From the Editor’s Notebook: Cults, part 8

From the Editor’s Notebook

W. Ross Rainey

Capsule Comments On The Cults
(Part 8)

Seventh-Day Adventism

The Seventh-Day Adventist movement is one of the fastest growing groups today, as well as one of the most deceptive of all false religions. On, the surface it might seem uncharitable to place this group among the cults, but after examining their teachings it seems to me that it is proper to so label them, in spite of the fact that the editors of Moody Monthly chose to remain silent about Seventh-Day Adventists when they published material on the cults in their 1979 July-August issue.

On a public level Adventists appear to preach the gospel, but it is particularly in their follow-up that they interject their erroneous and evil doctrine. In 1956 the Barnhouse-Martin episode claimed the attention of multitudes of evangelical Christians, including the writer, but the statements then made to the effect that the Adventists had renounced many of their errors proved to be unfounded.

The beginning of the Seventh-Day Adventist movement goes back to the mistake of William Miller (1782-1849) who predicted that the end of the world was near, and that the date for this would be sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. When the deadline passed, Miller changed the date for Christ’s return to October 22, 1844. A widespread apocalyptic fervor aided the group’s growth at that time, and it soon had between 50,000 and 100,000 adherents. However, when the new date passed, the early Millerite enthusiasm was greatly diminished. Nevertheless, his followers refused to admit his error and thus invented the false teaching that Christ did come on October 22, 1844, but instead of coming to the earth, He went into the second compartment, or sanctuary, of heaven. Later, this explanation was accepted and was greatly enlarged upon by Seventh-Day Adventism’s supposedly inspired prophetess, Mrs. Ellen G. White. All subsequent errors have sprung from a vision which Millerite, Hiram Edson, received, plus later visions which Mrs. White claimed to have received.

Certain Adventists believed that Christ’s Second Coming had been hindered by their failure to maintain the Biblical law of keeping the seventh day as the Sabbath. The importance of Sabbath-keeping to the movement cannot be overstressed.1 At any rate, Mrs. White asserted that she saw in heaven the Ark of the Covenant, and in the Ark the Tables of the Law, but with the Fourth Commandment of the Sabbath standing out above all the others, surrounded by a halo of light. Therefore, upon a false prophecy of Christ’s Second Coming, coupled with supposed visions of a man and a woman, rests the Seventh-Day Adventist movement.

Although she had only a third grade education, Mrs. White wrote 45 major books and over 4,000 articles. One of her works, Steps to Christ, sold more than five million copies and was translated into 85 languages. The early Adventists were pocketed chiefly in the New England states, but by 1855 their westward expansion was marked by the establishment of a headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan. The denomination was organized in 1863, and by 1874 their first missionary, J. N. Andrews, was sent out. Today they have a membership of some two and a half million with about four-fifths of that number outside North America.2 A recent almanac indicates that in the United States there are 3,450 Adventist churches with a membership of 510,000.3

Some of the unscriptural doctrines held by Seventh-Day Adventists are as follows:

    1. They teach that Christ came back in 1844 and has been in heaven since to complete the atonement He began at Calvary.

    2. They believe that Sunday observance will be the “mark of the beast.”

    3. They believe that keeping the Jewish Sabbath is an indispensable condition of salvation.

    4. They hold that they are the only true remnant church; all others are false and belong to Babylon.

    5. Adventists maintain that they are the 144,000 of Revelation 7, and that they alone have the message of the last days. They also assert that the three angels of Revelation 14:6-11 are a prophecy of the Seventh-Day Adventists of the “latter days.”

    6. They believe that the “scapegoat” in Leviticus 16 symbolizes Satan, upon whom the sins of the people were laid, thereby making Satan our sin-bearer.

    7. They teach that the Lord Jesus Christ inherited Adam’s sinful nature and, therefore, possessed an inborn inclination to sin.

    8. Adventists teach that the soul sleeps and is unconscious after death.

    9. They believe that there will be no conscious suffering in hell, but that the wicked will be annihilated after their resurrection.

    10. They maintain that there will be no millennial reign of Christ, but that during the millennium the earth will be waste and void, the prison house of Satan.

    11. They teach that Israel will not be restored to Canaan as a nation.

    12. They believe it is wrong to eat certain unclean foods, especially pork.

    13. Adventists maintain that Mary Ellen White was an inspired prophetess of God, and that her writings, at least in part, are inspired and on a par with the Holy Scriptures.

In dealing with Seventh-Day Adventists several things should be diligently pressed upon them from the Scriptures:

    1. Show that by the death of Christ, Christians have become dead to the law (Rom. 7:1-4; see 10:3-9).

    2. Show that the law, including the Sabbath, has been done away (2 Cor. 3:7-11).

    3. Know at least some of their favorite passages (e.g., 1 John 2:4). Show from 1 John 3:23 that the commandment referred to is love and faith, not Sabbath-keeping (the ASV omits the words, “do His commandments,” from Rev. 22:14).

    4. Stress the fact that every one of the Ten Commandments, except the fourth, is reaffirmed in the New Testament. Nowhere in the New Testament is the Church commanded to keep the Jewish Sabbath,

    5. Stress what Christ Himself said about those who would set dates regarding His Second Coming (Matt. 24:36).

    6. Stress the blessed truth that Christ’s redemptive work is FINISHED (John 19:30: Heb. 1:3; 9:26).

    7. Show that there is no Scriptural warrant for their theory that the soul sleeps between death and the resurrection (2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:20-23). Some of their favorite texts (e.g., Eccles. 9:5-10; Dan. 12:2; Acts 2:34) are readily answered and clarified when taken in their context and compared with other Scriptures.

    8. Show that the Scriptures clearly teach that the spirit and soul do not die when the body dies (Eccles. 3:21; 12:7; Matt. 10:28; Luke 23:43-46; Acts 7:59; 1 Cor. 5:5).

    9. Show that the Sabbath is purely a Jewish institution, never meant to be binding upon Christians (Deut. 5:12-15). The Sabbath was a sign between God and Israel (Ex. 31:13-17).

Seventh-Day Adventists refer to the observance of the first day as stemming from heathen or Romish practice, laying this change at the door of the Roman pontiff. However, the New Testament Scriptures clearly indicate the habit of the early Christians to gather on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), and the writings of the early church fathers (e.g., Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Clement) testify that the observance of the first day was general.

Contrary to cults in general, Seventh-Day Adventists teach the deity of Christ and believer’s baptism by immersion. Holy Communion is observed four times a year, preceded by a foot-washing service. Their insistence on tithing has led to the church’s being among the leading churches in per capita giving, and this, in spite of the relatively low economic status of its membership.4

Adventists operate parochial schools from primary through university level. They also insist on proper care of the body, abstaining from foods forbidden in the Old Testament such as pork, ham, and shellfish; they do not smoke or drink; and they conduct an extensive medical program with hospitals and clinics centering at Loma Linda University in California. The group also opposes secret societies, card playing, gambling, and the use of jewelry and cosmetics. They also avoid “worldly entertainments” such as motion pictures, television, the theater, and dancing.5

Adventists operate a large publishing industry. Their leading paper, Review and Herald, is one of the oldest continuously published religious periodicals in America. Also, they have a congregational form of church government which is tied to a series of local and national conferences.

Recently, a disruption in the Seventh-Day Adventist ranks has centred on the divergent teaching of one of their scholars who has challenged the movement’s position on one of its cardinal doctrines. The scholar, Desmond Ford, an Australian theologian and visiting professor at the U.S.’s Adventist Pacific Union College lost his credentials after challenging the official Seventh-Day Adventist interpretation of Daniel 8:4 — used as a basis for a doctrine held uniquely by Adventists which deals with the “cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary.” The doctrine is based on the “day-year” principle in understanding certain prophetic references in Scripture such as the Daniel passage, and deals with the significance Adventists attach to the year 1844.

Some observers couple this incident with what has been described as a more traditional evangelical approach to Biblical interpretation by some Adventists, mostly young people.

Theologian Ford, by the way, studied under the noted British scholar, F. F. Bruce, at the University of Manchester.

1 The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 899.

2 Ibid.

3 Reader’s Digest 1979 Almanac Yearbook, p. 705.

4 The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 899.

5 Ibid.