October 19, 2013

Annual Council Delegates Review Suggested Wording Changes to 28 Fundamental Beliefs

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article, containing several inaccuracies, was inadvertently posted here.  The current version is the one we intended to publish.

Annual Council delegates October 16 approved the next step in a five-year process to better articulate the church’s core beliefs, using clearer—and frequently more inclusive—language.

Adventist theologians led delegates through an edited draft of all 28 Fundamental Beliefs, as prepared by the church’s Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee. The group was appointed in 2011 to follow up on a decision during the 2010 General Conference Session to strengthen the church’s interpretation of origins.

It came as no surprise, then, that Fundamental Belief Number 6 received the most attention. One recommended change to the church’s belief on Creation replaces “In six days, the Lord made” with “In a recent, six-day creation, the Lord made.” Another suggested change specifies that creation took place within the span of “six literal days.”

The word “literal” closes what some Adventists have claimed is an interpretive loophole that could allow theistic evolution to explain the Genesis origins account.

The edited draft also replaces the document’s citation of the first verse of Genesis, which states “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth,” with a passage from Exodus 20, which says God created “the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them . . .”

The change allows for differing understandings of whether the creation of the universe was coincident with the six-day creation of life on earth. Some creationist Adventist theologians believe Genesis 1:1 may refer to creation in a broader sense (see Job 38:7), whereas Exodus 20:11, “seems to restrict the creative act to what took place during the six days of creation,” said Dr. Angel Rodriguez, one of the members of the Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee.

Overall,“the suggested version doesn’t bring anything new to the belief. It just states with a firmer voice, or a more clear voice, what we have always believed,” said Artur Stele, an Adventist world church vice president and co-chair of the Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee. 

In sum, the draft proposes changes—most of which are minor and editorial in nature—to 18 of the church’s 28 Fundamental Beliefs. 

Stele provided additional background on the new gender-neutral language that shows up consistently throughout the draft document. “Man and “mankind” now read “human” and “humanity.”

“We wanted to determine whether the suggestion was biblical or just reflecting the spirit of the day,” Stele said. After a close study of Hebrew usage in the Old Testament, “you cannot conclude words such as ‘man’ only refer to the masculine gender.” 

Even in the New Testament, Stele said, inclusivity is the clear biblical intent. The original Greek word “man” was always gender-neutral until the modern era. “It means human being,” he said.

The draft also underlines the church’s historic belief on Marriage and Family, suggesting that the phrase “a man and a woman” replace the current word “partners” to ensure that the church’s definition of marriage cannot apply to same-sex unions. Changes to Fundamental Belief Number 23 also include removing the word “disciplinarian” when urging parents to emulate Christ’s relationship with humanity when raising their children.

The draft also does away with outdated English vocabulary and usage. “Which” frequently becomes “that” and “gracious” is now used to describe God, instead of “beneficent.” Another change replaces the archaic word “fruitage” with “fruit.”

Stele assured delegates that the Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee only included proposed changes that met several criteria. The only suggestions that survived editorial scrutiny were ones that “deepen” the statement, refrain from “elaborations of ideas already present” or present key ideas currently missing. The committee also welcomed editorial suggestions meant to clarify or condense the beliefs. Members rejected any suggestions that they felt “primarily promoted a personal agenda,” he said.

Adventist world church general Vice President Ben Schoun, who chaired the presentation, reminded delegates that the draft is “not the final copy” and urged them not to spend the afternoon debating semantics. He then invited delegates to lead discussions in their respective church divisions and submit further edits to the Fundamental Beliefs by June 1, 2014.

The Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee will prepare a second draft of the document for the 2014 Annual Council, Schoun said. Ultimately, delegates will vote whether to add the second draft to the agenda of the 2015 General Conference Session, where a final vote would occur.