A Report on Africa Arise Conference & AU's Prayer Breakfast for African Heads of State (January 24-30, 2017). By Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD Just in case you miss the thrust of my report, this is what I want to say: “Success without a successor is failure. True leaders train others to succeed the...
|Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 7—Changes In Our Fundamental Beliefs||| Print ||
In my last report, I tried to explain why delegates to GC sessions must “read the fine prints” of proposals brought to the floor for discussion and vote. My basic point was that, delegates should read the fine print in the document files of GC Session Agenda Books because the changes suggested determine the health and direction of the Church.
That previous report was designed to be foundational to what I am about to present in this present report, as well as in the one that would follow this. For, in these follow-up reports, I will focus on some specific changes that were made in both our Fundamental Beliefs andChurch Manual, respectively, at the San Antonio GC Session.
I was hoping to conclude my GC Session Reports with this seventh report (a perfect number for Bible-believing Seventh-day Adventists). And, since for most Adventists, the major thing that happened at the 2015 General Conference in San Antonio was the rejection of women’s ordination (and the attempt by some pro-ordination Divisions and Unions to make that decision null and void), my original plan was that this Part 7 of the report would address how the world Church should move forward now that the women’s ordination issue is behind us.
But, alas, this is not going to be the last report! I have received several emails from readers around the world, asking relevant questions on some issues brought to the GC Session, and requesting that I address them as well. After some reflection, I felt I should heed their counsel.
Therefore, this seventh report will not be the final report. Before discussing the way forward on the women's ordination issue, I must first spill some ink on the fine-prints of changes that were made in both our Fundamental Beliefs and the Church Manual. For, whether we’re aware of it or not, some issues raised by these changes have a direct bearing on the women’s ordination motion which was later addressed on Wednesday, July 8,2015. Thus, starting with this present post, I will delve into the changes in the Fundamental Beliefs. The next post will focus on the Church Manual changes.
But before I start, permit me to express some much needed words of appreciation.
Appreciation. My first appreciation goes to all of you who’ve been reading my commentary and analyses of the 2015 GC Session. I have been pleasantly surprised and extremely encouraged by the positive responses to the reports. I really didn’t think there was a huge appetite for theological analyses of issues. You have proved me wrong! Besides Facebook comments and inbox messages, I have also received personal emails and phone calls from literally all over the world, expressing gratitude and support for my effort to inform and educate readers on the issues at the GC Session.
It is gratifying to know that there are still serious Seventh-day Adventists around the world who have little value for sound bites, ideological propaganda, and political spins or vacuous Administrative declarations which insult the intelligence of Church members. The responses to my GC Session reports confirm that, serious members of our Church want substance, not hot air; they crave for nutritious food, not some empty-caloried junk-food. It is for the sake of such members that I write—and will continue to do so.
I also want to offer a profuse “Thank you” to another group which has fired me to write. Although, prior to the San Antonio GC Session, this group did all they could to prevent me from speaking or from being heard on ideological issues being debated in the church, it is evident from their renewed attack that they also are voraciously reading my reports. I want to believe that these adversaries (and the anonymous individuals and political operatives they employ to do their bidding) are well-meaning—although they’re totally misguided and ill-informed. Since theirs is not a quest for truth, but an obsession with agenda (whether personal, ideological, political, or even racial), my response (especially during the past four years) has been to ignore them. As explained in one of my weekly thought-nuggets,
“A lion never loses sleep over the opinion of sheep” (A proverb). If you know who you are (identity) and what you’re called to do(purpose), you’ll not be deterred by the contrary opinions and actions of detractors. Such was Nehemiah. Not their scheming, pressure, lies, slander, or plots swayed him from his mission of building the broken walls. He emphatically told his adversaries: “I am doing a great work, … I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3). He stayed focused. Identity and purpose fuel determination and commitment. Ignore your foes and frenemies! Don’t be distracted or discouraged by their ill-opinions and actions. Stay on the wall—keep building—and refuse to comedown!
Dire as circumstances may at times be, ultimately, it is one’s sense of identity and purpose that determines what one does. In my case, part of that purpose includes tackling controversial issues that some would rather want to avoid. Thus, over the years, I have not shied away from publishing such apologetic books like Searching the Scriptures, Receiving the Word, Must We Be Silent, Here We Stand, and Not for Sale. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that shortly before the 2015 GC Session, I also published the book Courage. And now, after the GC session, I'm sharing my views on some of the issues raised during and after San Antonio. Both on the mountain-tops and in the deep valleys—both in apparent successes & failures—I have refused to be silenced or silent. And as long as the Lord gives me breath I will continue to do so. "We can do nothing against the truth but for the truth" (2 Corinthians 13:8).
On this wonderful note of appreciation to my friends, frenemies, and adversaries, I welcome you to Part 7 of my report on the 2015 GC Session in San Antonio. As mentioned earlier, in this present report, I will address the changes (or fine prints) made in our Fundamental Beliefs. The next report will focus on changes in our Church Manual. Together, these two (and the previous one) will provide a basis for my suggestion on how the Church should deal with the aftermath of the No vote to women’s ordination.
FINE PRINTS & CORE DOCUMENTS OF CHURCH
By way of a recap, I had argued in the last report (“Read the Fine Print”) that the core values that bind Seventh-day Adventists together are of two types. I refer to them as:
I mentioned that these two core-value documents have relative authority. Though they are all important, we may arrange them from the most important to the least, thus: the Bible, the writings of EGW, theFundamental Beliefs, the Church Manual, and the Constitution and Bylaws(Working Policy). If there should be conflicts, the core value higher on the continuum overrides the lower core value:
So, therefore, if there is any working policy somewhere around the world that is contrary to the Church Manual (the decision voted atGC Session), that working policy must be changed or brought into harmony with the Church Manual. Such is the case, as I will argue in a subsequent post, with the working policies of any Church entity that is at variance with the Church Manual.
Before looking at the specific changes that the San Antonio GC Session introduced into the Fundamental Beliefs, let me briefly describe each of the three documents listed under the “Derived Values of the Church.”
FUNDAMENTAL BELIEFS, CHURCH MANUAL, & WORKING POLICY
Besides the Bible and the writings of EGW or Spirit ofProphecy (both of which are form in our foundational core values, and which we discussed in the previous post), the next in importance are the Church’s Fundamental Beliefs, Church Manual, & the Working Policy (Constitution & Bylaws).
In terms of relative importance, the first among the “DerivedValues of the Church” is our Fundamental Beliefs, then Church Manual, and then the specific Working Policies (from the General Conference level, through the Divisions, Unions, Conferences, to local churches or congregations).
1. Fundamental Beliefs
These are a set of core Beliefs we have extracted from the Bible, and which we maintain constitute our uniqueness among other denominations and religions.The Fundamental Beliefs of the church constitute our collective understanding or interpretation of the Bible and the writings of EGW—the church’s two foundational documents. The Fundamental Beliefs, thus, provide us with the theology—hence the message and mission—of the Church.
If you want to know what the Church’s official position is on any doctrinal issue, and if you want to find out if our Church is remaining faithful to God’s Word and the writings of EGW, pay close attention to changes suggested in the Fundamental Beliefs during GC Sessions.
2. The Church Manual
This is the operational manual of the world Church. It draws out some logical inferences or implications from the Fundamental Beliefs and uses the principles derived to detail how SDAs do things. The Church Manual (or simply Manual) helps preserve consistency and order in the SDAChurch all over the world.
The Manual not only explains how a local church should conduct business, but also how it should relate to other churches, and how it fits into or relates to the Conference, Division, GC (i.e. the higher structures of world church within their field). Think of the Church Manual as the constitution of the Church. Every church member and entity of the Church must know what is permissible and impermissible in the Church.
Voted actions at GC sessions are captured in the Church Manual. Thus, the Manual is the ultimate working policy of the world Church. These policy items of the Manual reflect our collective understanding of the Bible and the writings of EGW on how things should be done anywhere in the Church.
For unity in the worldwide SDA Church family, all other working policies adopted in the different regions of the Church and at different levels of the Church structure (GC, Divisions, Unions, Conferences) must be in harmony with the Church Manual, the ultimate working policy of the world Church.
Therefore, if you want to know how folks are seeking to change the Church, you must also look carefully at the “fine prints” in the suggested changes in the Church Manual. TheChurch Manual is the ultimate working policy of the world Church.
3. Working Policy
This refers to the adaptation or application of the principles of the Church Manual (the standard working policy) to specific needs and operations at different levels of Church structure. Regional working policies are the voted actions at the respective regions or levels of the Church.
Ideally, no region’s or territory’s Working Policy should be in conflict with the Church Manualor actions voted at GC Sessions. If such contrary policies are voted in any region of the world, that action is unconstitutional. And following those regional policies would ultimately bring disunity in our beliefs and practices—which principles the world Church had embraced through voted decisions at GC sessions.
But it’s becoming clear that the Working Policy of someChurch entities—e.g., the GC, Division, and some Unions are going contrary to the voted actions in the Church Manual. This is the case with women’s ordination,where the GC Working Policy and that of some Divisions and Unions are incompatible with the Church Manual provisions that were voted by the entire world Church atGC sessions.
This explains why, immediately after the Wednesday, July 8 vote against women’s ordination, the NAD, SPD, The Dutch Union of Churches, and other pro-ordination Unions started arguing (ridiculously) that they intend to honor the GC session vote by continuing to follow GC Working Policy (policy decisions taken by GC Administrators outside of GC Session approval). They very well know (or should know) that GC Session actions override every other policy actions of their respective regions or levels of the Church.
Thus, the appeal to following previous “GC Working Policies” on the women’s ordination issue is actually their way of saying they have no serious intention of respecting the No vote, despite the lip-service they pay to the decision of the world Church. It’s almost like hearing an Orthodox Jew saying, “I promise to honor the Talmud (a cornerstone of Jewish faith and practice) by not eating any unclean meats proscribed in the Talmud, but I’ll do so by strictly eating ham and sausage produced by our contemporary Rabbis"!
At the risk of over-repeating myself, the point should be made clear again that, apart from our Foundational Documents (the Bible and the writings of EGW), and our collective understanding or interpretation of them (as contained in derived documents of our Fundamental Beliefs and Church Manual), all working policies that have been voted by Church Administrators must be in harmony with the “Derived Documents” of our core values. And if these policies are not,they should be rescinded or brought into harmony with theChurch Manual.
This is why on the opening day of the 2013 GC Session, delegates rightly insisted that theChurch Manual must clearly spell out that all working policies of the different levels of Church structure (Conference, Union, Division, GC) must all be in harmony with the principles contained in the Church Manual.
THE FUNDAMENTAL BELIEFS OF THE CHURCH
At the 2015 GC Session in San Antonio, there were some significant changes that were made in our Fundamental Beliefs. We shall briefly look at the major ones. But it’s important to, first, address the question about whether the Church really needs Fundamental Beliefs.
The answer is Yes. For the statements of beliefs are an ongoing effort by the world Church to succinctly describe the theological parameters of Adventist belief. The Fundamental Beliefs reflect the collective understanding or interpretation of the Bible on specific issues.
Thus over the years, depending on need, the Church developed different contents for our Fundamental Beliefs (each building on the other). In1980 these were captured and regrouped in 27 belief statements, and in 2005 an additional belief was made explicit, bringing our current Fundamental Beliefs to 28 articles of faith.
(For more on this, see my article “Do We Need a 28th Fundamental Belief? The Development of Our Statements of Doctrines” in Here We Stand (an 810-page volume I edited), pp. 101-121; the book is available for free download at: http://tinyurl.com/p4kp4d6)
Questions About Fundamental Beliefs
Throughout its history there have been those who have questioned the necessity of the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church adopting a set of doctrinal beliefs to which all members are to subscribe. Recent events in the SDA Church have re-opened the discussion of the necessity of statements of doctrine. Different sets of arguments are often advanced against the need or propriety of doctrinal statements of beliefs.
For example, since the 1980s architects of questionable church growth methods and worship styles have been urging the church to play down its distinctive doctrines so as to attract and retain the “unchurched” as well as the “bored, burned, and bypassed” members of the church. These architects tend to believe that the only doctrine the church needs is “love” or the “Gospel.” In their opinion, our current fundamental beliefs are too many, or that they are an unbearable load of restrictive doctrines.
Also, since 2004 when church leaders started discussing the idea of adopting a new statement of belief at the 2005 General Conference session in St. Louis, Missouri, there were fears that adding another belief statement to the earlier “27 Fundamental Beliefs” will set up a dangerous precedent for those within the church who are aggressively seeking to introduce unBiblical doctrines and practices into the church. Those who argue in this manner tend not to see a need for any new belief statements or even a revision of the established body of beliefs. To do so, in their opinion, could result in a shift or move away from the “landmarks” established by the Adventist pioneers.
Another opposition to statements of beliefs comes from self-styled “freethinkers” or “progressives” who seek to “adventure into new truths” such as evolution, homosexuality, unBiblical divorce and remarriage,and the ordination of women as elders and pastors. In their view, GeneralConference session decisions on doctrinal issues constitute the creation of a“creed,” a restrictive body of dogma that could be used to persecute freethinking or even spirit-filled dissenters who are committed to “present truth” (an expression they hijack to refer to their unBiblical ideologies). To such, the adoption of statements of beliefs (believed to be “creeds”) is contrary to the views of the Adventist pioneers and the moving of the Spirit.
Still, others argue that we don’t need Fundamental Beliefs,and even if we do, the current number is too much. As they are accustomed to arguing, the Church should move away from “doctrines” and rather be emphasizing the “Gospel.” As they see it, doctrines are too restrictive, but the Gospel is liberating. (This may help explain why at some previous GC sessions, an attempt was made to remove from the Manual the need for the 13 baptismal vows which were derived on the Fundamental Beliefs. When they didn’t succeed, the world Church settled fora compromise—namely, to place along side the full baptismal vows of 13questions an “Alternative Vow” consisting of just 3 “abridged” questions).
But as I have shown in my Here We Stand, pp. 101-121, none of the above reasons for opposing doctrines is entirely new. Our SDA pioneers faced similar opposition to the need for Fundamental Beliefs. But they were led to adopt Statements of Beliefs for several reasons. The notable ones include the need to:
(1) describe themselves to outsiders, (2) refute or correct some teachings of “false brethren,” (3) clear themselves of false charges, (4) expose errors in nominal churches, (5) address relevant issues upon which unanimity had been attained, and (6) use the correct terminology to articulate their understanding of Biblical teaching so that they can be understood by their contemporaries (HereWe Stand, p. 115).
And as I have shown in the same cited work, the various statements of beliefs between 1850 and 1980 varied in form, scope, emphases,and tone. Certain statements were reworded, rearranged, amplified, and new doctrines were added, suggesting that Adventists have never considered their belief statements unalterable. And because they have never regarded their statements of belief as rigid documents that couldn’t be changed, the number ofFundamental Beliefs has been immaterial. Over the years the number has varied from 1, 2, 5, 22, 25, 27, or 31. Presently we have 28 articles of faith.
What is equally important to notice is that none of the different doctrinal statements pretended to be comprehensive of all Scriptural teaching. They were merely consensus statements regarding the common understanding of Biblical truth up till the time.
Indeed, the Bible is very clear that the church should hold certain doctrinal truths, “a common faith” (Titus 1:4; 2 Peter 1:1), “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3, KJV). In order to preserve the “unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13), the apostles urged believers to uphold sound teaching (1Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:13) and counteract false teaching and false teachers (1 Timothy 1:3; 4:1, 6; Titus 1:9-11). They occasionally exposed the false teachings of certain individuals (1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy2:17; 4:19; cf. Philippians 4:2-3).
Even John, the apostle of love, and Jude, possibly the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, also found it necessary to call attention to those who were departing from the teachings of the apostles (3 John 9-10;Jude). The Christians in Berea were commended for constantly subjecting the teachings of the apostle Paul to the scrutiny of Scripture (Acts 17:11).
We need Fundamental Beliefs. But because human documents are not perfect, there’s need to revise them from time to time.
In the SDA Church, only delegates to GC sessions can modify our Fundamental Beliefs. But when they do, their suggestions must be consistent with Biblical teaching (as informed by the writings of EGW). They must, in addition, ensure that the wording in the changes is not so ambiguous as to allow error to slip in. Even an innocuous comma can make a difference.
With this background, let’s look at the revisions in our current Fundamental Beliefs that were voted at the San Antonio GC Session. We’ll look at the “fine prints” to determine to health and direction of the Church.
CHANGES MADE IN THE FUNDAMENTAL BELIEFS
There were two major kinds of changes that were made in theFundamental Beliefs of the Church: (i) Minor Revisions and (ii) Significant Revisions.
1. Minor Revisions
The minor changes included the Bible texts associated with each of the current 28 Fundamental Beliefs. These were re-arranged chronologically in the order of the Bible books. These did not involve the content.
Other revisions were minor semantic efforts to clarify the original. These were effected to find abetter or smoother language or sentence structure. In other instances, the minor changes included language that would make it easier to translate into other languages. Most of the revisions in the Church Manual fell into these categories. Thus, for example:
Another kind of minor revision was to make EXPLICIT what was already implied—and which has been the church’s position all along. For example,
In Fundamental Belief #9 (The Life,Death, and Resurrection of Christ), the term “bodily” was added in front of “resurrected,” so that we have: “The BODILY 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.”
It was necessary to insert this word (“bodily”) because some of our scholars or theologians (those who have embraced higher criticism in biblical interpretation) were questioning the fact that Jesus physically resurrected. Although the Bible clearly teaches this fact, it is rejected by some theologians who don’t acknowledge the historicity of the biblical account. Inserting the word “bodily” leaves no room for anyone to doubt what the SDA Church has always believed and taught.
In the same vein (i.e., in order not to leave room for alternative interpretation, a word was replaced in Fundamental Belief #24 (Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary), so that the phrase “His intercessory ministry, which was symbolized by the work of the high priest …” was revised by replacing the word “symbolized” with “TYPIFIED.”
The original word “symbolized” (and its variants, e.g.,“symbols”) are too broad and therefore subject to re-interpretation. The change employed the biblical language of “type” versus “antitype” to emphasize in what way the high priest of old symbolized/typified Christ’s ministry in Heaven.
Again, to make explicit what we’ve always believed, in Fundamental Belief #11 (Growing in Christ), one new sentence was inserted to emphasize our obligation to minister to the needs of others. It is the sentence: “We are also called to follow Christ’s example by compassionately ministering to the physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of humanity.” This is something we’ve always believed and taught.The change in this Fundamental Belief only makes it explicit.
Similarly, Fundamental Belief #21 (Stewardship) offered a gender neutral revision to make it clear that all of us (male and female) are invited to be faithful stewards. Thus the “men” was replaced with “fellow human beings.” This replacement include both genders to emphasize that both men and women are to be “stewards”—not just men.
2. Significant Revisions
Though most of the changes in the Church Manual were minor,there were some very significant changes. Often these have to do with some hotly contested contemporary issues, for which the Church has to take a stand.I would list the main ones:
Fundamental Belief#1: Holy Scriptures. Two changes were suggested. The first is a change of one word. Delegates changed the descriptive phrase for the Scriptures from “Authoritative revealer of doctrines” to “DEFINITIVE revealer of doctrines.” So that it now reads:
“The Holy Scriptures are the final, authoritative, and the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the DEFINITIVE revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history.”
[NOTE: that the word “authoritative” which was replaced in the second sentence is still retained in the first sentence. So the change reinforces what we had always believed]
The second change was more controversial and evoked a lot of concerns. The original wording was:
“The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration THROUGH HOLY MEN OF GOD who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to MAN the knowledge necessary for salvation.”
Now the change suggested in San Antonio removed the references to “men”/”man,” making it gender-neutral:
“The Holy Scriptures, Old and NewTestaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration. THE INSPIRED AUTHORS spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In thisWord, God has committed to HUMANITY the knowledge necessary for salvation.”
The reason this change generated considerable discussion was not because delegates doubted that the Bible was given to all of “humanity” (i.e., male and female), but rather because some delegates saw the revision in changing “holy men of God” to“inspired authors” as another attempt to push the feminist agenda which undergirds the push for women’s ordination. They feared that very soon some will be saying that the Bible, as we have it today, cannot be trusted since it is written by males.
Their fears cannot be lightly dismissed. As explained in the last report, at the 1995 GC session, a subtle move to promote “women elders,”the Church Manual was revised to make the qualities of elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-5 gender-neutral. At the time of the change, many didn’t realize that, it was to set the stage for a future move by pro-ordinationists to argue that “The Church Manual doesn’t say an elder must be a male.” It later became evident that the gender-neutral revision was to prepare the grounds to slip into the Church Manual the policy that GC ExecutiveCommittee had voted at an Annual Council in 1975, 1984, 1989 to have “women elders.”
Note that “women elders” was never voted by a GC Session. It was a political move by Church leaders (mostly in the Global North countries—North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand) who were influenced by pro-ordination activists. The gender-neutral revision of the qualities of elders became a back-door through which they tried to slip “women elders” into the Church Manual—without using that phrase, and without risking an explicit No vote at a GC Session.
Given this background, you can, perhaps, understand how the vote on women’s ordination which was to take place on Wednesday was already being debated on Monday in the revision of Fundamental Belief #1. “Wednesday”was the lens through which folks viewed business session decisions on changes in the Church Manual.
Having been bitten once, delegates (especially, those from the Global South—countries of Africa, South & Inter-America, Asia, and thePacific Islands) were wary about a shrewd attempt by delegates from the Global North(the industrialized countries of North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand) to make the Bible writers themselves gender-neutral.
Could the gender neutral revision in Fundamental Belief #1from “holy men of God…” to “inspired authors” be another way to promote the views from higher criticism that there were “women authors” of the Bible, and that we cannot trust the biblical evidence that it was inspired “men” who wrote the Bible?
Already, some pro-ordination Adventist scholars and leaders are claiming that there were “women priests,” “women apostles,” and “women pastors/elders”—claims that are simply not there. (See a rebuttal of this speculative and fanciful interpretation in my MUST WE BE SILENT pp. 231-249,available as a free PDF online: http://tinyurl.com/op8rypj).
As far as evidence from the Bible and EGW is concerned all the Bible writers were inspired “men.” So why should we change “men” because of political correctness? Delegates had every right to question the legitimacy of that gender-neutral revision of the Church Manual.
As far as we know, there’s not a single woman listed as aBible writer. Yes, there were female Bible prophets whose messages are contained in the Bible (Miriam, Deborah, Anna, etc.). But nowhere does the Bible say any of them wrote the Bible.
Besides the attempt at gender-neutralization (by taking out“holy men of God who spoke and wrote), the most troubling change was the new word that was inserted. The suggested change introduced the phrase, “THE INSPIRED AUTHORS spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” Why was the insertion of “authors” a problem?
Historically, we have understood that the Bible writers were not the “Authors” of Scripture. God was the ultimate Author, and the human beings were God’s pen-men. Thus, it’s more accurate to refer to them as“inspired WRITERS,” not “inspired AUTHORS.”
In fact, EGW consistently refers to GOD as the Author ofScripture and the human agents as “inspired writer.” To the best of my knowledge, nowhere does she refer to the Bible writers as inspired “authors.”That description belongs to God alone.
If the Church were allowed to stand, it would implicitly putFundamental Belief #1 at odds with the writings of EGW. A good reason why that particular change ought to have been rejected. Unfortunately, the delegates couldn’t succeed in voting down this change to “inspired AUTHORS.”
NOTE: Because of the serious theological implications of using “inspired authors,” some delegates had planned to revisit the issue again on the last business day on Friday (July 11). Unfortunately, because of the covert deception that prevented many delegates to be there on that Friday afternoon,this correction wasn’t made. So, unfortunately, the new Manual that will come out will have “inspired AUTHORS”—unless the Executive Committee recommends that, because of the Friday afternoon “coup d’etat” preventing delegates from attending the business session, we should retain the original wording (“The Holy Scriptures … are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration THROUGH HOLY MEN OF GOD”) until the next GC Session takes up the issue definitively.
Fundamental Belief#4: The Son. Another word that tripped some delegates was in the vigorous debate over Jesus Christ. FundamentalBelief #4 on “The Son” had originally stated that “Jesus became truly MAN.”
But in the suggested change, the word was changed to“HUMAN.” So that the relevant sentence read: “Forever truly God, He became also truly HUMAN, Jesus the Christ.”
The Church Manual writing committee explained their rationale, saying that, at his incarnation,Jesus didn’t just come to identify with the male gender, but with all mankind —the human race. Despite some initial opposition, the delegates eventually approved the revision that used “HUMAN” instead of “man.”
They did so because Fundamental Belief #4 does not remove masculine (male) pronoun for Jesus. In fact it stated: “HE suffered and died voluntarily on the cross for our sins and in our place, was raised from the dead, and ascended to HEAVEN to minister in the heavenly sanctuary in our behalf. HE will come again in glory…” So nothing has changed—even though some delegates were initially suspicious of the gender-neutral changes.
NOTE: The word “heaven” was inserted in the original statement to make very explicit that Jesus is in literal heaven. This is also against those scholars who were questioning the church’s long-held belief in the ministry of Christ in “the heavenly sanctuary.”
Fundamental Belief #6(Creation) and #8 (The Great Controversy). Of the many changes in the Fundamental Beliefs, these two generated some of the fiercest firestorms. The vigorous debate over the changes in FundamentalBeliefs #6 and #8 were occasioned by the fact that some Adventist scholars now:
In the opinion of those pushing these new views of Creation,the traditional Seventh-day Adventist view is not based on a correct understanding of the Bible, but rather on nineteenth-century church tradition,cultural influence, and the writings of Ellen G. White.
The supposedly “correct” understanding of Scripture is the one presented by the methodology of higher criticism (the historical-critical method). This liberal methodology has left many students in our institutions confused. It has produced a generation of preachers, Bible teachers, church leaders, editors, and publishers who are unsure of or who seek to reinterpret some of our historic beliefs and practices. It has also shipwrecked the faith of many youth and new believers, whether they be in Seventh-day Adventist classrooms or churches.
In 2001, in response to questions being raised by some within our ranks about the Seventh-day Adventist teaching on Creation, theGeneral Conference Executive Committee at an Annual Council authorized a three-year series of “Faith and Science” conferences. The Study concluded with an “Affirmation of Creation” report that was later presented approved at the2005 GC Session. A recommendation was then made in 2010 that the relevant sections of our FundamentalBeliefs should be revised to incorporate the Church’s longstanding understanding that eschewed naturalistic evolution.
At the 2015 GC session the proposed changes in theFundamental Beliefs were brought for discussion and vote. Among other things, in our Creation statement (Fundamental Belief #6) there was a change in the original “In six days the Lord made…” to “God is the Creator of all things…His creative work, performed and completed in six LITERAL days that together with the Sabbath CONSTITUTED THE SAME UNIT OF TIME THAT WE CALL A WEEK TODAY.” Another change also talked about the creation being “A RECENT SIX-DAY CREATION.”
This revision on Creation was carefully and purposefully drafted, being more specific with regard to time periods, to avoid leaving room for any reinterpretation of our Fundamental Belief #6 along the lines of evolutionary chronology.
Similarly the revision on The Great Controversy (Fundamental Belief #8) changed the term“worldwide flood” to “GLOBAL flood.” Originally, a sentence in the Statement talked about how, as a consequence of sin, there was a “disordering of the created world, and its eventual devastation at the time of the worldwide flood.” The intent of that statement was to convey the biblical teaching that the flood covered the entire world.
The substitution of the word “global” in place of “worldwide” to describe the flood arose because there are some Church scholars who are teaching that the flood in Noah’s day was a “localized” flood, but which their worldview made him think it was universal. For example, if I say, "my wife is the best cook in the whole wide world," it is an exaggerated statement that simply means, "as far as I'm concerned, of all the women I know, my wife is the best cook."
Now, since some within our ranks were re-interpreting the word “worldwide” (in "worldwide flood") to mean “the then known world” or "the world known by the people in Noah's day," it couldn't have referred to the entire planet earth. "Worldwide flood" could be the flood that covered their village or areas they knew. Thus, to some of our scholars, "worldwide flood" is an elastic phrase that could allow them to continue questioning a universal catastrophy. To them "worldwide flood" portrayed a large regional flood. To put an end to this kind of reinterpretation of Fundamental Belief #8, the 2015 GC session changed the word to "worldwide" to “global.”
I believe the changes made in Fundamental Beliefs #6 and #8 are very helpful, although I’d have wished we didn’t have to insert the word “recent” in the phrase “in a RECENT six day creation…” How recent is recent? Is it 6,000 years, 10,000 years, 50,000 years, etc. As I see it, "recent" doesn't really address the question, and as such it can be a distraction.
In all, though, the suggested changes will leave no doubt in anyone’s mind on the Church’s view on naturalistic evolution. The revised statement voted by this session makes it clear that God created life in six actual days, and with the addition of the Sabbath, it was a week as we know it today. The changes also emphasized the historicity of the events recorded in Genesis 1-11, which events some of our scholars are doubting.
Fundamental Belief#18 (The Gift of Prophecy)
Some changes were made to remove a potential ambiguity that could lead some to think that the writings of EGW are comparable to the Bible.The original wording was:
"One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and it was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested."
The suggested change now reads:
"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. HER WRITINGS SPEAK WITH PROPHETIC AUTHORITY AND PROVIDE 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."
These changes emphasized that EGW’s prophetic authority is subject to the Scriptures. The new wording of this statement does not in anyway diminish the church’s understanding of the authority of the Bible or the prophetic role of White.
In the course of the discussion, one of the delegates raised a question which was not addresed. He asked if belief in the writings of EGW is a test of faith. In other words, can one be a Seventh-day Adventist when one does not accept EGW as a recipient of the prophetic gift.
As I see it, the fact that we have a Fundamental Belief #18, acceptance of EGW is (or ought to remain) a test of faith. If members are not clear, they should be taught and encouraged to study her writings for themselves. At the very least, we should expect our leaders (at the various levels of the Church or its institutions) to embrace the writings of EGW as providing an authoritative guidance for the Church.
In other words, even if belief in the writings of EGW is not "a test of membership," it must be "a test of leadership."
Fundamental Belief#23 (Marriage and the Family). Originally, part of Fundamental Belief #23included the term “partners.” Thus, we had:
“For the Christian a marriage commitment is to God as well as to the spouse, and should be entered into only between PARTNERS who share a common faith…Although some family relationships may fall short of the ideal, marriage PARTNERS who fully commit themselves to each other in Christ…”
At the 2013 GC Session, the term “partners” was changed to“A MAN AND A WOMAN.”
“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 who share a common faith…Although some family relationships may fall short of the ideal, A MAN AND A WOMAN who fully commit themselves to each other in Christ THROUGH MARRIAGE…”
The change is warranted because the meaning of the word“partners” with reference to marriage has changed in social usage to indicate a commitment to either same sex or opposite sex marriages. The editorial change signals that the church intends to remain true to the Biblical concept of marriage in spite of changes in contemporary culture.
Another welcome change that was made in Fundamental Belief#23 was making it clear that marriage as symbol of the family of God includes both singles and the married. To do so, a phrase (“embraces both single and married persons”) was inserted in the original document to acknowledge that single church members are par of the family of God and are as valuable to the church as married couples
Finally, instead of the word “disciplinarian,” it was changed to “Christ is a loving, tender, and caring guide.” Thus,
"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, who wants them to become members of His body, the family of God WHICH EMBRACES BOTH SINGLE AND MARRIED …"
The health and the direction of the Seventh-day AdventistChurch can be measured by looking at the changes that were voted in its Fundamental Beliefs—which is the framework of our theology and mission. On the whole, the Church stayed course by not compromising any of its longstanding biblical positions.
Does it mean that the document is perfect? Absolutely not! Nothing human is perfect. And the Fundamental Beliefs will continue to be revised to make things much clearer.
For example, as I mentioned earlier, I believe the insertion of the word "recent" to describe how long ago God created the world is a distraction. We could have found a better way of stating clearly that we don't believe the world to have been created millions of years ago.
Also, I still take strong exceptions to describing the Bible writers as “authors” (a word that we should reserve for God when it comes to the Holy Scriptures). Given the serious implications, and given the fact that delegates who saw the problem and were intent on doing so couldn’t do it because of theFriday afternoon “coup d’etat,” I really pray that the GC Executive Committee would consider keeping the original version—until the issue is revisited by the full house at a later GC session. Having said this, San Antonio was a triumph of the Bible-based positions of the Church.
Having said, this, I must say that the vigorous nature of the debate at the Session indicates that delegates were alert to the issues and took their task seriously. This is a good sign for the health of the Church. Also, the fact that there were concerns in some of the gender-neutral revisions equally suggests that though the Wednesday vote on women’s ordination had not yet taken place, delegates were fully alert to that subject. Finally, establishing the principles of the Bible, underscored by the writings of Ellen G. White, as the grounds for discussion sent a strong message that the world Church intends to be faithful to the Lord.
Now that we've seen the changes in the Fundamental Beliefs, we can now move on to discuss the “fine prints” in changes in our Church Manual. How would changes in the Manual speak to the issue of women’s ordination—the BIG issue that seem to lurk behind all discussions? To this, we shall turn our attention in the next post. Hopefully, that discussion (together with the previous ones on "fine prints") will provide guidelines on what to do in the aftermath of the world Church’s No vote on women’s ordination.
“REVISIONS IN THE CHURCH MANUAL”—Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 8
1. “At the GC Session:Why?”—Dr.Pipim's GC Session Report—Part 1
2. “Reflection On The FirstWeek—Dr. Pipim's GC Session Report—Part 2:
3. “Wednesday Was AlreadyPresent”—Dr. Pipim's GC Session Report—Part 3
4. “Something HasChanged”—Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 4
5. “I Will Not BeSilent”—Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 5
6. “Read the Fine Print”—Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 6
7. “Changes In Our FundamentalBeliefs”—Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 7
NOTE: The Seventh-day Adventist Church has for the fourth time rejected the ordination of women at a General Conference Session. From the GC session in days of our early pioneers, including EGW (1881) till recent times (GC sessions in 1990, 1995, and 2015), the Church has refused to approve women's ordination. But do you know the biblical and theological basis for the church’s longstanding position? Do you know why the Church can argue for the active participation of women in ministry and yet not encourage ordaining them? COURAGE provides you with the answers. It is arguably the clearest and most engaging work in the Church on the subject. Be informed of the facts, so you can give an intelligent answer to those who ask you. COURAGE is available as:
1. A FREE PDF download: