Listening, Studying, and Sharing
In response to the action of the 2010 General Conference session, a Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee was established by the church to consider any adjustments that may be deemed necessary in the church’s 28 fundamental beliefs. General Conference vice president Artur Stele chairs that committee, and recently sat down with Adventist World editor Bill Knott and news editor Mark Kellner to talk about how the process will unfold.
FINE TUNING: General Conference vice president Artur Stele chairs the Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee, which hopes to bring its report to the 2015 General Conference session.KNOTT: I’ve been told that the Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee is deliberately building a process to engage not only theologians and scholars but also the wider church in considering any refinements to the church’s 28 fundamental beliefs. Why is it important to reach out beyond those who have expertise in handling the Word?
It’s very important that the whole church gets involved, because this movement doesn’t have doctrines that are engraved in stone. We have our fundamental beliefs, which are expressions of how the worldwide church understands the biblical message. That’s why it’s very important that whenever we look into them or consider a revision, everyone gets involved—lay members, pastors, theologians, administrators, everyone.
KELLNER: So the layperson who studies the fundamental beliefs is being invited to make comments about the clarity or the accuracy of that wording just as much as those with advanced degrees?
Exactly. The Holy Spirit is leading the church, and every member is precious. The Lord can use and speak through every member.
KNOTT: I understand the committee is asking for suggestions on revised wording, but that you’re hoping for submissions that are very compact.
First of all, the task is not to rewrite the fundamental beliefs. The task is to see if the wording that we have used for a number of years requires a change. Language is dynamic, and in the more than 30 years since the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs was endorsed by the 1980 General Conference session, it’s possible that new language can better express what the church has historically believed on these points. We’re engaged in an editorial revision of the fundamental beliefs, not a rewriting of them. Second, we have a special assignment given to us by the last General Conference session to look into Fundamental Belief No. 6, which deals with our belief about Creation. We have been charged with the task of integrating the language of Fundamental Belief No. 6 and a document called “An Affirmation of Creation,” which was voted by the church’s Annual Council in 2004. We are inviting all Adventists—whoever wants to make a contribution—to write to us, but we don’t want to receive dissertations! [laughter] We’re encouraging those with new suggested language to provide that in one or two sentences. First, they should identify the change they are suggesting, and second, provide a rationale for that change in one or two sentences. We’re asking for suggestions in this brief format so that we can truly read and digest the largest number of recommendations possible.
KELLNER: You noted the special task that has been given the committee about Fundamental Belief No. 6, on Creation. How significant is that belief to the life of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
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.
KNOTT: The Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee has dedicated a specific period of time for what it has called a “year of listening.” What does that mean?
The 2005 General Conference session established a formal process by which any possible revisions to one of the church’s fundamental beliefs are carefully considered by all relevant groups. A preliminary draft is prepared, reviewed by the church’s Executive Committee, then distributed through the church’s media to every division, to every union, to every seminary, to theologians, to church members. Time is given for them to react and respond. Then, before the General Conference session, all the suggestions are reviewed, and a final draft is approved and sent to the GC session. That’s the normal way.
This time we have suggested going even one step further. Before we start the voted plan, we would like to give one whole year for all our members, theologians, pastors, to send in their recommendations to the working group that prepares the preliminary draft that starts the process. We want the widest possible input as we start the process—and that means we have to take significant time to “listen to the church.” The beliefs we are describing are not just those of one group within the church, or the belief of a Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference. These are the beliefs of the whole Seventh-day Adventist Church. That’s why it’s important to move slowly, with the opportunity for everyone to be involved, and to use this as a spiritual opportunity to immerse ourselves again in what the Word teaches us.