Fundamental Belief Preamble
Understanding the preamble of the Fundamentals Beliefs
By Lothar Wilhelm
Fear God and give glory to Him” (Rev. 14:7). The message of the three angels in Revelation begins with this crucial call. God’s glory is of central concern for all who are faithful to God during the time of the end. How do we glorify God? we may ask.
Glorifying God should be reflected in all aspects of life, and should encompass our thinking, feeling, and doing. It is based on respect for the Word of God. Seventh-day Adventists express their special reverence for the Holy Scriptures in the preamble to the Fundamental Beliefs, with which they describe the biblical teachings that are of particular importance during the time of the end.
Scripture and Fundamental Beliefs
The introduction to the Fundamental Beliefs is particularly significant, as through it Adventists confess: The Bible alone is our rule (credo) for faith and life.1 Although the Bible contains teaching, its diversity of history and stories, laws and poetry, admonitions and promises cannot be condensed into one credo or dogma by which faith could be defined. Those who accept the whole Bible as the Word of God and as the only guideline for faith must therefore recognize the distinction between the Holy Scripture itself, its teachings, and the understanding of its teachings.
The Holy Scripture as God’s Word is unchangeable. Yet even a comparison of different versions shows the bandwidth of meaning of different texts. Biblical truths are timeless. However, the circumstances and the thinking and behavior of people change with time. Biblical teachings can therefore meet the requirements of time having a different focus or a different level of importance. When God’s church is not focused on a single set of statements and uplifts the whole Bible as the standard of faith, there is room for necessary changes in the understanding of its teachings.
Seventh-day Adventists affirm that the Holy Scriptures contain important teachings that can be understood, described, and affirmed by the church. How we understand these teachings is described in the articles of our Fundamental Beliefs. However, this does not exclude new insights for a specific time or more suitable formulations of doctrine with regard to the eternal biblical truths. Therefore, the text of the Fundamental Beliefs can be changed “when the church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God’s Holy Word.”
Creeds and Adventist History
Church history illustrates numerous examples in which believers were obligated to follow a formulated creed. This credo was then made the standard of orthodoxy; in practical terms it often was set above Scripture. Those who did not agree with the credo could thus be excommunicated and condemned as heretics.
There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed.
Adventist pioneers knew their church history and rejected a fixed, written creed out of reverence for the Word of God. James White already wrote in 1847: “The Bible is a perfect, and complete revelation. It is our only rule of faith and practice.”2
As discussion over a formulated creed ensued in 1861 and thereafter in connection with the organization of the first General Conference, John N. Loughborough published his “Five Steps of Apostasy”: “The first step of apostasy is to get up a creed, telling us what we shall believe. The second is, to make that creed a test of fellowship. The third is to try members by that creed. The fourth to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed. And, fifth, to commence persecution against such.”3
When individual beliefs become the norm of faith, there is a danger that the truth of the Bible is limited; we may limit God’s Word and forget that we are called to search for present truth.
This is why Ellen G. White wrote: “Do not carry your creed to the Bible, and read the Scriptures in the light of that creed. If you find that your opinions are opposed to a plain ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ or to any command or prohibition He has given, give heed to the Word of God rather than to the sayings of men. Let every controversy or dispute be settled by ‘It is written.’”4 She also wrote: “We must not think, ‘Well, we have all the truth, we understand the main pillars of our faith, and we may rest on this knowledge.’ The truth is an advancing truth, and we must walk in the increasing light.”5 “There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people, is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation.”6
Back to Scripture
The fact is that no single belief can be taken as a test for orthodoxy, though the whole of Scripture may give the Seventh-day Adventist Church an openness that can protect it against dogmatic rigidity and ideological narrow-mindedness.
This places a special responsibility on church leaders, pastors, and every individual believer, since discussions about necessary changes can threaten the unity in the church. Therefore, all believers are called to listen with a spirit of humility to the advice of the Spirit of Prophecy: “The Bible, and the Bible alone, is to be our creed, the sole bond of union.”7 “We cannot then take a position that the unity of the church consists in viewing every text of Scripture in the very same shade of light. The church may pass resolution upon resolution to put down all disagreement of opinions, but we cannot force the mind and will, and thus root out disagreement. These resolutions may conceal the discord, but they cannot quench it and establish a perfect agreement. Nothing can perfect a perfect unity in the church but the spirit of Christlike forbearance. . . . The great truths of the Word of God are so clearly stated that none need make a mistake in understanding them. When you as individual members of the church love God supremely and your neighbor as yourself, then there will be no labored efforts to be in unity; there will be oneness in Christ.”8
1Also in the latest version of the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1996) this statement remains unchanged: “Seventh-day Adventists have no formal creed. . . . [They] consider the entire Bible to be their creed” (vol. 10, p. 418).
2A Word to the Little Flock, p. 13, cited in ibid.
3Protocol from the General Conference session on October 5, 1861, in Battle Creek. Report in the Review and Herald, Oct. 8, 1862. J. N. Loughborough expounded further on these points in 1907 in his book The Church, Its Organization, Order, and Discipline, particularly in chapter 15, “Submission Versus Creed, Power, and Force,” pp. 76, 77.
4Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1990), vol. 2, p. 89.
5Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Mar. 25, 1890.
6Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Dec. 20, 1892.
7Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Dec. 15, 1885.
8E. G. White, Manuscript Releases (Silver Spring, Md.: E. G. White Estate, 1993), vol. 15, p. 150.
Lothar Wilhelm is a retired pastor, former conference president, and union departmental director who lives with his wife, Erika, in Celle, Germany. For many years he chaired the church manual translation committee of the Inter-European Division.
Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. These beliefs, as set forth here, constitute the church’s understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture. Revision of these statements may be expected at a General Conference session when the church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God’s Holy Word.