Creeds and Fundamental Beliefs

There are many people who think that the “Fundamental Beliefs” of the Seventh-day Adventist Church have turned into a kind of creed or unchangeable set of doctrinal beliefs or Biblical interpretations that supersede the Bible itself in importance and authority.  It has therefore been suggested that the Adventist Church is in danger of falling into the same trap that other Christian denominations and religious organizations have fallen into, of making human interpretations and traditions superior to the Bible as its own creed and interpreter.

Is this true? Has the Adventist Church truly diverged from the foundational Protestant statement, “We have no creed but the Bible”?  Are the efforts of those of us who wish to promote, within our own schools and churches, the teachings and authority of the basic fundamental goals and ideals of the church, as an organization, way off base? Are they at conflict with the concept of the Bible as its own interpreter for each individual?  There are those who think so. Consider, for example, the following comment:

I am happy for the church to state what they believe as well, but the minute the church starts … demanding orthodoxy as a test of fellowship and employment, then you have crossed over the line. The church no longer believes the “The Bible and the Bible Only”, because it is usurping the role of the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible to each individual, and to bring conviction. Instead of allowing the Bible to be broadly interpreted as needed to meet peoples need, the creed limits the Bible to one narrow understanding which may not be where the Holy Spirit is going in some people’s lives. At the very least, the church is putting itself in the place of God by attempting to coerce thought and belief. Coercion is Satan’s tactic, not God’s. (Link)

This individual is not alone in his concerns over this issue. This was also the basic concern of the founders of the Adventist Church. Many of the founding fathers, and mothers, of our church had been active and devoted members of other Protestant churches. When they had come upon what they believed to be new light from the Bible, which happened to conflict with the creeds of their own churches, they were removed from fellowship with the church families that they loved. They therefore originally thought of creedal statements, and even church organization, as entirely evil and fought very hard to prevent the early Adventist movement from organizing or forming official creedal statements of belief.  This feeling has continued within our church to one degree or another and is often cited as a basis for allowing fundamentally divergent views to be preached and taught within our churches and schools.

Those who support allowing paid Seventh-day Adventist representatives to teach fundamentally diverging opinions like to quote J.N. Loughborough in his 1861 statement regarding the issue of Church order and government:

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 is to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed. And, fifth, to commit persecution against such. 1 2

The problem, of course, is that those who reference the founding fathers of the church with regard to church order and government fail to reference Loughborough’s 1907 work, The Church, Its Organization, Order and Discipline.3  Although originally opposed to such constraints, it was John Loughborough, together with James White, who first started to realize the need for some sort of internal enforcement of Church order and discipline – i.e., an actual Church government.

      As our numbers increased, it was evident that without some form of organization, there would be great confusion, and the work could not be carried forward successfully. To provide for the support of the ministry, for carrying on the work in new fields, for protecting both the church and ministry from unworthy members, for holding church property, for the publication of the truth through the press, and for other objects, organization was indispensable.4

Of course, those who were not considered to accurately represent the views of the early Adventist Church did not receive “cards of commendation.”  And what was the attitude of such persons? According to Loughborough:

Of course those who claimed “liberty to do as they pleased,” to “preach what they pleased,” and to “go when and where they pleased,” without “consultation with any one,” failed to get cards of commendation. They, with their sympathizers, drew off and commenced a warfare against those whom they claimed were “depriving them of their liberty.” Knowing that it was the Testimonies that had prompted us as a people to act, to establish “order,” these opponents soon turned their warfare against instruction from that source, claiming that “when they got that gift out of the way, the message would go unrestrained to its `loud cry.’ ”

One of the principal claims made by those who warred against organization was that it “abridged their liberty and independence, and that if one stood clear before the Lord that was all the organization needed,” etc… Upon this point, when church order was contested, we read:

“Satan well knows that success only attend order and harmonious action. He well knows that everything connected with heaven is in perfect order, that subjection and thorough discipline mark the movements of the angelic host. . . .  He deceives even the professed people of God, and makes them believe that order and discipline are enemies to spirituality; that the only safety for them is to let each pursue his own course. . . .  All the efforts made to establish order are considered dangerous, a restriction of rightful liberty, and hence are feared as popery.”5

When those who back in the “sixties” [1860s] witnessed the battle of establishing church order now hear persons, as conscientious no doubt as those back there, utter almost the identical words that were then used by those opposing order, it need not be wondered that they fear the result of such statements as the following:

“Perfect unity means absolute independence, – each one knowing for himself. Why, we could not have outward disorganization if we all believed in the Lord. . . . This question of organization is a simple thing. All there is to it is for each individual to give himself to the Lord, and then the Lord will do with him just what he wants to, and that all the time. . . . Our only safety, under God, is to go back to the place where God is able to take a multitude of people and make them one, without parliamentary rules, without committee work, without legislation of any kind.” – General Conference Bulletin of 1899.

Superficially considered, this might seem to be a blessed state, a heaven indeed; but, as already noted on a preceding page, we read of heaven itself and its leadings that “the god of heaven is a god of order, and he requires all his followers to have rules and regulations to preserve order.” 3

Some like to quote Ellen White, of all people, in support of “progressive” Adventism where the maintenance of internal church doctrinal standards is viewed as quite harmful to growth, akin to what the Catholic Church did to Galileo:

     There is no excuse for anyone to take the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that our expositions of the Scripture are without error. 7

Such “progressive” individuals fail to note that although Ellen White does indeed use the phrase “unity in diversity,” 8 and stated that “Instructors in our schools should never be bound about by being told that they are to teach only what has been taught hitherto,” 9 she also maintained that the landmarks and pillars of Adventist truth were to remain. Concepts that impact the science of geology which she “was shown” to be  identified as permanent include the concept of six literal, empirical,  historical 24-hour days of creation, culminating with a literal 24-hour Sabbath day of rest, and that life on earth was non-existent before the literal creation week described in Genesis.10

She also writes that no one is to go ahead or fall behind the current leading of God in the understanding of the Church as an organized body and expect to remain a recognized part of that body.

     God is leading out a people, not a few separate individuals here and there, one believing one thing, another that.  Angels of God are doing the work committed to their trust.  The third angels is leading out and purifying a people, and they should move with him unitedly. Some run ahead of the angels that are leading His people; but they have to retrace every step, and meekly follow no faster than the angels lead…11

The Word of God does not give license for one man to set up his judgment in opposition to the judgment of the church, neither is he allowed to urge his opinions against the opinions of the church. If there were no church discipline and government, the church would go to fragments; it could not hold together as a body. There have ever been individuals of independent minds, who have claimed that they were right, that God has especially taught, impressed, and led them. Each has a theory of his own, views peculiar to himself, and each claims that his views are in accordance with the Word of God. Each one has a different theory and faith, yet each claims special light from God. These draw away from the body, and each one is a separate church of himself. All these can not be right, yet they all claim to be led of the Lord. The word of inspiration is not yea and nay, but yea and amen in Christ Jesus.12

How are those who think themselves so “progressive” in advance of the foundational pillars of the organized SDA Church on such basic fundamental issues going to be  capable of “bringing our young people home at the end of the day?”13as Elder Paulsen put it, if they don’t really believe in or see evidence for the home message to begin with?  Ultimately, is there to be no real accountability to the organized SDA Church for what is presented as “truth” from either pulpit or classroom by paid representatives supported by God’s own monies in the forms of tithes and offerings?

Such a perspective does not lead to growth, but to chaos and anarchy and eventual fragmentation of any organization. For any organization to remain viable, internal order and discipline must be maintained. This is not the same situation as occurred between the Catholic Church and Galileo where the Church thought to take on political and civil powers over all peoples. That is never a good idea and is the very reason for the need of separation between church and state.  People should always be free to join or to leave any religious organization at will without any repercussions under civil law. However, this isn’t to say that internal government within the church is also dangerous or that it is unnecessary. To the contrary, without the enforcement of internal order and government upon certain core principles and ideals, no organization of any kind could exist. The order and government of the Adventist Church is itself inspired by God and in keeping with the general harmony and order that is displayed in Heaven. God is a God of order and government. He is not a God of chaos and anarchy.

The viability of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as an organization inspired by God, and the developing minds of a generation of Seventh-day Adventist young people, is in our hands.

  1. J.N.Loughborough  Review and Herald, October 8, 1861
  2. See Bonnie Dwyer, In the Eye of the Storm. 4, s.l. : Spectrum, 2009, Vol. 37.
  3. See The Church, Its Organization, Order and Discipline, a PDF file
  4. J.N. Loughborough. Testimonies for the Church. No. 32, p. 30.
  5. J.N. Loughborough. Testimonies for the Church. p. 650. Vol. 1.
  6. See The Church, Its Organization, Order and Discipline, a PDF file
  7. White, Ellen G. Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 35
  8. Nichol, Francis D. SDA Bible Commentary, Vol. 6. Washington, D.C. : Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1970. p. 1083.
  9. Ellen G. White, Manuscript 8a, 1888, Ellen G. White Estate, Silver Spring, MD.
  10. Ellen White. Spiritual Gifts, Vol.3., pp. 90-93.
  11. Ellen White. Testimonies for the Church. Vol. 1. p. 207.
  12. Ellen White. Testimonies for the Church. Vol. 1. p. 428, 429.
  13. Paulsen, Jan. An Appeal. Adventist News Network. (Online December 21, 2009.)


Creeds and Fundamental Beliefs — 18 Comments

  1. I thought that article rather interesting because I am of those who is concerned about having a creed as in the 27 Fundamental Beliefs. I have not bought one of those books and will not. BUT, the most interesting thing about this article is that it was written by a pathologist. I am also an anatomical pathologist! So now I have to read the article again!

  2. The solution for everybody is to stop arguing. Stop pretending to know everything and that your personal position is the right one. "There are people going hungry... while we stuff our faces with cake." Lets start using our intellect to help those in need and to preach the good news about Jesus (instead of sitting around reading and commenting on articles, blogs, and Facebook even if its for healthy topics). There is no end to all the arguments especially with the invention of the internet.

    • Dear Robert,

      I feel that you have a valid point, but that perhaps you may have overstated it just a bit. As I see it, we should never come to view matters of spiritual truth as merely academic -- a nice intellectual exercise. Souls are at stake. I believe we should say what needs to be said, clearly and as kindly as possible, in articles, blogs, Facebook, and wherever else we can actually help people by so doing.

      God bless.

    • I do agree with you. There is so much for all of us to do in getting out the message for all seasons - THE EVERLASTING GOSPEL. If we give ourselves to Christ and become living sacrifices, then we can count all other things as "RUBBISH" and focus upon His purpose of drawing men and women, boys and girls to Him.


  3. I "believe in" church organization in the sense that organization can make the promulgation of the gospel more efficient than it would be without organization. At the same time, I am a protestant seventh-day adventist. I subscribe to the biblical teaching that the true church consists of those who are believers in the Messiah. Organization is a tool of the church but it is not the church; we (believers) are the church. It is appropriate to have behavioral & doctinal standards for voting membership in our organization. It is appropriate to have higher standards for certain kinds of leadership in the organization. AND it is appropriate to consider to be members of the church (the fellowship of believers) all those who profess faith in the Messiah. This fellowship dos not include those who deny the faith (by professing to be without sin, for example). When I was a child, Sabbath school membership required regular attendance and was considered to be a form of auxillary membership in the SDA organization. Voting membership was reserved for those who were ready to accept the responsibilities of voting membership. Not only would I like to see that concept revived, I suggest that instead of "requiring" people who are paid from tithe funds to teach certain doctrines, they be "required" only to NOT teach the converse of certain doctrines. The word, "fundamental" can be defined as essential to the existance of something. It seems to me that doctrines essential to adventism fall in two categories 1) doctrines held by all of the other protestant denominations and 2) nor more than about a dozen other doctrines. If NOT teaching the converse of those truly fundamental doctrines were combined with an understanding of church oragnization being a tool of the church (rather than a organziation being the church), it seems to me that many "problems" could be avoided.
    Roger Metzger

    • This might be far easier to do, Roger, if some things were not such a moving target. For instance, when I pastored in the late 1970s - early 1980s, baptizing someone wearing a wedding ring could be grounds for dismissal as a pastor. That is no longer the case. So based on the church's position today. A person who taught the opposite of the position held back then would have actually been right by today's perspective. So preventing him or her from presenting their position back then might have been hindering something that was actually correct. What do you think?

      • Forgive me, Stephen, if I don't understand. But are you saying that anything to do with wedding bands is a "fundamental belief"??

        To the best of my knowledge this type of custom has never been a fundamental belief, nor do I expect it to be a fundamental belief.

        Even in her day, Ellen White suggested that in countries, where the wedding band was more or less an obligatory custom, that our people should not try to oppose it, even while she suggested that Americans in such countries should not feel obligated to follow the custom.

        In my mind, what has caused some of the greatest problems in the church is the inability of members and, sadly, often their pastors, to distinguish between biblical principles and their specific application. The biblical principle is modesty and not conforming to the world. The application varies from place to place and is not spelled out in the Bible, being very dependent on culture. And these cultural traditions are always open to some individual judgment.

        My mother and father were married with wedding bands by a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Germany. My husband and I were married without wedding bands by a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Canada. Not sure how one son, who is an elder in his church, and his wife dealt with the exchange of wedding bands, but they have worn them ever since their wedding, and we respect their choice.

        By contrast, our fundamental teachings are not "moving targets." Most have their roots in our very early history, even if some have continued to develop and have been refined over time.

        I believe it is reasonable to expect that people who call themselves Seventh-day Adventists uphold our fundamental doctrines -- but especially those who are leaders and are paid from funds contributed by other members. For those who disagree with our fundamental doctrines, there are many other faith communities to choose from who adhere to different doctrines than we do. And certainly there are many other employers.

        • Stephen, apparently you know something I don't. However I would consider there to be a major problem if a pastor clung to a ring so firmly that he would be willing to be fired over it. This sword cuts both ways, it seems.

          No, that doesn't make it a fundamental belief. I know nothing about the local situation, so obviously cannot comment further.

        • There are always various local forms and customs that must be considered for any organization to be successful on a global scale - requiring certain local rules and regulations (for which an employee must be responsible if he/she wishes to maintain employment). However, in no sense do these equate to truly "fundamental" doctrinal positions of the Adventist Church which are not subject to time, place, or circumstance - positions which have been clearly detailed by the Church as an organization.

          While the church does make certain recommendations with regard to various basic principles for diet, health, personal apparel, the bearing of arms, etc., the church has not taken a fundamental stand with regard to the specifics of how these basic recommendations must be applied by all congregations and peoples in all circumstances.

          This is not true for when it comes to truly fundamental doctrinal issues such as the origin and holy nature of the Sabbath day as a memorial of a literal creation week, the imminent Second Coming of Jesus, the non-immortality of the soul or soul sleep in death, etc. These are truly fundamental doctrinal beliefs that do not change or become modified depending on time, place, or circumstance.

  4. While this article is interesting for the historical insights it provides, I would have liked to have seen a more balanced perspective. For instance, it could have also examined Ellen White's concerns over the tendency of some to use the organizational structure to exercise "kingly power." (i.e. Testimonies, Volume 8, "A Division of Responsibility," {8 T 231-235}) The issue of church organization is not as black and white as one might be tempted to believe from the tenor of this article.

    • Kingly power is a concern and it is for this reason that the government of the SDA Church has not been placed into the hands of a single or even a small group of individuals. However, this is not to say that no church hierarchy of any kind is needed. There is a place for governmental structure and order with powers of enforcement from within for those who would wish to take on the title of official representatives of the church. At first all forms of order and government were resisted by the founders of our church. However, they soon found that such powers of order and government were indispensable to the effective transmission of the Gospel message.

      Sean Pitman

        • If someone doesn't agree with the path an organization has chosen to take, on a fundamental level, that person is always free to leave and join or start another organization that is more in line with his/her own personal convictions... without the fear of any civil reprisals of any kind. Fortunately, our church has chosen not to strive to take on powers of civil authority and strongly believes in a very clear separation between church and state.

          Sean Pitman

  5. Stephen while I fully understand what you are saying I do believe we have to be very wise here. In the reference you provided, Ellen White uses the phrase “kingly power” many times. Her point seems to be that any institution in the church and by extension the church itself should never come under the control of any one person or small group of people because sinful man has wrong tendencies and will be like the blind leading the blind (Mat 15:14). While she raises a warning on this I do not believe she is in the least bit saying we should not have organization. It is the kind of organization that she is discussing.

    She also says about the same thing concerning the tower of Babel episode:

    “These enterprises were designed to prevent the people from scattering abroad in colonies. God had directed men to disperse throughout the earth, to replenish and subdue it; but these Babel builders determined to keep their community united in one body, and to found a monarchy that should eventually embrace the whole earth. Thus their city would become the metropolis of a universal empire; its glory would command the admiration and homage of the world and render the founders illustrious. The magnificent tower, reaching to the heavens, was intended to stand as a monument of the power and wisdom of its builders, perpetuating their fame to the latest generations.” {PP 118.5}

    As a church it is my conviction that we need structure and we need a system of beliefs that defines what we believe as a group – our culture. Luke Lassiter defines culture as, “a shared and negotiated system of meaning informed by knowledge that people learn and put into practice by interpreting experience and generating behavior”(“Invitation to Anthropology” by Luke Eric Lassiter, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2009). That is what we do with doctrine and scripture. It is what determines what we are and do as a church. Without that foundation we are nothing but a haphazard, confused mess without direction.

    It isn’t just a matter of being good either. There are many “good” people out there who basically reject God and do things their own way or as Solomon said, “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (Pro 14:12 NKJV). So we need a set of codified principles that defines what we believe and how we act as a group with respect to God. What we don’t need is micromanagement by a top heavy hierarchy that feels that they should control everyone else. That is what politics is about and what Jesus condemned (Mat 20:25-28).

  6. The systematic organisation of adventist church is commendable as the author puts it.Any person critizing and seing the governmental structure to be deficient I liken him/her with the originator of error who claimed in heaven that there were no need for the law of God which brings order and tranquility in the universe.Since the time of old in jewish economy we see the same system of government with fundamental beliefs like circumsion,passover,feasts etc.Humility and reverence to GOD guides us to be humble and obedient to the organized structure he has established through his faithful sevants which go in line with biblical docrines.


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