Dale Ratzlaff is the founder of Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., and owns LAM Publications, LLC. He served as an Adventist pastor for 13 years, seven at Monterey Bay Academy where he taught Bible. He and his wife Carolyn left the Adventist church in 1981 when he realized he could no longer teach the investigative judgment in clear conscience. He has authored Sabbath in Christ, The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists, The Truth About Adventist "Truth", and Truth Led Me Out. These are available through his website, LifeAssuranceMinistries.com.
This summer marked the occurrence of the 59th annual General Conference session of the Seventh-day Adventist organization. This quinquennial event is memorable for the election of Elder Ted N. C. Wilson as the new General Conference president. He gave his first "presidential address" to the world organization in his Sabbath sermon on July 3, 2010—the last day of the session. The tone and content of his talk moved significantly in the direction of historical Adventism.
In this article I will present the simple gospel as it is defined in Scripture, contrast Wilson's sermon with the gospel, and evaluate Adventism in the light of the gospel.
There are a number of statements in Wilson's sermon that cry out for evaluation; one, however, deserves the closest scrutiny because it deals directly with the gospel. Here is his statement:
Grace is the promise of God's pardon and the provision of God's power—justification and sanctification. You cannot separate what Christ does FOR you (justifying you daily as if you had not sinned) from what He does IN you (sanctifying you daily as you submit to Him and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to change your life to become more and more like Jesus.) This is the everlasting Gospel spoken about in the first angel's message. It is righteousness by faith.1
Before we examine this statement in the light of the new covenant gospel, we must see the gospel from two perspectives: (1) its simplicity—"he who believes has eternal life"2 (Jn. 6:47) —and (2) the need for accuracy defining, proclaiming, and defending the gospel with precise clarity.
In John 4 we have the story of the Woman of Samaria. She had been and was still "living in sin." Her theology was limited, if not faulty. When she was presented with the truth that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior of the world, however, the story leads us to believe she received salvation: "Sir, give me this water" (Jn. 4:15). Then, after she had sipped the "Living Water", she left her water pot there at Jacob's well. She immediately became an evangelist: "Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?" (Jn. 4:29).
And many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world." (Jn. 4:41-42).
This is gospel simplicity. She probably knew nothing regarding the terms justification and imputed righteousness or sanctification and imparted righteousness. This sinning Samaritan simply believed that Jesus was the Christ, and she was saved.
Luke 19 tells the story of Zaccheus. We know little about him except that he was a tax collector, rich, and short, and he climbed into a tree because he "wanted to see Jesus." Jesus looked up at him and invited Himself for lunch and said, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."3
We might summarize this gospel incident thus: "Look at Jesus who came to seek and save the lost, and you will have salvation."
The following texts give ample evidence of gospel simplicity:
Whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.4
He who believes in Him is not judged.5
He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.6
He who believes in Me shall live even if he dies.7
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.8
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.9
Whoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be saved.10
Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him shall not be disappointed.11
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.12
Paul defines gospel simplicity in 1 Corinthians 15. Please note that it is the simple gospel and it is the saving gospel! I have highlighted the key words:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (emphasis mine).13
In summary, we could say that the simple gospel is designed for unbelievers. It is a proclamation of the Christ event anticipating only one response: belief (faith and trust) in Christ.
Gospel clarity is needed to protect the integrity of gospel simplicity. While gospel simplicity is designed to be a proclamation to unbelievers so that they may respond in faith and be saved, gospel clarity is needed to weed out false teachers who think they are guarding the purity and/or morality of the church, but in actuality they are undermining and perverting the gospel—and here is the important point—they subtly, sometimes blatantly, move the object of faith away from Christ so that their adherents begin to trust partly to the righteousness that is in Christ and partly to the righteousness that is developed in their own lives.
Some would say that the simple gospel described above is "cheap grace" or only part of the "real gospel". "The simple gospel is truth," they would say, "but is not the complete truth. In order to be ready for Christ to come one must not only accept Christ's righteousness that is in Christ, but there must be enough of personal righteousness for one to ‘be safe to save' or to give the ‘final demonstration' to the world that the law can be perfectly kept." Usually those who include imparted righteousness in their definition of the gospel will also have behavioral lists by which a person can measure his progress in personal righteousness. Following are a few examples where hundreds could be given.
The practise [sic] of using liquor, tobacco, tea, and coffee must be overcome by the converting power of God. There shall nothing enter into the kingdom of God that defiles.14
The Spirit of God cannot come to our help, and assist us in perfecting Christian characters, while we are indulging our appetites to the injury of health, and while the pride of life controls.15
You, my dear sister, are vain; you have lived an aimless life, when, had you been humble and lived to bless others, you would have been a blessing to yourself and to all around you. May God forgive your parents and sisters for the part they have acted in making you what you are—just that which God cannot accept, just that which, if you remain the same, will be stubble for the fire to consume in the day of God.16
You are not teachable, therefore the cause of God would not prosper in your hands. You would fail to recognize a defeat when you met with one. The cause of God would be brought into disrepute and dishonor by your labors, and you would fail to discover the fact. A certain class may be convinced by you of the truth; but more would be turned away and placed where they could not be reached by proper, judicious labor. Interwoven with your experience are things that will prove detrimental to the truth. God cannot accept you as a representative of the truth.17
In the above quotations one can see that faith in Christ is not enough; there must be a certain amount of character development before the blessings of the gospel are realized. In the New Testament, however, we learn that anyone can come to Christ just as they are. Once they are born-again, or saved, then they enter a life of obedient living which will have its ups and downs, but all the while they are beloved children of the Father trusting their salvation 100% to the righteousness that is in Christ which is God's righteousness imputed to them.
That the simple gospel of salvation in Christ could be proclaimed to the Gentiles, while they were still Gentiles, shook the apostolic church to its foundation. Here is the record:
But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses".18
These legalistic believers felt they were protecting the church from losing its purity and/or morality. Obedience to the Law of Moses, they said, was "necessary". It was against this backdrop that we see the wisdom of the Glorified Jesus sovereignly choosing Saul, the well educated Pharisee. By the time this issue came to a head, Paul had already received several revelations from Christ that gave gospel clarity and protected the simple gospel from false teachers. His epistles to Galatians and Romans, as well as his other letters, provide for us the fine-tuned theology needed to answer the questions that came up in the early church and are still being asked today.
When the Galatians wanted "to be under law" and began observing "days, months, seasons, and years", Paul said, "I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain."19
The Galatian church is a case in point for our study today. They were moving away from the simple gospel by which they were saved and were adding to that Gospel which, according to Paul, made their "gospel" one of a different kind. And to the false teachers who were promoting the different "gospel", Paul gave his strongest reprimand.
But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.20
Gospel simplicity is the genuine, new covenant gospel which can be proclaimed and believed and which results in salvation. Gospel clarity is needed to protect the integrity of gospel simplicity by identifying false teachers who add to the simple gospel, and who include in their "gospel" not only faith in Christ, but to some degree trust of personal performance. With this clarification we now turn to President Wilson's sermon.
President Ted Wilson's sermon, "Go Forward", a case in point
Pastor Wilson's sermon reveals the gospel confusion still present in the Adventist church. I am not casting aspersions on Elder Wilson or any other person, but I am pointing out that the Adventist system has not moved—at least as indicated in this sermon—from its historic, cultic roots. Those of us who have come out of Adventism and are ministering to transitioning Adventists must evaluate the gospel with precision and clarity. The simple gospel is our plumb-line of truth against which all evaluation is to be made, and the gospel is our plumb-line for evaluating President Wilson's sermon.
While some of his statements sound good on their own, let us consider the following:
"As Seventh-day Adventists, we accept the Bible as the foundation for all our beliefs and see in its pages our unique prophetic identity and mission."
Really? Without the interpretation of Ellen G. White (EGW), many Adventist doctrines fall: Sabbath as the seal of God, Sunday as the mark of the beast, the Adventist church as God's only true, remnant church, and 1844 as the beginning of the investigative judgment and the cleansing of the sanctuary to name only a few. One of our readers some months ago promised $100,000.00 to anyone who could prove the 1844 sanctuary doctrine and investigative judgment from Scripture. We had no takers. Adventist scholars know it is impossible.
"Seventh-day Adventists have been chosen by God as a peculiar people, separate from the world… He has made them His representatives and has called them to be ambassadors for Him in the last work of salvation."
This statement taken from Ellen White is simply without biblical foundation unless one resorts to wild proof-texting from apocalyptic passages.
"The observance of the Sabbath is not only a sign of His creatorship in the beginning but will be THE sign of God's people in the last days in contrast to those with the mark of the beast representing an attempt to keep holy a day which God has not set apart as holy" (Wilson's emphasis).
Here is an example of adding to the simple gospel. Adventists clearly make Sabbath-keeping a point of salvation. On the one hand they can say they believe in salvation by grace without works, yet on the other, keeping the Sabbath is necessary for salvation. The Sabbath is never set forth in the New Testament as "THE sign of God's people." Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another".21 We are sealed by the Holy Spirit,22 not by Sabbath keeping. The sign Christians are to remember to celebrate in the new covenant is the Lord's Supper.23
"…God has proclaimed as His test of allegiance…the seventh-day Sabbath."
Sorry, not found in the New Testament. Here Adventists are making a "test of allegiance" out of something that is not the gospel—something that is not even expected of Gentile converts.
"Grace is the promise of God's pardon and the provision of God's power—justification and sanctification. You cannot separate what Christ does FOR you (justifying you daily as if you had not sinned) from what He does IN you (sanctifying you daily as you submit to Him and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to change your life to become more and more like Jesus.) This is the everlasting Gospel spoken about in the first angel's message. It is righteousness by faith."
Here is real gospel confusion. It is true in one sense that one cannot separate justification and sanctification in that a justified person is also declared sanctified.24 Nevertheless, one must clearly distinguish between the two. Further, it is justification and justification alone that provides our right standing with God. That is why a clear gospel presentation proclaims, "This man receives sinners." "Whosoever will, may come." "Whoever believes in Him has eternal life." Moreover, justification happens at the moment we believe and are born of the Spirit. It does not happen over and over again, day after day. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee that we are justified and that eternal life is ours.25
In addition, as soon as one includes "sanctifying you daily as you submit to him and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to change your life to become more and more like Jesus" in the definition of "righteousness by faith", the gospel is undermined. Even though EGW said, "God's requirement under grace is just the same as He made in Eden—perfect obedience to His law,"26 we must remember Paul's clear statement, "as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless".27 Then Paul, the Apostle of Christ's choosing who was given the gospel by a revelation from the glorified Jesus, said,
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" (Phil. 3:7-9).
New Testament "righteousness by faith" is not that which is worked out in our lives. Paul said that he met the requirements of the "righteousness of the law",28 and yet compared to the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (not works), he saw the righteousness of the law as only "rubbish". By contrast, New Testament righteousness by faith is the very "righteousness of God" that is imputed to us the instant we believe the good news of Christ. It is never, in this life, fully imparted to the believer.
Defining "the everlasting gospel" as the power of the Holy Spirit that will help us become more and more like Christ is not the new covenant gospel taught by Paul and the other Apostles. The "gospel" promoted by Elder Wilson and Ellen White includes imparted righteousness, "sanctifying you daily as you submit to Him and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to change your life to become more and more like Jesus." This "gospel" cannot be "proclaimed" but only commanded.
Quoting from Steps to Christ by EGW, Wilson says,
"Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us (justification), and in that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us (sanctification)" (my emphasis).
As soon as one moves from trusting in 100% justification (faith in Christ's righteousness that is in Christ) and starts to place some part of his trust in his sanctification, suddenly, all assurance is gone. How much character development must one have? Who is to determine if you have cooperated enough with the Holy Spirit so that you are becoming more and more like Jesus? Did you perfectly keep the Sabbath? Are you guarding the edges of the Sabbath? Are you late to Sabbath services? Are you keeping the Sabbath exactly as Jehovah commanded the Israelites to keep it?29
Do you cook or build a fire on the Sabbath? Do you love your enemies enough? Do you pray enough? Are you wasting some of your time? Are you giving enough of your money to the Lord's work? What about TV and what you watch? Are you spending a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ? Are you up to date in reading your Bible through this year? Are you following the "light" on health reform? Do you eat between meals? Have you given up all pickles, cheese, spices and rich pastries? Do you eat meat, drink tea, coffee or have a glass of wine with your evening meal? Why are you wasting your money on family photographs which should be given to advance the Lord's cause?
The list could go on for thousands of pages, and it does in the Testimonies of EGW. It should be obvious that as soon as one takes his complete trust off Christ and places even some part, no matter how small, of his trust in his own religious experience, he is headed for one of three outcomes: (1) continual guilt for not measuring up; (2) thinking he has achieved perfection which results in judging others who do not measure up; or (3) the response we have heard from hundreds of former Adventists, "I can't be good enough; I might as well go out and enjoy a life of sin because I am going to be lost anyway. There is no hell, so that looks like the best choice."
"My brothers and sisters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Lord has given us one of the greatest gifts possible in the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. Just as the Bible is not outdated or irrelevant, neither is the testimony of God's end-time messenger. God used Ellen G White as a humble servant to provide inspired insight about Scripture, prophecy, health, education, relationships, mission, families, and so many more topics. Let us read the Spirit of Prophecy, follow the Spirit of Prophecy and share the Spirit of Prophecy."
Wow! Where should I begin to comment on this sentence? Here are just a few comments on Wilson's "greatest gifts possible":
Scripture: Ellen White contradicts, adds to, and confuses clear Scripture truth, including the gospel, on numerous occasions.30
Prophecy: (1) She made a number of false prophecies.31 (2) She endorsed the false prophecy of William Miller's 1843 chart and said it was just as God wanted it. (3) She taught that the prophecy of the "shut door" of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25 referred to the door of salvation which was closed to everyone who rejected the Adventist view of the heavenly sanctuary.32 She spoke about "the wicked world which God had rejected" in her first vision which was later deceptively removed from the text as if she had never written it.33
Health: Ellen White did make some good comments on health. However, there are three main problems with her health message: (1) she claimed she received her health message in visions from God but it has been shown that they came from contemporaries, often from books written before hers, which were in her library.34 (2) She included health principles as part of the gospel, making them works required for acceptance and blessing from God.35 (a) One must give up eating meat to be translated (raptured). (b) Eating between meals is a sin. (c) Eating the wrong foods hinders the work of the Holy Spirit. (3) Many of her health declarations were wrong. Modern science has shown the following to be true, in contrast with her teachings: (a) Some meat is good for you. (b) Coffee in moderation has been shown to help prevent a number of diseases. (c) Tea in moderation is healthful. (d) Hot pepper is good for you. (e) Sex is healthful and not debilitating as EGW claims.36 (f) A glass of red wine a day is said to help prevent heart disease and lengthen life, and Jesus drank real wine‚—not rehydrated raisins as I was taught!
Education: To her credit she fostered education. However, she also said that one should never question what God had shown her to be true.37 Her stringent requirements for students in regard to sports, pictures, bicycles, baseball, and even little children playing on Sabbath are examples of extremes.
Relationships: Again, EGW, with the help of her secretaries, wrote some good things. However, if one reads her counsel to missionaries who had children in the mission field, her warped philosophy of sex, even between husband and wife, one will immediately see that something is twisted and wrong.38
Mission: EGW and her writings are the driving force behind much of the SDA mission. Following her, the SDA church sees "Christian mission" as only SDA mission, excluding the church at large.
Families: If one were to follow all the instructions EGW gives to families, children, etc., it could be, and often is, very damaging to the personality. Her writings are the foundation for dozens, if not hundreds, of cultic off-shoots from Adventism. These cultic groups are often little groups gathering in country settings seeking to get away from the wicked world where they can follow the "blue-print" of Adventism—the literal interpretation of many of her instructions.
"The Spirit of Prophecy is one of the identifying marks of God's last-day people and is just as applicable today as ever before because it was given to us by heaven itself. As God's faithful remnant, may we never make of none effect the precious light given us in the writings of Ellen G. White."
Nowhere in Scripture is a last-day prophet set forth as an identifying mark of the true church. As pointed out in my book Sabbath in Christ, Adventists use of Revelation 12:14 and 19:10 is a travesty in that it takes Christ out of the text and puts the writings of Ellen White in His place. She, herself, blatantly claimed to be the channel of God's communication in the last days.
In ancient times God spoke to men by the mouth of prophets and apostles. In this days He speaks to them by the Testimonies of His Spirit [writings of EGW]… The Lord has seen fit to give me a view of the need and errors of His people." Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 147,148. (Compare Heb. 1:1-3, Ellen White usurps Christ as God's final word.)
"The Lord is longing to reproduce in us His own character….In the book, Christ's Object Lessons [p. 69] we read of Christ's wish for His people, ‘Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. It is the privilege of every Christian not only to look for but to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.' "
Adventists, as articulated by this statement of Ellen White, teach that the second coming is being delayed because God is waiting for a group of people to perfectly keep the law. Ellen White stated, "In that fearful time the righteous must live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor."39 Therefore, perfection of character is not only the goal, but the requirement. By perfecting their characters, Adventists claim to be able to hasten the coming of Christ.40
However, the Bible states very clearly that the time of Christ's return is already fixed—and is known only to the Father.
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (Mat. 24:36).
Adventists are losing hundreds of thousands of members every year. We believe that much of this exodus is caused by the increase of accurate information about the history and theology of the Seventh-day Adventist church that is now available in numerous books, periodicals like Proclamation! and internet websites. The truth about Adventism is readily available to anyone willing to discover it for himself. We believe this is the backdrop to the following statements of President Wilson:
"Don't reach out to movements or megachurch centers outside of the Seventh-day Adventist Church which promise you spiritual success based on faulty theology... Look WITHIN the Seventh-day Adventist Church to humble pastors, evangelists, Biblical scholars, leaders and departmental directions who can provide evangelistic methods and programs that are based on solid Biblical principles and ‘The Great Controversy Theme'…Don't succumb to fanatical or loose theology that wrests God's Word from the pillars of Biblical truth and the landmark beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church…The historic Biblical beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church will not be moved." (Wilson's emphasis)
If we are to take President Wilson's sermon as representing the direction of his leadership, it appears that any attempts to jettison Adventism's cultic historical teachings are null and void. For many years I had hoped and prayed that the Adventist church would openly admit and renounce the historic errors of Adventism. I thought that exposing them to the evangelical world would nudge them to respond truthfully. However, based upon the statements of the previous General Conference president, Jan Paulson, and the current president, Ted Wilson, all hope seems to be gone. Therefore, we feel it our duty to expose the errors of the Adventist movement even more openly to keep unsuspecting truth-seeking people from being caught in the deceptive net of traditional Adventist evangelism. We feel this way for one main reason: Adventism teaches a confused gospel very similar to that being promoted in Galatia.
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (Gal. 1:8).
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Rom 1:16). †
Copyright 2010 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Glendale, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised September 28, 2010. Contact email: email@example.com
July August September 2010
VOLUME 11, ISSUE 3
A R T I C L E S
JOSEF KISSINGER / ADVENTIST NEWS NETWORK