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Our subject this morning is Seventh-Day Adventism.The most common question people ask about this groupis whether or not we should classify them as a cult. It's aloaded question.
In the middle of the twentieth century, Walter Martinwas arguably the most well-informed expert onquasi-Christian cults. He wrote a string of books on the subject, startingin 1955 with The Rise of the Cults. He wroteindividual volumes on Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, andChristian Science. Walter Martin's best-known book, The Kingdomof the Cults, is a thick resource, published in 1966. It is stillone of the standard works on what the cultsbelieve.
In the early 1960s, Walter Martin was workingclosely with Donald Grey Barnhouse, one of the leadingradio preachers of that era. Barnhouse was pastor ofTenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, one of thegreat preachers of the 20th century, and founder of Eternity magazine.
At the time, Seventh-Day Adventism wasalmost universally classified as a cult. In fact, one of theother standard works on the subject is a book first publishedin 1963 by Anthony Hoekema, titled The FourMajor CultsCand Hoekema listed Seventh-Day Adventism asone of the four quintessential quasi-Christian cults. (The other she dealt with were Christian Science, Jehovah'sWitnesses, andMormonism.
But Donald Grey Barnhouse and Walter Martin saidone of these groups is not like the others, and startingsometime in the mid-1950s they undertook a study ofSeventh-Day Adventism, specifically to see whether it was proper tolist this group as a cult. They met with Seventh-DayAdventist leaders and read modern Seventh-Day Adventism books,and they came to the conclusion that Adventismis
HETerodoxCmeaning they teach severalunbiblical doctrines, and they even muddle some of thecentral doctrines of ChristianityCbut not so much as to beclassified as a heretical "cult." After all, Seventh-Day Adventistsdon't deny the deity of Christ, like the Jehovah's Witnesses.They don't have a fanciful or extrabiblical view of thesupremacy and eternity of God, like the Mormons. They aren'tgnostics teaching some empty philosophy after the fashionof Christian Science. Walter Martin said thedifferences between evangelicalism and Seventh-Day Adventismare really no greater than the differences betweenevangelicals and Roman Catholics. So (Martin and Barnhouse said)the label "cult" doesn't really fithere.
They made this opinion known in a famous articlein Eternity magazine in 1956. Titled, "Are theSeventh-day Adventists Christians?"Cthe article essentially gave ayes
answer to that question. They said, "Adventists hold allthe basic doctrines of Christianity." We shouldn't be so quickto classify them as acult.
At the time, that article was extremely controversial.In fact, it unleashed a debate that has lasted even until now.It became one of the biggest controversies Barnhouse wasever embroiled in. But over time, it seems to me, the viewof Barnhouse and Martin has more or less become thedominant opinion.
Almost a decade after that article in Eternity,Walter Martin's most famous work, The Kingdom of theCults, included a section that contains a relatively mild critiqueof Seventh-Day Advent doctrines, and Martin soundedalmost apologetic for including it. He wrote, "It is perfectlypossible to be a Seventh-Day Adventist and be a true followerof Jesus Christ, despite heterodox concepts." At times, overthe years, he sounded like a defender of theSeventh-Day Adventist movement. In fact, most of theSeventh-Day Adventist websites that are online today like to quoteWalter Martin in defense of theirmovement.
The 1970s became a time of significant turmoil withinthe Seventh-Day Adventist movement, essentially dividingthe
movement into two factions. A huge debate wasprovoked when some leading Seventh-Day Adventist teachers beganto adopt more evangelical doctrines, and they startedasking hard questions about the trustworthiness of themovement's main prophetess, Ellen White. Some Adventists reactedby digging in deeper. Others adopted more flexibleteachings designed to sound more evangelical. But no one whostayedin the movement overtly rejected Mrs. White's propheciesor renounced her influence in shaping the movement'sbeliefs.
Walter Martin watched that conflict in theSeventh-Day Adventist movement unfold, and he was disappointedthat the majority of Adventist leaders actually stiffenedtheir necks and became more hostile than ever towardevangelical principles. The ultimate effect was a revival of interestand emphasis on the writings of Ellen White. She wasrepeatedly appealed to as more or less authoritative. Thearguments inside the movement were always about how to interprether pronouncements, not about whether she was a falseprophet. The debates always ended before anyone in themovement would ever repudiate anything she said. So in a1985 television interview, Walter Martin saidthis:
I fear that if [the Seventh-Day Adventists] continueto progress at this rate, then the classification of a cultcan't possibly miss being reapplied. . . . [In the writingsof Ellen White, they] have an interpreter of Scripture, afinal
court of appeal that tells [them] what Scripture means . .. [They] judge Scripture by that, [even though she]has made doctrinal errors in the past, even on the deityof Christ and the doctrine of the atonement and onother things.
It's folly, he said, to raise someone like that to a positionof authority. As far as Walter Martin was concerned,the Seventh-Day Adventists deserved to be classified as a cultif they were going to put the writings of a modernrogue prophet on the same level asScripture.
But today the question is still asked all the time:Should we classify Seventh-Day Adventism as a cult? Theproblem with that question is, it depends on how you define theword cult. Here's how I would defineit:
A cult is an authoritarian and elitist sect whoteach that salvation hinges on membership in theirgroup, and yet they depart from one or more essentialpoints in the ancient ecumenicalcreeds.
Frankly, I don't think it's too far-fetched to classifySeventh-Day Adventists as a cult based on thatdefinition.
I realize, of course, that lots of people (includingvirtually all Seventh-Day Adventists) will argue thatAdventism doesn't fit that precise definition. And the truth is, ifyou don't want to label them a "cult," I am not going toargue
over terminology. But I think that's a terribly misleadingand
useless point to make. Whether you labelSeventh-Day Adventism cultish or not, they are a dangerousand sub-Christian faction that steers people away fromthe
simplicity of the true gospel. They saddle their peoplewiththe yoke of the law in precisely the same way theGalatian heretics were doing. They try to blend works with grace.And
as the apostle Paul says in Romans 11:6, "If [salvation is]by
grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is nolongergrace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace."Galatians 2:21: "If righteousness comes through the law, then Christdiedinvain."
In short, the "gospel" preached in Seventh-DayAdventist circles is a damning and damnable false doctrine, andthat's what I want to showyou.
Let's start with THE HISTORY OF THE MOVEMENT.Andthe point I hope you will see is that the roots ofSeventh-Day Adventism are corrupt to begin with. It grew out offalse teachings, false prophecies, false promises, and falseexcuses for those failed prophecies. It was based on analmost
fanatical expectation that the Lord would return to earth ona specific dayCand when that didn't happen, themovement nearly died, and would have diedCuntil Ellen G. White,a
very deluded woman who claimed to be a prophet,concocted a new explanation for what really happened on the daythey
believed Christ would return. Her propheticpronouncements became the glue that bound a remnant of fanaticalfollowers togetherCand even though many of herpronouncements
were demonstrably wrong, she managed to gainthe unwavering devotion of a desperate remnant, and onthat rickety foundation, the whole movement wasfounded.
So the movement began in a decidedly cultlikefashion, and in my judgment, even though it has managed togive itself a veneer of respectability, it still retains allthe distinctive features of acult.
Here's how it all cameabout:
In the middle of the 19th century, just before the startof the American Civil War, there was a widespreadawakeningof interest in the second coming of Christ. Talk of thesecond coming penetrated every level of American society.The energy of so much expectation even exceeded what wesaw in the 1970s, when Hal Lindsey's book was at the top ofthe bestsellerlist.
There was a profound interest in "the signs of thetimes." People were saying all the same things we hear today:The Lord's return must be soon. The state of the worldcould hardly get worse than it is. The signs of coming judgmentare all around. Surely the Lord will return soon. Butthe
expectation was intense. People scoured Scripture forclues about the timing of the secondcoming.
One of those who took a keen interest in the subject wasa New England farmer, Army captain, and sometimeBaptist preacher named William Miller. Miller was raised asa Baptist but in his late twenties he rejected hisreligious upbringing and embraced Deism. About the same timehe became a deist, the War of 1812 began and Miller joinedthe army. During the war, a bomb exploded nearby, injuringfour of his fellow soldiers (one of them fatally), but heescaped injury. He believed he had been kept from injury bya miracle, but that was impossible to reconcile with thedeistic view that God is remote anduninvolved.
After the war he pondered death and the afterlifeand began to move gradually away from deism and back ina Baptistic direction. Hung between those two systems,he decided to undertake a verse-by-verse study of Scripturewiththe idea of harmonizing the contradictions in hisown thinking. In the process of making that study (while allthe culture around him was becoming obsessed with thesecond coming) Miller said he came to the conclusion thatScripture reveals the exact time of Christ'sreturn.
He read Daniel 8:13-14: "Then I heard one saintspeaking,
and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake,How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, andthe
transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary andthe host to be trodden under foot? And he said unto me, Untotwo thousandandthree hundreddays; thenshallthesanctuary becleansed." By the way, that prophecy was literally fulfilledin history. Twenty-three hundred days is about six and ahalf years. That is exactly how long the persecution ledby Antiochus Epiphanes lasted, and afterward the Templewas cleansed. That event is what is celebrated at Hanukkah,the Jewish Feast oflights.
But William Miller had no training, no qualificationto teach, and no real skill in theology, Bible history,or hermeneutics. William Biederwolf, an early20th-century Presbyterian evangelist, wrote a book onSeventh-Day Adventism, and he says Miller "was as ignorant ofHebrew as a Hottentot is of theKlondike."
William Miller read that passage from Daniel anddecided that the 2,300 days in verse 14 really stand for 2,300 yearsCand the cleansing of the sanctuary, he said, refersto
the judgment of the world by fire at the secondcoming. Miller also decided that the place to start counting was457 B.C., the date of the decree to rebuild Jerusalemby Artaxerxes I of Persia. If you subtract 457 from 2,300you get 1843. It's that simple, he said. Christ willreturn sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21,1844.
Some of Miller's followers declared that all thechurches that rejected William Miller's teaching on the secondcoming were "Babylon," and they began to urge Christians toleave the established churches. One of Miller's mostinfluential followers, Charles Fitch, preached a sermon onRevelation
18:4-5: "Come out of her, my people, lest you take part inher
sins." He told people, "If you are a Christian, come outof Babylon [meaning, leave any church that does not followthe Millerite doctrine. He said:]. If you intend to be founda Christian when Christ appears, come out of Babylon,and come out now. . ."
If a lot of that sounds familiar, it should.Basically, William Miller was the Harold Camping of his day.Here was an unqualified Bible teacher with an overabundanceof self-confidence and a much bigger audience thanhis message deserved. And multitudes were swept up inthe excitement.
March 22, 1844 came and went without the returnof Christ. Miller was devastated. He said he knew he hadmade a mistake, but as he reviewed his calculations he couldn'tsee where the errorwas.
Miller's followers suggested severalalternative interpretations of Daniel's prophecy: Perhaps the dateshould be reckoned by Kara-ite Jewish calendar instead ofthe rabbinical calendar. One Millerite named SamuelSnow
finally proposed a new deadline about seven monthslater. He declared with an aura of great authority that the returnof Christ would occur on "the tenth day of the seventh monthof the present year, 1844." Reckoning with a Kara-itecalendar, he determined that date to be October 22, 1944. Thatbecame the new Adventist orthodoxy. This, they said, was thelatest possible date for the return of Christ. Miller pushedhis rhetoric up a notch. "This is God's truth," he said; "It isas true as the Bible." "There is no possibility of a mistake inthis time." "Those who reject this light will be lost." "Thosewho do not accept this argument arebacksliders."
Here's how one Seventh-Day Adventist resourcedescribes whathappened:
Adventists sold their land. businessmen closedtheir shops. Farmers left their farms idle. Potatoes remainedin the ground unharvested. Apples rotted in theorchards. "Yours in the blessed hope," many signed theirletters.
The message went from city to city, town to town,village to village, to the farthest part of the land. EveryMillerite waited with joyous longing for Jesus to return toPlanet Earth.
As October 22, 1844, dawned, believers assembledin their homes, tents, and churches praying, praising,and waiting. It won't be long, they thought. TheBridegroom will appear! But the Bridegroom did not appear. Theday
had ended, and Jesus hadn't come! What hadhappened? What had gone wrong? Their hopes dashed, theywept unashamedly till dawn the nextday.
Adventists refer to that event as "TheGreat Disappointment." It decimated the movement. Bymost accounts, the majority of disillusioned followers driftedinto other dissident groups rather than return to the churchestheir fellow Millerites had dubbed "Babylon." Many ofthem joined the Quakers. Others became Deists. Othersconcluded that all religion was asham.
But a small remnantCmostly fanatical Milleritebelievers,
stayed together and began to investigatealternative explanations for the GreatDisappointment.
Miller himself seemed to try to back quietly out ofthe limelight and acknowledge that he had been wrong. Hegave up trying to predict the date of the Lord's return, andhe didn't seem persuaded by any of his hard-corefollowers' theories about what may have happened in 1944. Henever gave up his belief that the bodily return of Christ wasnear. He seemed to lean to the view that there was some kindof
error in the biblical chronologyCperhaps a scribal errorthat
got the numberswrong.
Miller died five years after the Great Disappointment.On his gravestone, it says, "At the time appointed, the endshall be."
The whole movement might have faded intoobscurity, except for the rise of a self-styled prophetess who tookover leadership among most of the remnant andshaped
Seventh-Day Adventism into the movement thatendures today. (There's a smaller sect that also traces its roots backto William Miller's adventismCthe AdventChristian
ChurchCbut it's a very small movement, more orthodoxthan
the Seventh-Day Adventists. They aren't sabbatarians,but like Seventh-Day Adventists, they reject the doctrine ofhell.)
The woman who assumed leadership among most ofthe original Millerites was Ellen Gould White. Her maidenname was "Harmon." She was raised in a Methodist family, butat the height of Millerite excitement, her parentsembraced Miller's views on the second coming and the familystarted regularly attending Millerite meetings. At the time ofthe Great Disappointment, Ellen Harmon was a 17-year-oldgirl. Within a month after the final failed deadline, Ellenclaimed she had a vision in which she saw faithful Adventistsfiling into heaven. Her claim was immediately embraced bythe faithful Adventist remnant as a true prophecy, and inthe words of John Gerstner, she "had a job for life as a seer,and the Adventists had new assurance. Until her death in1915, she was the outstanding Adventistleader."
This marked a significant change in direction forthe Adventist movement, and it was not a turn for the better.Let me quote John Gerstner once more. Hesays:
Miller was succeeded in the leadership of theAdventist movement by a person who was in every respectdifferent from him. For one obvious difference, it was awoman, Mrs. Ellen G. White, succeeding a man. For anotherthing, it was a visionary succeeding a rather soberstudent.
Where Miller always attempted to ground his witnesson his exposition of the Bible, Mrs. White went beyondthe Bible with her numerous revelations. Where Millerwas mistaken and admitted it, Mrs. White denied anyerror.
While Miller was frankly disappointed, Mrs. Whiteturned defeat into victory byreinterpretation.
There are photographs of Ellen White at several stages ofher life, and I have to say that I think she has a kind ofcreepy look.
She has crazy eyesCkind of a piercing stareCand she preferred tolook
heavenward and off to the siderather than directly into the cameralens.
Everything about her propheticwords, and her mannerisms, and evenher facial expressions more or less fitsthe
caricature ofwhatyou would thinkthe self-important founder of aweird cult might belike.
And she wasnot lacking inbrazenness, from the start tothe finish of hercareer.
Near the end ofher life, she wouldwrite, "I am nowlooking over my diaries . .. there is onestraight chain oftruth, without oneheretical sentence, in that which I havewritten."
Now, obviously, when you have a living prophetwhose declarations and interpretations of the Bible aresupposedly authoritative, Scripture cannot really function as yourfinal authority. Ellen White became the last nail in the coffinthat sealed the cultish character of the Adventist movementfrom its earliestyears.
When she was 19 years old, Ellen Gould Harmonmarried an Adventist preacher, James White. At the time,Adventists worshiped on the first day of the week like virtually allother Christians beginning with the apostolic church. But notlong after they were married, the Whites read a tract written bya Seventh-Day Baptist, and they were persuaded that allthe Old Testament Sabbath restrictions are bindingon
ChristiansCand that the church should meet for worshipon
the Jewish Sabbath rather than the first day of the week.Oneof Ellen's famous visions soon confirmed the matter: shesaid she saw the heavenly sanctuary with thefourth commandment marked by a halo. This was sufficientto persuade the early Adventist movement that the Sabbathlaw is the greatest of all the TenCommandments.
It wasn't until nearly 15 years later that the groupadopted their official name: Seventh-Day Adventists. Then twoyears later, in 1863, the group formally incorporated. At thetime, the denomination boasted 125 congregationscomprising 3,500followers.
Ellen White consistently claimed for her visionsand prophecies an infallible authority equal to that ofScripture. She published a magazine, The Review and Herald, andeach issue featured a prophetic letter from her. In an 1882article titled "The Testimonies Slighted," she wrote, "In theseletters which I write, in the testimonies I bear, I am presentingto
you that which the Lord has presented to me. I do notwrite one article in the paper, expressing merely my ownideas. They are what God has opened before me invisionCthe
precious rays of light shining from thethrone."
James White died in 1881. Ellen was 54 years old atthe time and by then she had led the Adventists for nearlyfour decades. She set to work on her best-known book, TheGreat Controversy. She claimed the book recorded what shehad received in some of her most important visions.She introduces the book with this claim: "In this visionat Lovett's Grove (in 1858), most of the matter of TheGreat Controversy which I had seen ten years before, wasrepeated, and I was shown that I must write itout."
Ellen White, like William Miller, was adilettante theologian. She had no qualification to teach ormake doctrinal pronouncements. She herself made a great dealof claiming that she had only a third-grade education. Infact, she told people for years that she was unable to read.She said her ability to produce written material of a fairlyhigh caliber was proof that her prophecies came from God.Later researchers have proved that she could actually readquite well. And, as it turns out, large portions of her workwere clearly plagiarized from other authors. Now, to befair, Seventh-Day Adventist apologists will point out that inthe introduction to The Great Controversy, sheacknowledges
that she has made use of others' published works,sometimes even quoting without documenting her sources. (Sheseemed to think that was an acceptable practice. Adventists liketo refer to it as "literary borrowing" rather thanplagiarism.)
But to be perfectly candid, Ellen White and heradventist apologists grossly understate the amount of materialshe borrowed without documenting her sources. She wasa pathologicalplagiarist.
A few other inconvenient facts further debunkMrs. White's claim that she was a prophet. For one thing,she frequently revised or contradicted her own prophecies.Oneof the big ones came with her very first vision in 1844.She claimed that the door of mercy was now shut foreveryone outside the original Millerite sect. Even the Milleriteswho abandoned their hope after the Great Disappointmentwould now be permanently shut out of heaven. In effect,Ellen White (and most of the original Adventists) were sayingthat no one who was outside their sect could ever be saved.The door of salvation was permanentlyclosed.
Of course, the more time that passed, the morethat prophecy put them in an awkward position. Thegroup needed to add followers, and they couldn't do that if theday of grace had passed. In an article written in 1883, shemade this admission: "I did hold, in common with the adventbody, that the door of mercy was then forever closed to theworld."
But, she said, it had now been revealed to her that the wayof salvation was stillopen.
She had another vision in which she was toldthat Adventist women needed to wear a certain style ofoutfit, known as the "Reform Dress." It was basically a blackdress with parachute pants underneath. There are pictures onthe Web, and it makes a fairly ridiculous-lookingcostume.
It was bulky and uncomfortable. Butin 1867 she said,"Godwould now haveHis people adopt thereform dress, not onlyto distinguish them fromthe world as hispeculiar people, but becausea reform in dress is essential to physicaland mental health."She warned her sisters inthe faith not to neglect her words on this:
I have done my duty;I have borne mytestimony,
and those who have heard me and read that which Ihave written, must bear the responsibility of receivingor rejecting the light given. If they choose to venture tobe forgetful hearers, and not doers of the work, they runtheir own risk, and will be accountable toGod.
Clearly, she was claiming these were God's owninstructions.
One Seventh-Day Adventist pastor from that erawrote this about Mrs. White's dressrestrictions:
I was married at Battle Creek in 1867, to a young sisterof nineteen. It was at the height of this short-dress craze.Ofcourse, as a minister's wife, she reluctantly put onthe dress and wore it for eight years. So I know all about it.It was a shameful thing, and brought ridiculeeverywhere.
On the street, people would stop and gaze at herand mock. I have seen troops of boys follow her, makingfun, till she would step into a store to hide from them.We were both ashamed of it; but God's prophet said it washis will, and we must bear thecross!
The issue was clear. . . . Reject the light, and meetthe frown of God! So, quite largely, the faithful ones puton the dress. But it was a failure. The pants were hotin summer, and in winter the ankles were wet withsnow.
Husbands were mad, brothers would not go out withtheir sisters, and outsiders sneered and called them freaks.Girls with this dress on in school were avoided andridiculed.
But for eight years Mrs. White wore it and urged it. Ihave often sat in the desk with her when she wrote it and preached on it as a Christian duty. If God ever gave hera revelation about anything, he did about that, for soshe said strongly over and over. But at length she saw it wasa mistake and a failure. So she went away to Californiaand quietly laid it off herself, and never wore it afterward.Of
course she was plied with requests for explanations;but she simply refused to giveany.
There are websites listing many more of Mrs. White'sfailed prophecies. There are books that document herplagiarisms. Most objective people would write her off as a charlatan,and many of the conflicts within Seventh-Day Adventismthat took place in the 1970s and 1980s stemmed from thefact that virtually all research into her history discredits herin one way or another. But cult loyalty is hard to break, andthe end result of all those debates has been a renewal ofloyalty to Mrs White among those who have stayed inthe movement. Seventh-Day Adventist apologists havefound various ways to defend, or explain away, or reinterpret,or make excuses for the many discrepancies in Mrs.White's work. But the controversies have nevertheless leftthe movement deeplyshaken.
If you want to study the various controversies ofrecent years, let me recommend an article titled "The Shakingof Adventism," by Geoffrey Paxton. Another good place tostartis the Wikipedia entry on Desmond Ford. He wasa
Seventh-Day Adventist pastor from Australia who beganto question some of the church's core teaching. He camevery close to evangelical orthodoxy but has never really let goof some of Adventism's anomalies. He wasexcommunicated and now has an independent ministry. He's much closerto
truth than where he began, but he still rejects whatScripture teaches about hell, still teaches the doctrine of soulsleep, still holds to seventh-day sabbatarianism, andmost significantly, though he acknowledges manysignificant errors in the writings of Ellen White, he declines to call hera false prophet. He says he regards her writings as"pastoral," but "notcanonical."
And therein lies the difficulty in critiquingSeventh-Day Adventism. Beliefs within the movement seem to bevery pliable. Even when they acknowledge (as allreasonable people are forced to do) that the roots of the movementwere seriously tainted with erroneous claims, false prophecies,and
unfulfilled predictions, they are loath to rejectthe traditionCand unwilling to leave the group. That kindof blind, unshakable loyaltyCa fear of leaving themovement behindCis itself one of the main characteristic of allcults.
But the distinctive doctrines of Seventh-DayAdventism are where the movement's most sinister effects are seen.Asyou might detect from my brief historical overview,the dogmas of the movement are pretty subject toindividual interpretation. Though Ellen White is revered asa prophetess, and she is without controversy the chiefarchitect of the denomination's dogmas, no one reallybelieves everything she said. She made countlessridiculous
pronouncements about health, clothing, diet, andquack medicine. She said, for example, that eating butter, eggs,and meat would keep your prayers from going high. Sheforbade the use of tea, coffee, pickles, mustard, pepper,and cinnamon.
She must have been a lousycook.
But she was either dishonest or totally inconsistent.She said in one place, "No butter or flesh-meats of any kindcome on my table. Cake is seldom found there." A year later,she wrote in a letter to her family, "We had a quarter ofvenison cooked, and stuffing. It was as tender as a chicken. Weall enjoyed it very much." About five years after that, shewrote, "Two years ago I came to the conclusion that therewas danger in using the flesh of dead animals, and since thenI have not used meat at all. It is never placed on my table."But she went on to describe eating fish, drinking beefbroth, cooking with chicken broth, and devouringoysters.
Just a decade or so later, she declaredwithout qualification, "I do not preach one thing and practiceanother. I do not present to my hearers rules of life for them tofollow while I make an exception in my own case." But thenthree years after that, Mrs. White's secretary, FannieBolton, described an incident where she got separated fromMrs.
White in a train depot. She writes, "Eld[er] Starrhunted around till he found her behind a screen in therestaurant
very gratified in eating big white raw oysters withvinegar, pepper and salt." The secretary was understandablyconfused and disillusioned. Shewrote:
I kept thinking in my heart, 'What does this mean?What has God said? How does she dare eat theseabominations?' On the cars out to California, W. C. White came intothe train with a great thick piece of bloody beefsteakspread out on a brown paper and he bore it through the touristcar on his own two hands. Sarah McEnterfer who is nowwith[Ellen] White as her attendant, cooked it on a smalloil stove and everyone ate of it except myself andMarian Davis who I found out afterwards was more the authorof the books purported to be Sr. White's than shewas
If that eyewitness testimony is true (and there's no reasonto doubt it), it seems clear that Mrs. White was athoroughgoing phony.
No one today would regard most of Mrs. White'smedical advice as anything other than the typical superstitions ofthat era. But her ideas about diet and healthy livingnevertheless left a mark, and that's why so many Adventists todayare vegetarians, health-food aficionados, practitionersof alternative medicine, and purveyors of holistic healthfads.
There's a document online with this curious title: "AHistory of Seventh-day Adventist Work withSoyfoods,
Vegetarianism, Meat Alternatives, Wheat Gluten,Dietary Fiber and PeanutButter."
All of that is deeply rooted in Seventh-DayAdventism's hopeless entanglement in Old Testament ceremonialand dietary laws. It's an arbitrary and highly selectiveapplication of Moses' law, but it is a very close modern equivalent ofthe Galatian heresy. Remember, the apostle Paul had thatvery
error in mind in Galatians 1:8-9, when he wrote, "Even ifwe
or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospelcontraryto the one we preached to you, let him be accursed." Inother words, this is damnable heresy. It is the rankest formof legalismCand virtually every significant doctrinalerror
found in Seventh-Day Adventist writings is in someway derived from this legalistictendency.
Let me give you just a brief overview of somekey Seventh-Day Adventist doctrines, and I'll start withwhat they getright.
First of all, they do generally hold to anessentially trinitarian view of the Godhead. They don't deny the deityor true humanity of ChristCthough they put a twist onChrist's
humanity that I think is full of mischief. I'll try to comeback to that before we arefinished.
They believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ and(of course) His literal, visible second coming. They arebasically literalists when it comes to interpreting Scripture. Theyare
six-day creationists. They are also premillennialistsCteaching that Christ will establish a literal earthlykingdom on earth and rule and reign for a thousand years. Theyteach baptism by immersion and formally affirm the authorityand inerrancy of Scripture. And let's be honest: that's a lotof important categories where they would agree with whatwe teach. It's easy to see why some would be reluctantto classify them as a cult. It's quite true that they aren't nearlyas far off track as any of the other majorcults.
But we have this against them: in one way oranother, they compromise, corrupt, or confuse virtually everykey doctrine of the Christian faithCincluding those doctrinesthat
For example, their confession that Scripture isinspired, inerrant, and authoritative is severely compromised bythe notion that Ellen White was a prophetess who receivedfresh
revelation from GodCand her "revelations" become thelens
through which the rest of Scripture isinterpreted.
One of the major conflicts regarding Mrs.White's prophecies in the 1970s controversy dealt with herteaching that Satan, not Christ, bears the ultimate penalty for thesins of redeemed people. (This, in my view, is the grossest ofall the blasphemies in Seventh-Day Adventist teaching.) InThe Great Controversy, Mrs. Whitewrites,
As the priest, in removing the sins from thesanctuary, confessed them upon the head of the scapegoat, soChrist will place all these sins upon Satan, the originatorand instigator of sin. The scapegoat, bearing the sins ofIsrael, was sent away "unto a land not inhabited"(Leviticus 16:22); so Satan, bearing the guilt of all the sins whichhe has caused God's people to commit, will be for athousand years confined to the earth, which will then bedesolate, without inhabitant, and he will at last suffer thefull penalty of sin in the fires that shall destroy all thewicked. Thus the great plan of redemption will reachits accomplishment in the final eradication of sin andthe deliverance of all who have been willing to renounceevil.
So Satan, not Christ, is the ultimatesin-bearer.
That, of course, nullifies the biblical teaching thatthe work of Christ on the cross resulted in full atonement forthe sins of His people. Seventh-Day Adventists are forcedto
reinterpret Christ's statement in John 19:30: "It isfinished."
They can't make good sense of Hebrews 10:12: "WhenChristhad offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat downatthe right hand ofGod."
In fact, the central, distinctive (and most novel)doctrine of Seventh-Day Adventism is the idea Ellen Whiteconcocted to explain the Great Disappointment. She claimed thaton October 22, 1844, Jesus began a whole new phase ofHis
atoning work. Here's how the Seventh-DayAdventist doctrinal statement says it: "In 1844, at the end ofthe prophetic period of 2,300 days, [Christ] entered thesecond and last phase of His atoning ministry. It is a workof investigative judgment which is part of theultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of theancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day ofAtonement."
What do they mean by "investigative judgment?" Theidea is that Christ is now judging the lives of professingChristians, both living and dead. This idea was an offshootof the original view that the door of salvation was alreadyshut and the return of Christ very near. It's been modifiedand reinterpreted in various ways that seem toco-mingle justification and sanctification. But if you lay italongside Ellen White's statements in The Great Controversy,it's impossible to avoid the conclusion that thisdoctrine encourages the most oppressive kind of works-basedand perfectionistic thinking. Ellen White said, forexample,
Those who are living upon the earth when theintercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to standin the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Theirrobes must be spotless, their characters must be purifiedfrom sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace ofGod and their own diligent efforts they must be conquerorsin the battle withevil.
See how she mingles works and grace? That's the veryidea Paul cursed. Nevertheless, Ellen Whitesays,
He who is found wanting is cast out, but all whoupon examination are seen to have the wedding garment onare accepted of God and accounted worthy of a share inHis kingdom and a seat upon His throne. This workof examination of character, of determining whoare prepared for the kingdom of God, is that ofthe investigative judgment, the closing of work inthe sanctuaryabove.
When the work of investigation shall be ended,whenthe cases of those who in all ages have professed tobe followers of Christ have been examined anddecided, then, and not till then, probation will close, and thedoor of mercy will beshut
So as long as this "investigative judgment" is still goingon, no one's justification can possibly be a settledissue.
Adventists are therefore made to believe they need towork for Christ's final approval. Quoting Mrs. Whiteagain:
While the investigative judgment is going forwardin heaven, while the sins of penitent believers arebeing removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a specialwork of purification, of putting away of sin, amongGod's people uponearth.
So justification hinges on complete sanctificationCjust like in Roman Catholicism. And like RomanCatholicism, Seventh-Day Adventism has no place for justification asa past-tense, settledguarantee.
That means there is no possibility of trueassurance.
According to Mrs. White, "It is impossible that the sinsof men should be blotted out until after the judgment atwhich their cases are to beinvestigated."
Adventist teaching thus destroys the possibility ofsettled faith. It saddles people with the yoke of the law. Andby polluting the gospel message with law, it demolishesthe truth of divine grace. It fails to see the atoning work ofChrist as finished and fully sufficient, and it muddies everydoctrine ittouches.
There's much more to say. Seventh-Day Adventistsreject the doctrine of eternal punishment, deny the immortalityof the human soul, and teach the doctrine of soul sleep.The idea is that every human soul dies or goes out of existenceat death, and Christ simply resurrects those souls whomHejudges worthy of eternallife.
I mentioned earlier that Seventh-Day Adventistteaching on the humanity of Christ is twisted. Ellen Whiteinsisted that Christ took on fallen humanity's sin nature. She saidhe didn't sin; he resisted every temptation, but his nature wasas fallen as yours and mine. In her words, "He took uponHis
sinless nature our sinful nature . . . [He] bore theinfirmities and degeneracy of the race. He took our nature andits deterioratingcondition."
That's really bad theology. It corrupts not onlythe doctrine of Christ's humanity, but also the doctrinesof original sin, the priesthood and mediatorial work ofChrist, the principle of substitutionary atonement, and the gloryof Christ as God incarnate. It also contributes tothe
works-based soteriology of Seventh-Day Adventistdoctrine, because the basic idea of the teaching is that Christ'sability to completely overcome sin, even with a fallennature, demonstrates the possibility of living in perfect obedienceto God's law. Christ's life therefore becomes merely anexample for us to follow.
Seventh-Day Adventism is full of that kindof confusionCclumsy errors and contradictory ideas.It's inevitable when people who are unskilled indoctrine,
unstable in the faith, untrained in the Bible'soriginal languages, and untaught in basic hermeneuticalprinciples imagine that they are hearing directly from God and havethe arrogance to invent a whole new religion. It's amuddled mess, and the recent turmoil within theSeventh-Day Adventist movement is the predictable fruit ofthat.
It's foolish for true evangelicals to relax their guard andthink Seventh-Day Adventist errors are minor flaws that canbe smoothed over with a littlenuancing.
If the Galatian heresy was a damnable error (andthe apostle Paul was as clear as possible on that),the
Seventh-Day Adventist teaching is likewise damnablywrong and whether we call this movement a cult or not, we havea duty to warn people away from such confusion andtwisted, legalistic works-based doctrine. It obscures the simplicityof the gospel, undermines the authority of Scripture,and dishonors Christ. That's reason enough to rejectit emphatically.
Now, you have probably noticed that I barelymentioned the Sabbath issue and didn't really address that error muchat all. There's a reason for that. Frankly, if the worst error ofthe Seventh-Day Adventists was their insistence onobserving
Saturday as the Sabbath, I would be happy to treat that asan indifferent matter. In Romans 14:5, Paul says, "Oneperson esteems one day as better than another, while anotheresteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in hisownmind." In Colossians 2:16, he says, "Let no one passjudgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to afestival or a new moon or aSabbath."
But the Adventists go much further, often implyingthat Sabbath-keeping is the essential mark of every truebeliever, and Sunday worship is basically the mark of the beast.Mrs. White wrote, "The holy Sabbath is, and will be,the separating wall between the true Israel of Godand
unbelievers"Cand she claimed that was revealed to herin
one of her famous visions. In short, the Sabbath isto Adventists what circumcision was to the Galatianheretics.
But as I hope you can see, quarreling about theSabbath with Adventists doesn't even address the biggestproblems with their doctrine. The biggest problem is that theirdoctrine essentially eliminates the biblical promise of justificationby
faith aloneCthe principle of solafide.
They're wrong on the Sabbath, of course, and if youwant my arguments on that, download a message I did a fewyears ago on the fourth commandment. Here's my shortanswer: When Seventh-Day Adventist doctrine makes thefourth commandment the most important of all God's laws,they contradict Scripture. Mrs. White claimed RomanCatholicism wrongly changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.She said, "The Pope has changed the day of rest from theseventh to the first day, and . . . has thought to change thegreatest commandment in the decalogue, and thus makehimself equal with God, or even exalt himself above God."Notice she expressly calls the Fourth Commandment "thegreatest
commandment in the decalogue." But what did Jesussay about that? Remember? In Matthew 22:35, "a lawyer,askedhim a question to test him. "Teacher, which is the greatcommandment in the Law?" What was Jesus answer?Matthew 22:37-38: "You shall love the Lord your God with all yourheartand with all your soul and with all your mind. This is thegreat and firstcommandment."
Remember that the Pharisees made Sabbathobservance the token of their system. It's fitting thatSeventh-Day Adventists have done the same thing, because theirdoctrine has everything in common with the teaching of thePharisees.
"They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay themon
people's shoulders." They "plac[e] a yoke on the neck ofthe disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able tobear." It is a pernicious form of legalism, and the distilledessence of works-religion. Let's not be quick to soft-sell theirerrors.
For those entangled in this system, it is anoppressive, spiritually stifling, enslaving, fear-inducing,faith-stealing form ofreligion.
Seventh-Day Adventists have always beenvery
media-savvy. The growth of the cult during the 20thcentury is largely attributable to the influence of a dailyradio broadcast called "Voice of Prophecy." Theirpublications have blanketed the globe. Many Seventh-DayAdventist preachers are gifted communicators, and for the past 50years
or so, they have desperately been trying to gain acceptancein the evangelical movement. To a very large degree, theyhave succeeded in thatgoal.
What your Seventh-Day Adventist friendsdesperately need to hear is the gospel, with a clear articulation ofthe principle of justification by faith aloneCand aclear
affirmation that the atoning work of Christ is finished. This is, in fact, the very thing the Sabbath pictured: That thereis "a [true] Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoeverhas
entered God's rest has also rested from his works as Goddid
from his." That's Hebrews 4:9-10, and it's talking aboutthe rest we enter into by faith in ChristCa rest from the verykind
of works that get so much stress in theSeventh-Day Adventistsystem.
Christ is not judging us; he is making intercession forus. He's not working to complete the atonement in theheavenly sanctuary; He "offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, [then]sat
down on the right hand of God" He is seated there,according
to Scripture, "until [God makes His] enemies a footstoolfor [his]feet."
The Seventh-Day Adventist system is quite simplya whole new religionCnothing like the early churchbelieved; unknown in any era of church history until the 19thcentury.
Its message is a totally new and different gospel, andthat means it is an accursed system. Whether it is proper to callit
a cult or not is totally beside the point. It's a system ofdeceit and confusion. It leads people astray. It's wrong to glossover such an error and pretend it is of no real importance. Itis eternally important, because what is at stake isthe gospelCand that is truth we can nevercompromise.