NOTE: The following guidelines were developed by the Global Mission Issues Committee (ADCOM-S) and edited by the Biblical Research Institute. These are the first of a series of guidelines brought to the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Administrative Committee for approval in June and July, 2003. These guidelines are intended to be used, as appropriate, by church administrators, educators, and others when proclaiming the gospel in predominately non-Christian environments. As new guidelines are approved, they will be added in this section.
1. Use of the Bible in Mission Vis-a-vis “Sacred Writings”
In building bridges with non-Christians, the use of their “sacred writings” could be very useful in the initial contact in order to show sensitivity and to lead persons along paths which are somewhat familiar. They may contain elements of truth that find their fullest and richest significance in the way of life found in the Bible. These writings should be used in a deliberate attempt to introduce people to the Bible as the inspired Word of God and to help them transfer their allegiance to the biblical writings as their source of faith and practice. However, certain risks are involved in the use of these writings. The following guidelines will help to avoid those risks.
a. The Bible should be recognized as the teaching instrument and source of authority to be used in leading a person to Christ and to a life of faith in a society where another religion is dominant.
b. The Church should not use language that may give the impression that it recognizes or accepts the nature and authority assigned to the “sacred writings” by the followers of specific non-Christian religions.
c. Those using “sacred writings” as outlined above should develop or create a plan indicating how the transfer of allegiance to the Bible will take place.
d. The nurture and spiritual growth of new believers in non-Christian societies shall be accomplished on the basis of the Bible and its exclusive authority.
2. Transitional Organizational Structures
According to Matthew 28:18-20, the mission of the Church has three major inseparable components: 1) The mission should lead people to Jesus as their Saviour and Lord through conversion and baptism; 2) The mission is to incorporate a community of believers, the church, into an environment where they can grow in faith, knowledge, and the enjoyment of a universal fellowship of believers; and, 3) The mission is to nurture and train members as active disciples who recognize and utilize their spiritual gifts to assist in sharing the gospel. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been founded and organized by the Lord to fulfill that gospel commission. The universal nature of the Church requires the existence of a basic and common organizational structure throughout the world that will facilitate the fulfillment of its mission.
Political and religious conditions in some countries could make it difficult or even impossible for the Church to function within its traditional organizational structure. A transitional organizational structure may be needed. In such cases the following guidelines should be employed to deal with the situation:
a. The transitional organizational structure would be justifiable under one of the following conditions:
1) When new initiatives need to be tested in the mission of reaching resistant or previously unreached peoples;
2) When regular church work and organization is not permitted due to local religious or political circumstances.
b. Church leaders at the division/union/local field where the transitional organizational structures are being set up should determine the nature of the transitional organization and whether it is appropriate to choose local leadership. They should also define the management of tithe and offerings within the transitional organization.
c. Workers who are providing leadership in the transitional organization should be personally committed to the doctrinal unity and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and to its worldwide ecclesiastical organization.
d. New converts should, as soon as possible, be made aware of the fact that they belong to a particular worldwide ecclesiastical community-the Seventh-day Adventist Church-and that it has a particular message and mission to the world.
e. As soon as it is feasible, the transitional organizational structure should be replaced by the regular church organizational system.
3. Fundamental Beliefs and Preparation for Baptism
Fundamental Beliefs and Non-Christians
The Statement of Fundamental Beliefs is an expression of the Church’s message in language that is meaningful to Christian communities. The challenge is to determine how to make this statement meaningful to societies where Christians are a minority or non-existent. The mission to non-Christians will raise new questions which are not addressed in the Fundamental Beliefs, and relevant biblical answers should be provided. The following suggestions could be of help when addressing this particular issue.
a. The way the Fundamental Beliefs are presented and the language used to present them must be carefully studied and selected in order to facilitate the comprehension of the Church’s message by non-Christians. The development of locally-prepared Bible studies and teaching instruments is to be encouraged.
b. The task just described should be done at the religious study centers, with the assistance of front-line workers and in consultation with the church community, theologians, missiologists, and administrators.
c. The religious study center directors should refer local questions and concerns not addressed in the fundamental beliefs to the Office of Global Mission of the General Conference for study.
In the preparation of new converts for baptism and membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, these sequential guidelines must be followed.
a. A candidate must give clear evidence of a personal experience of salvation by faith in Christ and of a clear understanding of the Seventh-day Adventist message.
b. A candidate must be guided by the local community of believers until the community can testify that the candidate has reached an adequate knowledge and experience of the Seventh-day Adventist faith.
c. The Baptismal Vow, as set forth in the Church Manual, must be taken as summarizing the minimum required beliefs and experiences for baptism.
4. Forms of Worship
As the Seventh-day Adventist Church continues to come into contact with many different cultures in non-Christian countries, the topic of proper worship practices becomes very relevant. In those settings, deciding what is or is not acceptable in a Seventh-day Adventist worship service is important. Calling people to worship the only true God plays a significant role in the message and mission of the Church. In fact, in Adventist eschatology the central element in the closing controversy is the subject of worship and the true object of worship. We should be careful and prudent as we seek ways to contextualize Adventist worship around the world. In this task we should be constantly informed by the following aspects of Adventist worship.
a. God is at the very center of worship as its supreme object. When we approach God in adoration we come in contact with the very source of life, our Creator, and with the One who in an act of grace redeemed us through the sacrificial death of His beloved Son. No human being should usurp that divine right.
b. Corporate worship is God’s people coming into His presence as the Body of Christ in reverence and humility to honor and give homage to Him through adoration, confession, prayer, thanksgiving, and singing. Believers come together to listen to the Word, for fellowship, for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, for service to all, and to be equipped for the proclamation of the gospel. Our faith invites wholehearted and highly participatory worship where the Word of God is central, prayer is fervent, music is heartfelt, and fellowship in faith is palpable. These elements of worship are indispensable in Adventist worship services around the world and should be part of any attempt to contextualize Adventist worship.
c. We are complex creatures in which reason and emotions play a significant role. True worship expresses itself through our body, mind, spirit, and emotions. The Adventist Church calls for a proper balance of the involvement of these aspects of our personality in worship. It is important to keep in mind that any element of the worship service that tends to place humans at its center must be rejected. The extent to which the body participates in worship will vary from culture to culture, but whatever is done should be done under discipline and self-control, keeping in mind that the central aspect of the worship service is the proclamation of the Word and its call to serve God and others.
d. Adventist worship should draw on the treasure trove of Seventh-day Adventist theology to proclaim with exuberance and joy the communion and unity of believers in Christ and the grand theme of God’s infinite love as seen in creation, the plan of redemption, the life of Christ, His high priestly work in the heavenly sanctuary, and His soon return in glory.
e. Music should be used to praise Him and not as a means to overstimulate emotions that will simply make individuals “feel good” about themselves. Through it worshippers should express their deepest feelings of gratitude and joy to the Lord in a spirit of holiness and reverence. Adventist worship is to celebrate God’s creative and redemptive power.
If the need to contextualize the form of worship in a particular culture arises, the guidelines provided in the document entitled “Contextualization and Syncretism” should be followed.
5. Contextualization and Syncretism
Contextualization is defined in this document as the intentional and discriminating attempt to communicate the gospel message in a culturally meaningful way. Seventh-day Adventist contextualization is motivated by the serious responsibility of fulfilling the gospel commission in a very diverse world. It is based on the authority of the Scripture and the guidance of the Spirit and aims at communicating biblical truth in a culturally-relevant way. In that task contextualization must be faithful to the Scripture and meaningful to the new host culture, remembering that all cultures are judged by the gospel.
Intentional contextualization of the way we communicate our faith and practice is biblical, legitimate, and necessary. Without it the Church faces the dangers of miscommunication and misunderstandings, loss of identity, and syncretism. Historically, adaptation has taken place around the world as a crucial part of spreading the three angels’ messages to every kindred, nation, tribe, and people. This will continue to happen.
As the Church enters more non-Christian areas, the question of syncretism–the blending of religious truth and error–is a constant challenge and threat. It affects all parts of the world and must be taken seriously as we explore the practice of contextualization. This topic is highlighted by the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the great controversy between good and evil which explains Satan’s mode of operation–distorting and compromising truth, not by denying it, but by mixing truth and error, thus robbing the gospel of its true impact and power. In this context of danger and potential distortion, critical contextualization is indispensable.
Since the effects of sin and the need for salvation are common to all humanity, there are eternal truths that all cultures need to know, which in some cases can be communicated and experienced in different and yet equivalent ways. Contextualization aims to uphold all of the Fundamental Beliefs and to make them truly understood in their fullness.
In the search for the best way to contextualize, while at the same time rejecting syncretism, certain guidelines must be followed.
a. Because uncritical contextualization is as dangerous as non-contextualization, it is not to be done at a distance, but within the specific cultural situation.
b. Contextualization is a process that should involve world Church leaders, theologians, missiologists, local people, and ministers. These individuals should have a clear understanding of the core elements of the biblical worldview in order to be able to distinguish between truth and error.
c. The examination of the specific cultural element would necessitate an especially careful analysis by cultural insiders of the significance of the particular cultural element in question.
d. The examination of all the Scripture says about the issue or related issues is indispensable. The implications of scriptural teachings and principles should be carefully thought through and factored into proposed strategies.
e. In the context of reflection and prayer, scriptural insights are normative and must be applied to the specific cultural element in question. The analysis could lead to one of the following results:
1) The particular cultural element is accepted, because it is compatible with scriptural principles;
2) The particular cultural element is modified to make it compatible with Christian principles;
3) The particular cultural element is rejected, because it contradicts the principles of Scripture.
f. The particular cultural element that was accepted or modified is carefully implemented.
g. After a period of trial it may be necessary to evaluate the decision made and determined whether it should be discontinued, modified, or retained.
In the end, all true contextualization must be subject to biblical truth and bear results for God’s kingdom. The unity of the global Church requires regular exposure to each other, each other’s culture, and each other’s insights that “together with all the saints we may grasp the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love.”–Eph 3:18