Never Without an Intercessor: The Good News About the Judgment by Morris L. Venden (Pacific Press, 1996)
Morris Venden is a prolific Seventh-day Adventist author whose books I have enjoyed since my early teenage years. Venden is particularly notable as an SDA proponent of righteousness by faith—his most comprehensive book on the topic being 95 Theses on Righteousness by Faith (Pacific Press, 1987). When I began reading Never Without an Intercessor, I wondered if Elder Venden was about to contradict Ellen White, who stated: “When [Christ] leaves the sanctuary [at the end of the Investigative Judgment], darkness covers the inhabitants of the earth. In that fearful time the righteous must live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor” (GC 614).
Venden’s strong belief in righteousness by faith should collide head-on with Mrs. White’s perfectionistic teaching of sanctified, mediator-free living prior to the second coming. However, I discovered that even the core doctrine of righteousness by faith must bow before Mrs. White’s Investigative Judgment. Rather than asserting the Protestant understanding of salvation by faith alone—completely apart from works—Venden asserts that the righteous are never actually without a mediator because they have attained perfection. Thus, they no longer need Christ’s mediation: “So, is it possible that, just before Jesus comes, there will be a group who will not need God’s forgiveness for continuing sinning? Yes” (66).
Venden primarily bolsters his sinless-perfection thesis by appealing to Ellen White rather than proving his position from scripture (73). While Venden employs scripture in his chapter entitled “Living Without Sinning,” his texts fail to demonstrate his premise that perfection is not only possible—it is required in the strength of Christ (76). Unfortunately, Venden inserts works back into the doctrine of righteousness by faith by insisting that true faith must result in perfection so complete that the believer will not need Christ’s mediation for sin.
The Bible states that righteousness is imputed to the person who exercises faith instead of performing works of the law (Rom. 4:1-8). Saving faith is a gift of God (Gal. 5:22-23). Even the belief that works of the law demonstrate faith is a distortion of James 2, which really teaches that believers will perform works of faith rather than works of law (James 2:12).
Never Without an Intercessor is a mis-titled book. Instead of showing any spark of independence from the writings of Ellen G. White, it merely affirms her legalistic teachings—the “lesser light” eclipsing “the greater light” of scripture (see Ev 257).
The Adventist propensity to spin doctrinal phrases is demonstrated clearly by the attempt to turn “without an intercessor” into “never without an intercessor.” We recommend that evangelicals be very careful when encountering SDA terms and phrases, which often don’t mean what other Christians assume.
Evidently, Venden’s understanding of righteousness by faith involves attaining righteousness by having enough faith (see p. 81). Scripture nowhere endorses such a teaching. Instead, the Bible states that believers are washed, sanctified, and justified now in Christ: “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:11).
Although we must completely reject the White/Venden gospel, we agree with Venden’s understanding of the seriousness of our disagreement. He states that “the gospel is understood clearly only when we have a correct understanding of the sanctuary and judgment. The two truths stand or fall together. Those who are abandoning their belief about the [investigative] judgment will discover ultimately that they must abandon the gospel as well” (8). Thus, this is not a mere academic discussion. Venden promotes a gospel that is fundamentally incompatible with Protestantism, and we invite Adventists to consider that the SDA gospel does indeed fall with the Investigative Judgment. There is no middle ground between the competing gospels, and the consequences are eternal.
Joseph Rector, May 22, 2010