February 3, 2020

Don't Study The 28 Fundamental Beliefs

We don't believe by studying beliefs; we believe by studying scripture.

Andy Nash

Sometimes I read or hear comments about the Adventist Church’s 28 Fundamental Beliefs along this line:

“Well, I didn’t beat them over the head with the 28 Fundamental Beliefs or anything.”

“The 28 Fundamental Beliefs aren’t a salvation issue.”

“Don’t eat pork, don’t swim on Sabbath, and all the other Adventist beliefs.”

A few thoughts:

1. When commenting on a church’s beliefs, it’s important to know what they actually are. Our 28 Fundamental Beliefs begin like this: (1) The Holy Scriptures, (2) The Trinity, (3) God the Father, (4) God the Son, (5) God the Holy Spirit, (6) Creation. They end like this: (25) The Second Coming of Christ, (26) Death and Resurrection, (27) The Millennium and the End of Sin, (28) The New Earth. (You can easily find the full set of beliefs online.)

2. It’s true that one of our beliefs (no. 22) does focus on Christian behavior—the abundant life in Christ. This belief calls us to lifestyle choices that “produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives” (but it doesn’t prohibit swimming on Sabbath). Most of our Fundamental Beliefs, however, aren’t about our work but about God’s redemptive work through “The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ” (no. 9). This is the only “salvation issue.”

3. I completely agree that our focus should not be on the 28 Fundamental Beliefs, but on the Bible itself. We don’t believe by studying beliefs; we believe by studying Scripture. For a long time, Adventists refused to list our beliefs, saying instead, “Our only creed is Scripture.” The reason we began spelling out our beliefs was to clear up misperceptions of who Adventists really are. (Are they Christian? Why do they keep the Jewish Sabbath? Why do they avoid some foods?)

Though it was helpful to articulate what we believe, this unfortunately shifted the focus of our faith to our beliefs rather than to the basis of our beliefs: Scripture itself. In many cases we ended up teaching our own children and students Adventist beliefs (via memorized lists and multiple-choice questions) rather than teaching them how to study Scripture verse by verse.

This has resulted in a damaging environment in which many Adventist young people (and old people) think we “have” the truth without entering into the truth of God’s Word for ourselves. Surveys show that more than half of Adventists never study the Bible on their own. This is deeply ironic and the reason we are half-dying.

But there is good news. Studying Scripture brings life to the lifeless (Heb. 4:12). Yes, it takes longer to study the Bible than it does to memorize a list of beliefs. But the rewards are great as we run “to and fro” in God’s Word (Dan. 12:4, KJV), as the very first Adventists did.

4. In the meantime, enough sarcasm and cynicism about Adventist beliefs. The jokes are too easy. Sarcasm (especially among pastors and spiritual leaders) doesn’t build a spirit of faith; it only builds a spirit of sarcasm. Our statement of beliefs isn’t perfect (the prologue admits as much), but it’s our sincere attempt to express what we have found the Bible to teach, even as “our only creed is Scripture.”

Andy Nash ([email protected]) is a pastor and author who leads study tours to Israel each summer.