Loren Seibold: A Proposal for a 29th Fundamental Belief
24 July 2021 |
Rather than regarding some as lesser Adventists, or dissenters, or silent hypocrites, we propose a 29th fundamental belief. This 29th statement would say that people can embrace or reject any one or more of the previous 28 and still remain loved and active members of our community, as long as they are kind, respectful of others’ feelings and opinions, and behave toward others according to Christian principles.
This may seem counterintuitive at first read. We’re used to our religion being tightly defined by doctrines; indeed, we are reminded of them at every evangelistic campaign. However, we defend this addition for the following five reasons.
First, it merely admits what is already the case. Not all Adventists wholly subscribe to every church belief. Fundamental Belief No. 29 would acknowledge the agnosticism that a great many have about some of these points. To admit that moves our questions out of the shadows, where they can’t be discussed, into the open for examination. It erases the shame of analytical thinking and allows all to feel part of the body rather than like hypocrites hidden in plain sight.
Second, it defines the church as a community rather than a creedal body. New Testament metaphors for this simple but profound notion include a body of people, working together with Christ as the head, or a house constructed of people with Christ as the cornerstone. It is who we are together, not merely what doctrines we hold, that make us a church.
Adventists have departed from this in crafting a long, complex, and specific doctrinal statement. John Wesley, whom Adventists hold in high regard, preached in a sermon:
My belief is no rule for another. I ask not, therefore, of him with whom I would unite in love, Are you of my church, of my congregation? Do you receive the same form of church government, and allow the same church officers, with me? Do you join in the same form of prayer wherein I worship God? I inquire not, Do you receive the supper of the Lord in the same posture and manner that I do? nor whether, in the administration of baptism, you agree with me in admitting sureties for the baptized, in the manner of administering it; or the age of those to whom it should be administered. Nay, I ask not of you (as clear as I am in my own mind), whether you allow baptism and the Lord’s supper at all. Let all these things stand by: we will talk of them, if need be, at a more convenient season, my only question at present is this, “Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?”
Third, the addition of this No. 29 would make us more in line with the convictions of our pioneers about doctrinal statements. James White, J. N. Loughborough, and others all objected to crafting any kind of creed, favoring instead remaining continuously alert to God’s guidance. James White wrote:
I take the ground that creeds stand in a direct opposition to the gifts. … Making a creed is setting the stakes, and barring up the way to all future advancement. … The Bible is our creed. We reject everything in the form of a human creed. We take the Bible and the gifts of the Spirit; embracing the faith that thus the Lord will teach us from time to time.
Fourth, it opens up a new freedom for churches to do ministry in ways most comfortable to the congregation. It lets some be the broad churches that they want to be, while others can define themselves as narrowly as makes their members comfortable. A congregation would no longer need to apologize for taking a different stance on some issue than the General Conference does. Adding No. 29 would pitch a broad tent, covering traditional Seventh-day Adventist congregations as well as those that are progressive.
Finally, adding this 29th fundamental belief wouldn’t specifically repudiate anything Adventists have believed. It does not ignore the historical basis for—nor the subsequent hard theological work that has gone into crafting—these teachings. It discards nothing. It merely gives people permission not to pretend they believe what they don’t believe. Adventists remain, as believers in a “present truth” ought to be, open to learning more, or to gently setting aside what we have ceased to find truthful.
Loren Seibold is the Executive Editor of Adventist Today. The original essay was written with his friend Greg Jones.
Gina Jett is an attorney from California.
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