“From Controversy to Crisis…”
AUTHOR: Samples, Kenneth R.
PUBLISHED ON: April 24, 2003

Copyright 1993 by the Christian Research Institute.
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“From Controversy to Crisis: An Updated Assessment of Seventh-day
Adventism” (an article from the Christian Research Journal, Summer
1988, Volume 11, Number 1, page 9) by Kenneth R. Samples.
  The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot

    Since its inception in the mid-nineteenth century, Seventh-day
Adventism (SDA) has remained extremely controversial among
evangelical Christians (evangelicalism being defined as that
movement in modern Protestant Christianity which emphasizes
conformity to orthodox theology, evangelism, and, particularly, the
new birth). There was, in fact, something of a consensus among
evangelical scholars that SDA was little more than a non-Christian
cult until the 1950s, when Donald Grey Barnhouse and Walter Martin
began a comprehensive evaluation of Adventist theology. After
thousands of hours of research and extensive meetings with
Adventist officials, Barnhouse and Martin concluded that SDA was
not an anti-Christian cult, but rather a somewhat heterodox (i.e.,
departing from accepted doctrine) Christian denomination.

    Gradually, the climate of evangelical opinion began to change
in favor of Barnhouse and Martin’s view, though there were always
many dissenting opinions. As the 1960s dawned, SDA enjoyed an
unprecedented openness with evangelical Protestantism. Ironically,
this openness also raised some very difficult issues as certain key
teachings of traditional SDA were challenged from within the

    By the mid 1970s, two distinct factions had emerged within SDA.
Traditional Adventism, which defended many pre-1950 Adventist
positions, and Evangelical Adventism, which emphasized the
Reformation understanding of righteousness by faith. This
controversy soon gave way to a full-blown internal crisis which
severely fragmented the denomination. By the early 1980s, severe
denominational discipline against certain evangelical Adventist
leaders left many Adventists disillusioned.

    These events have led a number of evangelicals to question
whether SDA should retain the evangelical label. The purpose of
this article is to address this question head-on as we review the
controversial evangelical/SDA dialogues of the 1950s, as well as
trace the doctrinal issues which have contributed to Adventism’s
crisis of identity.


    Included among those evangelicals in the 1950s who considered
SDA a non-Christian cult were such capable scholars as Louis
Talbot, M.R. DeHann, Anthony Hoekema, J.K. Van Baalen, John
Gerstner, and Harold Lindsell.[1] Walter Martin, at that time the
director of cult apologetics for Zondervan Publishing Company, had
classified SDA as a cult in his book _The Rise of the Cults._ And
Donald Grey Barnhouse, nationally-known Bible scholar and founder
and editor of _Eternity_ magazine, had written critically of SDA
theology. Barnhouse, having encountered some fanatical SDAs earlier
in his life, considered evangelicalism and Adventism to be mutually

    Ironically, Barnhouse’s first contact with Adventist leaders
came when T. Edgar Unruh, SDA minister and administrator, wrote to
Barnhouse commending him for several lectures he had delivered on
the subject of justification by faith. Barnhouse was puzzled that
an Adventist, who in his mind accepted works righteousness, would
commend him for preaching the Reformation gospel. Though still very
suspicious, Barnhouse suggested that the two men talk further in
regard to Adventist doctrine.

    Several years later, Barnhouse mentioned Unruh’s name to Walter
Martin, whom he charged with the task of thoroughly researching SDA
for _Eternity._ Martin approached Unruh about receiving
representative materials of their theology and the opportunity to
interview certain Adventist leaders. Unruh supplied Martin with the
documentation he was looking for and arranged for him to visit the
General Conference head-quarters, at that time located in Takoma
Park, Maryland. The General Conference, which is the governing body
for SDA, received Martin warmly and were very cooperative in
supplying him with primary source materials. With the blessing of
R.R. Figuhr, the General Conference president, Unruh arranged a
formal conference between Martin and several Adventist leaders.

    Martin had specifically asked to speak with Adventism’s leading
historian and apologist, Leroy E. Froom. Froom, the author of such
well-known books as _Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers_ and _Movement
of Destiny,_ requested that two other Adventist leaders
participate: W.E. Read, Field-Secretary for the General Conference,
and Roy Allan Anderson, Secretary of the Ministerial Association of
the General Conference and editor of _Ministry_ magazine. These men
were joined by T.E. Unruh, who acted as chairman. An associate of
Walter Martin, George Cannon, professor of Greek at Nyack
Missionary College, assisted Martin in his research at this
historic conference. When the meetings later shifted to
Pennsylvania, Barnhouse also became an active participant.
%% 351, 0, þ *Questions and Answers*

    The format of the conference essentially involved the Adventist
scholars answering questions which were being put to them by the
evangelicals. Martin, in particular, submitted dozens of questions
which had arisen from his study of SDA primary sources. One of the
first major issues that the evangelicals brought up was the
tremendous amount of Adventist literature which clearly
contradicted other official SDA statements. For example, along with
orthodox statements regarding the person, nature, and work of
Christ, Adventist publications also contained other articles which
espoused Arianism (the view that Christ was a created being), a
sinful nature of Christ, incomplete atonement theory, Galatianism
(salvation by law keeping), and extreme sectarianism. Martin stated
that he could supply numerous quotations which were unequivocally
heretical. The Adventist scholars were both shocked and appalled at
some of the documentation presented.   

    Because of Adventism’s strong emphasis on progressive
scriptural understanding, they have been reluctant to adopt any
formal creed. Even their doctrinal statement known as the “27
Fundamental Beliefs” allows for change and revision. Historically,
this lack of a formal creed and emphasis on progressive biblical
understanding has given place to a wide spectrum of doctrinal
interpretation among Adventists. In the 1950s, as today, this
tolerance of divergent and sometimes heretical views has hurt the
unity and doctrinal soundness of their denomination. This was a
critical issue for the evangelicals, who could not hope to
accurately represent the position of Adventism to the evangelical
world if the Adventists themselves lacked consensus as to those

    At the 1955-56 conference, Martin accused the Adventists of, at
worst, speaking out of both sides of their mouths, or, at best, not
properly policing their ranks. The evangelicals asserted that if
the General Conference allowed heresies such as Arianism and
Galatianism to continue in their ranks they would be deserving of
the title “cult.” To their credit, all of the Adventist scholars
present repudiated the positions mentioned above, and promised that
aberrational teaching which was at variance with expressed SDA
doctrine would be investigated by the General Conference. They also
asserted that most, if not all, of these doctrines were not
representative of SDA theology, but expressed the opinions of a few
who belonged to what Froom referred to as “the lunatic fringe.” 

*Essential Orthodoxy?* 

    As the conference progressed, the evangelicals became more and
more impressed with both the sincerity and the general orthodoxy of
the Adventist leaders. It now appeared that the structure of SDA
theology was essentially orthodox. Adventism affirmed the
inspiration of Scripture, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity,
and Christ’s deity, virgin birth, vicarious atonement, bodily
resurrection, and second advent.[2] Martin, who had written
extensively on the subject of American-based cults, immediately
recognized that this was not the doctrinal statement of a typical
cult. He began to believe that SDA, at least as these men
represented it, had been very misunderstood by evangelical

    Though Martin was impressed with their commitment to the
essentials of the faith, there were still a number of distinctive
Adventist doctrines which long had stood in the way of accepting
them as Christian brethren. Most of the evangelical scholars who
had written negatively regarding SDA centered their criticisms on
these few distinctives, which they believed undermined whatever
orthodoxy Adventism might have. Martin, who was determined to
understand SDA accurately, requested a thorough explanation of
these peculiar beliefs.
%% 351, 0, þ *Heterodoxy or Heresy?*     

    Because these controversial doctrines convey the uniqueness of
Adventist theology, and because reaching an understanding
concerning them was important to the Barnhouse/Martin evaluation,
a brief discussion of them is necessary. Unfortunately, space
limitations preclude an in-depth treatment, so we will discuss
three of the distinctives which have been a major source of
misunderstanding.[3] The Evangelical/SDA Conference revealed that
Adventist theology differed from mainstream Christianity on the
following three issues: the Sabbath, the authority of the sect’s
leading figure, Ellen G. White, and the “investigative judgment”

    *Sabbatarianism.* SDA teaches that the keeping of the
Seventh-day Sabbath, as a perpetual memorial to creation, is
obligatory for all Christians as a mark of “true obedience” to the
Lord. Unlike some extreme Adventists, however, the Adventist
scholars at the conference asserted that the keeping of the Sabbath
did not procure salvation, and that non-Adventist Christians who
observed Sunday in good conscience were not excluded from the body
of Christ.   

    Though Sabbath-keeping has never been the official position of
historic Christianity, the evangelicals concluded that to keep, or
not keep, a Sabbath was permissible within the context of Romans
14:5-6. Other Christian denominations, such as the Seventh-Day
Baptists, had taken this position as well. The evangelicals
vigorously disagreed with the Adventists’ conclusion regarding the
Sabbath, but they did not see this as an issue which should divide

    *Ellen G. White and the Spirit of Prophecy.* The development
and very existence of Adventism is literally incomprehensible apart
from Ellen White and her voluminous writings. No Christian leader
or theologian has exerted as great an influence on a particular
denomination as Ellen White has on Adventism. During her lifetime,
Mrs. White is credited with writing over 46 books totalling some 25
million words, which touched virtually every area of Adventist
belief and practice.   

    SDA believes that the gift of prophecy mentioned in I
Corinthians chapters 12 and 14 was uniquely manifested in the life
and writings of Ellen White. Her alleged visions and words from the
Lord were interpreted as being an identifying and qualifying
characteristic of God’s remnant church. The writings of Ellen White
have often been described, as she herself put it, as “a lesser
light” pointing to “the greater light” of Scripture.[4]   

    Because SDA considered the writings of Ellen White as “inspired
counsel from the Lord,” the evangelicals were concerned about what
relationship her writings had to the Bible. The question put to the
Adventist scholars was: “Do Seventh-day Adventists regard the
writings of Ellen G. White as on an equal plane with the writings
of the Bible?”[5] The Adventist leaders gave the following reply:

1)That we do not regard the writings of Ellen G. White as an
addition to the sacred canon of Scripture.

2)That we do not think of them as of universal application, as is
the Bible, but particularly for the Seventh-day Adventist church.

3)That we do not regard them in the same sense as the Holy
Scriptures, which stand alone and unique as the standard by which
all other writings must be judged.[6] 

    While the evangelicals openly rejected the Adventists’ view of
Ellen White’s writings, they concluded that as long as her writings
were not viewed as 1) being on a par with Scripture, 2) infallible,
or 3) a test of Christian fellowship, this issue need not be

    *The Sanctuary Doctrine/Investigative Judgment.* Perhaps the
most distinctive of all Adventist beliefs is their doctrine of the
sanctuary. This doctrine came about as an explanation for the
failure of the Millerite movement in 1844. Baptist minister William
Miller (1782-1849), using the day-year interpretation of Daniel
8:14, predicted that Jesus Christ would literally return to earth
2300 years after the beginning of Daniel’s 70 weeks (Dan. 9:24-27),
which he interpreted as being the time span of 457 B.C.-1843 A.D.
When 1843 passed without seeing the Lord’s return, the Millerite
movement made a minor adjustment and declared that October 22,
1844, would be the date of Christ’s second advent. When this
prediction also failed the Millerite movement suffered what is
known historically as the “Great Disappointment.” For many this
spelled an end to the Advent movement, but for a few it had just

    In the wake of the Great Disappointment, another individual,
Hiram Edson, reexamined the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 after allegedly
receiving an illuminating vision about this matter in a corn field.
Edson, with help from O.R.L. Crosier, concluded that Miller’s error
rested in the nature of the event, rather than the calculation of
time. Miller had interpreted the “cleansing of the sanctuary” (as
referred to in Dan. 8:14) as a prophecy that Jesus Christ would
return to the earthly “sanctuary”, that is, to the earth itself.
Edson, in light of his vision, came to believe that Christ, rather
than returning to earth in 1844, actually entered for the first
time into the second compartment of the heavenly sanctuary. Edson
believed that there existed a heavenly sanctuary which had been the
pattern for the Old Testament earthly sanctuary, complete with the
dual compartments known as the holy place and the most holy place.
1844, according to Edson, marked the beginning of the second phase
of Christ’s atoning work.   

    The work which Jesus was to perform in the most holy place was
later developed into the doctrine of the investigative judgment.
Early Adventists understood Jesus’ atoning work to be accomplished
in two phases. This two-phase ministry of Christ could best be
understood as an antitype of the work of the Old Testament priests.

    Under the old covenant, they argued, the daily priestly duties
were confined to offering sacrifices within the holy place
(_forgiving_ sin), but once a year on the day of atonement, the
high priest entered the most holy place and cleansed the sanctuary
by sprinkling the blood of a slain goat on the mercy seat
(_blotting out_ sin). After the cleansing of the sanctuary, the
sins of the people were on the scapegoat who was banished into the

    According to Adventism, Jesus had been _forgiving_ sin since
His vicarious death on the cross; however, on October 22, 1844,
Jesus began His work of _blotting out_ sin. From His ascension
until 1844, Jesus had been applying the forgiveness He purchased on
the cross in the first compartment of the sanctuary, but in 1844,
He entered the second compartment and began to investigate the
lives of those who had  received forgiveness to see if they were
worthy of eternal life. Only those who passed this judgment could
be assured of being translated at His coming. This doctrine gave
rise to what later became known as the sinless perfection teaching
(perfect commandment-keeping in order to find acceptance in the
judgment). Following the investigative judgment, Christ would come
out of the heavenly sanctuary and return to earth bringing to every
man his reward, and ushering in the great and terrible day of the
Lord. It is 1844, and the events described above, which mark the
beginning of SDA. 

    Upon hearing of this peculiar doctrine, Barnhouse described the
sanctuary doctrine as nothing more than a face-saving device that
was created to bail them out of the Millerite error. The
evangelicals repudiated these two doctrines as having no biblical
support. The question remained for the evangelicals however,
whether these two doctrines stood in the way of genuine fellowship.
The primary concern was whether these doctrines minimized Christ’s
atoning work, or reduced it to an incomplete atonement. After a
critical evaluation, the evangelicals concluded that this doctrine
of the investigative judgment “constitutes no real barrier to
fellowship when it is understood in its symbolic meaning and not in
the materialistic, and extreme literalistic sense in which some of
the early Adventist writers set it forth.”[7] They stressed that in
contemporary SDA thinking the doctrine did not imply a dual or
partially-completed atonement, but rather that the once-for-all
atonement is being applied by Christ as our High Priest in heaven.

    As far as the evangelicals were concerned, the three doctrines
of Sabbatarianism, Ellen White’s authority, and
sanctuary/investigative judgment, though erroneous, if properly
interpreted would not prevent fellowship between the two camps.

    Other distinctive Adventist doctrines such as conditional
immortality, annihilation of the wicked, health reform, and the
remnant church concept were discussed and evaluated by the
evangelicals. Their conclusion was that though these doctrines were
out of the evangelical mainstream, and in some cases without any
clear biblical support, the explanation given by these Adventist
scholars would not prevent them from being genuine followers of

    After evaluating thousands of pages of documentation, and
participating in extensive question and answer sessions with
several of Adventism’s most competent scholars, Walter Martin,
speaking for the evangelicals, concluded that SDA “is essentially
a Christian denomination, but that in the overall perspective its
theology must be viewed as more heterodox than orthodox, and that
its practices in not a few instances might rightly be termed
%% 351, 0, þ *Aftermath of the Conference*

    The decision to reclassify SDA as a heterodox denomination,
rather than a non-Christian cult, was very controversial. Barnhouse
and Martin received considerable criticism within evangelical
circles. In fact, after they revealed their findings in several
editions of _Eternity_ magazine, 25 percent of the magazine’s
subscribers withdrew their subscriptions! 

    This climate of opinion began to change, however, with the
release of the Adventist publication _Questions on Doctrine_
(hereafter _QOD_).[9] This volume was produced directly from the
question and answer sessions with the evangelicals, with both sides
contributing to the precise wording of the questions. The expressed
purpose of this book was to clarify Adventist doctrine by showing
the areas of common belief and distinct differences with
evangelicalism. The Adventist scholars who put _QOD_ together
emphasized the fact that this book was not a new statement of
faith, but rather an explanation of the major aspects of SDA

    To insure that this volume was truly representative of SDA
theology, and not the opinion of a select few, the unpublished
manuscript was sent out to 250 Adventist leaders for review. Upon
receiving only minor criticisms, the 720-page manuscript was
accepted by a General Conference committee and published by Review
and Herald Publishing Association in 1957. While this volume in
recent years has become a source of controversy in Adventism, it is
interesting to note that R.R. Figuhr later stated that he
considered _QOD_ to be the most meaningful accomplishment of his

    Several years later, in 1960, Martin’s book _The Truth about
Seventh-day Adventism_ was also published and received wide
acceptance. Many who had initially criticized the Barnhouse/Martin
evaluation began to take a new look at SDA because of the extensive
documentation revealed in Martin’s book. (Though this book has long
been out of print, Martin’s evaluation of SDA has remained
available through his later book _The Kingdom of the Cults._)
Adventist leaders also stated publicly that Martin’s book
accurately represented Adventist theology. One present-day
Adventist scholar made this statement: “Martin’s book is the work
of an honest investigator and a competent theologian. He understood
and reported accurately what Adventists told him they believed, and
he cited their proofs exhaustively.”[11] Thus, according to the
leadership of SDA, both _QOD_ and _The Truth about Seventh-day
Adventism_ accurately represented their theology in the late 1950s,
though, as we shall see, acceptance of that theology in SDA was far
from universal.   

    Much has changed, however, since _QOD,_ and so we now turn our
attention to those events which have shaped Adventism’s present-day


    The 1960s and 1970s were a time of great turmoil and doctrinal
debate within SDA, with the common denominator being the question
of Adventism’s uniqueness.[12] Would Adventism continue in the same
direction established under the Figuhr administration in _QOD,_ or
would the denomination return to a more traditional understanding
of the faith? The debate over this question would give rise to two
distinct factions within SDA: Evangelical Adventism and Traditional
Adventism.[13] We will now look at these two groups and compare
their views on those doctrines which divided them. Those doctrines
consisted of righteousness by faith, the human nature of Christ,
the events of 1844, assurance of salvation, and the authority of
Ellen White.
%% 351, 0, þ *Evangelical Adventism*

    The roots of Evangelical Adventism can certainly be traced to
the Adventist scholars who dialogued with Barnhouse and Martin.
When _QOD_ repudiated such commonly held traditional doctrines as
the sinful nature of Christ, literalistic extremes of the heavenly
sanctuary, and the writings of Ellen White as an infallible
doctrinal authority, they laid a critical foundation for those who
would later carry the torch for this reform movement. Former editor
of _Evangelica,_ Alan Crandall, comments: “The seeds of this
movement were sown within the denomination via the book _QOD_ in
1957, and the seed-plot was watered by the public ministries of
such men as R.A. Anderson, H.M.S. Richards, Sr., Edward
Heppenstall, Robert Brinsmead, Desmond Ford, Smuts van Rooyen, and

    This movement continued to grow and evolve throughout the
1970s, with the main spokesmen being two Australian SDA scholars
named Robert Brinsmead and Desmond Ford (Brinsmead had earlier held
to a form of perfectionism, but later repudiated it). Brinsmead and
Ford, by means of their writing and lecturing, were the major
catalysts of a revival of the doctrine of justification by faith
which was receiving a wide hearing, particularly in the
Australasian Division of the Adventist church. The movement was
supported mainly by young Adventist pastors, seminarians, and
laymen. There were also a good number of American Adventist
scholars who were sympathetic to the Brinsmead/Ford position.   

    The major doctrinal issues which united this group were:   

    1)*Righteousness by faith*: This group accepted the reformation
understanding of righteousness by faith (according to which
righteousness by faith includes justification only, and is a
judicial act of God whereby He declares sinners to be just on the
basis of Christ’s own righteousness). Our standing before God rests
in the imputed righteousness of Christ, which we receive through
faith alone. Sanctification is the accompanying fruit and not the
root of salvation. 

    2)*The human nature of Christ*: Jesus Christ possessed a
sinless human nature with no inclination or propensities toward
sin. In that sense, Christ’s human nature was like that of Adam’s
before the Fall. Though Christ certainly suffered the limitations
of a real man, by nature He was impeccable (i.e., incapable of
sin). Jesus was primarily our substitute.   

    3)*The events of 1844*: Jesus Christ entered into the most holy
place (heaven itself) at His ascension; the sanctuary doctrine and
the investigative judgment (traditional literalism and
perfectionism) have no basis in Scripture. 

    4)*Assurance of salvation*: Our standing and assurance before
God rest solely in Christ’s imputed righteousness; sinless
perfection is not possible this side of heaven. Trusting Christ
gives a person assurance.   

    5)*Authority of Ellen G. White*: Ellen White was a genuine
Christian who possessed a gift of prophecy. However, neither she
nor her writings are infallible, and they should not be used as a
doctrinal authority. 

*Traditional Adventism*     

    While _QOD_ is considered to be the origin of Evangelical
Adventism, it also fueled the fire for those who supported
Traditional Adventism. Following its publication, M.L. Andreasen,
a respected Adventist scholar, severely criticized _QOD,_ stating
that in his opinion it had sold Adventism down the river to the
evangelicals.[15] Several years later, under Robert Pierson’s
administration, two prominent scholars, Kenneth Wood and Herbert
Douglass, declared that the publishing of _QOD_ had been a major

    The crux of Traditional Adventism would certainly appear to
rest squarely upon the authority of Ellen G. White. This group
would strongly defend those doctrines which were distinctive
Adventist beliefs, especially those which received their stamp of
approval from Ellen White’s prophetic gift (e.g., sanctuary
doctrine, investigative judgment). Support for this group came
mainly from the older clergy and laymen, and most importantly, they
seemed to have gained the favor of the majority of Adventist
administrators. Then, as now, the leaders who ran the denomination
are not well informed theologically, but they were responsive to
the very vocal Traditionalist segment. 

    The following positions were taken by Traditional Adventism in
response to the doctrinal debates:     

    1)*Righteousness by faith*: Righteousness by faith included
both justification and sanctification. Our standing before God
rests both in the imputed and imparted righteousness of Christ
(God’s work for me and in me). Justification is for sins committed
in the past only. 

    2)*The human nature of Christ*: Jesus Christ possessed a human
nature that not only was weakened by sin, but had propensities
toward sin itself. His nature was like that of Adam after the Fall.
Because of His success in overcoming sin, Jesus is primarily our

    3)*The events of 1844*: Jesus entered into the second
compartment of the heavenly sanctuary for the first time on October
22, 1844, and began an investigative judgment. This judgment is the
fulfillment of the second phase of Christ’s atoning work. 

    4)*Assurance of salvation*: Our standing before God rests in
both the imputed and imparted righteousness of Christ; assurance of
salvation before the judgment is presumptuous. As Jesus, our
example, showed us, perfect commandment keeping is possible.   

    5)*The authority of Ellen G. White*: The spirit of prophecy was
manifest in the ministry of Ellen White as a sign of the remnant
church. Her writings are inspired counsel from the Lord and
authoritative in doctrinal matters.   

    It should be noted that volumes have been written on each of
these doctrines, on both sides. The brief description given above
is only meant to provide an accurate synopsis of the two groups’

    It is important to realize that during the 1970s, as today, not
every Adventist would fit neatly into one of these two groups.
Neither of these groups were totally unified in their doctrinal
beliefs. For example, not everyone in the Traditional camp held to
the sinful nature of Christ doctrine, though the majority certainly
did. Among Evangelical Adventists, there were differing opinions
regarding the understanding of a pre-advent judgment. As well,
there were Adventists who did not feel a need to identify with one
side or the other. 

    It should also be mentioned that, though small, there was and
is a segment in Adventism which could be described as being
theologically liberal.

    As the above doctrinal comparison showed, the differences
between these two factions were indeed significant. The differences
could essentially be reduced to: 1) the question of authority
(_sola scriptura_ vs. Scripture plus Ellen White), and 2) the
question of salvation (imputed righteousness vs. imparted
righteousness). Adventism, in fact, was debating the same basic
issues that provoked the Reformation of the sixteenth century.

    As the 1970s came to a close, this doctrinal controversy gave
way to a real crisis within SDA. First, two books were released
which challenged traditional Adventist positions on justification
by faith and the events of 1844. _The Shaking of Adventism,_
written by an Anglican scholar, Geoffrey Paxton, traced the
struggle in SDA over the doctrine of justification by faith. He
asserted that if Adventists were, as they claimed, the special
heirs of the Reformation, then they must accept the Reformational
understanding of righteousness by faith. Arriving at a proper
understanding of this critical doctrine had plagued Adventism
throughout its history. The second book, Robert Brinsmead’s _1844
Reexamined,_ repudiated the traditional Adventist understanding of
1844 and the investigative judgment. These two books focused on two
of the critical issues of Adventism’s crisis of identity.

*Shaking the Foundations*

    Undoubtedly, the most explosive issue that arose during this
period was the disclosure of Ellen White’s tremendous literary
dependence. Adventist scholars such as Harold Weiss, Roy Branson,
William Peterson, and Ronald Numbers all revealed historical
research that showed that Ellen White had borrowed material from
other nineteenth-century authors. The most controversial
disclosure, however, came from an Adventist pastor named Walter
Rea. Rea charged that as much as 80 to 90 percent of White’s
writings had been plagiarized. Because of the tremendous influence
White’s writings have had on the denomination, and because
Adventists had been taught that her writings were taken directly
from her visions (a view promoted by the denomination), this
disclosure shook the very foundation of SDA.

    Initially, the White Estate denied this evidence, but later
admitted that sources were used in her writings. _Review and
Herald,_ the denomination’s official organ, argued in White’s
defense that her literary borrowing was much less than Rea had
alleged, and that her use of literary sources did not invalidate
the inspiration of her writings. After all, they reasoned, some
biblical writers used sources. Rea, who later thoroughly documented
his charge in the book _The White Lie_ (M. and R. Publications), was
fired by the denomination.   

    The question of Ellen White’s inspiration and authority has
been a source of controversy throughout Adventism’s history, but
the plagiarism charge had brought about doubt as to her integrity
and veracity. Some even charged that the White Estate had known
about this problem for some time and attempted to cover it up. This
issue was also important in regard to the question of Adventism’s
unique identity. Because many of the doctrinal distinctives had
received confirmation through her prophetic gift, to question her
was to question the uniqueness of SDA itself. 

*Challenging the Heart of Adventism*   

    Two of the doctrines that had received confirmation through the
prophetic gift were the sanctuary doctrine and the investigative
judgment (i.e., the events of 1844). These two distinctives were at
the center of a controversy that would ultimately lead to a sharp
division within the Adventist ranks. Desmond Ford, for 16 years the
chairman of the theology department at Avondale College in New
South Wales, Australia, challenged the biblical validity of the
traditional understanding of these doctrines. He argued that the
literalistic and perfectionistic understanding of these doctrines
promoted by traditional Adventism had no biblical warrant, and were
accepted primarily because of Mrs. White’s vision, which confirmed
them.  Ford stated that though the writings of Ellen White were
essential to SDA development, they should be understood as pastoral
in nature and not canonical. Though he argued that 1844 had no
biblical significance, he did believe that God had indeed raised
the SDA denomination up to emphasize, along with righteousness by
faith, such doctrines as sabbatarianism, creationism, conditional
immortality, and premillennialism.

    Because of the controversy over Ford’s doctrinal beliefs,
Adventist leaders agreed to give him a six month leave of his
duties in order for him to prepare to defend his views. A committee
would later meet and evaluate his views in light of SDA doctrine.
Ford, a careful and prolific scholar, prepared a 990-page
manuscript entitled _Daniel 8:14: The Day of Atonement and the
Investigative Judgment._ In August of 1980, 126 Adventist leaders
met at Glacier View Ranch, Colorado, to discuss these provocative
issues. After a week of meetings, the leaders declared that Ford’s
views were at variance with expressed SDA doctrine. Because Ford
would not recant his convictions, the denomination removed his
ministerial credentials.   

    The firing of Desmond Ford, who some consider the father of
evangelical Adventism, angered many and led to a mass evangelical
exodus from the denomination in favor of independent Adventist and
mainline evangelical churches. As well, as many as a hundred
evangelical Adventist leaders and Bible teachers were later fired
or forced to resign because they supported Ford’s theology.

    Needless to say, the 1980s have been a time of crisis for SDA.
And though it would appear that the most traumatic period is over,
the scars of this struggle still remain. While the decisions of the
General Conference seem to convey their support of Traditional
Adventism, the denomination has denied that it actively sought to
eliminate all evangelical influences. Many former Adventist pastors
and Bible teachers would vigorously contest this statement. It
would appear that there are still large numbers of Adventists who
are of evangelical persuasion, but certainly not as vocal after
Glacier View.
%% 351, 0, þ *EVALUATING SDA TODAY* 

    Because of the controversy that has raged within SDA over the
past few decades, many who are aware of the Barnhouse/Martin
evaluation in the 1950s have asked if this position should be
revised or significantly changed. Because of the action taken
against Desmond Ford, Walter Rea, and many others, some have asked
if present-day SDA should be regarded as a non-Christian cult. 

    It is our position that the evaluation given by Barnhouse and
Martin still stands for that segment of Adventism which holds to
the position stated in _QOD,_ and further expressed in the
Evangelical Adventist movement of the last few decades. Though some
within this group hold to doctrines which are not part of the
evangelical mainstream, they do affirm the foundational doctrines
of historic Christianity, particularly the Pauline or Reformation
understanding of justification by grace through faith alone (Rom.
3-4). To this group, however many still remain, we extend a hand of
fellowship and encouragement. We applaud their courage in standing
firm for the gospel.   

    Traditional Adventism, on the other hand, which seems to have
gained the support of many administrators and leaders (at least at
Glacier View), appears to be moving further away from a number of
positions taken in _QOD._ While Adventist officials have stated
that the denomination stands by _QOD,_ some of these same leaders
have disfellowshiped scores of Adventists for affirming portions of
_QOD._ Instead of upholding _QOD,_ some leaders within the
denomination have referred to it as “damnable heresy.”[17] 

    As ironic as it may seem for a group that vociferously condemns
Catholicism and claims to be the special heirs of the Reformation,
the traditional Adventist position on righteousness by faith is
more like that of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent than that of
the Reformers.[18] Because this doctrine is so crucial to a proper
understanding of law and gospel, their aberrant view of equating
justification with sanctification leads to several other unbiblical
concepts (lack of assurance, perfectionism, etc.). It is no wonder
that Luther thought everything hinged on the proper understanding
of this doctrine.

    Besides their compromising stance on justification, Traditional
Adventism seems bent on making Ellen G. White the infallible
interpreter of Scripture. Though this has never been the official
position of the church, in a practical way many leaders within
Adventism have asserted this. Lyndon K. McDowell makes this
insightful comment: “In practice, if not in theory, the writings of
E.G. White have been elevated to an almost verbally-inspired
touchstone of interpretation which has resulted in an essentially
biblically illiterate membership.”[19] Unfortunately, many
Adventists see the writings of Ellen White as an infallible
shortcut to scriptural understanding. Adventists must understand
that if they elevate Ellen White to the position of infallible
interpreter, then the dramatic irony of the ages has come true —
SDA has a Pope. 

*Is Traditional Adventism Cultic?*     

    With respect to the charge that Traditional Adventism is a
non-Christian cult, it must be emphasized that the structure of
Adventism is largely orthodox (accepting the Trinity, Christ’s
deity, virgin birth, bodily resurrection, etc.). Presently,
however, it would appear that Traditional Adventism is at least
aberrant, confusing or compromising biblical truth (e.g., their
view of justification,the nature of Christ, appealing to an
unbiblical authority). It must also be stated that if the
traditional camp continues in its departure from _QOD,_ and in
promoting Ellen White as the church’s infallible interpreter, then
they could one day be fully deserving of the title “cult”, as some
Adventists recognize.   

    In the late 1970s, SDA was at the crossroads between becoming
quite evangelical, or returning to the traditionalism of the past.
The crisis of the 1980s makes it plain that many in Adventist
leadership are attentive to the vocal traditionalist segment, and,
unfortunately, have headed Adventism in the wrong direction. If
those in Adventist leadership who love the Reformation gospel (and
there are still many) do not speak up and stand for their
convictions, Adventism has little hope, because Traditional
Adventism is theologically bankrupt. Its perverted gospel robs
Adventist Christians of assurance and puts them on a treadmill of
trying to measure up to God’s holy law in order to be saved.   

    Our criticism of Adventism should not be interpreted as an
attack from an enemy, but rather concerned words from a friend, who
earnestly prays that the present leaders of SDA will honor
Scripture and the gospel of grace above their own denominational


1 See, for example, Anthony Hoekema, _The Four Major Cults_ (Grand
  Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963). 
2 _Questions on Doctrine_ (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald 
  Publishing Assn., 1957), 21-22. 
3 For a complete analysis of Adventist distinctives see Walter 
  Martin, _The Kingdom of the Cults,_ rev. ed. (Minneapolis, MN:
  Bethany House Publishers, 1985). 
4 _Questions on Doctrine,_ 96. 
5 _Ibid.,_ 89. 
6 _Ibid._ 
7 Walter Martin, “Adventist Theology Vs. Historic Orthodoxy,”   
  _Eternity,_ Jan. 1957, 13 
8 Walter Martin, “Seventh-day Adventism,” _Christianity Today,_ 
  19 Dec. 1960, 14. 
9 The exact title is _Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on
  Doctrine,_ but it is better known as _Questions on Doctrine._
10 “Currents Interview: Walter Martin,” _Adventist Currents,_ July
  1983, 15.
11 Gary Land (ed.), _Adventism In America_ (Grand Rapids, MI:   
  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1986), 187.
12 See Land, 215.
13 Desmond and Gillian Ford, _The Adventist Crisis of Spiritual 
  Identity._ (Newcastle, CA: Desmond Ford Publications, 1982), 
14 Alan Crandall, “Whither Evangelical Adventism,” _Evangelica,_ 
  May 1982, 23.
15 Ford, 20.
16 _Ibid._
17 Geoffrey Paxton, _The Shaking of Adventism_ (Grand Rapids, MI:
  Baker Book House, 1977), 153.
18 See Paxton, 46-49
19 Lyndon K. McDowell (Adventist scholar), cited in “Quotable
  Quotes from Adventist Scholars,” _Evangelica,_ Nov. 1981, 37.

End of document, CRJ0005A.TXT (original CRI file name), “From
Controversy To Crisis: An Update Assessment of Seventh-day
release A, August 20, 1993
R. Poll, CRI

(A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in
the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.)

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