Response to Some Questions

A reader of this blog has asked a couple of questions (rather unpleasantly). Tonight, having just returned from the World Religions class I teach, I have decided to take the time to respond like Hillel instead of Shammai.

First, he says the Seventh-day Adventist church is pro-abortion.

Second, he says the Seventh-day Adventist church was founded by “a 12 year old epileptic girl.”

I’ll start with the second. The Seventh-day Adventist church was founded in 1863. Ellen White, to whom he is referring, was born in 1827 and was thus 36 that year. Her husband, James, born in 1821, was 42. Joseph Bates, born in 1792, was 71. The three together are considered the founders of Seventh-day Adventism. Ellen White had her first vision in 1844 at the age of 17. She had no standing in the Millerite movement, however–she was just a 17 year old kid living with her parents. Her visions did not provide any doctrinal content and do not form the basis of Seventh-day Adventist teaching. Adventists take their doctrine from the Bible and the Bible only. All the distinctives of the Seventh-day Adventist church were hammered out through Bible study independent of Ellen White’s influence. As to the charge that she had epilepsy–there’s no credible scientific basis for that diagnosis. But even if she did … so what? Does an illness prevent God from using someone? Does age? Paul had a thorn he prayed God to take away–but affirmed in his weakness he was made strong (2 Cor 12:7-10). Paul told Timothy to let no man despise his youth (1 Tim 4:12). If anyone wants to know more, I’d refer them to some books by historian George Knight.

As to the suggestionthat Adventists are pro-abortion, I’d refer you to the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists.  There you have Adventist teaching. The preface affirms:

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. Revision of these statements may be expected at a General Conference session when the church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God’s Holy Word.

On the matter of marriage and family life Adventists believe:

Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship. For the Christian a marriage commitment is to God as well as to the spouse, and should be entered into only between partners who share a common faith. Mutual love, honor, respect, and responsibility are the fabric of this relationship, which is to reflect the love, sanctity, closeness, and permanence of the relationship between Christ and His church. Regarding divorce, Jesus taught that the person who divorces a spouse, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery. Although some family relationships may fall short of the ideal, marriage partners who fully commit themselves to each other in Christ may achieve loving unity through the guidance of the Spirit and the nurture of the church. God blesses the family and intends that its members shall assist each other toward complete maturity. Parents are to bring up their children to love and obey the Lord. By their example and their words they are to teach them that Christ is a loving disciplinarian, ever tender and caring, who wants them to become members of His body, the family of God. Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message. (Gen. 2:18-25; Matt. 19:3-9; John 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:21-33; Matt. 5:31, 32; Mark 10:11, 12; Luke 16:18; 1 Cor. 7:10, 11; Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-4; Deut. 6:5-9; Prov. 22:6; Mal. 4:5, 6.)

The Executive Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists voted on some guidelines on abortion on October 12, 1992. This is not part of the church’s Fundamental Beliefs. It was not passed by the General Conference in session, which is the church’s highest level of authority. It begins:

Many contemporary societies have faced conflict over the morality of abortion.* Such conflict also has affected large numbers within Christianity who want to accept responsibility for the protection of prenatal human life while also preserving the personal liberty of women. The need for guidelines has become evident, as the Church attempts to follow scripture, and to provide moral guidance while respecting individual conscience. Seventh-day Adventists want to relate to the question of abortion in ways that reveal faith in God as the Creator and Sustainer of all life and in ways that reflect Christian responsibility and freedom. Though honest differences on the question of abortion exist among Seventh-day Adventists, the following represents an attempt to provide guidelines on a number of principles and issues. The guidelines are based on broad biblical principles that are presented for study at the end of the document.

So there’s the reality: Adventists have differing views, caught in tension between the twin poles of personal freedom and obligations to the unborn.

1) Prenatal human life is a magnificent gift of God. God’s ideal for human beings affirms the sanctity of human life, in God’s image, and requires respect for prenatal life. However, decisions about life must be made in the context of a fallen world. Abortion is never an action of little moral consequence. Thus prenatal life must not be thoughtlessly destroyed. Abortion should be performed only for the most serious reasons.

2) Abortion is one of the tragic dilemmas of human fallenness. The Church should offer gracious support to those who personally face the decision concerning an abortion. Attitudes of condemnation are inappropriate in those who have accepted the gospel. Christians are commissioned to become a loving, caring community of faith that assists those in crisis as alternatives are considered.

3) In practical, tangible ways the Church as a supportive community should express its commitment to the value of human life. These ways should include:

a. strengthening family relationships

b. educating both genders concerning Christian principles of human sexuality

c. emphasizing responsibility of both male and female for family planning

d. calling both to be responsible for the consequences of behaviors that are inconsistent with Christian principles

e. creating a safe climate for ongoing discussion of the moral questions associated with abortion

f. offering support and assistance to women who choose to complete crisis pregnancies

g. encouraging and assisting fathers to participate responsibly in the parenting of their children.

The Church also should commit itself to assist in alleviating the unfortunate social, economic, and psychological factors that add to abortion and to care redemptively for those suffering the consequences of individual decisions on this issue.

Next comes the key paragraph.

4) The Church does not serve as conscience for individuals; however, it should provide moral guidance. Abortions for reasons of birth control, gender selection, or convenience are not condoned by the Church. Women, at times however, may face exceptional circumstances that present serious moral or medical dilemmas, such as significant threats to the pregnant woman’s life, serious jeopardy to her health, severe congenital defects carefully diagnosed in the fetus, and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. The final decision whether to terminate the pregnancy or not should be made by the pregnant woman after appropriate consultation. She should be aided in her decision by accurate information, biblical principles, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, these decisions are best made within the context of healthy family relationships.

I think it wimps out. I think it should have been more forceful in emphasizing the duty to protect life. That’s what I was consistently taught as a young Adventist. It’s what was drummed into us during a Week of Prayer at Atlantic Union College when I was a student by a powerful speaker. My own suspicion: I think here the Executive Committee caved in to pressure from some in the church’s hospital system.

Is the Adventist church pro-abortion? No. But it acknowledges there are some very difficult situations where the church can’t legislate. Considering this is a subject where Scripture is silent (despite the fact that abortion was known in the ancient world), I can live with that, while preaching and teaching according to my conscience and according to what I believe Scripture says. That, the church affirms, is my duty.

4 thoughts on “Response to Some Questions

  1. I agree that the church is not as strong on this issue as I would prefer. I think we should be vehemently opposed to abortion. The phrase “serious jeopardy to her health” leaves a lot of wiggle room and essentially allows for anyone at anytime to have an abortion, so long as they can say that the pregnancy/birth would jeopardize her health – be it physical or mental.

    Of course, we cannot act as another’s conscience, but we seem to take that liberty in other areas (Sabbath, sanctuary, second coming, etc.). Murder seems to be every bit as big an issue in God’s eyes as Sabbath-keeping. They’re in the same Ten Commandments, at least.

  2. You reflected my life experience in dealing with this issue. I was on committees 30 years ago when this subject was hammered out. Yes, we listened with respect to some in the medical world. Personal responsibility goes even further than wondering about abortion. How about the wholesale use of the Pill? But again, every man and woman must make his/her decision in the light of moral responsibilitdy. Thanks, Bill

  3. A couple of questions from this: (respectfully asked)
    1. Will the Adventist Church perform a “mixed” marriage?
    2. Will an Adventist hospital perform an abortion?
    3. What is the Adventist stance on artificial birth control?

    • I can’t imagine you asking anything in a disrespectful manner (on second thought ….).

      1. No. An Adventist pastor can marry two non-SDAs or two SDAs but not one involving an SDA and a non-SDA. The passage about not being “unequally yoked” is the guide.

      2. The guidelines just mentioned kind of leave it up to each hospital. Some do more than others. I think some are more careful about their reasons. But this is just based on hearsay. I think we face the same challenges as other denominations when it comes to how closely denominational institutions (colleges, hospitals, etc.) follow the church’s vision.

      3. An “official statement” was passed in 1999 by the church’s executive committee (here). Here’s a portion:

      1. Responsible stewardship. God created human beings in His own image, male and female, with capacities to think and to make decisions (Isa 1:18; Josh 24:15; Deut 30:15-20). God gave human beings dominion over the earth (Gen 1:26, 28). This dominion requires overseeing and caring for nature. Christian stewardship also requires taking responsibility for human procreation. Sexuality, as one of the aspects of human nature over which the individual has stewardship, is to be expressed in harmony with God’s will (Exod 20:14; Gen 39:9;

      Lev 20:10-21; 1 Cor 6:12-20).

      2. Procreative purpose. The perpetuation of the human family is one of God’s purposes for human sexuality (Gen 1:28). Though it may be inferred that marriages are generally intended to yield offspring, Scripture never presents procreation as an obligation of every couple in order to please God. However, divine revelation places a high value on children and expresses the joy to be found in parenting (Matt 19:14; Ps 127:3). Bearing and rearing children help parents to understand God and to develop compassion, caring, humility, and unselfishness

      (Ps 103:13; Luke 11:13).

      3. Unifying purpose. Sexuality serves a unifying purpose in marriage that is God-ordained and distinguishable from the procreative purpose (Gen 2:24). Sexuality in marriage is intended to include joy, pleasure, and delight (Eccl 9:9; Prov 5:18, 19; Song of Sol 4:16-5:1). God intends that couples may have ongoing sexual communion apart from procreation (1 Cor 7:3-5), a communion that forges strong bonds and protects a marriage partner from an inappropriate relationship with someone other than his or her spouse (Prov 5:15-20; Song of Sol 8:6, 7). In God’s design, sexual intimacy is not only for the purpose of conception. Scripture does not prohibit married couples from enjoying the delights of conjugal relations while taking measures to prevent pregnancy.

      4. Freedom to choose. In creation–and again through the redemption of Christ–God has given human beings freedom of choice, and He asks them to use their freedom responsibly (Gal 5:1, 13). In the divine plan, husband and wife constitute a distinct family unit, having both the freedom and the responsibility to share in making determinations about their family (Gen 2:24). Married partners should be considerate of each other in making decisions about birth control, being willing to consider the needs of the other as well as one’s own (Phil 2:4). For those who choose to bear children, the procreative choice is not without limits. Several factors must inform their choice, including the ability to provide for the needs of children (1 Tim 5:8); the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of the mother and other care givers (3 John 2; 1 Cor 6:19; Phil 2:4; Eph 5:25); the social and political circumstances into which children will be born (Matt 24:19); and the quality of life and the global resources available. We are stewards of God’s creation and therefore must look beyond our own happiness and desires to consider the needs of others (Phil 2:4).

      5. Appropriate methods of birth control. Moral decision making about the choice and use of the various birth control agents must stem from an understanding of their probable effects on physical and emotional health, the manner in which the various agents operate, and the financial expenditure involved. A variety of methods of birth control–including barrier methods, spermicides, and sterilization–prevent conception and are morally acceptable. Some other birth-control methods1 may prevent the release of the egg (ovulation), may prevent the union of egg and sperm (fertilization), or may prevent attachment of the already fertilized egg (implantation). Because of uncertainty about how they will function in any given instance, they may be morally suspect for people who believe that protectable human life begins at fertilization. However, since the majority of fertilized ova naturally fail to implant or are lost after implantation, even when birth control methods are not being used, hormonal methods of birth control and IUDs, which represent a similar process, may be viewed as morally acceptable. Abortion, the intentional termination of an established pregnancy, is not morally acceptable for purposes of birth control.

      6. Misuse of birth control. Though the increased ability to manage fertility and protect against sexually transmitted disease may be useful to many married couples, birth control can be misused. For example, those who would engage in premarital and extramarital sexual relations may more readily indulge in such behaviors because of the availability of birth control methods. The use of such methods to protect sex outside of marriage may reduce the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and/or pregnancy. Sex outside of marriage, however, is both harmful and immoral, whether or not these risks have been diminished.

      7. A redemptive approach. The availability of birth-control methods makes education about sexuality and morality even more imperative. Less effort should be put forth in condemnation and more in education and redemptive approaches that seek to allow each individual to be persuaded by the deep movings of the Holy Spirit.

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