Bedrock Adventist belief in the Earth’s creation has met many challenges.
By Sergio Silva
From the early days of the Second Advent Movement, Adventists were firm believers in the Creation account of Genesis 1:1–2:3. This text provided a foundation for their conviction that Christians should observe the Sabbath day. As a matter of fact, Adventists regarded the Creation account as “the reason why he blessed and sanctified the seventh day, ‘Because that in it he had rested from all his work which GOD had created and made.’”1
As the Second Advent Movement progressed and its believers worked to spread the message by various means, one particular publication became the official organ of the movement: The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. From August 15 to December 19 of 1854, despite concerns about not establishing any creed beyond the Bible, “a list of five leading doctrines was published in the masthead of the Review and Herald.”2 Although a reference to the Law of God appeared in the list, there was no direct reference to the doctrine of Creation.
As Adventism grew, new biblical truths came to light. In 1872, a pamphlet was printed entitled “A Declaration of the Fundamental Principles Taught and Practiced by the Seventh-day Adventists.” It contained 25 unsigned propositions that provided a broader picture of what the church, as a body of believers, accepted as its doctrinal teachings. This was later published in the Signs of the Times on June 4, 1874, under the title “Fundamental Principles.” It placed more emphasis on God as the Creator of all things, but still made no explicit statement establishing the Creation doctrine as a fundamental principle of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This particular list was never printed in the Yearbook or the Church Manual.
“In the 1889 Yearbook of the denomination, which was a larger volume than usual, containing general information about the church and its activities, these ‘Fundamental Principles’ were included in a slightly revised and expanded form in twenty-eight sections (pp. 147–151). This was not continued in subsequent issues, but it was inserted again in the Yearbook in 1905 and continued to appear through 1914.”3 The same 28 statements appeared again in the Review and Herald in 1912 and remained as the official fundamental principles of the Seventh-day Adventist Church until 1931. Even in this expanded list of fundamental principles, no specific statement related to the doctrine of Creation appears, but in the first fundamental principle, which deals with God’s attributes, God is referred to as the Creator of all things.
The title “Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists” appeared for the first time in the history of Adventism in the 1931 Yearbook, and in 1932 it was also printed in the Church Manual. That version contained 22 articles “prepared by a committee of four, including the General Conference president and the editor of the Review and Herald.”4 In this version, the statement on the observance of the Sabbath—the seventh fundamental belief—included the words, “memorial of Creation,” making the concept of Creation more evident than in its previous versions. Nevertheless, that was as far as it went, and despite much controversy around the world over the issue of origins, no specific statement about Creation was added, and this version remained the official statement of Seventh-day Adventist fundamental beliefs until March 1980.
The First Twenty-Seven Fundamental Beliefs and Their Origin
For almost 50 years, the Seventh-day Adventist Church endorsed those 22 articles of fundamental beliefs, publishing them in the Yearbook and Church Manual with only minor revisions. Then, on April 25, 1980, the church's General Conference in session took a vote on what became known as the “Twenty-Seven Seventh-day Adventist Fundamental Beliefs,” also referred to as “a summary of the principal features of Adventist beliefs.”5(A 28th fundamental belief was added in 2005.)
This was the first formulated set of fundamental beliefs to include an explicit statement on Creation. It was inserted into the fundamental beliefs statement during major revisions that included the addition of seven new articles, including “paragraphs on angels, Creation and the fall, the church, unity in the body of Christ, the Lord’s supper, Christian marriage, and the Christian home and education.”6
The statement as it reads today on the General Conference Website and in the Church Manual is the result of an extensive rewriting process that completely transformed the original statement proposed by B. E. Seton, which was approved by the General Conference Ad Hoc Committee and then sent to Andrews University for input from a group of theologians.
The result of the work done by that group of theologians was published in an earlier version by the Adventist Review on February 21, 1980. There, the sixth fundamental belief reads: “That God, through Christ and by the power of His Spirit, is creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the only authentic account of His creative activity. In six days the Lord made ‘the heavens and the earth’ and all living things upon the earth, and rested on the seventh day of that first week. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work. The first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was ‘very good,’ declaring the glory of God. (Gen. 1–3; Exod. 20:8-11; Ps. 19:1-6; 33:6-9; John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16, 17.)”7
The statement was “the first revised draft of the statement [which] was circulated among a group of theologians for their input.”8
Why a Statement on Creation?
The period in which the Seventh-day Adventist Church emerged was one of extreme importance. The year 1844 entered the annals of world history not only as the year of the Great Disappointment, but also as the year when Charles Darwin published The Origin,also known as “the 1844 Sketch,” which became in 1859 The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
To understand the nuances of the Creation vs. evolution debate, one must take the Great Controversy as the most basic presupposition. When looked at through the frame of the Great Controversy, creation versus evolution can be seen as portraying two opposite ideals: the first as the work of God in history seeking to bring the human race back to the study and understanding of the Bible by the use of sola, tota, and prima scriptura, and the second as the work of another entity seeking to lead the human race away from the Bible and toward a humanistic understanding of all things. This is not linked exclusively to the works of Charles Darwin, but also to the works throughout history that served as a foundation for the development of Darwin’s work on origins. Since that time, the biblical teaching of Creation has come under severe attack, leading many individuals and institutions to renounce their trust in the biblical chronicle of origins.
During the 136 years from 1844 until 1980, the very foundation of the Bible was under worldwide attack. Seventh-day Adventists were well aware of the discussions taking place in other institutions around the world, especially those in the educational realm, and they defended the biblical teachings on origins through the writings of Ellen G. White and many books and articles published by other authors.
Even more emphatic, perhaps, was the appeal of a retiring president of the General Conference, Robert Pierson, who was familiar with the growing issues related to origins among Seventh-day Adventists. In his speech presented to the Annual Council on October 12, 1978, Pierson stressed:
“Already, brethren and sisters, there are subtle forces that are beginning to stir. Regrettably there are those in the church who belittle the inspiration of the total Bible, who scorn the first 11 chapters of Genesis, who question the Spirit of Prophecy’s short chronology of the age of the earth, and who subtly and not so subtly attack the Spirit of Prophecy. There are some who point to the reformers and contemporary theologians as a source and the norm for Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. There are those who allegedly are tired of the hackneyed phrases of Adventism. There are those who wish to forget the standards of the church we love. There are those who covet and would court the favor of the evangelicals; those who would throw off the mantle of a peculiar people; and those who would go the way of the secular, materialistic world.
“Fellow leaders, beloved brethren and sisters—don’t let it happen! I appeal to you as earnestly as I know how this morning—don’t let it happen! I appeal to Andrews University, to the Seminary, to Loma Linda University—don’t let it happen! We are not Seventh-day Anglicans, not Seventh-day Lutherans—we are Seventh-day Adventists! This is God’s last church with God’s last message!”9
Pierson’s statement complied with the history of Seventh-day Adventists and provided the ultimate reason for the formulation of a statement on Creation.
Standing in Defense of God
One of the first to raise his voice in defense of God’s Word in the matter was Elder W. H. Littlejohn, who in 1884 published a small but significant article in the Review and Herald complimenting the faculty of Battle Creek College for their transparent and solid position regarding origins. Littlejohn stressed that “[f]ortunately, all of the professors of the College are not only professors of religion themselves, but they are also firm believers in the inspiration of the Scriptures, and interpret them in harmony with their most literal and obvious sense.”10
Littlejohn also emphasized the contrast between the recently formed Seventh-day Adventist college and other educational institutions, where it became “confessedly true that the leaven of evolutionism ha[d] entered largely into the theories of many of the college professors of [that] time, and that many of them openly avow and publicly teach doctrines in harmony with what is styled the ‘higher criticism.’”11
Another record presenting Seventh-day Adventists as active participants in the creation versus evolution debate appeared in the Review and Herald in 1887. In that volume, an unsigned article quoted a “Prof. Virchow, of Germany, [speaking] before the congress of scientists at Wiesbaden,” who categorically expressed his disapproval of the Darwinian theory by affirming that “the Darwinian doctrine of the transmutation of species and of mechanical evolution, the theories upon which it is now sought to construct so much science and a great deal of morality, and which it has become very unpopular, if not a sign of dense ignorance, to doubt, are fundamentally false, unscientific, and impossible; and that science can no longer afford to move along a line which seeks to construct its phenomena upon imaginary and impossible bases.”12
A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner wrote extensively on the issue of evolution, making significant contributions to the Seventh-day Adventist body of work on the subject. Other key figures from the early 20th century include William W. Prescott, J. N. Andrews, and William H. Branson. None of them, however, despite their valuable contributions, would impact the Christian world as much as George McCready Price, who has been described as “the chief architect of the flood geology or scientific Creation.”13
Who Was George McCready Price?
Born in New Brunswick, Canada, on August 26, 1870, the author and educator George McCready Price became a Seventh-day Adventist in his early years. Price was a dedicated member of the church and served initially as a colporteur, but became probably the most important writer on creationism until the mid-20th century. The author of many books and articles, Price dedicated his life to the literal interpretation of the Bible and the advancement of the so-called flood geology or scientific creationism. In the scholarly world, George McCready Price is viewed and quoted with the highest respect. Henry M. Morris, in History of Modern Creationism, stresses the importance of Price’s “tremendous breadth of knowledge in science and Scripture, his careful logic, and his beautiful writing style [which] made a profound impression on me when I first began studying these great themes.”14
Although Price started his work without any formal education, he received a B.A. from Loma Linda College in 1912 and “carried membership in both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the California Academy of Science.”15During his long career as a professor at different Adventist colleges and an active advocate of scientific creationism, Price earned the respect of many scholars of his time. He made a major contribution to the cause of biblical literality and to a clearer understanding of the Creation account and universal flood.
In his early 20s, Professor Price took charge of a school in the village of Tracadie and became acquainted with the evolutionary theory by reading many books on the subject. After a few years of incessant reading, Price had collected enough information to allow for a first publication, which was the beginning of his long crusade for creationism. He noted the impact of the work of Sir Charles Lyell, James Hutton, and Charles Darwin on the Christian academic world and how it caused Christians to try to harmonize the Bible with geological discoveries by adopting theories such as that of God’s process of creation through the evolutionary process.
For Price, the biblical text was not to be modified or compromised to fit modern ideas. As Harold W. Clark puts it: “Price’s Outlines of Modern Science, in contrast with all this, was an effort, as he put it, to get back to primitive Christian principles without any compromise. He said: ‘A reform and a return to these primitive principles is the next thing in order for everyone who wishes to get his bearings toward the present day problems of either politics or science.’”16 It is fair to suggest that “Price could well be called the father of the twentieth-century Creationist movement.”17 Such affirmation comes as a reward for his loyalty to the Scripture, added to his knowledge of geology and the Spirit of Prophecy, which served as the foundation for his theology.
Appeal From a General Conference Official
When the stage was set and the Seventh-day Adventist Church was moving forward in preparing a statement on Creation to be incorporated into its fundamental beliefs, W. J. Hackett, vice president of the General Conference at that time, published a significant guest editorial in the Review and Herald stressing the importance of maintaining the course set for the church leaders by those who preceded them. Hackett was aware of the challenges faced by the church, and he advised: “Areas to be explored are those concerning the church’s positions that have been challenged. Some fall in the area of science and include topics such as a literal, seven-day Creation, a universal Flood, and the age of life on the earth. A clear definition here will enable teachers of science in our schools clearly to present to inquiring young minds the church’s position.”18
Although the process of formulating the statement on Creation was democratic and well documented, did the final result achieve the clarity suggested by Hackett?
Formulating a Statement on Creation
Although some discussion may have taken place earlier, the concentrated effort to prepare a statement on Creation began officially on June 8, 1978, when the General Conference Committee voted to appoint an Ad Hoc Creation and Revelation Statements Editing Committee. The members of that committee were “W. Duncan Eva (Chairman); G. M. Hyde (Secretary), Milo Anderson, Roger Coon, Raoul Dederen, Richard Fearing, W. J. Hackett, Richard Hammill, Frank Holbrook, Warren H. Johns, Alf Lohne, James Londis, Robert W. Olson, Jack Provonsha, Ariel Roth, Cree Sandefur, William C. Scales, Jr., G. Ralph Thompson, Mervyn Warren, K. H. Wood, and E. E. Zinke.”19
The work of the Ad Hoc Committee was done mainly by correspondence. Over the next 10 months—from June 1978 until August 1979—the members of the committee exchanged numerous letters as they sought to prepare a statement on Creation that accurately reflected the Seventh-day Adventist position on a recent, literal, six-day Creation.
Based on denominational minutes dated September 8, 1978, it seems accurate to suggest that an initial document containing a tentative statement on Creation had been prepared and presented to the X-1535 Church Manual Committee prior to that date. On that occasion, “The chairman shared copies of B. E. Seton’s comments and suggestions regarding the Fundamental Beliefs section of the Church Manual. Members of the committee were urged to give careful study to the suggested revisions and to make notes.”20 One of Seton’s comments pointed out the inadequacy of that very first statement on Creation. In February 1979, after about five months of work, a revision of the Fundamental Beliefs by B. E. Seton was brought to the X-1535 Committee, where the chairman of that committee “stressed the need for a clearer statement concerning Creation.”21
As a result of the concerns raised by Seton, in a more concentrated effort to develop the statement on Creation, the X-1535 Committee voted W. J. Hackett and Richard Hammill to form a subcommittee with Seton as secretary for the formulation of a statement on the doctrine of Creation. By the end of the next day, the X-1535 Church Manual Revision Committee—Fundamental Beliefs had approved a tentative statement on Creation.
Although no biblical references were provided at that stage, it is important to note the appearance of some specific phrases in the statement, such as “reliable chronicle of the creation of the world,” “In six literal, consecutive days God created the world,” and “world-wide Noachian flood.” The concept of biblical literalism is clear in this statement, and although it would later undergo significant revisions, it reflected a response in the right direction to Hackett’s article urging church leaders of the day to preserve the landmarks of biblical historicity.
The subcommittee continued working to improve the statement on Creation so that it would be ready before the session of the General Conference in April 1980. On March 4, 1979, B. E. Seton provided the X-1535 Committee with new revisions to the statement, including some Bible texts. Some of the improvements in this last revision presented a more solid biblical foundation, as seen in the meeting of the X-1535 Committee on April 9 and 10 of 1979. They included an allusion to the Trinity, a specific reference to Satan as the originator of sin, and a reference to the Garden of Eden, indicating a literal interpretation of the Bible that was frequently observed by other Christian denominations.22
Satisfied with the progress achieved up to that point, on July 23, 1979, the X-1535 Church Manual Revision Committee—Fundamental Beliefs agreed that the chairman, W. Duncan Eva, should approach Andrews University with a view to arranging a meeting with members of the theological faculty to obtain their input on the revised fundamental beliefs as prepared by this committee. It was therefore suggested that W. Duncan Eva, W. J. Hackett, and Richard Hammill meet with theologians on a convenient date on the Andrews University campus.
After all the work put into the formulation of a Seventh-day Adventist statement of Creation, this single move would soon undermine W. J. Hackett’s appeal to preserve the landmarks of biblical history.
With the important task ahead of having the final proposed statement of fundamental beliefs analyzed by the church’s top theologians, the X–1535 Committee prepared a three-column document to be mailed to reviewers of the statement. The first column included the 22 articles that had been printed in the Church Manual since 1932; the second column showed all the alterations to that version and the new articles; and finally, the third column showed that revised fundamental belief statement, which had been revised. This last column did not include the articles being added to the statement. W. Duncan Eva mailed copies of this document to Andrews University and to a group of church leaders on August 10, 1979.23
For many years, researchers tried to locate this three-column document without success. Those interested in locating it believed that the statement on Creation originally prepared by the X–1535 Committee was more specific from a biblical point of view and more clearly reflected the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of Creation.
Searching for the Three-Column Document
In March 2010, the three-column document was found among materials on the fundamental beliefs in the General Conference Office of Archives and Statistics. It accompanied a cover letter stating its confidentiality and prohibiting its duplication. The differences between the 1980 statement on Creation and the one originally prepared by the X-1535 Committee are significant.
A parallel comparison of the Ad Hoc Committee's proposed X-1535 statement and the actual voted statement on creation in the April 25, 1980, at General Conference session reveals that the X-1535 statement underwent complete revision by the theologians at Andrews University.
According to Fritz Guy, secretary of the committee of 12 scholars at Andrews University, Lawrence Geraty drafted the completely new statement on Creation.26 As can be observed, some important words that were serving as agents of specificity were eliminated from the new formulated statement. For instance, the clause “That the book of Genesis contains the only inspired, reliable chronicle of the Creation of the world” worked as an agent of specificity.
The use of the term chronicle clarifies that Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as historically trustworthy. Another agent of specificity was the clause “In six literal days the Lord made heaven and the earth and all living things.” The term literal indicates that Seventh-day Adventists accept the concept that each day—evening and morning—found in the Mosaic account of Creation, describes a period of 24 hours and therefore a historical day. This also provides solid support of their belief in the Sabbath day as the “perpetual memorial of His completed creative work.”27
Finally, of extreme significance were the words, “It also led to marring God’s handiwork in Creation and to the worldwide flood in the days of Noah,” which would ultimately testify to the world that Seventh-day Adventists endorse the biblical version of the Creation events, including that short chronology of the history of this planet and that a global flood necessarily links to these events.
Why were these agents of specificity left out of the new statement on Creation? Furthermore, is the current statement on Creation clearly representative of mainline Seventh-day Adventists regarding origins?
The Purpose of the Fundamental Belief Statement
It is crucial to understand the purpose of having a statement of fundamental beliefs. In the case of Seventh-day Adventists, the preamble reads: “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.”28 This indicates that the statement of fundamental beliefs exists to reflect the teachings and beliefs of the church, which are to be represented by its members. Thus, it implies that church members are to abide by those principles, rather than the church abiding by the beliefs of its members.
Nevertheless, in the minds of some Adventists, “there is no single ‘Seventh-day Adventist Church position’ regarding the history of life on Earth. Individual Adventists—scientists, theologians, pastors, and others—hold widely differing views regarding the age of the universe, of the planet Earth, and of life on Earth.”29 Such a declaration reveals a subjective understanding of ecclesiology, in which the church and its doctrines must be subject to the views of its members, and not to Scripture.
Guy, the secretary of the “committee of twelve,” shares his assessment of the meaning of the newly worded Fundamental Belief No. 6 as follows: “The only ‘official position’ of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is stated in Fundamental Belief No. 6, where the language is deliberately Biblical, and broad enough to accommodate various views about Earth’s natural history.”30 This means that Fundamental Belief No. 6, as it reads today, can be used to support multiple approaches to the biblical account of Creation, including progressive creationism, theistic evolution, etc.
The Creation Statement on the Floor of the 1980 GC Session
Going back to the GC Session of 1980 in Dallas, Texas, the day began with Neal C. Wilson addressing the delegates, emphasizing the importance of leaders refusing to be content with the status quo just because it was comfortable. He stated: “An organization is developed to achieve an objective. Organization should not continue simply to maintain itself. Unless there are clear targets, organization is meaningless.”31 Unquestionably, revising the existing fundamental belief statement and inserting an official statement on Creation testifies to Seventh-day Adventist leaders’ strong desire to honor God’s Word and message. It is important to reflect on the method used and in the observations made on the floor that evening, many of which were simply left behind.
After J. W. Bothe had read the proposed statement on Creation, Leroy Moore, with the support of A. A. Roth, manifested his concern regarding the wording of Belief No. 6, which he believed should leave some room for the Spirit of Prophecy to contribute to the biblical account.
Another observation came from E. J. Humphrey, who inquired about the possibility of including the words “six literal days,” which would clearly distinguish Seventh-day Adventists from many other denominations. In support of the latter, John V. Stevens stressed that one of the purposes for rewriting the fundamental beliefs and including a statement on Creation was to make what Seventh-day Adventists believe “more easily understood by those not of our faith”32; thus, adding the words “six literal days” to that statement “would certainly let the world know what we believe.”33
Others like Humberto R. Treiyer pointed out the importance of including “something in relation to our position about the earth’s chronology.”34 Neal C. Wilson responded with openness to these revisions; nevertheless, none of the attending delegates picked up on Wilson’s openness. At that point, Lawrence Geraty brought up the fact that “Creation is far more extensive than just origins.”35 He further stated, “In a paragraph on Creation, I would like to testify to the world that God does not work, as deists believe, by getting things started and then allowing them to run their course. I would like to include creative activity that includes not only origins but much more.”36
This would be acceptable if by “origins” Geraty was referring to an absolute beginning, a time when “the earth was without form, and void” (Gen. 1:2, NKJV), and if by “Creation” he was referring to God’s actions of giving form and bringing life to the planet He spoke into existence, and maintaining that life after its initial creation, which seems to be the case here. Unfortunately, Geraty’s words could also be interpreted to support theistic evolution in that the latter position also requires God’s continued “creative activity” after the initial creation by occasional divine intrusions into nature to help it overcome evolutionary “logjams.” The divine intrusions that theistic evolution requires are much more extensive and involved than the divine ongoing maintenance understood by some Adventist creationists.
Indeed, such intrusions would make void the significance and quality of God’s initial creation which is said to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31, NKJV). If one of the reasons for writing a statement on Creation is to let the world know what we believe, as John V. Stevens correctly stated, specificity and clarity are of major importance and are non-negotiable.37
Despite the observations presented on the floor favoring a clearer wording for the statement on Creation, one that would reflect more accurately what mainline Seventh-day Adventists truly believe, the published discussion regarding the Creation statement ended shortly after Geraty’s statement. The 27 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church were voted into effect on the morning of April 25, 1980. How the statement on Creation would affect the church, and why those involved in preparing the statement worded it the way they did, only the future would clearly reveal.
The Fruits of the 1980 Statement on Creation
Despite the fact that the “committee of twelve” produced a statement of fundamental beliefs that raised many theological concerns and controversies among mainline Seventh-day Adventists, it is important to recognize their efforts and contributions. Geraty expressed his concerns regarding the time allotted for such an important task, and the members of the committee suggested a more appropriate procedure for future revisions of the fundamental beliefs statement that would extend the time allocated for the process. They suggested that all “the results of [their] effort, if acceptable to Washington, D.C., be published in the Adventist Review with the invitation for comment and reaction by any concerned.”38
On the other hand, Robert H. Pierson stressed the importance of Seventh-day Adventist leaders positioning themselves against “those in the church who belittle the inspiration of the total Bible, who scorn the first 11 chapters of Genesis, who question the Spirit of Prophecy’s short chronology of the age of the earth.”39 Pierson’s words supported Hackett’s appeal that providing “a clear definition” on these issues “will enable teachers of science in our schools clearly to present to inquiring young minds the church’s position.”40Nevertheless, sometime during the task of “revising” the statement on Creation, the notion of producing a document to represent clearly what Seventh-day Adventists believe was seeming lost for 30 years.
General Conference 2010 Action
Certainly unexpected by many was the motion brought to the floor by Ted N. C. Wilson, the newly elected president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. On the one hand, Wilson’s motion was in part a response to various requests to clarify the Fundamental Belief No. 6 as requested by some voices in the International Faith & Science Conferences of 2004, the Faith and Science Council, and the Michigan and Northern California conferences. On the other hand, his motion reflected his comprehensive vision for the church’s mission.
Wilson’s motion included a request to approve the statement “A Reaffirmation of Creation,” which more clearly stated the Adventist understanding regarding origins, based on the interpretation of Genesis 1–11. In addition, his motion included a request that the General Conference Administration initiate the process of integration of Fundamental Belief No. 6 and the statement “A Reaffirmation of Creation.”41 The motion was enthusiastically carried and strongly supported.
As recorded in the annals of history, the doctrine of Creation has been enormously influenced by different lines of thinking, especially Greek philosophy, an influence that can be observed in the work of theologians such as Philo of Alexandria, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and others. Consequently, a great variety of approaches to the biblical Creation account of Genesis 1:1–2:3 have resulted from attempts to reconcile the Bible with the discoveries of science instead of submitting those discoveries to Scripture.
Similarly, the Age of Enlightenment brought many challenges to the interpretation of Scripture, with its emphasis on reason and the empirical method. One reaction in favor of a conservative interpretation of Scripture was a movement known as Fundamentalism, which came to America accompanied by Evangelicalism. The former opposed the Enlightenment drastically, while the latter tended to accommodate it, providing an adequate environment for a multiplicity of approaches to the doctrine of Creation.
It is a difficult task to cover in all the implications of the abandonment of the theological concept of sola scriptura for the biblical account of Creation. Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that if such were not explored in light of the Great Controversy theme, it would hardly make any difference for those claiming to be followers of God.
It seems plausible to suggest that God’s response to these events was the providential rise of the movement that became the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Daniel 7-9; Rev. 14:6-12). Interestingly, besides providing guidance through the writings of Ellen G. White, God has also impressed others to stand up in defense of the biblical account of Creation and the worldwide flood. One such was George McCready Price, whose theological views firmly rested upon the literal truth and historicity of the Bible and its original text.
Seventh-day Adventists believe they have been chosen by God to lift up the truth of the Bible as His historical narrative of Creation, judgment, and salvation. Thus, the church’s understanding of Scripture has continued to grow since 1854, and its doctrinal statements have improved accordingly. In exploring these improvements, it is odd that the Seventh-day Adventist Church did not release a statement on Creation until 1980, despite all the work done by people such as George McCready Price, the founder of scientific recent Creation studies. Thus, although in the early years of the Adventist movement, Seventh-day Adventists did not establish a specific statement on Creation, the concept of Creation was always implicit in their fundamental principles. This was evident either by their acceptance of God’s attributes as Creator or by their recognition of the validity of the fourth commandment, the Sabbath.
Adventists believe that just as the undesirable powers of evil are constantly working to confuse and distract the human race, God is actively and constantly working to execute His plan of redemption. By allowing His servants to establish the differences between Godlike institutions and more human ones, God led the Seventh-day Adventist Church to seek a public and explicit position on origins.
Much hard work was put into the formulation of a statement on Creation that would testify accurately to the Seventh-day Adventists’ high regard for the Bible. The statement initially produced by the X-1535 Ad Hoc Committee was a true attempt to preserve God’s landmarks as suggested by W. J. Hackett.
Despite the need for minor editorial work, it clearly represented the belief of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. However, the Fundamental Belief No. 6 voted during the 1980 General Conference session in Dallas, because of its intended ambiguity, has led to more than 30 years of uncertainty in our educational institutions over the meaning of Creation. This current reality indicates that the uncertainty must not continue.
It is imperative to the survival of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as God’s reformation movement in the last days that a new statement on Creation be prepared and approved by the General Conference as soon as possible. The new statement must clearly express the mainline Seventh-day Adventist understanding of origins without leaving room for pluralistic interpretations.
It would be appropriate for the Seventh-day Adventist Church to do the following:
1. Stand upon the theological concept of sola, tota, and prima scriptura and the conviction that the Bible is the revelation of God to humanity, containing an “inspired, reliable chronicle of the Creation of the world.”
2. Respond winsomely to those accusing mainline Adventists of using a “misguided Baconianism toward the Bible.”42 Though we should humbly admit that not all of the Bible’s content can be understood through empirical method, we can remind those who question the validity of the Bible that macroevolution also cannot be demonstrated by the same principles of empiricism.
It could be objected that theology and science cannot work together because of their incompatibilities. Nevertheless, while these fields serve different purposes, it is a matter of choice which field should govern the other. Thus, if science would consider the Bible to work as the starting point in matters of origins, both science and theology would have much to gain.
3. Proceed prayerfully in rewording the Fundamental Belief No. 6. Since the first positive action has already been taken, the administration must go forward without losing focus on the Great Controversy, for this is the key to understanding Seventh-day Adventist theology.
Seventh-day Adventists must press forward, always remembering that “The greatest want of the world is the want of men—men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.”43
Sergio Silva, M.A., is pursuing a Ph.D. in Religion with emphasis in theological studies at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. James White, “The Weekly Sabbath Instituted at Creation, and Not at Sinai,” The Present Truth (July 1849), p. 1.
2. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2000 ed., s.v. “Doctrinal Statements, Seventh-day Adventist.”
5. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 1931), pp. 377-380, and s.v. “SDA Encyclopedia.”
6. W. Duncan Eva, “Fundamental Beliefs,” W. Duncan Eva Collection, General Conference Office of Archives & Statistics, Silver Spring, Maryland.
7. Kenneth H. Wood, “Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists,” Adventist Review (Feb. 21, 1980), p. 8.
8. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, op cit.
9. Robert H. Pierson, “An Earnest Appeal From the Retiring President of the General Conference,” Review and Herald (Oct. 12, 1978), pp. 10, 11.
10. W. H. Littlejohn, “The Battle Creek College: What It Is Not, and What It Is,” Review and Herald (Jan. 22, 1884), p. 51.
12. “Another Blow at Evolution,” Review and Herald (December 6, 1887), p. 758.
13. Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1992), first ed., pp. x, 72, 101.
14. Henry M. Morris, A History of Modern Creationism (San Diego: Master Book Publishers, 1984), p. 88.
15. Timothy R. Ashley, The Book of Numbers, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993), p. 91.
16. Harold W. Clark, Crusader for Creation: The Life and Writings of George McCready Price (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1966), p. 17.
17. Raoul Dederen, Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 2000), p. 450.
18. W. J. Hackett, “Preserve the Landmarks,” Review and Herald (May 26, 1977), p. 2.
19. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (Washington, D.C.), Minutes of Meetings of the General Conference Committee (June 8, 1978).
20. __________, Minutes of Meetings of the (X-1535) Church Manual Committee (September 8, 1978).
21. __________, Minutes of Meetings of the (X-1535) Church Manual Committee (February 14, 1979).
22. __________, Minutes of Meetings of the (X-1535) Church Manual Committee (April 9, 1979).
23. W. Duncan Eva Collection, op cit.
24. W. Duncan Eva, “Proposal for the 1980 Statement on Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists.” See Appendix A and B.
25. Church Manual (Washington, D.C.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1981), p. 33.
26. Fritz Guy, “Uncovering the Origins of the Statement of Twenty-seven Fundamental Beliefs,” http://www.sdanet.org/atissue/doctrines/au2002conference/guy/guy27origin.htm#11. Accessed March 25, 2010, p. 5.
27. Gerhard F. Hasel, “The ‘Days’ of Creation in Genesis 1: Literal ‘Days’ or Figurative ‘Periods/Epochs’ of Time?” Origins 21 (1975), pp. 5-38.
28. SDA Church Manual (1981), p. 31, italics supplied.
29. Fritz Guy, “Seven Considerations for Productive Conversation About the History of Life on Planet Earth,” Spectrum11:8 (June 18, 2009).
31. General Conference Bulletin No. 6, “Eighth Business Meeting: Fifty-third General Conference Session, April 22, 1980, 9:30 A.M. Session Proceedings Continue From Bulletin 5,” Review and Herald (April 24, 1980), p. 14.
38. Lawrence Geraty, “A New Statement of Fundamental Beliefs,” Spectrum, op cit., p. 3.
39. Robert H. Pierson, op cit., pp. 10, 11.
40. W. J. Hackett, op cit.
41. Keith Lockhart, “Under Wilson, Church Begins the Process to Rewrite Creation Belief,” Spectrum 11:1 (June 30, 2010).
42. Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 198, 199.
43. Education, p. 57.