AA policy body of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Monday voted to adjust the language of a key fundamental belief to emphasize that creation was a “recent” event that took place during “six literal days.”
The decision by representatives of the church’s 13 world divisions meeting at the 2014 Annual Council agreed with top Church officials who are growing concerned about what they claim is a misinterpretation of the creation account within the denomination.
The church’s official stance on creation—known as Fundamental Belief No. 6—currently states, in part, “In six days the Lord made ‘the heaven and the earth’ and all living things upon the earth, and rested on the seventh day of that first week.”
The proposed section of the revised belief, to be sent to delegates of the church’s official governing body for a vote next year, now reads: “In a recent six-day creation the Lord made ‘the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them’ and rested on the seventh day.”
Church leadership insisted on inserting the word “recent” to establish the biblical belief that creation occurred thousands of years ago, as opposed to the conflicting belief of evolutionists who insist earth is at least 4 billion years old. The phrase “six literal days” is significant to church leaders because it conveys that each day of creation lasted one literal day.
Church leaders were concerned that if Seventh-day Adventist members adopt the position that creation was not a six-day literal event, they’ll abandon the denomination’s central belief about the Sabbath being a 24-hour period of rest.
The vote was 179 to 15, with 5 abstentions, to adopt the recommendations of the Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee, which first met in 2011.
The move to clarify the church’s position comes at a time when an increasing number of Adventists, including some in the denomination’s academic institutions, are subscribing to theistic evolution, a view that acknowledges God and science are responsible for creation.
General Conference President Ted N. C. Wilson has made it a priority to affirm the literal, six-day creation.
He clearly expressed his viewpoint in a major speech to more than 400 Bible and Science teachers, and other denominational workers, in Nevada, United States, two months ago.
Quoting from the Bible and the writings of Church co-founder Ellen G. White, Wilson urged the audience to “hold firmly to a literal recent creation and absolutely reject theistic and general evolutionary theory.”
Wilson’s position is supported by the Biblical Research Institute (BRI), a General Conference think tank that promotes the study and practice of Adventist theology and lifestyle.
The BRI maintains that the church’s identity will be at risk if Fundamental Belief No. 6 does not emphasize the literal, six-day creation. Should theistic evolution become more widely accepted, the BRI stated in a report, “we will be in danger of losing the biblical foundation for the Sabbath and our understanding of salvation.”
The protocol to modify the fundamental belief on creation is a long process that began in 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, by delegates of the 59th General Conference Session who voted to make the changes. The Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee was appointed to evaluate and merge the proposal with the 2004 Statement on Affirmation of Creation and seek input from church members around the world before advancing its recommendation to the Annual Council delegates. The committee is led by Artur Stele, a General Conference vice president and head of the BRI.
Relatively few of the 330 delegates meeting at church headquarters commented on the proposal.
Church historian David Trim cautioned that the proposal, which includes wording that establishes the six literal days, together with the Sabbath, “constituted a week as we experience it today,” could be subject to differing interpretations.
Shirley Chang, a North American Division delegate, said adding the word “recent” seemed out of context.
Former Trans-European Division President Bertil Wiklander took issue with the insertion of the word “historical” to describe the creation account. He said the church is better off with the original statement, because the revised belief “could take the meaning that the account belongs to history.”
The topic of creation was among the most-discussed part of an agenda item Sunday and Monday that recommended modifications to the 28 beliefs.
The Adventist Church first adopted 27 Fundamental Beliefs in 1980 under then President Neal Wilson, who said revisions would be needed periodically. In 2005, the Church added the 28th “Growing in Christ.”
In this week’s proposal, none of the beliefs were changed substantially.
The belief of Marriage and the Family for the first time acknowledges that unmarried people are valued too: God “embraces both single and married persons.”
The section on Christian Behavior previously suggested that godly people act in harmony “with the principles of heaven.” It now reads that they act in harmony, “with biblical principles in all aspects of personal and social life.”
Most of the modifications were edits, such as deleting redundancies, adopting more inclusive language, erasing “men of God” and replacing with “persons of God,” fixing punctuation, and scrapping “marriage partners” in favor of “a man and a woman.”
The proposed revisions to the Fundamental Beliefs will be considered by delegates of the 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, for adoption into official Church policy.