On Tuesday afternoon it was announced the General Conference Steering Committee was inserting a new agenda item relating to creation. What came to the floor Wednesday morning was a two part motion. The first part reaffirmed the 2004 statement on creation that had previously been approved by the Executive committee. The second part was to initiate the process of integrating the 2004 statement with current fundamental belief number six which describes our theology of creation. The ultimate goal has always been to add specificity to fundamental belief number six with respect to six literal, contiguous 24 hour days and a short earth chronology.
Early, in the one-sided floor discussion there was a surprise motion by Gordon Beitz, the president of Southern University to split the original motion into two separate motions with the first motion to affirm the 2004 document on creation and the second to start the process of modifying fundamental belief six. He finished by stating that he was fully support of the first part and had concerns on the second. This motion passed and the discussion continued with every speaker expressing support of both parts. The first part passed overwhelmingly, after 15 minutes of further discussion, predictably the second passed.
I am afraid that our church is beginning the process of using a sledge hammer to pound a thumb tack. We are trying to protect ourselves and our children from a very real threat of creeping secularism. This whole process was initiated to specifically deal with the controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution in the La Sierra University Biology Department and by extension, other Adventist universities where this is or may become an issue. Based on a number of conversations, the La Sierra board is actively and forcefully addressing this issue with or without these resolutions.
I feel a need to preface this section with a disclaimer. I am a believer. I accept the six literal contiguous 24 hours days and short earth chronology. I have made this decision as an act of faith, knowing there is scientific evidence that conflicts with the Scriptural account.
While I understand the desire, perhaps even the need, to take action to protect our church and our children from creeping secularism, I am not sure expanding the fundamental belief will result in the desired outcome. Scripturally, I am not sure we can find a place where increasing or expanding doctrine or dogma has resulted in drawing believers closer to God or even improving understanding. Jesus spent much of his teaching ministry undoing expanded doctrine and dogma that was at one time instituted to protect truth, faith, and the church. This is a church that has historically resisted structure and organization, feeling that scripture was primary. We survived, even thrived for many years without an official statement of fundamental beliefs or a church manual. As the church grew it became clear that we needed both of these documents but initially, we maintained a position that less was more. This idea seems to have evaporated.
Watching the reaction to the vote has left me feeling uneasy. There seems to be a sense of delight, perhaps glee that the vote went the “right way“. The first question I wish to ask if I dared is, what if the vote on either of the two motions had gone the other way, would it have still been a good day? I would contend the answer would have to be "yes," since we believe the Holy Spirit moves through the body of the GC in session.
The more troubling question I struggle with is what exactly what role the 28 fundamental beliefs ought to play in the life of individual church members. There seems to be a real sense that if a member does not fully embrace the most strict, literal understanding of the creation story, he or she is not a real Adventist. I have heard some suggest those members should really go find another church. This seems to be in such stark contrast with how Ellen White dealt with leaders like Kellogg, Waggoner and Jones. As their theology, preaching and teaching became more and more aberrant, she wrote passionate heartfelt letters of warning and encouragement. She did not find it necessary to “improve” doctrine as a method of dealing with them. She left it in the hands of God to separate the wheat and tares.
We need doctrine, we need a church manual, we need to stay consistent in making Scripture primary. We need to be very careful we do not water down our beliefs. We also need to be faithful in allowing members to work out their salvation with God - to continue to struggle with and develop their individual relationship with God. As Jesus did with the woman accused of adultery we need to have grace and allow believers to grow inside the church rather than expecting or allowing only fully vetted members into our Adventist family.
Steve Moran works in Silicon Valley. He is the head elder of his church and a member of the Central California Conference Executive Committee.
Photo: Josef Kissinger/ANN