a beginning and an infrastructure from which a much larger work could be carried forward.
Today, national workers largely carry forward the mission of the church. This resource cannot be overestimated. In most places the church has been able to operate within the culture of the people and appeal to a much wider population. This movement is spreading to the 10/40 window.
Over the past 10 years a wide gospel appeal has been made by national workers in many of the 10/40 window countries. The big view of finishing the work and the conversion of Animists, Buddhists, Communists, Hindus, Muslims, and jews has challenged traditional methods of evangelism. National workers having an innate sense for effective methodology have struck the core values of not only the religion but the culture. Here we confront two main areas of great concern for us among non-Christian religions, namely transcendental meditation and the power of demons.
Transcendental meditation is a search for contact with spiritual powers in order to enrich the individual. Inplace of that spiritualistic practice we offer them contact with God through prayer, Bible study, service, and meditation on the Word of God and His providential leadings. These subjects, as will be demonstrated later on, are hardly addressed in the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs. This deficiency has been pointed out by church members from different parts of the world.
All major world religions have borrowed from and have been affected by Animism. More than 70 percent of the world's population lives in fear of evil powers and regards evil powers as the answer of choice when considering the metaphysical and epistemological question. Often, the first question asked front line workers is, "How does your religion deal with the evil spirits in my life?"
While Seventh-day Adventists have a strong biblical theology on good and evil spirits, the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs does not compile the biblical evidence but rather relies heavily on an Adventist cultural understanding. Cultural understandings, when at some distance from the process used to establish a biblical truth or practice, can take on dimensions that extend well beyond the Adventist garden of theology.
Occasionally when Global Mission Pioneers are asked by interested people how the new religion they proclaim would affect the evil spirits that controlled their lives, the answer has not been what would have been expected. We hear expressions like, "We must be cautious not to offend the evil spirits;" or "We must not anger the evil spirits." The Global Mission Issues Committee has dis cussed the issues surrounding good and evil powers. The Adventist external look says we have 70 percent of the world's population testifying of visible and physical evil spirit evidence in the context of our mission for a lost world. The Adventist internal look says that God will gather a huge harvest from all nations, victoriously leading His people through the great end-time deceptions that will include a seemingly miraculous display of evil powers. Spiritualism will take control of the world in a way never seen before. We must do all we can now to prepare the world for that final deception.
While prayer, Bible study, service, meditation, and God's great power over evil are not new truths, a large growing church amid people tradition ally controlled by evil powers is a growing reality for which we have long prayed. What brings us to this agenda? Mission—that every person might come to know Jesus and claim His victory over sin and evil.
III. The Fundamental Beliefs
The Fundamental Beliefs play a vital role in the life and mission of the world wide Seventh-day Adventist Church. We are a rapidly growing movement with a presence in more than 200 countries, and the Fundamental Beliefs describe what Seventh-day Adventists believe. Thus, they establish our doctrinal identity and help to keep us united.
As currently stated, the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs dates from the 1980 General Conference Session held in Dallas, Texas. However, the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs voted on that occasion was not intended to necessarily be the last word on the matter. The Fundamental Beliefs are a living document, not a creed.
A. The Fundamental Beliefs: A Living Document
The preamble to the 1980 Fundamental Beliefs states:
"Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. These beliefs, as set forth here, constitute the church's understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture. Revision of these statements may be expected at a General Conference session when the church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God's Holy Word."
This view of the living character of the Fundamental Beliefs really stems from the conviction of the pioneers that we are a people of "present truth" (2 Peter 1:12) who seek always to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit into deeper understanding of truth. Ellen White encouraged us to guard against the tendency to fossilize our beliefs into a creed. Among her many counsels calling upon us to be receptive to new insights, while maintaining the foundations, we find the following:
"Whenever the people of God are growing in grace, they will be constantly obtaining a clearer understanding of His word. They will discern new light and beauty in its sacred truths. This has been true in the history of the church in all ages, and thus it will continue to the end. But as real spiritual life declines, it has ever been the tendency to cease to advance in the knowledge of the truth.
Men rest satisfied with the light already received from God's word, and discourage any further investigation of Scriptures. They become conservative, and seek to avoid discussion" (Gospel Workers, pp. 297, 298).
"New light will ever be revealed on the word of God to him who is in living connection with the Sun of Righteousness. Let no one come to the conclusion that there is no more truth to be revealed. The diligent, prayerful seeker for truth will find precious rays of light yet to shine forth from the word of God. Many gems are yet scattered that are to be gathered together to become the property of the remnant people of God" (Counsels on Sabbath School Work, p. 34).
The history of development of doctrine in the Seventh-day Adventist Church shows growth in understanding and formulation.
1. The earliest list of doctrines appeared in the masthead of the Sabbath Review and Advent Herald in five successive issues, August 15-December 19, 1854. The "leading doctrines" were just five: The Bible alone, the law of God, the Second Coming, the new earth, and immortality alone through Christ.
2. In 1872 Uriah Smith wrote "A Declaration of the Fundamental Principles Taught and Practiced by the Seventh-day Adventists." The list had 25 doctrines.
3. In 1889 the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for the first time published a list of "Fundamental Principles of Seventh-day Adventists." This list, based on Uriah Smith's list from 1872, contained 28 articles.
4. In 1894 the 1,521-member Battle Creek Church issued its own statement of faith. It had 31 elements.
5. The statement of faith that first appeared in the 1889 Yearbook was also included in the yearbooks for 1905, and from 1907 to 1914. According to Leroy Edwin Froom, the statement was not included in the yearbooks 1890-1904, 1906, and 1915-1930 because of conflicting views over the Trinity and the Atonement (Movement of Destiny, pp. 412, 413).
6. In 1931 F. M. Wilcox prepared a statement of faith on behalf of a committee of four authorized by action of the General Conference Committee. This statement, titled "Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists," had 22 articles. Although it was never formally adopted, it appeared in the 1931 Yearbook and in all subsequent year books. In 1932 it was printed in tract form. This was the statement that remained in place (with slight changes) up until the new formulation in Dallas in 1980.
7. The 1941 Annual Council approved a uniform "Baptismal Vow" and "Baptismal Covenant" based on the 1931 statement.
8. The General Conference session of 1946 voted that no revision of the Fundamental Beliefs shall be made at any time except by approval of a General Conference session.
9. In 1980 the General Conference session made major revisions of the Fundamental Beliefs. Completely new articles were added on: Creation; The Great Controversy; The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ; The Church; Unity in the Body of Christ; The Lord's Supper; The Gift of Prophecy; and Marriage and the Family. Some existing articles were rephrased.
B. Observations Concerning the Fundamental Beliefs
Seventh-day Adventists throughout our history have formulated our doctrines without giving emphasis to a particular number. The number has varied greatly: from 5 to 31. We have simply designated our doctrines as "Fundamental Beliefs," never as the "22 Fundamental Beliefs" or "25 Fundamental Beliefs," and so on. This is still the case: the Yearbook simply lists our doctrines as "Fundamental Beliefs." Only in more recent years has the tendency arisen to attach a number, as in the book Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . . : A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines (General Conference Ministerial Association, 1988).
In considering the new articles added in 1980, not one represented a new departure in doctrine. Each simply articulated beliefs already held and practiced by Seventh-day Adventists. It was felt that the time had come to incorporate these beliefs into the statement of Fundamental Beliefs.
The needs of mission have played a role in formulating our Fundamental Beliefs. We see this clearly as a factor driving the statement of Fundamental Beliefs that emerged in 1931. The General Conference Committee minutes of December 29, 1930, record the following action:
"STATEMENT OF OUR FAITH FOR YEAR BOOK.
A request was presented from the African Division that a statement of what Seventh-day Adventists believe should be printed in the Year Book, since they feel that such a statement would help government officials and others to a better understanding of our work.
VOTED: That the chair appoint a committee of which he shall be a member, to prepare such a statement for publication in the Year Book."
Perhaps the time has come again when the needs of our global mission should cause us to revisit the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs. This is not to alter what we already have in place since 1980, and which continues to serve us well, but to add an article that will enable us better to fulfill the mission. Billions of people live their lives in daily awareness, fear, and apprehension of spiritual powers. Large numbers view the religious life in quietistic terms, with transcendental meditation playing a key role. The Fundamental Beliefs in their present formulation do not seem to address these ideas.
Although the demands of Global Mission point to a possible addition to our Fundamental Beliefs, it seems likely that the entire church might benefit from the addition. Many people today, even in "developed" societies, feel threatened by evil that seems all pervasive and all powerful. For many, life is essentially meaningless.
At various times since 1980 some members have expressed surprise that the Fundamental Beliefs contain no reference to prayer, devotional life, and service. It may be possible to formulate a new article on Christian growth that meets the needs which have arisen from Global Mission and also to address the above lack. Significantly, the 1941 summary of Fundamental Beliefs did have a statement that highlighted the study of the Word, prayer, and the development of Christian character.
Any new article will not introduce new theology. As in the formulation of the Fundamental Beliefs voted in 1980, the new material will be merely an articulation of what we already believe as Seventh-day Adventists. Any addition to the Fundamental Beliefs will require widespread input, with dissemination well in advance of the 2005 General Conference Session. The whole church must "own" the Fundamental Beliefs.
Given the obvious need driven by mission, the question now becomes: Do the Fundamental Beliefs as currently formulated already address this need, so that we do not need a new article?
Back of that question is a more important one: Is the Holy Spirit leading His people today to revisit the Fundamental Beliefs formulated in Dallas, 1980?
IV. Content of the Proposed New Fundamental Belief and the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs
The proposed new fundamental belief has two main purposes. First, it explicitly addresses Christian growth in order to exclude eastern transcendental meditation as a spiritual exercise that is incompatible with the gospel of salvation through Christ. Second, it proclaims freedom through Christ from demonic powers to demonstrate that seeking help and guidance from them in our spiritual growth is not only unnecessary but totally incompatible with the work of Jesus on our behalf.
The present Statement of Fundamental Beliefs does not explicitly address those doctrinal concerns. Some of the basic theological elements pre supposed in the proposed new statement are briefly touched in some of the doctrinal statements, thus providing a link between this one and the rest of the body of beliefs. We will briefly look at the fundamental beliefs in which this link is found.
A. Statements Addressing Demonic Power
We read in Statement number 8 ("The Great Controversy"): "To assist His people in this controversy, Christ sends the Holy Spirit and the loyal angels to guide, protect, and sustain them in the way of salvation." The new proposed statement will reaffirm the content of this sentence but will go beyond it by developing its thought in the context of a call to Christian growth in freedom from the controlling power of demons.
In Statement number 9 ("The Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ") we find a sentence that comes very close to one of the main thoughts of the pro posed new statement: "The resurrection of Christ proclaims God's triumph over the forces of evil, and for those who accept the atonement assures their final victory over sin and death." However, it does not clearly state the present freedom Christians enjoy from the enslaving power of demons and neither does it set God's triumph over the forces of evil within the context of a constant Christian growth in Christ.
B. Statements Addressing Character Development
The Statement on "The Holy Spirit" (number 5) establishes that, "He [the Holy Spirit] draws and convicts human beings; and those who respond He renews and transforms into the image of Cod." The sentence describes a fundamental biblical truth, but it does not develop the thought. In any case, it is not the purpose of that specific fundamental belief to deal with the phenomenon of Christian growth but to describe in a general way the work of the Holy Spirit not only in our sanctification but also in several other areas.
Concerning the "Experience of Salvation" (number 10) we read, "Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our minds, writes God's law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life. Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature." The sentence deals very briefly with Christian renewal and spiritual growth but it does not address the indispensable elements in that growth. That is not the primary purpose of that fundamental belief.
We read in the Statement on "Christian Behavior," (number 21), "For the Spirit to recreate in us the character of our Lord we involve ourselves only in those things which will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives." This sentence, like the previous ones, is quite general and does not include the importance of prayer, the study of the Word, meditation, and involvement in mission as God's instruments for character development. Neither this fundamental belief nor any of the others can be edited to include the concerns of the proposed new one without distracting from their primary purpose and making them excessively large and cumbersome. Our Fundamental Beliefs are usually short, dealing with a particular issue in a very concise form, summarizing a significant biblical teaching in a clear way. We should pre serve that format.
We may need a new statement that will bring together the main ideas expressed in the statements we quoted and that at the same time will put the emphasis on a daily walk with the Lord characterized by freedom from evil powers and on a devotional life characterized by prayer, Bible study, meditation on God's Word and His providence in our lives, and participation in the gospel commission. This new statement will sharpen the Adventist understand ing of the nature of a constant growth in Christ. This is indispensable at a time when some church members are more interested in theological discussion than in the spiritual impact of those doctrines in their daily lives.
V. Possible Content of the Proposed New Fundamental Belief
(to follow #10, "The Experience of Salvation")
Growing in Christ
By His cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil. He who subjugated the demonic spirits during His earthly ministry has broken their power and made certain their ultimate doom. Jesus' victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us, as we walk with Him in peace, joy, and assurance of His love. Instead of evil forces, the Holy Spirit now dwells with in us and empowers us. Committed to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we are set free from the burden of past deeds and our former life with its darkness, fear of evil powers, ignorance, and meaninglessness. In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of His character, as we commune with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His Word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the church. As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us sanctifies every moment and every task. (Ps 1:1-2; 23:4; Col. 1:13-14; 2:6, 14- 15; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:18; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Phil. 3:7-14; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Matt. 20:25-28; John 20:21; Gal. 5:22-25; 1 John 4:4; Eph. 5:19, 20; Heb. 10:25).
VI. Comments on the Statement
1. The proposed statement combines two inseparables facts of the Christian experience, namely, freedom from demonic powers through the death of Jesus, followed by empowerment through the Holy Spirit to grow in Christ. The reality of the first leads into the other.
2. The first two sentences establish the fact that throughout His ministry Christ was constantly confronting and subjugating evil spirits, but that it was at the cross that He defeated them once and for all. The second sentence recog nizes the reality of the existence of evil powers by referring to them as "evil spirits." That designation includes any of its particular expressions though occultism, spiritism, animism, and the spiritualism of the New Age.
3. The third sentence addresses our victory over those forces by grounding it in the previous victory of Jesus. The sentence implies that such victory is not limited to our personal struggles with sin but that it also includes the casting out of demons through the power of Jesus. Besides, the sentence expresses the thought that Christians can be victorious over evil powers in spite of the fact that the spirits constantly attempt to control or influence them. The implication is that we live in a world in which demons are still active.
4. The fourth sentence states that when the enslaving power of evil spirits is broken, the Holy Spirit comes and fills that spiritual vacuum enabling us to overcome them whenever they attempt to regain control over us. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit excludes the need for the role of the internal voice of spiritual guides in human experience, as taught, for instance, in the New Age movement.
5. Sentence number 5 prepares the way for the second main element in the statement. Once we enter into a covenant with Jesus, we are free from the "burden of past deeds." These include freedom from karma; from our sense of guilt, meaninglessness, and emptiness of life, and from the painful stigma of the past. This freedom brings true knowledge of salvation and dispels darkness and the ignorance that often led to superstitious beliefs.
6. Freedom from leads to freedom to. The sixth sentence attempts to define the indispensable elements in Christian growth. Instead of submission to demons and transcendental meditation, the Bible offers prayer, Bible study, and a meditation whose content is the Scripture and God's providential leadings in our lives. Besides, praising the Lord through singing, worship, and involvement in the mission of the church are considered indispensable in Christian growth. Participation in the mission of the church is not optional for those who are growing in Christ.
7. The Christian life is dynamic and does not require a constant withdrawal from the world and our daily activities. This is emphasized in the last sentence. Our loving service to others takes place in the workplace, the school, the street, the shopping centers, etc., as we take our Christian experience with us everywhere we go. Our awareness of the fact that God is always with us contributes and makes possible the sanctification of all we do according to His will. We should be constantly growing in Christ.