Time to Start Over: The 28 — If Our Beliefs Weigh Us Down, How Can They Lift Us Up?

Wouldn’t it be easier — and smarter — just to eliminate doctrine? It’s so arid and divisive and irrelevant. Actually, no. But unless we do put doctrine in its proper place, it actually will choke the life out of Adventism. The church is already gasping for breath under the weight of institutional obsession with orthodoxy.

Since late summer, I have been saying here that two facts make any remaining Adventist self-satisfaction delusional. One is widening cultural indifference — or outright hostility — to biblical Christianity; the other is our own thumbs down to doctrinal humility. If we think we “have” the truth — as many church leaders and other members still do — we deny the fact (according to Paul) that humans see “dimly.” Honesty takes a back seat, and self-deception sits at the front.

Sustained resistance to doctrinal humility can only hurt us, only leave our witness damaged or deadly, our members lifeless or aching to get out. No one could possibly refute this, but the resistance persists anyway, whether as complacency, fundamentalist jeremiads, or hope-starved resignation. Against all this, truthfulness alone stands a chance. Cynicism surely makes matters worse. Claims to truthfulness are just the cancer at issue. Attempts at truthfulness — truth-seeking seasoned, that is, by humility before God and God’s grace — is the single effective therapy.

As to Adventist doctrine, what would truthfulness reveal? Would we throw it out or try to put it in its rightful place? The latter alone is what we need.

At the first Adventist move toward formal organization, meeting delegates made the crucial point. It was 1861, and a group of Michigan congregations were banding together as a conference. Though united by shared conviction, they resolved not to express themselves in a creed-like statement of belief. That would block “new light,” said James White. They did agree on a simple pledge. They were “covenanting together to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ.” That was it. The delegates realized what people who are belief-obsessed may shunt aside: the whole point of the Advent hope is the practice of hope. Missing this is like haggling over the Constitution and failing to vote. As with democracy — you must put it into practice — so with the Advent hope. Words alone are pretense.

It’s often said that in Jewish religion the most important thing is what you do (orthopraxy), and in Christian religion the most important thing is what you believe (orthodoxy). If you consider developed Christian tradition (or Adventist hand-wringing over its “fundamental beliefs”) this may be convincing, but if you define Christianity by the New Testament, it is not. Here, unmistakably, Christian faith is a way of life you share with others. Bartimaeus, the once blind beggar, does not sign on to a statement of beliefs after his healing; he follows Jesus “on the way.” A new believer does not rise up from baptism spouting religious theory but walking “in newness of life.” The first Christians do not belong to an ideology but to a “Way,” what Acts calls the Way. When Paul describes the very pinnacle of all spiritual gifts, he speaks of a “more excellent way,” then relativizes knowledge and rhapsodizes “love,” which, in the company of others, is something you do.

As Jews might well say of Christians who abused and murdered them while fixating on doctrinal niceties, attentiveness to belief is a distraction when it takes center stage. It is the enemy of right practice and thus the enemy of true faithfulness. In our case, Advent hope becomes theory — a schedule of events, a forecast of “final crisis.” Hope is thus divorced from the living out of Jesus’ vision. Hitched to prognostication, it is no longer what all of Christian life should be: grateful practice — that word again — in response to divine grace.

Then why not be done with doctrine? Why not say that getting worked up on this front is a waste of time, or even a danger? Here we may distinguish between obsession, on the one hand, and proper concern, on the other.

Remember now that any human “practice” — any activity involving rules, standards, and goals — takes place against a background of shared assumptions. If, for example, I am practicing medicine, the background will be the research, colleagues, hospitals, and experiential learning I depend on. A similar background obtains if I am, say, performing on a piano or a circus trapeze. For each of these “practices,” assumptions about how to proceed and what counts as excellence come into play, not to mention even more basic assumptions about whether circumstances allow for success. I will do none of these things, for example, if I am bedridden or stuck in a prison cell or impoverished from birth.

If the Christian way is a practice — a response to grace involving rules (love your neighbor?), standards (the faith of Jesus?), and goals (salvation, heaven, peace on earth?) then, as with any practice, certain assumptions, or premises, come into play. Is reality itself hospitable to Christian practice? Is God’s grace real, or is the universe wholly indifferent to human striving? Is there a circle of support adequate to the sustaining of Christian life? Do we grasp the practical significance of its undergirding story? Do we truly get, indeed, what Christian existence means?

Here is another way to put all this: Are the premises we embrace true, and do they support discipleship? Christian beliefs are the intellectual substance behind true Christian existence; they are premises for practice. And this means that if doctrines are not the main thing, they are nevertheless indispensable. Far from being incidental beliefs, they are, at least ideally, life-shaping convictions; they form and sustain our mode of being.

Why, then, do official church doctrines so often seem burdensome — arid, divisive, irrelevant? The answer is that they feel like this when they no longer resonate, at all, with our life experience. Through flawed expression or ill-considered accretion, they acquire aridity, divisiveness, and irrelevance.

It is just here that theology comes in. Properly, the energy a religious community puts into thinking about its beliefs is energy toward self-correction. The best religious thinkers see theology as the community examining itself. Responsible theologians put a question like this to the church: Your present convictions appear to be such and such; would it not be better, for these reasons, to revise them in this way? By 2005 it had become clear, for example, that in some locales members of our church needed prominent assurance that Christ had overcome “the demonic spirits,” so in that year, with due attention to Scripture, a belief giving just such assurance was added to the official list of 27 Fundamental Beliefs.

Such revision is just what humility encourages; when we acknowledge that we see “dimly,” we look for guidance toward truer vision. But revision is also just what arrogance resists; imagining that we “have” the truth makes self-correction hard. Adding “new truth” may be painless enough, but disavowing error assaults our pride. Still, when we recall that early Adventists, including Ellen White, had to disavow the “shut door” theory (only Millerites could await the Second Coming with hope), that disavowal can be liberating today. It is permission for us, like Peter in the book of Acts, to change our minds. We need not persist in our blunders, need not shove disturbing facts under the rug.

Again, I cannot say too often or too ardently that doctrinal beliefs matter; they support (or fail to support) authentic Christian life. How, then, can beliefs lift us up, not weigh us down? By resonating with life experience, and by sustaining the existence we committed to in baptism. For a community to have beliefs like this — beliefs that help, not hurt — it must invest fearlessly in intellectual self-amendment. It must acknowledge mistakes. It must cut away distractions that generate complacency or needless conflict. Finally, in accord with the spirit of the Michigan Conference founding, it must focus on Adventism as a way of life, not as merely, or primarily, a “message.”

Does it overstate things to speak of starting over? Not if the point is to underscore our situation’s gravity. But in any case, the work remains, challenging every member, every Sabbath School class, every meeting of scholars. In our response to divine grace, we all bear responsibility for offering ourselves and others intellectual substance that can truly sustain the single thing that matters most: our discipleship.


Previous Articles in this Series:

Time to Start Over: First, Face Delusion, September 16, 2020

Time to Start Over: Christ without Christ, or, How Not to Miss the Point, October 30, 2020


Charles Scriven is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash


We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10932

Thank you, Chuck, for a stirring call to action, even as we reflect on our convictions and beliefs. I have some concerns about those arenas of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. It strikes me that 28 “fundamental” beliefs is far too many. For a belief to be fundamental it must be something general enough that it applies to all within the community and it must be particular enough that one cannot live in faith and act without it. In other words, it must be essential. The Gospel message, in its profound simplicity, is centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. That is what is essential, even fundamental. There are other beliefs that might be particular to a time and place that function as guardrails, but that would not be essential in the sense that if we did not have them we could not call ourselves Christians. Perhaps it is time to examine our 28 and retire those that do not reach the standard of essential, especially if the attention paid to them and the discipline needed to enforce them distracts us from the good news of Jesus Christ.


Excellent article! The more we define what our beliefs are, the narrower we get in our thinking for living a life of ‘Christ likeness’.


The Disciples of Christ agree. This church’s widely known slogan is “No creed but Christ.”


What would you leave off of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs? How would you change the current listing of the SDA beliefs?

Good question! I don’t know what they are, so would have to look them up. Since I was baptized in the late 50’s(?) they have grown but I have ignored them. Back to you later!


5 -Gone
15 combined in 2’s or 3’s=6
8-rewrite and update

So maybe 15?

1 Like

Which ones would be gone?

It seems to me that there is some repetition, and others, while maybe important, I have difficulty as to why they should be listed. As it stands, others have contradictions within themselves. Gone, while it is just my opinion, 28, 27, 24, 18 and 16 and1 more…# 5. 5 seems a repeat but could be combined 2-4. I see # 24 as contradictory to John 3:16. Not sure why #16 is needed? #18…really? #23 is really badly written, my opinion, and needs a huge rewrite or eliminated. To belong to the club of man or the church of Christ? Bottom line for me is the need to a massive rewrite and paring down. I see no Biblical reason for making persons say they believe in them, as written. But, I’m biased, J 3:16 says it all for me. If I were required to ‘believe’ in them in order to be SDA, well, they would have lost a lot of monies over the years!!

1 Like

This article takes a wrong turn in the second sentence.
The correct answer is “actually yes” it’s time—two millennia past time, in fact— for Christians, not just SDA’s, to scrap everything that they claim to be is Christ’s Message, along with all of the convoluted doctrines supposedly derived from it, as there is no reason to believe that Jesus, if he really existed, would recognize any of the groups doing business under his name just as it is irrational to suspect, much less assert as a logical certainty, that Christ would achnowledge any of “his” sects as the true heirs to his philosophy and teachings.
It is a given that niether Jesus or god wrote one word of the Bible, personally, so there is no reason other than personal preference to believe that either JC or his dad would accept the dogmas based on biblical hearsay nor the doctrines which are said to somehow be verified by fantastic tales for which there is not and cannot be proof that they are anything other than fictional literary constructs.
The list of people who never knew Jesus but claimed to be speaking for him started with the “apostle” Paul, passed on to the pope, continued with people like Joseph Smith, EGW, Jim Jones, David Koresh, with countless et. als. along the way and should have stopped, in actuality, the minute Jesus said “It is finished.”


“Premises for Practice.” This is the best account of doctrines I’ve heared. Thank you, Chuck!

Buddhists have “Four Noble Truths.” Muslims have “Five Pillars.” Jews have four “Basic Beliefs.” Roman Catholics have “Seven Sacraments.” Hindus have “Four Yogas.” Calvinists have "TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election. Limited Atonement. Persevereance

We SDAS have “Twenty-eight Fundamenal Beliefs.” This is a problem.

I suggest that we summarize “The Twenty-eight” in Seven Ss" which even youngsters can remember and explain:

  1. Salvation.
  2. State of the Dead.
  3. Sabbath.
  4. Sanctuary.
  5. Second Coming.
  6. Spirit of Prophecy.
  7. Sound health.

I like this, Dave. Could we do it standing on one foot and balancing, as the old story goes? I’m not convinced of the Sanctuary doctrine, but the others give us clear perspective. Assuming our belief in the gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we could get the essentials down to Sabbath and Second Coming, two perspectives that I’ve long thought give us a full view of our humanity and our relation to each other, to the earth, and to God.


Hi Barry!
The fewer the “Ss” the better! I think that we need to go back to basics on the Sanctuary Truth by seeing that it threads its way through the whole of Scripture–especially Exodus, John and Revelation–with the good news that no matter what “God Dwells with Us.” This was good news to many of the disappointed Millerites and it is good to us in the ups and downs of our own lives. Even if they cannot be improved in any way, our most frequent articulations of the ST are too heavy–complicated and seemingly irrelvant–for almost everyone. Simplify! Simplifi! Simplify!

1 Like

#23 is horrifyingly bad, and contradicts the verses used for support. It says “Marriage is God’s ideal to live in harmony” (seriously? so, like, all singles are obnoxious? I mean, I am, but…never mind) and then it uses 1 Corinthians 7:7 as a basis:

For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.

You know, where Paul is wishing that more people could stay unmarried.

More people in the 20s and 30s are unmarried than ever. A bunch of them have stopped attending, even before COVID-19, because they’re past tired of being treated like second-class citizens at church. The next sermon I hear directed at singles (that isn’t “get married, you bunch of dorks”) will be the first.

Twisting Paul’s words into “marriage über alles!” isn’t just actively insulting; it’s frighteningly bad theology.


Well…not sure which church treats men as 2nd class citizens! 99% of the sermons/talks/seminars are by men. I have attended churches across a number of states. But I do agree #23 seems to exclude singles, bad, bad.

1 Like


I credit you with exceptional candor, if not intellectual humility.

I share your suspicion of “convoluted doctrines.” and acknowledge that a case can be made for Scripture as a library of “fictional literary constructs.” As to saying that Christian convictions (all of them, I gather) are matters of nothing but “personal preference,” I am just less sanguine than you.

I do not, for example, think the values of love and justice (for the vulnerable) are nothing but a matter of personal preference.

I do not believe the sense of the infinite value, or dignity, of the individual is nothing but a matter of personal preference.

I do not believe that whether history is meaningless (going nowhere) or in some sense sacred (with a transcendent plot) is nothing but a matter of personal preference.

These are matters of consequence, and therefore matters that invite serious intellectual discussion. Giving up on any of them is a giant leap toward social structures based on who has the POWER and who doesn’t. I will understand if you say “That’s the way it is,” but against such nihilism I now and always raise my fist in protest.

As God grants, nonviolent, conversation-oriented protest.



What I find interesting is that Christ contracted the 10 to 2 Does anyone have a problem with that? It seems that it requires individual interpretation of the broad concept of " love God and one another " as a guide to living in community. The problem with a list of doctrines is it is used as a test of fellowship. Quite frankly it is easy to follow and go along with a set of beliefs because they are superficial and requires little thought . Learning how to apply the broad ideal of loving another is the work of a lifetime. It takes thought and internalization of what God’s design for the human family means for daily living. It is far more difficult to trust your God given mind to live in accordance with His design probably because you haven’t figured out what the design is.
Church membership looks a lot like a membership in a country club .They both have rules and regulation to govern member conduct while on the premises. There are club fees to pay (tithe) It is a very controlled environment There is a dress code usually if it is private There are privileges. I don’t have a problem with any of that because it’s my choice to join It’s voluntary and so if you don’t like it .just leave. The only problem with church membership is that you are made to feel that you’re walking away from God’s family. You’re not counselled that maybe there alternate churches to research that might suit you better and the door is always open for you to visit as you wish. Once you leave you’re never encouraged to maintain friendships that you have established. Isn’t that part of “love one another”? Here is where doctrines are so divisive If you don’t assent to these doctrines seems to imply that you are disregarding God’s formula for pleasing Him because there is "truth " in them . Following Jesus alone as His disciple is more challenging but more rewarding because it stimulates spiritual growth. Life is more "artistic " and less “paint by numbers”


It seems to me that a bit of clarification is in order. What the author describes as a ‘way of life’ is not the same thing as ‘lifestyle’, which for example, is removing the salt shakers from the GC headquarters cafeteria. Is lifestyle important? Perhaps, but it is not salvific.

1 Like

Other than your attempts at gaslighting, as this is to be expected in any discussion with a member of the group my mother came to refer to as Seventh Day Arrogants, you list several matters of consequence in which you have placed your belief.
However, these beliefs are not unique to so-called Christianity and, more importantly, neither you, nor any other Christian can provide anything other than hearsay evidence to show that Jesus shared these beliefs with you.
I’d submit that even most atheists share these ideals sans any Christian doctrinal instruction and that it is the height of intellectual self-aggrandizement to claim that the purported founder of one’s religion is the only path to a true understanding of these “matters of consequence”.
Most importantly there is no reason to suppose that Jesus himself accepted the most fundamental of all Christian dogmas, i.e., the unsupported assertion that it is only through one human “savior” that all others must pass to attain access to their creator.

1 Like

Hi Charles.
My apologies for the previous post. not sure how it happened.

[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:21175”]
“As to Adventist doctrine, what would truthfulness reveal? Would we throw it out or try to put it in its rightful place? The latter alone is what we need.”
It appears the above applies especially to core beliefs such as FB 24 the sanctuary doctrine and FB 20 the Sabbath. If the truth is to be revealed, doctrine that include assumptions and premises must be tested by a strict and consistent application of commonly accepted principles of interpretation.
For example, consider the following points.
• How many kings and kingdoms are identified from the symbols of Dan. 2. Three or six?
• As history confirms prophecy did Greece fall in 168 BC or 30 BC, cf. Dan 11.
• As history records the fall of kingdoms, did Rome fall in 476, 508, 538, or 1453 AD?
• When a prophet provides an explanation of an earlier prophecy, who do we believe?
• Do the iron and clay of Dan. 2:33 represent specific statecraft and churchcraft kingdoms, or strong and weak kingdoms? cf. 4 BC, 1168?
• Is the Papacy the sole power that succeeds the “reign of beasts?” cf. Doukhan, p. 124.
• Does the Papacy rule for 2,300 years, or 1260 years? cf. SS Lesson, July-August, 2006, p. 57.
Consider the following understandings of Daniel 8:9-12 that carry through to today.
Uriah Smith applies verses 9-11 to be a repeat and expansion of the “iron” of 2:33, i.e. to the state craft Roman empire. cf. 4 BC 841-843; Daniel and the Revelation, Vol.1, p. 159
Stephen Haskell applies verses 11 and 12 to be a repeat and expansion of the clay of 2:33, i.e. the church craft Papacy. Haskell also applies verse 12 to the transfer of power from the dragon, Rome, to the beast, the Papacy? Daniel the Prophet, p. 112.
Who gave the host (the armies) to the Papacy, and who are the transgressors in verse 11?
If Papal Rome succeeded pagan Rome in 476 A.D. how do we account for the 1260 year prophecy of papal persecution ending in 1798 A.D.?
If Rome fell in 476 A.D., who did Justinian represent when he set up the Papacy in 538 A.D.?
If Rome ruled until 1453 A.D. and the Papacy ruled until 1798 A.D. we have two different kingdoms, who ruled concurrently from 538 A.D. to 1453 A.D , as opposed sequentially in 476, 508, or 538 A.D.
If the daily of verse 11 applies to the actions of the Roman empire, then the daily, whatever it represents, was not taken away by the Papacy. Conversely, if the daily of verse 12 applies to a continuing action of the Papacy, it appears Adventists have not only crucified Christ afresh, the credibility of the Sabbath doctrine is also at stake, as Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath, cf. below.
“The main concern of this vision is the attitude of the little horn toward the sanctuary and the priestly work of the Prince (verses 11, 12). It attacks the host of heaven, defeats them (verse 10), and goes after the Prince and the sanctuary. — Then, in a spirit of rebellion/transgression (verse 12), the little horn sets up its own force to control the tāmîd.” 12BC 394-395; 2002 Teachers SS Quarterly, p. 44- 48, etc.

In light of the above, it appears the various Historist positions are based on assumptions and premises that are slowly but surely undermining these two Fundamental Beliefs.
Consequently, how timely your warning below.
“Since late summer, I have been saying here that two facts make any remaining Adventist self-satisfaction delusional. One is widening cultural indifference — or outright hostility — to biblical Christianity; the other is our own thumbs down to doctrinal humility. If we think we “have” the truth — as many church leaders and other members still do — we deny the fact (according to Paul) that humans see “dimly.” Honesty takes a back seat, and self-deception sits at the front.”

The questio is, does any one care?

1 Like