“Not because I believe too little, but because I believe too much in the Creator God, the One of whom it is written “In the beginning was the Word,” I cannot consent to the proposed editorializing of the Holy Scriptures in the Fundamental Belief #6. If the motion passes, I will remain a believer, but sadly I will no longer be considered an Adventist. Have mercy and do not sacrifice your fellow believers at the altar of interpretation. Do not exile Christ and His Little Ones from the Church!”
The proposed amendment to Fundamental belief #1 states: “The Holy Scriptures are the final, authoritative and infallible revelation of His will.” Are we of so little faith? Are we so quickly fallen away that a few short paragraphs later we are ready to take what amounts to a vote of no confidence in the very Scriptures we have not a moment ago affirmed? When searching for the right words with which to express our belief in “the Word through whom all things are made,” Adventists have historically turned with simple faith and childlike trust to the words of the Bible and merely affirmed that “In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11). Can I still be an Adventist if I just want to say in 2015, as I did on the day of my baptism, “It was good for Father Abraham and it’s good enough for me” and let the matter rest without further equivocation? Or will I be asked to recant my faith or face excommunication?
Although it is true that the Fundamental Beliefs do more than merely quote Scripture, when Scripture is quoted this should be done with courage and conviction and without the impulse to insert words (“recent, historical, literal, same unit of time that we call a week today”) which can nowhere be found in the original text. The new wording muddies the waters between the quotation and interpretation of Scripture with a result that should sound false in Adventist ears. The attempt to lock down the Creation account given in Scripture to a specific interpretation betrays a deep anxiety, lack of faith and paranoia that has somehow crept into the church. At the same time it is the height of human arrogance, in which we elevate our reason and logic above God’s perfect revelation. It’s like we are saying: “God I know you said this, but I am sure you meant to say that. Your vocabulary seems a little limited, so let me offer my assistance by making your meaning plain.” By adding words on top of words, it is like we are stacking brick on top of brick to build Babel once more. We are trying to build a tower to reach up to heaven and make a name for ourselves, and if we do this God will see, come down and confuse our language and plunge us into endless debate and confusion over which words to include and which to omit and what exactly the meaning of each word is, until the Word Himself will no longer be heard.
Whenever I consider a proposed amendment to the Fundamental Beliefs I think back to my 11-year-old self on the day of my baptism and the vows I took that day. I then ask myself whether I could do the same again today if the amendment were to be accepted. Regarding belief in the Creator God, the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” made perfect sense to me at age 11. These simple words are so easy to understand that they suffer even little children to come unto Him, and yet so profound that we may never tire of contemplating their full significance. As I look back over my life since my baptism I can say with confidence that whatever I have learned since, whatever questions I have asked, whatever doubts may have assailed me, my confidence in the Bible’s account of Creation remains unshaken. My belief in the Creator God is sufficient for me for time and all eternity. It allows me now to know in part, and also to look forward to the Day when I will know more fully. The Day when all things will be made new. I cannot say the same for proposed wording that seeks to lock everyone into a particular, human interpretation of Scripture, thereby shutting down conversation and precluding a growth in grace and understanding.
The early Seventh-day Adventist Church, quite rightly, was deeply suspicious of writing down a creed. If we now engage in something akin to this, as a matter of practicality, and under the continual guidance of the Holy Spirit, we should always act prayerfully, in deep humility and self-doubt. We should be fully aware of the hazardous road on which we tread. Our intention should be one of inclusion and of leading others to Christ, rather than placing obstacles in their path. The simpler and more faithful to Scripture our statements of faith are, the more they will bind us together in unity and carve out a space in which all God’s children can worship together. The more we add and the narrower we make our definitions the more we sow doubt, discord and division. All Adventists, young or old, liberal or conservative, doubting or believing, struggling or victorious, can affirm that: “In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.” It was so before San Antonio 2015, and by the grace of God it must continue to be so evermore.
Monique Viljoen-Platts, a lifelong member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, studied Theology at Helderberg College and served as a pastor in the Southern Africa Union Conference for five years. Though she maintains interest in theology and church governance, she is not currently employed by the church, and she notes that her perspective is that of a lay member.