By Mark Mayberry
In 1981 the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, headquartered in Washington, D.C., had 3,668,000 members worldwide.(1) In recent years, their goal has been to add I million new members by 1985. Achieving this goal would have required an average of 1,000 daily converts. From their statistics, it appears that they succeeded. In 1985 they claimed 4.5 million members meeting together in 24,000 congregations scattered throughout 184 countries.(2) Over 1/2 million of their membership is in the United States. If these statistics are true, the Seventh Day Adventist Church is one of the fastest growing denominations in the world.
In the late 18th and the early 19th centuries, many religious leaders believed that the second coming of Christ was imminent. It was in this atmosphere that William Miller (1782-1849) began to preach. Once a skeptic, in time he was converted to the Baptist Church and became a minister. Miller was a self-taught man with little formal education. After extensive study of Daniel and Revelation, he predicted that Christ would return in glory on March 21, 1844. Upon his return, the Lord would cleanse the Earth by fire and usher in the millennium. Miller gained quite a following, estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000 people. Religious fervor was high, and there was great anticipation over the Lord’s return. Unfortunately, Christ didn’t return on the specified date, so Miller set another one- October 22, 1844. When this day passed without event, the “Great Disappointment” occurred. Many “Millerites” lost their faith and drifted away.
At this point Ellen G. White (1827-1915) entered the picture. She claimed to see a vision in which followers of the Adventist faith were ushered into heaven, and this gave the movement a much needed boost of morale. Then she reinterpreted Miller’s predictions. She said he was right on the date but wrong on the event. According to Mrs. White, on October 22, 184 the Lord went into the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary. There he began to judge and investigate the lives of the believers. She taught that when Jesus finished this “investigative judgment,” he would return to the earth and the millennium would begin. As a result, this 17 year old woman saved the movement that was started by William Miller and eventually she became the leader of Seventh Day Adventism.
1. Mrs. White: A Prophetess. Adventists view Ellen G. White as a prophetess, and her writings serve as the basis of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. She supposedly received over 2,000 visions from God. She wrote 53 full length books on every subject that could possibly concern the church. She also wrote 5,000 articles, and countless letters to individuals.(3) Tens of millions of her books have been sold. Just one of her books, Steps to Christ, has sold more than 10 million copies and has been translated into 80 languages.(4)
The Seventh Day Adventist Church claims to accept the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice, but they also believe in “the spirit of prophecy.” Mrs. White is held as virtually infallible by many Adventists, and in practice, her writings are viewed as equal with the Bible. Officially the church holds that there are no discrepancies between Mrs. White’s visions and the teaching of the Bible. They believe that God spake through her a century ago, and her counsel is as dependable today as it was then.(5)
In recent years, questions about her inspiration and authority have arisen from within the denomination. Walter Rea, an Adventist minister from Patterson, CA, spent two years analyzing the writings of Mrs. White. After extensive research, he concluded that she was a plagiarist. This charge had been made before, but never by an official in the Adventist Church. Rea alleged that she borrowed from many 19th century writers. She quoted from at least 75 different books without giving credit and then passed the ideas off as her own.(6) Rea estimated that 80% of her writings were lifted almost word for word from other works.(7) According to Mr. Rea, “The borrowing wasn’t a sentence here or a word there. It was her habit to copy from the beginning of her writings to the end.”(8) This throws cold water on Mrs. White’s claim that she received her messages directly from God. Such blatant plagiarism destroys her claim to divine inspiration and raises serious questions about her honesty. It is not surprising that Mr. Rea was thrown out of the church after he published his conclusions in a book entitled The White Lie.
Church officials defend Mrs. White by saying that she is no less a prophetess because she selectively used outside material, just as biblical writers sometimes used quotations from apocryphal literature. The big difference is that the New Testament writers acknowledged it when they quoted from other writers (cf. Acts 17:28), and they only did it occasionally.
Christians recognize that the Bible is our only rule of faith. It is complete and all-sufficient, containing all that we need to believe and practice (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3; Jn. 8:31-32). The faith has been once delivered to the saints (Jude 3), and as a result, there is no place in God’s scheme for latter-day prophets such as Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, or Ellen G. White.
2. The Sabbath. In 1847, Mrs. White claimed she saw the Ten Commandments in a vision. There was a halo around the 4th commandment, and an angel explained to her that Saturday must be kept as the Christian Sabbath. As a result, Seventh Day Adventists worship on Saturday. While it is true that God rested after the creation, observing the Sabbath became a binding ordinance for man only after the Law of Moses was established (Ex. 16:22-31; 20:8-11). We must remember that the Mosaic Law was specifically for the Jewish nation. Christians understand that it is no longer in force (Eph. 2:14-15; Col. 2:14-17).
3. Diet and Health. Adventists observe various dietary regulations. “Probably no religious movement, ancient or modem, has put greater emphasis on diet and nutrition than the Seventh Day Adventist Church.”(9) Many of Mrs. White’s visions dealt with diet. She taught that meat, alcohol, tobacco, all narcotics and stimulants must be avoided. She advocated the consumption of natural foods and urged her followers to eat a balanced diet. Even today, 50% of their membership are practicing vegetarians.(10) As a whole, Adventist males between the ages of 35 and 40 have a 6.2 year longer life expectancy than the general population. Females have a 3.1 year greater life expectancy.(11) Good eating habits are to be commended, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to bind religious laws where God has not spoken (1 Cor. 8:8; Col. 2:16; 1 Tim. 4:3-5).
As previously discussed, Mrs. White was in the habit of borrowing other. people’s ideas. This was not limited simply to books on history, doctrine and the Bible. Historian Ronald Numbers, in his book Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White, alleges that she also lifted ideas from 19th century health reformers and diet faddists.(12) Many of her visions concerning diet and nutrition were simply reflections of the contemporary views of the society of that day.
The modern breakfast food industry owes its beginning to the Seventh Day Adventist Church. John Kellogg, the first to make breakfast cereal, was an Adventist. He served as a physician in an Adventist hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. While searching for different kinds of vegetable foods, he created peanut butter and corn flakes. The records are rather vague, but it appears that Mr. Kellogg offered the Adventist Church the patent rights to wheat and corn flakes. This would have made the sect fabulously wealthy, but Mrs. White rejected the idea because she felt it would take too much time. Eventually Kellogg left the church after he questioned the infallibility of Mrs. White’s visions.(13)
Seventh-Day Adventists continue to be noted for their medical missionaries, sanitariums, and concern for sound health practices. As recently as 1976 they had 421 medical institutions worldwide.(14)
4. Tithing. Adventists stress tithing. As a whole, they contribute more than do members of other denominations, giving an average of $486 per person per year.(15) They often give an additional 10% of their income to missions and related church works.(16) Such generosity is commendable, but quotas or percentages ought not to be set. Tithing was a part of the Old Law. Christians are to give as they have been prospered (I Cor. 16:1-1; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:6-8).
5. The Investigative Judgment. Adventists hold to the doctrine of the investigative judgment. Mrs. White claimed that in 1844 the Lord entered into the heavenly sanctuary and began to judge the faithful. In recent years this key doctrine has been under attack from within the Seventh Day Adventist Church itself. At the center of this controversy is Desmond Ford, a prominent Australian theologian who taught at Pacific Union College in California. He argued that the sanctuary doctrine does not stand up to the light of God’s Word. It is interesting to note that Mr. Ford was “defrocked” in 1980 because of his position.”(17) Obviously the Adventist establishment is not pleased with those who question their long held beliefs.
We acknowledge that Mr. Ford was right on this point. Remember that the investigative judgment doctrine was formulated after the Lord failed to return on October 22, 1844. It was Mrs. White’s reinterpretation of Miller’s date that saved the Adventist movement. We recognize that Miller’s efforts at setting a date for the Second Coming were wrong to begin with (Matt. 24:36,42; 1 Thess. 5:1-3; 2 Pet. 3:10). Furthermore, the Bible affirms that the judgment will occur when the Lord returns (2 Cor. 5: 10; Rev. 20:10-15).
In recent years the Adventist Church has been plunged into a crisis of identity and authority. Some of their own scholars have begun to question both the inspiration and the doctrines of Mrs. White. By 1982, approximately 120 dissatisfied ministers had resigned or had been forced to leave the church.(18) We can only hope that their search for truth will lead them back to the Bible.