in Christianity: a Seventh-day Adventist Perspective
the mid-nineteenth century, the world was in transition. Only a few decades before, the young
in the world at large, so it was with the church. In the centuries since the Reformation, the
church had become comfortable and staid, one of the institutions necessary to a
well-ordered society. Those venerable souls,
who had been the seed-sowers of these faiths, Luther,
Calvin, Knox, Wesley, and others, had since passed into the hope of their
rewards. The vibrancy of their reforms
had passed on with them. Nonetheless,
their writings continued with a life of their own. Those writings were often venerated beyond
any respect or admiration their authors received while living. In paradox, these men who pushed the
boundaries of their worlds were now represented by words that set clear
boundaries beyond which no one could go and still be considered
in the early nineteenth century had become like the institutions of government
and business, staid and immovable. All three had become indifferent to
suffering and without expected compassion.
More interested in both spiritual and secular empire, they sought to
impose their will on lesser peoples in far off lands, enforcing the spiritual
with secular means, both financial and military. However, convinced of their nobility they
found it easy like the Pharisees of old to pass by the suffering apparent on
their own city streets with no thought to its relief. As a result, the poor felt disenfranchised by
the very institutions created to save mankind.
Early in his career, Dwight L Moody was rebuked several times for daring
to bring poor street urchins to church.
While he was a shining star of his times, yet he struggled against what
the church had become as did William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army.
need for a fresh understanding of the Christian faith was apparent and these
men and others felt the calling to respond to that need. Today, large and expansive church movements
continue to promote their teachings. We
have Moody Institute in
seeming sea of confusion of efforts, all were trying to meet a perceived need
of the people for spiritual direction that they felt the established churches
were not meeting. Into this spiritual
sea change stepped a remarkable figure.
William Miller, a veteran of the American Revolution with the rank of
Captain and eventually a Baptist preacher.
He had determined that the return of Jesus was imminent and began
preaching an apocalyptic message based on what was then a unique understanding
of Bible prophecy as it related to end time events. While thousands thrilled to his preaching, many
turned away when his date setting for the second coming of Jesus proved
fallacious. In spite of the many that
fell away in this “Great Disappointment,” some continued to wrestle
with Bible prophecy, in particular the books of Daniel and Revelation.
of those who continued to search the prophecies for answers were James and
Ellen White. Guided by group Bible study
and Ellen’s visions, they developed a following among the disappointed Millerites. In the
early years, several voices contributed to the development of the doctrinal
understanding of what was eventually to become the
as the various understandings coalesced into a more systematic doctrine, the
teachings of the denomination were carefully brought together by Ellen White
over time through several earlier writings such as “Spiritual
Gifts” into a single volume entitled “The Great
Controversy.” Many other writings
added detail to this understanding, not the least of which were the four other
volumes written as companions to this one and eventually known as “The
Conflict of The Ages” series.
Great Controversy” was very much a product of its times. Heavily anti-Catholic it alienated some and
found sympathetic understanding in others.
It still does today. Were it to
rely on a secular publisher today, it might never see print and might even be
classified as “hate” literature because of its attitude toward
Catholicism. However, the church
maintains its own large publishing houses with hundreds of workers working at
lower than industry standard wages to make sure these books continue in print.
its rhetoric is dated, and it is a lengthy read at a little over seven hundred
pages, “The Great Controversy” is the single most authoritative
source for the systematic theology of the
church founders, including James and Ellen White were very much opposed to
having a “creed” which they perceived as a test of fellowship that
would have the effect of squelching independent Bible study. They saw this as a serious problem within the
existing denominations that prevented them from accepting “new
light” that went beyond the language of their statements of belief. However, what do you do with writings that
are beyond the Bible, but you believe to be “divinely
inspired?” Ultimately, they have
become more restrictive than a creed.
For if the writings are inspired, wouldn’t anything that says
something contrary to them not be?
White spoke of her writings being a “lesser light” illuminating the
way to the “greater light” of the Bible. Yet inspiration is not a matter of
degree. Something is either inspired or
it is not. The result is that no matter
what statements say to the contrary, for many, disagreement with the writings
of Ellen White is anathema. We see some
of the same attitudes among their followers in regards to the writings of Luther,
Calvin or even Wesley’s Diaries.
Yet none make as strong a case for the divine inspiration of these men
as is made for Ellen White.
Ellen White’s life she continued to write and expand on the understanding
of her writings with many letters and personal audiences, but once she died,
her writings underwent the same transformation as writings by earlier Christian
reformers. Writings that were originally
meant to be lights along the path became instead fences to mark the boundaries
of belief. Just as a Lutheran minister
would not dream of formulating a belief statement without regard to
Luther’s teachings, so Seventh-day Adventists measure their belief system
against the writings of Ellen White.
However, the inspiration factor gives even more credence to her
a Lutheran minister might dare to examine Luther’s words in the context
of current understandings of Scripture, this is not so with Seventh-day
Adventists. Today, any Bible study among
Adventists can immediately be brought to an end with only four words: “But
Ellen White said…” Those who
speak of Ellen White’s writings often speak of the “pillars of our
faith.” Rightly so, for one can
almost feel the concrete setting in those pillars as they attend church each
paradox for Seventh-day Adventism is that they promote advanced education and this
education develops the ability to think critically for oneself. Often this calls into question the rigidity
of some aspects of the systematic beliefs of the denomination. As a result, deep fissures have developed
over time. Some who are sometimes called
progressives or liberals, who want the academic freedom to explore deeper and
perhaps revelatory understandings of Scripture are pushing against the
restraints imposed by having a voluminous library of divinely inspired writings
that speak on almost every major topic from diet and clothing to forms of
worship. They also seek new
understandings of the authoritative nature of the prophetic gift.
who may be called conservatives or historic Adventists, oppose this academic
freedom with an attitude of “Ellen White wrote it and that makes it
authoritative and the matter is closed.”
In the middle are many who do not understand the issues and wonder why
everyone cannot just get along. They are
also confused by the shifting “foundations” of the
denomination. At one time pastors were
defrocked for daring to baptize someone wearing a wedding ring. Today, even many of the pastors wear wedding
bands. How can both viewpoints be
those of a conservative bent, the church should return to the former
practice. They feel that the changes
confirm them in their position as they are simply evidence of “the
shaking” taking place in the church.
Ellen White wrote often of a great falling away to occur before Jesus
comes. They reason this must be what she
wrote about. They are as certain of this
as the Pharisees were that Jesus was absolutely and emphatically not the
messiah. Both based their understanding
on “inspired” writings outside of the Bible.
conservative believers feel that the progressive or liberal believers are
influenced far too much by the world outside the church. Yet the wave of conservatism they are
advancing is only a reflection of the right-wing fundamentalism sweeping
through American society. Dominion
Theology and Theonomy as promoted by the likes of R.
J. Rushdoony and Gary North have blossomed and born
fruit among the fundamental churches and through the halls of government far
beyond anyone's expectation.
teachings emphasize a behavior oriented faith that must produce a certain level
of righteousness before Jesus will return.
Taken to its extreme, this belief advocates the overthrow of the
the Dark Ages when the church chained Bibles to the pulpits and restricted
common access to Holy Writ, fundamentalism has opposed enlightenment. Enlightened minds ask questions in Adventism that
are not easy to answer. Questions like
“If vegetarianism is important to my salvation, why was Jesus not a
Seventh-day Adventist church believes in the inspiration of Ellen White, and
she wrote “Among those who are waiting for the coming of the Lord meat
eating will eventually be done away; flesh will cease to form a part of their
diet.” (Counsels on Health, pg 450)
The implication is that those who are eating “flesh” are not
waiting for the coming of the Lord. This
has helped to support a thriving industry that produces meat alternatives. While many of those meat alternatives are
themselves of dubious health benefit, they are not universally available. Does this mean the Lord will not come for
those people in areas where there are no soy hot dogs?
White vacillated on her position over meat eating. In 1890 she wrote the above
statement in Counsels on Health. In the
book “Counsels on Diet and Foods” page 395, she wrote in 1894 that
meat eating was acceptable under certain circumstances. Then, following that, she wrote in 1895 (page
463 of the same book) to point out that for one to be conscious for another
regarding the question of meat eating was an extreme position.
might appear that with the progression of time, or as she got closer to
“the coming of the Lord,” her position regarding meat eating became
more flexible. This was not so for in
1903 through 1908 she again took what she she had
called an extreme position in 1895. This
is documented on pages 380-381 of Counsels on Diet and Foods. In 1902, she had cautioned not to make it a
test of fellowship (Ibid, page 401), yet within a year or so, she is back to
advocating that it is the only acceptable diet for God’s people. For the conservative church member, this is no
problem, and they are eager to point out how necessary it is to be a vegetarian
to be one with them in understanding and sanctity.
the poor progressive or liberal Seventh-day Adventist who cannot quite handle
the inspiration of these constantly changing positions. But for the conservative there is no problem,
for by Ellen White’s own hand, since they are
consuming meat, they must not be “among those who are waiting for the
coming of the Lord.” This is a
convenient argument for those who now have a way to assert the spiritual
superiority of his or her position as opposed to the average church member.
fault line within the Seventh-day Adventist denomination over diet is only one
of many. There are fault lines over
lifestyles, worship styles, apocalyptic interpretation, church structure,
ordination, music and several other areas.
Many of these same fault lines affect other denominations as well. It is not the
fault lines that are the greatest problem though. It is the extreme fundamentalism that feels it
is a spiritually purer form of Christianity.
Without this, the fault lines would be small to negligible. The fundamentalists keep the fault lines open
lest any should cross over from the perceived lesser group without proper
repentance and humility.
those who accept the interpretations and lifestyle of the fundamentalists may
cross over, even though they are already baptized members of the same
church. Like the Gnostics of old, the
fundamentalists are the keepers of the secret knowledge that must be imparted
to the new initiate before they can truly belong. This knowledge is the arbiter of who is
righteous and who is not, even to the extent of pulling down pastors and church
leaders who do not show themselves to be proper
A defense against these imparters of secret knowledge is education in the
open marketplace of ideas. While
education does not guarantee a balanced mind, not having a balanced education
in the liberal arts amounts to going to a gunfight at high noon with little
more than a pea shooter to defend yourself. The fundamentalists know that education is
their undoing and in an effort to prevent this encourage parents to home school
their children. A fundamentalist parent
educating their children will certainly never allow them to be exposed to any
thoughts or arguments that might throw light on any problems with their
one time they did not have this alternative and had less power to shape the
minds of the coming generation. With the
growth of fundamentalism across the evangelical landscape came a desire for
political power. With political power,
the home school movement became part of the agenda and home schooling is now
possible almost everywhere, often without regard to the qualifications of the
“teacher.” However, when
education becomes subservient to the requirements of religious orthodoxy, we
does not take much imagination to envision what effect there will be on a
society that has leaders that have been educated to see themselves
as spiritually superior and have no need to consider the ideas of others who are
spiritually inferior. Recently, I had
the opportunity to see an example of this.
It was not pretty.
young woman had travelled to
education made her blind to other possibilities for poverty and disease. It also made her blind to the fact that
we might expect such naive approaches to life from those in countries without
proper educational systems, it is sad to see this from citizens of countries that
offer better. It is not far removed from
those primitive societies that blame hidden, malevolent spirits for all their
ills. It is pitiful if not laughable on
an individual level. When it rises to
the level of infecting large segments of society and even governments, it
becomes extremely dangerous. The self
righteousness inherent in such movements carries its own momentum and coupled
with a mob mentality it brings death and destruction to those seen to be spiritually
ago, the Inquisition was such a movement.
More recently the Ku Klux Klan had its heyday. The Klan in the form of disparate white
supremacist groups is having a comeback.
The homeschooling movement has given it new life. They are now able to raise a whole generation
in ignorance of the humanities without interference from the public school
system. With the growth of
fundamentalism and home schooling in the churches can a rebirth of the
Inquisition by some other name be far behind?
Remember, Dominion Theology wants to replace the Constitution with
Biblical Law from the Pentateuch, including stoning people to death.
Christians, we are in a struggle for the very soul of our denominations. To fight this battle, we should encourage a
broad education for our children. We should
determine we are not going to allow our denomination to be taken over by the
right-wing fundamentalists. We should
stop being afraid to call this fundamentalism by its right name,
extremism. We should also model the
behavior of Jesus. Instead of shunning
others as “unclean” over their lifestyle issues, we should go among
them as Jesus did. He touched the
lepers, the blind, and the lame and they gladly touched Him. We should stop making extremism a barrier
between us and the secular world.