Some call it heresy

From belief to doubt and back again. MINISTRY editor J. R. Spangler interviews Martin Weber about how he found faith again in the church's understanding of the sanctuary and judgment.

Martin Weber, assistant to George Vandeman, director and speaker of the It Is Written telecast, is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Editor's Note:

Martin Weber, assistant to George Vandeman, director and speaker of the It Is Written telecast, is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. During his 12 years of service he has been a conference evangelist and pastor of several churches. He currently does research, writing, traveling, and speaking for the It Is Written telecast. Martin's struggle .with doubts over certain church doctrines led him to a thorough reexamination of the scriptural support for these doctrinal positions. Several of his friends went through the same struggle and unfortunately left the ministry and the church. Martin's struggle and findings of his studies have been documented in his book Some Call It Heresy. This faith-building volume needs to be placed in the hands of everyone who doubts the church's doctrinal position on the sanctuary and related beliefs. He also helped prepare the books What I Like About. . . and The Rise and Fall of Antichrist, by Vandeman. In the following interview Martin places in capsule form his journey from doubt to belief.

Spangler: How did you come to question church teachings?

Weber: It began during a summer workers' retreat. Several young pastors in our conference invited me to study the Bible with them. And I was happy to join them. Being conference evangelist, I wanted to get close to them so we could work well together in our meetings.

I soon discovered that they were into some pretty deep water. They had some fundamental doubts about church teachings. I saw where they were headed with their heresy and tried to help them. But instead of helping them, I myself became confused.

Soon my mind was boiling over with doubts. I couldn't understand what was happening. I had been happily baptizing people into the Adventist faith I loved. I never imagined I would ever disbelieve our teachings.

At first I tried to dismiss my questions, but couldn't. I had to be honest with myself—I had always told our audiences that there is only one reason to belong to a church: all its teachings must be found in the Bible. So I had to get to the bottom of this for my own peace of mind.

Spangler: Did the conference administration know what was going on?

Weber: Yes, I told them about our study group and the questions we had. By this time we were meeting regularly in motel rooms to study before workers' meetings. Naturally the conference administration became alarmed. The president asked us to stop studying together, and admonished me to stay in the mainstream. He told me not to chase the devil's doubts, but to keep preaching the message and leave the questions for others.

Spangler: How did you respond?

Weber: I wanted to cooperate. I agreed to stop our Bible studies, but explained that 1 could not preach the Adventist message if I didn't believe it. As far as the mainstream was concerned, I told him that something could be wrong with the mainstream, since all these years had passed and Christ had not come.

The president became really worried about me. He sent me to the White Estate to get straightened out. The brethren there were very kind and eager to help me. But nobody seemed to understand that I had to get my questions settled from the Bible, not the writings of Ellen White.

Outside the White Estate building I told my ministerial director that unless I could defend my faith from the Bible, I would have to turn in my credentials. That hurt both of us deeply.

Spangler: What happened next?

Weber: I searched everywhere for answers. About this time there was a ministerial conference in Takoma Park. Some of the ministers invited me to a secret meeting with Desmond Ford. He had an apartment on Carroll Avenue, right around the corner from the General Conference, where he was preparing his Glacier View manuscript. About a dozen crowded into Ford's living room, there in his basement apartment.

Spangler: What did he tell you?

Weber: Dr. Ford declined to discuss our questions on the sanctuary. He said he had promised the brethren to keep quiet on the subject until after Glacier View. He wanted to honor his word. He did agree to talk about anything else on our minds.

We asked him for advice about resigning from the ministry. He encouraged us to stay in our work unless we were made to leave. He said that at the same time we should keep studying until these matters were clear to us.

Spangler: Did you take Ford's advice?

Weber: Not entirely. I thought it made sense to stay in the ministry as long as I was searching for answers. But if I became convinced that the church was wrong, I would leave without being forced out. I didn't think I deserved to be supported by Adventist tithe dollars unless I believed Adventist doctrine.

During our time in Takoma Park several of us visited you at the General Conference, if you recall. We opened our hearts about some of our questions. You encouraged us to keep studying. You told us that every Adventist doctrine could be proved by the Bible and that if we would be patient and keep studying we would see it. That helped me quite a bit. '

Spangler: Just what were the doctrinal questions bothering you?

Weber: First, why would God jeopardize the security of believers by subjecting them to a judgment? What is the purpose of judgment, since God already knows those who are His?

I also had doubts about our time prophecies. The New Testament seemed to teach that Christ was prepared to come in the first century, not after waiting 18 centuries for 1844. And our proof of the day/year principle seemed pretty fragile.

Also, the book of Hebrews puts Jesus already at the throne of God within the veil. I saw nothing to indicate two separate apartments in heaven. Besides, if atonement took place at the cross, how could we say that the Day of Atonement didn't find fulfillment until centuries later?

Spangler: How did you get your answers?

Weber: Well, I took my family to the Lake Union Soul-Winning Institute in Hinsdale. I knew that if anyone could help me, it would be Mark Finley, director of the institute.

I asked Mark if he would come to our apartment and go head-to-head against a doctoral student from the seminary who had already given up church teachings. Mark was not one for debating, but he agreed to a series of private discussions in order to help me.

I'll never forget those Saturday' night Bible conferences. I still have my notes from their discussions.

Mark was pretty impressive. He proved from the book of Daniel that the prophecies stretched till the "time of the end"—not the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. He also exposed Ford's teachings as a kind of preterism.

Spangler: So that's how you regained confidence in the church?

Weber: I was beginning once more to see light in Adventist teachings. But still I had some basic questions. I could not comprehend the meaning of the pre- Advent judgment.

Right at this time Mark became ill for several days. Now, he is quite a healthminded man, who doesn't often get sick. But for several days he was flat on his back with the flu. He used the time to study the Bible. And when he came back to class, he had found the basic answers I needed.

Spangler: What did Mark show you?

Weber: He explained that the meaning of judgment, to the Hebrews, was vindication. Judgment was not a threat, but a favor, a way to deliver the accused from condemnation. I can't tell you how much this simple insight helped regain my confidence in our church teachings.

Further study showed me that in Old Testament times judges themselves served as defenders of the accused. There were no lawyers in the Hebrew legal system. Witnesses of the crime pressed charges, and judges defended the rights of the accused. Today our judges remain strictly neutral while the prosecuting and defending attorneys do battle. But back then judges were required by law to be biased in favor of the accused.

Of course, the judge still had to maintain justice. If the evidence required it, he would reluctantly abandon the defendant and execute punishment. But the whole Old Testament system was predisposed toward vindication, not condemnation.

You can see how this helped me accept a pre-Advent judgment. For the first time I realized that God is not questioning our salvation but defending His relationship with us against the accuser of the brethren. The celestial judgment does not jeopardize our security in Jesus, but rather, manifests and ratifies our assurance.

I discuss all this in chapter 4 of my book.

Another thing that Mark showed me was a list of exciting parallels between the judgment scenes of Daniel 7 and Revelation 4 and 5.1 had never seen this before. I consider this parallel the strongest New Testament proof of the timing of our sanctuary message.

Once I understood this connection between the judgment scenes of Daniel and Revelation, that was it. I had turned the corner. I was born again into the Adventist faith. Other questions remained to be answered, but I knew then that everything would work out. Chapter 12 of my book explains all this in detail.

You can imagine how happy I was to rejoice once more in the truth. I felt on fire, like a new convert.

Spangler: What about your friends in your home conference?

Weber: While I was away at Hinsdale they were drifting away from the church. A couple of them began quietly scouting around for other jobs.

I did my best to share with them the good news I was learning from Mark. I even bought a ticket for one of them to fly to Hinsdale and study with us. He came, but he was unable or unwilling to see the light. I couldn't save him for the church, no matter how hard I tried.

Each of my friends resigned or was removed from the ministry. And all of them left the church. One started his own "gospel" church right there in his former district. The fellow I flew up to Hinsdale, my best friend, left his wife and family and gave up religion entirely.

As you might expect, my friendship with the group came to an end. They accused me of compromising my commitment to the gospel by staying with the church. That hurt.

Spangler: When did you decide to write your book?

Weber: After getting back on my feet in Hinsdale, I was called to pastor a church in California. Soon after I arrived, a former associate pastor returned to town to set up one of the so-called gospel fellowships.

We had quite a struggle for the souls of some of our members. I was thankful that because I myself had wrestled through these problems, I could help my people. So they could understand the issues, I wrote the things I had learned in a little manuscript. Several church leaders read it and encouraged me to develop it into a book. And eventually Some Call It Heresy was published by the Review and Herald.

You know, the sanctuary crisis came and went, leaving most of our members scratching their heads, wondering what really happened. Many wonder just what went on in those "gospel" study groups. I thought I owed it to them to share my firsthand perspective.

Spangler: Tell us more about the book.

Weber: The first chapter is the story of my struggles. The next couple of chapters take another look at Adventist history. Then comes the meaning of judgment. After that I trace the judgment unfolding in Daniel, Revelation, and Hebrews.

In one of the later chapters I wrestle with the question of Ellen White. How can we live by the Bible and the Bible only, yet honor and benefit from her ministry?

Spangler: Looking back at your experience, what would you have done differently?

Weber: When conference leaders tried to dismiss our questions, my friends and I became frustrated. We developed a "we versus they" attitude, along with a persecution complex. I regret that very much.

Even so, during those six months of crisis I wasn't looking for conflict. I was looking for hooks to hang my faith on. I was praying for answers, and I embraced them as soon as they came my way.

Spangler: What do you wish the church had done differently?

Weber: I'm glad there were those who did not question my commitment because I had doubts, but instead helped me find answers.

Back then, most of the material the church published dealt with the crisis from a historical, not from a theological, perspective. All those warnings about Ballenger and Kellogg frightened me, but did not provide Bible answers for my questions.

Of course, since 1979 much excellent material dealing with the judgment from a biblical perspective has been published by our church. For example, I think of the October 1980 edition of MINISTRY. It helped me much in preparing my book.

One book I bought way back in 1973 would have helped me in 1979 if only I had read it—Dr. Heppenstall's Our High Priest, a marvelous book.

Spangler: What has your life been like since your crisis?

Weber: I've lost contact with my former friends who left the church. I've tried to write to them, but they haven't answered my letters. I exchanged a number of letters with Dr. Ford, but none lately. In his last letter he said that Hebrews 9:23 does not involve the cleansing of heaven's sanctuary. I say it does. And that's where it stands.

My understanding of the sanctuary has not changed in the past six years. It has deepened, but not changed. I marvel again and again to see new dimensions in this special truth that God gave our church.

I'm happy to say I enjoy good fellow ship again with my former conference officials. They invited me to give my testimony at camp meeting. It was a delight to work again with those dear men.

At present I'm with It Is Written, assisting in Elder Vandeman's exciting ministry. What a privilege!

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Martin Weber, assistant to George Vandeman, director and speaker of the It Is Written telecast, is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

April 1987

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