The Foundation of the Adventist Faith

The Adventist understanding of the inspiration of scripture.

EDWARD HEPPENSTALL, Professor of Theology and Christian Philosophy, Andrews University

The confirming of men and women everywhere in the "faith which was once delivered unto the saints" is perhaps the chief purpose of the gos­pel ministry. Such a spiritual achievement solves an infinite num­ber of difficulties that arise by way of doubt. It meets the temptation from subtle teachings and half-truths de­vised by the enemy whose name is legion. Some ultimate authority must make the meaning of life clear to men. It is cer­tainly not to be found within the mortal and sinful nature of man. For Seventh-day Adventists that authority is the Bible, which by the power of the Holy Spirit be­comes the voice of God to those who be­lieve.

The past one hundred years have seen perverse and corrupt uses and interpreta­tions of the Word of God, particularly in the twentieth century. The modernist and liberal positions have denied the unique­ness of the revelation of God in the super­natural birth, ministry, death, and resur­rection of Jesus Christ, and in the Bible record. Their appeal has been to an im­manent God, God within nature and in the natural processes. Such a position is purely naturalistic, not supernaturalistic.

The tragedy of two world wars in one generation and flagrancy of present-day sin have largely shown the spiritual bank­ruptcy of modernism and liberalism. There is now a return to supernaturalism. This is to be found in the modern movement of neoorthodoxy or neosupernaturalism, led by such men as Karl Barth, Emil Brun­ner, Reinhold Neibuhr, Gustaf Aulen, and also in the existentialism of Soren Kierke­gaard and Paul Tillich.

Modernism and liberalism made God part of the natural process. Neosupernaturalism is a revolt against naturalism. It is fearful for the status of Christianity in a naturalis­tic world. Whereas for modernism and lib­eralism God is immanent within nature and in man, for neosupernaturalism God is absolutely transcendent. There is no as­pect or form of nature, no grasp by human reason, no formulation in human terms, that can be identified with God's revela­tion. Therefore they hold that any depend­ence upon reason, sanctified or otherwise, is wholly inadequate to grasp the reality of God, His revelation, and His Word. God makes Himself known directly to the in­dividual in a "divine-human encounter" apprehended only by faith.

How can we know God's will? For the neosupernaturalist the content of God's revelation is not anything that is to be found in a book. Truth is communicated in a direct revelation from God to the in­dividual. The Reformation view that reve­lation is given historically in Christ when on earth and in the Scriptures is rejected. What then of the Bible? The Bible consti­tutes a witness to that revelation, they say. It is a historical record of such revelation to persons. But in itself it is not the revela­tion of God. The human mind with its powers of reason and logical thought is not capable of grasping the truth. Men can know truth only as God reveals Himself in the crisis of a personal encounter. To whom then does God reveal Himself, and how do men know they have such an experience?

That is up to God, says the neosupernatu­ralist. Certainly He does not reveal Himself by the Bible.

As a witness the Bible sets forth the rec­ord of men and women who have experi­enced this "divine-human encounter." But, according to the neosupernatural position, it contains errors of scientific and historical nature, and therefore cannot be accepted on the level of reason. God reveals Him­self, but not truth about Himself. God re­veals His presence as a subjective experi­ence, but not as objective truth.

The emphasis upon an inner, personal, vital relationship with God is, without a doubt, the most vital thing about Chris­tianity. Taken at face value, the neosuper­natural position looks very attractive. Es­pecially is this true where there has been an overemphasis upon paper orthodoxy over against spiritual experience, formal doctrine and theoretical concepts over against experimental religion.

No one recognizes more than do Sev­enth-day Adventists the serious weakness of an overemphasis upon theoretical truth. In numerous places in the writings of El­len G. White we have been warned against a formal, theoretical religion, devotion to doctrine rather than to the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. But one extreme is as bad as another. In an effort to escape formality and theory, the opposite position may ap­pear to possess a measure of attractiveness that makes neosupernaturalism appear ac­ceptable.

The truth is that neosupernaturalism is much closer to the line of truth than was ever modernism or liberalism. But that makes it all the more subtle and danger­ous. Neosupernaturalism has very cleverly used one of the supreme Biblical concepts in the phrase "the divine-human encoun­ter." Apart from this it has thrown out the written Word of God. Its advocates say one thing in Biblical terminology and mean another.

At this point let us remind ourselves of the counsel given us in The Great Contro­versy, page 593:

"So closely will the counterfeit resemble the true, that it will be impossible to dis­tinguish between them except by the Holy Scriptures. By their testimony every state­ment and every miracle must be tested." (Italics supplied.)

The Seventh-day Adventist position has been well stated in the chapter "The Scrip­tures a Safeguard" in the same book.

The neosupernatural position jeopard­izes the whole redemptive structure of the Christian faith. Historically it requires no actual redemptive act in Christ's incar­nation, death, and resurrection. Yet the whole scriptural position rests on the sin­fulness of man as the result of the histori­cal fall of Adam, and redemption through the atonement offered once for all on the cross of Jesus Christ. If the fall of man, the incarnation of Christ, His death and res­urrection, are not essential historical events for Christianity, then faith in Christ and in God is not faith in the revelation of God in the Scriptures at all, but in some mysti­cal concept that cannot be tested by any objective revelation. It is known only by a subjective experience. Who then is to tell what is the truth? A "divine-human en­counter" may be received on any level. Anyone, regardless of whether he is in har­mony with the Scriptures, can be said to be a believer. Then just how far may a per­son believe error and continue in error and still be regarded as "Christian"? Such a per­sonal encounter is therefore possible in any religion or cult. What is to be the test of truth? "Experience," we are told. But what is to test experience? There is in such a concept no objective test of truth.

The Seventh-day Adventist Position

For Seventh-day Adventists the truth and revelation of God in His Word does not depend for its validity and authenticity upon any man's experience. It remains in­dependently of all men the indisputable truth of God, regardless of whether man believes it or not. Man in himself needs such an objective revelation as the Scrip­tures because of the darkness of his mind. Man is wholly incapable of experiencing truth apart from such a revelation.

The Seventh-day Adventist position is that revelation from God is mediated through Christ, through the prophets and apostles, and not through everybody in a "divine-human encounter"; also that the presence of God is not addressed to us in the same manner in which it came to the prophets and apostles. God has spoken through His specially designated instruments in a way that He has not spoken to us. That revealed Word becomes authorita­tive for us who believe. We do not invent or produce our own Word. It is God's Word that matters, not ours. And any "di­vine-human encounter" that we may experience is in and through the revealed Word of God. It comes to us as we study, pray, and believe the Word. As such, God's revelation in His Word is not transcendent to reason. It is an appeal to sound reason, to sanctified reason, reason that is directed by the Holy Scriptures. A coherent and rational comprehension of God set forth in the Bible is the basis of a sound Christian experience. Furthermore, God not only reveals Himself but He also reveals sound doctrine that is scripturally urged upon all believers. Saving faith is always faith in Christ and in the written word of the Bible. It was this Word that Christ used so effectively to overcome the temptations of Satan (Matt. 4:1-11). It was this Word that Paul urged his associate ministers and workers to teach and to preach (I Tim. 1:3; 4;16; 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:15, 16; 3:15­17; 4:1-4).

It was this same Word that Wycliffe, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin used so powerfully and effectively through Christ to effect the Reformation, freedom from pa­pal domination, and to dispel the dark­ness of error.

"Wycliffe accepted the Holy Scriptures with implicit faith as the inspired revelation of God's will. .. . He declared the only true authority to be the voice of God speak­ing through His word. And he taught not only that the Bible is a perfect revelation of God's will, but that the Holy Spirit is its only interpreter."—The Great Contro­versy, p. 93.

"He [Luther] firmly declared that Chris­tians should receive no other doctrines than those which rest on the authority of the Sacred Scriptures."—Ibid., p. 126.

"He [Zwingli] submitted himself to the Bible as the word of God, the only suffi­cient, infallible rule. He saw that it must be its own interpreter. He dared not at­tempt to explain Scripture to sustain a preconceived theory or doctrine, but held it his duty to learn what is its direct and ob­vious teaching."—Ibid., p. 173.

It is this same Word that is urgent for every Christian teacher, preacher, and be­liever today.

"But God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only as the standard of all doctrines, and the basis of all reforms."—Ibid., p. 595.

"It is the first and highest duty of every rational being to learn from the Scriptures what is truth, and then to walk in the light, and encourage others to follow his exam­ple."—Ibid., p. 598.

Both Revelation and Experience Necessary

We must distinguish between the objec­tive revelation of the Scriptures and the personal response of the individual to that revelation. Both are necessary if the divine power of God is to be communicated to man. Nothing is clearer in the Bible than that there stands over against man the ob­jective revelation of God in the spoken and the written Word that comes with a "Thus saith the Lord." That Word came through the prophets and apostles in nu­merous instances to wicked kings and persons who, though they heard that Word as the message of God, failed to respond to it with a life of obedience.

God communicates both life and doc­trine. Before His death and resurrection Christ promised His followers the presence of the Holy Spirit. He declared that the Spirit would lead them into all truth. Such truth included the written Word of God, all of it. One wonders what neosupernatu­ralism would do with the great fact that God actually wrote the Ten Command­ments in stone. Such a stupendous revela­tion is something wholly distinct from the "divine-human encounter." Although the Ten Commandments have a spiritual depth that is revealed in the Sermon on the Mount, they nevertheless constitute actual propositions, verbal statements, an objec­tive revelation distinct from any response from man or experience in man.

The law of God becomes the focal point of testing. What did Christ mean when He said, "If ye love me, keep my command­ments" (John 14:15)? Such a law stands for the objective, independent standard of truth regardless of what men and women experience in their own lives. But the neo­supernatural position does not arise from within the Bible at all. It is wholly self-generated. Jesus, Paul, and the other apos­tles set forth clear ideas about doctrinal truth, the great doctrines of redemption, resurrection, the sanctuary, the everlasting gospel. And revolt against such revealed truth or rejection of it is contrary to both the law and the gospel. "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20).

The issue of Seventh-day Adventists is this: The Christian experience of the "di­vine-human encounter" is not an alterna­tive to conceptual truth and doctrine as re­vealed in the Bible. They are complemen­tary, not mutually exclusive. The problem we all face is to have such confidence and trust in the revealed Word of God, in the Holy Scriptures, that obedience to all the requirements of God will follow. Seventh-clay Adventists cannot repudiate any part of the Holy Scriptures. We believe that the statements of truth in the Bible are entirely trustworthy. And genuine Christian experi­ence does not in any way disparage such a revelation, nor does it occur independent of the Word of God.

The neosupernaturalist would have us believe that we cannot have both, that here are two types of knowledge—the one un­necessary and undesirable, the other the only real truth. But such a dichotomy is man made. The Bible knows nothing of two such opposing areas of knowledge. Ev­erywhere the Holy Scriptures require the full response to verbal and propositional knowledge. There is no exclusion of doc­trine, or the law of God, of written truth. To be sure, the Bible condemns men and women who do not bring their lives into line with the revealed Word of God. But nowhere is there repudiation of any objec­tive truth. For there can be no true aware­ness of God, no harmony with God, unless there is harmony with the Written "Word.

Seventh-day Adventists insist that God has spoken to us in words and in thoughts of men's language that can be grasped and understood by all who read the Sacred Book. Once the Written Word is considered no longer essential to a vital Christian ex­perience, then no longer is doctrine im­portant. And if doctrine is not important, there can be no specific tests or require­ments by which to measure conduct. What God has said and what God has written are absolutely vital. A mystical encounter can mean anything or nothing. To reject or deny that the Scriptures constitute the word of God is actually to deny that God has spoken at all.

Furthermore, the reason and mind of men are still a part of the original image of God, though of themselves incompetent to arrive at truth. There is no other way in which truth could be initially communi­cated to man than through the mind. The Word of God that is not understandable by reason and grasped first by reason is not truth at all.

Seventh-day Adventism sets forth two vital questions: First, do the church and the professed Christian have a sound and right theology and doctrine based upon the written Word of God? And second, does the believer have a saving experience through and in what he believes? One of the great tasks of the Adventist ministry is to lead persons through clear doctrinal thinking to an experience that is vital, valid, relevant, and workable.

In trying to be scholars there is always the danger of losing Christianity from life. Doctrines can become mere verbal descrip­tions of divine realities. Do we preach and

Foundation of the Adventist Faith teach our doctrines and the Word with di­vine authority and power to change lives? We do not suppose for a moment that a small dose of reason and logic when ap­plied to the Written Word is enough. No one begins to practice the truths of the Bi­ble on intellectual grounds alone. To stand by the Word of God means to know and believe that the Word of God is established forever in truth and in righteousness; that through its promises and revelation of the glorious activity of God on behalf of man, we may find power to live in harmony with that Written Word.

The great masquerade of evil is making it increasingly difficult to know what is truth. Seventh-day Adventists must stand their ground. There must be no sacrificing of the revealed truth of God in the Holy Scriptures. Our work is to secure from men and women everywhere a whole response to Bible truth.

The Sermon on the Mount was the first Bible selection in English to be published by the Ameri­can Bible Society under a new program in 1946. Since then it has been published in more than 40 languages and dialects and has had a circulation of more than 50 million copies.

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EDWARD HEPPENSTALL, Professor of Theology and Christian Philosophy, Andrews University

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