by Ervin Taylor
Even if you have just a fleeting interest in the evolution of Adventist theology, you may be wondering why suddenly there is so much attention being focused on Adventist Fundamental Belief No. 6? (FB6). Some readers may know that prior to 1980, the topic of FB6 had never been a part of any Adventist statement of belief. If it is now so important, why did it take so long for the Adventist Church to include it as a “Fundamental Belief”? And now, only three decades later, what is the problem with the wording?
Perhaps it would be helpful to make sure that we all are familiar with the current text of FB6. Here it is:
“6. Creation. God is Creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the authentic account of His creative activity. In six days the Lord made ‘the heaven and the earth’ and all living things upon the earth, and rested on the seventh day of that first week. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work. 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. (Gen. 1:1-31; Gen. 2:1-25; Ex. 20:8-11; Ps. 19:1-6; 33:6, 9; 104; Heb. 11:3.).”
Over the last couple of decades, a considerable amount of ink and paper have been expended in Adventist publications on the left and right wings of the church discussing the positives and negatives, the merits and shortcomings of these 117 words. On one side, a possible problem might be that the statement is too specific. Why can’t you just say that “God is the Creator of all things” and leave it at that? Why talk about an “authentic account of His creative activity.” What does “authentic” mean in that sentence? What is the purpose of insisting that: “In six days the Lord made ‘the heaven and the earth’ and all living things upon the earth”? This sentence does have the virtue of being a direct Scriptural quotation. (The ancient Hebrews believed creation happened in six days; they also thought the earth was flat. Which should be believed and which should not?)
On the other side, there are some who say that these 117 words are not explicit enough. Those who think that FB6 is not specific enough argue that there is too much ambiguity in the present wording. It’s too loose and imprecise. We have got to define “days” as “literal, contiguous, 24-hour days.” In addition, we need to add that the six literal, contiguous, 24-hour days of creation happened only a few thousand years ago, not millions of years ago. Also, in addition, we’ve got to add a statement that there was a recent, world-wide flood as well.
One might ask if we really want to insist that the heaven and the earth and all living things were created in six days a few thousand years ago, and that there was a recent worldwide flood? Most educated individuals in the West would view these statements as clear evidence that Adventism is still essentially a fundamentalist cult.
However, the issue we are addressing is what is really wrong with the current wording? What is the real problem?
In theological debates, it is sometimes very hard to figure out what fundamentally is at issue. There are a multiplicity of statements from advocates and dissenters, but in most cases, they are talking past each other.
In light of this, observers might be interested in the comments of the General Conference Vice President who is chairing the “Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee” which was recently published in Adventist World (April 2012, p. 7). This committee had been established at the 2010 General Conference session at the urging of the then newly-elected General Conference president, Ted Wilson, or as he is sometimes referred to, Wilson II.
The committee chair was asked the following question: “You noted the special task that has been given the committee about Fundamental Belief No. 6 on Creation. How significant is that belief to the life of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?”
Here is the answer of the GC VP: “Fundamental Belief No. 6 is crucial, because the whole system of beliefs that we as a Seventh-day Adventist Church is so interlinked. If you take one out . . . the whole building collapses . . . No. 6 is one of the foundational beliefs that really undergird the entire structure of our beliefs.”
Bingo! This provides a very revealing insight into one of the reasons why FB6 looms so large from the perspective of someone seeking to “undergird the entire structure of our beliefs.” The problem is that there is a widely held view that the “whole system of beliefs” of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is an interlinked whole, it is a package deal. There is the fear that if you “take one out,” the entire system of SDA belief “collapses.”
This view of Adventist theology is tragic and so unnecessary. It creates an “all or nothing”
mentality. It calls forth the need to make the “Fundamental Beliefs” more and more explicit. If all of beliefs are interlinked, then all of beliefs are of equal importance, and they must not have any ambiguities. If all of the beliefs are equally important, then, in the end, the whole system is in danger of total collapse if just one belief is found to be problematic. To avoid this danger, all traditional Adventist beliefs must be defended with equal vigor, even if sometimes the Biblical evidence for the validity of a particular belief is extremely weak. (The Investigative Judgment and Remnant Church beliefs immediately come to mind) This is a recipe for, at best, a stagnant theology and, at worst, a vacuous, irrelevant theology.
In Part II of this blog, we will discuss what would appear to be a second reason the FB#6 must be made more explicit. It has to do with the role of Ellen White in the creation and maintenance of classical Adventist theology.