About Seventh-day Adventism
By Walter R. Martin
Are there serious differences
concerning cardinal doctrines of Christianity?
In the first two articles of
this series on Seventh-day Adventism, we were concerned chiefly
with the history and some of the theological doctrines of
the Adventist denomination. We saw how Seventh-day Adventism
developed from the Second Advent (Millerite) Movement following
the Great Disappointment of 1844, and that the early Adventists
came from varying religious backgrounds, some orthodox and
some heterodox--that is, out of harmony with generally accepted
doctrinal teaching in particular areas. Thus, it was some
years before certain segments within the main body resolved
their differences and consolidated their beliefs in a doctrinal
platform acceptable to the majority.
We are concerned in this article
with some of the differences between Seventh-day Adventist
theology and the theology of "historic orthodoxy."
We have two questions:
(I) Are there major differences
regarding the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, between
Seventh-day Adventist theology and evangelical orthodoxy?
(2) Are the other differences that exist an insuperable barrier
to fellowship between Seventh-day Adventists and evangelicals?
Extensive study reveals seven
areas of disagreement. We shall note these seven areas, discuss
them, and attempt to reach a conclusion based upon all available
evidence, bypassing the morass of prejudice accumulating for
almost one hundred years.
Immortality, "Soul Sleep" and Annihilation.--The
doctrine of "soul sleep" (unconsciousness in death)
and the final extinction of all the wicked, is a cardinal
tenet in the theological superstructure of the Seventh-day
Adventist Church. This presents what is probably regarded
as the greatest bar to fellowship between Adventists and their
The doctrine of the "sleep
of the soul"--though the term is seldom used by informed
Adventists--involves the proposition that at the death of
the body the spirit, or principle of life in man, returns
to God who gave it, and man as a "living soul" (Gen.
2:7) lapses into a state of unconsciousness, oblivious of
passing time, pending the resurrection of the physical body.
The Adventists base this doctrine upon various texts in the
Bible where the word "sleep," in their thinking,
is used as a synonym for "death."
For example, "them that
sleep in the dust of the earth," "David is not ascended
unto the heavens," "David slept with his fathers,"
"the dead know not anything," "in death there
is no remembrance of thee," "Lazarus is not dead,
but sleepeth," "they which are fallen asleep,"
etc., Seventh-day Adventists take to mean that man is in a
temporary state of unconsciousness awaiting the resurrection,
or call to life. They point out that the Bible never refers
to "immortal souls," that it is God "who only
hath immortality" (I Tim. 6:15, 16), and that immortality
is declared to be a "gift," received from Christ
at the resurrection and is applicable only to resurrected
Some thirty-five pages in my
forthcoming book, The
Truth About Seventh-day Adventism, is allotted to a fuller
study of this problem, and its solution and refutation. So
at this time it will be unnecessary to go into detail. However,
the Scriptures teach that to be "absent from the body
is to he present [or "at home"--Greek] with the
Lord" (H Cor. 5:8), and I for one do not see how any
careful student of Greek today can read the first chapter
of Paul's epistle to the Philippians, especially verses 21
to 23, and not come to understand that the apostle clearly
meant with his choice of words that it was far better for
him "to depart and be with Christ" than to remain
there in the flesh, although it was needful for the Philippian
In that context the inspired
apostle indisputably maintained that "to live is Christ
and to die is gain." [f man, as an entity, be unconscious
until the resurrection, it certainly is not
gain. Again, in II Corinthians 5:8 and that context where,
although Paul states he would not desire to be "naked,"
that is "unclothed," until the resurrection, nevertheless,
he definitely teaches that the soul will be conscious in the
presence of the Lord until the resurrection, and that at the
resurrection the soul will be clothed with an immortal body
(I Cor. 15), the very image of the resurrection body of our
Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible nowhere
teaches what is commonly termed "soul sleep,"
nor is the term ever mentioned in Scripture, and we believe
the Adventists at this point are standing on weak ground exegetically.
However, it is only fair to
mention that such noted scholars as William Tyndale, whose
translation of the Bible was largely the basis for our King
James translation; Martin Luther, great leader of the Protestant
Reformation; and prior to them, John Wycliffe, himself a famous
translator, all held to the doctrine of the sleep of the soul--as
well as many other illustrious Christians through the centuries.
This, of course does not make the doctrine true. But, one
should see that if we refuse to fellowship with Seventh-day
Adventists on the basis of the doctrine of the unconscious
sleep of the dead then we likewise will have to refuse fellowship
with Tyndale, Luther, Wycliffe, and a host of other Christians
who held essentially that same view.
As far as this writer is concerned,
although he is in definite disagreement with the doctrine,
it does not constitute a bar to our having fellowship with
them, since the basis of fellowship is Jesus Christ crucified,
risen, and coming again--"God manifest in the flesh"--and
not the nature
of man or the intermediate state of the soul pending the resurrection.
The doctrine of the annihilation
of the wicked is felt by many to be a purely rationalistic
development in Christian theology. It assumes that in order
for the universe to be "clean" all evil will have
to be annihilated that good may eventually triumph. The fallacy
in this thought, as I see it, is that God is not circumscribed
by human concepts and methods of purging His creation. Further,
what may appear perfectly
logical to us, where a "clean universe" is concerned,
may be just the opposite in the divine mind. As I see it,
the Bible uses no terms which could be translated "annihilate"
or "reduced to nothingness." To argue, therefore,
for the annihilation of the wicked is to argue contrary to
the usage of the terms employed in the Bible to describe God's
final disposition of evil. Orthodox Christianity has commonly
held since the early centuries of the Christian era that God
intends to punish unto the everlasting ages of eternity those
who commit the infinite transgression of rejecting Jesus Christ,
the eternal Word made flesh (Matt. 25:46; John 3:36; etc.).
Seventh-day Adventists and their theological ancestors, historic
Christianity contends, have brought forth no valid scriptural
evidence to the
contrary, but only a rationalistic approach to what is
admittedly a difficult but not insoluble problem.
In essence, then, when the
Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew 25:46, "These shall
go away into everlasting punishment," He meant precisely
what He said, and to argue that in this text and others like
it "everlasting punishment" means
annihilation is contrary to the usage of the terms themselves.
Insofar as historic orthodoxy is concerned, the teaching of
the extinction or annihilation of the wicked is at best a
speculative position, unsupported by systematic theology,
good exegesis, and the application of the sound principles
Doctrine of the Sanctuary and the Investigative Judgment.--The
Adventist doctrine of the heavenly
sanctuary (discussed in my second article) holds that Christ
is now in the heavenly sanctuary judging who are to be accounted
worthy to reign with Him; and that when this work is completed
Christ will return to earth, bringing His rewards with Him.
Thus, say the Adventists, Christ is ministering the benefits
of the atonement which He completed
on the cross. As our great high priest (Heb. 4:14, 15)
Christ is interceding for us, constantly forgiving and cleansing
us from all sin (I John 1:7,9). The "investigative judgment"
itself is a term and a doctrine peculiar to Seventh-day Adventism,
and is based on an Arminian interpretation of the position
of the believer as opposed to the Calvinistic doctrine of
the eternal security of the believer. According to their interpretation
of salvation the Adventists hold that they may lose the benefit
of redemption through sin (Arminianism), and the investigative
judgment is no more than a modified device of Arminianism,
The doctrine of the heavenly
sanctuary and the investigative judgment, which they base
upon Hebrews 8 and 9, constitutes no real barrier to fellowship
when it is understood in its symbolic meaning and not in the
materialistic, and extreme literalistic sense in which some
of the early Adventist writers set it forth. The Adventists
themselves recognize that none of us can know of what these
"heavenly things" (Heb. 9:24) are composed. God
is here talking to men in language adapted to their understanding.
The earthly sanctuary, and its services, was but the "shadow
of heavenly things" (Heb. 8:5).
Contemporary Seventh-day Adventist
theology accepts the doctrine
in the figurative sense as great heavenly realities, and teaches
that the Lord Jesus Christ is still interceding for all Christian
believers before the throne of His Father. It should be carefully
observed here, that this doctrine of the investigative judgment
in no way implies, in Seventh-day Adventist thinking, the
concept of a dual or partially completed atonement; rather,
Adventists emphasize a completed, final work accomplished
by Christ alone on
Calvary for them as well as all believers, which atoning sacrifice
is ministered or applied by Christ as our Great High Priest
in heaven above (I John 1:7,9).
As Dr. Barnhouse pointed out
in his article in September the investigative judgment is
purely a speculative dogma, inherent within the structure
of Adventist theology, and when properly understood can offer
no real objection to fellowship between Adventists and their
Scapegoat, a Teaching concerning Satan.--This particular
doctrine was also discussed in the second article, where we
saw that Adventists do not
believe that Satan vicariously bears the sins of men.
Rather, he bears only his own responsibility
for the crime of tempting men to sin. It is not to be
construed that he is a co-worker in the atonement with the
Lord Jesus Christ. Though the scapegoat interpretation (of
Leviticus 16), is peculiar in the light of the usual historic
interpretation, it is not
heretical. And since this area of Adventist theology
does not involve a denial of the completed atonement made
by Christ alone,
it certainly cannot be cited as a legitimate reason for
refusing to fellowship with the Adventists.
Seventh-day Sabbath.--This doctrine is just plain
historical Sabbatarianism, which the Seventh-day Adventists
took over from the Seventh-day Baptists. In the eyes of many
it smacks of legalism, especially since the Adventists claim
that if one does not observe the seventh-day Sabbath he is
in disobedience to what they believe to be one of the express
commands of the moral law, or Ten Commandments as they describe
it. But the Adventists also teach that those who keep Sunday
in good faith and are honestly living up to all of the light
that they have on the issue do not have this disobedience
imputed to them.
Contrary to this position,
St. Paul tells us in the fourteenth chapter of Romans that
one man esteems one day above another, others esteem every
day alike and that each should be fully persuaded in his own
mind, etc. In the second chapter of Colossians, Paul also
tells us that days, feasts, ceremonials, types, etc., have
all passed away
at the cross. And in Colossians 2:16 and 17 the inspired apostle
specifically mentions the Sabbaths, in the plural,
clearly indicating that as far as he was concerned the
Sabbath issue was closed at Calvary.
Spirit of Prophecy.--The Seventh-day Adventist doctrine
of the "spirit of prophecy" teaches that spiritual
gifts did not cease with the apostolic church, but rather
that they have been manifested through the years, and especially
so in the writings and work of Ellen G. White, prominent early
leader in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. The Adventists
maintain that Mrs. White was specifically guided in penning
counsel and instruction to the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.
They esteem her writings highly, which one cannot understand
until one digests a sufficient quantity of them. They do not,
however, put her writings on a parity with Scripture.
Adventists regard the "spirit
of prophecy" counsels of Ellen G. White as counsels to
the Adventist denomination, and there is no reason why this
view should prohibit Christians of other denominations from
having fellowship with Adventists, so long as Adventists do
not attempt to enforce upon their fellow Christians the counsels
that Mrs. White specifically directs to them.
Health Reform (unclean foods, etc,).--The ministry
of Mrs. White, throughout her many years of association with
the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, uniformly encouraged
what has been called "health reform." This term
is much broader than the matter of diet. Mrs. White believed
and taught that the Scriptures give the best outline for the
care of the human body. Throughout her life she gave to the
Seventh-day Adventist denomination frequent counsels on health
principles, including dietary matters. Many individuals outside
the ranks of Adventism, looking at these dietary restrictions
covering what they call "unclean" foods (including
pork, lobsters, crabs, and various other edibles, which were
all forbidden under the Mosaic law), have reasoned that Adventists
are legalists in this realm and ought instead to consider
themselves "under grace" and free to eat all things,
as based upon Peter's vision in Acts 10:15. Here Peter saw
a great sheet filled with all manlier of beasts. creeping
things, and fowls. In this connection, the Lord speaking to
him, said. "What God hath cleansed call not thou common
Adventists hold that this vision
concerning the edibility of "all things" is symbolic,
and they quote verses 28 and 34, where Peter says., "God
hath showed me that I should not call any
man common or unclean" and adds, "Of
a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons."
In answer to the charge of
Mosaic legalism, a prominent Adventist authority on the Old
Testament, the Rev. W.E. Read, stated the denominational position
when he wrote:
"It is true we refrain
from eating certain articles as indicated, . . . but not because
the law of Moses has any binding claims upon us. Far
from it. We stand fast in the liberty wherewith God
has set us free. It must be remembered that God recognized
'clean' and 'unclean' animals at the time of the flood (Gen.
7:2, 8: 8:20), long before there was a law of Moses. We simply
reason that if God saw fit to counsel His people then that
such things were not best for human consumption, and since
we are physically constituted as are the Jews and all other
people that such things can hardly be the best for us to use
"It is primarily a question
of health. We attach religious significance to the question
of eating insofar as it is vital that we preserve our bodies
in the best health. This we feel is our duty and responsibility,
for our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 3:16;
6:19; II Cor. 6:16)."
It will be seen that, in the
Adventist view, certain principles of the Mosaic Law are still
operative today regarding the question of foods, just as certain
other features of the Mosaic law are operative today regarding
other truths carried over from the Old Testament to the New
Testament; but these are not forced upon Adventists in a legalistic
way, except as they personally feel moral responsibility or
where their conscience is concerned. That certain features
of the Old Testament law are taught in the New Testament,
no informed theologian will deny, and these were not
abolished at Calvary (See I Sam. 14:32, 33; Deut. 6:5:
10-12, 36, and compare with Acts 15, 28. 29; 21:25; Mart.
19:19; 22:39; Rom. 13.9; Gal. 5:14).
of the Adventists, now past the million mark, is scattered
over most of the countries of the earth. They consistently
seek to use the best foods available in the various lands,
as circumstances permit, while conscientiously avoiding that
which they regard as "unclean." Should any doubt
that the Adventists have some ground on which to stand, they
may check the instances where some Mosaic injunctions were
carried over as moral responsibilities in the New Testament.
We may not agree with Seventh-day
Adventists on the problem of dietary health reforms, but St.
Paul tells us, in Romans 14:2-4, that we ought not to judge
another's habits, etc., but leave such judgment unto the Lord.
Further, that we ought to do nothing that would cause our
brethren to stumble (I Cor. 8:15). Therefore, so long as Seventh-day
Adventists do not attempt to enforce upon their fellow Christians
these dietary restrictions this issue, too, fails to justify
a refusal of fellowship.
(7) The Remnant Church.--The
last area of conflict between Seventh-day Adventism and contemporary
evangelical Christianity is the "remnant church"
idea, espoused by early members of the Seventh-day Adventist
denomination. Still taught in the denomination, though in
a vastly different sense from its original conception the
idea is that Adventists constitute a definite part
"remnant church," or the "remnant people"
of God, of the last days. But they just as staunchly maintain
that God's true children,
scattered through all faiths, are likewise included in
this "remnant," in contradistinction to some early
writers in the movement who maintained that the term "remnant"
applied only to Seventh-day Adventists.
These early writers, in their
formative days, developed the idea that the 144,000, mentioned
in the book of Revelation, was the Seventh-day Adventist Church
in literal numbers. Such restricted views have long since
been repudiated by their leaders and the great majority of
Today, the term involves a
time element--the "remnant church" indicates the
great last segment of the true Christian church of the Christian
Era, existing just before the second coming of the Lord Jesus
Christ. Adventists further recognize that God's true followers
everywhere, whom He owns as His
people are true members of
this "remnant," which will constitute the
Bride of Christ at His glorious return to usher in the Kingdom
If Seventh-day Adventist theology
actually did maintain that they alone
were the chosen or "remnant church," and that
other Christians were excluded, we might say that a definite
reason existed for hesitation, where fellowship with them
is concerned. But the denominational position today clearly
recognizes all true Christians as fellow members of the Body
of Christ and part of the great last day "remnant people"
to be manifested in the closing days of the age of grace.
Some detractors still persist in quoting outmoded or unrepresentative
literature and out-of-context quotations not in harmony with
the true denominational position in an attempt to prove that
the Adventists are rigid exclusivists on this issue. This
assertion simply is not true!
As we draw this brief résumé
of current Seventh-day Adventist beliefs to a close, we feel
that the two questions that we set out to answer in the beginning
have been satisfactorily covered in the light of verifiable
contemporary evidence. It is definitely possible, we believe,
to have fellowship with Seventh-day Adventists on the basis
of their clear fundamental allegiance to the cross of Jesus
Christ, and to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith,
regarding which Seventh-day Adventists are soundly orthodox.
Despite their somewhat "heterodox" theological ideas
in some areas, they are most certainly true believers in the
Lord Jesus Christ.
As noted, the serious disagreement
that might most naturally arise in three areas--sleep of the
dead (and annihilation of the wicked); the Sabbath; and the
sanctuary - investigative - judgment theory--can be greatly
mollified by understanding the true Adventist position on
The leadership of the denomination
is eager to see that this position be set forth in their literature
and borne out in their activities throughout the world. There
is no doubt that Seventh-day Adventists desire to receive
and to extend the hand of fellowship to all truly within the
Body of Christ. The differences that exist between Seventh-day
Adventist theology and accepted historic orthodoxy, do not
justify the attitude which many have held toward Seventh-day
Adventism of either the recent past, or the present. Were
it not for the fact that many Christian writers and publishers
have seemingly been concerned only with selling books, pamphlets,
etc.. and combating certain phases of what they believe to
be theological error in Adventist theology, instead of digging
-out the true, verifiable facts and presenting the whole picture,
the Christian public today would have a much clearer concept
of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. True Seventh-day Adventism,
despite its differences from
us, is one with
us in the great work of winning men to Jesus Christ and
in preaching the wonders of His matchless, redeeming grace.
article concludes the series on Seventh-day Adventism by the
Rev. Mr. Martin.