"What of Seventh-day Adventism?"

"What of Seventh-day Adventism?"

Two articles by Harold Lindsell, faculty dean at Fuller Theological Seminary, recently appeared in Christianity Today, under the above title. Melvin Hickman here presents his observations on Dr. Lindsell's criticism that Adventism is not deserving an evangelical status.

MELVIN G. HICKMAN, Pastor, New Jersey Conference

Harold Lindsell, in Christianity Today, has raised the question, "Is Seventh-day Adventism evangelical?" His article and the decision of the editors to publish it indicate the Christian world is not dismissing Seventh-day Adventism lightly. Apparently SDA is here to stay un­til the judgment day; so it seems well that responsible evangelical leaders should cross-examine it, provided they can do so with some of the humility and the seeking spirit which they rightly ask of Adventists.

As one from the rank and file of Seventh-day Adventist ministers, and as a lifelong son of the Advent Movement, I am con­cerned that this cross-examination by re­sponsible religious leaders of other Chris­tian communions be conducted in a way that will be purgative upon us rather than purgatory to us. We have had too much of the prejudiced kind of criticism filled with glaring inaccuracies regarding Adventist beliefs. On the other hand, we welcome a Biblical examination of all our teachings.

It is only fitting, however, that the atten­tion of Mr. Lindsell and the editors of Christianity Today be called to certain ob­servations in the Lindsell article which can­not serve the evangelical world any con­structive purpose in dealing with Seventh-day Adventism.

Source Material Inadequate

To begin with, Dr. Lindsell's selection of source material precludes his arriving at the facts in the case. His verdict is: Ad­ventism teaches a salvation of grace plus works; but what is the primary reference he asserts makes "the conclusion inevita­ble"? He bases it largely upon the com­ments of a lone author, whose Adventist publisher, the Review and Herald, is not a synod of censors. More than half of his pertinent documentation on this point is from this one pen. It would appear that the question under discussion was: "Have certain isolated Adventists shown some de­gree of legalism?" rather than the pur­ported question, "Is Seventh-day Advent­ism evangelical?"

A critic is hard pressed to document his point when Adventism collectively is stamped with the observations of isolated authors, especially so when more signifi­cant, indicative, and recent materials are available. Dr. Lindsell omitted the perti­nent statements both of Ellen G. White and of Questions on Doctrine. It would seem more fitting for our critics to cite ma­terials that clarify our institutional doctri­nal position rather than materials that con­fuse it.

To support his contention that Advent­ists teach salvation by grace plus works, Mr. Lindsell quotes a statement from Ques­tions on Doctrine that appears on pages 410-413 under a different subject, that of "The Investigative Judgment." Why did he not rather quote from the entire chapter that deals with "Questions on the Law and Legalism," and specifically from Question 14, "The Relationship of Grace to Law and Works"? Note these passages:

According to Seventh-day Adventist belief, there is, and can be, no salvation through the law, or by human works of the law, but only through the sav­ing grace of God.—Questions on Doctrine, p. 135. (Italics supplied.)

Salvation is not now, and never has been, by law or works; salvation is only by the grace of Christ.­Ibid., p. 141. (Italics supplied.)

We profoundly believe that no works of the law, no deeds of the law, no effort however commenda­ble, and no good works . . . can in any way justify the sinner. . . Salvation is wholly of grace; it is the gift of God.--Ibid., p. 142.

Misinterpretation of Source Material

Lindsell further complicates any attempt to arrive at the truth of Adventist teaching by inserting his own words within a source quotation. (Other authors have used dele­tions also to the same end.) He states: "The following are extracts from SDA writings," but in the indented quotation he inserts his own words, without any indi­cation of having done so: "(they are not justified when they receive Christ, but be­come, as it were, candidates for eternal life)." It is left to appear that this paren­thetical inclusion is contained in the book quoted. Yet this is not the case, and, in­deed, the inserted statement is diametrically opposite to the truth the book teaches.

How can he say that Adventists teach that men "are not justified when they re­ceive Christ"? As an SDA I have always been taught that I am wholly justified when I receive Christ. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5: 1). Tertullian's interpretation as set forth in the Lindsell article is entirely foreign to our theology.

Lindsell perpetuates another common error by which critics approach Adventism. He gives his own explanation of what Ad­ventist authors mean by what they say rather than presenting the understanding and teaching Adventists draw from what their authors say. How a people under­stand and interpret their own authors to the world determines their collective teach­ing and belief. If critics continue to by-pass Adventism's interpretation of its own au­thors and are to substitute their own inter­pretation, they cannot get at the real Ad­ventist theology.

It appears to me that Lindsell proceeded to test Adventist evangelicalism by one of his own "theological accretions." He stated, "According to SDA teaching, men can and do lose their salvation," as though he were among that segment of evangeli­cals who believe man cannot fall from grace. He is entitled, of course, to believe this if he does, but I cannot see how he has a right to deny Adventists an evangelical index for believing that men can fall from grace. Some Baptists and certain other de­nominations that are classified as evangeli­cal hold the same viewpoint. For that mat­ter, so does Paul, who describes some who "are fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4).

The Sabbath and Salvation

As for the bearing our Sabbath position has on our teaching of salvation—the point to which Mr. Lindsell attached most sig­nificance—our position is no different in nature from that of certain accepted evangelical churches with respect to other commandments of the Decalogue, such as the second and the seventh. Many evan­gelically accepted brethren would deny that a professing Christian could attain heaven or remain saved by grace while knowingly, willfully, and habitually bowing to images or committing adultery. Why then should we be classified as nonevangelical because we hold a similar position about another commandment in the same Decalogue—the Sabbath of the fourth commandment.

If a professed Christian, after receiving all the evidence God has given him in the course of all his opportunity to discern and obey divinely revealed truth, still habit­ually disregards any of the commandments, including the fourth, not only Adventists but others contend that he has fallen from grace. Numerous evangelicals of many faiths could say this same thing with ref­erence to other habitual practices they con­sider sin, and yet be considered evangelical. I think all the responsible among us recog­nize that it is not our right to say just when God holds any person responsible for new light.

Why the Sabbath Emphasis?

Seventh-day Adventists place emphasis on the fourth commandment, not because it has a meritorious bearing on the doc­trine of salvation—such a thought is in­congruous to us—and not as if the fourth commandment were more important than all the others, but because it has been changed, obscured, and neglected by man. Prevailing practices are in contrast to the practice of Christ and His apostles with respect to the Sabbath. We believe this has had unfortunate theological, moral, and practical consequences upon the church, the individual, and the world.

We do believe that the substitution of the first for the seventh-day Sabbath is a part of the postapostolic apostasy to be re­pented of by Christians, just as most Prot­estants in the Reformation era believed that the practice of images in the churches was a part of the Roman apostasy from the sec­ond commandment, and therefore to be re­pented of. We do envision a final test in the world based upon this distinction, for it is the most critical and unmistakable theolog­ical holdout of organized Christian reli­gions against the authority of God.

Such tests are not exceptions to the rule in the history of God's revelation. Surely Christians will agree that Biblical evidence attests the fact that from time to time God has tested, by critical issues, the claims His people have made to divine salvation. Noah was saved by faith, but the test of his faith was whether he would prepare and enter the ark. Israel was saved in the Pass­over by faith in the blood, yet the test was whether they would sprinkle the blood in a certain place. Christ's sayings declare, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them," and, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the king­dom of heaven" (Matt. 7:20, 21).

No SDA I know thinks in terms of being "saved by grace and kept by works," as Lindsell puts it. Seventh-day Adventists do not believe that the Sabbath is either a procurer or a preserver of salvation, but rather, that it is a sign of something vital and significant, a sign that ultimately will hold a critical meaning for an enlight­ened world. It is also a test that now holds great meaning for each individual as he comes face to face with it.

Suggestions for Critics

We welcome sincere Christian critics who will employ fair and scholarly methods, not to dig up our past to obscure our present, but to get at the heart of our positions rather than nibbling at the periphery. Such will stick to fundamental issues, and will not create for us associations of beliefs we do not hold. All Christian commun­ions need to face the facts of divine revela­tion in a prayerful and teachable spirit of humility.

In resolving the question, Does SDA be­long to the evangelical fold? it should be remembered that there are various defi­nitions of evangelical. The question should be settled as quickly as is reasonably possi­ble. Time is at a premium. We do not want to spend the time to protect our shins, that we need to spend to help God to save men from sins. I believe the question is valid and vital, and that answering it is good for Adventist thinking. But let us get on from here. There are other serious, pertinent questions that need our mutual stimulus and Christian brotherhood.

The question soon should become, not, Is Seventh-day Adventism evangelical? but, How can the movement better implement its evangelical ministry to its fellow men? To hasten the further implementation of an evangelically oriented theology will be no small task for Adventists.

Flexibility of Spiritual Progress

The most hopeful aspect of the scene is that Seventh-day Adventism is experienc­ing a brighter day of sincere Christian scholarship. Some in its ranks have under­gone the pain of discovering that our his­tory is not without its problems, that Ad­ventism was not suddenly handed the whole truth on a platter, and that we have much to learn as well as much to share. It behooves us to humble ourselves among Christian brethren. We believe we have something to offer and we had better be examining the reasons why we have not yet fulfilled the destiny we believe we should have fulfilled a half century ago.

To some SDA ministers the question has become, not, Is something wrong with the message God has commissioned us to present? but, How well do we comprehend the message that is essentially ours to bear? How may we purify our concepts, modify the content of our evangelism, and engineer the appropriate corresponding meth­ods?

We would be haughty souls, indeed, to suppose we cannot find stimulus and in­spiration from the critics outside our ranks if they will practice toward us the princi­ples of Christian scholarship, and if they will extend to us the hand of Christian brotherhood.


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MELVIN G. HICKMAN, Pastor, New Jersey Conference

August 1958

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