|WE HAVE CREATED OUR OWN CONFUSION
Seventhday Adventists know well that in the 1950s the Evangelical world came knocking at our door. Their question was (and still is), Is Seventhday Adventism a cult?
Our desire to be understood by the popular churches caused us to search for some way to be admitted into their favor. In the light of sacred history there is in our experience a parallel with Peter's denial of Christ.
Peter had sworn allegiance to his Master. He would never be offended even if others were, and with the other disciples he testified he would rather die than deny his Lord (Matthew 26:35). But his desire to be accepted, and his fear of belonging to a "cult" caused him to wither before the critical gaze of a damsel. His public disdain of the truth that he had held for years only increased his anxiety. The stigma of being a "fellow" associated with Jesus was more than he could bear. He would go to any length to be free from it. The charge of the second maid overwhelmed him and he sealed his denial of Christ with an oath. His rejection of truth aggravated his backsliding and confirmed his apostasy.
The charges of two women against this brawny fisherman were sharp. But Peter had to face next a public accusation that the way he talked made it plain he did verily belong to this "cult." And then his conscience snapped. Peer pressure and desire for approbation of the world were his undoing.
Little have Adventists realized the price of worldly acceptance. The danger of compromise will increase as the church faces the pending work of the fourth angel of Revelation 18. Like Peter we can find ourselves denying the true Christ in order to avert the gaze of those who accept the policies of Babylon and array themselves against Him. But there was a cure for Peter's stubborn resistance and there is one for ours. When conviction captured him, he realized that he was a betrayer and a perjurer. He sensed that he needed the truth of the Laodicean message which calls for repentance. Then he "wept bitterly." This was the prelude to the blessings of Pentecost. After Pentecost, Peter went forth boldly preaching repentance to those before whom he had once compromised his faith. Such is the power of repentance, and such is the experience awaiting the church in this crisis hour.
Peter's night of woe was but hours before Calvary. The confusion, vacillation and compromise of the remnant church is now symbolically only "hours" before the close of probation. But those hours must drag on while the close of probation is "on hold." His church, His bride, will continue to spurn His love and remain spellbound with worldly approbation until she sees and "knows" the agony it is causing Him.
The Peter Syndrome Today
The 1950 decade of compromise with the Evangelicals is well known and documentation need not be repeated here.1 The evidence is clear that significant misrepresentations of Seventhday Adventist teachings were given to the world. Though there are well over a thousand statements from Adventist authors including Ellen White, all of which affirm that Christ took the human nature of man after the Fall, we presumed to tell the Evangelicals the opposite.
It was perfectly legitimate to try to set our beliefs before them in a way that would convince them that we are Christians. But in this dialogue we gave them a distorted view of the third angel's message "in verity." This failure was directly the result of our not knowing or our rejecting the 1888 gospel concepts. These would have enabled us to make clear to them our Adventist doctrines. We should have been able to convince the Evangelicals that we do indeed believe in righteousness by faith, and that the sanctuary message is truly biblical. They would then have understood the significance of our great High Priest's mediation following His sojourn on earth when He took sinful human nature. Our mistake (sin) was unbelief of the "beginning" of the latter rain and loud cry sent to us over a century ago.
The result of our mistake was the publication in 1957 of the book, Questions on Doctrine. It became the basis of distorted presentations of our beliefs. This book assumed the place of chart and compass for the next generation of Adventist students in our schools. We now have a corps of ministers around the world whose thinking reflects the erroneous theology of this book.
Since the book went to thousands of scholars of various churches in all lands it became the reference point for Seventhday Adventists so that we might be recognized as members of the Evangelical community, and not a cult. We were elated that we had "arrived." Our elation was based upon the same premise as Peter's denial—desire for approbation.
By the year 1971, another book was published claiming scholarly credentials second to none, perhaps without parallel in denominational history. Movement of Destiny was said to have been "commissioned" by a former General Conference president and "approved" by five successive presidents "and many consultants." It "was made possible by the contribution of hundreds of priceless source documents from individual and institutional donors, archivists, librarians, and collectors. … Doubtless no volume in our history has ever had such magnificent prepublication support."2
Church members could rightfully expect that a book with such a pedigree would be above reproach. The author provides six pages of glowing testimony covering the circumstances that brought the book into print. The reader is assured that the author was charged to "be fair and faithful to fact, comprehensive and impartial in treatment, and to present the full picture in balance,... a true and trustworthy picture, … faithful and forthright, … unswerving in fidelity to the full truth. Above all, I must not be unfaithful to God and to the Church."3
What a grand mandate! Frankly, the material presented does not support the premise of the author.
Movement of Destiny uses fragments of sentences coupled with inferences and ignores the paramount treatise by Ellen White on the life of Christ as found in The Desire of Ages. Bald statements are made that Christ "was like Adam before the fall" (p. 428) without support and in contrast to accurate scholarship. The same tactics are used to support a false interpretation of Adventist history in the 1888 era.4
All this is worse than the Peter syndrome. The dear impetuous disciple was caught on the spur of the moment and blurted out his denial to avoid guilt by association. But this book, by premeditated design, tries to make the church and the world believe that over the years Ellen White taught that Christ took the sinless nature of Adam before the Fall, and that this is the "true position" of the church.
During the last two decades tension in the church has been on the increase. Like a smoldering trash pile, the stifling smoke of increasing doctrinal confusion generated decades ago is about to burst into flame. The smoky odor has become so dense it has been carried to our neighbors and they are asking what is going on. What is the remnant doing to take care of the pending conflagration?
Our "neighbors" are asking questions in public. They want to know what we really believe. Thirty years after the original dialogue about Adventist beliefs, the journal founded by the late Dr. Walter Martin comes to the point without apology:
Because of the controversy that has raged within SDA over the past few decades, many who are aware of the Barnhouse/Martin evaluation in the 1950s have asked if this position should be revised or significantly changed....
It is our position that the evaluation given by Barnhouse and Martin still stands for that segment of Adventism which holds to the position stated in QOD [Questions on Doctrine], and further expressed in the Evangelical Adventist movement of the last few decades....
Traditional Adventism, on the other hand, which seems to have gained the support of many administrators and leaders .. . appears to be moving further away from a number of positions taken in QOD. While Adventist officials have stated that the denomination stands by QOD, … some leaders within the denomination have referred to it as "damnable heresy."5
It remains to be seen if their appraisal is correct that "many administrators and leaders" [seem to be] "moving further away from a number of positions taken in QOD," and how many leaders recognize the "heresy" in the book. As yet no such movement is evident in the church.
This article goes on to say that presently it would appear that "traditional Adventism" is aberrant, confusing or compromising biblical truth. Specifically (1) it indicts our view of justification, that is, what it calls the "aberrant view of equating justification with sanctification," (2) the nature of Christ, and (3) appealing to unbiblical authority, namely Ellen White.
At this point the Peter syndrome is brought into sharp focus and places a serious, veiled threat before us: "It must be stated that if the traditional camp continues in its departure from QOD, and in promoting Ellen White as the church's infallible interpreter, then they could one day be fully deserving of the title 'cult,' as some Adventists recognize." Their indictment runs deep, and we are accused of serious theological weaknesses.
They tell us that in the late 1970s we were at the crossroads between "becoming" evangelical or returning to traditionalism of the past. "If those in Adventist leadership ... do not speak up and stand for their convictions, Adventism has little hope, because Traditional Adventism is theologically bankrupt." Can it be that the message that has held the Adventist church together for over a century is now worthless, fit only to be traded in on a new model with all the trappings that Babylon can supply? Or unrecognized and unknown to us, do we face a crisis that calls for repentance? They are challenging us to get hold of the true gospel which the Lord sent in a "most precious message" to His people in 1888. Failure to embrace this message opens the church to these severe criticisms.
What Is Our Sin?
Adventists who have been church members for a decade or more stand amazed at the difference in the church today from what it was previously. Few would dare to suggest it is in better spiritual condition now than then.
The church around the world is faced with a quantity of private publications produced by an array of what are now called "independent ministries." The question arises, Is all this the fruit of perverseness and unsanctified criticism, or is there a deeper reason, a hunger that has developed because far too little heavenly provender is on the church menu? Whatever the cause, there is a prevailing frustration among leaders and laity.
In an endeavor to bring healing and direction to the denomination, a document, "An Appeal for Church Unity," was prepared in August 1989, by the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference. This serious tenpage treatise comes to grips with some specific matters facing the church. Reference is made to nearly fifty Scriptures, and numerous quotations are given from the counsels of Ellen White. All this is solid guidance for the church. This Institute has become the heir of the Defense Literature Committee that goes back at least to 1951, when the Barnhouse/Martin era was coming on the scene.
We then had our mandate as a remnant church and we still have the same truth to guard. There is a need for unity in the church and the responsibility of leadership is beyond question. The health of the church is definitely in the hands of those at the head of the work. But when any disease attacks, major or minor, cure can come only when the disease is diagnosed for what it is. The question is, do we know why we are in poor health? In the light of the cosmic battle—do we know our sin?
The Appeal grapples with specifics: (1) Fanaticism, (2) Rejection of basic Christian doctrine, (3) Party spirit, (4) Differing with the position of the church on nonessentials. Growing out of point four, serious cautions are expressed:
This long citation presents matters serious in the extreme. But equally grave is the inference on page 9 that individuals who promote such teachings as these which cause "divisions" within the body will force leadership, as a last resort, to separate them from the church, albeit with love and reluctance.
Notwithstanding the desire for unity in the church, this Appeal presents some insurmountable obstacles. To affirm that the teachings mentioned are not in the 27 beliefs is emphatically not true.7 This book, Seventhday Adventists Believe …, A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines, published in 1988 by the Ministerial Association of the General Conference, has become the norm for the church. As the title of the book suggests, it explains the 27 major doctrines of the church. It sets out the ground rules for our common message and common mission. The doctrine that Christ came to earth in the human nature of fallen man is stated a number of times. The chapter, "God the Son," pages 37 to 57, repeatedly makes clear that "likeness" in Romans 8:3 means what it says, not unlikeness.
The book in scores of places deals with "righteousness by faith" "in an endtime setting," and assures the church that God's people can obey His law. It is beyond belief that this Appeal can state, "The world church has never viewed these subjects as essential to salvation nor to the mission of the remnant church."
Thus, the confusion in our midst has reached epidemic proportions. To tell the world church that "these topics need to be laid aside and not urged upon our people as necessary issues," is to tell them that the gospel must be "laid aside." To plead for unity in this environment is beyond reason.
Our plight continues to be recognized by the Evangelicals. In Christianity Today, the February 5, 1990, issue, a fourpage article tells the world in headlines: "Seventhday Adventists ... are still debating their true identity."
We cannot change the record of our history. It will stand forever. But we can read it for what it says, then repent and confess our error. Our sin is to refuse to see our condition. As long as we individually and corporately decline to face our 1888 history, the Lord's hands are tied. "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth" (John 9:41).
The words of Jesus are clear enough—our sin and confusion will remain, until we "see."
|Read Chapter 4 — When Will We See Our Confusion?|
|Home | Gospel Herald Articles Index|