Delegates at the General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas, have approved a milestone update of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s 28 Fundamental Beliefs that, among other things, underscores the church’s teaching of a recent, literal Creation week.
The core statements of the church’s Fundamental Beliefs had not been touched since they were first adopted in 1980, with the lone exception an additional belief in 2005. The delegates’ approval on Tuesday, after two days of discussions, marked the end of a five-year revision and vetting process.
None of the revisions change any of the Fundamental Beliefs, and many simply update and tighten the text, General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson assured delegates at the start of the discussions.
“We are not changing our Fundamental Beliefs,” Wilson said. “We are simply trying to enhance them and make them more understandable.”
The review committee modified 21 of the 28 beliefs, and Artur A. Stele, a General Conference general vice president and chair of the Fundamental Belief Review committee, presented the proposed changes to the delegates.
Many of the proposed changes were minor, such as the replacement of the word “which” with “that” to reflect modern usage. Instances of “man” and “mankind” were changed to “people” and “humanity” to make them gender inclusive.
Delegates overwhelmingly backed revisions that clarified that marriage is between a man and a woman in belief number 23.
The delegates considered and approved revisions to 24 of the Beliefs on Monday, voting on them one by one. A two-thirds vote was required to refer an item back to the revisions committee.
But recommendations about four beliefs—on the Holy Scriptures (number 1), Creation (number 6), the Great Controversy (number 8), and Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary (number 24)—were sent back to the review committee for further work.
The review committee returned to delegates on Tuesday with amendments that took their concerns into account.
Most of the discussion on both Monday and Tuesday centered around “Creation,” where the text was revised to add the word “recent” to describe when the Earth was created and “six literal days” to explain the length of Creation week.
Among the delegates who made recommendations for additional changes at the microphone were Jiří Moskala, dean of the theological seminary at Andrews University; Richard M. Davidson, professor of Old Testament Interpretation at the seminary; and Lawrence T. Geraty, president emeritus of La Sierra University.
Wilson prefaced the second day of discussion by saying a word could be interpreted in many ways, but the word “recent” was chosen because “we need to clarify that this process was not old.”
Wilson said he personally believed that the Earth is about 6,000 years old. “But we are not putting that language in here. We are using the word ‘recent,’” he said in an acknowledgement that Adventists are not uniform in their understanding of the exact age of the Earth.
Ángel Manuel Rodríguez, a former director of the church’s Biblical Research Institute and a member of the revisions committee, said Adventists have estimated the Earth to be 6,000 to 12,000 years old but are united in believing “Creation took place not too long ago.”
He saw “recent” as an acceptable description.
“The church has never dated the divine act of Creation,” he said.
Turning to the inclusion of the phrase “six literal days” in the same Fundamental Belief, Rodríguez said no one was suggesting that Creation took place in six days of exactly 24 hours but simply that it happened in “literal days.”
“Genesis 1 to 3 describes what literally happened there. It’s a historical record,” he said.
The inclusion of “six literal days” received quick support from James Standish, a delegate from the South-Pacific Division, who said the revised text reflected the very definition of “Seventh-day Adventist.”
“If the first six days were not literal days, why do we rest on the literal seventh day?” he said.
But Adrian Platts, a delegate from the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, said a literal day could not be counted by the rising and setting of the sun because the sun was only created on day four of Creation week.
Another delegate, Marvin Wray of the North American Division, said the word “recent” was too ambiguous.
“Who are we to guess the age of the Earth?” he said, citing Job 38 where God asks Job, “Were you there when I made the world?”
Other delegates spoke strongly in favor of adopting the “Creation” revisions. Clifford Goldstein, Adult Bible Study Guides editor and a General Conference delegate, said that the new text was a proper response to attempts to bring the theory of evolution into the church. Kathryn Proffitt, another General Conference delegate, noted how her son had left the church because of confusion over what he was taught about Earth’s origins in an Adventist school.
Delegates had little issue with revisions throughout the Fundamental Beliefs that made them gender inclusive except during the presentation of belief number 1 on the Holy Scripture. The review committee recommended using “inspired authors” instead of “holy men of God.” Several delegates made a distinction between “author” and “writer,” saying God was the Author of the whole Bible and humans were its writers. Other delegates voiced concerns that the replacement of “men” with “authors” might be linked to modern culture, saying only men wrote the Bible so there was no need to use gender-inclusive language.
Bill Knott, a member of the revisions committee and editor of the Adventist Review, assured the delegates that the committee had prayerfully sought to exclude pressures from cultural or societal forces when they considered the wording of belief number 1.
No changes were made to Fundamental Belief number 1, the statement on the Bible.
In a sign of the ease with which the delegates accepted the final revisions, the discussions finished about 20 minutes before the scheduled lunch break, even though they were slated to last all morning.
Stele, the revisions committee chair, also announced Tuesday that the General Conference planned to publish an easy-to-read book containing the Fundamental Beliefs. He spoke after several delegates from the Trans-European Division expressed concern that newly baptized Adventists and Adventist young people faced difficulties relating to the beliefs in their current form. Stele called for the beliefs to be explained in modern language with the goal of reaching a new generation.
Stele acknowledged that the current text of the Fundamental Beliefs “might not be the best evangelistic tool.” But, he added, “We intend to work on a book that will make the language understandable to the younger generation.”