Fundamental Beliefs Get an Update
The revisions are a milestone in the history of the fundamental beliefs, which have been left mostly untouched since 1980.
By Andrew McChesney, news editor, Adventist World
Adventist leaders tentatively approved proposed revisions of the church’s core statements of its fundamental beliefs after two days of discussions that Artur A. Stele, chair of the revision committee, said had helped create a better product.
Delegates at the Annual Council, a major church business meeting, easily endorsed the last of the proposed revisions to the 28 fundamental beliefs in a 202-2 vote, with three abstentions, in the late afternoon of October 13. They forwarded the document to the General Conference session for a final discussion and vote in July.
None of the revisions change any of the fundamental beliefs, and many simply update and tighten the text, Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, assured delegates when the talks started on October 12. “I don’t want anyone here in the room to think we are changing our beliefs,” he said. “We are simply adjusting wording to make it clearer and more helpful.”
The 2014 Annual Council had scheduled a discussion and vote for October 12, but more than 20 comments from delegates sent the revision committee back to work. The discussion reconvened October 13, and all but one proposed revision was approved by a 179-15 vote, with five abstentions, before noon.
“I believe that the process was very helpful,” Stele, director of the church’s Biblical Research Institute, said in an interview. “Quite a number of suggestions were made after we presented the draft. . . . I think that the product is better than it was Sunday,” October 12.
The revisions are a milestone in the history of the fundamental beliefs, which numbered 27 when they were first drafted in 1980. With the exception of the addition of a twenty-eighth belief (“Growing in Christ,” No. 11) in 2005, they have remained untouched until now. Among other core beliefs are “The Sabbath” (No. 20), “Baptism” (No. 15), and “The Nature of Man,” which is now set to become “The Nature of Humanity” (No. 7).
The revisions introduce gender-inclusive language to the text in places where the biblical teaching being referred to clearly intends to include both men and women.
The biggest discussion centered on objections to the replacement of the words “holy men of God” with “holy persons of God” in Fundamental Belief No. 1, titled “The Holy Scriptures.” The revision committee later changed the phrase to “the inspired authors” at the suggestion of evangelist Mark Finley, and the delegates approved the final item.
Stele said he had no problem making the change, because the delegates’ objections might have been a matter of conscience. The original phrase “holy men of God” comes from 2 Peter 1:20, 21, in which the original Greek text uses gender-inclusive language.
“They grew up with wording that they felt was a direct quote from Scripture, so they felt as if we were changing Scripture,” he said. “To be sensitive to this, we decided, ‘Well, why not find different wording?’?”
Bill Knott, a member of the revision committee, praised the final outcome. “The creative solution offered by Elder Mark Finley illustrates the value of God’s people thinking together about how to best express their belief in the importance and authority of Scripture,” said Knott, editor of the Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines.
How the Revisions Unfolded
The revision process started with an action voted at the 2010 General Conference session to harmonize Fundamental Belief No. 6, “Creation,” with a creation statement approved by the 2004 Annual Council. The council statement emphasizes that the earth was created in six literal days several thousand years ago—two issues that have come under scrutiny by evolutionists and are not mentioned in the current statement of belief 6.
But it’s no simple matter to change a fundamental belief. When the twenty-eighth belief was added in 2005, General Conference session delegates passed a protocol that requires at least two years of work at all levels of the Adventist Church before any changes can be considered at a General Conference session.
Keeping this in mind, the General Conference, which oversees the world church, appointed a four-member revision committee to tackle “Creation,” and asked it at the same time to review the other beliefs for possible adjustments. The other members of the committee are Angel Rodriguez, retired director of the Biblical Research Institute, and Gerhard Pfandl, retired associate director of the Biblical Research Institute.
The committee’s first act was to invite church members from around the world to submit suggestions for a year—a step that is not part of the protocol but that Stele said proved valuable.
“Of course, we could not incorporate all the new suggestions because some were contradictory,” Stele added. “What one group suggested, another group asked us not to do.”
Stele said the committee used a set of five criteria to determine which suggestions to include:
We will include suggestions that deepen the statement, but not too much.
We can’t include every thought in every section; we have to look at the document as a whole.
We will accept ideas that are not present in the draft but should be incorporated.
We will accept good suggestions that shorten the draft.
We will screen out suggestions that seem to promote a personal agenda.
The committee then incorporated the suggestions that it found useful—Stele said it received about 200 letters—into a draft that it sent to church divisions, unions, conferences, and institutions for feedback.
The Annual Council approved the first draft in 2013. After clearing a number of General Conference bodies, the second draft came to the Annual Council in October.
A Look at Some Revisions
One notable revision to No. 18, “The Gift of Prophecy,” clarifies that the Bible and the writings of church cofounder Ellen G. White should not be considered equal.
The new wording voted by the Annual Council reads: “The Scriptures testify that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and we believe it was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. Her writings speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.”
An addition to No. 23, “Marriage and Family,” for the first time identifies single people as members of the family.
“I think the outcome was very good,” said Pfandl, a revision committee member. “The delegates recognized that we fulfilled the stipulation that was given to us to amend and not rewrite the passages.”
A marked-up draft of the 28
fundamental beliefs can be viewed at:
Ng Worries About “Serious Loss” of Members
The General Conference executive secretary says church loss is as important as church growth.
By Andrew McChesney, news editor, Adventist World
Membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church has topped 18 million for the first time, but G. T. Ng, executive secretary of the Adventist world church, isn’t celebrating.
Ng expressed dismay about large losses. “It’s easy to baptize them, but it’s much harder to retain them,” Ng said in an interview.
“Retention and nurture should be on the same side of the coin, but apparently baptism brings more glamour: ‘Look at how many I have baptized!’?” he said. “?‘Nurture? Who cares? There’s no glory for me.’ So we have an inherent problem: losses, serious losses. But not many people talk about it.”
Ng, however, made a point about talking about it on October 12 when he delivered a yearly membership report to the Annual Council.
Church membership has swelled by 1.5 percent to reach 18,143,745 million from 17,881,491 a year earlier, according to data he presented. For the tenth year in a row, more than 1 million people joined the church—1,091,222, to be exact—but at the same time a decade-high 828,968 people were removed from the books after dying, leaving the church, or disappearing.
Some of the losses reflect an ongoing drive by local churches to audit their books to remove the names of unreachable members who have not attended worship services for some time, said David Trim, the world church’s chief archivist, who compiles the data.
Without the audit, church membership would stand at 25 million today, Ng said.
Offering another difficult statistic, Ng said 31.8 million people have been baptized over the past 40 years, while 11.4 million have dropped their membership or gone missing. The figure does not include those who died. Many of those people left because the church didn’t nurture them properly, Ng said.
In a recent example, the last Adventists who were baptized after an evangelistic series in a small village in northern India in 2005 reconverted to Hinduism in late August. The incident, which made headlines in the Indian media, raised fears among Christians that the reconversions were forced, which is illegal in the country.
But an Adventist task force sent to the village, Asroi, found that the 33 former Adventists had received little support from church leadership since their baptisms in 2005 and had been courted eagerly by Hindu activists.
Leaders with the church’s Southern Asia Division, which includes India, have engaged in soul-searching after the loss. “We have to carefully nurture the newcomers and help them to be rooted in the word,” said T. P. Kurian, communication director for the Southern Asia Division.
At the Annual Council, Ng defended the practice of counting members and said it could not be compared to an Old Testament census by King David that resulted in punishment from God. Ng said David’s actions were a display of pride.
“When we count in the church, we have to count with humility,” he said. The tally, he said, is simply “a report on what the Master has done.”
Ng elaborated in the interview by pointing to three of Jesus’ parables in Luke 15. “There’s nothing wrong with counting itself,” he said. “After all, Jesus counted in the three parables, right? The woman counted her 10 coins and found one was lost. The shepherd counted only 99 sheep. The father lost a son. So there’s nothing wrong.”
Also, Ng said mission stories usually end on a high note that leaves the impression that the work was successful. But he said statistics present another side of the picture: Much of the world hasn’t had a chance to hear about the first coming of Jesus, let alone the Second Coming.
He said the church has a presence in about 230 countries, but another 22 countries recognized by the United Nations remain unentered. Furthermore, a country might have a large population of Adventists but still contain major people groups without a single Adventist. In Kenya many of the 800,000 church members come from primarily two language groups, while the other 40 language groups are largely unreached. The same is true of Thailand, where most members come from minority groups.
“So it does not mean that once you have entered a country the work is done,” Ng said. “Far from it!”
Church Leaders Urged to Hire Pastors, Not Administrators
Treasurer points to the General Conference’s strict financial policy as a model to emulate.
By Andrew McChesney, news editor, Adventist World
The General Conference, the top administrative body of the Adventist Church, had 282 employees in 1995.
Today it has 287, an increase of only five employees.
But the Seventh-day Adventist world church has not remained the same size. Membership soared from 8.8 million to 18.1 million over those 18 years, while the number of world divisions increased from 11 to 13, the number of unions grew from 94 to 132, and the number of conferences and missions grew from 459 to 626.
General Conference treasurer Robert E. Lemon said the tight reins on the hiring of new administrators is a model for all levels of church administration, and he urged church leaders to follow the lead of the General Conference.
“The message that I have for church leaders is if they are going to be successful in having money to do work in the field, they must control the number of people they have at their conference, union, and division offices,” Lemon said in an interview on the sidelines of the Annual Council, a major church business meeting. “Adding pastors and frontline employees is what we encourage, and not just adding to administrative levels,” he said.
Lemon made the appeal to church leaders as he presented his annual treasurer’s report at the Annual Council on October 13. He also provided a snapshot of the financial state of the world church, showing that it received US$2.39 billion in tithe last year, a 3.5 percent increase from US$2.31 billion in 2012. Of that amount, the General Conference received nearly $150 million last year, roughly the same amount that it has gotten since 2011.
Lemon reminded the Annual Council how tight finances were for the General Conference during the early 1990s, and how they had had to adjust appropriations and reduce the number of employees.
He said the General Conference has hired people as needed since then, including the director of a new Children’s Ministries Department, but every addition comes at a cost to another part of the budget. If a department wants to add a staff member or a service, it has to find something to cut. To optimize costs, nearly all General Conference leaders now share administrative assistants rather than have their own.
Lemon said the main goal of the General Conference is to only maintain enough working capital to have a healthy financial operation and cover day-to-day expenses, and to allocate all excess funds at the end of the year to special projects.Those practices have allowed the General Conference to absorb the shock waves of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and are helping it withstand the constant fluctuations of foreign currencies today, he said.
It also has meant that the General Conference has been able to provide substantial sums of money for special projects, including ongoing initiatives to share Jesus in the 10/40 window, a territory covering North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Lemon said spending in the 10/40 window is now comparable to the size of a division’s budget.
He called on church leaders from around the world to become more effective by practicing financial discipline. “If you want your organizations to have the ability to respond immediately, as we do with special projects, you can’t just add employees,” he said.
Question on Women’s OrdinationSent to GC Session
Delegates vote after six hours of discussion in a “gracious” atmosphere.
By Andrew McChesney, news editor, Adventist World
Annual Council delegates agreed to ask the General Conference session next year to decide whether each division may decide for itself whether to ordain women. Many expressed hope that a final decision on the matter will allow the church to focus more fully on its mission of proclaiming Jesus’ soon coming.
After six hours of presentations and discussion on October 14, the delegates of the Annual Council, a major church business meeting, overwhelmingly approved a request to put a question on the matter before the 2015 General Conference session. If approved, the action would authorize each of the 13 divisions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to ordain women in its territory if it desired.
The question that will be posed to delegates at the General Conference session next July is: “After your prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the reports of the study commissions; and after your careful consideration of what is best for the church and the fulfillment of its mission, is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No.”
The delegates endorsed the request and an accompanying three-page statement—both drafted by General Conference and division leaders—in a 243-44 vote, with three abstentions.
“I want to thank you for the gracious spirit with which you have conducted this meeting,” Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the General Conference, said moments after the results of the electronic secret ballot flashed up on the screen. “We hope for this at the General Conference session.”
Wilson also asked church leaders to adhere to whatever decision the General Conference session made on women’s ordination.“I pledge to you I will follow what the General Conference session votes,” he said. “I ask you to do the same.”
Read the statement that delegates approved on October 14 at www.adventistreview.org/assets/public/news/2014-10/statement.pdf.
Koh Tells How to Make Children Excited About Church
The Children’s Ministries Department director says the secret is to engage children in the sermon.
By Andrew McChesney, news editor, Adventist World
Linda Mei Lin Koh is on a drive to train Adventist pastors to preach child-friendly sermons.
Koh, director of the Children’s Ministries Department for the Adventist world church, said it might take a little extra work, but the end result is children who are excited about God and the church.
“Pastors are not trained specifically to preach child-friendly sermons, and most of us are used to just preaching to adults,” she said in an interview. “So a few skills, like being aware and involving children in thinking about what you are preaching, can go far.”
Koh identified four ways that pastors can engage young listeners:
- Assign Bible verses to children in advance and call on them by name to read the passages from their seats with their parents.
- Raise simple Bible questions from the pulpit and ask children to raise their hands with answers.
- Begin the sermon by identifying a Bible verse as important and asking children to count how many times it is mentioned in the sermon.
- Prepare a one-page sermon outline with fill-in-the-blank spaces that the children mark with a pen as they listen. In the sermon the pastor might announce when an answer is reached, “OK, this is the answer.”
“This way the kids are all participating in the sermon,” Koh said. “But preaching a child-friendly sermon is a skill that we have to learn.”
Koh is compiling a practical guide on how to preach child-friendly sermons. A Singaporean native and grandmother of five, Koh has served as children’s ministries director for 19 years and might be best known to Adventist readers for writing a series of children’s devotionals in the Adventist Review’s print and online Week of Prayer editions this fall.
Koh said preschoolers are usually too young to be engaged in the sermon but should be included in the church service with a children’s story.
Elementary school children and teens, however, are considered old enough to put aside their toys and reading materials to listen to the sermon—and to get involved in song service, special music, Scripture reading, offering collection, and church-led community service projects.
“It’s a lifestyle and not so much, ‘You’re old enough to do it when you reach a certain age,’?” Koh said.
Children who engage in the sermon and other church activities from a young age grow up to become compassionate adults with missionary-minded hearts, she said.
“Tomorrow’s missionaries, tomorrow’s leaders, begin with today’s children,” she said.
CELEBRATING CHILDREN: Linda Mei Lin Koh, director of Children’s Ministries, posing with children at the Adventist University of Lukanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.