Ellen G. White
he 7th Day Adventist (SDA) denomination is a sectarian group that developed in the wake of the Millerite movement in 1844. For a thorough understanding of the SDA, it is necessary to be versed in the events associated with what came to be called The Great Disappointment - when Christ did not return on the date (October 22 1844) predicted by Pastor William Miller. For more on Miller, see the ProFile Sketch bearing his name or The Midnight Cry video in the Christian Media catalog
Ellen G White was a member of the Millerites, and when the movement disintegrated on the failure of Miller's prophecy, Ellen, with her husband James White, led one of the smaller groups into what became known as Seventh Day Adventism. Originally raised a Methodist, the Millerite emphasis on prophecy and the fervency it generated, was a powerful influence in the lives of the Whites. After the Millerite church collapsed, the initial doctrinal issue in Ellen G White's group was an explanation as to why the Miller prophecy failed to materialize. Among other things, Ellen proposed that certain changes actually occurred on the Miller date, but they were manifested in heaven rather than on the earth.
This new doctrinal statement was based on the Millerite prediction that tied the 2nd coming to the "cleansing of the sanctuary" that was to occur after the prophesied period of twenty three hundred days (Daniel 8:14). This new "revelation," which was not original with Ellen, held that Christ had moved from one "apartment" in heaven to another (on that date) to fulfill what became known as the "investigative judgment." Other post-Millerite theologians that were to become leaders in the then nascent movement thought the location shift was from the "Holy Place" in heaven to the "Holy of Holies."
In SDA thought, this "investigative judgment" begins the process where Christ is reviewing the lives of the saints and their worthiness for eternal life. This "second phase" of His redemptive work will ultimately culminate in the second coming. Ellen G White claimed that she received this understanding by "revelation," and thusly put herself, at least indirectly, into the role of prophetess for the emerging sect.
As White (formerly Ellen Harmon in the Millerite days when she met her husband James) moved forward with her writings, she emphasized "the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10) as having being poured out through the Millerite experience. At the same time, the view that Sabbath was to re-emerge as a primary teaching began to be propagated by White and other early SDA writers like Hiram Edson, O.R.L. Crosier, F.D. Nichol, LeRoy Froom, and Joseph Bates. While Ellen G White and her small post-Millerite splinter group were emphasizing the belief that the Millerite disappointment was a genuine move of God as "the spirit of prophecy" was being poured out, another splinter group, led by one Joseph Bates, was emphasizing a renewed dedication to the Sabbath as a form of the "sealing" that God required during the end times.
The third post-Millerite splinter group, led by Hiram Edson and O.R.L. Crosier, were the ones that initially put forth the idea of the "investigative judgment." Ultimately the three groups combined, and the Seventh Day Adventist denomination was born. The three groups also brought forth 3 primary doctrinal positions that characterize the movement: Sabbath observance, The Investigative Judgment, and the renewed Spirit of Prophecy. Once again, it is difficult to perceive the dynamics of this religious movement without a clear understanding of the previous movement led by William Miller, for the Millerite movement (which held to none of the 3 primary SDA tenets), created such a fertile ground for the fervency and zeal found in the formative period of Adventism, that it is inconceivable that the SDA movement could have flourished without it. Thus, the stage was set for what was to become a major American based denomination.
In the more basic areas of theology, the SDA movement holds to the doctrine of the Trinity, the inspiration of the scriptures, the deity of Christ, His blood atonement for the sins of man, His bodily resurrection, and His physical second coming. This orthodoxy clearly demonstrates Seventh Day Adventism is a Christian sect. While there are some cultic tendencies in the group, theologians have been divided on the issue - so from this writer's perspective such labels sometimes become meaningless and hypocritical if they're not applied to other aberrant groups as well. For an example, see our ProFile book The Rapture Cult.
As a case in point, the late Dr Walter Martin, in his monumental work The Kingdom of The Cults (Martin's original version, not the 'revised' edition on which the criminal Hank Hanegraaff has brazenly added his name as co-author), points out that prominent amillennialist Anthony Hoekema has stated that SDA is "a non-Christian cult" (Kingdom, pg 370). This gross hypocrisy would be laughable if it weren't so sad, for amillennialism, the teaching that this earthly life is the millennial reign of Christ, spawned the preterist variation stating that all prophecy in Matthew 24 and Revelation up to chapter 20 occurred in 70AD! The idea that Jesus has already returned and is invisible (ala CT Russell) sounds rather cultic itself, don't you think?
The plain truth is, the Seventh Day Adventist system is riddled with much error -- but the Lord has clearly used this group -- particularly during the period when the doctrines were new, unrefined, and characterized by the fervency that the then institutionalized churches were reluctant to receive. Of course, at that time, much of denominational Christianity was already sound asleep, the aggressive approach of the Adventist movement put them on a collision course with the mainstream churches.
Doctrinally speaking, the investigative judgment does not correct the original Millerite error - it compounds it. It is a false teaching that is not taught in scripture. Although Ellen put some a strange spin on the gift of prophecy, the idea of the restoration and renewal of "the spirit of prophecy" is scriptural, for Daniel clearly teaches that understanding is to be greatly increased in the last days. Indeed, this view is hardly original with the SDA movement. It should be obvious that the spirit of the Lord moving the believer through his written Word is our only hope for increased understanding as we approach the end of the age.
Back in negative territory, the SDA's teach a concept called Soul-Sleep -- also known as Annihilationism. This is the view that at death, the individual ceases to exist. They do not believe in a literal hell, or an ultimate lake of fire where the lost will be eternally tormented. While there are a few verses that superficially seem to teach this, such as the oft quoted "the dead know not anything...(Ecclesiastes 9:5), the overwhelming body of text firmly indicates a conscious nature among the "dead."
The distinctive emphasis on the Sabbath is a much more complex issue. Much SDA thought takes the position that the keeping of the Sabbath is the "sign" that will be the signature event in opposition to the mark of the Beast - which some SDA teachers say is Sunday worship. Because we have yet to see the manifestation of the ultimate "mark of the beast," it is impossible to assert this as fact. Theoretically, this may ultimately have some basis in fact. The "mark," however, encompasses far more than can be dealt with in the present context. Furthermore, the idea of defining the Sabbath as the characteristic that makes all the difference is overly simplistic.
I am, for example, a Sabbatarian but not a Seventh Day Adventist. While I reject large amounts of SDA teaching, I believe the Sabbath is not something we have the right to reject or change. This is a deep understanding that is widely misunderstood to be legalism, fanaticism, or a host of other descriptive terms that demonstrate the critics simply do not understand the eternal nature of the 4th commandment - to say nothing of the other nine. If it's still wrong to steal, murder, lie, etc., why is now not wrong to break the Sabbath? To put it another way, I suggest you ask yourself this question: Which of the other 9 commandments do I feel at liberty to routinely ignore? Once again, the issue of the Sabbath is a crucial study that demands more than a passing reference in an article on Ellen G White (for more on this, see the CM tape series the Sabbath Story).
Having said all that, I have to say that the renewed emphasis on the Sabbath that has been largely generated through the Adventist movement is a positive development. Contrary to popular innuendo, the sect has never claimed this was a "work" necessary for salvation. Witness the following statement by the SDA publishing house: "Seventh-day Adventists do not rely upon their Sabbathkeeping as a means of salvation or of winning merit before God. We are saved by grace alone. Hence our Sabbath observance, as also our loyalty to every other command of God, is an expression of our love for our Creator and Redeemer..." (Questions on Doctrine, Review & Herald Publishing, page 153).
In later years, E.G. White was demonstrated to have liberally plagiarized from her husband James' earlier work, but some of this was undoubtedly considered acceptable as he most likely assented to the reconfiguration of his earlier writings. It is true, however, that this literary dependency was unattributed.
Over the years, as The Seventh Day Adventist movement has matured, it has deteriorated from its earlier fervor and a number of breakaway groups have tried to recapture the original intensity of their earlier prophetic spirit. This has given rise to cultic teaching from groups such as the Branch Davidians and others. When zealotry is emphasized, the potential for cultic behavior and doctrinal aberrations seems to be increased.
Meanwhile, the SDA church itself is now a large denomination that has become just what it originally reviled. The Seventh Day Adventist Church is now just another incorporated 501(c)(3) government licensed religious entity. The Ellen G White Foundation, which is itself a government licensed non-profit corporation accruing tax free royalties from her writings, zealously defends her work and the efficacy of her "original" teachings. Thus, the institutionalization has reached full bloom and the once vibrant movement is now thoroughly set in its dogma and unwilling to hear a true word from the Lord.
We believe all denominations are now barren from the Spirit of the Lord and support through attendance and tithes should immediately cease. The Seventh Day Adventist church is no exception.
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