There is much debate over whether Seventh-day Adventists are a cult or just cultic. Clete Hux tells us, “Official teachings of the SDA denomination are expressed in its 28 Fundamental Beliefs which were originally adopted by the General Conference in 1980, with another belief (number 11) being added in 2005. Their teachings seem to be typical of Trinitarian Protestant theology, with Premillenialism and Arminianism…. They hold to the infallibility of Scripture, the substitutionary atonement, the resurrection of the dead, and justification by faith. However, there are certain distinctive SDA doctrines that would set them apart from the rest of the Christian world.” (Areopagus Journal, Vol. 9, No. 5, Seventh-day Adventism, p.21) To be sure, someone can come to know the true gospel in spite of SDA teachings, but that doesn’t negate the heterodoxy and heresy of some of their doctrine. I personally consider the SDA to be a cult. Some individual assemblies have become more orthodox in their teaching and that can cause some confusion. That being said, let's look at some of the doctrine of the SDA and let you decide for yourself how to categorize them.
Ellen G. White as a prophet: Without the teachings of Ellen G. White, the SDA as a unique church would cease to exist. The SDA claim Ellen G. White was a true prophet of God (as did she). Here are some examples of this claim:
“Seventh-day Adventists hold 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 was a prophet, so we believe that Mrs. White was a prophet to the church of Christ today.” (Review and Herald, 10/4/28, p.11, cited by Wallace D. Slattery, Are Seventh-day Adventists False Prophets? p.23)
“We do not believe that the quality or degree of inspiration in the writings of Ellen White is different from that of scripture.” (Dallas General Conference of 1980, cited by Slattery, p.23)
So how does Ellen White stand up to the biblical test of a prophet? Firstly, White participated in necromancy (communication with the dead), saying she conversed several times with her dead husband. This is forbidden by Lev. 20:27 and Deut. 18:10-12. Some of White’s false prophecies and teachings are as follows:
1. People alive in 1856 would be translated at the 2nd coming of Jesus. (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1, p. 131, 132, cited in MacGregor Ministries’ booklet Facts Seventh-day Adventists Won’t Tell You )
2. The U.S. “would be ‘humbled into the dust’ by England during the Civil War” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol.1, p.259, cited in Facts Seventh-day Adventists Won’t Tell You)
3. Ellen taught that people and animals interbred: “Since the flood there has been amalgamation of man and beast as may be seen in the almost endless varieties of species of animals, and in certain races of men.” White‘s friend Uriah Smith in 1868 explained what White meant - that the resulting “amalgamation” were “wild bushmen of Africa, Patagonians, and Hottentots.” (Slattery, p. 26-28)
4. White taught that “wigs overheat the brain and needlessly excite the system,” and that women who wear them would go insane. (“Words to Christian Mothers,” The Health Reformer, 6,4:121, cited by Slattery, p.28)
5. Ellen taught in 1884 that Adventists should remain unmarried and celibate because Christ’s return was imminent (Slattery, p. 28-29).
6. A teaching about the “shut door” doctrine was supposedly given to White in a vision, yet she reversed her teaching on this years later. While details of this doctrine are too lengthy to go into here, the point is that she claimed a revelation that had to be corrected several years later.
7. White often contradicted the Bible. For example, she stated that Christ was Michael the archangel, that God had to devise a plan of salvation after the Fall, that Christ’s blood did not cancel sin, that the atonement was not complete at the Cross, that Jesus did not die to bring salvation, that man can attain sinlessness in this life, etc (Slattery, p.32-34) J. Mark Martin also cites her teachings that the tower of Babel was built before the Flood (Seventh-day Adventism and the Writings of E.G. White, p.15)
8. Ellen taught that old Jerusalem would never be built up, but after 1948 the old city has been continuously built up. (Early Writings, p.75, cited by Martin, p.11)
9. Ellen prophesied that she would be alive when Jesus returned (Early Writings, p. 15-16, cited by Martin, p.12)
10. Ellen claimed she had visions of people, including Enoch, living on Saturn and Jupiter. (Martin, p.13-14)
11. Even after the Civil War was over, Ellen continued to prophesy that slavery would be reinstituted in the South (Dirk Anderson, White Out, p.91)
12. My favorite White teachings are on the subject of masturbation. According to this prophet of God, masturbation causes death, insanity, epilepsy, bad eyesight, bleeding in the lungs, spasms of the heart and lungs, diabetes, rheumatism, tuberculosis, asthma, and a dozen other afflictions.
Christian response: While many more false prophecies and teachings can be cited, only one false prophecy proves a prophet to be not of God (Deut. 18:22). Therefore E.G. White is a false prophet whose teachings should not be followed. White claimed angels gave her the Investigative Judgment, Saturday Sabbath, and that Sunday worship is the mark of the beast. Paul said that even if an angel gives a different gospel he is to be condemned, and that Satan and his demons can appear as angels. Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Cor. 11:14-15.
While the SDA claim they believe in the infallibility of Scripture, they have their own version of the Bible titled, The Clear Word. Claiming it to be a paraphrase, the author, Jack J. Blanco, adds much of E.G. White’s teachings to the book of Daniel to support the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment (see below), as well as many other changes. Although this is not an official SDA Bible, it is published by the SDA and sold through them.
Another Bible published and sold by SDA is their official “Study Bible.” According to Gary Mayo of the SDA-EGW Historical Society, “This is a large King James Bible with the writings of Ellen white below the Bible text. It also has many references to the writings of Ellen White which would be too numerous to print. The real concern, however, is what is said in the preface. We quote:
"…The need for the Word today is even more urgent. Every wind of doctrine blows (Eph 4:14). Satan is working 'with all power and signs and lying wonders' (1 Thess 2:10). Deceptions are so great, that 'if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect' (Matt 24:24). But God in his goodness has once again caused 'the testimony of Christ' to be confirmed in his church, so that we 'come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Cor. 1:6-7). His last day remnant people have had restored through the ministry of Ellen G. White, 'the testimony of Jesus' which is 'the spirit of prophecy' (Rev. 12:17, 19:10). To combine this inspired commentary [my emphasis] with the Scriptures themselves is the purpose of this present volume…"
Additionally, Lori MacGregor of MacGregor Ministries writes in her booklet, Facts Seventh-day Adventists Won’t Tell You, “They revere their prophetess Ellen G. White, and made this statement in their ‘Ministry Magazine’ of Oct. 1981 and have never retracted it: ‘We believe the revelation and inspiration of both the Bible and Ellen White’s writings to be of equal quality. The superintendence of the Holy Spirit was just as careful and thorough in one case as in the other.’”
The Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh Day Adventists, No. 17, states the following: “…As the Lord’s messenger, her [E.G. White] writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction.”
You can see plainly that, although claiming to believe in the infallibility of Scripture, they hold E.G. White’s teachings as essential additions to the Bible.
The Trinity: In the early days of the SDA they denied the Trinity. “…White wrote in Patriarchs and Prophets, page 761, ‘…He (Jesus) was revealed to them as the Angel of Jehovah, the Captain of the Lord’s Host, Michael the Archangel.’” (MacGregor Ministries’ booklet Facts Seventh-day Adventists Won’t Tell You)
The official position stated by the Church on their site appears to be orthodox: “There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons. God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present. He is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation. He is forever worthy of worship, adoration, and service by the whole creation.” However, even to this day there is confusion as to their idea of the Godhead. The Apologia Report, 7/30/09, has the following information:
“SDA author and seminary professor Dr. Norman Gulley writes: ‘We noted that there are several OT texts indicating a plurality in God, as one God addresses another God.’ From ‘Trinity in the Old Testament ,’ Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, Spring 2006, n.p.
“The official North American Division curriculum standards for SDA schools makes brief reference to the ‘Godhead as creators’ and also summarizes: ‘Understand that the God family - “God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit” - work in perfect unity, yet are separate and unique beings.’ www.tinyurl.com/lzt9yn
“The introduction to the Oct-Dec 1998 Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, the official SDA lesson quarterly, tells us that: ‘The Godhead consists of three divine Beings, unified in action but distinct in personality.’ www.tinyurl.com/mog2pc
“In his book The Marriage Covenant: A Biblical Study on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, the late Samuele Bacchiocchi, former Professor of Theology and Church History at Andrews University (SDA), writes: ‘The God of Biblical revelation is not a solitary single Being who lives in eternal aloofness but is a fellowship of Three Beings so intimately and mysteriously united that we worship them as one God.’ www.tinyurl.com/lv9an7”
Investigative Judgment: This is one of the heretical doctrines that sets the SDA apart from orthodoxy. Ellen White claimed she got this doctrine from an angel (but see Gal. 1:8-9, 2 Cor. 11:14-15). You can find this doctrine described in the Fundamental Beliefs of SDAs, No. 24 as follows:
“There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle which the Lord set up and not man. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and began His intercessory ministry at the time of His ascension. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic record of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry. It is a work of investigative judgment which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. The investigative judgment reveals to heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have part in the first resurrection. It also makes manifest who among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the commandment of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom…. It declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the Kingdom.”
Okay, so what does this mean in layman’s terms? Ex-SDA pastor Dale Ratzlaff explains this doctrine this way: “The…doctrine of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary and the investigative judgment teaches that at the ascension Christ entered the outer apartment of the heavenly sanctuary. From that time until 1844, he performed a ministry of intercession and forgiveness analogous to that of the earthly sanctuary’s outer apartment. In 1844 Christ entered into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary for the first time to begin a work of investigative judgment. This judgment deals only with those who have professed to believe in God. The wicked…will be investigated during the 1000 years and executed shortly after the close of the 1000 years of Revelation 20. The investigative judgment starts with the cases of the dead, reaching clear back to Adam and reviews the life records of every person who has professed faith in God. Every deed is closely examined. Each succeeding generation is investigated and judged. At some time, none know when, the cases of the dead are completed and God then moves to the cases of the living. SDAs believe they will not know when their name comes up in judgment. Therefore, it is extremely important that they engage in no frivolous activity or sin. Every sin must be confessed. Sins which have been forgotten and unconfused will stand against them in the judgment. Their characters must demonstrate perfect obedience to the Ten Commandment law, especially the Sabbath…. Some names in this list of professed believers will be accepted, others will be rejected. When every person confessing faith in God has come up in review, Jesus then pleads his blood before the Father on behalf of those who are found worthy, and blots out the record of their sins from the books of heaven. Then, not knowing if, or when, the work of investigative judgment has been completed, the righteous, still in their human state, before the second coming of Christ, will have to live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor. This, then, completes the atonement. Jesus then takes the sins of God’s people and transfers them to Satan, who is represented by the Day of Atonement scapegoat in Leviticus 16. Satan then bears the ultimate responsibility for all the sins he has caused the righteous to commit. He will suffer for those sins in the lake of fire and then be blotted from existence. The investigative judgment is conducted before all the intelligences of the universe [and] vindicates the character of God before all the unfallen beings.” (Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventist, p.157-162)
This doctrine has had many changes since 1844, as the “door of mercy“ was taught as being shut, then as being open and then as being shut again before it was again taught as being open; a study of just this doctrine is enough to demonstrate that Ellen G. White was a false prophet.
Christian response: Firstly, Jesus will not come in the inner rooms or invisibly, but will appear known to all: Matt. 24:26-27; Acts 1:11. Secondly, Christ always lives to intercede for us: Heb. 7:25. Finally, Jesus “paid it all,” that works are useless: Isaiah 53:6; Isaiah 64:6; John 1:29; John 17:4; John 19:30; Rom. 8:1; Eph. 2:8-9. Jesus paid for our sins entirely, not just partially.
Seventh-Day Sabbath: SDA teaching is that “Sunday-keeping” is part of the “great apostasy” and churches that do so are “daughters of Babylon.” They claim the true remnant church keeps the Jewish Sabbath as the “seal of God,” and that it would be the “final test” which will separate God’s saved people and the unsaved who “receive the mark of the beast.”
“Adventists believe that from Friday sundown until Saturday sundown they must do nothing more than is absolutely necessary to carry on life, with exception of religious observances. Disallowed activities include TV watching, secular radio listening, sports, one’s vocation (with exception of medical services and the ministry), and school study.” (Slattery, p.18)
The official statement on the SDA web-site says: “The beneficent Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God's unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God's kingdom. The Sabbath is God's perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God's creative and redemptive acts.”
Christian Response: First, it is good to look at what the early church taught about the Sabbath. Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho, spoke about the issue more than once. Contrary to the teaching of the SDA, Justin pointed out that those patriarchs prior to Moses never had the Sabbath: “Moreover, all those righteous men already mentioned [Adam, Abel, Enoch, Lot, Noah, Melchizedek], though they kept no Sabbaths, were pleasing to God; and after them Abraham with all his descendants until Moses.” (Chapter 19) “But if we do not admit this, we shall be liable to fall into foolish opinions, as if it were not the same God who existed in the times of Enoch and all the rest, who neither were circumcised after the flesh, nor observed Sabbaths, nor any other rites…. For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham, or of the observance of Sabbaths, of feasts and sacrifices, before Moses; no more need is there of them now, after that, according to the will of God, Jesus Christ the Son of God has been born without sin, of a virgin sprung from the stock of Abraham” (Chapter 23). “But the Gentiles, who have believed on Him, and have repented of the sins which they have committed, they shall receive the inheritance along with the patriarchs and the prophets, and the just men who are descended from Jacob, even although they neither keep the Sabbath, nor are circumcised, nor observe the feasts. … Or why did He not teach those—who are called righteous and pleasing to Him, who lived before Moses and Abraham, who were not circumcised in their foreskin, and observed no Sabbaths—to keep these institutions?” (Chapter 26) (all bold emphasis are mine).
As you can see, Justin, who was born about 114 AD, reflected the teachings of the early 2nd century church that prior to Moses there was no Sabbath law, and after Christ there is also no Sabbath law. This refutes the claim of the SDA which says the Sabbath law was from creation and that the early church practiced Sabbath-keeping. A second response would be looking at the Scripture, which I examined in my 5/19/10 post “Are Christians Required to Keep the Sabbath?” and to which I refer you. Finally, Paul said in Colossians 2:16-17 to not let anyone judge the Christian in respect to the observance of a Sabbath day, pointing out that it was a shadow of Christ’s coming.
Remnant Church: As with other churches in the “restoration movement” (e.g., LDS, Church of Christ), the SDA considers themselves to be the one true remnant church. “Their prophetess, Ellen G. White…has told them that ‘…Satan has taken full possession of the Churches.’ (Spiritual Gifts, V.1, P.189-90).’ “They also believe our prayers are an ‘abomination’ to God (Spiritual Gifts, V.1, p.190) (Facts Seventh-day Adventists Won’t Tell You)
Christian response: In order to be the “remnant,” the true church would have had to totally apostatize. This is impossible in light of Matthew 16:18 and 24:5, and Ephesians 3:21.
Soul Sleep and Annihilation: Because the Bible says in many places that the dead “sleep,” SDA say that that soul does not go to be with the Lord (or kept for judgment) at death, rather the soul is in an unconscious sleep until the resurrection. Those who are not saved are then destroyed and no longer exist - there is no eternal hell.
Christian response: “Sleep” is figurative because the body separates from the spirit at death to be reunited at the resurrection. The spirit of the believer goes immediately to be with the Lord: Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23-24.
1. “Adventism teaches that the Old Testament dietary laws of Leviticus 11 still apply to everyone. Thus pork, scaleless fish, shellfish, birds other than fowl, reptiles, and most mammals are forbidden foods. Adventism also emphasizes vegetarianism, believing that meat is becoming more unacceptable for food as time progresses. Any intake of alcohol is forbidden….” (Slattery, p.18)
Christian response: Besides the fact that the Levitical dietary laws were only for Israel and no one else, Christ declared all foods to be clean in Mark 7:17-23. And Christ turned the water into wine at Cana, and Paul suggest Timothy drink wine, so alcohol is certainly not forbidden in Scripture. Scripture does condemn drunkenness, but not the drinking of alcohol.
2. SDA prohibits the wearing of earrings, bracelets, and rings - including wedding rings - citing Paul’s teachings about modesty in 1 Tim. 2:9-10. (Slattery, p.48)
Christian response: There is no biblical prohibition for these items. Paul taught the modest use of any article, not the prohibition thereof.
There is your brief overview of some of the SDA doctrines and teachings. These are all unbiblical teachings by a false prophet. So, are the Seventh-day Adventist a cult or just cultic?
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