The End-Time Advent MovementBelief systems in our day are many, with worldviews selected from among a veritable buffet of options. Nor are movements with an apocalyptic bent by any means new. So what determines whether Seventh-day Adventism--the heir of the great end-time advent movement--has any special claim to validity? The evidences that point to this include the following:
This movement arose in precise fulfillment of Bible prophecy, both
All belief systems have core presuppositions, and the advent movement is no different. A movements belief system may be evaluated for self-consistency, yet even a passing grade here does not automatically prove that it is correct: just self-consistent. But how can the presuppositions be evaluated without making reason the final arbiter? Our reason is an imperfect judge, flawed and biased through the event known as the "fall" of humankind. How could such a thing happen--beings made in the image of God reduced to a situation of brokenness? An amazing story indeed. But a divine Being has provided a stop-gap solution: the Bible. In this divinely preserved collection of 66 books produced over a period of 1600 years, we find presented an internally self-consistent worldview, and the only viable explanation for how the trouble and pain of a world like ours can co-exist with a Personal God who is unselfish love.
The situation did not have to develop this way but it did; free beings were created with free choice, and while yet immature, that choice was used in an unsound manner. A choice was made to disobey God--to cross the line of what had been revealed as a moral boundary. Lucifer sought to receive worship that belonged to God. But having sinned, Satan was expelled from heaven, although not instantly destroyed. His immediate destruction would have left an imprint of fear upon the rest of the created intelligences in the universe. Instead, he was granted a temporary hiatus of judgment. A potential laboratory was made available to him to demonstrate the outworking of his government. He would have opportunity to tempt humankind. Should they succumb to his deception, the created universe would become witness to the grand outworking of hate-based government versus life-based government. God would not cooperate with Satan in the least, but He would permit him to hang himself with his own rope. Granted a temporary slab of time, Satan would inevitably reveal what his self-love led to and unmask before the universe the awful nature of sin.
Time has passed, and Satan has worked and God has worked. And before the universe stands spread out a nearly finished tapestry--the tale of woe and grace that will play a major role in forever safeguarding both, the freedom of every sentient being, and also the assurance that sin will never rise up again. Looking starkly upon the fall of humankind back in the garden of Eden, and the following trail of woe; on to the beauty of holiness revealed ultimately in the life of Christ and His willingness to die upon the cross for sinners; and finally to the evidence of the power of grace to live God's way revealed in Heaven's end-time people, we find ourselves standing in the closing scenes of a great controversy. God purposes to reveal through His end-time people enmass something that has only been seen in the life of Christ and the lives of holy people sprinkled across the stretch of time. Can God produce this people? Can He offer evidence to the rest of the unfallen universe that He can safely redeem us, and uphold justice and mercy? Can He put forever to rest the ideas and charges of Satan that God is unfair? These are critical questions that are being determined at this moment in the lives of God's commandment-keeping Jesus-followers of the last days. That's what Seventh-day Adventism is all about.
But these things do not exist in isolation from concrete demonstration. They are glued down somewhere, and in the following nutshell can be found a few lines portraying the belief system of this end-time people of the great advent movement.
A summary of the beliefs of Seventh-day AdventismFollow this link To a capsulization of the Biblical teachings of Seventh-day Adventism.
Is Seventh-day Adventism a cult?
Unanimity in regard to what teachings constitute true Christian belief has escaped most of Christendom. The basis for the various shadings which compose each given groups belief systems are many. The very authority which is looked to as the foundation for each group's beliefs varies in substantial ways. For some groups, the final basis is tradition. For some, it is the Bible. For another, modern "prophetic" teachings may provide the foundation. Some groups use the Bible, or part of it. The litany of differing combinations is long. Yet again, a variety of groups may even base their teachings upon the same source - the Bible for example - and yet approach the interpretation of the Bible from a variety of differing pre suppositional sets. The point is, that with varying sources of spiritual authority and the various presuppositions with which those sources are approached, determining which groups are heretical and which groups are orthodox becomes a potentially daunting task. And who draws the baseline against which the other groups are to be measured? Shall it be the majority? How often in history has the majority been right in religious matters? Somewhat more plausible might be to evaluate the consistency of a groups teachings against the presuppositions that they bring with them to their source of authority. In any case, the matter is rarely one of black and white.
Ultimate truth is not itself relative. An objective, bottom line truth does indeed exist. Even this is a presupposition. Yes, it runs against the presently accepted wisdom. But that wisdom is merely the presently popular foam riding the crest of this moment's philosophical wave.
Some persons measure other groups against their own favorite list of doctrines. Or against what is supposed to have been the most common belief set in historical terms. But this is often quite subjective, and of little use except for the self-justification of the evaluator.
So we begin to think about cults with these considerations before us. And now we turn to the criteria by which we will make our evaluation. Various criteria have been suggested by which to define the teachings of religious bodies as cultic or not. Some suggest that we use primarily sociological criteria, others historical, others Biblical, and so on. Some are highly subjective and not so helpful. But others may be more helpful. Much writing concerning "cults" in the past has consisted of measuring groups up against doctrinal criteria. While this may seem the rigid approach of less enlightened times, it has the advantage of being at least a little less subjective than some of the other means. Seventh-day Adventists have historically identified themselves in strongly Biblical and doctrinal terms. So they lend themselves readily to evaluation on a doctrinal basis.
To simplify the matter, doctrinal definitions of cults tend to define them according to these primary points:
So let's consider Seventh-day Adventism according to these four criteria.
Who "founded" Seventh-day Adventism? Several individuals were prominent in the early days of Adventism, including William Miller, Josiah Litch, J.V. Himes, and Charles Fitch. The initial Advent preachers came out of several denominations and preached of the return of Christ, which they thought to be immediately imminent. When their expectations failed to be fulfilled in the way that they had expected, there were a variety of reactions. From one of the groups that came out of the initial era, another group eventually arose. This group eventually became, in 1863, the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Among the most prominent individuals in this group were James White, Joseph Bates, Hiram Edson, and Ellen White. The Biblical foundations of the church were etched out by this core group. Because one of the features of Adventism is the contemporary prophecy of Ellen G. White, it has been maliciously suggested that she founded the church. But she was a mere 17 year old girl when she had her first vision in December 1844. Certainly, those even casually acquainted with the history of the movement know that Ellen G. White did not found it, but was one of several significant founding individuals.
Another criteria that we mentioned was the undue elevation of man or the lowering of God. Adventist belief has never been suggested to wrongly elevate man, to turn him into a God, or to be anything like that. And as far as lowering God goes, again, no such charges have ever been seriously leveled. Seventh-day Adventism has not been seriously questioned on this point.
The third criterion we mentioned is the adding of sources of authority considered equal to or even greater than the Bible. Returning to Ellen G. White, the contemporary prophet, we do have to consider this question. For she wrote profusely, and her fertile pen produced hundreds of thousands of pages through the years of her long life. Her writings are considered inspired by Adventists.
The Bible appears to clearly teach that the various gifts God has given to His church for its up-building would remain in the church until the second coming of Christ. In some places, the Bible likens these gifts to the parts of the body, without which it is more or less crippled. (See Hastening the Harvest Sermon Notes #6 for a fascinating and Scripture-based look at the prophetic gift in the Bible). In any case, given the conclusion that contemporary prophecy is foretold and supported by the Bible, one must consider the question of inspiration. Are some prophets more inspired than others? Was Amos less inspired than Paul, or was Moses more inspired than Isaiah? What about Philip's daughters who prophesied, mentioned in the book of Acts? Since no Bible book records their prophetic utterances, is their prophecy less inspired than was John's? Obviously we can not distinguish between degrees of inspiration. Either a prophet is true, or false.
Ellen White's role, if anything, was least prominent in terms of setting up the Biblical foundations of the movement. She experienced and shared with the group the visions which she believed came to her from God. Unlike Mormonism or other religious groups that arose, the whole basis for Adventist belief was built upon Bible foundations. Whereas some other groups must go outside of the Bible and to added "inspired" writings to support their beliefs, the foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist movement was, from its very beginnings, the Bible. She herself consistently pointed to the Bible as the acid test for the Christian's beliefs. The majority of her work was, as that of most Bible prophets, exhortation, guidance, and encouragement. Only a small percentage of her writings contain directly predictive content. The many supposed prophets of other religious groups, with their own writings interpreting or superseding the Bible for their followers, make it tempting to just toss Ellen G. White into the same category. But this is a mistake. Her writings should be as carefully evaluated. I do not believe that any point exists where she contradicts the Bible, or where her writings must be used to supersede it. Seventh-day Adventist teachings to this day, are Biblically based and Biblically supported. Adventists have not added to the Bible. Ellen White's writings are considered to be inspired, but not to be Scripture. They have not been added to the Bible. Nor will they be. To better understand this point, a significant look at the phenomenon of Bible prophecy as recorded in the Bible will bring clarification. And we believe that a fair-minded look at the E.G. White writings themselves will support the statement that evidence shows that the ultimate authority for Adventism is, as it always has been, the Bible, and that the writings of E.G. White have not been placed on a level with the Bible authoritatively.
Finally, let us consider the question of whether Adventism teaches salvation by works. Critics of Adventism have noted our emphasis upon the law of God, the Ten Commandments, and even the Sabbath Commandment in particular, and have seen this as evidence that we teach a form of salvation by works. Once again, a swift glance is not enough. To uphold the law does not necessarily point to the idea of salvation through works. The law is pointed to in a positive light, from one end of the Bible to the other. Positive references to the law abound in the New Testament. The law is a crucial instrument that the Holy Spirit uses in convicting us of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. It forms the basis for evaluating man. It forms the basis for condemning all men who have not become connected with Christ. Clearly, without the law, God would have no basis for condemning Satan, sin, and evil, while saving the repentant sinner who trusts in Christ.
In conclusion, our brief survey has cleared Seventh-day Adventism of the charge of cultism on the basis of the four criteria mentioned above. Adventism was not founded by one or even two highly charismatic individuals, but by a bevy of Bible students. Charges have never even really been leveled against Adventism on the second point. The third point is more involved than might be imagined, but the strong emphasis upon the Bible and its use by the group as final doctrinal authority reveals that on this point Adventists are clear. Finally, a careful look beyond knee-jerk suspicions and prejudgments to the contrary, reveals that Adventists do not even fit the cult label even here.
Having suggested that Seventh-day Adventism is clear on all four key points, I must say that I care little whether we are really clear of the "cult" label or not. Sticks and stones do not change truth. Those who throw sticks and stones will throw their sticks and stones. Its not the throwing of sticks that matters, but whether charges stick. What matters is what the evidence shows, not what the prejudiced purport to show. What matters is simply what the Bible itself teaches when we accept it as our ultimate spiritual authority and interpret it according to its own innate presuppositions. Many who come to make these evaluations are obeying God only selectively anyway, and their own spiritual validity is suspect. They need to check their own gospel before they come and declare the gospel of Adventism faulty. Let us turn to the Bible together, and go from there. Is Seventh-day Adventism a cult? No. But who cares. Neither the label or not to have the label matters, but faith working through love. It is what the faith objectively produces that finally determines is verity. Only the faith that comes from God will lead to God. Let each serious seeker for truth seek out that very faith, and make it his own through the One who died on the cross for him.
A brief sample of the Ellen G. White writings.
The following sample chapter was taken from her book on the life of Christ, entitled "_The Desire of Ages_," pp. 328-332.
Chapter title: The Invitation
"Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."
These words of comfort were spoken to the multitude that followed Jesus. The Saviour had said that only through Himself could men receive a knowledge of God. He had spoken of the disciples as the ones to whom a knowledge of heavenly things had been given. But He left none to feel themselves shut out from His care and love. All who labor and are heavy-laden may come unto Him.
Scribes and rabbis, with their punctilious attention to religious forms, had a sense of want that rites of penance could never satisfy. Publicans and sinners might pretend to be content with the sensual and earthly, but in their hearts were distrust and fear. Jesus looked upon the distressed and heart burdened, those whose hopes were blighted, and who with earthly joys were seeking to quiet the longing of the soul, and He invited all to find rest in Him.
Tenderly He bade the toiling people, "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls."
In these words Christ is speaking to every human being. Whether they know it or not, all are weary and heavy-laden. All are weighed down with burdens that only Christ can remove. The heaviest burden that we bear is the burden of sin. If we were left to bear this burden, it would crush us. But the Sinless One has taken our place. "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53:6. He has borne the burden of our guilt. He will take the load from our weary shoulders. He will give us rest. The burden of care and sorrow also He will bear. He invites us to cast all our care upon Him; for He carries us upon His heart.
The Elder Brother of our race is by the eternal throne. He looks upon every soul who is turning his face toward Him as the Saviour. He knows by experience what are the weaknesses of humanity, what are our wants, and where lies the strength of our temptations; for He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. He is watching over you, trembling child of God. Are you tempted? He will deliver. Are you weak? He will strengthen. Are you ignorant? He will enlighten. Are you wounded? He will heal. The Lord "Telleth the number of the stars;" and yet, "He healeth the broken in heart, and builders up their wounds." Psalm 147:4,3. "Come unto Me," is His invitation. Whatever your anxieties and trials, spread out your case before the Lord. Your spirit will be braced for endurance. The way will be opened for you to disentangle yourself from embarrassment and difficulty. The weaker and more helpless you know yourself to be, the stronger will you become in His strength. The heavier your burdens, the more blessed the rest in casting them upon the Burden Bearer. The rest that Christ offers depends upon conditions, but these conditions are plainly specified. They are those with which all can comply. He tells us just how His rest is to be found.
"Take My yoke upon you," Jesus says. The yoke is an instrument of service. Cattle are yoked for labor, and the yoke is essential that they may labor effectually. By this illustration Christ teaches us that we are called to service as long as life shall last. We are to take upon us His yoke, that we may be co-workers with Him.
The yoke that binds to service is the law of God. The great law of love revealed in Eden, proclaimed upon Sinai, and in the new covenant written in the heart, is that which binds the human worker to the will of God. If we were left to follow our own inclinations, to go just where our will would lead us, we should fall into Satan's ranks and become possessors of his attributes. Therefore God confines us to His will, which is high, and noble, and elevating. He desires that we shall patiently and wisely take up the duties of service. The yoke of service Christ Himself has borne in humanity. He said, "I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart." Psalm 40:8. "I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me." John 6:38. Love for God, zeal for His glory, and love for fallen humanity, brought Jesus to earth to suffer and to die. This was the controlling power of His life. This principle He bids us adopt.
There are many whose hearts are aching under a load of care because they seek to reach the world's standard. They have chosen its service, accepted its perplexities, adopted its customs. Thus their character is marred, and their life made a weariness. In order to gratify ambition and economic desires, they wound the conscience, and bring upon themselves an additional burden of remorse. The continual worry is wearing out the life forces. Our Lord desires us to lay aside this yoke of bondage. He invites them to accept His yoke; He says, "My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." He bids them seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and His promise is that all things needful to them for this life shall be added. Worry is blind, and cannot discern the future; but Jesus sees the end from the beginning. In every difficulty He has His way prepared to bring relief. Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us, of which we know nothing. Those who accept the one principle of making the service and honor of God supreme will find perplexities vanish, and a plain path before their feet.
"Learn of Me," says Jesus; "for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest." We are to enter the school of Christ, to learn from Him meekness and lowliness. Redemption is that process by which the soul is trained for heaven. This training means a knowledge of Christ. It means emancipation from ideas, habits, and practices that have been gained in the school of the prince of darkness. The soul must be delivered from all that is opposed to loyalty to God.
In the heart of Christ where reigned perfect harmony with God, there was perfect peace. He was never elated by applause, nor dejected by censure and disappointment. Amid the greatest opposition and the most cruel treatment, He was still of good courage. But many who profess to be His followers have an anxious, troubled heart, because they are afraid to trust themselves with God. They do not make a complete surrender to Him; for they shrink from the consequences that such a surrender may involve. Unless they do make this surrender, they cannot find peace.
It is the love of self that brings unrest. When we are born from above, the same mind will be in us that was in Jesus, the mind that led him to humble Himself that we might be saved. Then we shall not be seeking the highest place. We shall desire to sit at the feet of Jesus, and learn of Him. We shall understand that the value of our work does not consist in making a show and noise in the world, and in being active and zealous in our own strength. The value of our work is in proportion to the impartation of the Holy Spirit. Trust in God brings holier qualities of mind, so that in patience we may possess our souls.
The yoke is placed upon the oxen to aid them in drawing the load, to lighten the burden. So with the yoke of Christ. When our will is swallowed up in the will of God, and we use His gifts to bless others, we shall find life's burden light. He who walks in the way of God's commandments is walking in company with Christ, and in His love the heart is at rest. When Moses prayed, "Show me now Thy way, that I may know Thee," the Lord answered him, "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest." And through the prophets the message was given, "Thus saith the Lord, stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." Exodus 33:13,14; Jeremiah 6:16. And He says, "O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea." Isaiah 48:18.
Those who take Christ at His word, and surrender their souls to His keeping, their lives to His ordering, will find peace and quietude. Nothing of the world can make them sad when Jesus makes them glad with His presence. In perfect acquiescence there is perfect rest. The Lord says, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee." Isaiah 26:3. Our lives may seem a tangle, but as we commit ourselves to the wise Master Worker, He will bring out the pattern of life and character that will be to His own glory. And that character which expresses the glory - character - of Christ will be received into the Paradise of God. A renovated race shall walk with Him in white, for they are worthy.
As through Jesus we enter into rest, heaven begins here. We respond
to His invitation, Come, learn of Me, and in thus coming we begin the life
eternal. Heaven is a ceaseless approaching to God through Christ. The longer
we are in the heaven of bliss, the more and still more of glory will be
opened to us; and the more we know of God, the more intense will be our
happiness. As we walk with Jesus in this life, we may be filled with His
love, satisfied with His presence. All that human nature can bear, we may
receive here. But what is this compared with the hereafter? There "are
they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple:
and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger
no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them,
nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed
them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall
wipe away all tears from their eyes." Revelation 7:15-17.
Last Modified 20 March 2000
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