November 12, 2009

The High and Middle Ground

2009 1531 page6 capN ANOTHER TIME AND PLACE, I SAT WITH A GROUP OF ADVENTIST professionals as we waited for a meeting to begin. The conversation was light and cheerful, full of the gentle teasing and good-natured wit familiar to a group of colleagues who are comfortable with each other.
One group member, arriving slightly after the others, smilingly offered that he was thinking of applying for membership in an Adventist professional organization to which none of his colleagues belonged.
The merriment became intense. “But doesn’t belonging to that organization mean that you have to sign a statement that you accept and believe the church’s Statement of Fundamental Beliefs?” one colleague asked incredulously, to the delight of the others present. The laughter rolled around the room, and the latecomer clearly wished he had not volunteered the embarrassing information about his plans. The conversation that had seemed playful took on a decidedly scornful edge, as if to ask, “How in the world could any of us do that?”
2009 1531 page6What makes the story poignant is that all of those Adventist professionals were then teaching theology at some Adventist college or university. The high-spirited group with whom I sat that day clearly considered it implausible that a trained and intelligent educator could embrace what the church has repeatedly embraced. To them, and to a small but highly vocal group of critics intent on revising even our recent history, Adventism’s Statement of Fundamental Beliefs is somehow a document of extreme conservatism, a mechanism by which theological reactionaries are supposed to have captured control of the doctrinal life of the denomination.
Ironically, some who call themselves progressive have publicly boasted in recent years of the breadth and ambiguities they claim were embedded in the heart of that same statement of Fundamental Beliefs when it was adopted by the 1980 General Conference session in Dallas. Logic alone, never mind faith or intellectual consistency, would tell us that one and the same document cannot simultaneously be the statement that provides some with the “latitude” they claim to need and also a doctrine of unblinking theological conservatism.
No, in fact the church’s Statement of Fundamental Beliefs, now numbering 28 with the addition of one called “Growing in Christ” adopted at the St. Louis General Conference session in 2005, reflects the broad center of Adventist belief about Scripture on which stand millions of clear-headed and warm-hearted members of God’s remnant church. They do not recite it as a creed, nor do they search its 4,416 words for either loopholes to avoid what Scripture teaches or hooks on which to hang their doubts. They use it as it was intended to be used—as a tool for mission—a compact and biblically supported reference by which to help men and women of good will understand the truths of Scripture as taught and lived by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
These Fundamental Beliefs both conserve and protect the key biblical teachings around which this movement grew, even as they express an openness to what the Spirit may yet teach us as a people gathered under the Word. Included in the voted preamble are these remarkable words: “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.”
Let those on the extremes—both left and right—understand that the high and middle ground of this church is already occupied and not up for sale or trade. Confident in the divine hand that set this movement in motion, certain of the salvation offered us in Jesus Christ, committed to the truths of God’s Word, we wait for Christ’s appearing more than watchmen for the morning.
Here we stand, and we will do no other. 

Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published November 12, 2009.