Teaching for Doctrines the Commandments of Men

In over 20 years of service to the Seventh-day Adventist church, the Lord by His Spirit has been leading and teaching me. As I reflect upon the earliest years of my ministry, surely I was a babe in the faith. Looking back, it is evidenced by my limited knowledge of the pillars of our faith that the home, school, Adventist academies and Universities had come short in preparing me for the spiritual work that I would be engaged in. I carried out my work to the best of ability, yet not having been armed with a solid biblical foundation, my work in the church was anemic at best. Over the last few years, my faith has grown exponentially and I attribute this to a consistent, prayerful and humble study of the scriptures and the spirit of prophecy. Catching wind of what God actually was requiring of me in order for me to impart to others, especially in a time of crisis in the church, I truly had to learn in months what took many others years.

In the midst of this awakening process, I had often been at cross-purposes with the brethren over doctrines. As I became more grounded in foundational truths, I began to notice that our institutions were coming short of the standard presented in the word of God. Often, when I attempted to implement biblical reforms, pastors, conference leaders, and board members alike would challenge me to adhere to the working policy. Their beckoning call was all in the name of keeping “unity”.

As a denomination once known to the world as a “people of the book”, I naively thought that the opposing leaders would “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2). Interestingly enough, I would present my cases using the bible and the inspired counsel of Ellen White, and they retorted with church manuals, educational policy books and such to solve disputes. Needless to say, there is a hierarchal culture within the leadership of the SDA church in the place of the co-laboring spirit and the brethren’s admonitions typically were accompanied by threats. In my experience, there was no counsel that included a study of the word of God and fervent prayer for unity.

Creeds violate Sola Scriptura because they compete with the authority of the Bible!

Sister Ellen G. White warned the church of the danger of proposing man-made creeds. She pointed to a singular source for men to rely upon in guiding the church’s operation.

When God’s Word is studied, comprehended, and obeyed, a bright light will be reflected to the world; new truths, received and acted upon, will bind us in strong bonds to Jesus. The Bible, and the Bible alone, is to be our creed, the sole bond of union; all who bow to this Holy Word will be in harmony. Our own views and ideas must not control our efforts. Man is fallible, but God’s Word is infallible. Instead of wrangling with one another, let men exalt the Lord. Let us meet all opposition as did our Master, saying, “It is written.” Let us lift up the banner on which is inscribed, The Bible our rule of faith and discipline.

Ellen G. White
The Review and Herald, December 15, 1885.

Sister White was not the first person to reveal God’s will in this matter. Moses and John the Revelator both warned the saints about adding to or diminishing God’s word (Deuteronomy 12:32 & Revelation 22:18). The apostle Paul cautioned the members to be wary of men in the church who would depart from the faith and teach false doctrines or the commandments of men (1 Timothy 4:1 & Colossians 2:22). Our Exemplar, Jesus Christ Himself, exposed this heresy during His ministry on Earth.

He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Mark 7:6-7

The Bible was not written in pencil with an eraser for man to bring the Bible to their own creed. We must bring our creed to the Bible and let the light of the Bible define our creed and show where it comes short and where the difficulty is.  In the absence of inspiration, man’s mind is too narrow and finite to instruct the minutest details of the will of God.

The truth for this time is broad in its outlines, far reaching, embracing many doctrines; but these doctrines are not detached items, which mean little; they are united by golden threads, forming a complete whole, with Christ as the living center. The truths we present from the Bible are as firm and immovable as the throne of God.

Ellen G. White
Selected Messages, Book 2, p 87

Our pioneers recognized the danger of binding creeds over the church. They fought the notion off for years. Here’s a letter from the George I. Butler, a former president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, making a case against the church adopting a church manual:

No Church Manual

THE writer was requested by the recent General Conference to make a brief statement through the REVIEW of the action taken in reference to the proposed Church Manual. For four or five years past, there has been with some of our brethren a desire to have some manual of directions for the use of young ministers and church officers, etc. It was thought that this would lead to uniformity in all parts of the field, and afford means of instruction to those who were inexperienced, and be very convenient in many respects. Steps were taken several years ago to prepare a manual, but for a time it was left unfinished. Last year, at the Rome Conference, the matter came up for consideration, and three brethren were appointed a committee to prepare a manual, and submit it to the Conference this year for its approval or rejection. During the past summer the matter they have prepared has appeared in the REVIEW, and has doubtless been well considered by its readers. 
 
At the recent Conference a committee of thirteen leading brethren were appointed to consider the whole subject, and report. They did so, and unanimously recommended to the Conference that it was not advisable to have a church manual. Their reasons were briefly given in the report of Conference proceedings given in last week’s REVIEW. The Conference acted upon this recommendation, and quite unanimously decided against having any manual. In doing so, they did not intend any disrespect to the worthy brethren who had labored diligently to prepare such a work. They had presented much excellent matter, and given many valuable directions concerning church ordinances, holding business meetings, and many other important questions, and had done as well, no doubt, as any others would have done in their place. The reasons underlying this action of the Conference were of a broader character. They relate to the desirability of any manual whatever. 
 
The Bible contains our creed and discipline. It thoroughly furnishes the man of God unto all good works. What it has not revealed relative to church organization and management, the duties of officers and ministers, and kindred subjects, should not be strictly defined and drawn out into minute specifications for the sake of uniformity, but rather be left to individual judgment under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Had it been best to have a book of directions of this sort, the Spirit would doubtless have gone further, and left one on record with the stamp of inspiration upon it. Man cannot safely supplement this matter with his weak judgment. All attempts to do it in the past have proved lamentable failures. A variation of circumstances requires variation in action. God requires us to study important principles which he reveals in his word, but the minutiae in carrying them out he leaves to individual judgment, promising heavenly wisdom in times of need. His ministers are constantly placed where they must feel their helplessness, and their need of seeking God for light, rather than to go to any church manual for specific directions, placed therein by other uninspired men. Minute, specific directions tend to weakness, rather than power. They lead to dependence rather than self-reliance. Better make some mistakes and learn profitable lessons thereby, than to have our way all marked out for us by others, and the judgment have but a small field in which to reason and consider. 
 
While brethren who have favored a manual have ever contended that such a work was not to be anything like a creed or a discipline, or to have authority to settle disputed points, but was only to be considered as a book containing hints for the help of those of little experience, yet it must be evident that such a work, issued under the auspices of the General Conference, would at once carry with it much weight of authority, and would be consulted by most of our younger ministers. It would gradually shape and mold the whole body; and those who did not follow it would be considered out of harmony with established principles of church order. And, really, is this not the object of the manual? And what would be the use of one if not to accomplish such a result? But would this result, on the whole, be a benefit? Would our ministers be broader, more original, more self-reliant men? Could they be better depended on in great emergencies? Would their spiritual experiences likely be deeper and their judgment more reliable? We think the tendency all the other way.
 
The religious movement in which we are engaged has the same influences to meet which all genuine reformations have had to cope with. After, reaching a certain magnitude, they have seen the need of uniformity, and to attain to it they have tried to prepare directions to guide the inexperienced. These have grown in number and authority till, accepted by all, they really become authoritative. There seems to be no logical stopping-place, when once started upon this road, till this result is reached. Their history is before us; we have no desire to follow it. Hence we stop without a church manual before we get started. Our brethren who have favored such a work, we presume never anticipated such a conclusion as we have indicated. Very likely those in other denominations did not at first. The Conference thought best not to give even the appearance of such a thing. 
 
Thus far we have got along well with our simple organization without a manual. Union  prevails throughout the body. The difficulties before us, so far as organization is concerned, are far less than those we have had in the past. We have preserved simplicity, and have prospered in so doing. It is best to let well enough alone. For these and other reasons, the church manual was rejected. It is probable it will never be brought forward again. GEO. I. BUTLER.

By George I. Butler
Review and Herald, November 27, 1883

Needless to say, the Adventist church staved off this attempt for a while, but unfortunately, the church manual crept into the remnant church. Woeful are its results. God never changes, but the church manual flip flops back and forth every five years when the church is in session. We have become wiser than God. By instituting our own speculations and insinuations about the word of God, we are erecting a modern-day Tower of Babel. We have become our own gods.

In the professedly Christian world many turn away from the plain teachings of the Bible and build up a creed from human speculations and pleasing fables, and they point to their tower as a way to climb up to heaven. Men hang with admiration upon the lips of eloquence while it teaches that the transgressor shall not die, that salvation may be secured without obedience to the law of God. If the professed followers of Christ would accept God’s standard, it would bring them into unity; but so long as human wisdom is exalted above His Holy Word, there will be divisions and dissension. The existing confusion of conflicting creeds and sects is fitly represented by the term “Babylon,” which prophecy (Revelation 14:8; 18:2) applies to the world-loving churches of the last days. 

The time of God’s investigation is at hand. The Most High will come down to see that which the children of men have builded. His sovereign power will be revealed; the works of human pride will be laid low. “The Lord looketh from heaven; He beholdeth all the sons of men. From the place of His habitation He looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth.” “The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: He maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations.” Psalm 33:13, 14, 10, 11. 

Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 124

May God help us in these dark times. I admonish every reader to let the word of God be your man of counsel.

The Watchman

The Watchman

In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light - bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world. On them is shining wonderful light from the Word of God. They have been given a work of the most solemn import, - the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention. Evangelism, p. 119

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That the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction? they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath.

— Job 21:30