Land of Confusion
by Christopher A. Lee
Adventist theology must be very confusing for evangelical Christians who interact with former Seventh-day Adventists as well as current Adventists. Former SDAs often cite Adventist fundamental beliefs as their primary reasons for leaving Adventism. Some of the most common objectionable SDA beliefs include:
- The belief that Adventism is not just another Christian denomination, but the remnant Church of prophecy.
- Sabbath observance being tied to end time salvation as the Seal of God with Sunday worship being the Mark of the Beast.
- Christ’s atonement was not complete at the cross; the atonement must be completed in the heavenly sanctuary as part of the Investigative Judgment of believers’ works.
- Belief in the inspiration and authority of Ellen White affect the interpretation of scripture.
- Pervasive perfectionism.
Invariably, SDA apologists dialoguing with evangelical friends will counter with one or more of the following rebuttals:
- Formers are poorly educated about what Adventism really teaches and misrepresent true Adventism.
- Formers have greatly over-emphasized doctrines which are not all that important and are debatable even within Adventism.
- Some Adventists may once have believed such things, and a few fringe pockets of historic Adventists may cling to the old errors, but the modern organization no longer teaches these doctrines.
So what is an evangelical to do? The formers say one thing, SDA contacts say another. It certainly would be sinful to promote division between evangelicals and Adventists if the official SDA belief system represents orthodox Christianity. Are formers merely a handful of misinformed extremists, or are their criticisms valid? The best suggestion I can offer as a former Adventist is this: Go straight to official printed SDA sources and conduct some primary research. One such resource is the official statement of Seventh-day Adventist Fundamental Beliefs.
Another very helpful primary source is the keynote address delivered to the gathered delegates of the worldwide SDA Church by newly elected
SDA President Ted N. C. Wilson on July 3, 2010. I’m going to excerpt portions of President Wilson’s address here. While I will be quoting Elder Wilson extensively, I
encourage those interested to read or watch the entire sermon.
Remnant Church Theology
“With the power of His truth, God has carved out of this chaotic world the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We are to be a peculiar people, God’s remnant people, to lift up Christ, His righteousness, His three angels’ messages of Revelation 14, and His soon coming. As God’s remnant people identified in Revelation 12:17 as those ‘who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ,’ we have a unique message of hope and a mandate to proclaim God’s grace to the world."
“This church is not just another denomination; it is a unique, heaven-initiated movement with a mission of salvation to the world that must continually go forward in the humility of Jesus.”
Sabbath as the Seal of God, Sunday as Mark of the Beast
“One of the identifying characteristics of God’s last-day people is the fact that the members of His church accept and believe ALL ten of God’s commandments including the fourth commandment which calls us to remember the Lord’s holy Sabbath day. The observance of the Sabbath is not only a sign of His creatorship in the beginning but will be THE sign of God’s people in the last days in contrast to those with the mark of the beast representing an attempt to keep holy a day which God has not set apart as holy.”
“The Sabbath and its significance relates to each of the three angels’ messages in Revelation 14. The first angel, ‘having the everlasting Gospel’------the righteousness of Christ----proclaims ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’ God is the Creator and is to be worshiped on His Sabbath day as a sign of our loyalty to His Word and creative power. The second angel in verse 8 proclaims, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen…..because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’ She has corrupted God’s commandments and instituted another day of worship other than the seventh-day Sabbath which is the only true mark of God’s creatorship. The third angel announces in verses 9-12 that ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand’ he or she will be tormented or destroyed with fire and brimstone. If you worship the beast and his image you are rejecting THE one sign God has proclaimed as His test of allegiance……..the seventh-day Sabbath.”
Incomplete Atonement/Sanctuary Message/Investigative Judgment
“The atoning blood of Jesus Christ on the cross and the atoning ministry of Jesus Christ in the heavenly sanctuary have but one purpose; the salvation of every repentant sinner.”
The Inspiration and Authority of Ellen White
“Now, getting back to Revelation 12:17 and another great distinguishing mark of God’s remnant people. We read that they will ‘have the testimony of Jesus Christ.’ Revelation 19:10 tells us that ‘the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’ The same spirit that moved the holy men of old has again, in these last days, raised up a messenger for the Lord. My brothers and sisters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Lord has given us one of the greatest gifts possible in the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. Just as the Bible is not outdated or irrelevant, neither is the testimony of God’s end-time messenger.”
“We must be vigilant to test all things according to the supreme authority of God’s Word and the council [sic] with which we have been blessed in the writings of Ellen G. White.”
“Accept the Spirit of Prophecy as one of the greatest gifts given to the Seventh-day Adventist Church not just for the past but even more importantly for the future. While the Bible is paramount in our estimation as the ultimate authority and final arbiter of truth, the Spirit of Prophecy provides clear, inspired council [sic] to aid our application of Bible truth [. . . .] It is a reliable theological expositor of the Scriptures.”
“In the book Christ’s Object Lessons [written by Ellen G. White] we read of Christ’s wish for His people, ‘Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.’”
The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same
So, have the historic fundamental beliefs of Adventism really changed with the times or have SDA apologetics just become more sophisticated in interacting with the outside world? Let’s allow the current President of the worldwide General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists answer that question for us:
“The historic Biblical beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church will not be moved. The Biblical foundation will stand secure to the end of time. Listen to what we are told in Selected Messages [written by Ellen G. White], Book 1, pages 207-208, ‘What influence is it that would lead men at this stage of our history to work in an underhand, powerful way to tear down the foundation of our faith—the foundation that was laid at the beginning of our work by prayerful study of the Word and by revelation?........We are God’s commandment-keeping people……every phase of heresy has been brought to bear upon us, to becloud our minds regarding the teaching of the Word—especially concerning the ministration of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary [Investigative Judgment], and the message of Heaven for these last days, as given by the angels of the fourteenth chapter of Revelation. Messages of every order and kind have been urged upon Seventh-day Adventists, to take the place of the truth which, point by point, has been sought out by prayerful study, and testified to by the miracle-working power of the Lord. But the waymarks which have made us what we are, are to be preserved, and they will be preserved, as God has signified through His Word and the testimony of His Spirit. He calls upon us to hold firmly, with the grip of faith, to the fundamental principles that are based upon unquestionable authority.’”
President Wilson’s address to the worldwide General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists speaks for itself. I will allow evangelicals to judge whether what is spoken by former-Adventists or by SDA apologists corresponds to reality. However, it is my hope that after reading this address, we can move past the argument of whether or not Adventism promotes and teaches these things. Then we can move forward with a more productive discussion of whether these doctrines are actually biblical.
In His Grace,
Chris Lee, July 2010
To read more from Chris Lee, visit his excellent blog, Berean Mind.