Theology of the Seventh-day Adventists

Prof. Johan Malan, Middelburg, South Africa (2 February 2009)

The Protestant family of Churches share a number of basic principles and religious convictions with one another but substantial differences also cause major divisions among them – even to the extent of sometimes labelling one another as cults. Protestant churches trace their origin to the Reformation of the 16th century. All of them originated from protest actions against the domination, institutions and dogma of the Roman Catholic Church (RC Church).

The basic motivation for the Church Reformation was the rejection of the Catholic teaching of justification by works, as evidenced in particular by the institution of indulgences. Priests acted as mediators to forgive the sins of church members after they had confessed their sins and also paid money to the church as ransom for having committed these sins. This practice was supposed to ensure that members would not be tortured in purgatory for their sins. Young people also sought God’s favour by separating themselves from the world in monasteries for monks or convents for nuns where they followed a celibate lifestyle and strived for greater holiness. Protestants have completely rejected this dogma and practices in favour of salvation by grace without works (Eph. 2:8). Various other corrupt practices of the Catholic Church were also rejected.

The Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) are a Protestant Church which is strongly opposed to the false doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church but at the same time some of their own convictions clearly distinguish them from the mainstream of Protestant thought. In this article the SDA’s theology will briefly be reviewed.

Name

It is evident from their name that the Seventh-day Adventists identify themselves in terms of the following two basic doctrines:

·       Sabbath. They honour the Old Testament (OT) Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, in accordance with the Jewish observance of time. The Sabbath starts at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. Because of this practice they are also called Sabbatarians. Contrary to church history the SDA allege that the early church used Saturday as their day of worship. According to them the institution of Sabbath-keeping continued until Constantine, who is regarded as the father of the Roman Catholic Church, in 321 AD acted under heathen influence and decided to change the day of Christian worship from Saturday to Sunday.  

·       Advent. This word alludes to the coming, or second coming, of Christ. Adventists have a strong expectation on the second coming of the Lord Jesus and devote much attention to a study of the signs of the times. One of the contributing factors to the establishment of this church was a strong expectation on the coming of Christ in 1844. Speculation of this nature gave rise to a credibility crisis in the SDA and caused much internal strife.

A cult or not? 

In some books on religious cults the SDA are included and in others not. The word “cult” is a controversial concept as not all Protestants define and apply it in the same way. There was a time when Reformed churches regarded as cults all denominations that do not uphold the Reformed confessions. However, in the present postmodern and ecumenical way of thinking there is such a large degree of tolerance towards other churches that many of these modernists even accept the Roman Catholics as a full-fledged Christian church in the biblical sense of the word. The initial motivation for the Church Reformation is herewith questioned and even denounced.

Evangelical Christianity needs a clear-cut doctrinal basis in terms of which churches can be assessed as orthodox or dissident. How else can advice be given to believers on which churches they may confidently join? An evangelical believer should at least subscribe to the following doctrines:

·       Christology. The biblical teaching on Christ should be fully accepted. That includes His virgin birth, deity and eternal self-existence. As God the Son He is equal to and one with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:7). He was incarnated to offer Himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross. Jesus Christ also rose from the dead, ascended to heaven and will return again to establish a government of righteousness on earth.

·       Soteriology. All people inherited a depraved, sinful nature and are by nature sinners who are under God’s wrath (Rom. 6:23). Salvation is offered to us by virtue of Christ’s death on the cross (Eph. 1:7; Rom. 3:25). The Holy Spirit was poured out to convict us of sin, to regenerate, guide and fill us, and also to endue us with power from on high.

·       The authority of Scripture. The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God which contains the full doctrine on salvation (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We fully recognise its authority because it is God’s Word. Through Bible study and the building up of our faith we are called upon to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

Churches that uphold these three doctrines cannot be described as cults, even though they may differ on secondary doctrines such as predestination, baptism, speaking in tongues, and eschatology. There are a number of Protestant theologians who contend that, on the basis of the SDA’s Christology, soteriology and their view on the Bible, they cannot be classified with the cults. One of them is Dr. Walter R. Martin (The Kingdom of the Cults p. 360). However, his criteria for identifying cults have not been consistently applied since he did not discuss the cultic religion of the Roman Catholic Church in his book on the major cults. Various other theologians such as M.R. de Haan, John Rice and Oswald Smith regard the SDA as a cult. Dr. A Hoekema (The Four Major Cults, p. 403) rejects various aspects of SDA theology and describes them as a cult, but does not question their basic commitment to the Christian doctrine. He says:

“It is recognised with gratitude that there are certain soundly Scriptural emphases in the teaching of Seventh-day Adventism. We are thankful for their affirmation of the infallibility of the Bible, of the Trinity and of the full deity of Jesus Christ. We gratefully acknowledge their teachings on creation and providence, on the incarnation and resurrection of Christ, on the absolute necessity for regeneration, on sanctification by the Holy Spirit, and on Christ’s literal return.”

There are different and often contradictory interpretations of SDA theology – some of them more evangelical and others less so. Many of the former church leaders who defected from the SDA are adamant that Seventh-day Adventism is a cultic religion. In his article, Is the Seventh-day Adventist Church a Cult? (updated January 2, 2009 on the website www.truthorfables.com), Robert K. Sanders, a former member of the SDA, defines the characteristics of cults as follows:

1.    All cults have a leader, a group of leaders, a prophet, or prophetess, who claim to speak for God. Ellen White claims to replace Jesus Christ in speaking for God. In Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV) the Bible says: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.” Ellen White says: “In ancient times God spoke to men by the mouth of prophets and apostles. In these days He speaks to them by the testimonies of His Spirit. There was never a time when God instructed His people more earnestly than He instructs them now concerning His will and the course that He would have them pursue… In these letters which I write, in the testimonies I bear, I am presenting to you that which the Lord has presented to me. I do not write one article in the paper expressing merely my own ideas. They are what God has opened before me in vision – the precious rays of light shining from the throne” (Testimonies 5, p. 67). Do you believe that it is Jesus speaking to his church or do you accept the heresy of Ellen White and her testimonies? (emphasis by the author; further information on the deception introduced by this prophetess to the SDA is offered on the website www.ellenwhiteexposed.com).

2.    Their writings and teachings to their followers contradict the Bible. Ellen White contradicts the Bible over 50 times.

3.    Many members taking issue with the authority of the leader are disfellowshipped, shunned, or not allowed to hold office in the church.

4.    Cult leaders teach infallibility in their teachings or the writings of their cult leader, in this case Ellen G. White. “It is from the standpoint of the light that has come through the Spirit of Prophecy (Mrs. White’s writings) that the question will be considered, believing as we do that the Spirit of Prophecy is the only infallible interpreter of Bible principles, since it is the Christ, through this agency, giving real meaning of his own words” (G.A. Irwin, General Conference President, from the tract, The Mark of the Beast, p. 1).

5.    Cult members believe that they are superior to others because of their unique teachings as they have knowledge of God’s will that other Christians do not have.  Because of the false teachings of their prophet or leaders, they consider themselves especially chosen by God, and look at themselves as the Remnant Church or the True Church. Ellen G. White and the SDA Church view themselves as the Remnant Church alone, especially called by God in 1844 over all other churches which they call Babylon. The Adventists still consider themselves the Remnant Church: “One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the Remnant Church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White.”

6.    Religious cults look at individuals that leave their group as being lost, and without salvation. It is difficult for Seventh-day Adventists to fathom that a person leaving their church can remain a Christian and still be saved. After I left the Adventist Church I had letters telling me I was being led by Satan, I was making war on God's church, I would burn in Hell, and that I should come back to the church, etc. Christians that do not belong to the Seventh-day Adventist Church are often called “outsiders.” When a Christian from another Church joins the Seventh-day Adventist Church, they are said “to have come into the truth.”

7.    A religious cult is an organization that has departed from mainstream Christianity to follow doctrines that are not Biblical. They hold their leader’s Bible contradictions over the Word of God.  The Seventh-day Adventist Church teaches many non-Biblical doctrines. Christians need to be alert as to what is being taught as truth and refuse to accept any teaching that contradict the Bible – especially if a church has a prophet. People find comfort and security in belonging to religious cults, as it agrees with their beliefs that they were brain-washed into believing as truth (end of Robert Sanders’ review).

Some of the doctrinal contradictions in the SDA have been highlighted by one of their former pastors, Dennis J. Fischer, in his article, Beyond Adventism: The Truth Re-examined (www.truthorfables.com; updated Oct. 2008). He says:

“With intentional ambiguity and complexity, many facets of Adventism are most difficult to examine, understand and expose… Many of their leading apologists widely differ in their understanding of the doctrinal pillars in their belief system. It is not uncommon to find two opposing views, on many topics, in the writings of Ellen White… Since the 1950s, Seventh-day Adventists have had a deep yearning to appear as Evangelicals. The book, Questions on Doctrine, published in 1957 with no author listed, is a prime example of this desperate strategy to appear Evangelical – thereby hoping to remove their cult stigma. Since then, however, the SDA Church has officially replaced and deleted key words in some doctrinal statements, e.g. the words ‘all-sufficient’ and ‘unerring’ were removed from their statement on the authority of Scripture. This action allowed room for the extra-biblical writings attributed to their revered messenger and prophetess, Ellen G. White…

“After being devout, third-generation Seventh-day Adventists for more than 40 years, my wife Sylvia and I requested our names to be removed from their membership records…

“Jesus Christ is our true Sabbath Rest. Jesus is the reality and substance of the Old Covenant shadows that included the weekly Sabbath given exclusively to the Hebrew people (see Col. 2:16-17; Deut. 5:3). According to Leviticus 23:2-3, the weekly Sabbath was one of the appointed feasts mandated for the ‘Sons of Israel’. Certainly, we are not required to observe the Jewish festivals in order to obtain or maintain our salvation” (end of statement by Dennis Fischer).

In the light of the widely different interpretations of SDA theology it is to be expected that one would encounter evangelical believers in this church who put their trust only in the atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross, despite being deceived in many other respects such as Sabbath-keeping and a distorted understanding of biblical eschatology. On the other hand, there are also nominal believers who are so legalistic and given over to the extra-biblical prophecies of Ellen White that they actually found their faith on false foundations. The theological traditions which are handed down from one generation to another, and salvation which is ritually imputed to members who subscribe to church dogma, opens the way to a form of godliness which may be described as dead formalism or ecclesiasticism. The church and its teachings become the vehicle for people’s salvation, but their ritualising very seldom coincides with a spiritual experience which leads to a life-changing relationship with the Lord Jesus. To such people who are not true followers of Christ, the church has become a cultic system.

The SDA is by no means unique as far as their large number of deceived nominal believers is concerned. This phenomenon prevails in virtually all churches, which underscores the fact that almost all of them entertain theological views which represent a combination of truth and error. The influence of their respective church fathers is still perpetuated, together with their deceptive teachings, and this influence has a strong impact on the faith of people in present-day churches. It stands to reason that not all churches can be correct on all doctrines, since there is only one central truth in the Bible but many different interpretations of it. Because of these diverse views, all churches have “built-in” sectarian tendencies against which they should guard. The weak point in the theological constructs of each church can easily pave the way to deception and a mere form of godliness, and even transform a former evangelical church into a cult.

Furthermore, we should consider the role of modern theologians who act as “agents” for theological change. In many cases they are responsible for greater apostasy since, in order to be more acceptable to other churches, including the Roman Catholics, they refuse to stand firm on Christian doctrines. Many of the traditional confessions are even rejected by them. The following are examples of sectarian tendencies against which Protestant churches, including the SDA, should guard:

The confessions of the Reformed Churches are based upon the teachings of Calvin, which contain certain imperfections that may typically lead to a dead form of godliness. Among these are the doctrine of predestination (man does not have a free will, and  God had long ago decided who would be saved and who would be lost); the covenant theology (all the elect enter into a covenant relationship with the Lord through infant baptism and are subsequently regarded as saved covenant children); eternal security (not a single one of the covenant children can be snatched from the Lord’s hand, consequently the common phenomenon of apostatising, which is falling from grace due to sinning, is not accepted); kingdom-now theology (the church is the instrument in God’s hand to establish His kingdom on earth during this dispensation, and for that reason there will be no future reign of peace during the Millennium, after the coming of Christ. All prophecies on the Antichrist and the great tribulation are spiritualised since the world, according to Calvinists, is not deteriorating and heading for the tribulation period, but gradually improving until the kingdom of heaven will be fully revealed).

In spite of these teachings there were, through the centuries, many evangelical Calvinists who did not proclaim Calvinistic dogma in all its consequences and were useful instruments in the hands of the Lord. Nevertheless, it is easy to see why Calvinism can lapse into a dead form of godliness in which only lip-service is offered to the Lord (Matt. 15:8-9). To people who justify themselves in terms of ecclesiastical traditions and doctrines without being born again, the Lord says, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition… making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down” (Mark 7:9,13). When that happens within a particular group or church, from a biblical point of view they become a cult. Adding to this the influence of many of the modern theologians’ heretical views like the open denial of the virgin birth, deity and resurrection of the Lord Jesus; the rejection of the gospel of the cross and the Bible as God’s inspired Word; as well as mythologizing the devil and hell, a church stands to completely lose its Christian character and may degenerate into a den of thieves (Luke 19:46). Evangelical preachers find it very hard to survive in such churches.

In charismatic churches there are other factors that, in spite of subscribing to a basic evangelical confession, may lead to sectarian expressions. Among these factors are, in particular, extra-biblical revelations through dreams and visions, as well as speaking in tongues. By virtue of these practices members often claim the gift of prophesying independent from the Bible. But the biggest danger is in the field of physical experiences. These churches strongly emphasise physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit, e.g. signs and wonders such as healing, slain in the Spirit, holy laughter and dance in the Spirit. These experiences become substitutes for regeneration based upon the conviction of sin, and where there is no right conception of sin it follows that there can be no acceptance in faith of the crucified Lord Jesus as Saviour.  People who justify themselves by virtue of an experience such as falling in the Spirit are building their lives upon the sand of self-deception.

The potential errors of Seventh-day Adventists are in the field of a legalistic form of godliness, including Old Testament Sabbath observance, the recognition of Ellen White’s interpretations of Scripture, including the grossly unbiblical ones, the idea of soul sleep after death, as well as a completely distorted eschatology. They also recognise the extra-biblical gift of prophecy, which leads to unbelievable speculation on the end-time and the second coming of Christ. Many of these ideas were promoted in the 19th century writings of Ellen G. White, who is the authoritative “church mother” of the SDA. She had various visions as described in Great Controversy, and they are regarded as God’s final message to the world. According to these visions the Roman Catholic Church is the personification of the Antichrist, Sunday-worship is the mark of the beast, while Sabbath observance is the seal of God. Much antagonism is stirred against Sunday-worship and Sabbath observance on the seventh day is elevated to the main characteristic of true Christianity. Legalism of this nature adds to the New Testament’s (NT) message of grace, thus jeopardising the all-sufficiency of the gospel of the cross. There are certainly members of the SDA who are caught up in this sectarian way of thinking, although not all of them would endorse these extreme views.

The question whether a particular church is a cult or not depends on how they proclaim, accept and implement the basic Christian doctrines. The convictions of the local preacher play a major role in this regard. If he is in the right relationship with the Lord and correctly proclaims the gospel message, the Lord will be honoured and souls will be saved. However, if he excessively emphasises the secondary doctrines of his church, people will be deceived and much harm will be done to the preaching of the gospel.

In summarising SDA theology I will mainly use the following sources: Questions on Doctrine (1957) and Family Bible Studies (Harvest Time Books, 2008). The latter book was published anonymously without any indication of the author(s) or the denomination by which it was issued. One gets the impression that the names “Seventh-day Adventists” and “Sabbatarians” elicit resistance from the public and are consequently avoided. But anonymous publications also raise questions on why the particular organisation would hide their identity. In his booklet, Who are the False Prophets? (The People’s Press, 1953), Oswald J. Smith says: “Seventh-day Adventists are not out to win new converts from among the unsaved; their work is to proselytize... And they often strive to hide their identity. Why, I wonder?”

The following are the most important aspects of this denomination’s secondary doctrines. That such poor insight is shown in other Scriptural truths within a church where the doctrine on Christ and His saving grace, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit are generally well understood, is inconceivable.

The gift of prophecy

Many of the SDA’s theological errors are derived from so-called “prophetic revelations” to their founder, Ellen G. White. In Questions on Doctrine (p. 89) the SDA say: “We do not regard the writings of Ellen G. White as an addition to the sacred canon of Scripture. We do not think of them as of universal application, as is the Bible, but particularly for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” They see her many visions as a special gift which the Holy Spirit had bestowed upon her for the last days of the church dispensation. Although they regard the visions as subordinate to the Bible they nevertheless accept her erroneous doctrines and interpretations of various biblical statements. This attitude of the SDA opened the way to various false teachings.

Although Mrs. White is still widely followed there are also many critics who reject her theology and writings. Some of them regard her as a sincere person but an emotionally unstable mystic, while others openly call her a false prophetess. Most of her critics agree that she was a true Christian but someone who was deceived on various issues.

In their most recent publication, Family Bible Studies (p. 317-326), the SDA included a chapter titled, The Gift of Prophecy. In this chapter they reconfirm their conviction that the last days will see a revival of this spiritual gift of prophecy. As justification for their point of view they quote Acts 2:17-18 where the Lord says that in the last days He will pour out His Spirit on all flesh. Prophecies, dreams and visions will then commonly occur.

However, Peter quoted a prophecy from Joel 2:28-32 which was specifically meant for Israel. Not only is reference made to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but also to the natural disasters of the great tribulation: “And on my menservants and on my maidservants I will pour out my Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: blood and fire and vapour of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon in blood, before the coming of the great and notable day of the Lord” (Acts 2:18-20).

Israel as a nation did not receive the Lord Jesus as their Messiah-King at His first coming – only a small minority recognised Him and accepted Him as their Saviour. Consequently, prophecies on Israel’s spiritual restoration (cf. Ezek. 36:24-28) will only be fulfilled in the end-time when they will be going through the tribulation period – that is the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7). Then there will be a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Israel in preparation for their meeting with the Messiah (Zech. 12:10; Matt. 37:39).

When that happens, Israel will be caught up in a great tribulation such as has never been (Matt. 24:15-22). Due to their long conditioning to the rabbis’ OT preaching they will know little or  nothing of the fulfilment of end-time prophecies, and specifically of the second coming of Jesus Christ. Because of their ignorance they will accept the wrong messiah and conclude a covenant with him (John 5:43; Dan. 9:27). When he desecrates the temple in the middle of the tribulation by declaring himself to be God in the Holy of holies (2 Thess. 2:4) Israel will revoke their covenant with him because of this blasphemous act. They will then have to flee to the mountains for survival as the false messiah will try to annihilate them for denouncing him as Messiah.

That will be the time of great disasters to which Joel referred. The Lord will then reveal Himself supernaturally to His fugitive people by giving them information which will ensure their protection and salvation.

In view of these circumstances it is completely unjustified to apply Joel’s prophecies to the church dispensation. The promise of extraordinary supernatural revelations does not apply to us. For many centuries already the church of Christ has had the Bible which contains the full revelation of God’s counsel for humanity (Acts 20:27). In our time a gift of prophecy can, at most, be interpreted as enlightened eyes of the mind to correctly understand biblical prophecies and also to correctly apply them to our circumstances. We should not expect to receive extra-biblical prophecies, as that may be a door that people unconsciously open for the devil to give false prophecies which will confuse and deceive many people. Even if these false prophecies are not demonic in origin, they may still be used by many people to give credibility to their own personal ideas, dreams and the flights of their imagination.

The Sabbath

One of the most important activities in the SDA’s practical theology is the observance of the OT Sabbath. This practice is based upon the completely wrong supposition that the church is the replacement of Israel, and therefore eternally committed to keep the Sabbath. They quote Exodus 31:16-17 as substantiation: “Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel for ever” (Family Bible Studies, p. 144).

It should, however, be taken into account that the church is not “the children of Israel” and that the Hebrew and Greek words which are rendered “perpetual” or “for ever” may sometimes only denote a dispensation or a restricted period. According to Strong’s (Heb. 5769) the word olam, which is also used in Exodus 31:16-17, means: perpetual, eternal or a long time. The correlating Greek word is aion (Gr. 165) and means eternal, for ever, an age, a messianic period (present or future). Great care is needed to correctly render this word in the context in which it is used.

The SDA are well aware of the various meanings of this word since they use them as arguments to counter the idea of “eternal” punishment of the wicked. They say: “If you will read Exodus 21:6 you will find that ‘for ever’ may mean only as long as a man lives. Jonah said that he was shut up in the great fish and ‘the earth with her bars was about me for ever’ – Jonah 2:6. Yet he was in this strange abode only three short days” (Family Bible Studies, p. 259).

The SDA should understand very well two things in connection with Exodus 31:16-17: 1. The “children of Israel” do not include members of the Gentile nations, and therefore not the NT church; and 2. The covenant which the Lord concluded with Israel for ever will, according to the Bible, come to an end and be replaced by a new covenant: “In that He says, A new covenant, He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13). An old covenant which was initially concluded for ever can therefore expire and be terminated.

It is wrong to equate God’s “eternal law” with the Ten Commandments and then to apply it universally to all people of all time. This is exactly what the SDA do when arguing that the law on the Sabbath still applies (Family Bible Studies, p. 121-132). How, then, should we understand God’s eternal law? God is love, and at the same time the most supreme expression of holiness. His eternal law is the law of love, and that also includes the obligation to hate sin and become conformed to His holiness. He demands that all people love Him with their whole heart, and that His love will be the foundation of their relationship with other people. The moral implications of this basic law have been included in the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments, and also in the ceremonial obligation towards Sabbath observance.

The truth is that in the NT the Lord Jesus concisely and explicitly summarised the OT law as the NT law of love, but without any reference to Sabbath keeping (Matt. 22:36-39; cf. Luke 10:25-28). At that stage the OT law still prevailed, but the days of Sabbath observance were numbered. In the last teaching of Jesus to His disciples He gave them a “new commandment,” emphasising that it was new and would therefore replace the OT version of the law – they should love one another as He loves them (John 13:34-35). Once again the Sabbath was not even mentioned.

The Lord Jesus came to reveal God’s love and holiness to Israel and the world. A person honours the eternal law of love by becoming conformed to Christ and following in His steps: “He who says He abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). Paul says that Christ must be formed in us (Gal. 4:19). Christ is our norm, not the law. When His love has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5), then we comply with all the requirements of the law, and therefore no longer need the law. We only need to comply with the demands of God’s love:

“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet, and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10). The entire OT law is fulfilled by observing the law of love. We are now living in the dispensation of grace when the Lord enables us through His Holy Spirit to please Him.

Why is grace so much more excellent than the law?  The Lord Jesus cleansed us by His blood from all sin and iniquity – that is something which the OT sacrifices that were prescribed by the law could not accomplish (Eph. 1:7; Heb. 10:4-10). The Holy Spirit was also poured out to convict us of sin – it is no longer the law that convicts us of sin. The Holy Spirit regenerates all who confess their sins and receive the Lord Jesus as their Saviour, and also endues them with power to be able to serve the Lord and to remain standing against the wiles of the devil. If we faithfully follow His guidance He will manifest the image of Christ in our lives. These are all part of the extensive work of grace which the Lord Jesus is doing for us. Grace enables us more than the believers of the OT to partake in God’s holiness and power to overcome. Dedicate yourself to this end: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfil its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

In the light of these facts it is clear why Paul says, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). He does not mix the two concepts by alleging that we can live under grace and still pursue observing of the law. That is impossible “for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). We are admonished to stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and not to be oppressed any more by a yoke of   bondage to the law (Gal. 5:1). When people try to do that they fall from grace (Gal. 5:4). When law and grace are mixed the all-sufficiency of Christ’s work of grace is questioned and supplemented by something else.

Paul also reminded Timothy that the law is not made for a righteous person (1 Tim. 1:9). We live according to the principles of Christ’s grace as described in the NT and impressed upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit. “For the grace of God… teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).

The commandments referred to after the crucifixion of Christ are NT injunctions which are further expansions of the law of love, e.g. holiness, prayer, forgivingness, and various fruits of the Spirit. Not in a single case is the Sabbath mentioned as part of these commandments or directives. In Acts 15, a decisive answer had to be given whether the OT law was still applicable to the NT church. The answer was an emphatic “no”. Only a few norms for morally correct behaviour were mentioned.

The dispensation of the law expired on the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the grave. On that same day He met with His disciples and commissioned them to go out and preach the gospel. The following Sunday Jesus again appeared to them, promised them His peace and also removed the unbelief of Thomas (John 20:19-29). On the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Jesus and ten days after His ascension, the Holy Spirit was poured out – again on the first day of the week (Sunday).

These events laid the foundation for the disciples and the early church to assemble on Sundays to serve the Lord. They referred to it as the Lord’s Day. Paul also confirms the fact that his preaching occurred on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). On his missionary journeys he addressed the Jews on the Sabbath as that was the day of their assembly.

The early church fathers all confirm the fact of Sunday worship as a common institution. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote in 110 AD: “Those among us who obtained the new hope no longer keep the Sabbath but the day of the Lord on which we arose from the dead in Him, so that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ.” Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), a disciple of John, wrote: “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read… Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly because it is the first day on which God made the world and created light out of darkness. Jesus Christ, our Saviour, rose from the dead on the same day.” Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, said in about 178 AD that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus could only be celebrated on the Lord’s Day, which is the first day of the week. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (200-258), said that the Lord’s Day is both the first and eighth day. The eighth day is the first day of a new week.

Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, said in about 300: “We keep the Lord’s Day as a day of rejoicing as He arose on this day.” The church father Eusebius said about 315 AD: “From the Apostolic tradition until the present time, churches everywhere in the world ended their periods of fasting on the resurrection day of our Saviour… There were synods and convocations of our bishops on this question and they unanimously drew up an ecclesiastical decree which they communicated to churches in all places – that the Lord’s resurrection should be celebrated on no other day than the Lord’s Day.”

The SDA completely reject the testimony of the early church fathers on Sunday worship since these fathers were allegedly deceived in many ways and could not be trusted theologically (Family Bible Studies, p. 165). But why would they all lie on the practice of Sunday worship? That was not a controversial issue but a common practice which was spontaneously honoured.

The allegation by the SDA that Sunday worship was first instituted in 321 AD through a decree of Constantine (Family Bible Studies, p. 169, 210) only refers to the official recognition of this day’s status. At that stage Christians had already been observing this practice for almost three centuries, and were definitely not influenced by Constantine to doing so.

The SDA’s assertion that Sunday worship should be linked to those who serve the sun god can only be applied to genuine sun worshippers. To the Christians this day was either the first day of the week or the Lord’s Day. The heathen’s sun god did not even vaguely feature in their practices.

The names of the weekdays were derived from the sun, moon and five of the planets. In the heathen mythology these names had religious connotations to ancient European nations; but Christians were never influenced by these traditions and only later, merely as a secular practice, accepted these names. Should the SDA allege that Sunday worshippers have something in common with the worshippers of the sun god then we may as well associate those who worship on Saturdays with the heathen Saturn feast. Hopefully the SDA will realise that this is an irrational argument.

It is obvious that the SDA have, since their early origin, shown such a deep-rooted aversion to the practice of Sunday worship that they even directly associate it with the Antichrist. According to them the Roman Catholic Church is the beast of Revelation 13; the number 666 refers to the pope; and the and Sunday worship is the mark or sign which he gives to his followers (Family Bible Studies, p. 295-306). Contrary to this, Sabbath observance is regarded to be the sign or mark which is given by the Lord to His true and faithful followers.

On this point the SDA come very close to denying evangelical Christianity since their norm for a true faith is not the acceptance or rejection of the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus, but the acceptance or rejection of the OT Sabbath. SDA members in general are completely antagonistic towards all who worship the Lord on Sundays, and have adopted the view that such people will soon be in a position where they will be subjecting themselves to the judgements of God.

In their 2008 publication, (Family Bible Studies, p. 299), the SDA quote Revelation 14:9-10: “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark  on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. And he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” They comment as follows on this scripture: “How could we expect God to remain silent on such an issue as changing the only commandment that gives His sign and seal as Creator and Redeemer of the world? But God’s wrath could not justly be visited upon men unless they had warning.”

They also quote from Great Controversy (p. 144-145) in which it is stated that Christianity will be divided into two groups, i.e. those who honour the laws of God and have faith in Jesus, and those who worship the beast and his image and have also accepted his mark of Sunday worship. Church and state will, according to Revelation 13:16, join forces in the end-time to impose the number of the beast to all, both small and great. In reference to this scripture the SDA expect that governments will, in the near future, collaborate with the Roman Catholic Church to enforce Sunday worship upon all their subjects. They say that those who succumb to this pressure will be lost forever, while those who have victory over the beast and over his mark of Sunday worship will be in heaven (Rev. 15:2-3).

Are all Sunday worshippers already being regarded as lost followers of the Antichrist? No, although the SDA get very close to doing so. In Questions on Doctrine (p. 183) they say: “No one has yet received the mark of the beast. The testing time has not yet come. There are true Christians in every church… None are condemned until they have had the light and seen the obligation on the fourth commandment. But when the decree shall go forth enforcing the counterfeit Sabbath… the line will be clearly drawn between the false and the true. Then those who still continue in transgression will receive the mark of the beast.”  Their belief is that those who observe the true Sabbath will then be persecuted by the antichristian Sunday worshippers.

Eschatology

Preaching on the second coming of Christ is a strong characteristic of the SDA and much attention is devoted to this subject – also in their publications. However, their teaching on the end-time is highly controversial as it is not based upon sound exegetical principles. People are rather being confused than getting coherent and logical answers to their questions. Sadly the SDA are not alone in distorting biblical eschatology, as most of the Protestant churches also fail in this regard – particularly the large reformed churches.

The SDA is premillennial because they believe in the second coming of Christ before the Millennium. Although their basic belief in premillennialism is correct, all their statements concerning the details miss the mark: They don’t believe in the rapture as the secret coming of the Lord Jesus for His bridal congregation; they don’t believe in a tribulation of seven years under the rule of a single person who is described as the Antichrist; they don’t believe in the restoration of Israel to their own land as a sign of the end-time; and they do not believe in Christ’s thousand-year reign of peace on earth when He will rule with His saints from Jerusalem.

The following are the SDA’s most controversial eschatological views:

Rejecting the escape The SDA reject the idea of the church escaping the judgements of the tribulation period (cf. Luke 21:36). They say that any idea of a secret coming is based upon human reasoning which is not confirmed by Scripture (Family Bible Studies, p. 55).

Tribulation under the RC Church – The SDA do not believe in a seven-year tribulation under the rule of the Antichrist. They regard the RC Church as the Antichrist, and interpret the 1260 days of the Antichrist’s actions in the second half of the tribulation period as 1260 years of Roman Catholic domination. According to them every day represents a year, Roman domination lasted from 538 AD to 1798 AD when the French dethroned the pope, and that was the “mortal wound” which was inflicted on the beast (Rev. 13:3). The SDA now wait for the deadly wound to be healed, which to them means that the Vatican will again gain control over the whole world (Family Bible Studies, p. 159-160). They are greatly deceived on the 1260 days since this period is also described as 42 months or 3½ years (time, times and half a time) in Revelation 11, 12 and 13, and in Daniel 9:27. We are dealing here with 1260 literal days. The SDA also neglect to offer an explanation on where the other half of the tribulation fits in.

The mark of the beast – The equation of the mark of the beast with Sunday worship is one of the most serious errors of the SDA. The true mark of the beast will be used to control buying and selling (Rev. 13:16-18). The second half of the tribulation period, when the Antichrist will institute his reign of terror, will only last for 42 months. That is the same as 1260 days, 3½ years or one half of a year-week (Dan. 9:27; Rev. 12:6, 14; 13:15). The SDA seriously undermine their end-time preaching by their unbiblical presentation of the last year-week before the coming of Christ as being more than a thousand years long.

Daniel’s prophecies distorted – All references to the Antichrist in Daniel are also applied to the RC Church. However, the little horn of Daniel 7:8, 20-26 refers to the end-time Antichrist who will emerge from the restored Roman Empire and will enjoy a much stronger power-base than the pope. The small horn in Daniel 8:8-25 has reference to the Antichrist and one of his forerunners, Antiochus Epiphanes, but in this case within the framework of the ancient Greek empire. This prophecy renders irrefutable proof that the Antichrist will not originate from Italy since the Greek Empire only controlled Macedonia, Thrace, Syria and Egypt. The Syrian province of the divided Greek Empire was the territory under the control of Antiochus Epiphanes, from which the end-time Antichrist will arise. Syria was also a province of the Roman Empire. This region was earlier known as Assyria, and for a long time was under the control of the Babylonian Empire. That is why the Antichrist is also called the Assyrian (Isa. 10:12-14) and the king of the North (Dan. 11:31-45), as viewed from Israel. It is quite impossible to fit the RC Church within this scenario.

Date-setting – A misleading form of date-setting emerged from the SDA’s wrong understanding of Daniel’s prophecies. They interpreted the 2300 days during which the temple would, according to Daniel 8:14, be desecrated as 2300 years. Although this prophecy was literally fulfilled between 170 and 164 BC after Antiochus Epiphanes had defiled the temple and Judas Maccabeus again restored it, the SDA still claims that the 2300 days are 2300 years which elapsed between 457 BC and 1844 AD. In terms of this false perception they developed a strong expectation that Christ would return on 22nd October 1844. This blunder seriously undermined the credibility of their eschatological message on the advent.

Ignoring Israel – Apart from erroneously identifying the RC Church as the main role-player in virtually all end-time prophecies, the other very serious weakness in the eschatology of the SDA is the absence of any references to Israel, their restoration, and the important role that Jerusalem will play in the end-time. Israel is not even mentioned in their list of signs of the times (Family Bible Studies, p. 63-74). That alone is important proof that the SDA have lost touch with the most important eschatological events of our time. Don’t the SDA know that Jesus will return to Jerusalem and the remnant in Israel will be reconciled to Him (Zech. 12:10; 13:8-9; 14:4-5)? The restoration of Israel is one of the most prominent prophetic themes in the OT, and any church omitting them from the scenario would relegate itself to an impossible position in trying to offer a truly Scriptural account of end-time events.

A further implication of ignoring Israel is that their enemies, Islam, will also be ignored as if they don’t even exist. Daniel’s prophecies of the Antichrist arising from the region of the King of the North clearly focus attention on the modern abode of radical Islam. Here, the Antichrist will emerge as a dynamic end-time ruler and even deceive Israel into concluding a covenant with him (Dan. 9:27; John 5:43). Do the SDA really think that Israel will accept a decrepit pope in Italy as their Messiah?

Further evidence that they have written Israel out of the picture of end-time events is their view on the 70 year-weeks of Israel’s history of salvation until the second coming of the Messiah. They have wrongfully concluded that the 70 year-weeks have expired between 457 BC and 34 AD (Family Bible Studies, p. 102-103). Everlasting righteousness will, according to Daniel 9:24, prevail at the end of the 70 year-weeks. We all know that this situation does not yet prevail. At the beginning of the 70 year-week period, King Artaxerxes issued a decree allowing the Jews in dispersion to return to their land and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple (Neh. 2:1). The initial building work was completed after 7 year-weeks. During the subsequent 62 year-weeks Jerusalem was occupied and built up during troublesome times. At the end of 69 (7+62) year-weeks, in April 32 AD, the Messiah was crucified and thereby “cut off” from His own people in Jerusalem. That was the last act of spiritual rebellion which gave rise to Israel’s international dispersion during the first century, causing a long interruption in their history of salvation. Now, in the end-time, Israel is returning to their own land and will go through the 70th year-week before they will accept the Messiah (Matt. 23:39; Zech. 12:10; Rom. 11:26). With Israel not in the picture, no eschatology is even closely true to the Bible.

Conspiracy theories – When the real facts on the ground no longer play a determining role in analysing world events, e.g. the conflict between Israel and radical Islam, the US and Islamic-supported terrorism, Russia and other countries, many people turn to all sorts of far-fetched conspiracy theories. Prof. Walter Veith of the SDA extensively occupies himself with these theories. Secret conspiracies are exposed in which the RC Church, the Freemasons and the Illuminati are held responsible for all the major conflicts in the world. The allegation is even made that George Bush and the CIA are responsible for the 9/11 disaster. Islam is very much in favour of these theories since they themselves then are, by implication, acquitted as the true culprits.

In all fairness it should be mentioned that not all leaders in the SDA agree with Veith’s theories. On one of their websites (www.thejerichoroad.com) Jan McKenzie expresses great concern over Veith’s strong emphasis on conspiracy theories, secret societies and the Roman Catholic Church while very little is said on the Gospel of the cross. McKenzie adds, “In much of what Veith says he is simply wrong… I find it unimaginable that a man calling himself a Christian teacher has so very little to say about his Lord.” Theories on the Illuminati as a Western or Jewish money power manipulating world events should be disregarded. The big Western banks are virtually bankrupt since the strongest banks are in Saudi Arabia and Japan. That is where the money power is now based.

A ghostlike Millennium – Another of the SDA’s views which clearly denies biblical truth is that of a deserted and uninhabited earth during the Millennium, where the devil will be roaming around, having nothing to do. This theory is also one of the legacies of Ellen White. The view is held that Christ will destroy all the wicked people at His second coming, and then return to heaven with His saints to rule from there. Satan will be left behind on the deserted, ruined and ghostlike earth until the Millennium comes to an end. The SDA say: “Some people think of the Millennium as a thousand years of peace and prosperity here upon earth. This is quite different from the true Biblical idea… The first resurrection will occur and all the saints resurrected… ‘The kings of the earth and the whole world’ (Rev. 16:14) are destroyed as Christ, the great warrior of heaven, rides forth to put down the forces of rebellion (Rev. 19:11-16). All the wicked die and the earth is depopulated… The resurrected saints and the living righteous are taken out of this world to heaven… Satan will be bound to this earth (Rev. 20:2-3). During the Millennium the earth will be desolate. The wicked are dead and there is no man left. On this earth Satan is ‘bound’ for there is no living person on earth to deceive. He will have a thousand years’ vacation from deception, a millennium to meditate on his long career of rebellion and the painful condition to which it has brought him. He will have plenty of time to lay plans to make a final assault against God at the end of the long-long darkness when the wicked dead shall come forth to their final brief season of life. He will lead them in a final rebellion against the kingdom of God” (Family Bible Studies, p. 75-83).

The SDA have to ignore or distort literally hundreds of prophecies when refusing to accept the following Biblical facts: Christ and His saints will rule on earth during the Millennium (Rev. 2:26-27; 5:9-10; 11:15; 19:15-16; 20:6); the Lord Jesus will rule from the throne of David in the restored kingdom of Israel (Acts 15:16-17; Jer. 3:17); the nations will beat their swords into ploughshares and not learn war any more (Isa. 2:2-4); Israel will be a prosperous and spiritually fruitful nation (Isa. 27:6); Jerusalem will be a praise in the whole earth (Isa. 62:6-7); the nations will serve the Messiah and honour Israel as His special nation (Zech. 8:20-23); and all people on earth will know the Lord (Isa. 11:9-10).

Soul sleep

The SDA have a very strange belief concerning the sleep of the soul after death. In their chapter, The Other Side of Death (Family Bible Studies, p. 245-254), they explain that only God possesses immortality. If people want this immortal life they can find it in the gospel, but they will only effectively obtain it at the resurrection: “The saints of God receive immortality at the hour of resurrection” (p. 245). The wicked, though, are not immortal beings, and will one day cease to exist. Unbelievers thus never get immortal bodies. They will be resurrected after the Millennium only to be finally destroyed in the lake of fire. According to the SDA there is not an everlasting hell since “for ever” may also refer to a limited time span, i.e. as long as it takes to be completely consumed by the flames.

According to the SDA there are not different destinations for believers and unbelievers after death – all of them go to one and the same abode, Hades, where they await the time of their resurrection. Before the Millennium the “resurrection of life” will occur, and after the Millennium the “resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:29).

The righteous will inherit eternal life: “The saints who have slept in silence, unconscious of the passing of time, will suddenly be awakened. Some have slumbered for thousands of years; others have had only a brief period in the grave. To all, the time will seem the same – as just a moment. They will come forth with their faces glowing with joy, health, and immortality” (Family Bible Studies, p. 257). The wicked will go to their final destruction in the lake of fire.

The SDA also say that no one after death has a conscious existence in heaven or in the grave (Hades). It is alleged that the body returns to dust, the spirit goes to God who gave it, and the dead have no thoughts, feelings or memories until the day when they are resurrected. They are in a deep sleep, unconscious of everything around them. The SDA erroneously seem to be strongly convinced that the Bible underwrites their views on this matter: “Yes, the Scriptures are plain. When death comes, all thinking and feeling end. If they do not, the Bible is false and unreliable. Thinking and feeling did not exist before God breathed life into man, and they stop entirely when the man dies” (Family Bible Studies, p. 249).

The doctrine of soul sleep in all its aspects is completely at variance with the Bible. Since OT times there were different destinations after death: the righteous went to paradise and the unrighteous to the abode of the wicked (Heb. Sheol and Gr. Hades). A great gulf is fixed between these two places, as is evident from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). From this parable it is evident that there is no form of soul sleep for the righteous or the wicked. They have active thoughts and feelings as well as a good memory of everything they had done.

After the resurrection of Christ the deceased saints no longer go to paradise but to heaven. Paul says, “For I am hard pressed between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Phil. 1:23-24). He definitely did not look forward to a soul sleep in the grave when he desired to die and to be in the presence of Christ!

Final assessment

Although some pastors in the SDA are committed to an evangelical doctrine of salvation and the inerrancy of the Bible, many others are so legalistic and inclined towards doctrine based on extra-biblical prophecies that the gospel message is seriously compromised. The SDA also have various highly controversial doctrines in which the Bible is not correctly interpreted. These teachings mainly include their view on the law and the Sabbath, their eschatology in which Sunday worship is described as the mark of the beast, their convictions on the gift of prophecy, and their doctrine on soul sleep. Walter R. Martin (The Kingdom of the Cults, p. 383) says the following on criticism levelled against the SDA and Mrs. Ellen G. White:

“The inspiration for 90% of the destructive personal criticisms levelled against Mrs. White is found in the writings of Dudley M. Canright, an ex-Adventist leader of great ability, and a one time personal friend of Ellen G. White, her husband James, and a great number of prominent Adventist leaders. He left the movement because he lost faith in the inspiration of Mrs. White and in many doctrines then held by the Adventist Church. He resigned from SDA ministry in 1887 to become a Baptist minister. Canright also rebelled violently against the extreme legalism which existed among some of the early Adventists. He wrote two volumes on his differences with them: Seventh-day Adventism Renounced and Life of Mrs. E.G. White.

Dudley Canright formulated his final conclusions as follows: “After keeping the Seventh Day for 28 years; after having persuaded more than a thousand to keep it; after having read my Bible through, verse by verse, more than 20 times; after having scrutinised to the best of my ability every text, line and word in the whole Bible having the remotest bearing upon the Sabbath question; after having looked up all these, both in the original and in many translations; after having searched in lexicons, concordances, commentaries and dictionaries; after having read arms-full of books on both sides of the question; after having read every line in all the early church fathers upon this point; after having written several books in favour of the Seventh Day, which were satisfactory to my brethren; … and after weighing all the evidence in the fear of God, and of the judgement day, I am fully settled in my own mind and conscience that the evidence is against the keeping of the Seventh Day” (quoted by Oswald J. Smith in: Who are the False Prophets, p. 18).

Another contemporary of Ellen White also questioned her visions, but not her personal faith in the Lord Jesus as her Saviour. Her cousin, James White, wrote: “I cannot endorse Sister Ellen’s visions as of divine inspiration as she thinks them to be; yet I do not suspect the least shade of dishonesty of her in this matter… I think that what she regards as visions from the Lord are only religious reveries (‘day-dreaming’) in which her imagination runs without control upon themes in which she is most deeply interested. While so absorbed in these reveries she is lost to everything around her. Reveries are of two kinds: sinful and religious. In either case, the sentiments in the main are obtained from previous teaching or study. I do not by any means think that her visions are from the Devil” (A Word to the Little Flock, 1847, p.29).

Walter Martin (The Kingdom of the Cults, p. 385) says that he cannot accept the claim that Ellen White possessed a gift of prophecy akin to that described in 1 Corinthians 14, as believed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The big difference between her visions and that which the Bible teaches leaves no room for a church to build its doctrines on these questionable visions, and to persistently accept and proclaim them as God-given revelations.