Some of the controversies existing today within Seventh-Day Adventism, such as emergent church practices, women’s ordination, LGBT acceptance, Adventists and political involvement, and social activism indicate a significant polarization theologically and ideologically between two primary groups that will be referred to in this article as the “liberal/progressive” and “conservative” classes within the denomination. It will be discovered that conscientious, Bible-believing Christians cannot subscribe to the principles of either of these classes, but are rather to implement and promote the principles of present-truth and Protestantism.
A controversy that has recently surfaced in which both opposing classes have been visibly manifested and have alike been vocal is the issue of whether or not Seventh-day Adventists should use Sunday mornings to conduct regular worship services. This issue came to the forefront when First Seventh-Day Adventist Church of Huntsville, Alabama, under Pastor Debleaire Snell, announced that his church would be holding regular Sunday morning services. These Sunday services are called Surge. Throughout the article the Sunday worship services will be mentioned by this name. Because this issue has been widely publicized and circulated, it is not necessary for the details to be here provided.
It is the objective of this article to analyze and address both sides of the discussion relating to the Surge movement and show that both classes, the liberal/progressive and the conservative, are throwing stones while living in glass houses with arguments and practices that cannot bear close scrutiny and are neither approved by God’s Word. It will also be shown that Protestantism is the only viable position that Bible-believing Christians should take regarding Surge and all other controversies and divisive issues.
The members in the liberal/progressive class, comprised of both pastors and laity, are the proponents of the Surge Sunday movement, and have conveniently used one statement from Ellen White to sanction this practice. In fact, a small portion of the statement they quote is their primary argument used to condone Surge. The reference for this statement is the following: Testimonies for the Church, Volume 9, page 233.1
If one were to read the entire chapter from which the passage is extracted, and understand its immediate context, that person would find no ambiguity as to the question that prompted her response to conduct meetings on Sunday. The very first paragraph of the chapter indicates that Mrs. White is answering a question as to how Sabbath-keepers should respond to Sunday Laws after they are enforced. All the other subsequent paragraphs present the various ways and means of carrying forward missionary work during this crisis. It is noteworthy, that of the locations specified for holding Sunday meetings, church buildings were not mentioned; however, having meetings in the open-air, in cottages, and homes were.
This very class, the liberal/progressive, that has cited a portion of the statement from Mrs. White, is comprised of the same individuals who claim that Ellen White’s writings are not authoritative, and that only some of her statements are inspired. Such persons conveniently select the statements that suit their purposes and misconstrue other statements to support their practices, while they reject other direct statements that condemn their lifestyles on other issues. It is not infrequent to hear such rhetoric expressed by persons of this class relating to the inspiration of Ellen White’s writings: “She herself has stated that she is the lesser light;” “Not all of her writings are inspired, only the ones that are prefaced with ‘I was shown’ or ‘My accompanying angel…;’” “Her writings were for her time;” “The Bible is a sufficient guide, we don’t need Ellen White;” “Her writings are inspirational but not inspired;” “Her writings are not on the same level as those of the canonical prophets.” How about the official resolution that was voted and adopted at the 2005 General Conference Session that Ellen White’s writings “can enrich but not define our [Seventh-day Adventists] faith and practice.”1 How contradictory for these pastors and members to even use Ellen White’s name and writings to support something that she clearly has not given sanction for, while ignoring and defying other clear-cut statements that call for the renunciation of sin and the abandonment of certain practices that are anti-scripture!
There are six principal areas that Mrs. White writes extensively upon that are ignored, despised and obstinately defied by the liberal/progressive class. 1. health reform; 2. dress reform; 3. music/worship reform; 4. education reform; 5. the prohibition of inviting speakers from churches in Babylon to SDA institutions to instruct their members and 6. the forbidding of competitive sports and worldly entertainment.
It is evident that the liberal/progressive class, while condemning and criticizing those who oppose the Surge movement, and misconstruing Ellen White’s writings to substantiate their support for holding worship services on Sunday mornings, are discredited by the same writings by their worldly lifestyles, carnal practices and secular ministries, thus shattering the glass-house from which they are proverbially throwing stones at those opposing their views.
As with every controversy, there are at least two sides. The opposing, conservative class within Seventh-day Adventism, which also includes both pastors and laity, is adamantly against the Surge movement and stress that there must be a clear distinction between the Holy Sabbath and Sunday. Members of this class also quote from the Bible and the writings of Ellen White to argue their points. They are throwing stones at proponents of Surge, but they are not blameless themselves. When other blatant apostasies are passed down from the General Conference, members of this class dare not open their mouths publicly to condemn such practices, so as to remain in harmony with their conservative brethren in administrative positions who have sanctioned those policies. Members of this class also selectively choose statements from the Spirit of Prophecy that support their conservative agendas, while they by precept and practice reject others and constantly adapt and adjust their positions to maintain unity with the corporate body or the “brethren.” In other words, as policies change, and denominational administration adopts certain principles and policies, this class will unquestioningly accept the voted decisions of the majority; and even if they know such practices to be outside of scripture, they will keep silent and resolve within themselves that the body is the “voice of God” and should always be obeyed.
For example, when the Sabbath School lesson guides have not a few times contained doctrinal errors and quotes from infidel authors, this class of ministers and members say nothing, simply because it was sent down and approved by the leadership at the General Conference level. When The Great Controversy was stripped of the controversy and the history of the reformation and was transformed into The Great Hope, the majority of the conservative class did not question it, but accepted it and praised it as a wonderful innovation and a great way to make the book less intimidating for non-Adventists. Additionally, there has been no outcry when it was decided that the term “medical missionary” would no longer be used, but rather “comprehensive health.” The name “medical missionary” was divinely inspired by God and man has not the authority to change it; especially when inspiration states that we have reached a time wherein every Seventh-day Adventist should take hold of the medical missionary work. Medical missionary workers are ordained by God, while comprehensive health workers must be trained and educated by the men comprising the liberal/progressive and conservative classes.
This class is not governed by principles of truth and righteousness; it functions and operates based on the consensus of the majority and the policies sent down from the denominational leadership. If it is voted that Ellen White’s writings can “enrich but not define the faith and practice” of Seventh-Day Adventists (and it has been), they will accept it (and they have). When the church manual is adapted and changed every five years, this class agrees with whatever decision/resolution is reached by the corporate body. Such will be the case if the practice of ordaining women as elders and pastors, and also accepting members of the LGBT community into fellowship and leadership positions are approved. Some within the conservative class may believe that these practices are not biblically sanctioned; however, they will unite with the voted policies, even if they go contrary to God’s word. Mark Finley, assistant to the General Conference President, made a statement that confirms this reality, as he urges all to “just go along” for unity’s sake. “‘Whatever your viewpoint is on the ordination of women, whether you are convicted on one side of the question or the other, there comes a point when you do not tear the body of Christ apart,’ Finley said, referring to the church. He added: ‘There comes a point where you say, ‘We will accept the decision of the corporate body, namely the General Conference session. And whatever my personal view is on that, no matter how I believe I am right, I have come to the conclusion that I will accept as God’s will whatever the session votes and move on with our mission.’”2 The issue here is that this class is willing to sacrifice principle and God’s Word for unity of the “brethren.” This conservative class often cites Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17 as a justification for compromising and laying aside truth, which is a gross misinterpretation of the scripture. Such men and women place the visible church above God’s Word and are therefore not that different from the liberal/progressive class. It needs to be here mentioned that the conservative class is not comprised of present- truth believers/true Protestants. True present-truth Protestants have the spirit manifested by the early reformers.
To secure peace and unity they were ready to make any concession consistent with fidelity to God; but they felt that even peace would be too dearly purchased at the sacrifice of principle. If unity could be secured only by the compromise of truth and righteousness, then let there be difference, and even war. Well would it be for the church and the world if the principles that actuated those steadfast souls were revived in the hearts of God’s professed people.3
Relating to the Surge movement, the authority of the church being allowed to supersede the principles of God’s Word is not far-fetched based on the track-record hitherto. Perhaps if the men at the General Conference level had sanctioned Sunday morning church services by Seventh-day Adventist ministers, many of the conservatives would have kept silent and “gone on with the mission” and this would not even be a discussion. I believe the sentiments expressed by retired SDA pastor C.D. Brooks are shared by individuals in the conservative class. While Pastor Brooks made it absolutely clear that he does not condone Seventh-day Adventist churches holding regular Sunday morning services, in a recorded statement that has surfaced in response to the Surge movement, Pastor Brooks states: “In my judgment we should probably pass a matter like this off to administration… when I said administration, I didn’t mean just the president or secretary or whatever, but it should go before a committee at the general conference to be discussed, and if the brethren say let’s do it, let’s do it. I’m not a contender…”4
Just like the glass-house that the liberal/progressive class is dwelling in while throwing stones at those opposing their views, that is broken by flawed and contradictory positions, so is the glass-house of conservatism. The only safe course for us to follow is found in the principles that Protestantism are founded upon.
“Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate, and the authority of the word of God above the visible church. In the first place, it rejects the civil power in divine things, and says with the prophets and apostles, ‘We must obey God rather than man…’ But it goes farther: it lays down the principle that all human teaching should be subordinate to the oracles of God.”5
“But God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority–not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain ‘Thus saith the Lord’ in its support.”6 Let us earnestly contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints.
3 White, Ellen. The Great Controversy, (1911), page 45
5 White, Ellen. The Great Controversy, (1911), page 204
6 White, Ellen. The Great Controversy, (1911), page 595