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.
“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.
“I have visited hundreds and hundreds of new congregations [in areas] where we have never entered before,” 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?’”
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.