July 15, 2010

The Unambiguous Center

The Unambiguous Center

By Bill Knott A MOVEMENT THAT BEGAN WITH A VISION OF LIGHT AND TRUTH MUST regularly revisit those organizing values to align itself with its primary purposes for existence.

The foundational vision given to Ellen White in November 1848 that resulted in the journal you are now reading described the message of Adventism going like “streams of light clear ’round the world.” The “little paper” birthed eight months later (Present Truth) quickly became the center pole of the as-yet-unnamed Seventh-day Adventist Church. In those earliest years, the list of subscribers was much the same as those who embraced Sabbathkeeping Adventism. Editors, authors—and readers—worked out the primary commitments of the new movement in the columns of this magazine—to the seventh-day Sabbath, to the imminent second coming of Jesus, to an understanding of His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, to the equality of all human beings before a Creator God.
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Fourteen years after that first edition, the “scattered flock” sent delegates to a first-ever General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. This journal, by then known as The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, reported at length on that May 1863 meeting, and has been the official public record of General Conference sessions ever since, including this fifty-ninth gathering in Atlanta. The growing tent of Adventism that included barely 3,500 believers at that first General Conference session now embraces a community of baptized believers numbering nearly 17 million, and a wider family of at least 25 million persons who consider themselves part of this movement.

Through “wars and rumors of wars,” famines, pestilences, earthquakes, economic “booms” and “busts,” and enormous social and technological change, this center pole of Adventism has helped the Advent movement work out what it means by light and truth in each new generation and in the complex world of cultures and languages in which this faith now flourishes. Editors, authors—and readers—continue to underline the primary commitments of this movement by asking: “What do the Scriptures teach? Are we attuned to Christ? How ought we then to live?

And so it cannot be a surprise to anyone who knows our history that the General Conference session just concluded in Atlanta took the opportunity to clarify this movement’s commitments on several key Bible truths—or that those reports appeared and will continue to appear in the pages of the Adventist Review. This is what Adventists do: we search the Word; we pray for guidance; we treasure the gift of the Spirit of Prophecy; we reaffirm our primary commitments to light and truth; we tell the world.

Because some have alleged that there is ambiguity in the church’s foundational statement of its belief in the biblical account of creation (Fundamental Belief 6), delegates overwhelmingly affirmed their belief that God created this earth in a week of six, literal, 24-hour days—and voted to launch the multiyear process by which the language of Fundamental Belief 6 is adjusted to express that. When a few delegates sought a Church Manual redefinition of marriage to include a “monogamous, loving relationship between two mutually consenting adults,” delegates again strongly underscored the historic position of Adventism that the biblical definition of marriage is a “monogamous, heterosexual relationship between one male and one female.”

2010 1526 page12The widening tent of global Adventism—projected to encompass more than 40 million believers if time should last another 20 years—still has edges, still has definition, still retains its commitments to God-given light and biblical truth.

The fifty-ninth General Conference session will be remembered as reminding Adventists everywhere that Seventh-day Adventism is not a personally defined faith, but a central core of biblically taught truths around which like-minded believers gather. Adventism has never been—nor can ever be—a “make your own” commodity like ice-cream sundaes or Christmas tree ornaments. Not every personally held belief can accurately be called “Adventist”: the body—Christ’s body, His remnant church—has the right and the respon­sibility to define the edges of the tent.

Such clarifications are not, as some fear, illustrations of declining love or a quest for creedal orthodoxy. Instead, they represent the healthy self-regard of a movement intent on preserving the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, NKJV). Our legitimacy as God’s last-day messengers rests on our continued adherence and witness to the unambiguous light and truth of Scripture that brought this movement into existence. And our neighbors—Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, secularists, atheists, and fellow Christians—in more than 200 nations around the globe deserve nothing less from us.

We will need fresh supplies of love and listening in the months ahead. The dialogue that has always been central to Adventism must be careful to honor honest questions and protect freedom of conscience. But let us also express our confidence in what Christ leads His body to express. The Lord who promised to be wherever two or three are gathered in His name was certainly present with the thousands who gathered in Atlanta, and in the careful, deliberative process by which they continue His mission of light and truth for the world.

Bill Knott is executive editor and publisher of the Adventist Review.