By the editors.

Is the Seventh-day Adventist Church being "shaken up" by a crisis of "identity and authority," as an article in the February 8, 1980, Christianity Today seems to assert?

The "Shaking Up of Adventism," writer Ed Plowman, a Christianity Today editor, explains, involves "recent developments that are plunging the Seventh-day Adventist Church into a serious crisis of identity and authority." Among them: a challenge by theologian Desmond Ford to the "traditionalist" understanding of the investigative judgment. Ford, an Australian on temporary assignment to Pacific Union College, in Angwin, California, was invited to Adventist headquarters in Washington, D.C., after a speech he gave in late October at a lay-sponsored conference at the college resulted in protest. Church administrators have asked him to spend six months, on salary, preparing a paper detailing his views, which will then be studied by a committee of theologians and administrators.

Also in ferment, the Christianity Today editor suggests, are "the issues of authority and ecclesiology," issues, our readers will be aware, that are making headlines in churches ranging from Roman Catholic through evangelical to Mormon. Plowman refers further to charges that Ellen White borrowed "liberally" from other writers—a charge that is hardly news to most Adventists and that few would deny. The article quotes Neal Wilson, Adventist General Conference president, as saying in a letter that Mrs. White herself "acknowledged using other sources," including "biographical, historical, spiritual, and scientific material." The issue hardly seems likely to shake up Adventists, who have been reading such acknowledgments in church publications for a number of decades. Notable among authors treating the issue is former Adventist Review editor Francis D. Nichol (Ellen G. White and Her Critics, pp. 403-486, published in 1951). Even the assertion that early in Seventh-day Adventist history "many of the church's members placed Mrs. White's teachings on a level equal with Scripture, and they tended to require the Bible to square with her views, a practice that persists among some Adventists today" hardly seems likely to register an upheaval of earthquake proportions on an ecclesiastical Richter scale. Ellen White herself, as most Adventists can document by a quick trip to their bookcase, ever pointed church members to the Bible for their authority and teaching (as Plowman also notes).

More worthy of concern is the article's identification of the current situation as a continuing plea "for the church to repent and to embrace Christ's finished work on the cross"—though, again, Plowman notes that the message of righteousness by faith was preached by two Adventist ministers in 1888, with the enthusiastic endorsement of Ellen White (and, we might add, by many ministers before and after 1888, though without the unity of belief we may wish to have seen). With the members of the early Seventh-day Adventist Church coming from a variety of existing denominations, belief in the finished work of Christ on the cross was simply assumed and thus tended to be neglected. In addition, attacks on such distinctive doctrines as the Sabbath and the investigative judgment caused many ministers to become more polemical than might have been desired; not a few might have been justly accused of preaching the law until they were as dry as the hills of Gilboa, that knew neither dew nor rain. What they should have been preaching was Christ in the law.

Certainly one could document the church's belief in the "finished work of Christ on the cross" throughout its history. Two recent sources would be Questions on Doctrine, a 1957 book that deals comprehensively with issues raised by a group of evangelical scholars who studied Adventist concepts at some depth, and Dr. L. E. Froom's monumental work, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (1954).

Nevertheless, Plowman quotes from the book The Shaking of Adventism (with its self-evident contribution to his article) as concluding that it is this truth—the finished work of Christ on the cross—that is shaking Seventh-day Adventism "right down to its foundation."

If, indeed, this is happening, we can only rejoice, for "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11). A fuller ex position of Adventism's foundation, Jesus Christ, can result only in blessings both for the church and the world.

What is MINISTRY'S perspective on the shaking? We would agree that some Seventh-day Adventist scholars (not most, as the article implies) are challenging positions long held by the church. Considering the emphasis the church long has placed on being students of the truth, rather than mere reflectors of other men's opinions, such a challenge will be met, we are sure, openly and honestly. Considering the independence of thought that has led many Adventists to disregard the traditional in joining the church in the first place, the wonder is that Adventists enjoy the high degree of unity they do. No Protestant church is more widely dispersed: of nearly 3.3 million members, only 585,050 are in North America (in 3,927 congregations); the rest are to be found in almost every country of the world, where, under a diversity of religious, cultural, social, and political systems, they profess, with a degree of unity equaled by few other religious bodies, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism."

At times we could wish for more diversity of opinion—if based on solid Biblical study. The stagnant unity of a church that rests on past laurels, past understanding of Bible truths, is not the dynamic "unity in truth" for which Christ prayed. Often quoted from Adventist pulpits is the Saviour's lament: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now" (John 16:12).

We firmly believe that God yet has light ("that shineth more and more unto the perfect day") for us. We believe likewise that additional light will amplify—not destroy—previously con firmed truth. We acknowledge our indebtedness to the many denominations from which our forefathers came—Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and others—for the fundamental truths of the gospel that characterize our preaching; and we claim no monopoly on truth today. Thus we can hardly be immune to scriptural insights suggested by our own theologians and lay people, as well. The Seventh-day Adventist Church long has made provision for any church member to share his understanding of God's Word with col leagues in Christ from the level of the local church right up to the General Conference Committee itself. And, as Richard Hammill, the General Conference official responsible for monitoring the current situation, observes: " 'The church has a history of being gentle with its creative people.' "

The Christianity Today report, we feel, was written with a genuine effort to be fair and evenhanded. Yet, there are differences in emphasis we would make. We think it gives greater weight to the "ferment over the issues of authority and ecclesiology" in Adventist ranks than reality warrants. Dissatisfaction with the status quo (or even the feelings of those who indulge in more radical criticism) does not, we believe, constitute a serious threat to Adventist church structure or unity. On the other hand, we would unblushingly confess that the Adventist family does not reflect a state of unalloyed bliss. But, despite problems, as Plowman himself observes, "Adventists enjoy a measure of sound health. Growth has been fairly rapid, especially overseas."

We could add that tithes and offerings—often an indicator either of approval or dissatisfaction—continue to indicate broad support and confidence in leadership. In North America alone SDA church members gave more than $200 million in tithe during 1978 (the latest figures available). Members added $150 million in various offerings, for a per capita of $662.86 in North America—exceeding, according to the 1979 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, that of any other major church group. And such commitment is needed: the church's operating expense worldwide in 1978 was nearly $2 billion.

We do not cite these figures boast fully. God forbid that we take pride in anything that sinful beings do only by God's grace. The figures do support our assertion, we believe, that the "developments . . . plunging the Seventh-day Adventist Church into a serious crisis of identity and authority" are not so serious as the article alleges.

But we do not dismiss the charges. Particularly do we take to heart Plow man's report (he quotes unnamed Adventist leaders) that "many Adventists in actual practice have confused justification with sanctification and believe that their salvation rests on perfection ism and good works."

Though we don't think a canvass of Adventists would come up with quite such a dismal picture, we share the concern that some do indeed fail to under stand (and equally important, to experience) the fullness of Christ's redemptive ministry on their behalf, both as their Saviour and as their high priest.

We would add, with sorrow, that ignorance on these great themes is not unique to Adventism. The same issue of Christianity Today that carried Plow man's report on Adventism carried a perceptive interview with evangelical leader Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in which he deplored the emphasis in current evangelical preaching that emphasizes the need of the new birth to the neglect of the grand doctrines of atonement and justification. He spoke also of evangelical churches with "an identity crisis" and of "other compromised churches, many of whose leaders and teachers of students disown basic Christian doctrines."

As we have emphasized in those issues of MINISTRY shared with our col leagues of the cloth of many faiths, all God's children, in whatever fold, would please the Great Shepherd by mingling prayers and tears for one another, that all might have the assurance of salvation, through faith in Christ alone, as well as experiencing the freedom and victory that are the fruitage of the in dwelling Christ, and, moreover, that the unity for which Christ prayed, a unity in truth, might soon characterize His shat tered body.

Another Plowman observation, though not of great importance in the context of the article, could be nudged closer to the accurate. (With his passion for accuracy, Plowman might place as great a weight as we do on the corrective.) Here is Plowman on how Adventists came to their present understanding of the investigative aspect of Christ's ministry in the heavenly sanctuary:

"Ex-Methodist Hiram Edson and Ellen G. Harmon, the future Mrs. White, said they had visions showing that Christ had not come out of the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary [in 1844] after all, but had come out of the first compartment of the sanctuary and entered into the second, or most holy, to receive kingdom, dominion, and glory."

The statement leaves a wrong impression. The forerunners of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (not officially organized until 1863) did not develop their convictions concerning Christ's work in the second apartment of the heavenly sanctuary as the result of visions, but rather from thorough study of Bible types and prophecies. In fact, Hiram Edson never claimed to have had a vision. Rather, he says that on the morning of October 23, 1844—the day after Christ was expected to return—"'Heaven seemed open to my view, and I saw distinctly and clearly that instead of our High Priest coming out of the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary to this earth . . . He, for the first time, entered on that day into the second apartment of that sanctuary.'" —H. M. Kelley, "The Spirit of 1844," Review and Herald, June 23, 1921, p. 5.

This new scriptural understanding was not accepted by the developing Seventh-day Adventist Church on the basis of Edson's strong conviction. Instead, it came as the result of weeks and months of Bible study and prayer, and was later confirmed by Ellen White.

(Because of theological questions raised by the Christianity Today article, we are dealing further in a future article with the significance of 1844 and Christ's priestly ministry, as well as with the scriptural base for these and other doctrines.)

But there is something of sadness yet to be shared: our conviction that the Seventh-day Adventist Church does, in deed, need a "shaking up" though not necessarily in the areas of current disagreements. A church that emphasizes the imminent return of Christ which, moreover, in its very denominational name commits itself in perpetuity to that reality must submit itself to a continuing question: Why isn't Jesus here yet? And the answer is, at least in part, Be cause of our failure—a failure we share with all others who have heralded that long-deferred event. It is a failure rooted, we believe, in all the liabilities of Laodicea "lukewarm," "rich, and in creased with goods" [materialistic], "have need of nothing" [an arrogance born of spiritual blindness]; but in reality "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:17). Thank God for the mercy that shares the prescription: "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich, and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see" (verse 18).

Our fervent prayer for our own hearts, for the officers of the General Conference, for all our pastors, teachers, and people (and for all who acknowledge their need) is that we might, as Christ so graciously invites, "be zealous there fore, and repent" (verse 19).

Plowman quotes a cross-section of Adventists as saying that the "church must get the issues out into the open and deal with them responsibly."

We would suggest that the issues are well on their way into the open if, in fact, they have ever been hidden. And we believe they will be dealt with responsibly, through the authority Christ has invested in His church, and in the spirit of love and compassion for both people and truth He desires His church to reflect.

But to put it straight: We do not see our greatest need to be a re-evaluation of 1844 and the investigative judgment, nor even to settle questions of identity and authority. Our greatest need is twofold: first, our need for gold, white raiment, and eye-salve, which, when applied, will settle all other matters "in spirit and in truth"; and second, in a collapsing world, reeking with death and hopelessness, we need to be about our Father's business of proclaiming the good news of salvation to "every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (Rev. 14:6).

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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By the editors.

May 1980

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