General Conference: New Belief Statement «Growing in Christ»

July 4, 2005 St. Louis, Missouri, United States. [Mark Kellner/John Surridge/ANN]

58th General Conference Session in St. Louis, USA (2005)

Growing in Christ, New Belief Statement, Voted

For a movement that is drawing new members from societies where beliefs in “evil spirits” continue to play a part, the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s 58th General Conference Session adopted, on July 4, a new fundamental belief statement declaring God’s power to help believers live a sanctified life.

“Growing in Christ,” as the new statement is called, links Jesus’ victory over demonic spirits with the struggles Christians face today.

From left: Angel Rodriquez, director of the Biblical Research Institute; William Johnsson, editor of the Adventist Review; and Mike Ryan, director of Global Mission check the exact wording of the proposed protocols for revising the Adventist statements of fundamental beliefs, before answering a question from a delegate.
From left: Angel Rodriquez, director of the Biblical Research Institute; William Johnsson, editor of the Adventist Review; and Mike Ryan, director of Global Mission check the exact wording of the proposed protocols for revising the Adventist statements of fundamental beliefs, before answering a question from a delegate.
“By His cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil,” the statement reads. “He who subjugated the demonic spirits during His earthly ministry has broken their power and made certain their ultimate doom. Jesus’ victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us, as we walk with Him in peace, joy and assurance of His love.”

It continues, “Now the Holy Spirit dwells within us and empowers us. Continually committed to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we are set free from the burden of our past deeds. No longer do we live in the darkness, fear of evil powers, ignorance and meaninglessness of our former way of life.”

According to Michael L. Ryan, a general vice president of the world church, overcoming evil is an important issue for members in places where belief in evil spirits has previously dominated.

Over the past 10 years a wide gospel appeal has been made by national workers in many of the 10/40 window countries. The big view of finishing the work and the conversion of Animists, Buddhists, Communists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews has challenged traditional methods of evangelism. In reaching non-Christian religions we confront two main closely related challenges, namely eastern mystical transcendental meditation, and the power of spiritual beings that often appear as enlightened spiritual guides in New Age movements.

Eastern mystical meditation is a search for contact with spiritual powers in order to enrich the individual. In place of that spiritualistic practice we offer them contact with God through prayer, Bible study, service, and meditation on the Word of God and His providential leadings. At various times since 1980 some members have expressed surprise that the Fundamental Beliefs contain no reference to prayer, devotional life, and service. This deficiency has been pointed out by church members from different parts of the world and not only from those working in the 10/40 window.

“I have visited hundreds and hundreds of new congregations [in areas] where we have never entered before,” Michael L. Ryan told the delegates. “And I find that many people live in fear of evil spirits. The first question our frontline workers are asked is, ‘What is your God going to do about the evil spirits in our life?'” More than 70% of the world’s population regards evil powers as the answer of choice when considering the metaphysical and epistemological question.

Michael L. Ryan, a veteran missionary who until recently headed the church’s Global Mission effort, said that some answers given by church workers were ones “that I am not comfortable with,” and that unless the church as a body addressed this issue, “if time goes by for a few more years, I think we will be very surprised at the church we find at that point” in those areas.

Along with strengthening the church’s expression of the liberating victory Christ won at Calvary, the new statement is designed to encourage believers to stand firm in their faith.

“In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of his character, communing with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the Church,” the statement continues. “As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit sanctifies every moment and every task.”

In a candid assessment of the need for a new fundamental belief, expressed in the proposal of the new belief statement, the church said, “This new statement will sharpen the Adventist understanding of the nature of a constant growth in Christ. This is indispensable at a time when some church members are more interested in theological discussion than in the spiritual impact of those doctrines in their daily lives.”

Getting from concept to reality for this belief took some work. The process began in 2003 with a question of whether the overall fundamental beliefs document needed some editorial insertions to address these issues, or if a new fundamental belief statement was required. By 2004, it was decided that a new statement was needed. It was drafted and discussed at Spring Meeting, and moved forward for the 2005 world business session.

At this world meeting, the church also voted a formal protocol for initiating changes to the fundamental beliefs statement. The process is designed to ensure consideration of such proposals at all levels of the church, whether a change is initiated at the world headquarters or at a unit in the world field. (See text of protocol statement for specific details.)

Floor discussion of the fundamental belief stretched over two days and included much discussion of the nature of various elements of the document. Pastor Richard Elofer, president of the church in Israel, and Claude Richli, secretary of the church’s East-Central Africa region, each raised questions about the use of the cross in the document, given the interpretation of that symbol as an instrument of persecution and crusade by Jews and Muslims.

Responding in both cases, Dr. Angel Manuel Rodríguez, director of the church’s Biblical Research Institute, explained that while some have misused the symbolism of the cross in history, that is not the Adventist Church’s purpose.

The cross, he said, “is where Christ defeated evil powers. It should free us to make us loving people. [This is a] message of hope to the Islamic people [and to] the Jewish people. … The cross was the place where Christ defeated evil powers and freed us to love Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and every person in the world.”

Paul Petersen of the South Pacific church region said that there was nothing about a “theology of prayer” in the new statement, and questioned whether or not things can be sanctified, as reflected in the “every moment and every task” clause of the statement.

Responding, Dr. William Johnsson, editor of the Adventist Review, the official church paper, said, “Throughout the Old Testament, places are made holy by the presence of God. Almost the last verses of the Old Testament talk about how even the pans, the vessels will be called holy to the Lord. In the New Testament, [the Bible says] our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. It seems very clear to me.”

A range of comments, mostly positive, came from people on the floor when asked about the new belief statement.

Marija Trajkowska from Serbia said, “I don’t see any problem with adding an additional belief to the list of 27-as long as it is accordance with the teaching of the Bible.”

Daegeuk Nam from Korea said, “Sticking to 27 beliefs is not particularly meaningful-it’s natural to add more if we need them. If ‘Growing in Christ’ is not part of the existing list then we need to add one more.”

John Nengel from Nigeria told ANN, “I don’t know how many fundamental beliefs we had originally, but if after 25 years there is need for another one which will deepen our perspectives, I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be included. The frontiers of knowledge continue to expand so an additional belief should be welcomed.”

Enrique Becerra from Chile said, “Because of the content of this new belief I think it is appropriate. It’s not a matter of numbers.”

Frantz Garcon from New York said, “Growing in Christ is what the Christian life is all about. It’s a lifetime’s work, so really [this belief] should already be there.”

The church’s General Conference Session in 1980 in Dallas, Texas, spent an entire week on discussion and voting of the current statement of the 27 fundamental beliefs.

World Church: New Belief Statement Referred Back to Writing Committee

July 5, 2005 St. Louis, Missouri, United States. [Mark A. Kellner/ANN]

A little more than 24 hours after its adoption, a new fundamental belief statement for the Seventh-day Adventist Church called “Growing in Christ” has been sent back to a writing committee of the movement for further refinement.

The action came after concerns were voiced in the July 6 morning business meeting, and earlier sessions, about some phrases in the statement, which persons involved with outreach to Muslims and Jews said might introduce imagery that evokes negative feelings toward the Gospel message. The statement begins with a reference to the cross of Jesus Christ, which has been viewed by Muslims as a historic symbol of the Crusades, and by Jews as an emblem of persecution.

“We just want a correct formulation to reach the people we have to reach,” said Pastor Richard Elofer, president of the Adventist Church in Israel, which reaches out to both Jews and Muslims. “If we have this opportunity to send text back to the writing committee so we can help the minority” of people, he added, we should do so.

John Fowler, associate director of education for the world church, said he was opposed to a rewrite.

“Some think that certain words expressed here, such as the cross, represents an icon rather than an item,” thus being offensive, Fowler explained. “I would like to say that there are phrases in all the 27 [other] fundamentals that are offensive [to some]. I come from a country with … Hindus who cannot see [the concept of the] shedding of blood for the remission of sin, and Jesus as the Son of God, as [being] also offensive. I don’t want this [belief] to be an evangelistic statement-that is the job of an evangelist.”

Back-and-forth arguments over the language in the motion continued along these lines, until a motion to rescind was proposed. That motion was tabled until the afternoon session, where it was withdrawn in favor of the proposal to refer it to the writing committee.

That action came following an appeal from world church president Pastor Jan Paulsen, who spoke during an intermission between two business sessions.

“I do understand the concern that has been expressed,” Paulsen said about the discussions surrounding the “Growing in Christ” statement. He recognized that there were those who felt there was “a process of input that has not been adequately cared for.”

However, debating a motion to rescind the statement is sidetracking church business, he said: “We are spending so much time here and it’s not taking us anywhere.”

Paulsen added, “[Please] send it back to the small [writing] group and they will listen, then it will be brought back to us tomorrow. The process would be cared for; we will all be healthier for it.”

A majority vote supported the world president’s request, and that writing committee spent two hours on the afternoon of July 5 assessing comments; a report is expected July 6.

World Session: Church Approves Revised New Belief Statement

July 7, 2005 St. Louis, Missouri, United States. [Mark A. Kellner/ANN]

Answering the concerns of some who wanted clearer language in the new belief statement, delegates to the 58th General Conference Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church today approved two revisions to “Growing in Christ,” the fundamental belief statement approved a mere 48 hours earlier.

The revisions appear in the first and last sentences of the document. The first sentence now reads, “By His death on the cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil,” while the last now reads, “As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience.”

As reported here earlier, the revisions were made after delegates in several sessions expressed reservations about some phrases in the statement, which persons involved with outreach to Muslims and Jews said might introduce imagery that evokes negative feelings toward the Gospel message. The statement begins with a reference to the cross of Jesus Christ, which has been viewed by Muslims as a historic symbol of the Crusades, and by Jews as an emblem of persecution.

After several minutes of procedural discussions and furtive attempts at editing the statement from the floor, delegates voted to end discussion and overwhelmingly approved the changes.

“Growing in Christ” will be listed as the 11th statement of fundamental beliefs, after number 10, “The Experience of Salvation” and before “The Church,” which is number 11.

Source: Adventist News Network [ANN]

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