Is Seventh-day Adventism evangelical? This question we intend to answer, especially in relation to the issue of salvation by faith as opposed to salvation by faith plus works. Framed in a slightly different way, we must ask whether SDA offers salvation by works plus grace, and whether its view, particularly on the Sabbath question, violates the doctrine of grace and consequently involves the error of Galatianism.
Before we approach this concrete problem, a few observations should be made. First, we must affirm that all of the SDA people who truly accept Christ as the Son of God and Saviour are regenerate believers and brothers in Christ—despite theological accretions and legalistic attitudes. One cannot assume that members of SDA are unsaved simply because they are Adventists any more than one can assume that Baptists are saved simply because they are Baptists. Secondly, we must have regard for the integrity of those with whom we disagree, and argue the issues without reference to personalities. Thirdly, no reason exists why dialogue on the question should not be continued until SDA has had its full opportunity to be heard.
It is the opinion of this writer that SDA does mix grace and works and thus falls into the error of Galatianism against which Paul writes. The error of SDA is the same error embraced by Tertullian. “Tertullian talked of man as saved by grace. But grace, he believed, served to support man’s will so that through his good works he might obtain the reward of eternal life. In other words, man had to add to the work of Christ at the Cross” (“The Reformation and Eastern Orthodoxy,” by Paul Woolley, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Jan. 20, 1958, p. 8). Perhaps the simplest way to deal with the issue is to state the verdict and then to cite the references that make the conclusion inevitable.
The Sabbath Test
Mrs. Ellen G. White is SDA’s leading light, being regarded as its authoritative and final voice. In her book The Great Controversy (p. 449), Mrs. White asserts: … in the last days the Sabbath test will be made plain. When this time comes anyone who does not keep the Sabbath will receive the mark of the beast and will be kept from heaven.
The implications are clear. When the last days have come, men will be faced with the issue of obeying the commandments of God or the commandments of men. The issue will center in the fourth commandment, and whoever does not keep the Sabbath will be lost.
F. D. Nichol, in his Answers to Objections, asserts:
We do not say, nor do we believe, that keeping the Sabbath command, or any other of the Ten Commandments, gives a man entrance to heaven.… But we do say that the man who willfully breaks any of God’s commandments, which includes the fourth, shuts the door of heaven against himself. No willful sinner will enter its portals.
But it is difficult to reconcile such a concession (even if it retains a questionable exposition of the fourth commandment) with other SDA literature that continues to be propagated by SDA agencies.
Milian L. Andreasen’s book, The Sabbath (Review & Herald, Washington, D. C., 1942), listed in the bibliography of Questions on Doctrine, says:
We believe that we are living in the latter days.… The distinguishing characteristic of this church (the last church of God on earth—Revelaton 14—the Seventh-day Adventist church) is that it keeps (not that it will keep) ‘the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.’ … The chief distinction between those who keep the commandments and those who make light of them, is in regard to the Sabbath.… The Sabbath is (not “will be”) still a sign, a mark of distinction, that marks the difference between those who serve and obey the Lord, and those who obey a human enactment sponsored by the man of sin (p. 246).
Farther on Mr. Andreasen says:
God is jealous for His Sabbath. He wants men to honor it.… Instead of helping to repair the breach, they attempt to build another wall.… How true to fact is this prophetic picture of what is going on in the world today! Men have rejected the Sabbath of the Lord and have substituted a spurious Sabbath. This they daub with all kinds of spurious arguments to make it look substantial and good, but to no avail. At last it will go down, and they that daub it will go down with it. On the other side are the people of God (Seventh-day Adventists). They are restoring the old paths, they are repairing the breach, they are standing in the gap. They delight in the Sabbath, they keep the commandments, they endure unto the end. They are the true saints of God. Men are now deciding which group to join.… From the vantage point of God’s Word we know the outcome. The little group shall ‘ride upon the high places of the earth’; the larger group will go down to destruction when the overflowing scourge shall come (p. 274 f.).
Mr. Andreasen states that at the end there will be 144,000 commandment-keeping people. He says:
In these 144,000 God stands justified. He has proved by them that the law can be kept under the most adverse circumstances. He has disproved Satan’s assertion that God is unjust in demanding that men keep the law. God is vindicated. Satan is defeated. The controversy is ended (p. 312).
From all this it is obvious that the Sabbath problem, as it relates to necessity and, in turn, to legalism, is of central importance in evaluating this movement. What does keeping the Sabbath mean? Mrs. White says: “God requires that his holy day be as sacredly observed now as in the time of Israel.”
She further comments:
Those who discuss business matters or lay plans on the Sabbath, are regarded by God as though engaged in the actual transaction of business. To keep a Sabbath day holy, we should not even allow our minds to dwell upon things of a worldly character. And the commandment includes all within our gates (Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 296,307).
SDA has published a church manual used for local situations, Fundamentals of the Everlasting Gospel, by Arthur E. Lickey (Takoma Park, Washington, D. C., 1947). Among the questions to which a “yes” answer is expected is this: “Do you accept Christ’s sacrifice and God’s commandments?” Elsewhere, on page 38:
The Bible protection against receiving the mark of the beast is faith in Jesus Christ and loyalty to God’s commandments. The issue will center in the fourth commandment. The Sabbath will be a specific test.
The issue here at stake is not simply whether the revealed moral law has permanent validity, but whether justification is in any way conditioned upon the keeping of the commandments, and whether the Sabbath-Sunday issue in turn is to carry priority.
The following are extracts from SDA writings:
… the first work of grace is justification. The continuing work of grace in the life is sanctification. Some who start on the way of God and rejoice in the thought of being justified (they are not justified when they receive Christ, but become, as it were, candidates for eternal life), fail to appropriate the indwelling power of Christ by which alone they can be sanctified. The result is that at last they are found unworthy. Man, once saved, can turn back to the world (Questions on Doctrine, Review & Herald, Washington, D. C., 1957, pp. 410,412).
Then, if a righteous man fails to develop or maintain or if he goes back on his first choice of Christ, he will lose his salvation.
If he continues in iniquity, none of his previous manifestations of goodness will ever be mentioned. He forfeits all the blessings of salvation and goes down into death (op. cit., p. 415).
In view of the principles here set forth, it seems to us abundantly clear that the acceptance of Christ at conversion does not seal a person’s destiny. His life record after conversion is also important. A man may go back on his repentance, or by careless inattention let slip the very life he has espoused. Nor can it be said that a man’s record is closed when he comes to the end of his days.… In order to be just, it would seem that God would need to take all these things into account in the judgment (op. cit., p. 420).
These extracts from SDA writings show the attitude of this group toward the Sabbath and demonstrate its importance to their theological scheme of things. Someone will ask whether these extracts show that the failure of men to keep the Sabbath will keep them out of heaven. Another may well ask whether a man loses his salvation if he thinks about business affairs on the Sabbath.
The Way Of Salvation
If we relate these Sabbath teachings to their frame of reference, it will be seen beyond dispute that in the SDA system salvation is not by grace alone but by faith plus works.
According to SDA teaching, men can and do lose their salvation. The only way by which men can lose their salvation is through sin. Is the breaking of the Sabbath sin? SDA says “Yes.” Indeed, Mrs. White says that the Sabbath is violated by thinking about business matters. In answer to the question “… can one worship sincerely on Sunday, but fail to keep the Sabbath, and still be counted a faithful and obedient Christian?”, SDA says two things. First, SDA says that anyone who has had “the light of Sabbath teaching” made clear to him and then breaks the Sabbath is responsible. “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). “Repudiation of recognized light then becomes a matter for which one is responsible” (Questions on Doctrine, p. 177). This responsibility entails the loss of salvation.
Secondly, SDA goes one step further. It teaches that the day is coming when the truth of the Sabbath will be known to all men. And at that time whoever does not keep the Sabbath will be lost.
When Sunday observance shall be enforced by law, and the world shall be enlightened concerning the obligation of the true Sabbath, then whoever shall transgress the command of God, to obey a precept which has no higher authority than that of Rome, will thereby honor popery above God. (op. cit., p. 178).
At that time whoever refuses to keep the true Sabbath will receive the mark of the beast, and whoever receives the mark of the beast is lost.
To this we reply, that if men now or later must keep the Sabbath to demonstrate their salvation or to prevent their being lost, then grace is no more grace. Rather, we are saved by grace and kept by works.
Let us put it still another way. SDA teaches that the Sabbath is Saturday, and Saturday alone. Sabbath-keeping to them is honoring Saturday only. Adventism repudiates the concept of the first day of the week as the Sabbath. Some Protestants talk of the Sabbath school and mean by that term the Sunday school. SDA never talks about keeping the Sabbath on the first day of the week, nor allows that keeping Sunday is or can be Sabbath-keeping, on the ground that the Sabbath was and is and always will be Saturday, and never Sunday. Until we get this clear, we cannot understand Adventism. Thus it teaches that any man who keeps the first day of the week (even when calling it Sabbath-keeping) is knowingly or unknowingly violating one of the Ten Commandments now and forever binding on Christians. Certain conclusions are then drawn. One is that the person who knows “the truth” of the true Saturday Sabbath is lost through not keeping Saturday as the Sabbath. The other is that if a person keeps the first day of the week rather than Saturday, but does so because he lacks “full light” on the subject, that person is not lost. But the time is coming at the end of the age when all people will have the true knowledge of Sabbath-keeping, and whoever then does not keep Saturday as the Sabbath will receive the mark of the beast and be lost. Andreasen says, “He who takes the Sabbath (Saturday) away, takes worship away, closes one of the doors to heaven …” (p. 28). He says also, “We hold … that the seventh day is (his italics) the Sabbath of the new dispensation, and that the first day is (his italics) not” (p. 185).
SDA as surely—in distinction from Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses—does not deny the absolute deity of Christ, nor reject his atoning sacrifice on Calvary. SDA rather is at fault in its doctrine of salvation and falls into an error common to Romanism. In all probability, it should be classified with this very group—which it marks off as responsible for changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday—in the denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s death for man’s salvation. SDA, in my judgment, is not evangelical and never will be until this serious error in its teaching is rectified.
A Perpetual Memory
In Upper Room at solemn hour,
With all His love, the Saviour gave
The holy bread and wine, to be
Of Him Who came our souls to save,
The Blest Memorial.
To signify the body given,
To be for us of life the bread;
And precious blood of sacrifice,
That won for us life from the dead,
In this Memorial.
“Take eat—drink this” in faith and love,
Through all the years that lie between
His full self-giving on the cross,
And when His glory shall be seen,
This Blest Memorial.
With deep thanksgiving we may share,
And sharing unity attain—
The broken bread, the wine outpoured,
‘Till He in triumph comes again.
O Blest Memorial.
We join with those who, gone before,
Now dwell with Him in realms of light;
For He Who is their source of joy,
Is with us in this Holy Rite,
This Blest Memorial.
We dwell in Him and He in us;
We yield our lives in service true,
And pray that we may ever be
Refreshed by grace for ever new,
In this Memorial.
ARTHUR J. PATSTONE
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