Do you have to believe all 28 Fundamental Beliefs in order to be an Adventist? This is a common question pastors are asked. If you were to talk to most Adventists, they would admit that there is at least one Fundamental Belief they are uncomfortable with. My response to this question has always been three-fold:
1. If you want to be considered an Adventist, who am I to tell you that you aren’t? If you find the Adventist church provides you meaningful worship, fellowship, and service experiences please stay.
2. Please don’t aggressively promote your views and try to win over “converts” to your position. I’m fine with you expressing your opinion in discussions and conversation with others but please do it in a respectful way knowing the tension it will bring.
3. The church believes in progressive revelation and someday what you believe might actually become doctrine.
With the recent vote to not allow divisions to decide on ordaining women, I now have a fourth response:
4. Even the General Conference in Session doesn’t believe all 28 Fundamental Beliefs.
Not ordaining a pastor, simply on the basis of their gender, is a clear violation of Fundamental Belief #14, “Unity in the Body of Christ.” This comes through clearly in the summary paragraph of the belief:
“The church is one body with many members, called from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one Fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation. Through the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures we share the same faith and hope, and reach out in one witness to all. This unity has its source in the oneness of the triune God, who has adopted us as His children.”
This paragraph summary clearly states that distinctions, including gender, should not be divisive among us and that all of us are “equal in Christ.” Not ordaining women is a glaring violation of this belief.
As we read the opening paragraphs of the belief, we find it reflecting on how Jesus agonized over the state of his disciples, worried that they were more concerned about positions of power than serving others. We read:
“Jesus is Love. It was His sympathy that kept the masses following Him. Not understanding this unselfish love, His disciples were filled with strong prejudices toward non-Jews, women, "sinners," and the poor, which blinded them to the all encompassing love of Christ even toward these detested ones. When the disciples found Him conversing with a Samaritan woman of ill-repute, they had not yet learned that the fields, ripe for harvest, include grain of all varieties, ready to be reaped.
But Christ could not be swayed by tradition, public opinion, or even family control. His irrepressible love reached down and restored broken humanity. Such love, which would set them apart from the careless public, would be the evidence of being true disciples. As He loved, they were to love. The world would forever be able to distinguish Christians—not because of their profession, but because of the revelation of Christ's love in them (cf. John 13;34, 35).”
The statement tells us that prejudice comes from not understanding God’s “unselfish love.” It challenges us by telling us that if we are true disciples of Jesus, we will love as he loves and break down the selfish barriers and prejudices we previously held.
Later, the belief reflects on the fact that we are united into “one body” by the Holy Spirit and states:
“Calling them from every nationality and race, the Holy Spirit baptizes people into one body—the body of Christ, the church. As they grow into Christ cultural differences are no longer divisive. The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers between high and low, rich and poor, male and female. Realizing that in God's sight they are all equal, they hold one another in esteem.”
The belief also reflects on how far this unity extends. Does it mean that it removes all diversity in the body of Christ? It states:
“God's church, then, ought to reveal a unity of feeling, thought, and action. Does this mean that members should have identical feelings, thoughts, and actions? Does Biblical unity imply uniformity?
Biblical unity does not mean uniformity. The Biblical metaphor of the human body demonstrates that the church's unity exists in diversity.”
At the General Conference Session, there was lots of talk about the importance of the Holy Spirit being part of our lives and church. This belief clearly states that when the Holy Spirit is present, all barriers, including gender are broken down. Also, all the talk and arguments against a “yes” vote for the sake of unity were misguided because the church teaches “unity in diversity.”
The concept of male headship is soon debunked as well when we read:
“So while there are different temperaments in the church, all work under one Head. While there are many gifts, there is but one Spirit. Though the gifts differ, there is harmonious action. "It is the same God who works all in all" (1 Cor. 12:6).”
This General Conference Session featured lots of talk about the importance of mission, and framed the discussion of ordination as a distraction. However, the belief states that central to being united for mission is the Spirit removing all prejudices from our hearts. It reads:
“As the Spirit enters believers, He causes them to transcend human prejudices of culture, race, sex, color, nationality, and status (see Gal. 3:26-28). He accomplishes this by bringing Christ within the heart. Those whom He inhabits will focus on Jesus, not themselves. Their union with Christ establishes the bond of unity among themselves—the fruit of the indwelling Spirit.
They will then minimize their differences and unite in mission to glorify Jesus.”
There is no doubt—the refusal to ordain anyone to pastoral ministry solely on the basis of gender is a clear violation of Fundamental Belief #14.
So, when even the highest governing body of the Adventist church itself doesn’t believe all 28 Fundamental Beliefs, I think it’s safe for individual members to remain in good and regular standing when they disagree with them as well.
As disappointing as the vote was at the General Conference Session, I’m thankful to know that even the General Conference in Session is willing to admit it doesn’t believe all 28 Fundamental Beliefs, just like the rest of us.
Trevan Osborn is an associate pastor at the Azure Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Grand Terrace, California.
Photo Credit: James Bokovoy/NAD