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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Beliefs of An Adventist Part 3

We continue our examination of Seventh-Day Adventists’ Beliefs with the second Fundamental Belief, which is as follows:

There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons. God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present. He is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation. He is forever worthy of worship, adoration, and service by the whole creation.

I’ll begin our examination of this doctrine with a reference back to the first one, concerning Scripture. As mentioned before, Seventh-Day Adventists, like most Protestant religions, hold to a Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) theology, in that Scripture is the only true form of Revelation. This does not leave any room for a Magisterium and Tradition, as they are not part of Scripture. This becomes clearer in the discussion of the Second Doctrine (which deals with the nature of God) found in Seventh-Day Adventists Believe. The discussion states the following:

The way we learn to know God from the Bible differs from all other methods of acquiring knowledge. We cannot place ourselves above God and treat Him as an object to be analyzed and quantified. In our search for a knowledge of God we must submit to the authority of His self revelation – the Bible. Since the Bible is its own interpreter, we must subject ourselves to the principles and methods it provides. Without these Biblical guidelines we cannot know God. (p. 18; emphasis added)

This passage places all of the Adventist beliefs in a striking light. If the Bible is its own interpreter, then all men who read the Bible should come to the same conclusion. Everyone would then interpret, for example, Matt. 16 in the same way the Church interprets it. As anyone with half a brain can see, this is not always the case. In fact, this is tragically not the case. The world is divided into a plethora of Christian faiths because men cannot interpret the Bible simply by reading it.

This brings up the next line I highlighted in that quote, namely “Without these Biblical guidelines we cannot know God.” Looking at the declared doctrine, one sees Sola Scriptura at play, particular in the line “He [God] is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation.” Again the belief is that through reading the Bible one comes to a clear understanding of who God is. There is no need for any other help. However, as Seventh-Day Adventists Believe states, “The Bible does not prove God’s existence. It assumes it” (p. 19). In order for one to prove God exists, especially to one who doubts the authenticity of the Scripture, one must turn to reason, to philosophy. This is why St. Thomas Aquinas placed belief in God’s existence as outside the realm of strict theology. One can believe God exists through Faith, but proof of God’s existence must come through observing the natural world. One sees this in the “Intelligent Design vs. Evolution” debate. A scientist who rejects religion in favor of scientific evolution (a dangerous road to follow, since uniting both understandings of our origins holds the strongest support) will not believe in God simply because the Bible says He exists. The scientist needs empirical proof, proof that is extra-Biblical. Seventh-Day Adventists Believe attempts to prove God’s existence by the presence of mystery cults to an Unknown Deity in Greek mythology, as cited in Acts 17. Any scientist seeking to disprove God would dismiss such evidence as proof of the same delusion infecting Mankind since the dawn of time. This skeptic (in the worst form of the word) needs something more than connects derived through St. Paul. He needs proof, proof which the Adventists superlative use of Scripture does not consider valid. Thus the two sides reach an impasse, and we must move on to examine who God is, exactly.

This doctrine concerning God, like the one concerning Scripture discussed earlier, mostly makes sense, especially where it states how God as “immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present.” Such are typical descriptions of God found throughout Scripture. God is a personal God, one who loves us and seeks our love. He is life itself, eternal, etc. This is all legitimate, orthodox teaching.

The writers of Seventh-Day Adventists Believe bring up an interesting point: the relationship of God with predestination. Such terminology is found in the letters of St. Paul, and due to the strict scriptural nature of the religion, it is no surprise that predestination arises in Adventist theology. Yet the use of predestination in Adventism is surprising. They wisely reject the Calvinist approach whereby man is either saved or damned through the arbitrary will of God. Rather, the Adventists hold a strikingly Catholic understanding of Paul’s use of predestination, namely that God knows, from all eternity, what man will do. Yet God does not force us to do anything. The writers of Seventh-Day Adventists Believe use two examples to develop this point. First they reference a historian, who looks at the past without effecting it. He knows what happened, but has no power over it. Secondly, the writers put forward the example of a camera, which watches a scene, understanding what happens, but does not change it.

From there the writers of Seventh-Day Adventists Believe present the Adventist understanding of the Divine Oneness, that God is One, with three persons. They explain the truth well, yet one wonders if they realize from where this clear formulation comes. The writers explain that, “While the Godhead is not one in person, God is one in purpose, mind, and character. This oneness does not obliterate the distinct personalities of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (23). They say elsewhere, “the Incarnation beautifully demonstrated the working relationship of the three persons” (24). Such wording is reminiscent of the wording used in the early Ecumenical Councils of the Church (namely Nicea I, Constantinople I, and Calcedon), though Adventists do not accept the authority of such councils. Perhaps some Catholic theology seeped into the Adventist theology by mistake, a chemical leak in the water purifier, thus allowing a conversion of Adventist water into the sweet wine of the Church.

Does such Catholic Tradition find itself in other aspects of Adventist theology? We’ll have to find out next time, as we examine in detail the Adventist belief concerning the first person of the Holy Trinity: God the Father.

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