As recounted by Loughborough; My commentary on it following.
“The following form of organization, and questions used in organizing the North-side Swedish church in Chicago, has been considered by some of the General Conference Committee as a suggestive form of questioning to be used in organizing a church, and so we introduce it here.
After speaking a few minutes concerning the principles of Seventh-day Adventists, the elder said he would take three persons who were desirous of entering into church fellowship, and question them closely concerning the principles to be recognized in entering into church fellowship, and he desired all the others who wished to enter into the organization to note closely every point, for as they should present their names they would be asked if they endorsed these principles, without, on this occasion, asking each one the separate questions. Three persons were then selected to be questioned, who were to constitute the nucleus, or beginning of the church organization.
The elder then said, “Instead of forming a creed in which is expressed every item of our faith, those entering into church fellowship attach their names to a church covenant which reads as follows: ‘We, the undersigned, hereby associate ourselves together as a church, taking the name Seventh-day Adventists, covenanting to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ.’ In a covenant of this character we endorse the entire Bible as a rule of faith, and leave room for the Spirit of God to enlighten us in regard to the truths of his Word, not being bound down by any creed.”
The following questions were asked the three candidates for membership, who answered each question heartily in the affirmative:-
Do you accept the Bible as the rule of your faith and practise?
2. Will you study to learn the truths of the Word, and practise those truths in your lives?
3. Do you understand the doctrines taught by the Seventh-day Adventists, and do you believe them?
4. Have you confessed your sins to God as far as they have been made known to you, and have you on your part, as far as in you lies, tried to make matters right with your fellow men?
5. Do you claim by faith in Christ that God for Christ’s sake has forgiven our past sins, and that he is yours, and you are his?
6. Do you recognize the fact that as truly as God claims the seventh part of time as his, so he claims one tenth of all our income as his for the support of his work in advancing the glorious gospel of Christ, and will you faithfully render to his his own – the tithe?
7. Will you submit to the decisions of the body of the church in matters of church discipline? In other words, will you seek the peace, harmony, and unity of the church, rather than press an individual opinion to cause confusion in the church, which is in harmony with Volume V of the “Testimonies,” page 107?
8. Will you besides this contribute of your substance as God may prosper you, for the upbuilding of the various branches of his cause?
9. Will you seek to build up the interests of the church by attendance upon its meetings, ordinances, and adding your influence to extend its work, while the church, on their part, exercise their watch-care over you?
10. Do you understand the principles of Christian temperance as taught by the Seventh-day Adventists, and will you carry out those principles, abstaining from the use of liquors, tobacco in all its forms, coffee, tea, and swine’s flesh? In short, will you truly study the subject of Bible temperance, and practise it in your life?
11. In the matter of dress will you follow the Bible rule of plainness of dress (1Tim.2:9; 10; 1Peter 3:3, 4), abstaining from plumes, feathers, banging the hair, and the wearing of gold as ornaments, and “costly array,” as taught it Volume VI, page 97?
12. Do you believe the Bible doctrine of “Spiritual Gifts,” and do you understand the nature of the gift of prophesy which has been manifested through Sister E. G. White, and which has been connected with the message from its very commencement? And as far as you understand the instructions from that source, are in harmony with them?
13. You of course recognize all ten of the commandments as spoken from the Lord from Mount Sinai as still binding, and by God’s grace will you keep those commandments, the fourth with the rest, rendering to the Lord as his sacred time the seventh day, by the world called Saturday?
14. By submission to Christ and his grace, will you seek to grow in grace as well as in the knowledge of his truth?
15. Have you been immersed (baptized) in the likeness of Christ’s death, and so now walk in the new life, having been raised to the likeness of his resurrection?
16. Are you three in Christian fellowship with each other, and do you each by uplifted hand accept the other to constitute the nucleus of this church?
At this point each of the three persons were voted upon by the others, and were then declared a church, ready to receive other members. The others one by one were asked to endorse the questions which had been propounded, and were voted in by the first three and others who were accepted.”
— J.N. Loughborough, The Church: Its Organization, Order and Discipline, pp. 173-76
There should be much personal discipline. There should be high standards, and especially for the first members who form the church nucleus. Notice where the focus lay – not in doctrines. The focus was very practical… not just the reforms (which are very important in themselves) but their relationship to God and one another. I think another good question might be: “How much time and quality do you spend in your devotional life each day? What is your reading plan like to read all of the Scriptures and the Testimonies?” My wife told me as we were reading through the questions together that when she was baptized as a child, it never even entered her head that she would have to pray or have a devotional life as a Christian. No one had taught her that.
What makes this not a creed is that these are only (1) EXAMPLES of questions, not universal questions for the whole world body to follow; and (2) the rule of faith isn’t a list of doctrines laid out, but rather “the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ,” (which was like their simple covenant creed), “the Bible,” “the truths of the Word,” and “the doctrines taught by the Seventh-day Adventists”; (3) this is no written document but only a record; and (4) these questions would not be asked of new prospective members but were only for initially organizing a church. These records, and records of past decisions, could play a role in church decisions, but because they were records and not creeds, ultimately the Holy Spirit could decide on matters through the human instrumentalities. That is largely how our pioneers operated, unlike the church manuals and fundamental beliefs we have today.
It is very important for us to discern these distinctions. Today all of these three points are violated. There is no room for the Holy Spirit to work because everything is written out as a document for the whole world church to follow; it is nothing more than a business operation. You believe our creed of fundamentals and you are baptized. There is no questioning as to one’s spirituality, their devotional life, the actual practicing of the Bible, SOP, dress, and health principles they learn. None of that! And we are reaping the results. The world has converted the church instead of the church converting the world. Every manner of worldliness is present.
Brethren, we cannot let that happen to any new organization that forms. There should be a high emphasis on practical matters and strict discipline on these things, especially in dress. There are new issues today that they did not have in 1907. For example, nakedness of legs and low neck lines were not a problem, so it did not have to be addressed; however, plumes and feathers are not issues anymore. This is why the questions asked would be based on circumstances of the current fashions and trends as well as localities. That is why creeds don’t work. The church leadership may be impressed by the Holy Spirit to ask different individuals different questions based on its moving. A creed would forbid that; in other words, the working of the Holy Spirit would be forbidden. How sad that that is just what has taken place since 1931, after our pioneers were all dead to protest.
This is a good question: “Will you seek the peace, harmony, and unity of the church, rather than press an individual opinion to cause confusion in the church, which is in harmony with Volume V of the “Testimonies,” page 107?”
Notice, again, the opinions are not identified (thus not a creed), but the principle is there; and also notice that the Testimonies are emphasized. How often today are the Testimonies quoted in the typical nominal SDA church, let alone when people are becoming members?
On this same note, unity meetings in the local church should be encouraged when disagreements arise. People should be educated on how to deal with major doctrinal differences. I don’t think that different points of prophetic interpretation should be made much of an issue at first. Not even our pioneers were in harmony on every detail, such as Haskell differing with Smith occasionally and later the ‘daily’ issue. And today, for example, Doug Batchelor may teach things quite differently than Stephen Bohr, but people are not making a big deal about their differences. Everyone is going to teach the prophecies a little differently, emphasizing different points than others. But one thing the pioneers were in agreement on was their overall prophetic messages: the sealing truth, Christ’s ministration in the heavenly sanctuary and the judgment, the beasts of Daniel, the close of probation and the events leading up to it (Dan. 12:1, except for James White for a time), etc. They were all preaching the same messages, but each of them would emphasize different things and may not be in agreement on certain details.
I think one of the greatest things that would compromise unity is the teaching of differences in an argumentative, controversial way, for Sister White had a lot to say on that. And the pioneers themselves I don’t think ever really learned the lesson after 1888 when the Law of Galatians came up, which led to the downfall of the denomination. Instead of having unity meetings, they would debate each other, just as they did with the Sunday-keepers before 1888.
So, here is what I believe based on what I’ve read: Where there is difference of opinion, the differences themselves should not be made prominent. To be more specific, there should not be long discourses trying to prove the other side wrong. I don’t even think we should be doing this much against the Trinity doctrine. Argumentativeness and combativeness are serious problems. We should not dwell on the issues of disagreement, magnifying them, speaking of them, how you must believe it this way and not the other way because the other way is wrong because of this, this, and this.
I think overall our teaching style needs to change if we are to foster unity. Yes, there will be differences and I think over time those differences will become more and more minor points as the Holy Spirit returns with our unity meetings. But we don’t need to get into discussions on why the other opinions are wrong to our opinions. Christ did not dispute with the devil; we should not dispute among ourselves, even in our sermons, either. There needs to be less of the doctrinal and more of the practical; and that is the pattern of what I see in those questions as well as in plenty of Ellen White material. The Holy Spirit attends the practical matters of spirituality and standards. Doctrines are not unimportant, especially the fundamental ones involving the commandments of God (some are saying we don’t need to study or teach them as converted Christians) and the Judgment inferred by the Law, but our priorities need to be flipped around. We are never going to become unified in doctrine if our spirituality is lacking. That is my point. Ultimately, we will have doctrinal unity, but the horse must come before the cart.