The General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has started the process of reviewing the wording of our statement of Fundamental Beliefs (FB) – all 28 of them (Link). However, special emphasis is being placed on the wording, or re-wording, of FB#6 regarding the nature of the Genesis account of creation. The current wording of this statement reads as follows:
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. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work. The first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was “very good,” declaring the glory of God. (Gen. 1; 2; Ex. 20:8-11; Ps. 19:1-6; 33:6, 9; 104; Heb. 11:3.)
While this may come as a surprise to some, this wording was carefully crafted, in 1980, by the “Committee of Twelve”, specifically by Dr. Lawrence Geraty, in an effort to be more “inclusive” of those in the church who favor the Darwinian notion that life has existed and evolved on this planet over the course of hundreds of millions of years. According to Dr. Fritz Guy, this “more Biblical” wording allows for the interpretation that the “days” of creation may be figuratively understood and may be viewed as representing vast periods of time (The Framing of FB#6).
Of course, the historical position of the Adventist Church, as an organization, is that the Genesis account of creation was intended by its author to be taken literally – that the days of creation were intended to be descriptive of truly literal historical days, each consisting of an “evening and a morning” – the same as those we now experience.
Even modern secular scholars of Hebrew are in general agreement that this is the most accurate interpretation of the language of Genesis. Take, for example, the relevant comments of the late Dr. James Barr (well-known Oxford scholar of Hebrew):
Probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that: (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience. (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story (c) Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark. Or, to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose the “days” of creation to be long eras of time, the figures of years not to be chronological, and the flood to be a merely local Mesopotamian flood, are not taken seriously by any such professors, as far as I know.
Letter from Professor James Barr to David C.C. Watson of the UK, dated 23 April 1984.
It seems strange then that anyone in the Adventist Church would wish to allow for an interpretation of Genesis that is contrary to how the original author of Genesis obviously intended to be interpreted. Yet, given the inroads that neo-Darwinian thinking has made, even within the Adventist Church, such concessions are deemed necessary, by some, to keep the peace – especially within the academic worlds of Adventism.
This was until the controversy over La Sierra University’s active promotion of neo-Darwinism as the true story of origins erupted back in 2009. The fact that one of our own universities has long been undermining the historic position of the Adventist Church on a literal 6-day creation week came as a shock to many. It was at this point that President Ted Wilson, as one of his first acts as a newly elected President, gave a talk at the 2010 General Conference session entitled, “Don’t go backwards to interpret Genesis as allegorical or symbolic” – followed by a proposal to modify the current wording of FB#6 to make the Adventist stand on a literal 6-day creation week absolutely unambiguous to all.
Although there was some opposition to this proposal from the floor, it was overwhelmingly approved and Elder Artur Stele, General Conference vice president, was tasked with chairing a committee to evaluate and determine changes to the current language of FB#6 – and/or any other changes to our statement of Fundamental Beliefs. Stele was specifically tasked with incorporating the decision of the General Conference Executive Committee at the 2004 Annual Council regarding the topic of creation – such as the following statement:
We call on all boards and educators at Seventh-day Adventist institutions at all levels to continue upholding and advocating the church’s position on origins. We, along with Seventh-day Adventist parents, expect students to receive a thorough, balanced, and scientifically rigorous exposure to and affirmation of our historic belief in a literal, recent six-day creation, even as they are educated to understand and assess competing philosophies of origins that dominate scientific discussion in the contemporary world.
Elder Stele specifically explained the importance of making the language of our beliefs regarding the Genesis account of creation unambiguously clear:
Fundamental Belief No. 6 is crucial, because the whole system of beliefs that we have as a Seventh-day Adventist Church is so interlinked. If you take one out, especially one as central as our belief in special creation, the whole building collapses. And No. 6 is one of the foundational beliefs that really undergird the entire structure of our beliefs. If you don’t believe in Creation, then you definitely will not believe in the biblical account of re-creation, the creation of new heavens and a new earth. If you don’t believe in Creation as described in the Bible, the Sabbath—of which it is the weekly memorial—quickly declines in significance. It’s vitally important that the language we choose to express our belief in Creation clearly articulates what we mean to express about what the Bible teaches.
Of course, not everyone is happy about making the language of FB#6 less ambiguous. For example, Dr. Charles Scriven, president of Kettering College and chair of the Adventist Forum board, is not at all happy about efforts to clearly define the Adventist position on origins as standing on a truly literal 6-day creation week. He recently wrote an article expressing his displeasure entitled, “Uniformity Drift: Are Adventist Ideals at Risk?” – where he likens such attempts to clearly define the Adventist perspective on origins, and other “fundamentals”, to the evils of totalitarian dictatorships. Dr. Scriven predictably goes on to reference the efforts of the early Adventist pioneers to avoid organization or standardized statements of belief as a basis for membership or paid representation. However, as usual, Dr. Scriven fails to mention that as the early Adventist Church grew bigger and more diverse, the founding fathers (and mother) quickly realized a splintering of the movement toward anarchy and chaos. It was soon found that some form of internal governmental structure with defined and internally maintained doctrinal standards was vital to the continued growth and health of the church.
As our numbers increased, it was evident that without some form of organization, there would be great confusion, and the work could not be carried forward successfully. To provide for the support of the ministry, for carrying on the work in new fields, for protecting both the church and ministry from unworthy members, for holding church property, for the publication of the truth through the press, and for other objects, organization was indispensable.
Of course, those who did not accurately represent the views of the early Adventist Church did not receive “cards of commendation”. And what was the attitude of such persons? according to Loughborough?
Of course those who claimed “liberty to do as they pleased,” to “preach what they pleased,” and to “go when and where they pleased,” without “consultation with any one,” failed to get cards of commendation. They, with their sympathizers, drew off and commenced a warfare against those whom they claimed were “depriving them of their liberty.” Knowing that it was the Testimonies that had prompted us as a people to act, to establish “order,” these opponents soon turned their warfare against instruction from that source, claiming that “when they got that gift out of the way, the message would go unrestrained to its `loud cry.’ ”
One of the principal claims made by those who warred against organization was that it “abridged their liberty and independence, and that if one stood clear before the Lord that was all the organization needed,” etc… Upon this point, when church order was contested, we read: “Satan well knows that success only attend order and harmonious action. He well knows that everything connected with heaven is in perfect order, that subjection and thorough discipline mark the movements of the angelic host. . . . He deceives even the professed people of God, and makes them believe that order and discipline are enemies to spirituality; that the only safety for them is to let each pursue his own course. . . . All the efforts made to establish order are considered dangerous, a restriction of rightful liberty, and hence are feared as popery.”
When those who back in the “sixties” [1860s] witnessed the battle of establishing church order now hear persons, as conscientious no doubt as those back there, utter almost the identical words that were then used by those opposing order, it need not be wondered that they fear the result of such statements as the following: “Perfect unity means absolute independence, – each one knowing for himself. Why, we could not have outward disorganization if we all believed in the Lord. . . . This question of organization is a simple thing. All there is to it is for each individual to give himself to the Lord, and then the Lord will do with him just what he wants to, and that all the time. . . . Our only safety, under God, is to go back to the place where God is able to take a multitude of people and make them one, without parliamentary rules, without committee work, without legislation of any kind.” – General Conference Bulletin of 1899.
Superficially considered, this might seem to be a blessed state, a heaven indeed; but, as already noted on a preceding page, we read of heaven itself and its leadings that “the god of heaven is a god of order, and he requires all his followers to have rules and regulations to preserve order.”
Dr. Scriven, and many others of like mind, make the mistake of thinking that any internally enforced governmental structure is equivalent to the church taking on what Mrs. White refers to as “kingly power“. This is not the case. All viable organizations require the internal order and discipline of governmental structure, a certain degree of uniformity, where only those who would effectively represent the primary goals and ideals of the organization are actually hired to do so.
Where the early Christian Church stepped out of bounds is in thinking to take on civil powers of authority over all people regardless of their wish to be or not to be part of the church. It is always wrong for any church organization to think to enforce its views on those outside of the church with the use of civil power – with true “Kingly Power”. It is for this reason that the Adventist Church has always been a very strong supporter of our constitutional separation of Church and State. All should be free to join or leave the Adventist Church, or any other church, free from any fear of any civil reprisals of any kind. However, this is not to say, therefore, that no internal governmental structure is required. Such internal order and discipline is required for any large organization to avoid internal fragmentation, splintering, and eventual collapse into chaos and anarchy. Such is not the will of God for His church.
If there are those who cannot support the Adventist perspective on origins, on the reality of a literal 6-day creation week, such are and should be perfectly free to express their opinions on this matter – but not as paid representatives of the Adventist Church. If, on the other hand, the Adventist Church decides, as an organization, that the concept of a literal 6-day creation week really isn’t all that “fundamental” to the primary mission of the church, then it should make this new position crystal clear to all of its constituents. The current state of deliberate ambiguity simply isn’t honest when it comes to people who think that the Adventist Church decidedly stands for one thing when it really doesn’t. It isn’t fair to students and parents who often sacrifice a great deal to attend Adventist schools to obtain distinctly Adventist eduction, who expect active support of the literal 6-day creation week from the curriculum, to be given something fundamentally different instead; such as the promotion of neo-Darwinism once they show up.
Given such a scenario, as has been going on in some of our schools, like La Sierra University, for several decades now, one might rightly accuse the Adventist Church of false advertising. Our membership deserves more than this. We all deserve to have such a historically important Adventist doctrine (such as the literal nature of the creation week) either clearly and actively supported by the Adventist Church or clearly and decidedly removed from our statement of Fundamental Beliefs – one or the other. It can no longer be left in limbo – in the ambiguity that has existed since the unfortunate choice of language used by the Adventist Church since the 1980s. Let’s decide to be brave and take a clear and unambiguous stand for or against Biblical creationism once and for all. Let’s either be hot or cold here. Let’s not stay lukewarm where no one knows what we really believe and stand for as a church (Revelation 3:16).