The New Covenant Diet
by Joseph Rector
Ellen G. White, prophetess of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, wrote extensively on the subject of diet and health, and her writings are the primary reason why so many SDAs focus on healthful living. Adventists typically avoid meat, alcohol, tea, coffee, and tobacco in accordance with the teachings of Mrs. White. However, many Adventists go further, eliminating most fats, spices, and sugars. Others practice a vegan diet, which means the elimination of animal products such as eggs, cheese, and milk. Some vegans even prohibit honey because it is an insect product, and others limit themselves to raw food.
Adventists frequently use the “health message” or “health reform,” as they call it, as an opportunity for evangelism. They begin with health seminars or cooking schools with the dual goals of improving people’s physical health and introducing them to Adventism. While SDA health ministries have undoubtedly helped many people break away from harmful habits, it is also undeniable that many have placed spiritual trust in Ellen White as a result of these classes and seminars. Therefore, it is important to ask, Is Ellen White’s health message in accordance with Bible teaching regarding dietary practices? If Ellen White’s health message contradicts the Bible, then it cannot be from God, no matter how many lives have been extended by following the her counsels. Second, one should consider whether Ellen White’s health messages contradict the essential doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone. If Ellen White’s health message contradicts the Bible, and if her message declares that dietary works are essential to salvation, then she is a false prophet no matter how much “good” her teachings apparently accomplish. A doctrine that harms the soul in exchange for a possible extension of temporal life is a poor trade-off in view of eternity.
What Is the New Covenant Diet?
When Jesus lived on earth, He established a diet for His followers that sharply contrasts with the Old Covenant diet practiced by the Jews.
Mark 7:14-23 (NIV) states, “Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them. ’After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 'Are you so dull?’ he asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.’”
So what is the New Covenant diet? Eat anything you want! “Jesus declared all foods clean.” Under the New Covenant, the dietary laws of the Old Testament were swept away in order to teach the vital truth of our natural depravity. The Jews emphasized adherence to external rules as a means to holiness, but a person who is absorbed with external cleanliness (or physical health) may missed the real necessity of a vital connection to the Holy Spirit—a condition the Bible calls life in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Essentially, in Mark 7, Christ says that everything that naturally comes out of the human heart is evil. He doesn’t list anything good that comes from within. The gospel begins with the bad news that we are completely dead in our sins—helpless to conquer even the smallest sin (Col. 2:13). We are born depraved, born under condemnation (Rom. 5:18), and nothing can cleanse us but the blood of Jesus. And when we have the blood of Jesus, can anything defile us?
Obviously, the New Covenant diet is not a prescription for health. If your doctor or another health professional has instructed you to avoid red meat, please do so! If you have high cholesterol, by all means, avoid high cholesterol foods. But if you are generally healthy, the New Covenant permits you to eat any food as a perpetual reminder to stop focusing on external behavior as a path to holiness.
History of the SDA Health Message
The Seventh-day Adventist Church was founded by James White, Ellen White, and Joseph Bates in the wake of a failed prediction that Christ would return in 1844. Bates, a former sea captain, became a great travelling evangelist. He attributed his energy and health to a fairly restrictive diet, and the Whites slowly became interested in diet as an answer to their health problems. At this time, a group of heath reformers were prominent in the United States, and the Whites read extensively from the health literature available to them. In the book Prophetess of Health, Ronald L. Numbers shows the influence of various health reformers on the writings of Ellen White.
One of Mrs. White’s early visions contradicted her later teachings, and this became a source of embarrassment for the Whites. An Adventist believer wrote Mrs. White in 1858 to enquire about abandoning pork, and the Lord apparently directed His prophetess to respond with a rebuke:
“I saw that your views concerning swine's flesh would prove no injury if you have them to yourselves; but in your judgment and opinion you have made this question a test, and your actions have plainly shown your faith in this matter. If God requires His people to abstain from swine's flesh, He will convict them on the matter. He is just as willing to show His honest children their duty, as to show their duty to individuals upon whom He has not laid the burden of His work. If it is the duty of the church to abstain from swine's flesh, God will discover it to more than two or three” (1T 206-07).
Five years later, in 1863, Ellen White had a health vision that outlined her complete health message, and pork and all other meats were forbidden on the basis of the 1863 vision.
Mrs. White’s initial account of the 1863 vision was Appeal to Mothers: The Great Cause of the Physical, Mental, and Moral Ruin of Many of the Children of Our Time, published in 1864. In Appeal to Mothers, she said nothing about diet, choosing instead to focus on the supposedly baleful results of a practice she euphemistically referred to as secret sin, solitary vice, self-indulgence, and self-abuse. Appeal to Mothers attributes most physical suffering to solitary vice rather than to the dietary indulgences she would later emphasize.
The Ellen White Diet
The following quotes from Ellen White outline several of her most prominent dietary teachings.
Ellen White prohibited all meat eating, but she particularly forbade the ingestion of swine products because of the Old Testament dietary laws.
“Of the swine, God said, ‘It is unclean unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, nor touch their dead carcass.’ This command was given because swine's flesh is unfit for food. Swine are scavengers, and this is the only use they were intended to serve. Never, under any circumstances, was their flesh to be eaten by human beings” (MH 392).
“Vegetables, fruits, and grains should compose our diet. Not an ounce of flesh meat should enter our stomachs” (CD 380).
Despite her strong words against meat-eating, there are credible accounts of Ellen White secretly consuming meat long after her health reform vision of 1863 (Numbers, Prophetess of Health 2nd ed., pp. 170-73).
According to Ellen White’s prophetic testimony, meat-eating promotes the animal passions (or lower propensities/lower passions), meaning that non-vegetarians become progressively immoral and base, resulting in an inability to understand or appreciate the gospel. She never explained how the faithful believers of the Old Testament could eat meat without suffering these ills.
“Those who indulge in meat eating, tea drinking, and gluttony are sowing seeds for a harvest of pain and death. The unhealthful food placed in the stomach strengthens the appetites that war against the soul, developing the lower propensities. A diet of flesh meat tends to develop animalism. A development of animalism lessens spirituality, rendering the mind incapable of understanding truth” (CD 382).
“The common use of the flesh of dead animals has had a deteriorating influence upon the morals, as well as the physical institution” (CD 383).
“I was instructed that the use of flesh meat has a tendency to animalize the nature, and to rob men and women of the love and sympathy which they should feel for everyone. We are built up from that which we eat, and those whose diet is largely composed of animal food are brought into a condition where they allow the lower passions to assume control of the higher powers of the being” (5MR 408).
Of paramount importance to Adventists is Ellen White’s prediction that all true believers who are alive when Christ returns must be vegetarians. The clear implication is that a time will come when all remaining meat-eaters will be lost:
“Among those who are waiting for the coming of the Lord [true believers], meat eating will eventually be done away; flesh will cease to form a part of their diet” (CD 380-81).
Bread-Making (& Graham Flour)
Many modern Adventists don’t realize that their bread must be made with unbolted flour, which is a rough flour containing a great deal of chaff. They also don’t realize that using baking soda or powder is prohibited.
“The use of soda or baking powder in breadmaking is harmful and unnecessary. Soda causes inflammation of the stomach, and often poisons the entire system” (CD 342).
“Hot biscuit raised with soda or baking powder should never appear upon our tables. Such compounds are unfit to enter the stomach. Hot raised bread of any kind is difficult of digestion. Graham gems [biscuits made from unsifted four and promoted by health reformer Sylvester Graham] which are both wholesome and palatable may be made from the unbolted flour, mixed with pure cold water and milk. But it is difficult to teach our people simplicity” (CD 343).
“You can make graham gruel. If the graham flour is too coarse, sift it, and while the gruel is hot, add milk. This will make a most palatable and healthful dish . . . . And if your bread is dry, crumb it into the gruel, and it will be enjoyed” (2T 603).
Mrs. White’s chaff-filled, soda-free bread was difficult to make, and health reform became unpopular with many early Adventists.
Errors in baking Graham bread could have dire consequences, as illustrated by this probably apocryphal story that Ellen White found believable:
“An instance was related to me of a hired girl who made a batch of sour, heavy bread. In order to get rid of it and conceal the matter, she threw it to a couple of very large hogs. Next morning the man of the house found his swine dead, and, upon examining the trough, found pieces of this heavy bread” (1T 684).
Condiments, Spices, and Salt
“Food should be prepared in as simple a manner as possible, free from condiments and spices, and even from an undue amount of salt” (CD 340).
“Condiments are injurious in their nature. Mustard, pepper, spices, pickles, and other things of a like character irritate the stomach and make the blood feverish and impure” (MH 325).
“The salads are prepared with oil and vinegar, fermentation takes place in the stomach, and the food does not digest, but decays or putrefies; as a consequence, the blood is not nourished, but becomes filled with impurities, and liver and kidney difficulties appear” (CD 345).
Few people know that salad dressing is so dangerous!
Cheese & Butter
“Cheese should never be introduced into the stomach” (2T 68).
“Butter is less harmful when eaten on cold bread than when used in cooking; but, as a rule, it is better to dispense with it altogether. Cheese is still more objectionable; it is wholly unfit for food” (MH 302).
Cheese is a staple at mainstream-Adventist potlucks.
Beware What You Drink (and When)
“Tea is poisonous to the system. Christians should let it alone. The influence of coffee is in a degree the same as tea, but the effect upon the system is still worse. Its influence is exciting, and just in the degree that it elevates above par, it will exhaust and bring prostration below par. Tea and coffee drinkers carry the marks upon their faces. The skin becomes sallow, and assumes a lifeless appearance. The glow of health is not seen upon the countenance. Tea and coffee do not nourish the system. The relief obtained from them is sudden, before the stomach has time to digest them. This shows that what the users of these stimulants call strength is only received by exciting the nerves of the stomach, which convey the irritation to the brain, and this in turn is aroused to impart increased action to the heart and short-lived energy to the entire system. . . . The second effect of tea drinking is headache, wakefulness, palpitation of the heart, indigestion, trembling of the nerves, with many other evils” (2T 64-65).
“Tea and coffee drinking is a sin, an injurious indulgence, which, like other evils, injures the soul” (CD 425).
“Many make a mistake in drinking cold water with their meals. Taken with meals, water diminishes the flow of the salivary glands; and the colder the water, the greater the injury to the stomach. Ice water or ice lemonade, drunk with meals, will arrest digestion until the system has imparted sufficient warmth to the stomach to enable it to take up its work again. Hot drinks are debilitating; and besides, those who indulge in their use become slaves to the habit” (CD 420).
Eating Too Much….
“I am astonished to learn that, after all the light that has been given in this place, many of you eat between meals! You should never let a morsel pass your lips between your regular meals” (2T 373).
“What a thought! Gluttons in heaven! No, no; such will never enter the pearly gates of the golden city of God” (2T 70).
“Gluttony is the prevailing sin of this age. Lustful appetite makes slaves of men and women, and beclouds their intellects and stupefies their moral sensibilities to such a degree that the sacred, elevated truths of God's word are not appreciated. The lower propensities have ruled men and women. In order to be fitted for translation, the people of God must know themselves. They must understand in regard to their own physical frames that they may be able with the psalmist to exclaim: ‘I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’ They should ever have the appetite in subjection to the moral and intellectual organs” (1T 486-87).
On the basis of quotations such as the one above, conservative Adventists sometimes refer to Ellen White’s health rules as a “translation diet.”
“I frequently sit down to the tables of the brethren and sisters, and see that they use a great amount of milk and sugar. These clog the system, irritate the digestive organs, and affect the brain. . . . And from the light given me, sugar, when largely used, is more injurious than meat” (2T 370).
Many SDA vegetarians eat too much sugar. Apparently, they are unaware that sugar, “when largely used,” is worse than meat.
“The Bible nowhere sanctions the use of intoxicating wine” (MH 333).
“The Lord has given special directions in His word in reference to the use of wine and strong drink. He has forbidden their use, and enforced His prohibitions with strong warnings and threatenings” (Te 42).
We will soon demonstrate from the Bible that these two statements are completely false, and that it would be impossible for a true prophet to contradict the Bible in this manner.
“And if you, my sisters, do not know how to cook, I advise you to learn. It is of vital importance to you to know how to cook. There are more souls lost from poor cooking than you have any idea of. It produces sickness, disease, and bad tempers; the system becomes deranged, and heavenly things cannot be discerned” (2T 373).
Mrs. White employed several domestic staff members, so she didn’t spend much time in the kitchen. But this testimony could be devastating to many Adventists who struggle to prepare food according to Ellen White’s rules.
What Does the Bible Say About Adventist Health Reform?
After studying Ellen White’s health reform teachings, it is vital to compare them with scripture to see if Ellen White’s visions are from God. While the Bible says nothing about vinegar and Graham flour, it says plenty about meat and wine—and about the dietary freedom of Christians.
Bible Teaching Regarding Wine
Even under the Old Covenant, the Israelites were permitted much more dietary freedom than Ellen White acknowledged. According to the SDA prophetess, “The Lord has given special directions in His word in reference to the use of wine and strong drink. He has forbidden their use . . . .” (Te 42). But Moses taught something completely different:
“Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always. And if the way be too long for thee, s o that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the Lord thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the Lord thy God hath blessed thee: Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose: And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household….” (Deut. 14:22-26, KJV).
Aside from the damage this passage brings to the Adventist doctrine of tithing ten percent to the church, it is absolutely devastating to Ellen White’s claim that the Bible prohibits wine and strong drink. This passage commands Israelites to tithe their wine, meat, and strong drink, and to eat and drink their tithe as a feast in honor of the Lord. Therefore, the Old Covenant did not forbid alcoholic beverages or meat. In fact, Israelite worshippers were encouraged to partake of these dietary pleasures when they celebrated the goodness of God.
When Christ lived among us, He provided wine and fish for His disciples, and the Bible doesn’t specify that the wine was unfermented, as Ellen White claims (MH 333). The Bible frequently refers to “new wine,” but it does not do so with regard to the wedding in Cana or the Last Supper.
According to Jesus, His critics accused Him of being a glutton and a winebibber: “The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!” (Luke 7:34). It is hard to imagine the charge of winebibber sticking if Jesus was only drinking grape juice! In fact, Jesus demonstrated solid knowledge of winemaking practices when He said, “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matt. 9:17). Jesus was primarily expressing spiritual truth using this analogy, but He seems to approve of the preservation of wine, which can only involve fermentation. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus ends His teaching on new wine and old wineskins by observing, “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better’” (Luke 5:39). From the available evidence, we can reasonably assume that our Lord not only ate meat, but that He drank fermented wine.
What does the New Covenant teach regarding wine consumption? First Timothy 3:8 specifies that deacons must not indulge “in much wine,” which apparently means that deacons can drink wine in moderation. They must simply avoid drunkenness. Later in the same book, Paul advises Timothy, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (I Tim. 5:23).
The Bible clearly and repeatedly forbids drunkenness, but it also approves the moderate use of wine and strong drink in both the Old and New Covenants. Therefore, Ellen White’s teaching regarding wine and strong drink places her in direct contradiction of scripture. We are not promoting the use of alcohol, particularly in view of the harm it has done to so many people, but we insist that moderate use of alcohol is not forbidden in scripture. And any prophet who claims otherwise is not speaking according to scripture. “To the law [writings of Moses] and to the testimony [the other Bible prophets]: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Is. 8:20, KJV). Ellen White, despite her good intentions, fails this most basic test of prophetic validity.
Meat in the Bible
The Old Covenant specifies certain meats as clean and the rest as unclean (Lev. 11). However, these food regulations were thrown out under the New Covenant. It appears that Peter was the first apostle to learn the Jesus had declared all foods clean. Acts 10 states, “[Peter] became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven” (Acts 10:10-16).
Adventists believe this vision teaches that the Gentiles are not unclean, and this interpretation is partially correct. As Peter himself states, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28). But was that all this vision taught Peter? Did the unclean animals represent Gentiles? It’s hard to imagine that God would instruct Peter to “kill and eat” Gentiles! It appears God was specifically telling Peter that he could eat any form of meat that he might desire (or that he might be served in the home of Cornelius, whom he was soon to visit). This vision taught the early Jewish Christians that Gentiles and their cultural practices should no longer be considered unclean. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations” (Eph. 2:14).
The vision of Peter in Acts 10 ties in beautifully with the teaching of Christ in Mark 7:18-19 regarding clean and unclean foods: “ʻDon’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them?For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)” It is interesting to note that the Gospel of Mark was actually based on the teachings of Peter, according to many early Church sources. If the Fathers are correct, Peter is actually the authority for the parenthetical observation of verse 19: “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.” If Peter is the source of this inspired summary of Christ’s teaching, he was clearly speaking in accordance with his vision of Acts 10, in which he belatedly learned the lesson Jesus had been trying to communicate to His “dull” disciples in Mark 7.
The Apostle Paul also taught that all foods are clean, and he attributed spiritually motivated vegetarianism to weakness of faith: “One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. . . . Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. . . . I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. . . . For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall” (Rom. 14:2-3; 6; 14; 17, 20-21).
Certainly, the Bible permits both vegetarianism and abstinence from the unclean meats of Leviticus 11. A health choice made along these lines may be wise and admirable. However, adopting a restrictive diet as a matter of spirituality is doctrinally unacceptable because it reflects weakness of faith rather than strength.
Does Meat-Eating Stimulate the “Animal Passions”?
Ellen White repeatedly says that eating meat stimulates the “animal passions,” resulting in a loss of morality, a hardening of the heart, and an inability to appreciate spiritual things. For instance, she states,
“God did not withhold meat from the Hebrews in the wilderness simply to show His authority, but for their good, that they might preserve physical and moral strength. He knew that the use of animal food strengthens the animal passions and enfeebles the intellect. He knew that the gratification of the appetite of the Hebrews for flesh meats would weaken their moral powers and induce such an irritable disposition that the vast army would become insubordinate, that they would lose the high sense of their moral obligations and refuse to be controlled by the wise laws of Jehovah” (Te 160).
If Ellen White is correct in asserting that meat-eating strengthens the so-called “animal passions,” then the patriarchs, priests, and prophets of the Old Testament would have had raging animal passions with which to contend. And when the Old Testament believers offered their sacrifices, both the penitents and the priest were commanded to eat part of the meat. According to the illogic of Ellen White, this practice would have animalized the believers, producing all manner of evil. And if Ellen White is correct, when Jesus fed fish to the five thousand, He would have been destroying the morals and spirituality of the people who bore witness to His teachings. Impossible!
Colossians 2:20-23 directly contradicts the “animal passions” teaching of Ellen White:
“Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
According to the Colossians 2:23, dietary deprivation lacks “any value in restraining sensual indulgence,” and that should be the final word on the subject of “animal passions.” Ellen White was not only incorrect about the effects of eating meat, but her health vision repeatedly contradicts the Bible regarding meat-eating.
Health and Sanctification: The Greatest Heresy of SDA Health Reform
Two thousand years ago, Paul predicted rise of false prophets who would attempt to limit Christian freedom, and he labels their teachings “doctrines of devils”:
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (I Tim. 4:1-5, KJV).
How could Ellen White’s health message possibly be a “doctrine of devils”? After all, vegetarians who limit their intake of sugar and high cholesterol foods and abstain from alcohol generally live longer than average. What could be so harmful about encouraging healthful living? There is nothing wrong with living healthfully, but if health reform ever becomes an attempt to achieve sanctification before a holy God, then health reform would be a direct affront to salvation by faith alone. Unfortunately, Ellen White taught that her health message was required for sanctification, meaning that believers must adopt the proper diet in order to be saved. Since salvation is by faith alone, Ellen White’s health teaching is heretical and soul destroying. Adherents to SDA health reform, while trying to extend their temporal lives and qualify for an eternity in heaven, may actually lengthen their earthly lives at the expense of their eternal souls.
Ellen White Links Health Choices, Perfection, and Sanctification
Ellen White taught an extreme doctrine of character perfection through human effort and divine assistance.
“God will accept only those who are determined to aim high. He places every human agent under obligation to do his best. Moral perfection is required of all. Never should we lower the standard of righteousness in order to accommodate inherited or cultivated tendencies to wrong-doing. We need to understand that imperfection of character is sin. . . . And those who would be workers together with God must strive for perfection of every organ of the body and quality of the mind. . . . Christ has paid us our wages, even His own blood and suffering, to secure our willing service. He came to our world to give us an example of how we should work, and what spirit we should bring into our labor. . . . But Christ has given us no assurance that to attain perfection of character is an easy matter. A noble, all-round character is not inherited. It does not come to us by accident. A noble character is earned by individual effort through the merits and grace of Christ. God gives the talents, the powers of the mind; we form the character. It is formed by hard, stern battles with self. Conflict after conflict must be waged against hereditary tendencies. We shall have to criticize ourselves closely, and allow not one unfavorable trait to remain uncorrected. Let no one say, I cannot remedy my defects of character. If you come to this decision, you will certainly fail of obtaining everlasting life” (COL 330-31).
Sanctification is a term that Ellen White equated with character perfection, and sanctification is a matter of both faith and law keeping, according to the prophetess. In Ellen White’s theology (which is still the official teaching of the SDA Church), no one can be saved aside from faith-plus-works sanctification, as outlined in the following quotation:
“By faith in Christ and obedience to the law of God we may be sanctified, and thus obtain a fitness for the society of holy angels and the white-robed redeemed ones in the kingdom of glory” (SL 83).
For the benefit of non-Adventist readers, it is important to note that Seventh-day Adventists deny that human beings are composed of body, soul, and spirit. According to SDA theology, soul and spirit cannot exist apart from the body. This is the theological basis for SDA health reform. Thus, strengthening the body is essential if one wishes to connect with the Holy Spirit. Why? Because there is no human spirit independent of the body. As Adventist theologians Leo R. Van Dolson and J. Robert Spangler state, “Adventists believe that man was created in the image of God as a whole being, physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually integrated. God, for reasons that He knows best, did not fragment us into separate dimensions capable of existing apart from the body. In this view man does not have a body; he is a body” (Healthy, Happy, Holy, p. 59).
In accordance with Ellen White’s teachings linking character perfection, health, and sanctification, Van Dolson and Spangler affirm, “The one great object of health education and the main purpose behind the doctrinal emphasis on health in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the perfection of Christian character. Since body and soul cannot be separated, health is essential for wholeness, and wholeness is the key to sanctification” (ibid. p. 54).
Health Practices Required for Salvation
Ellen White is very clear that dietary practices either lead to sanctification or disqualify one for sanctification—and that without achieving sanctification, one cannot be saved.
“The sanctification set forth in the Sacred Scriptures has to do with the entire being--spirit, soul, and body” (SL 7).
“Those who have received instruction regarding the evils of the use of flesh foods, tea, and coffee, and rich and unhealthful food preparations, and who are determined to make a covenant with God by sacrifice, will not continue to indulge their appetite for food that they know to be unhealthful. God demands that the appetite be cleansed, and that self-denial be practiced in regard to those things which are not good. This is a work that will have to be done before His people can stand before Him a perfected people” (9T 153-54).
“God desires us to reach the standard of perfection made possible for us by the gift of Christ. He calls upon us to make our choice on the right side, to connect with heavenly agencies, to adopt principles that will restore in us the divine image. In His written word and in the great book of nature He has revealed the principles of life. It is our work to obtain a knowledge of these principles, and by obedience to co-operate with Him in restoring health to the body as well as to the soul” (MH 114-15).
“If we could realize that the habits we form in this life will affect our eternal interests, that our eternal destiny depends upon strictly temperate habits, we would work to the point of strict temperance in eating and drinking” (3T 489).
“Therefore in order for the people of God to be in an acceptable state with Him, where they can glorify Him in their bodies and spirits which are His, they must with interest and zeal deny the gratification of their appetites, and exercise temperance in all things. . . . God requires all who believe the truth to make special, persevering efforts to place themselves in the best possible condition of bodily health, for a solemn and important work is before us. Health of body and mind is required for this work; it is as essential to a healthy religious experience, to advancement in the Christian life and progress in holiness, as is the hand or foot to the human body. God requires His people to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord. All those who are indifferent and excuse themselves from this work, waiting for the Lord to do for them that which He requires them to do for themselves, will be found wanting . . . . (1T 619).
“God requires of His people continual advancement. We need to learn that indulged appetite is the greatest hindrance to mental improvement and soul sanctification” (9T 156).
“The controlling power of appetite will prove the ruin of thousands, when, if they had conquered on this point, they would have had moral power to gain the victory over every other temptation of Satan. But those who are slaves to appetite will fail in perfecting Christian character” (3T 491-92).
For additional Ellen G. White quotes linking health reform to sanctification, character perfection, and salvation, please see the Appendix.
Salvation by Faith Apart From Works
Contrary to the notion that obtaining and/or retaining salvation requires human effort, the Bible is clear that faith is the only requirement for salvation. Romans 3:28 states, “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” (For those who wish to argue James 2:24 in apparent opposition to Romans 3, please see our Q&A on James 2 under the heading "Perfection".)
Faith is the only requirement for salvation, and the Bible does NOT indicate that faith involves endless striving in order to maintain salvation. Anyone who strives for righteousness WITHOUT prior assurance of salvation is working for salvation—and is therefore a legalist. If this offends, please place all your trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ on your behalf. Salvation is not a progression of events: It happens at a point in time, and that point is the moment of belief. All true Christian growth is post-salvational.
Our Savior declared, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). Jesus didn’t add, “And then the believer must keep the law perfectly and practice dietary restrictions, or all these promises are void.” No. Christ stated with great finality that the believer “has crossed over from death to life.” Period.
The apostles echoed the teaching of Jesus that salvation is by faith alone. When the Philippian jailor begged Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” he was told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). If the jailor needed to do anything to achieve or keep sanctification, the apostles didn’t tell him. All they said is believe. It really is that simple.
Romans 10:9-10 also outlines the faith steps one must take for salvation, and there are only two: believe (or have faith) in your heart and then declare your faith before others. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Rom. 10:9-10).
Salvation is a free gift. We are saved by God’s grace when we respond in faith, and even our ability to respond is a gift of God! Believers are simultaneously and permanently justified and sanctified as soon as they accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Notice the past tense in the following passage:
“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:11).
Sanctification and justification occurs when believers are washed in baptism. So, is salvation permanent, or can a believer lose his or her justification and sanctification? Salvation is permanent because it is an action of God rather than of man. In John 10:27-29, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
The salvation of true believers is so certain that the Bible represents them as already seated at the right hand of Christ in heaven: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:6-9).
True believers do not struggle with the flesh in order to be saved or to retain salvation. Rather, they resist the flesh because they are already irrevocably saved, and the Holy Spirit within them wars against the inclinations of the flesh. And in acknowledgment of their freedom in Christ, New Covenant believers understand that they are permitted to eat any food. Jesus declared all foods clean to remind us to stop focusing on behavioral externals. We can never be “good enough” aside from the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our account.
Any doctrine requiring dietary deprivation (a form of works) for sanctification is a doctrine of demons because it distorts the true gospel of salvation by grace through faith. The Bible permits people to limit their dietary choices for health purposes, but it does not permit any “prophet” to require a limited diet. Ellen White’s health message contradicts numerous Bible passages while simultaneously removing Christian freedom. Jesus declared all foods clean, thereby establishing the New Covenant diet. Because Ellen White is factually and doctrinally incorrect, she fails the prophetic test of faithfulness to scripture. Ellen White is a false prophet, and Adventists can only follow her teachings at their eternal peril.
EGW Quotations Linking Health, Sanctification, and Salvation
“As our first parents lost Eden through the indulgence of appetite, our only hope of regaining Eden is through the firm denial of appetite and passion. Abstemiousness in diet and control of all the passions will preserve the intellect and give mental and moral vigor, enabling men to bring all their propensities under the control of the higher powers and to discern between right and wrong, the sacred and the common. All who have a true sense of the sacrifice made by Christ in leaving His home in heaven to come to this world that He might by His own life show man how to resist temptation will cheerfully deny self and choose to be partakers with Christ of His sufferings. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Those who overcome as Christ overcame will need to constantly guard themselves against the temptations of Satan. The appetite and passions should be restricted and u nder the control of enlightened conscience, that the intellect may be unimpaired, the perceptive powers clear, so that the workings of Satan and his snares may not be interpreted to be the providence of God. Many desire the final reward and victory which are to be given to overcomers, but are not willing to endure toil, privation, and denial of self, as did their Redeemer. It is only through obedience and continual effort that we shall overcome as Christ overcame. The controlling power of appetite will prove the ruin of thousands, when, if they had conquered on this point, they would have had moral power to gain the victory over every other temptation of Satan. But those who are slaves to appetite will fail in perfecting Christian character” (3T 491-92).
“The body is the only medium through which the mind and the soul are developed for the upbuilding of character. Hence it is that the adversary of souls directs his temptations to the enfeebling and degrading of the physical powers. His success here [at diminishing the health of the body] means the surrender to evil of the whole being. The tendencies of our physical nature, unless under the dominion of a higher power, will surely work ruin and death” (MH 130).
“Our habits of eating and drinking show whether we are of the world or among the number whom the Lord by His mighty cleaver of truth has separated from the world” (6T 372).
“And then we come still closer home, to the preparation of food, and ask, Is temperance practiced in all things? are the reforms which are essential to health and happiness carried out here? Every true Christian will have control of his appetites and passions. Unless he is free from the bondage of appetite, he cannot be a true, obedient servant of Christ. The indulgence of appetite and passion blunts the effect of truth upon the heart” (CD 427).
“The importance of caring for the health should be taught as a Bible requirement. Perfect obedience to God's commands calls for conformity to the laws of the being. The science of education includes as full a knowledge of physiology as can be obtained. No one can properly understand his obligations to God unless he understands clearly his obligations to himself as God's property. He who remains in sinful ignorance of the laws of life and health, or who willfully violates these laws, sins against God” (CT 295).
“In order to be fitted for translation, the people of God must know themselves. They must understand in regard to their own physical frames that they may be able with the psalmist to exclaim: ‘I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’ They should ever have the appetite in subjection to the moral and intellectual organs [terms adopted from the pseudoscience of phrenology, which analyzed moral and intellectual capabilities according to the size of various areas of the brain, which phrenologists measured by feeling a person’s head]” (1T 486-87).
“It is impossible for those who indulge the appetite to attain to Christian perfection” (2T 400).
“Sinful indulgence defiles the body and unfits men for spiritual worship. He who cherishes the light which God has given him upon health reform has an important aid in the work of becoming sanctified through the truth, and fitted for immortality. But if he disregards that light and lives in violation of natural law, he must pay the penalty; his spiritual powers are benumbed, and how can he perfect holiness in the fear of God?” (CH 22).
“We should put forth every effort to overcome evil. Christ came to set us an example of how to overcome. He endured a fast of forty days, and he has made it possible for man to overcome on the point of appetite. The battle is before us. We must fight valiantly. If we are successful, we shall one day realize the fulfillment of the promise, ‘To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father on His throne’ (3MR 116).”
“There are but few as yet who are aroused sufficiently to understand how much their habits of diet have to do with their health, their characters, their usefulness in this world, and their eternal destiny” (1T 488-89).
“In order to render to God perfect service, you must have clear conceptions of His requirements. You should use the most simple food, prepared in the most simple manner, that the fine nerves of the brain be not weakened, benumbed, or paralyzed, making it impossible for you to discern sacred things, and to value the atonement, the cleansing blood of Christ, as of priceless worth” (2T 46).
“You need clear, energetic minds, in order to appreciate the exalted character of the truth, to value the atonement, and to place the right estimate upon eternal things. If you pursue a wrong course, and indulge in wrong habits of eating, and thereby weaken the intellectual powers, you will not place that high estimate upon salvation and eternal life which will inspire you to conform your life to the life of Christ; you will not make those earnest, self-sacrificing efforts for entire conformity to the will of God, which His word requires, and which are necessary to give you a moral fitness for the finishing touch of immortality” (2T 66).
“Abstinence from all hurtful food and drink is the fruit of true religion. He who is thoroughly converted will abandon every injurious habit and appetite” (9T 113).