The painting above is “The Divine Counselor” by well-known Seventh-day Adventist painter Harry Anderson.
Religion and American politics has always proven to be a complicated mix. Religious conservatives like to quote their heroes of the faith of the last 100 years. President’s like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush seem to lead the pack.
Yet, if one looks at the presidents of the 20th Century, many of those who were known to be devout men of faith were Democrats. Presidents like Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman are prime examples. Within the last generation, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton both identified themselves as Southern Baptists during their political careers and time in office.
Like many other years, 2016 is shaping up to be another year when religion plays a role in selecting our next president, at least the GOP candidate. It seems to be to be a rite of passage for a candidate to express their faith in no uncertain terms. Even Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon, received the coveted endorsement of Evangelical America’s patron saint, Billy Graham.
The Rise of Ben Carson
One candidate that continues to intrigue the GOP electorate is Dr. Ben Carson. The former neurosurgeon is the antithesis of the other standout candidate for 2016, Donald Trump. Where Trump is loud and in your face, Carson is quiet and humble. He is also a Seventh-day Adventist.
Most of us can identify the key distinctive of Seventh-day Adventists—they keep the Sabbath on Saturday, hence the label that has come to define the group. Still, labels can be misleading, especially historic labels. Take Southern Baptists, for example; visit most Southern Baptists churches outside of the South and the State of Texas and you will find that they are neither Southern nor Baptist. Most would prefer to identify themselves as “non-denominational.” I digress.
For purposes of reference, I started looking into what Seventh-Day Adventists believe and came across this article found within The School of Biblical Evangelism. It provides a good overview of the history, beliefs, and practices of Seventh-day Adventists.
By Dr. James Bjornstad
Seventh-day Adventism originated during the great “Second Advent” wakening of the 19th century. In 1818 William Miller, a Baptist minister, read Daniel 8:14 and predicted Christ’s return in twenty-five years—between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844 (2300 years from 457 b.c.). Later his associates set the date for October 22, 1844. During the following years, from 1844–1847, three groups came together to form Seventh-day Adventism:
- Hiram Edson provided the doctrine of the Sanctuary and Christ’s final ministry in the Holy of Holies (the Investigative Judgment). On October 23, 1844, “Suddenly there burst upon his mind the thought that there were two phases to Christ’s ministry in the Heaven of Heavens, just as in the earthly sanctuary of old. Instead of our high priest coming out of the most holy of the heavenly sanctuary to come to this earth on the tenth day of the seventh month at the end of the twenty-three hundred days, He for the first time entered on that day the second apartment of that sanctuary, and that He had a work to perform in the most holy before coming to this earth.”
- Joseph Bates provided the doctrine of seventh-day worship, the Sabbath.
- Ellen G. Harmon (White) provided the doctrine of the “Spirit of Prophecy.” Her visions and prophecies brought together the theological notions above to form a unique religious system.
Seventh-day Adventists are in basic agreement with historic, biblical Christianity in many areas: the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible; the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead (the Fatherhood of God, the deity of Jesus Christ, and the person and deity of the Holy Spirit); and that man was created in the image of God, but is in a fallen state of sin and in need of redemption. They teach that Jesus Christ was virgin-born; lived a sinless life; was crucified, dead, and buried; and rose bodily from the grave.
On the other hand, Seventh-day Adventists also have a number of distinctive doctrines that are not in accord with historic Christianity.
The Role of Ellen G. White
Seventh-day Adventists claim that Ellen G. White “performed the work of a true prophet during the seventy years of her public ministry. As Samuel was a prophet, as Jeremiah was a prophet, as John the Baptist, we believe that Mrs. White was a prophet to the Church of Christ today” (The Advent). The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual states: “As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction.” Mrs. White herself claimed, “When I send you a testimony of warning and reproof, many of you declare it to be merely the opinion of Sister White. You have thereby insulted the Spirit of God.”
However, there are some problems with Mrs. White’s “gift of prophecy.” Walter Rea, in his book The White Lie, documents extensive plagiarism. She was also frequently in error, as she herself admitted.
The Person of Jesus Christ
Seventh-day Adventism differs from historic Christian doctrine in some of its teachings regarding the person of Jesus Christ, such as the following:
- Some early Seventh-day Adventists contended that the Son was not fully equal to the Father, and that the former must have had a beginning in the remote past.
- The name Michael is applied not to a created angel but to the Son of God in His pre-incarnate state.
- When Christ became a man, He took upon Himself human flesh and a human nature, but no human soul as a distinct immaterial substance.
The Sleep of the Soul and the Destruction of the Wicked
In contrast to historic Christian teaching, Seventh-day Adventism holds that the soul represents the whole man and the whole man (the body) remains in the tomb until the resurrection morning. The soul cannot exist apart from the body, and there is no conscious existence after death. The righteous will be resurrected and caught up to meet the Lord at His return; the unrighteous will be resurrected after the millennium and then cast into the lake of fire where they will be annihilated.
The Sabbath and the Mark of the Beast
Seventh-day Adventists teach that the Seventh-day Sabbath (Friday evening until Saturday evening) was instituted by God, and that observance of this day is a test of one’s loyalty to Christ. A counterfeit Sabbath will be proclaimed during the Tribulation period. Those who worship on that day will receive the mark of the beast; those who remain faithful to God will continue to worship on the Sabbath.
The Heavenly Sanctuary, the Investigative Judgment, and the Scapegoat
Once again, we see a contrast to historic Christian doctrine in Seventh-day Adventist teachings:
- Jesus entered into the heavenly sanctuary in 1844 to begin a second phase of His ministry.
- The sins of believers have been transferred to, deposited or recorded in the Heavenly Sanctuary, and are now being dealt with in the Investigative Judgment. Those who have died are examined to determine if they are worthy of being part of the first resurrection. The living are also examined to determine those who are abiding and keeping God’s commandments. When the cases of all the righteous have been decided (the standard being the Ten Commandments), their sins will be blotted out and Jesus will return to this earth in all His glory.
- Azazel (the goat the high priest sent out into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement) designates Satan, and “Satan will ultimately have to bear the retributive punishment for his responsibility in the sins of all men, both righteous and wicked.”
Law, Grace, and Salvation
Finally, we see a difference in doctrine when we examine two perspectives of law, grace, and salvation. On the one hand we see justification by faith alone. Opposed to that we find justification by faith which is demonstrated by obedience to God’s commandments. This view strongly advocates Sabbath-keeping and the Old Testament dietary laws, which is difficult to harmonize with Seventh-day Adventists’ assurance that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works. For example, in Just What Do You Believe About Your Church, Fordyce Detamore wrote:
The best summary of the requirements for salvation is found in the counsel Jesus gave the rich young nobleman (Mt. 19:16–22), “If thou wilt enter into life, (1) keep the commandments … and (2) follow me.” There is no other hope of salvation. By the standard of God’s holy law we shall be judged in the day of reckoning. (pp. 32–34)
As long as Isaiah 66:15–17 is in this book, how dare I tell you it doesn’t make any difference whether or not you eat swine’s flesh and other unclean foods?… It would be much easier for me to say, “Go ahead and eat as you please; you needn’t worry about those things anymore.” But God says those who are eating unclean things when He comes will be destroyed. Wouldn’t you rather I put it plainly so that you’ll not be deceived and be destroyed at our Lord’s coming? (pp. 22, 23)
Sharing the Truth with Seventh-day Adventists
Our concern is to be sure that individual Adventists are confronted with the one true gospel. If an Adventist will admit that Mrs. White was fallible, that no record in heaven could possibly bring a believer into condemnation, and that the works of the Law such as Sabbath-keeping are not necessary conditions of salvation, then other things being equal, he should be acknowledged as an evangelical.
On the other hand, if the Adventist persists in defending Mrs. White’s infallibility, the Investigative Judgment, and the Old Testament dietary laws, he places himself under the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:10) and is preaching another gospel (Galatians 1:8, 9). In response, to those who believe faith must be demonstrated by obedience to God’s commandments:
- Stress the biblical teaching that a man is justified by faith in Jesus apart from the deeds of the Law (Romans 3:28; 4:6; Galatians 2:16; 3:10–14).
- Point out that the Law of Moses (the ceremonial and moral aspects) has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. By His perfect life He met all the requirements of the moral aspect of the Law; by His death He fulfilled all the ceremonial ordinances which prefigured His incarnation and sacrifice (Romans 5:10; Colossians 2:16, 17).
- The law or commandment that Christians are called upon to follow is the law of love (e.g., Matthew 22:37–40; Romans 13:8–10).
To those who believe the Sabbath is binding on the Christian, you might point out that:
- Constantine did not, as Adventists claim, change the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. He enacted that the first day of the week should be a public holiday, but centuries before Constantine, Christians gathered together for worship on the first day of the week. Reference to worship on the first day of the week can be found in Acts 2:41; 20:6, 7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10, etc. (Also, both the Didache and Ignatius refer to Sunday as the “Lord’s Day” “Kuriake”.)In addition, references to worship on the first day of the week can be found in the writings of the early church fathers: Ignatius (110 a.d.); Justin Martyr (100–165 a.d.); Barnabas (120–150 a.d.); Irenaeus (178 a.d.); Bardaisan (154 a.d.); Tertullian (200 a.d.); Origen (225 a.d.); Cyprian (200–258 a.d.); Peter of Alexandria (300 a.d.); and Eusebius (315 a.d.).
- There is no indication in the New Testament that the observance of the Sabbath was binding on Gentile believers. On the contrary, we find such words as these: “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord” (Romans 14:5, 6). “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to … a Sabbath day” (Colossians 2:16).
Adapted from an article by the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute (www.johnankerberg.org).
- Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort, The School of Biblical Evangelism: 101 Lessons: How to Share Your Faith Simply, Effectively, Biblically—the Way Jesus Did (Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 2004), 630–635. ↩