Editorial: The Weightier Matters of Our Creation Belief

(Spectrumbot) #1

I am thinking more about setting priorities these days, particularly since I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma six months ago. (If you are interested in my blog on that journey feel free to visit kenslymphomaadventures.wordpress.com.)

But in reality, whether we are aware of it or not, we are all setting priorities every day. What do we do with our time, our money, our efforts?

This same general requirement also operates at the institutional level. Even a gargantuan institution such as the American Federal government that spends unfathomable amounts of money and manpower on a myriad of programs and projects, never seems to have “enough,” and thus must prioritize its activities and focus. A church must do the same. Prioritizing is done so that the most important things are accomplished and the things of lesser importance await another day when their importance may have improved relative to other alternatives.

This process of prioritization is not just some recent management fad. We can see that the first of the Ten Commandments is an act of prioritization, for example. Jesus said we should seek first the kingdom of heaven. As we approach the San Antonio General Conference Session later this year I offer this editorial in light of another prioritization principle given to us by Jesus. Specifically I want to focus on the process underway to review Fundamental Belief #6. An action such as this, of course, requires activity now and will potentially require actions at the General Conference. My question is whether we have accurately prioritized our concerns given where we are today.

When we address any specific situation we immediately bump up against the reality that what one person sees as hugely important another may have much further down their list. Can we expect otherwise in any diverse group made up of people who all have had different backgrounds and life experiences? How are we to responsibly balance and differentiate among all of these potentially disparate views. In the secular business world that I mostly inhabit the most common benchmark is probably the concept of “return on investment.” We compare required investments with anticipated results and usually try to select the one which provides the “biggest bang for the buck.” But what are we to do in the spiritual arena? Here we face upside-down economics: The poor widow's mites are valued more than the thousands given by others; the one lost sheep or coin requires more effort than the remaining 99 but is worth it. Thus, we may have to look for another prioritizing principle and hopefully one that can also be widely adopted in the church.

I believe that Jesus has provided us with this other benchmark as we approach the need to prioritize our activities, energies and funds. The ministry of Jesus here was coming to an end. He had taught and healed and blessed the people inside and outside the boundaries of the Jewish nation. Now He spoke more forcefully to draw the contrast between the true Kingdom of God and what was actually going on around them. His words are recorded in Matthew 23 and I would call out verse 23 in particular: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin; and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law, justice and mercy and faith” (RSV). These words of Jesus clearly tell me that there is a priority even among good things. If the highest priority matters are not kept as the highest priorities then we will major in minors and we will be subject to the denunciation of Jesus for overlooking the weightier more important matters. In short, we will not have prioritized properly.

Ellen White also added her commentary on this scene: “The Jewish rulers recognized the obligation of tithing, and this was right; but they did not leave the people to carry out their own convictions of duty . . . They occupied men's minds with trifling distinctions, and turned their attention from essential truths. The weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy and truth, were neglected” ("The Desire of Ages," 616-617).

Now to my chosen application. The first two sentences of Fundamental Belief #6 are these: “God is Creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the authentic account of his creative activity. In six days the Lord made 'the heaven and the earth' and all living things upon the earth, and rested on the seventh day of that first week.” The proposed changes add that this was “a recent six-day creation” and that it was “creative work performed and completed during six literal days that together with the Sabbath constituted a week as we experience it today.” In other words, each day was a literal 24 hour time period coinciding with one revolution of the earth just as we have today. In short, revised Fundamental Belief #6 would in essence say: “In 144 hours the Lord recently made 'the heavens and the earth.'”

The question about prioritization I have is this: How much energy, attention and time of the world church should be expended on this potential change? Are there weightier matters that will by definition get less attention? There is no doubt in my mind that if we are going to have Fundamental Beliefs (something our church founders did not uniformly agree upon) then there certainly could be times when it would be a high priority to make amendments. For example, let us hypothesize that somehow Belief #6 currently stated that an anonymous being or even an angel had made the heaven and the earth. I would be actively promoting an amendment to specify that it was God as identified in the Bible that had done this. It seems to me the Bible takes pains to unequivocally state that God is different from all other gods in at least this creative respect.

But it is not this sort of amendment our attention and energy are being expended on. I am perfectly happy if the six creation days concerning a habitable earth were in fact 144 current hours in duration (and I believe God could have created everything in one minute or one day if he had chosen to). The actual Hebrew language used in Genesis, however, is apparently not so specific and unambiguous. (See “The Six 'Creation Days,'” by Bull and Guy in Spectrum, Volume 38, Issue 3, 2010.)

Thus we would have a peculiar outcome if the proposed amendment were adopted: We would take out the English word “day,” that carries an ambiguity apparently somewhat similar to the Hebrew word actually used in Genesis, and substitute one of the several possible interpretations of that Hebrew word as the absolutely definitive and only truthful view. This presumably will have been done, if at all, by a majority vote of the General Conference in session. What we know for certain is that truth is not determined by a majority vote or even consensus. The earth goes around the Sun whether a conclave votes otherwise or not. Thus, we could be falling into the same Pharisaical trap that Ellen White described as “not leav[ing] the people to carry out their own convictions of duty.”

Now let us return to my overarching issue of priority. In the question of Origins it seems to me that we have two essential alternatives: (1) The universe and life we see around us are the result of accidental, impersonal and purposeless events such as might be described as “quantum fluctuations,” “spontaneous quickening,” and “multiple universes,” or (2) They are largely the result of an intentional and intelligent design by a fantastically creative actor. The Bible certainly sides with the Intelligent Actor position. Our current Fundamental Belief #6 as written clearly states this as well. Thus, on the fundamental issue of Origins Belief #6 already draws the critical dividing line related to the big picture. In the scientific community this line itself is extremely controversial as we know, but to be true to the overwhelming picture painted in the Bible we must stand as Christians against random purposelessness. In fact, without taking this position how can anything else in the Christian viewpoint make much sense? In other words, this position is High Priority and helps to explain why we find it in the very first words of the Bible. In fact, in my view concepts such as justice and mercy are essentially meaningless (other than “might makes right”) if there is no purpose, design or creative Intelligence forming the moral backdrop to existence.

But when we go beyond this to force a debate on whether to continue using the words “six days” or change them in essence to “144 hours,” we have passed from High Priority to something else. Now the words of Jesus in pronouncing the series of woes on his institutional contemporaries jabs at my conscience. Are there not weightier things that should absorb my attention? What about justice and mercy and faith? Have we exhausted our understanding and effective action in these areas? Are we exercising these attributes in our individual and corporate lives to the maximum extent? Do we have comprehensive plans for taking our understanding and actions to the world in a winsome and effective way? If not, then I submit that to focus the time and attention of millions of church members and thousands of delegates on “six days” versus “144 hours” is to lose sight of the weightier matters. Woe unto us.

Ken Peterson is a member of the Spectrum / Adventist Forum board.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6692

(le vieux) #2

It would never have been necessary if there weren’t professed Adventists who believe in and teach something completely contrary to the Genesis record, in an effort to accommodate current unsubstantiated scientific “findings” (claims).

(Thomas J Zwemer) #3

Ken Neither do I see a need for a change, certainly not in the direction proposed. I do not believe in a (young earth) but I do believe in a recent creation upon that earth by my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The power of God’s voice in well documented in New Testament times. The issue for the General Conference is the Sabbath and to any Neo- Deism within the Church. The prime issue is Elder Ted Wilson’s leadership. If his agenda prevails, he will be re-elected. I don’t know protocol so I don’t know which comes first. Tom Z

(efcee) #4

It’s very difficult to convince people whose priorities are out of whack that their priorities are out of whack…largely because they are, at the same time, trying to convince you of the same thing.

(jeremy) #5

i think leaving the door of fb #6 open to the suggestion that creation week was not necessarily six literal days is a logical step towards attenuating the seventh-day sabbath, which is really what evolution accomplishes quite completely, among other things…there are those who feel that a “creation” happening through natural selection over billions of years does not challenge a 24-hr seventh-day sabbath, but this position is not tenable for the majority because it seems blatantly counter-intuitive and against explicit language in the bible for why the sabbath is a sign of the covenant that exists between god and his people…

because so much of what we are as adventists is based on the seventh-day sabbath - everything from our name to our eschatology - it’s difficult to see that the gc won’t vote for language that closes the door to ambiguity in fb #6…my sense is that the vast majority of adventists believe we are living in the last days, and that at some point the seventh-day sabbath will become a focal point for the world to make a decision on…for better or for worse, this is the direct result of the influence egw continues to hold over our church…consequently, intentional ambiguity in fb #6 is probably not in the offing…i would say that a decision by the gc to leave fb #6 alone at san antonio, given the current climate, would be a more stunning upset than a no-vote on wo…

(Elaine Nelson) #6

Why is there an urgent push to change the original statement? Once specificity has become a major importance, the church is headed further down to even more exclusivity. Is this what Christ wanted?

(Thomas J Zwemer) #7

A record of age deception is as least as old as the age of Joshua, A near by tribe put on old clothes and travel worn shoes, in order to fool the Hebrews. the major assumption is an orderly earth since even before time. The story and the evidence both declare otherwise. The earth has sustained one or more
catastrophic events of global proportions. science assumes a cosmic uniformity. Now the investigation of Mars suggests other. The burning question is does man need a Redeemer? if so., let us accept the one offered. Tom Z

(David Read) #8

Making clear that we believe in creation in a literal week has become a priority because so many inside the church seem to want to undermine that belief. It is clear from Scripture that a literal week is intended:

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Gen. 2:2-3

“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Ex. 20:11

This is also clear from Ellen White:

“Like the Sabbath, the week originated at creation, and it has been preserved and brought down to us through Bible history. God Himself measured off the first week as a sample for successive weeks to the close of time. Like every other, it consisted of seven literal days. Six days were employed in the work of creation; upon the seventh, God rested, and He then blessed this day and set it apart as a day of rest for man. . . . But the assumption that the events of the first week required thousands upon thousands of years, strikes directly at the foundation of the fourth commandment.” PP 111

I don’t see any ambiguity, but some have argued that the current FB #6 leaves room for non-literal days, or long ages, or the “day = age” theory, or other attempts to accommodate Adventist beliefs to long-ages geology. To give one pertinent example, my recollection is that Spectrum and others have carried stories in which Fritz Guy is quoted as saying that the 1980 statement was crafted to leave room for ambiguity as to whether a day was a literal day. These efforts to cast doubt onto our belief, or to maintain that our official statement of faith leaves room for a non-literal creation week, makes a clarification of the highest priority.

(Steve Mga) #9

I still like this:
I believe in One God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.
I believe in One Lord, Jesus Christ…through Him all things were made.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.

This belief say that “In the beginning God…”, “Then God said, Let there be…” that ALL Three are represented in the word “God”, and ALL Three were present and active.
In Exodus 20:11 when it says, “Adonai made…” it included ALL Three being addressed here.

(Bill Garber) #10

Elder Ted Wilson is right when he says that there is nothing new being imposed by the revised wording of Fundamental Belief #6, either in terms of how the church majority has understood Genesis when reading various translations, or the actual verbs used to make the Hebrew understandable to those unable to read Hebrew. Even the word ‘recent’ can easily encompass the geologic column when set against the age of the universe.

John Walton, author of The Lost World of Adam and Eve, as well as the previous volume, The Lost World of Genesis 1, convincingly argues for Genesis having occurred in 7 24-hour days in a single week, indeed creating a week. He goes on to declare that the events of the first six days of creation week would have been an unfinished exercise without the seventh day, the Sabbath.

Walton also attests to his conviction that Adam and Even are historical human beings.

This cannot be surprising as Walton attests personally to belief in biblical inerrancy and verbal inspiration.

Walton, however, argues from within scripture that the account of Genesis does not describe material creation. He further asserts that there is nothing within the bible that inherently conflicts with the geologic time line or with science, though he quickly asserts that the bible does not affirm any findings of earth or life science, as the bible does not speak to science.

With regard to the topic at hand here, there appears to be nothing in the current wording or the proposed wording of Fundamental Belief #6 that would require change were the church to accept John Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve thesis as the valid understanding of literal biblical reading of Genesis and references to Genesis elsewhere across scripture.

On the broader front when looking ahead to the San Antonio General Conference, there is apparently no published agenda item that can be considered theologically decisive, where decisiveness was lacking previously.

Church leaders appear to have clearly set the agenda as to avoid any major seismic event for the church while in San Antonio. And if so, that seems both good and wise.

(Charles Scriven) #11

It stuns that you feel the Sabbath hangs by so slender a thread.

Genesis 1-2:3 (even if you read the passage as in some sense metaphorical) TEACHES the Sabbath. The whole Old Testament TEACHES the Sabbath. Jesus makes teaching about the Sabbath–none of it meant to underminel its deep meaning–a key part of his message.

The idea that the Sabbath requires fundamentalism has no biblical basis, any more than the idea that the Bible is our highest written authority requires believing that the earth is flath.


(Sirje) #12

It’s hard to determine the weightier matters when the doctrines of the church are composed of a “connect the dots” picture. All parts are of equal importance; no further input or correction needed, once the dots are connected, framed, and hung.

Starting with the more complex and factoring down to the “weightiest”, we come to just one “weighty matter”. The rest is support casting to uphold the meaning of the main character. Remove Him, and the rest looses its moral force, or even reason for being. It could be argued that the rest keep humanity humane, and so they do; but then we need to ask what the weightier purpose is - to create nice people; or new people…

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #13

How much clearer can it be?

(David Read) #14

John Walton’s theory–that Genesis One describes not a material creation but rather the consecration of the earth-as-cosmic temple–is not convincing, and is going nowhere in Adventism. It is a bizarre reading of Scripture that is informed not by a biblical worldview but by Walton’s understanding of what the ancient Babylonians, Persians, and Egyptians believed. I don’t see how Walton could have much appeal in Adventism.

(Charles Scriven) #15

Salvation by gnosis is thoroughly unbiblical.

Of course the doctrine of creation is basic, but anyone who wants to FORCE everyone who self-identifies as a committed Adventist to intepret the doctrine in exactly the same way has lapsed, I’m afraid, into God-defiance and spiritual totalitarianism.

I myself (I would count as an example of non-fundamentalist Adventism) interpret the doctrine of creation thus:

God is our maker; we are God’s creatures. From God, and in our status as creatures, we receive such gifts as these: freedom–we are not reducible to wholly determined objects; a hospitable environment–one that (unless we ruin it) supports the project of human love under the grace of God; the Sabbath–an opportunity for rest that renews my sense of God’s care and gives me regular relief from the hurly-burly and self-preoccupation of the weekdays.

All of these would run afoul of doctrinaire scientism. All support the moral and spiritual existence to which we all, as Adventists, aspire. I am sure something is wrong what I believe (I have read Isa. 55:8,9) but what makes me so wrong as to justify wanting to run me out of the church, or out of my job if I work for the church or for one of its schools?


(Sirje) #16

The New Testament, particularly the book of Hebrews, gives the Sabbath a new impact and purpose as Christ is our Sabbath rest from trying to work for our salvation.The “rest” in Genesis holds other applications beside the SDA mandate for a weekly Sabbath observance.

Repeated from my post of Feb 19:

"When God “rested” on the seventh day, He “hallowed” it - pronounced it holy. We have taken this pronouncement and placed it exclusively on ONE day, as if the other six are somehow “unholy”. When Paul declares: One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike, we automatically assume those who “regard every day alike” are dishonoring the “hallowedness” of the seventh day. Perhaps, instead, we are to honor each day with the blessing placed upon that seventh day, dedicating it to God. Maybe that is the point of God’s declaration in Genesis. Instead, we take the holiness of creation and focus it on one day day out of seven, counting down time to the holy, and again, to its end; and use the other “unholy” time to accumulate wealth, not sustenance. By restricting holiness of time to just one day, we diminish the whole of creation as “not-so-holy”; and give ourselves permission to squander it.

God did not need to rest as we interpret rest. Work accomplished is exhilarating - not exhausting. The cabinet maker places the finishing touches on his creation - puts down his tools - and “rests” to admire his work, declaring it - “well done”.

The New Testament writers grasped the meaning of the pictures - the stories - the dances of the Old, as pointing forward to the main event in the New. Christ is the demarcation zone, where picture is replaced by the real; where the story comes to life - where we are invited to join the holy ‘in spirit and in truth’."

I would suggest the key part of Jesus’ message is not Sabbath observance - a focus on one out of the ten commandments. Jesus’ key message is the inauguration of a new age to come, where motives of the heart prevail over even correct and punctual Sabbath observance. Where man is the object of God’s love, which in turn, recreates us into a new creature. Man was not made for Sabbath observance; but the Sabbath rest was created for man. Ceasing from work will not suffice. Only Christ can give us that rest.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #17

why so defensive Chuck, I read nothing in Isaiah to run you out of the Church. But neither do I see any reason to change the belief on creation…The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, that is Gospel. The change elevates time over the Creator of time. Tell me at what time in heaven is God not worshipped. We worship the Creatorand are custodians of His creation. In our Senior center we can have any pet we can carry in and out of the apartment. thus, nature from our balcony is very dear. The heavens do declare the glory of God. Tom Z

(Elaine Nelson) #18

Prior to Christianity, the Bible was the sacred scripture only by and for Hebrews. The Sabbath was later implied as being given to man at Creation, but the only thing missing is that no command was ever given to man about a rest day one in seven until Sinai and it was to the Israelites only. It has thus been taught since Adventism determined that Sabbath should be a rest day. Unfortunately, it can only be found as a command given to the Israelite nation and never given or instructed to Christians following the Pentecost.

Jesus was born, lived, and died in the Jewish system and faithfully observed the Law. He only spoke to Jews and all his life incidences were written long after Christianity had become the major religion of that area. It was the apostles following his death that instructed the gentiles who became Christians that they were not bound by the Law given the Jew but were saved through Christ and no longer were subject to the Law. This is explained in so many NT writings that it is simply amazing that reference to Sabbath always refers backward to Judaism and the Law given ONLY to them.

(Elaine Nelson) #19

Some of us are still waiting for the first NT text written for Christians that the seventh day should be observed; this is direct conflict with the first instructions given to Christians as Sirje writes above. There us a total lack of any NT text to Christians designating ANY day as set apart by God as holy. Sabbath became a shadow as the writer of Hebrews clearly explains. Christians should rest in Christ’s assurance every day.

(k_Lutz) #20

Thank-you, again, Tom, for bringing this to our attention.

If I understand the *scription in the Exodus 20 Decalogue correctly, it is a meme to bring us to the ever present reality of our Creator AND His creation. Is it not backwards to infer the meme justifies the underlying principle?

It seems to me that this folderol on creation is a distraction from the primal guilt of desecrating God’s handiwork (Ps 8) in mankind’s assumption that he can improve upon it by destroying it. For millennia, in many parts of the world in many cultures, people have lived in equanimity with the natural world, taking here and there but always giving back such that the fragile balance is maintained. Yet, in these past couple centuries this reciprocal relationship has been obliterated in deference to self-aggrandisement: we now know a little about how make the world yield it’s bounties for our personal gratification. It reminds me of the regret Einstein expressed in the use of his inquiry of the natural world to destroy with the atom bomb.

Yes! Call me a tree-hugger, if you wish, but I sense that that is much more aligned with the will of the Creator than the ill-conceived, untested hypothesis of ‘progress’.

Trust God.