Saturday, January 4, 2014

Adventists, Righteousness by Faith and Unity

As an Seventh-day Adventist, I was taught righteousness by faith growing up. Then when I married and compared my experience with my husband’s, something seemed wrong. His Adventist childhood was dark and scary. When I started
questioning other Adventists, I began to realize that I was the exception, not him. Most kids were raised to believe that they had to fulfill Ellen White’s moral and theological expectations in order to make you right with God and get to heaven. 

Therefore, I began looking into the actual SDA doctrine and discovered it did preach righteousness by sabbath-keeping. 

My parent’s grace-oriented spin on the SDA church had colored even the programming of all my years in the elementary, secondary and university Adventist school system. I knew what the church taught, but I had always seen everything through the eyes of grace and I guess I had just ignored Ellen’s more strident works-
righteousness writings as unenlightened white noise.

So, the subject of righteousness by faith became more important to me as I wrote our book, “It’s Okay Not to be a Seventh-day Adventist” even though works-righteousness hadn’t been my personal SDA experience.

But Adventists are not blatantly teaching works-righteousness now. While EGW’s writings are full of lists of things you don’t do to get to heaven, this new generation of SDA youth are not interested in theological technicalities. They are learning a new, improved Ellen-lite and if they are getting righteousness by faith and, as they insist, the other stuff is non-salvific, then hey, God bless ‘em their on the road to recovery!  

So, even though it is of monumental import, when I speak to Adventists I tend to bring up other issues first rather than righteousness by faith because frankly many of them truly understand it and those that don’t really think they do, so it seems more helpful to take another approach rather than argue that one. That is why I don’t get into the righteousness by faith argument with Adventists, which is often criticized by former SDAs.

For my conversations with Adventists, there are other issues that can break down walls of misunderstanding

between them and other mainstream Christians. Here is one:


The things that got to me personally, that hurt my conscience so badly that I left, had more to do with the SDA position on abortion, it’s distortion of history and it’s unbiblical doctrines.  But one more issue that I often do not discuss online but am making an effort to in the last couple of years is the issue of the SDA church distancing itself from other Christians. This lack of unity with and fear of other Christians was not only ignoring a command of Christ, it was eating us up (when I was SDA) as a people. We were so focused on preaching and teaching sabbath that we were not noticing that our families were falling apart.

Growing up in the 1970’s, my generation was a mess with drugs, sex, rock and roll. The SDA church didn’t speak out clearly on things that were destroying so many people I loved: pornography, drugs, rebelliousness, depression, confusion, divorce, abortion, sexual promiscuity. SDA youth were silently screaming for some adult to notice that they were miserable and even doing harm to themselves to get someone to help. Instead of acting to save their children SDA parents became passive victims with hand-wringing and glazed-over eyes and reverted into some catatonic paralysis assuming their children were the most target by the devil because they were the remnant. Or they would uncomfortably laugh and dismiss it as teenage drama. 

As long as kids were in church on Sabbath, no one was courageously saving them from pre-marital sex, drugs, misery, hopelessness....But even as a kid I knew that a church should do some saving, and what I saw was SDA kids crisis being ignored and their souls being sacrificed on the altar of SDA doctrine and culture.

And I didn’t accept it.  

As I read books by Focus on the Family and other Christian writers, I realized that we could use a huge dose of their wisdom. I wondered why our church couldn’t unify with other denominations on issues where we clearly taught the same doctrines? Yes, we had the sabbath truth, and we would go to martyrdom rather than worship on Sunday, but what about the ills plaguing our culture?

Something was wrong with this because the New Testament taught a “oneness” for Christians. Unity was a commandment of Christ just as other commandments, how did we explain tossing that one out just because we differed on the Sabbath.

Couldn’t we have joined with other Christians to combat the massive drug plague destroying our children? What about all the sexual abuse I knew about among SDA kids? What about divorce? Why didn’t we come together with other churches to have Marriage Encounters with them? When the Promise Keepers movement was popular, why couldn’t our church unify with that group instead of making a different group, calling ourselves Adventist Men (Amen)? 

And hey, while we are learning from them, we would be creating great opportunities for sharing the Sabbath truth!

Yet, we were made to fear them as potential deceivers. I blamed our elitism and fear on our inability to get help from other Christians. Oh, I knew that someday they would turn on us and
persecute us....but until that time, didn’t we want to be witnessing among them? Yet, we stayed aloof. At least the vast majority of us did. I knew the Religious Liberty arm of the SDA church would enter a “friend of the court” brief if a person’s religious liberty was threatened....but nothing to  embrace other Christians that was church-wide and substantial.

Over the years I yearned more and more for unity with my other brothers and sisters in Christ. What were we afraid of? It really puzzled me. Didn’t we trust God enough to go into the “world” of other Christians to love them? 

Then, it was brought up at the 2000 General Conference in Toronto. A person stood and asked if the doctrines of the SDA church could include other sabbatarian or other church groups as part of the “remnant” people spoken about in Revelation. It was debated on the floor and it was voted with a large majority that the SDA church’s doctrines would remain that we are the “sole remnant” people of God.

This shouldn’t have been so surprising to me, but it was a huge blow. I remember throwing myself down upon the ground arms outspread and crying out to God, weeping in repentance for my church. Inside, I knew we were not the sole remnant and the pride of saying such was keeping us from growing spiritually as a church and healing our family wounds. 

The SDA Church could never address the problems of the members, because she alone was the true remnant and that position kept her from seeking help from other churches. I knew that was a thoroughly unbiblical position. 

This wasn’t a new problem, this prideful exclusivity was a wickedness that formed the very basis of Adventism. And to see your church crumble before your eyes is a terrible thing for anyone to go through.

If the world was to know who the Christians were by their love one for another, then Adventism--the doctrines-- couldn’t be truly Christian, for we taught fear of other Christians. And love casts out fear.


Behind a great deal of my ministry to former Adventists is to gently show them the degree of separation they have had from the full Body of Christ and how evil it is that they have slandered and rejected God’s other children. It is truly a grave sin of pride that has crusted Adventists over and made them cynical, paranoid and suspicious of other Christians. 

What is so typical of this mindset is its inability to see themselves the way others see them. When confronted with their problems of pride, elitism and fear (as well as disobedience to God’s command of unity), all they can do is attack the messenger.

Those who expose their historical and biblical inaccuracies, those who remind them that it is they who teach other churches are the whore of Babylon and will come and persecute is they who are staying away and insisting upon disunity.... this reminder creates an even more entrenched victimhood
status in their minds. When a mirror is turned upon them, they cry foul and assume it is a great devil that would show them that they are not the sole remnant.

Yet, I do not give up on them. Adventists are victims, not of other Christians, but of themselves. While they are looking for a Sunday law, they will be ignoring and abandoning the true Christian persecution out there. And their children will continue to suffer and hurt without help.

Adventists we need you in the Christian fold. You need to be in the Christian fold. Do not be afraid. Unity is commanded by Christ, what are you waiting for?


Anonymous said...

I am not a biblical scholar, but what commandment tells us to "unify"?

Arik said...

Therefore, I began looking into the actual SDA doctrine and discovered it did preach righteousness by sabbath-keeping. "

Please show me an actual doctrine of the SDA Church that proves we are saved by Sabbath keeping.And speaking of Righteousness by faith has the church changed it's stance:

CANON 12: "If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ's sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified ... let him be accursed"

Canon 14: "If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema."

Canon 24: "If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema."

Canon 30: "If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema."

Teresa Beem said...

One of the problems of Adventist's doctrines is that they state that Ellen White's writings are an ongoing source of authority and then they also state they believe in righteousness by faith. Okay… if you ignore a lot of what Ellen White writes and only read part of her writings I can agree those things will work together. However, if you read all of Ellen White, technically it isn't righteousness by faith unless you change the evangelical meaning of righteousness by faith. The evangelical definition of "faith alone" is that if anything is required outside of faith, then it isn't technically righteousness by faith alone. Faith plus anything does not equal RbFA. So then, Adventists say that the Sabbath with be a last day test of Christianity. Therefore it cannot be technically termed a faith based upon the evangelical definition.

What Catholics teach is irrelevant to the subject. The premise we are working with is what ADVENTISTS teach. We can judge something according to truth and we can judge something according to the standards THEY have set up for themselves and the article is dealing with the second. (The two are not mutually exclusive, but are two ways of judging… just wanted to clarify that.)

Marcos Torres said...

If interested in hearing the other side of the story the following links may be of help.

These articles wont convince someone who has already made up their mind about SDA theology but they will help those who are openly seeking.

The truth is, read any and every old school Christian and you will see things in their books that, to our modern sensitive ears, appear to be legalistic. For example, John Bunyan, the author of pilgrims progress and champion of grace in his day (also authored Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners) believed that playing games and sports was a worldly sin that would cost your salvation. Even after he became enlightened by the gospel of grace he never retracted those beliefs. I wonder if Notre Dame would consider him a legalist? Then there was John Wesley who lived a life of extreme discipline and continued to do so even after he was enlightened according to the gospel of grace. In colonial America a person could be put in prison for kissing or holding their spouses hand in public on a Sunday because it was considered a worldly pleasure not to be pursued on the Sabbath. When Ellen White came along saying that we should take strolls out in nature on the Sabbath she was a liberal by comparison. Then there is the Bible. How many things did Jesus and the apostles say that appeared to be legalistic? I could string together a line of Bible verses that do so, top it off with a bit of James and make even Martin Luther question his salvation.

As an SDA Christian and theologian there are two accusations against our church that I find terribly outdated. The first is that the SDA church is a cult and the second is that we are legalists. Those accusations are so yesterday I am surprised people still bring them up. But like my father always said, if you look for a fifth leg on a cat long enough you will find it.

But you of all people should relate to that Teresa. There are countless books, websites, articles, and documentaries exposing the Catholic church from every angle imaginable. More than half of them are ridiculous.

I have also found websites exposing the evils of the Baptist church, videos exposing John Calvin as a man who didn't even know his Bible, John Wesley as a man who admitted he wasn't even a Christian and blah blah blah. At the end of the day, regardless of who says what, we have to go back to the Bible and rest our case on that. I am an Adventist because our teachings, while not perfect, are the most consistent with the Bible. Whenever someone shows me something more consistent, Ill move along.

Blessings Teresa! And a happy new year to you and Arthur.

Arik said...

"The evangelical definition of "faith alone" is that if anything is required outside of faith, then it isn't technically righteousness by faith alone."

No, this is the Catholic version of righteousness by works. The "Evangelical" position of by faith alone, is justification only salvation which excludes sanctification (that comes later), meaning we can remain justified (legally declared innocent and/or forgiven) while committing known sin. Which amounts to "once saved always saved".

The Adventist position is neither. Justification is not only declared but experienced. That what Jesus calls "born again" Paul calls "justified" ,the new birth does not follow justification, it is justification! It is not only the forgiveness of sin, it also is the reclaiming from sin.

Just as justification is declared at the moment of conversion, so is sanctification! The person who is washed from sin, cleansed by the blood of Jesus (born again) is also sanctified in the very act. To be sanctified is to be set apart for holy use. So sanctification just like justification has two parts. Sanctification is being declared holy and being made holy. All of which is by the faith alone!

What I find in the Christian world is predominately two schools of thought. Both parties (Catholic and Evangelical) put too much of a division between Justification/Sanctification. Though the terms can be defined separately, they constitute one act at the moment of conversion, not two. We can not have one without the other, and that is what I find in the Christian world. Catholic's emphasis is on sanctification (by works and faith) only, Evangelical's is on justification (by faith) only.

The SDA church does not in any way teach Righteousness by Sabbath-keeping. Please show where I can find this doctrine.

Arik said...

"One of the problems of Adventist's doctrines is that they state that Ellen White's writings are an ongoing source of authority and then they also state they believe in righteousness by faith."

According to Kenneth Samples from the Christian Research Institute these are the two doctrines "traditional Adventism" needs to abandon or we will be "fully deserving of the title cult."

Of righteousness by faih he says "Because this doctrine is so crucial to a proper understanding of law and gospel, their aberrant view of equating justification with sanctification leads to several other unbiblical concepts (lack of assurance, perfectionism, etc.)."

Sanples is correct that though seeds had been planted of justificaion "only" righteousness by faith before the 1950's(santification coming later, and does not contribute to salvation) traditional Adventism (meaning the official Adventist position)believes justification and sanctification both are necessary as part of the born again experience.

The Evangelical position of salvation by jusification only leads to the false doctrine of one saved always saved.

While it is true that some within Adventism have taken the traditional Adventist position of righteousness by faith (justification and sancification as one act on God's part)to the extreme by making it into works oriented salvation (legalism) it is important that Adventist do not swing the pendulum too far the other way and adopt the false gospel of the Evangelicals justification only righteousness by faith. We as Adventist are not Evangelical Adventists!

Marcos Torres said...

You make some great points here Arik. I would warn you, however, to be careful with identifying all Evangelicals as teaching "once saved always saved." This concept tends to be a more Calvinist concept that not all evangelicals accept. For example Lutherans, Methodists, and Pentecostals reject once saved always saved. So its not fair to say all evangelicals teach justification only because not all evangelicals do. The Adventist understanding of the gospel is not an SDA invention, it is a Wesleyan-Armenian understanding that is shared in many other denominations besides our own.