A Fundamental Problem
by Preston Foster
There are theological and spiritual problems with Adventist fundamental belief (FB) #19.
They are, as they say, “nontrivial.”
FB 19 deals with the Law of God as defined by the 10 Commandments of Exodus 20. The problems are contained in this excerpt of FB 19:
“They (the 10 Commandments) express God's love, will, and purposes concerning human conduct and relationships and are binding upon all people in every age. These precepts are the basis of God's covenant with His people and the standard in God's judgment. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit they point out sin and awaken a sense of need for a Savior. Salvation is all of grace and not of works, but its fruitage is obedience to the Commandments.
Let’s parse the key phrases of this FB (highlighted above).
- 1. “ . . . are binding upon all people in every age.”
This is, in my reading of the Bible, flatly wrong. The law may be eternal, but, according to Romans 10:4, Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes. The words “for righteousness” clearly points to the moral law (in contrast to the ceremonial) or the 10 Commandments. 2 Corinthians 3:6-7, 11 explicitly describes the transitory and subordinate nature to the 10 Commandments or “the ministry of death” (because of the penalty for breaking it) “engraved in stone,” which is contrasted with the ministry of the Spirit, which (according to verse 11) “lasts” (NIV).
Then, there is that simple, statement, “ . . . for we are not under law, but under grace,” Roman 6:14. How could this be if the law is “binding upon all people in every age?” In Galatians, Paul repeatedly, tells us that we are not to be led by the law, but by the Spirit. Further, he describes himself as dead to the law (Galatians 2:19). Paul, in Galatians 3, describes the foolishness of being led by the law and pointedly says that “the law is not of faith,” Galatians 3:12.
As if he is speaking directly to the authors of FB 19, in Galatians 4:21, Paul says, “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?” To be clear, Paul goes on to specify of which law (e.g. moral or ceremonial) he is speaking. Paul is speaking of the moral the law of Sinai (Galatians 4:24) and equates it to the Old Covenant and to spiritual slavery. We, Christians, are “children of the promise” (Galatians 4:28) and instructed to throw out the slave woman and her son (the law — Galatians 4:30-31), and to be free in Christ.
Finally, Paul tells us that THE ONLY THING THAT COUNTS is faith as expressed through love (Galatians 5:6). He warns us that seeking to justify ourselves through law-keeping alienates us from Christ and His grace (Galatians 5:4). How can the law be currently binding if faith expressed through love is, exclusively, all that counts?
- 2. “. . . are the basis of God's covenant with His people . . .”
This is true . . . of the Old Covenant — which is the problem of this statement. We, Christians, live in and are under the New Covenant. The New Covenant calls for us to be by the Spirit (rather than the law) and is defined by righteousness by faith. The Old Covenant is obsolete (Hebrews 8:13, NIV). The New Covenant is superior to the Old (Hebrews 8:6).
2 Corinthians 3:14-17 directly addresses the spiritual blindness associated with dependence on the Old Covenant and its laws:
“But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Earlier, in 2 Corinthians 3:6, Paul specifies that we are, expressly, ministers of the New Covenant:
“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
To be clear, in his preamble (2 Corinthians 3:3), Paul specifies that the “letter” is referring to are the tablets written in stone — the 10 Commandments.
- 3. “Salvation is all of grace and not of works, but its fruitage is obedience to the Commandments.”
This part of the FB is problematic because it is a conflation of several things: the 10 Commandments, grace, and salvation — which are expressly not related (Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:21-22). The dots are not properly connected. Salvation is a gift of grace. It is a result of faith in Christ and His blood sacrifice for our sins . . . period. If we are led by the Holy Spirit, the fruit it produces is love, joy, peace, and more — for which THERE IS NO LAW (Galatians 5:22-23). The life of faith and the Spirit is contrasted with being led by the law (or the Commandments), Galatians 3:23-24). The point of all of this is to live a life in Christ, led by the Spirit, motivated by love, unbound by the law.
The problem with FB 19 is that obedience to the law is, literally, positioned to protect the observance of the 7th day Sabbath (FB 20). The Sabbath existed before the law and remains after the law (Hebrews 4: 3-6). The Sabbath needs no further protection. I believe we, Seventh Day Adventists, must develop enough faith to state that our fundamental work, our fundamental belief, is belief itself (John 6:29).