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Is Doctrine Good for Adventism?


Buddhism has Four Noble Truths, Islam has Five Pillars of Faith, non-denominational Christianity has ten commandments, and we have twenty-eight beliefs that define us. The Seventh Day Adventist church is drowning in controversy surrounding evolution, ordination of women, and apathy of the youth. These major issues in the church point to a disagreement over doctrine.

It may seem like many of the current Adventist issues could be contention over lifestyle, but even the feuding leaders of the church could agree that there is no such thing as a perfect congregation and that persons from every culture should be accepted as a child of God, despite their level of congruence with doctrine.

As a student at La Sierra University, I have witnessed first hand the effects of these doctrinal debates: conference leaders turn away students wishing to sing and teachers are fired on a whim. At my work, I listen to alumni refusing donation renewal on the basis of La Sierra teaching evolution or having a female pastor,. Many have forgotten that doctrine was made to unite us. Ellen White wrote in Gospel Workers, “If the pillars of our faith will not stand the test of investigation, it is time that we knew it; for it is foolish to become set in our ideas, and think that no one should interfere with our opinions.”[1] If doctrine is what is dividing the church, it needs to be re-thought.

I began to wonder what affect doctrine has on Adventist thought and I came to two realizations: 1). It creates a lack of faith in God – our faith has been placed in the letter of the law 2). Doctrine creates an atmosphere of legalism and the need to author new doctrine each time an issue emerges.

Having a doctrine for every aspect of life such as doctrine twenty-two, Marriage and the Family, is a testament of lack in faith that God alone can instill internal change. Like a doctor’s prescription, the fundamental beliefs stipulate a way of life rather than share the beliefs of a people.

As Romans points out, law is a reflection of God’s character, but it can only be fulfilled through love. Romans 10:4 says, “For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.”[2] Adventists need to have faith that when someone comes to Christ, they are a new creation and He alone can mold them.

In Seventh-day Adventists Believe… there is a section that describes the fallacies of Roman Catholic doctrine by accusing them of assuming the sole right to interpret the Bible. “The church, not the Bible, became the final authority,” the author criticizes.[3] Yet, how familiar this seems to be in the current climate of our church.  The debate over creation at La Sierra University is causing a schism in the church body and the argument is based on doctrine six, Creation.

Doctrine thirteen, Unity in the Body of Christ, states, “The church is one body with many members called from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people… and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us.”[4]Now, the question of which doctrine takes precedence comes into play.

E. Brian Davis, a professor at King’s College in London, wrote a book titled, “Why Beliefs Matter.” He places religious beliefs on a continuum with four benchmarks. On one end, there is religion that lacks any type of ritual and on the other, lies religious fundamentalism. Davis defines fundamentalism as a religious tradition that claims to contain the whole truth and any beliefs that contradict that truth are wrong.[5]

Some fellow church members are fundamentalists and have become like the Roman Catholicism criticized in our own doctrine. They have focused so much on being Adventist, they have forgotten to be Christian.

On, there is a prelude to a list of the doctrine which states, “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.”[6] This means that when the church is ready, the doctrine may be changed.

My solution would be to get rid of doctrine altogether. We don’t need it.

Clarification came while I was thumbing through a recruitment pamphlet for the school and read a small section that asks, “BTW, what is SDA?” The answer is the entire church belief system summarized in these five points:

You may have noticed that we [Adventists]:

1.     Believe in the Bible as the inspired word of God

2.     Trust in Jesus Christ as our savior

3.     Worship on Saturdays

4.     Emphasize healthy living

5.     Are committed to serving others worldwide[7]

If a church member trusts in the words of the Bible, believes that Jesus came to the Earth to save them, celebrates that the Sabbath is Holy,  understands that healthy living is good living, and realizes that serving others is necessary, then all the doctrines can be replaced with faith that the above five statements are enough for a personal relationship with the Creator. Instead of rushing to write a new doctrine each time something new is discovered, rush instead to pray for more guidance and direction in our own lives.

—Ruthie Heavrin is a senior at La Sierra University studying Literature and Writing. Heavrin is currently the executive officer for the social committee in the student government and has also served as a student missionary in Honduras. When she isn’t deep in thought about God and the church, she enjoys feeding her pet chickens and working in her vegetable garden.

[1] White, Ellen G. 1892 Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers. Nampa: Pacific Press Publishing Company, 2003– Pg. 192

[2] Romans 10:4 New Living Translation

[3] Seventh-day Adventists Believe, 2005 – Pg. 159

[4] Ibed. – Pg. 170

[5]  Davis, Brian. E. 2010 Why Beliefs Matter:Reflections on the Nature of Science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010 – Pg. 191

[6] “Fundamental Beliefs” , 2012

[7] “Spiritual Life”. Open: La Sierra University. [Online Brochure] Accessed 9 April 2012.

Art: Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury, Galileo Galilei before members of the Holy Office in the Vatican in 1633, 1847.

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