When Jesus did not return on various dates Miller suggested — between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844 — his followers initially made some allowance for possible calculation errors.
But Miller confessed his predictions had failed, and he left the movement.
Then, in August 1844 at a camp-meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, a preacher by the name of Samuel Sheffield Snow — who had been one of Miller’s followers — calculated that the Second Advent would take place on October 22, 1844.
Again Jesus did not return, and this non-event has become known in Adventist circles as the ‘Great Disappointment.’
The movement subsequently split into various factions. One of these groups was led by Ellen G. White. She had been a Millerite since her teenage years, and had done some itinerant preaching.
During a prayer meeting shortly after the Great Disappointment she had the first of a reported 2,000 visions. 2
These experiences came to be accepted as authoritative by Seventh-day Adventists. Many of Ellen’s visions form the basis of Seventh-day Adventist tenets, or confirmed tenets decided upon by the less spiritually adept members of the group. Today Ellen retains her status as a prophet in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 3
This became one of the movement’s most distinctive doctrines — one of several unbiblical teachings, ranging from aberrant and heterodox to heretical — that, to this day, set the movement apart from Christian denominations.
While she never held title as head of the church, Ellen G. White was one of its founders, and the acknowledged spiritual leader.
The church reports that in 2014, the latest year for which numbers have been posted, it had 18,479,257 members, and has 78,810 churches in 216 countries. 8
Howwever, in his October, 2016 address to the Annual Council G.T Ng, executive secretary of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, also noted the church’s membership losses:
Membership losses have grown over the past 15 years. In 2000, 43 of every 100 newly baptized members ended up leaving the church, he said, citing data from the world church’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research. The latest figures indicate that 49 of every 100 new members eventually leave.
“This 49 percent apostasy rate is alarming and is a serious drain on the human and financial resources of the church,” Ng said in an e-mailed statement to the Adventist Review. […]
The Adventist Church would have 28.5 million to 30 million members today if none had left over the past 50 years, according to estimates that Ng provided from the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research. Church membership currently stands at 19.5 million people.
– Source: Andrew McChesney, Every Adventist Urged to Help Stem Membership Losses, Adventist Review, Oct. 9, 2016. 9
Flesh food (meat); Health Message (diet and lifestyle teachings of Ellen G. White. Referred to as “the right arm of the gospel,” and used as a form of proselytizing); Great Controversy (Jesus is in a cosmic battle with Satan and humans help Jesus win); Investigative Judgement (divine judgment of professed Christians has been in progress since 1844); Pen of Inspiration (the writings of Ellen G. White); Present Truth (the revelations of Ellen G. White and the teachings of the SDA Church); Sabbath School (SDA Church’s equivalent of Sunday School); The Testimonies (Ellen G. White’s writing, but in particular a set of nine books titled, “Testimonies for the Church”).
Some people disagree on whether it should be classified as such.
They argue that while Seventh-day Adventism includes a number of doctrines that are outside the mainstream of historic Christian theology, Seventh-day Adventists do accept the essential doctrines of the Christian faith and should thus be considered Christians.
It is my conviction that one cannot be a true Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, Christian Scientist, etc., and be a Christian in the biblical sense of the term; but it is perfectly possible to be a Seventh-day Adventists and be a true follower of Jesus Christ despite heterodox concepts…
– Source: Walter Martin, The Puzzle of Seventh-day Adventism, in Kingdom of the Cults Bethany House Publishers, Revised and Updated edition (October 1, 2003), p.535. 11
The organization says
Though several capable Christian scholars (e.g., Anthony Hoekema, J.K. Van Baalen, John Gerstner) have concluded that SDA is a non-Christian cult system, CRI has continued to assert that this is not the case.
Given that the term ‘cult’ is burdened with ambiguity and controversy, CRI should have taken the opportunity to explain what those scholars meant when they used the term “non-Christian cult system.” A proper understanding of this terminology is necessary in order to evaluate their view — and that of others — of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as, theologically, a cult of Christianity (versus a cult as defined sociologically). See our footnotes on the subject: 13
As CRI writes, its position on the Seventh-day Adventist Church is “based on the content of the doctrine which was stated in an official SDA publication (1957) entitled Questions on Doctrine.”
The full name of that publication is Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine: An Explanation of Certain Major Aspects of Seventh-day Adventist Belief — usually abbreviated as QOD.
It was published after several meetings Walter Martin and some of his evangelical colleagues, including Donald Grey Barnhouse, had with the leaders of the SDA Church.
Those meetings came about when Martin had contacted the church in 1955 to make sure he accurately understood its doctrinal positions.
But in an article titled, Did Adventist leaders lie to Walter Martin? Stephen D. Pitcher notes:
Ever since the Adventist church published Questions on Doctrine to convince Martin and Barnhouse that it was not a cult, the organization continued publishing materials endorsing traditional Adventism. In other words, QOD did not alter the church’s doctrines and teachings.
In fact, as Pitcher documents, the material presented in QOD was less than honest. And it bit the church in the tail:
Numerous accounts of this story focus not primarily on the events of the discussions themselves but on their backlash from both within and without the Adventist Church. As many have stated and re-stated, the publication of QOD resulted in more and longer-lasting controversy within the Adventist Church than has any other issue the Church has faced.
The definition of “lie” is to tell an untruth with the intent to deceive. Included in the definition is the act of not telling the whole truth, or telling partial truths with the intent to mislead. Given this definition of “lie,” the simple answer to the question must be a clear “Yes, Adventist leadership lied to Walter Martin.”
Pitcher notes that “In 1984 Walter Martin and William Johnsson, then editor of the Adventist Review, met for discussions on the John Ankerberg Show. The resulting five-program television series, ‘Who Is Telling the Truth About Seventh Day [sic] Adventism?,’ aired in 1985.”
You can watch the debate here — and we encourage you to first read Pitcher’s comments (See William Johnsson and Walter Martin in the aforementioned article)
[NOTE: These videos were removed from YouTube shortly after we embedded them here. However, it turns out the you can order them from the John Ankerberg Show]
As Pitcher writes,
Walter Martin stated the facts himself on the John Ankerberg Show in 1985. It’s now time to admit that the Adventists did not tell Martin, Barnhouse, and their evangelical colleagues the truth. It’s time to set the record straight.
For this reason, the publishers of Apologetics Index advise Christians not to get involved in Seventh-day Adventism, and urges those who are already part of the SDA church to instead seek out a church that teaches sound, biblical theology.
Outside the boundaries of the Christian faith
No church or denomination is perfect, but while Seventh-day Adventism does include much that is Biblically orthodox, it includes too much serious error to be accepted within the boundaries of the Christian faith.
Even if the Seventh-day Adventist Church would squarely stand behind Christianity’s essential doctrines — and there is enough evidence that this is not so — it mixes in so much poison as to spoil the whole dish.
As we note in our article on the term cult of Christianity,
The term can also be applied to groups, organizations or churches whose ‘statement of faith’ or ‘statement of beliefs’ may sound orthodox, but who add aberrant, heterodox, sub-orthodox and/or heretical teachings to such an extend that the essential doctrines of the Christian faith are negatively affected.
It is telling that even some apologetics ministries have not picked up on, for instance, the problems surrounding the SDA Church’s version of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Like many other cults of Christianity, the SDA pays lip-service to the doctrine, and tries to pass it off as orthodox in nature by redefining defintions. 15
Rose Publishing, in its pamphlet titled, 10 Q&A on Seventh-day Adventism says
Most of the church’s founders, including James White and Joseph Bates, openly rejected the Trinity and the deity of Christ.
The SDA Church did not officially endorse a “Trinitarian view” until 1946, and it still fundamentally distorts the historic doctrine of the Trinity as expressed in the Nicene Creed. 16
There also is a lot of confusion among Seventh-day Adventist themselves.
Their problems are compounded by the fact that over the past few decades, deep divisions or factions have developed within the SDA Church. 17
CRI, in its statement on Seventh-day Adventism, says
Those who follow Adventism closely know that the last two decades have been characterized by a deep internal conflict which has divided the denomination and left many Adventist disillusioned. Today, there are various divisions or factions within SDA. Some wish that Adventism would fully enter into the evangelical mainstream, while maintaining certain Adventist distinctives.
Others, the more traditional or fundamentalist Adventists, often reject portions of Questions on Doctrine and seek to hold on to several heresies which arose early in the Adventist movement, such as the investigative judgment, the sinful nature of Christ, and viewing Ellen G. white as the infallible interpreter of Scripture. It is the division of Adventism, who often refer to themselves as “the remnant church,” or God’s exclusive agent, that CRI would regard as being cultic. Some within this camp would anathematize all of Protestantism, arguing that as Sunday-keepers they will receive the mark of the beast just prior to Christ’s second coming. Admittedly, this is the extreme part of SDA, but nevertheless well represented.
That undated statement, which is at least more than a decade old, makes it appear as if there is within the Seventh-day Adventist Church a group of Christians who adhere to biblically sound doctrine — even while they remain part of a movement that teaches many false doctrines.
But as CRI itself admits in the same position statement,
The crisis that exists within SDA today essentially centers around the investigative judgment, an unbiblical doctrine which severely compromises if not outright denies the biblical doctrine of justification by faith. Second only to the investigative judgment issue is the all-encompassing question of the inspiration and authority of the writings of Ellen G. white. The controversy which has raged regarding the writings of Mrs. White has undoubtedly shaken the entire structure of SDA.
The ‘investigative judgment‘ is a doctrine unique to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which claims that a divine judgment of Christians has been in progress since 1844.
When Jesus did not return in that year, Hiram Edson — a Millerite — claimed to have received a vision that explained the true meaning of Daniel 8:14. He preached that the verse did not refer to the Second Advent of Jesus, but rather to his entrance into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary in order to begin an “investigative judgement.”
Wikipedia notes that “This became the foundation for the Adventist doctrine of the sanctuary, and the people who held it became the nucleus of what would emerge from other ‘Adventist’ groups as the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
Rose Publishing, in ’10 Q&A on Seventh-day Adventism’ explains what the SDA Church teaches regarding the heavenly sanctuary:
The blood of Jesus shed on the cross transferred the sins of professing Christians up into heaven, where they are “stored” and defile the heavenly sanctuary.
Jesus’ atonement wasn’t completed on the cross; it continues until he finishes investigating the heavenly “books of record,” maintained by a “recording angel,” that shows the thoughts and deeds of all professing Christians.
One day Jesus will place unconfessed sins back onto the people who committed them, and they will be punished.
But Jesus will place Christians’ confessed sins onto the head of Satan, the scapecoat, and he will be punished for them in the lake of fire.
Thus Jesus will pardon every confessed sin of professing Christians, and the heavenly sanctuary will be “cleansed.”
When Jesus finishes his investigation, Christians who attain perfect obedience must withstand the “Time of Trouble” without Jesus as their intercessor.
Sabbath-keepers will thus refute Satan’s accusations against God and vindicate the fairness of his law.
– Source: What is the Investigative Judgement, 10 Q&A on Seventh-day Adventism, Rose Publising
The pamphlet further notes that Adventist scholars admit that without the investigative judgement, there is no reason for the Adventist Church to exist.
In addition, Ellen White not only claimed that those who don’t believe this doctrine unwittingly pray to Satan, but she also taught that one must believe this doctrine in order to be saved. 18
There is no way that a Christian interested in sound doctrine can accept those kind of teachings.
In its SDA Profile, Watchman Fellowship says
It will be worthwhile to take a closer look at Ellen White, given the prominent place she had in SDA history, and the reverence accorded her by most Seventh-day Adventists.
Rose Publishing goes right to the point. In its pamphlet on the SDA Church, it compares Adventism’s claims regarding White versus what the Bibles teaches about modern revelation and the testing of prophets.
It also notes that
Ellen White plagiarized vast amounts of material from other authors without permission or credit. … She made false predictions about the return of Christ as well as other individuals and events … She imposed broad, unscriptural rules on health and diet on spiritual grounds, including bans on consuming meat and vinegar … She claimed that “certain races of men” today are the result of “the amalgation of man and beast.”
Nevertheless, the Seventh-day Adventist Church continues to revere and promote White as the Lord’s end-time messenger, claiming that she and her “testimonies” represent “the spirit of prophecy” foretold in Revelation 19:10.
While the Christian Church has historically interpreted that phrase as a reference to the Holy Spirit, who imparts the gift of prophecy (as one of a number of spiritual gifts) to Christians, the Seventh-day Adventists Church sees a reference to Ellen G. White.
In Revelation 12, John the Revelator identifies the church in the last days as the “remnant . . . which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (verse 17). We believe that in this brief prophetic picture the Revelator is describing the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which not only keeps “the commandments of God” but has “the testimony of Jesus Christ,” which is “the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).
In the life and ministry of Ellen G White (1827-1915), we see God’s promise fulfilled to provide the remnant church with the “spirit of prophecy.” Although Ellen G White did not claim the title “prophet,” we believe she did the work of a prophet, and more. […]
We consider the biblical canon closed. However, we also believe, as did Ellen G White’s contemporaries, that her writings carry divine authority, both for godly living and for doctrine. Therefore, we recommend:
1) That as a church we seek the power of the Holy Spirit to apply to our lives more fully the inspired counsel contained in the writings of Ellen G White, and
2) That we make increased efforts to publish and circulate these writings throughout the world. 19
Rose Publishing’s pamphlet rightly replies that
while God spoke through is prophets long ago, in these days he “has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). We must not add to or take away from what he has already revealed in the Bible, as Ellen White presumptuously did in her “visions” of events in Genesis, Revelation, and other portions of Scripture (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18-19)
In May, 2002, Jan Paulsen — then president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists — said this in his keynote address at the SDA General Conference 20
Rose Publishing — in its Response to Seventh-day Adventist Complaints about the pamphlet 10 Questions & Answers about Seventh-day Adventism — says
the Adventist church’s fundamental belief #18 states in part: “One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen. G. White. As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction.” A “source” is a place of origin, and as the pamphlet demonstrates, having a prophet outside of Scripture who functions actively as a “continuing and authoritative source of truth” is fundamentally contrary to “Sola Scriptura,” no matter how her role may be characterized. 21
There are many issues we have not (yet) (fully) addressed here, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s view of Jesus; its teachings about man and the state of the dead; the ‘Great Controversy’; or the church’s insistence on the observation of the Sabbath on Saturday.
Then there is the SDA Church’s belief that it is God’s unique “Remnant Church”; its use of The Clear Word Bible (which inserts Ellen G. White’s teachings with no basis in the original Bible manuscripts into the text); its ‘Health Message’ (which, calling it “the right arm of the gospel,” Adventists use in their proselytizing efforts 22); and its deceptive recruiting practices.
We believe that these issues and more are adequately covered in the research resources we list below.
We encourage readers to examine the claims and teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and to compare them to what the Bible actually teaches.
Dr. James Kennedy said, “Viewers of this documentary will find it a most fascinating exploration into the cultic aspects of the teachings of Ellen G. White. Recommended for Christians who seek genuine answers based on the best scholarship and firm adherence to the truths of God’s word.”
We highly recommend this colorful, laminated fold-out pamphlet as a good introduction to SDA Church teachings as contrasted with those of Christianity.
The pamphlet answers such questions as: Why do Seventh-day Adventists worship on Saturdays only? Who was their prophet, Ellen G. White, and what did she teach about Jesus (identified as Michael the Archangel), the Trinity (both God the Father and Jesus have tangible bodies), and salvation? What is the SDA Bible paraphrase, The Clear Word, and how does it alter the original Greek and Hebrew meanings to fit Mrs. White’s unusual teachings? Why do Adventists consider Sunday worship “the mark of the beast?” What is the “investigative judgment,” and how does it deny the biblical belief that Jesus paid fully for our sins at the cross?
It was authored by former Seventh-day Adventists Colleen and Richard Tinker, with contributions by Jeremy Graham and Jim Valentine. General Editor for the project was Paul Carden, Executive Director of Centers for Apologetics Research, and former co-host of the Bible Answer Man radio program.
Note: additional research resources will be added. You are welcome to suggest such resources. The listings are color-coded. Sources produced by Seventh-day Adventists, either in a lay or official capacity, have been color-coded ‘brown’ to reflect our understanding that while the Seventh-day Adventist Church professes to be Christian it is outside orthodox Christianity.
Some evangelicals believe Seventh-day Adventism ought to be openly embraced as simply another denomination. I disagree.
Historically, evangelicals and fundamentalists regarded the Seventh-day Adventist movement as a cult. And in spite of the ecumenical spirit that has pervaded evangelicalism over the last few decades, there are still major deficiencies within official SDA theology that ought to give evangelical Christians serious pause.
Here are my three biggest concerns about SDA doctrine:
- An Unbiblical Understanding of Christ’s Work of Atonement.
- An Improper Elevation of Ellen G. White as an Authoritative Prophetess.
- A Legalistic Emphasis on the Sabbath and Dietary Laws as Binding for Christians.
It should be noted that Seventh-day Adventists espouse a number of other unorthodox theological distinctives (such as soul sleep [Fundamental Belief #26], the annihilation of the wicked [Fundamental Belief #27]), and (at least historically) the insistence that they are the only true church).
Youtube has many good videos on the doctrines and practices of Seventh-day Adventism. We want to highlight this one by former SDA preacher Dale Ratzlaff: Three Adventist Doctrines that Compromise the Gospel.
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Anton lives and works in Amsterdam, Netherlands, with his wife, Janet, who was born in England but raised in Ireland (and is more Irish than English). They are involved in helping people leave cults, abusive churches or abusive relationships.
When Anton is not typing something or other, he’s probably either taking photos somewhere in Amsterdam, brewing quality coffee, or creating super-spicy home-made Mexican salsas.
Regarding this teaching, see Romans 14 — particularly vs. 5 and 6: “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.” Plain language that in just two sentences soundly refutes those who make keeping the Sabbath on a certain day a requirement for salvation.
Nurture is the responsibility of every member. Ng said Adventists could learn a lesson from another denomination, the Iglesia ni Cristo Church, the largest indigenous church in the Philippines that was founded by a former Adventist in 1914. “The church takes membership care seriously,” Ng said. “When members come to church, they report their presence. After the service is over, elders and deacons take note of the names of the absentees and visit each one in the afternoon.”
Also included are tips on how to reach out to Adventists.