Almost 500 years and 7,000 miles (11,300 kilometers) apart from the time and place Martin Luther chose to nail his 95 “theses”—or arguments on justification by faith—to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church, hundreds of South American Seventh-day Adventist theologians passed a consensus statement on the same topic.
On the closing day of the 12th South American Theological Symposium in Libertador San Martin, Argentina, regional theologians reaffirmed “the great principles of God’s gospel” as stated by Paul in his epistle to the Romans. They also expressed a renewed commitment to “the proclamation of the eternal gospel” within the framework provided by the symposium theme, “The Just Shall Live by Faith.”
“The statement voted reflects our commitment to the Bible, which Luther modeled so well,” said Adolfo Suárez, president of the Latin-American Adventist Theological Seminary (SALT), the organization overseeing Adventist theological education in the South-American church region. “As Seventh-day Adventists, we have a total and unrestricted commitment to the Bible. In that sense, we are committed to the Protestant Reformation, which reinstated the pre-eminence of God’s Word against tradition.”
An International Event
The symposium, a biennial event taking place at theology schools in rotation across South America, gathered 400 theologians and advanced theology students on the campus of River Plate Adventist University from April 27 to May 1. Plenary speakers included church leaders such as Artur Stele, a general vice-president of the world church; Elias Brasil De Souza, director of the Biblical Research Institute; and Alberto Timm, an associate director of the White Estate at the General Conference.
“As a church, we have always valued the Reformation, because, in a sense, we are its sons and daughters,” said Stele. “But the Reformation has not ended. It must be an ongoing process, as we keep striving to stay close and go back and again to Scripture.”
Timm seconded. “We cannot look at the Reformation as a historical one-time-only event,” he said. “The Adventist Church is an heir of that movement, which advocates for ongoing efforts to staying close to God’s Word. It is a process that should never stop.”
The Voted Statement
The 750-word consensus statement voted at the symposium opens by reminding that 2017 is the year during which the world celebrates the 500th anniversary of the event that effectively launched the Reformation. Thus, theologians attending the Argentina symposium expressed their desire to pass a document that highlighted their commitment to the principles Luther derived from his study of the book of Romans, as originally stated by Paul.
“In his epistle to the Romans, Paul presents the great principles of God’s gospel,” reads the beginning of the document. “It is there that we find the doctrine of righteousness by faith in Christ.”
“As we announce [the Gospel], God’s grace and justice are revealed, because ‘the just shall live by faith.’”
At the same time, the framework provided by the Protestant Reformation was reinforced by distinctively Adventist theological elements, including the overarching notion of “a great controversy between God and Satan,” and “the mission of God’s remnant church to the world.”
In agreement with the theological tenets of the Adventist Church, righteousness by faith is not seen in isolation, but as part of a continuum which connects the Bible’s beginning with its end. Thus, the statement includes a commitment to belief in God as Creator and Sustainer of all things, humanity’s decision to separate itself from God, and God’s plan for its restoration through Jesus Christ.
“We reaffirm the certainty that we are freely justified by God’s grace, without the deeds of the law,” reads the statement, “through the redemption found in Jesus, who is at God’s right hand interceding for us.”
The statement also reaffirms a commitment to God’s Law. “We reaffirm that through [God’s] holy, just, good, and eternally valid law, there is knowledge of sin and the need of Christ for righteousness to everyone who believes,” it reads.
The voted document also includes a reaffirmation of participants’ beliefs in biblical baptism, a new life in Christ, and God’s invitation to become part of His people. Finally, it reasserts participants’ confidence in eternal salvation in Jesus Christ at His soon second coming. Quoting Romans 13:11, it reads, “We reaffirm that our salvation is nearer than when we first believed,” something participants think should move every Seventh-day Adventist towards a “total commitment to the proclamation of the eternal gospel.”
And it closes by stating, “As we announce [the Gospel], God’s grace and justice are revealed, because ‘the just shall live by faith.’”
South American Division News and River Plate Adventist University News contributed to this report.