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Beliefs versus Creeds

Many Christian denominations have a creed—a foundational statement of the basic beliefs of the church. Seventh-day Adventists claim that we do not have a creed. Yet if you look inside our baptismal certificate or go on our denominational website you will find a “Statement of Fundamental Beliefs” with 28 beliefs, some of which are quite lengthy. Isn’t this essentially a creed?

If so, this seems to go against the clear advice that Ellen White gave our church in the early days of our existence. In 1885 she wrote in the Review that the Bible should be our only creed:

When God’s Word is studied, comprehended, and obeyed, a bright light will be reflected to the world; new truths, received and acted upon, will bind us in strong bonds to Jesus. The Bible, and the Bible alone, is to be our creed, the sole bond of union; all who bow to this Holy Word will be in harmony. Our own views and ideas must not control our efforts. Man is fallible, but God’s Word is infallible.

This seems quite clear. Have we disregarded this by having a statement of beliefs?

We would probably have to say “Yes” were it not for the statement that serves as a preface to our statement of beliefs. It is a vital, defining part of our statement of beliefs. Here is what is says:

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.

This statement says that our beliefs can be changed! This goes against the very idea of a creed. It says that our beliefs are not a creed, but our current understanding. It says we are going to keep studying. We may learn new things from our searching the Bible. In other words, we are a forward-looking movement, not a creedal organization set in concrete.

When we look at the history of our movement, we find that we have made significant changes in our statements of beliefs over the years. Our first statement came in 1872, our second in the 1930’s, and our present statement was voted at the General Conference in 1980 and has been revised in 2005 and 2015. When we look at our first statement it does not say anything about the eternity of Jesus Christ. Our present statement is very clear on the eternity of the entire Trinity.

Today’s statement clearly shows that we Christians first. The center around which all of our beliefs cluster is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who gives meaning to everything that we believe and practice.

And as we walk with Him, we continue to learn, grow, change and critique ourselves. We are not static. We are Adventists. We are forward-looking. If we ever become satisfied and quit growing, we are not really Adventists. To be an Adventist is to live the truth of the words of James Russell Lowell in his hymn “Once to Every Man and Nation.”

New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth.
They must upward, still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

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Contributed by Pastor John Brunt


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