In the beginning there were movies about creation, animal encounters and beyond. And it was very good. There were also reports from every possible General Conference department on how they are participating in the “Creation: The World is a Witness” evangelism project for 2014. From creation care features in the stewardship magazine to children’s curriculum on creation, it seems every possible angle has been considered.
Next there was an historic document on the urgency of urban mission, in which sobering numbers on the ratio of Adventist members per population in 500 cities with a population of one million or more, were noted. The goal laid out in the document is, “To engage the collective resources of the global church in establishing a Seventh-day Adventist presence and needs-based ministry in cities of 1 million or more that have no Adventist congregation and, in all other cities of 1 million or more, to improve the ratio of members and worshipping groups to population.
“And further, to ensure that divisions and their organizations, including local churches, give higher priority to the growing challenge of urban mission in their territory.”
In the afternoon, it was time to discuss proposed changes to the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. The entire set of beliefs has been reviewed by a committee chaired by Artur Stele. He reported that the committee received hundreds of suggestions. They looked for ideas that would deepen the belief statements, or shorten them. They screened out those with a personal agenda. One suggestion that they accepted was to make the document language gender inclusive. He said the committee asked itself if this change was biblical, and concluded it was because of the implied gender inclusiveness of the Hebrew used in the Old Testament. He cited Genesis 1:27 as one example.
Three beliefs have major changes proposed. The belief on creation, No. 6, was the starting point for the review process, and the committee received the most suggestions for it. The new version would read:
“God is creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the authentic and historical account of His creative activity. In a recent six-day creation, the Lord made ‘the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them’ and rested on the seventh day. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His creative work performed and completed during six literal days that together with the Sabbath constituted a week as we experience it today. The first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was ‘very good,’ declaring the glory of God.”
One of the suggestions that the committee received was to add another belief on social justice. Rather than add to the beliefs, the committee chose to add the concept of social just to the wording of one of the present beliefs. Thus, Belief No. 11, Growing in Christ, now ends: “We are also called to follow Christ’s example by compassionately ministering to the physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of humanity. As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience.”
Belief #23 on Marriage and the Family underwent changes to make clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. The word “partners” was removed. And rather than describing Christ as a loving disciplinarian, he is described as a loving, tender and caring counselor.
There are other small changes that carry significant ideas. In the belief on the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, the word “bodily” has been added to the description of the resurrection.
In the very first Belief on the Holy Scriptures, they are described as “the final authority” as well as the infallible revelation of His will.
Adventist Review Editor Bill Knott, a member of the review committee, read the proposed changes to the gathered body. Angel Rodriguez, the third committee member, explained the changes being proposed.
And with the reading of the changes, and the explanation that there would now be a year of discussion on these changes, the chair called for a motion to accept the document. With no discussion, the topic was closed.
To conclude the day, Church Archivist David Trim gave an initial report on the data that has been collected in the last two years from 41,000 church members on six continents in nine divisions. Interviews were also done among lapsed Adventists. He began by making a plea to not shoot the messenger, given that he had both good and bad news to share.
He began with the good news. In questions about church leadership, Sabbath School teachers were the ones that got the highest ratings. People around the world like Sabbath School, he said. In seven out of nine divisions, over 50 percent said Sabbath School was very helpful.
Confidence in Ellen White is at 74 percent, and conviction on the Sabbath is 97 percent.
In the surveys of lapsed Adventists, he said that the majority still accept the doctrines. Most were not noticed when they slipped away. Of those who walked out the door, 10 out of 11 never heard from the church pastor after they left, and 40 percent were never contacted at all. The fabric of most of our churches is not strong enough to hold people. “We need to care for our church members,” he said. Between 2000 and 2012, we lost one in four members.
There may be multiple explanations for our findings, he had said at the beginning. The data is what it is and what it means is something else. I look forward to reading and hearing more about the surveys and their findings. The Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research is holding a global summit in November on Nurturing, Retaining and Discipling.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons