“Considering the arguments occurring in our Adventist church at the moment, what do you think would be helpful for Adventists to know about the relationship between our policies and doctrines?”

George Knight looked at me sympathetically. He had been called to Southern Adventist University to speak for Alumni Weekend in the thick of the Adventist church’s unity policy debates. Many saw that the unity policy’s wording both obfuscated and equalized church policy and church doctrine.

Church policy is flexible, human-made, and uninspired. It’s imperfect, and must often adjust to better fit the contexts of our global church.

However, Church doctrines, according to the church’s official statements, are the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. Revisions are possible, but only under the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

By creating a unity policy that enforces church unity along policy and doctrinal lines, you create an environment in which church members are required to agree on all points articulated in the church manual and church doctrine documents. And if you don’t, then you’re a bad Adventist subject to discipline.[1]

This evoked a negative reaction to many in my peer group. This policy addressed the ordination of women as an essential point of unity even though the committee of theologians who had studied the issue had told the world church that the Biblical record was inconclusive on the matter of gender.

However, when the General Conference Annual Council voted the Unity in Mission Policy into action, many felt like their consciences on non-essentials were being infringed upon. And, well, it has left the church in a very tense situation.

So I asked George Knight how I could explain the fundamentals of Adventism to my frustrated friends.

In his response, he referenced an old article in which he pointed out that the fundamental beliefs document gives Adventists no framework to distinguish between what’s important and what isn’t, nor does it provide a limit to what can be considered significant.

The common church member will be unable to list all twenty-eight, and even if they did, it is unlikely that their rendition will perfectly harmonize with the official statements of the church.

Beyond this, the list places on equal grounds doctrines that discuss God and doctrines that discuss diet and alcohol. So does this mean that one night of drinking is the same offense as one day’s worth of blaspheming the name of the Almighty?

For many Adventists, yes, the guilt is the same because they have received a system of beliefs that makes everything fundamental. Their system of beliefs lacks hierarchy and lacks relationship.

For example, some church administrators have proposed fundamental belief #29: education. Though Adventist education might be foundational to Adventist mission, can we really say it is a doctrine to be discussed in the same list we discuss God, sanctuary, salvation, and the triumph of good over evil.

In part one, I argued that we have to systematize our beliefs to show relationship and hierarchy. To give the world church credit, their website and their book have sought to do this by placing beliefs into categories—but it’s not enough because church members still see all beliefs equally. Moreover, charismatic and convincing preachers will often add beliefs about music, ordination, obscure prophecies, diet, dress, etc. to these already large lists.

Knight is correct to argue that this system of beliefs is like a bunch of strings of beads that church members have to walk around holding and keeping track of. The strings maybe heavier on some end than others, but all beliefs, doctrines, policies, and opinions get a bead and get strung up. Members are very firm in what they believe, but they are also at times arguing over beads that should have never mattered and losing sight of beads that are irreplaceable.

Over time, this mindset and system can produce a church that has an infinite number of beliefs articulated in ways intended to define the in-group as voted by the consciences and preferences of the administration. Education is only an innocent start.

The reality is that the Fundamental Beliefs document is a necessary problem. In the early days of our church, J.N. Loughborough voiced the concerns of those against setting up formal documents telling people what to believe and defining who could fellowship; he saw creeds as the beginning of apostasy.[2]

However, he and many others also saw that as the church grew, there would be a need for organization and structure.

So the church adopted one creed: sola Scriptura, and then sought to express the teachings of the Scriptures through the enumeration of the fundamental beliefs.

At the time, there was no need for a system, but today, we see that there are some efforts within church administration that are attempting to modify the fundamental beliefs in a ways that could be divisive in things that are not so clear.[3]

Previously, I proposed a wheel model for organizing our beliefs with Jesus as our hub, and all materials coming from the explicit teachings of the Scriptures.

Important beliefs might take on the status of a spoke emerging from the wheel’s hub, and less important beliefs might simply be considered rim material; yet no belief in this model can exist without showing its relationship to Jesus Christ.

If at times, you have felt overwhelmed with what Seventh-day Adventists are supposed to believe, then you have been functioning with a beads model.

If the first time you danced to a Drake song made you feel as if you had crucified the Lord’s Anointed, then you were functioning with a beads model.

If explaining Seventh-day Adventism to others feels complex and difficult, then you are living in a beads model.

But this isn’t Mardi Gras so we can let the beads go.

In short, the twenty-eight are problematic because they can become lists to articulate a very particular form of Adventism rather than being a description of what we have found in the Scriptures thus far.

I am not saying do away with the document because it is helpful for the sake of church organization. I am saying let us organize them; it’s time to build the wheel.

Oh, and if some people start “creedalizing” the document or “fundamentalizing” things that aren’t fundamental, then we should gently remind them that only plain thus saith the Lords are suitable material.



[1] At this point, I would note that we update and revise our church manual at every General Conference session. So the problem is there, but it is not a dire one. Additionally, this problem is one that should be considered by Adventists of all types because all it takes is one session where your perspective is the minority for you to feel the brunt of discipline.

[2] J.N.Loughborough, Review and Herald, October 8, 1861

[3] For example, the earth’s chronology, https://thecompassmagazine.com/blog/the-evolution-of-adventists-creation-belief-statement