Don’t Change Our Belief on Creation, the Words of Scripture Suffice

Educate Truth does not share the opinion of this author.

By James Londis

James Londis

In 1980 I was selected for the first time to be a delegate to the General Conference Session in Dallas, Texas. Imagine my surprise when Elder Neal Wilson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, announced my name among several others to serve on a committee to prepare a draft of Seventh-day Adventist fundamental beliefs. They would be presented to the floor for a vote sometime before the week’s end.

Two vice-presidents coordinated our efforts: Elder Duncan Eva and Dr. Richard Hammill, both experienced church administrators. We were counseled to agree on this strategy for the document: when dealing with a potentially divisive belief, we would use language directly from the Bible or Ellen White. It was hoped that this approach would minimize, if not eliminate, objections from the floor which might collapse the entire effort.

As anticipated, when an objection came from the floor to a specific formulation, Elder Eva pointed out it was a direct quote from Ellen White or scripture and gave the reference. The objector quietly sat down.

Since then I have realized that the statements which flow from any church “council,” including the earliest councils of the patristic church, must be “politically” astute if schismatic-level conflict is to be avoided. Prior to the Council of Nicea, 325 CE, convened by Emperor Constantine to settle disputes over Arian theology, great theological diversity characterized the Christian community. Scattered throughout the Roman Empire, the church grew steadily not because its’ doctrines were precise but because its’ communal life was dynamic and faithful to Jesus the Christ. Theological and ethical decision-making was left largely to local cultures and communities as long as the core of the Christian faith was affirmed. Such diversity of doctrine was not seen as especially problematic for over three hundred years.

Emperor Constantine’s Council did in fact resolve the dispute for a time by siding with the majority against Arius. Later, he reversed his decision and supported Arius. This would not be the last time that a dispute of this magnitude would end up splitting the Church. For millennia, even down to our own pioneers, Arian thinking has had its adherents. It illustrates how futile the use of sheer power and authority can be when settling theological differences. Why does the church through its “bishops” not trust the process of study and prayer to bring the community to a working consensus or to charitably agree to disagree?

Why We Should Not Rewrite with Greater Specificity Fundamental Belief #6:

1. I fear that reframing #6 with a specificity not found in Genesis 1-3 has the potential to cause unprecedented divisiveness in the Seventh-day Adventist church. Number 6 has been the church’s stated position for the past three decades for good reason. Why do we now need a revision? What purpose would it serve? If we want our teachers to make clear that the church position on creation is in tension with evolutionary theories about origins, we do not need a fundamental belief revision for that to happen. If we wish to make clear that we should be cautious about dogmatic scientific statements concerning the mystery of how the world began, we should be equally cautious about dogmatic interpretations of Genesis. We need to adopt a “hermeneutics of suspicion” with both of them. We must leave room for both science and theology to unfold as we learn more. (No one I know would be upset if we found unusually large human fossils which indicated phenomenal longevity and minimal disease, neither Adventists nor scientists.)

In the middle 1960s a group of graduate students met regularly in the Braun Room at Harvard Divinity School to discuss the intellectual and spiritual challenges they faced in their studies. That group eventually led to the establishment of the Association of Adventist Forums. Dr. Alvin Kwiram arranged for Professor Ernst Mayr of the Harvard Biology department to meet with us and discuss evolutionary theory and the science behind it. At the conclusion of his presentation, Elder Lowell Bock, then president of the Southern New England Conference (later a general vice-president of the General Conference), commented that creationists are at a distinct disadvantage vis-à-vis evolutionists. There are hundreds of scientists “trying to prove” evolution, Bock said, while there are very few scientists trying to prove “creation.”

Mayr responded respectfully: “Every biologist in the world would love to be the scientist who disproved evolution. They would be world-famous overnight, assured of a Nobel Prize.” Since that episode I have learned that while scientists cling to their theories even when they are surpassed by better ones (think Einstein and the theory of relativity), they also are compelled by the scientific method to follow the evidence wherever it takes them, even to the point of overthrowing their pet understandings.

2. It seems ominously clear to me that the agenda for this change is to demand that professors and pastors not only teach that the church’s position is at odds with evolutionary theory, but that they should subscribe to the church position without qualification. The change being suggested would assert that God’s twin gifts to us of scientific research and Biblical interpretation are at impossible cross-purposes on this issue. Therefore, we must choose between them now. The message appears to be that suddenly “we cannot wait!” I ask: What evidence is there that we have come to such an either/or moment in our history? What rationale can be given for asserting to the world and to our members that the Seventh-day Adventist church is so certain about an issue that divides even the conservative evangelical world at present? Is not this kind of certainty idolatrous in that it presumes to tell us explicitly what God’s word in Genesis does not tell us? How do we know that our interpretation of the text is the true one?

In conclusion: Do we really wish to make committed Adventist pastors and teachers who believe the church should wait before taking such a drastic step persona non grata? Are we so certain that neither biblical nor scientific scholarship will, in time, clarify and possibly resolve this conflict? For too many, the revision appears less an effort to clarify doctrine or unify the church, than a troubling effort to demonize scientific research, critical thinking, and those who respect both as divine gifts. It seems that the devotion and orthodoxy of our teachers and pastors will be determined by their unwavering allegiance to this new formulation rather than by their patient passion to find the truth (which passion is itself an Adventist “doctrine” omitted from the original Fundamentals and hastily added from the floor in Dallas). As the church thinks about this step, I suggest that prudence and humility require we be cautious and circumspect, for we cannot foresee the unintended (or God forbid the “intended”) consequences of what we plan to do.

—James Londis, Ph.D., is director of ethics and corporate integrity at the Kettering Medical Center Network in Ohio.

This article appeared on SpectrumMagazine.org Sept. 25, 2011.

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14 thoughts on “Don’t Change Our Belief on Creation, the Words of Scripture Suffice

  1. Very commendable article, that historically outlines the politics behind interpretation of theological doctrine. 

    If  your own, sanctioned GRI cannot vouch for a scientific YEC/YLC model, why push for a narrow, constrictive FB#6?  What will happen to the rational, candid minds of your modern educated  youth under such a mandate?

    Dr. Londis shows much wisdom and humility in recognizing this dilemma and suggesting  FB#6 remain as is.to embrace a diversity of doctrine open to ongoing ‘present truth’ . Isn’t this what science does on an ongoing basis?

    I commend the editors for posting this article notwithstanding their personal beliefs. That’s integrity!

    Your agnostic friend
    Ken




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    • Ken, if you haven’t read “A little-know history of Belief #6,” please take some time to look it over. Reading this along with Baldwin’s article might give you a better understanding as to why the church thinks it important to make the wording more specific. Here is the link http://bit.ly/d14uuU




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  2. Hi Shane

    Thanks for your advice. I had read it before but it was good to read it again to refresh my memory and give context to the debate.

    I certainly appreciate the Adventist theological consequences of YEC or YLC. Actually, as an agnostic, I have no qualms whatsoever with FB #6 as a statement of Adventist faith. I respect the right of individuals to practice the faith of their choice. The problem of course in your faith is how Adventists interpret their faith in light of scientific findings. As I have often said I think what Dr.Pitman and Dr Kime are trying to do is noble. If they can accomplish it they will have done a great service for Adventism and mankind.

    However, as I have often opined, I think it is an error to use science for a faith or non faith agenda. Rather, I think it should be a non biased, objective tool to examine reality to the greatest extent possible. Is this possible? As an agnostic, without  a bias against or for God, I think it is. What science may be doing is disabusing us of primitive notions of God and demonstrating how natural events can be explained. That may or may not include the creation of our observable universe. But science seems to have limits. I have never seen it explain First Cause or infinite regression. These concepts seems to fall in the realm of philosophy, or religion, as the case may be.  If there was no time before the creation of our universe was there no infinity as well?

    What I do think is we can all learn to treat each other with love and respect notwithstanding our viewpoints. In that respect perhaps the greatest concept this site has espoused is Dr. Pitman’s Royal  Law of Love.

    Your agnostic friend
    Ken




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  3. Re Movie recommendation: The Tree of Life

    I highly recommend the above movie as a thought provoking experience regarding the quest for God. It deals with important topics including theodicy and the wonder of nature.

    It has a haunting, spiritual beauty that leaves one in awe of the incomprehensible.

    I hope you can watch and enjoy it.

    Your agnostic friend
    Ken




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  4. To James Londis:

    True, the words of scripture SHOULD suffice–but unfortunately, there is an element in the church that is trying to undermine the belief in scripture and/or creation by specifically designing  the wording of belief #6 to allow duplicitous interpretation. The wording NEEDS to be changed and the sooner the better.

    Personally I am greatly disturbed that a member of this committee is so concerned about the possible division of the church and the opinions of the scientific community, and yet doesn’t seem as concerned as he should be that the doctrine of Creation is under attack and should be firmly defended by each and every member.

    Quote:
    “It seems ominously clear to me that the agenda for this change is to demand that professors and pastors not only teach that the church’s position is at odds with evolutionary theory, but that they should subscribe to the church position without qualification.”

    Uh…that is exactly what we are all supposed to do–believe in the church’s position on creation.  And that is exactly what the professors and teachers are supposed to do–support and teach the doctrine of Creation as it is held by the church.  Why is that so “ominous”?  If you don’t believe in the doctrines of the church, why are you here?  The doctrines are what make the church what it is.

    Quote:
    “What rationale can be given for asserting to the world and to our members that the Seventh-day Adventist church is so certain about an issue that divides even the conservative evangelical world at present?”

    The rationale is that we have the truth and that we are to defend the truth.  From what I have read above, you don’t seem to even be sure of the truth.  I don’t understand why you are not sure the church is right on this doctrine.  I am sure it is.  Just so you know, the conservative evangelical world is not our yardstick.  They don’t agree with other of our doctrines–are you saying we should cease to believe in them just because the conservative evangelical world doesn’t agree with them?  That would be sad indeed. 

    In my opinion, there is far too much of this looking to the world for approval.  To do this is to do exactly what Peter did when walking on the water.  It is taking our eyes off Christ and looking to the world.  Anyone who does this is just as sure to sink as did Peter.

    Do I think this issue is going to split the church?  I am almost certain it will.  It is called the shaking–we knew it was coming.  Many will depart from the faith because they have not a firm foundation.  The professors and teachers that are teaching heresy in our institutions are ensuring that the younger generations have been building on the sand and will be washed away when the storm hits.  Shame on them and shame on you and anyone who is waiting for the scientific community to prove doctrine for them.  Believe God’s word.  That is where salvation lies.




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  5. Faith: True, the words of scripture SHOULD suffice

    I agree. It is unfortunate educators and other thought leaders have taken advantage of the wording and ignored the obvious implied meaning. A cursory read of from Adventist literature would reveal that we have always and still do believe Genesis 1-2 to be an actual account of creation.




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  6. Dear Shane and Faith

    Thanks for your comments.

    Can we ever know reality, the truth, by avoiding empirical reality and just relying on words? Is this not what Dr. Pitman and Dr. Kime are trying to overcome to demonstrate that belief in Scripture is not just based on ‘blind faith’ but in evidence? Is that not why the G.R.I. and a multitude of creation museums were set up?

    As an agnostic I have no problem with Adventists belief based on sola scriptura. That’s faith, not science. But if Adventists choose to prove creation and a worldwide flood by science to place their faith on a higher shelf, then such faith must endure the rigours of objective, scientific enquiry. That is what the courageous Dr. Pitman is trying to do. That is what our brilliant Dr. Kime is advocating. That is what Prof Kent is so worried about as he understands the sheer magnitude of the evidence of evolution that must be overcome. That is the dilemma that Dr. Londis understands and the consequences if FB# 6 gets defined too narrowly.

    Now it may be that eventually there will be a remnant branch of adventism that will be based soley on sola scriptura and not on objective science




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  7. ….. sorry, accidentally sent the last post before I was finished, as I was saying……

    But it will take action and leadership to seperate that remnant, not just blog bombs. I can’t see current church leadership doing it as to maintain power they must appeal to the broad diversity of Adventist thought. All churches go through this evolution and often schism or bifurcate as a result. That is real politik.

    Time, as it always does, will tell.

    Your agnostic friend
    Ken




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  8. Faith said……

    “In my opinion, there is far too much of this looking to the world for approval.”

    Faith, this started in a big way with the book Questions on Doctrine in 1958. While much of the material was solid SDA teaching, there was enough compromise on some sensitive basic issues in our conflict with other faiths to begin a downward slide into apostacy.

    It soon led to the Dr. Ford fiasco and has snow balled more and more to the point we are today.

    The celebrate movement made powerful inroads along with the eccumenical spirit that motivated it. So, what are they “celebrating”?

    Make no mistake. They are celebrating the idea that when Jesus died, He did away with the law of God.

    Most SDA have no clue of this reality, and assume it is a celebration of the gospel of forgiveness of sin. It is not. The law has been negated is the real meaning of the movement. And we see it reflected in much of modern Adventism.

    This conflict with creation vs. evolution is simply the symptom of this false spirituality. Its final end of course, is to destroy the credibility of the bible.

    We should not be surprised at the present development as it is simply the outgrowth of the seeds planted in Questions on Doctrine.

    Bill Sorensen




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  9. If this site does not share the opinion and still has a problem with the GRI, might they then create their own Model, complete a thesis then prepare the dissertation to defend the thesis of the model?

    That would be more constructive than all the negativity the site projects!!




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  10. @John: The only problem I’ve had with GRI has been Ben Clausen. I believe what he has stated publicly does more damage than an evolutionist at one of our universities.

    There are a number of creation models out there, so to claim there isn’t one is a bit naive. I think the model the Bible provides is clear enough and the only true model for creation.




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  11. There is science and then there is science. True science is open to all possibilities, including God and the supernatural elements that lie beyond the possibility of empirical proof. We can provide evidence for such, but finally faith must be added to the evidence in order to bridge the gap to the unseen elements. If we limit ourselves to only what is seen or testable, we cannot account for the subjective elements like beauty, faith, and love, and we deprive ourselves of another dimension to life that makes it meaningful. There is no meaning or purpose to pure materialism. Religion exceeds the bounds of empiricism and provides meaning and purpose to our existence. Faith makes real what cannot be tested in an empirical setting (Heb 11:1). Faith grasps the unseen and provides hope beyond the limits of the tangible and the observable. If we are people of faith, we cannot accept the limits imposed by materialist and empiricist scientists. Our God instructs us only by observation, but also by divine revelation. We are able to grasp and understand truths that lie beyond the scientist’s ability to observe and test. What a privilege we have to see beyond the limited scope of the testable!
    The Bible provides the Creator’s insight into the origins that we can never test or reconstruct through empirical science, or even historical science, which is able to recover only a very limited set of data compared to what is needful for accurate reconstruction of a model of origins. We hypothesize based on assumptions regarding how to accurately extrapolate backwards in time, but this requires assumptions that the operating principles are constant. If we cannot be assured that things that seem to be constant today were always constant in the past, our “scientific” assumptions turn out to be false and our conclusions are false. 2 Pet 3:4 warns us against making such assumptions, assuring us that things were not always constant in the past, that God in fact intervened in history and did some supernatural things that no science will be able to fully account for. If we deny these divine interventions in history, we tend to scoff at God’s revelatory record of how things happened in the past and assume that He will not so act in the future either, because science denies such divine acts in history due to the fact that they cannot be tested and proven. The only safe ground is to elevate divine revelation above the fallible wisdom of men, for the latter is foolishness with God (1 Cor 6-7,12-14). As Paul advised Timothy, “Guard what has been entrusted to you! Turn away from profane, foolish chatter and contradictions falsely called science; in affirming such, some have deviated from the faith” (1 Tim 6:20).




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  12. From the OP

    Elder Lowell Bock, then president of the Southern New England Conference (later a general vice-president of the General Conference), commented that creationists are at a distinct disadvantage vis-à-vis evolutionists. There are hundreds of scientists “trying to prove” evolution, Bock said, while there are very few scientists trying to prove “creation.”

    Mayr responded respectfully: “Every biologist in the world would love to be the scientist who disproved evolution. They would be world-famous overnight, assured of a Nobel Prize.” Since that episode I have learned that while scientists cling to their theories even when they are surpassed by better ones (think Einstein and the theory of relativity), they also are compelled by the scientific method to follow the evidence wherever it takes them, even to the point of overthrowing their pet understandings.

    What the author is carefully hiding is the fact that scientists are fully aware that you will get blacklisted if you try to argue against blind-faith evolutionism and will lose grants, funding and prospects of employment — and that no scientist wants to have to deal with that.

    So instead of dealing with reality – the speaker simply blows some smoke and does some hand waiving to bypass all those “pesky details” and conjure a scenario where despite no funding and support – some scientist comes up with the video tape of God creating the world in a real 7 day week and is given the Nobel prize for discovery.

    The story telling element in Mayr’s statement is more than a little transparent.

    in Christ,

    Bob




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  13. We were counseled to agree on this strategy for the document: when dealing with a potentially divisive belief, we would use language directly from the Bible or Ellen White. It was hoped that this approach would minimize, if not eliminate, objections from the floor which might collapse the entire effort.

    As anticipated, when an objection came from the floor to a specific formulation, Elder Eva pointed out it was a direct quote from Ellen White or scripture and gave the reference. The objector quietly sat down.

    Since then I have realized that the statements which flow from any church “council,” including the earliest councils of the patristic church, must be “politically” astute if schismatic-level conflict is to be avoided.

    Hmmm — “IF” the author were actually genuine and sincere about the points just made above – then he would be “delighted” to have FB 6 reworded as an “exact quote” of 3SG 90-91.

    Something tells me this would not satisfy the author.

    What think you?

    in Christ,

    Bob




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