Some years ago, Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders from around the world gathered to reflect on our doctrinal heritage and trends within our movement. They were privileged to do so in the lands of Greece and Turkey, where the apostle Paul labored and the Christian church took root. Their deliberations in this setting, so rich in history, reminded them of our heritage based on the Scriptures, and we give all praise and glory to Jesus, who is Lord of the church and the Word of God incarnate.
The focus of this meeting was on subjects critical to the identity and mission of the church as reflected in the call to unity found in Section B. Several factors demand that not only we but the entire Seventh-day Adventist Church give serious attention to theological integrity at this time.
1. Under the good hand of the Lord, our movement is experiencing unparalleled growth. From humble origins, we are now a world family of more than 18 million baptized members, with another million or more added every year. More than half of our present family have been members for less than 10 years. We rejoice in these accessions, but we recognize that our Lord’s commission (Matt. 28:18-20) is not merely to baptize but to make disciples. It is imperative that the new members swelling the church be thoroughly instructed in doctrine and nurtured to grow up into the stature of Jesus Christ.
2. An aggressive atheism and agnosticism, as well as a secular mindset, is gaining ground in many areas of the world. Adventists must be thoroughly grounded in the Bible for their own spiritual welfare and witness.
3. The spirit of the age seeks to blur doctrinal distinctions and even differences between right and wrong. It argues that all is relative; there are no absolutes. The spirit of the age emphasizes individual feelings and experiences as the ultimate values. We Seventh-day Adventists have been against such ideas; we must continue to be a people of the Word, with the Word as the source and standard of our teachings and the test of experience.
4. Tendencies to theological divergence and dissidence are also apparent among us. Such tendencies are not new, but the large size and complexity of the church today, together with its rapid growth, demand that we be sensitive and alert to these tendencies toward theological polarity and that we know how to meet them.
B. A CALL TO THEOLOGICAL UNITY
We have been impressed that the Lord is calling us to theological integrity through our message as articulated in the 28 Fundamental Beliefs and other commonly-shared biblical understandings. Specifically, the findings of this conference are moving us to work toward shared faith and action in the following areas:
1. To make the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God, the basis for our proclamation, life, and witness, so that Seventh-day Adventists may once again be truly the “people of the Book.”
2. To uphold and follow the counsels that the Lord has graciously given us through the writings of Ellen G. White while making sure our church members, especially our youth, treasure this wonderful gift.
3. To make Jesus and His atonement the only source of our salvation and of a life of obedience lived in loving response to His grace.
4. To set forth our identity as the church which bears the characteristics of the remnant humbly, gratefully, and clearly as a people entrusted by God with His message to a dying world.
5. To boldly teach and proclaim that we are in the last days of earth’s history and that Jesus is coming again soon to bring an end to this world’s misery.
6. To worship God as Creator of heaven and earth who brought all things into being by His Word, thereby acknowledging that theistic evolution and progressive creation fall short of appreciating fully both the fact of creation and salvation as found in Christ.
7. To value the church as the bride of Christ, who is honored as we live and work together in love but is dishonored by dissension and division, shunning whatever hinders the unity of the church and promoting whatever fosters it.
C. A CALL TO ALL LEADERS
While the call to theological unity comes to every Seventh-day Adventist, it comes with particular force to leaders of the church, whether ministerial or laity:
1. Preaching: We call on all who preach to ensure that the Word of God is the foundation of their preparation and proclamation. Biblical preaching includes expounding on the message entrusted to the church in a meaningful way.
2. Teaching: We call on all who teach to be men and women of integrity, who know the Word and live it, and whose instruction is grounded in God’s Word and supports the message as understood by our church.
3. Writing: We call on all who write for church publications to leave no doubt that the Word informs, guides, and tests their ideas, and to make a positive contribution affirming that for which the church stands.
4. Discipling: Without diminishing our emphasis on evangelism, we call for evangelists and administrators to ensure that candidates for baptism are carefully prepared and understand and accept the baptismal vow, and that proper means are set in place for their spiritual development—at a minimum, spiritual leadership and a place of worship.
5. Administering the church: We call on all leaders to be people of the Word, to give priority to the Word of God, and to be intentional in promoting and safeguarding the theological unity of the church. We call on them to make the business of executive committees and boards spiritually focused and mission-driven.
6. Leading the youth: We call on all Adventist youth to be true to our heritage and take up the torch, and we call on youth leaders to inspire the youth with a vision of our message and mission.
7. Administering institutions: We call on all leaders and workers in all Adventist institutions—schools, publishing houses, health care centers, food-production facilities—to live, work, and instruct so that each institution will have an identity and mission that is clearly Adventist.
We are an extremely diverse and far-flung church, but the Lord has kept us together thus far. Only He can keep us together as we face the days ahead. But we have a part to play: diligent and, above all, in close touch with the Lord day by day. As we earnestly seek His guidance and His power, He will enable us to be faithful to the wonderful heritage of truth entrusted to us.
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:3-6).
This article was first published in BRI Newsletter: Reflections, January 2003. It has been lightly edited for Elder’s Digest.