Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why not a statement of beliefs?

By Andrew Hanson

Ellen White's Contribution to Adventist Doctrine, by Kwabena Donkor, an Associate director of the Biblical Research Institute, is an authoritative, eye-opening must read. (Adventist World, NAD Edition, March 2009) His words suggest a way for the Adventist Church to examine, review, and/or update existing beliefs in a way that would reflect the biblical scholarship that has taken place since our founders, working from the King James Bible, established Adventist theology back in the last decades of the 19th century.

“It may come as a surprise that in spite of her prophetic status, Ellen White did not have much direct influence over the development of our doctrinal beliefs. For example, the seventh-day Sabbath doctrine came through the influence of Seventh-day Baptists; and the doctrine of conditional immortality came principally through George Storrs, a member of the Millerite movement. The doctrine of the sanctuary, the preadvent judgment, and the significance of the seventh-day Sabbath for the end time came through pioneers such as O. R. L. Crosier and Joseph Bates. The Millerite movement even addressed the three angels’ messages.”

“As a general rule, the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist church arrived at their distinctive beliefs through intense Bible study. The period between 1848 and 1850 witnessed about 23 Bible conferences, during which our unique beliefs were forged. At these conferences the pioneers met to study and pray, sometimes the entire night. Ellen White remembers that for a few years she could not understand the reasoning of the “brethren” and the meaning of the Scriptures they were studying. “I was in this condition of mind,” she writes, “until all the principal points of our faith were made clear to our minds, in harmony with the Word of God.”

What about a new round of Bible conferences that review the “principle points” of our faith? Committees of laypersons could again be called on to examine the foundations of our beliefs in the light of current information. They would report to the General Conference in session on topics such as inspiration, the theological impact of biblical scholarship and archeology, questions of authorship, conflicting Bible stories, the significance and interpretation of biblical literature, the relative importance of Old Testament vs. New Testament theology, revelation, end time events, Sabbath keeping, and women’s rights.

After these lay committees reported their findings, it would be up to pastors, theologians, and administrators to provide a statement of belief, NOT A SERIES OF DOCTRINES, that would be ratified by a General Conference Committee of the Whole. The ratification of these beliefs would be the primary task of all subsequent General Conference Committees of the Whole.

This is the way our beliefs were established initially. It is also in harmony with the views of Ellen White.

“There is no excuse for any one 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. Review and Herald, Dec. 20, 1892 (RH 623:1:1); CWE 37

We cannot trust the salvation of our souls to ministers, to idle traditions, to human authorities, or to pretensions. . .The Lord positively demands of every Christian an intelligent knowledge of the Scriptures.,” Review and Herald, March 8, 1887 (2RH 117:1:1-2.0)