28 Fundamental Beliefs Get an Update
The Annual Council approves revisions after two days of talks and sends the document to the General Conference session.
Adventist leaders tentatively approved proposed revisions of the church’s core statements of its fundamental beliefs after two days of discussions that Artur A. Stele, chair of the revision committee, said had helped create a better product.
The delegates at the Annual Council, a major church business meeting, easily endorsed the last of the proposed revisions to the 28 Fundamental Beliefs in a 202-2 vote, with three abstentions, late Monday afternoon. They agreed to forward the document to the General Conference session for a final discussion and vote by the world church next July.
None of the revisions change any of the fundamental beliefs, and many simply update and tighten the text, Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, assured delegates when the talks started on Sunday afternoon.
"I don't want anyone here in the room to think we are changing our beliefs," he said. “We are simply adjusting wording to make it clearer and more helpful.”
The 2014 Annual Council had scheduled a discussion and vote for Sunday afternoon, but more than 20 comments from delegates sent the revision committee back to work. The discussion reconvened Monday morning and all but one proposed revision was approved by a 179-15 vote, with five abstentions, before noon.
“I believe that the process was very helpful,” Stele, director of the church’s Biblical Research Committee, said in an interview. “Quite a number of suggestions were made after we presented the draft on Sunday, and we worked on it on Sunday night and Monday. As a result I think that the product is better than it was Sunday.”
The revisions are a milestone in the history of the Fundamental Beliefs, which numbered 27 when they were first drafted in 1980. With the exception of the addition of a 28th belief (“Growing in Christ, No. 11) in 2005, they have remained untouched until now. Among other core beliefs are “The Sabbath” (No. 20), “Baptism” (No. 15), and “The Nature of Man,” which is now set to become “The Nature of Humanity” (No. 7).
The revisions introduce gender inclusive language to the text in places where the biblical teaching being referred to clearly intends to include both men and women.
The biggest discussion in the Annual Council centered around several objections on Monday morning to the replacement of the words “holy men of God” with “holy persons of God” in Fundamental Belief No. 1, titled “The Holy Scriptures.” The revision committee changed the phrase to “the inspired authors” at the suggestion of evangelist Mark Finley on Monday afternoon, and the delegates approved the final item around 5:15 p.m.
Stele said he had no problem making the change because the delegates’ objections might have been a matter of conscience. The original phrase “holy men of God” comes from 2 Peter 1:20, 21, in which the original Greek text uses gender-inclusive language.
“They grew up with wording that they felt was a direct quote from Scripture, so they felt as if we were changing the Scripture,” he said. “To be sensitive to this, we decided, ‘Well, why not find different wording?’”
Stele stressed the revision committee tried to be faithful to the original meaning of the biblical concept in proposing the initial revision from “holy men” to “holy persons,” saying that more than one word can often be correctly used to replace another.
Bill Knott, a member of the revision committee, praised the final outcome. “The creative solution offered by Elder Mark Finley illustrates the value of God’s people thinking together about how to best express their belief in the importance and authority of Scripture,” said Knott, editor of the Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines. “The language of our fundamental beliefs is intended to be a consensus statement of what we agree is the teaching of the Bible, and this language helps us achieve that goal.”
How the Revisions Unfolded
The revision process started with an action voted at the 2010 General Conference session to harmonize Fundamental Belief No. 6 on “Creation” with a creation statement approved by the 2004 Annual Council. The council statement emphasizes that the Earth was created in six literal days several thousand years ago — two issues that have come under scrutiny by evolutionists and are not mentioned in the current statement of belief No. 6.
But it’s no simple matter to change a Fundamental Belief. When the 28th belief was added in 2005, General Conference session delegates passed a protocol that requires at least two years of work at all levels of the Adventist Church before any changes can be considered at a General Conference session.
Keeping this in mind, the General Conference, which oversees the world church, appointed a four-member revision committee to tackle “Creation” — and asked it at the same time to review the other beliefs for possible adjustments. The other members of the committee are Angel Rodriguez, retired director of the Biblical Research Institute, and Gerhard Pfandl, retired associate director of the Biblical Research Institute.
The committee’s first act was to invite church members from around the world to submit suggestions for a year — a step that is not part of the protocol but that Stele said proved valuable.
“Of course, we could not incorporate all the new suggestions because some were contradictory,” Stele added. “What one group suggested, another group asked us not to do. So this was how it went.”
Stele said the committee used a set of five criteria to determine which suggestions to include:
- We will include suggestions that deepen the statement, but not too much.
- We can’t include every thought in every section; we have to look at the document as whole.
- We will accept ideas that are not present in the draft but should be incorporated.
- We will accept good suggestions that shorten the draft.
- We will screen out suggestions that seem to promote a personal agenda.
The committee then incorporated the suggestions that it found useful — Stele said it received about 200 letters — into a draft that it sent to church divisions, unions, conferences, and institutions for feedback.
The Annual Council approved the first draft in 2013. After making its way through a number of General Conference councils and departments, the second draft came before the Annual Council this week.
“Looking at all the changes, I must say there are none that bring anything new to our beliefs,” Stele said. “This is what we have always believed. The commission only sought to express this better and help to avoid possible misinterpretations.”
A Look at Some Revisions
One notable revision to No. 18 “The Gift of Prophecy” clarifies that the Bible and the writings of church co-founder Ellen G. White should not be considered equal.
The new wording voted by the Annual Council reads:“The Scriptures testify that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy.This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and we believe it was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White.Her writings speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church.They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.”
The revised draft shows the first round of changes, which were approved in 2013, in purple and the second round approved on Monday in blue. Explanatory notes are placed in the column beside each revision.
An addition to No. 23 “Marriage and Family” for the first time identifies single people as members of the family.
“I think the outcome was very good,” said Gerhard Pfandl, the revision committee member. “The delegates recognized that we fulfilled the stipulation that was given to us to amend and not rewrite the passages.”
Contact news editor Andrew McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ARMcChesney
Final draft of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs that will be sent to the General Conference session (PDF). The revised draft shows the first round of changes, which were approved in 2013, in purple and the second round approved on Monday in blue.