Annual Council Diary IV: On to the Fundamentals

(system) #1

Numbers and words topped the agenda Sunday’s during the first business sessions at Annual Council. But really it was all about people. As Division presidents introduced new Executive Committee members, the governing body welcomed the first delegate, a woman, from the China Union Mission.

The numbers were those disclosed by Secretary G.T. Ng in his report on Church membership statistics. With the million plus people that were baptized in 2013, the church membership now stands at 18.1 million. However, Ng also told the audience that the studies of member losses over the past 40 years show an accumulated loss rate of 35.73 percent. This is a persistent problem of nurture and retention that needs to be addressed, he said. On the screen behind him, slides popped up with the old advertising slogan, “It’s 10 pm, do you know where your children are?” and then the comedic response, “It’s 10 pm, do you know where your parents are?” and finally Ng’s question to the church leaders, “Do you know where your fellow believers are?”

Jiwan Moon, the director of public campus ministry, used comparative numbers to bring attention to the people groups that he serves. There are 22 million students attending colleges and universities around the world, he said, and that number is forecast to double by 2025. Only four major cities have more people than the universities. “If I told you to forget about your cities, because there is no man power to reach them, what would you say?” He described the vision of transforming Adventist students on public campuses into missionaries through intentional mentoring and discipleship. He said that a summit will be held at the General Conference March 4-8, 2015, and from that summit will come a manual called “Follow Me” for training students. Baptism of students is not the end, it is just the beginning, he noted. Students must be taught, trained, and discipled.

The Ellen G. White Estate announced several initiatives to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of the Adventist prophet in 2015: An Ellen White Pathfinder honor earned by playing a computer game; an iPhone app that allows users to search, highlight and print material from her books in multiple languages; a new EGW devotional; a book that provides context for her writings edited by Merlin Bert; a new Ellen G. White Visitor Center in Silver Spring; and a Gift of Prophecy symposium to be hosted by Andrews University in October 2015. James Nix, the secretary of the White Estate, told stories of Mrs. White’s hands writing, writing, always writing. Interspersed through the stories were announcements of the Estate’s upcoming events. “We have a great love for the Spirit of Prophecy,” said President Ted Wilson as he introduced Nix. That has certainly been evident at this meeting, as seemingly every person stepping to a microphone has quoted White’s writings.

Discussion of the proposed edits in the Fundamental Beliefs took up the bulk of Sunday afternoon. Both session chair Ella Simmons and President Ted Wilson made the point that the beliefs are not being changed. Rather, the wording in 21 out of the 28 is being adjusted to make them clearer. Wilson provided the background for the changes by noting that at the 2010 General Conference Session, delegates approved a motion from the floor that the Affirmation of Creation Document (voted at the 2004 Annual Council) be integrated into Fundamental Belief #6, which deals with Creation. A committee was subsequently formed to review all of the beliefs for possible edits as well as to accomplish the voted action. Artur Stele, Ángel Rodríguez, Gerhard Pfandl, and Bill Knott were named to the committee. The announced a year of listening from October 2011 to October 2012 to allow Adventists around the world to respond to the proposed changes and make proposals of their own. The committee’s initial re-wordings were shared with the 2013 Annual Council and critiqued. The updated revisions came to delegates today for discussion.

When the floor was opened for comment, General Conference archivist David Trim was the first to the microphone. He said that the recommendation voted (at 2004 Annual Council) represented a reading of Fundamental Belief #6 on the Creation in ways that were not intended, and that the proposed language opened up another loophole when it describes “a week as we experience it today.”

Artur Stele replied that the writing committee was trying to avoid saying 24-hour days, and still introduce the intentions of the 2004 document. “This was the best we could come up with,” he said.

Shirley Chang questioned the use of the word “recent” in Belief #6. “Recent to what?” she asked.

Former Trans-European Division president Bertil Wiklander expressed his disappointment that the language of the Bible that was used in the Beliefs as drafted in 1980 did not remain in Belief #6. Wiklander reiterated that the word “recent” is not biblical.

Members of the writing committee noted the challenge of the original assignment to combine the Affirmation of Creation document with Belief #6, as did President Wilson when he went to the microphone to comment on the work of the committee. “We are not wanting to do anything that is anti-biblical, he said. But the Spirit of Prophecy is very clear, creation was recent. “It is a way of saying short timeframe. It is talking about Young Earth Creation. Old Earth or Deep Time is the opposite of what Adventists believe. We do not believe in Deep Time.” He also noted that another misunderstood word is “literal,” and that words can be interpreted in multiple ways despite efforts to make them as clear as possible.

A delegate from the Inter American Division challenged the committee’s move to bring gender neutral language to Belief #1 on the Holy Scriptures. He questioned changing the word “men” in “holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were by moved by the Holy Spirit”. The suggested rephrase is holy “persons”. He did not see the necessity for the change given that it was men who wrote the Bible.

Ángel Rodríguez responded that care should be taken in what was assumed. “A good case can be put together that Esther was written by Esther.”

Clinton Wahlen also had questions about the wording in Belief #1 about the Holy Scriptures. Proposed language describes them as “the final, authoritative and” the infallible revelation of His will. And later as the “definitive” revealer of doctrines. Wahlen found that inconsistent with the language in Belief #18 on the Spirit of Prophecy where Ellen G. White’s writings are said to, “speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church.”

Ed Zinke had a list of suggestions for many of the Beliefs as well as general comments. He noted that there is not section on the doctrine of sin. “Sin as a transgression of the law should be in the document,” he said. He also wanted it to be made clearer that the purpose of doctrine is to know God personally, and the purpose of Scripture is to introduce us to God.

Dedrick Blue spoke to the wording in Belief #22 on Christian Behavior. He said that when we talk about Christian Behavior we tend to look at personal piety and not corporate responsibility. “The book of Acts talks to corporate responsibility and I think this statement should not just be about personal behavior but should include corporate responsibility,” Blue said.

With the suggested changes piling up, Chair Ella Simmons looked to the writing committee for an estimate of the time that would be needed. Stele replied that the evening and morning would be required, so the item will come back to the assembly on Monday afternoon.

A PDF version of all the proposed revisions to the Fundamental Beliefs is available here: GC Fundamental Beliefs Amendments.

Bonnie Dwyer is the editor of Spectrum Magazine.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(André Reis) #2

I happen to agree that the word “recent” in and of itself can be ambiguous. And I disagree with Wilson’s use of Ellen White to settle theological questions, but given his track record, that is not surprising.

If the brethren want to make it clear that Creation of the earth and life is younger than billions of years, more specificity is required. But I don’t see how that can be done effectively in a doctrinal statement without creating more problems. Although I reject evolution in all of its iterations, and believe that Creation is more recent than hundreds of thousands or millions of years, I also think we need to allow a sense of wonder about the how and when of Creation. God has chosen not to reveal this fully. Belief and humility go hand in hand.

(Jared Wright) #3

André Reis, I think the way you express the need for humility and wonder is a great perspective that has been largely missing from discussion of the re-write. Nobody crafting the statements seems particularly concerned about representing either of those values in the conversation.

(Elaine Nelson) #4

More specificity only introduces more problems. Why should it be necessary to add non-biblical words to Scripture? There is no room left for individual understanding and interpretation.

(Winona Winkler Wendth) #5

“It is a way of saying short timeframe. It is talking about Young Earth Creation. Old Earth or Deep Time is the opposite of what Adventists believe. We do not believe in Deep Time.” Here, again, seems to be an inclination not to have a conversation, not to allow for other options: Wilson’s language, which often includes the term “anti-Biblical,” as though for centuries, believers, scholars, and interpreters of scripture in a genuine search for truth have been opposed to Biblical truth, is giving us only two alternatives, which, he says, now, are also oppositional. “Deep time” and the discussions and insights that follow—and the wonder and mystery of it all, as someone here mentioned—are replaced by “with me or against me” politics, which have, through history, provided a foundation for ostracism, abandonment, and, sometimes, persecution. Leadership have already told those Adventist educators who don’t personally believe in the literal creation in time as we know and measure it today (how one monitors or extracts this information, was not addressed), s/he should leave the system. That is not likely to happen, and the consequences of this statement are not likely to unfold in the way they imagine, either—if anyone bothered to imagine it in the world as we know it. We can talk about “variance,” all day long, but when discussions move from discussing options to identifying oppositions, we’re in dangerous political territory. Being different or variant is not the same as being contradictory.

(Winona Winkler Wendth) #6

The issue of “corporate responsibility” is an important one and hasn’t been emphasized since the days of Abolitionism. The Denomination has been a champion of religious freedom, which is a political issue, but we have been nearly silent on others, such as stewardship of the earth and assured dignity of all people on equal terms.

(Tim Teichman) #7

Well, this one does. The age of the universe and of the planet has pretty much been established and confirmed by various scientific methods. See
(It’s about 14 billion years plus or minus 37 million years.)

(Tim Teichman) #8

I’m pretty sure that is their goal.

(Elaine Nelson) #9

When Wilson says: “WE do not believe in deep time” he is stating that he speaks for the church which is the exact method which has always been taught about the papacy: the church determines what is truth. This is an overt attempt to assume the position of speaking for the church in religious beliefs which should NEVER be surrendered to another human

(Tim Teichman) #10

Yes, but they’re fundamental beliefs, and with each new addition and revision they become even more fundamental, since the last ones we were told to believe turned out to be insufficient.

We have to try very hard to be better protestants than all the other protestants, who in whole are trying to be better Catholics than the Catholics. Very important. This is why we cannot learn from any of them or from science.

I think we should begin a discussion on gravity. It isn’t biblical, and the same science that gives of the theory of gravity tells us the Genesis isn’t a science book, so that science is clearly flawed and evil. Besides, the scientists keep changing their minds and using new information and discoveries to refine their opinions, and so we know that anything they say must be wrong, especially if we disagree with it.

Why it wasn’t 50 years ago that they didn’t know there are billions of galaxies in the universe and that each galaxy consists of billions of stars with 10’s of billions of planets. We know this can’t be true because the stars are really just pinholes in the firmament, in the dome covering the earth and keeping back the waters of chaos.

(Bille) #11

Tim, you seem to forget that “we” are NEITHER protestant NOR Catholics. WE are the special, one of a kind, end time REMNANT church… so as such we have to plot our own course… (ride our own broncos and rope our own steers)… and carve a new and better route to … to where? … Doesn’t that glow on the horizon come from something that looks suspiciously like the way the old picture books pictured the Tower at Babel? (Working late nights maybe.)

(Tim Teichman) #12

Oops. I forgot that. It’s a good thing none of what we believe comes from Catholic tradition or post-biblical church teachings. Like the Trinity.

(Bille) #13

Oh… don’t worry about “The Trinity”. We have our own term for that also… the “God-head”… which in our beginning was just one more word to mean “One God-three persons”… but gradually has come to be used as though it were three separate persons… and not only that, but that only One of these was the real HEAD… to whom the Second One was eternally in submission… … … so far it’s fairly clearly spelled out in the pro-Male Headship papers… though the status of the Spirit isn’t quite so clear (at least not to me). Of course by now we are using the same old term “Trinity”… though disregarding such details as “Essential Trinity” as compared with “Economic Trinity”… as we seemingly move ever closer toward a sort of Tri-Theism.

(Kerby) #14

Thanks Winona,
He is not in touch with the Church he serves and the credible scientists in the field of geology. Adventists do believe in deep time. It does however, reveal a perspective on leadership. One that is disconnected from the breadth and wealth of the scientists still remaining in the midst - those in which it is his responsibility to serve. We could be making great strides on how to try and understand and interpret the Biblical reflections on creation in terms of God’s second book - nature. However, it appears that some, including Elder Wilson, do not see a place for God’s second book or the scientists to interpret its revelations in this church. However, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a church of people in search of truth not leaders defining truth. This is my church as much as any leaders. And I will continue to follow the quintessential and fundamental belief of Adventists to seek for truth and a clearer reflection of God’s character. I recognize that some believe we have already found all truth, but I believe as Paul said in I Corinthians 13 “now we see a reflection in a mirror , now I know partially”. We must continue to strive to see God more clearly.

(Carol June Hooker) #15

It is delightful to read again and again of these belief statements being fundamental, considering the literal meaning of the term “fundamental: of or pertaining to the fundament, the body parts upon which a person sits.”

(Cfowler) #16

I think the best comparison is with the Mormon church

(jeremy) #17

“Stele replied that the evening and morning would be required, so the item will come back to the assembly on Monday afternoon.”

this language of “evening and morning” being required is actually quite funny…i wonder if it was intentional or a freudian slip…

this conclusion is only possible if we believe god revealed nothing through egw…but this is just more evidence that ford’s consignment of egw to “pastoral prophet” status really means consignment to irrelevance…

(Randy Gerber) #18

Thank you Kirby for this thoughtful comment.
After reading Bonnie’s summery, it amazes me that anybody would be surprised at the 35% attrition rate. These leaders, are fiddling while Rome burns, seemingly completely out of touch with the reality of the world we live in.
If they want to start attracting thinking people, they should worry less about dictating specificities on the abstracts alluded to in Genesis, and be more concerned about taking care of the sick and the hungry.
The more they try to define and refine their beliefs, when the evidence is to the contrary, their credibility is lost to all those who actually live in the real world.
People are not stupid. The young and the educated are not going to buy into this.
Hence the 35% leaving. I suspect if they included all those who didn’t care enough to make it official, that number would be significantly higher.
If they want to retain people, make the beliefs relevant to the 21st century. Become a church of service, become inclusive not exclusive, become accepting of differences in understanding, care more about community and people, and less about dogma and intangibles.
Until that time comes, sadly, I see little there, to attract people like me.

(Elaine Nelson) #19

There is no doubt that the majority who have left the church in body are larger than those who have taken the step to formally ask of their membership to be removed.

Since few pastors ever call on those who no longer attend, are larger than those who resign, I would venture a guess that simply leaving the church is at least twice the number who have had their name removed. The majority of former academy students in my town (50 years) no longer attend. What is it like in your church?

(Steve Mga) #20

Is the SDA church for Intellectuals no longer meaningful when they become Intellectuals? What is it that Intellectuals lose?
The Reason one SHOULD come to group church gatherings each week is to have fun with God and to develop a relationship with God and with God’s children.
Does the way we as SDAs are preached at and manipulated in our spiritual growth prevent us from having fun with God, and so when we become able to explore Intellectually we arent able to bridge across to God because “He doesnt meet our need” as we were taught? We maintain that Imperfect view of God developed in Spiritual Adolescence. We maintain the attitude of the "stay at home son’ who is unable to find joy in the Fathers house and sees himself as just another “hired servant”?

Is the way Church services are designed prevent the development and enjoyment in worshiping God? Meets the needs of the “immature”, but less relevant to the Intellectual, the ones who have developed their more creative sides, want to be less entertained, who want to expand in an active relationship with God where Love instead of Rules and Regulations [like one does for servants] abound.

We do have to recognize that when persons are asked Why do you no longer attend? they are going to lie, not tell the truth. The “reason” will not always be the reason. If it is an emotional reason of some sort, it may be such that they dont realize it and therefore cannot verbalize it, and so give some other reason that sounds reasonable to the interviewer.
Too often those inside also give excuses. Just pass it off as “the person wasnt REALLY converted.” And we are not interested to investigate if Church is the reason persons leave Church.
Why persons leave is a huge issue that needs to be addressed continually, why does Church become unattractive to Second Generation SDAs. Why does Church become unattractive to First Generation converts.
Somewhere Love God, Love Others, Love Yourself, Serve is lost in Church.