The Seventh Day Adventists
Christian or cultic in nature?
by Dr. David R. Reagan
The Seventh-Day Adventists are an anomaly. Evangelical Christians have never been comfortable with them, but they have been unable to decide whether the SDA is a legitimate expression of Christianity or whether it is a cult, like the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.
The majority view among contemporary cult-watchers is that it is a cult. But the most authoritative cult expert in modern Christian history, Dr. Walter Martin (1928-1989), decided in 1965 that "it is perfectly possible to be a Seventh-Day Adventist and be a true follower of Jesus Christ, despite heterodox concepts."1 This conclusion caused a storm of controversy because Dr. Martin had earlier labeled the SDA a cult in his book published in 1955 called The Rise of the Cults.2
Yet, shortly before he died, Dr. Martin expressed conflicted second thoughts in a television interview:
"I fear that if they continue to progress at this rate, then the classification of a cult can't possibly miss being reapplied to Seventh-Day Adventists because once you have an interpreter of Scripture, a final court of appeal that tells you what Scripture means - as soon as you judge Scripture by that, as soon as you have someone who has made doctrinal errors in the past, even on the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the atonement and on other things, and that person is raised to that position of authority, you have polarization around that person."3
If Christendom's foremost cult expert could not make up his mind about the status of the SDA, you can certainly understand why others have experienced equal difficulty. So, what about it? Does the SDA deserve the designation of a cult?
A Brief History
Let's begin our consideration of this question by taking a brief look at the origin of the Seventh-Day Adventists.
The SDA Church is rooted in the Millerite Movement that swept the United States in the 1840's. William Miller (1782-1849) was a New England Baptist preacher who developed a unique interpretation of Daniel 8:14.4
In the King James Version that passage reads: "And he [a saint] said unto me, 'Unto 2,300 days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.'" This is a prophecy about the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes. But Miller applied it to the end times by converting the days into years. Assuming the prophecy was given in 457 BC, he calculated that Jesus would return 2,300 years later, sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. Incredibly, he interpreted the "cleansing of the sanctuary" to refer to the purging of the earth by fire at the Second Coming of Jesus!
When March 21, 1844 came and passed, Miller recalculated the date for October 22, 1844. When nothing happened on that day, Miller's followers became totally disillusioned. The whole experience was dubbed "The Great Disappointment." Miller died in disgrace four years later.
But a small hard-core group of Millerites called "the little flock" continued to insist that the date had been correct. One of the group's members, a man named Hiram Edson, claimed to have seen a vision of Jesus standing at the altar in Heaven, and he concluded that Miller had been right about the time, but wrong about the place. In other words, Jesus' return was not to earth but to the Heavenly sanctuary as described in Hebrews 8:1-2. This strange idea was promoted by a retired sea captain and Millerite convert named Joseph Bates.5 One of his pamphlets greatly impressed a teenage Millerite girl named Ellen G. Harmon (1827-1915).
The Life of Ellen G. White
Ellen Harmon was the daughter of a family in Portland, Maine. In 1840, at age 12, she accepted Jesus as her Savior. She was baptized and received into the membership of the Methodist Church. Shortly thereafter, her parents began to attend Millerite meetings and became avid followers, confidently expecting the Lord to return in 1844.
In December of 1844, one month after "The Great Disappointment," this 17 year old girl experienced a vision in which she saw Adventist believers being ushered into Heaven. Her vision was accepted by the Adventist group in Portland as "light from God."16
In 1846, at age 19, Ellen married a young Adventist preacher named James White. Shortly after their marriage, they were introduced to a tract by Joseph Bates, a Seventh-Day Baptist. It convinced them of the sacredness of the Sabbath, and they began to observe Saturday as the Sabbath. Six months later, in April 1847, Ellen had a vision in which she was shown the Heavenly sanctuary with a halo light around the fourth commandment, establishing it in her mind as the most important of the Ten Commandments.7
In 1850 James and Ellen began publishing a magazine called The Review & Herald. Its purpose was to disseminate Adventist and Sabbatarian doctrines. Their publication was instrumental in helping the handful of remaining Millerites to coalesce into a distinctive group. In 1860 they adopted the name, Seventh-Day Adventist Church. They formally incorporated in 1863 with approximately 3,500 members located in 125 churches.8
Ellen White never held any official title as head of the church, but she was always acknowledged as its spiritual leader. She claimed to have the spirit of prophecy, and she claimed that her messages were directly from God.9 Here's how she put it in her own words:
"I am presenting to you that which the Lord has presented to me. I do not write one article in the paper expressing merely my own ideas. They are what God has opened before me in vision - the precious rays of light shining from the throne."11
James White died in 1881, and in 1888 Ellen published her most famous book, The Great Controversy. Ellen White died in July 1915 at the age of 87. She and her husband are buried in Battle Creek, Michigan.
The Church Today
Today, the Seventh-Day Adven-tist Church claims to baptize 2,000 people a day. Church membership reached one million between 1955 and 1961, and it hit 5 million in 1986. At the turn of this century, the church claimed 10.7 million members worldwide. Approximately one million of those reside in the United States.12
Much of the phenomenal growth of the church in recent years has been due to the fact that the SDA has been on the cutting edge of media evangelism ever since 1929 when they launched a radio program called "Voice of Prophecy." In 1956 they began broadcasting the first religious television program to air in color, called "It is Written." The most effective media thrust began in 1965 as a radio program called "Amazing Facts." In 1987 this program was converted into a television ministry, and in 1993 it was taken over by Doug Batchelor who has since become the most recognizable face among Adventists.13
Doug Batchelor is a very gifted communicator who heads up a team of 12 evangelists who conduct media-spectacular prophecy conferences all across America. Doug's television program, "Amazing Facts," is broadcast on several national cable and satellite networks, including the Fox Family Channel, the Black Entertainment Network, the Inspirational Network, the National Network, super station KSBN (SafeTV), and the Three Angels Broadcasting Network. The estimated number of homes the program can now reach within the U.S. exceeds 100 million.14
The Three Angels Network, known as 3ABN, was founded in 1984. It provides a 24-hour satellite service that broadcasts the programs of all major Adventist ministries around the world. There is also a Three Angels Radio Network. Both of these networks are privately run as non-profits, and neither is an official arm of the SDA Church.15
Despite its phenomenal growth in recent years, the SDA has suffered some major internal disputes. One occurred in the 1970's when Adventist pastors began to question some of the Church's most cherished doctrines.16 The SDA hierarchy responded by becoming more entrenched in its unorthodox positions. This caused a number of pastors, and even entire congregations, to leave the SDA. Others were asked to leave.
An even greater shaking occurred in the 1980's when one of the SDA's leading theologians, Dr. Desmond Ford, prepared a 900 page doctrinal analysis in which he questioned the biblical validity of some of the Church's most sacred dogmas. The SDA responded by removing Dr. Ford's ministerial credentials.17 Two years later a book by Walter Rea was published which revealed that a great number of the writings of Ellen G. White were flagrantly plagiarized.18 This revelation undermined the faith of many who had accepted Ellen White as a prophet of God.
The reverberations continue to this day. In August 2005 Doug Batchelor sent out an email message in which he made an amazing admission:
"Literally thousands of Seventh-Day Adventists have fallen away from the church in recent years. According to the General Conference Office of Archives and Statistics, in the past ten years alone, over 1.6 million people have requested that their SDA membership be dropped. The annual growth rate within the church has gone from approximately 6%, ten years ago, to a record low of 3.98%."19
There are two distinctive doctrines of the SDA.20 First and foremost is "The Investigative Judgment."
This is the unbiblical concept that in 1844 Jesus entered "the second and last phase" of His atoning ministry - the work of investigative judgment. Instead of returning to earth on October 22, 1844, as William Miller predicted, Jesus entered the Holy of Holies in Heaven and began a review of the works of all believers who have ever lived to determine how faithful they were to the commandments of God. "Sins that have not been repented of and forsaken will not be pardoned and blotted out of the books of record, but will stand to witness against the sinner."21
According to Ellen White, a person must believe this doctrine to be saved:
"All need a knowledge of the position [in the Holy of Holies] and work [investigative judgment] of their great High Priest. Otherwise it will be impossible for them to exercise the faith which is essential at this time or to occupy the position which God designs for them to fill."22
Twisting Bible Prophecy
There is absolutely no valid biblical basis for this bizarre doctrine. As pointed out earlier, it is based upon a misinterpretation and misapplication of Daniel 8:14. The prophecy concerns the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes (215-164 BC). It refers to a restoration of "the holy place" after it has been "trampled." This occurred when Antiochus took Jerusalem in 167 BC and stopped the sacrifices in the Temple. This led to the Maccabean revolt which succeeded in reconquering Jerusalem. In 164 BC the Jews cleansed and rededicated the Temple. Hanukkah is the eight day festival celebrating this event.
Applying this prophecy to the Heavenly sanctuary is ridiculous. Since when has the Holy of Holies in Heaven ever been defiled or trampled down? Since when has it needed to be restored?
The prophecy also refers to a time period during which the "holy place" will remain desecrated. That time period is "2,300 evenings and mornings." The King James version translates this to read "2,300 days." William Miller converted these days into years. SDA teachers defend this conversion on the basis of Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6 where prophets were specifically told to interpret days in their prophecies as years. But those verses have no application to Daniel 8:14.
Perverting the Atonement
More significant is the fact that the whole concept of "investigative judgment" is unbiblical and contrary to the true Gospel as revealed in the New Testament. Jesus entered the Holy of Holies in Heaven immediately after His Ascension, and not in 1844 (Hebrews 1:3, 6:19-20, 8:1, 9:6-12, 24 and 12:2). His atoning work is not continuing in Heaven. It was finished on the Cross (John 19:30 and Romans 3:24-26). Jesus is currently serving as our High Priest before the Father's throne (Hebrews 8:1-2).
Further, the Bible teaches that a believer's sins are both forgiven and forgotten (Hebrews 8:12). Believers will never be subjected to a judgment of their works to determine their salvation (John 5:24 and Hebrews 9:28). There is no condemnation for the person who has placed his or her faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior (Romans 8:1). The believer can be assured of salvation (1 John 5:13). As believers walk in faith, they experience a continual cleansing of sin by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7).
The concept of an "investigative judgment" is a blasphemy of the blood of Jesus because it asserts that His death on the Cross was insufficient to guarantee a believer's salvation. Instead, Jesus must continue His atoning work by evaluating the works of each believer.
This whole concept is nothing but a thinly veiled form of works salvation. Think of it - the SDA member is taught that he can never be sure of his salvation until the judgment work of Jesus is completed and he is certified as one whose works validate his salvation. Here's how Ellen White put it:
"Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above, are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their character must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort, they must be conquerors in the battle with evil."23
How could a true prophet of God speak such unbiblical words? The Bible says we are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Ellen White says salvation is by grace plus our own "diligent effort." The Bible says Jesus will never cease being a believer's mediator (Hebrews 7:25). Ellen White says that when believers stand before God to be judged, they will be "without a mediator."
The bottom line regarding the pernicious doctrine of the "investigative judgment" is that it represents a desperate attempt to salvage an incorrect prophecy. William Miller was a sincere Baptist preacher who misinterpreted a biblical passage and inappropriately used it to set a date for the Lord's return. When his prophecy failed, he took responsibility for his mistake and repented for all the grief and embarrassment he had caused. But his error led to the rise of a true false prophet who spiritualized Miller's prophecy and then used that spiritualization to manufacture a doctrine that is alien to the Word of God.
The other distinctive SDA doctrine is the one contained in the very name of the group - observance of the seventh day of the week (Saturday) as the Sabbath. Ellen White stated in her writings that observance of the Sabbath is the "greatest" of all the Ten Commandments:
"The pope has changed the day of rest from the seventh to the first day. He has thought to change the very commandment that was given to cause man to remember his Creator. He has thought to change the greatest commandment in the decalogue and thus make himself equal with God..."24
Did you notice that in this statement Ellen White directly contradicts Jesus? What did Jesus say when He was asked to identify the greatest commandment? He said: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment" (Matthew 22:37-38).
Ellen White believed so strongly in the necessity of Sabbath-keeping that she asserted that only Sabbath-keepers would be able to resist taking the Mark of the Beast in the end times.25 She truly believed and taught that Sabbath-keeping is a condition of salvation: "I saw that the holy Sabbath is, and will be, the separating wall between the true Israel of God and unbelievers."25
The fact of the matter is that Sabbath-keeping was prescribed by God to the Jewish people. This law was never given to the Gentiles, nor was it given to the Church. The Law of Moses was nailed to the Cross (Colossians 2:14). The death of Jesus inaugurated a New Covenant - a covenant written on the heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 9:15). In His teaching, Jesus emphasized nine of the Ten Commandments and expanded them in scope to apply to our thoughts as well as our actions (Matthew 5-7). He never commanded the Church to observe the Sabbath.
When the Church began to convert Gentiles, the issue arose as to how many of the laws of Judaism the Gentiles would be required to observe. For example, should Gentiles be required to submit to circumcision? The issue was so important that it prompted the convening of the first church council (Acts 15). At that council it was decided that Gentile converts should not be "troubled" with Jewish customs. They were simply told to "abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood" (Acts 15:20). If Sabbath-keeping was the most important of all commandments, why was it not mentioned?
There is ample evidence that the early Christians met on Sunday from the beginning in order to remember the Lord's resurrection on that day. References to these meetings can be found in Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.
Furthermore, Romans 14 makes it very clear that Sabbath-keeping is no longer a law. In that chapter, Paul states that we have the freedom in Christ to give spiritual significance to any day - or not to do so. What we do not have the freedom to do is to condemn those who give spiritual emphasis to other days (than the ones we choose). Also, Colossians 2:16-17 teaches that the Sabbath was a shadow of things to come. The reality it pointed to was Jesus. Jesus is our Sabbath. We find our rest through faith in Him.27
The Seventh-Day Adventists have every right to worship on Saturday if they so please. What they have no right to do (but what they have always done and continue to do) is condemn those who choose to worship on Sunday.
Characteristics of a Cult
With this survey of the SDA as a basis, let's return to our original question - Is the Church a legitimate expression of Christianity, or is it a cult?
Let's begin by defining a cult. You will find dictionary definitions to be so broad and bland as to include "a particular system of religious worship."28 I prefer to give the term a more technical meaning. To me, a cult is a religious group that masquerades as being Christian. It employs Christian terms, quotes the Bible, and uses Christian symbols. But it is not a true expression of the Christian faith because it teaches a false Jesus or a false Gospel or both.29
1. The Identity of Jesus
First and foremost is the group's concept of Jesus. Our salvation depends upon our relationship with Jesus - the true Jesus of Nazareth who revealed Himself to the world as God in the flesh (John 14:9-11). There is salvation in no other person (Acts 4:10-12). There is salvation in no other way except through Jesus (John 14:6).
Cults are notorious for presenting a false Jesus. Reverend Sun Myung Moon claims to be the Messiah himself. The Jehovah's Witnesses claim Jesus is the Archangel Michael. The Mormons view Jesus as one of many gods created by the super-god whom they believe is an exalted man.
We can be wrong about many things, but if we are right about Jesus, we can be saved. Likewise, we can be right about many things, but if we are wrong about Jesus, we can be lost. To be saved, we must put our faith in Jesus - the Jesus revealed in the Word of God (John 17:3).
The official creedal statement of the SDA concerning Jesus is very orthodox. He is affirmed as being part of the Trinity, and He is declared to be God in the flesh. His death, resurrection, ascension and second coming are all confirmed. His atoning sacrifice is endorsed. The only unbiblical information about Jesus in the SDA creed is a statement about His ministry in the Heavenly sanctuary - the so-called "investigative judgment." But this does not affect the personal identity of Jesus.
So, on the surface, the SDA appears to pass the first and most important test. The disturbing problem is that the many Internet websites run by former SDA mem-bers all assert that behind the scenes the SDA teaches that Jesus is the Archangel Michael.30 This is the teaching of the Jehovah's Witnesses, but unlike the JWs, the SDA also teaches that Jesus was God in the flesh. Further, the SDA teaches that the title, Archangel, does not mean that Jesus was an angel. Rather, it means He was the "chief over the angels."
This is all very confusing. The more I have studied it, the more convinced I have become that the SDA quietly talks about Jesus being the Archangel Michael because that was the teaching of Ellen G. White,31 but officially and publicly the Church has endorsed the orthodox view of Jesus. It would be refreshing if the SDA would simply drop all the double talk and unequivocally state that Jesus was God in the flesh.
There has been a similar doctrinal shift with regard to the Trinity. Many early Adventists were not Trinitarian. The official SDA hymnal published from 1941 until 1985 reflected ambivalence about the Trinity. For example, the hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy," which says, "God in three Persons, blessed Trinity," was changed to read, "God overall who rules eternally."32 Today, the creedal statement of the SDA affirms the orthodox view of the Trinity.
2. The Nature of the Gospel
The second characteristic of a cult is the proclamation of a false Gospel. Cults always end up teaching some form of works salvation. This usually leads to the production of a list of "dos and don'ts" which are then rigidly and legalistically enforced by the cult leaders. This is the area where the SDA begins to definitely fail the test.
As I have demonstrated, the SDA teaches a form of works salvation. Instead of asserting that we are saved by grace through faith, they claim we are saved by faith plus works that satisfy the "investigative judgment" plus Sabbath observance. That is not the Gospel of the New Testament, and Paul says that "even if we, or an angel from Heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8-9).
3. The Type of Leadership
A third characteristic of a cult is that it is based upon a charismatic founder who considers himself to be either the true Messiah or the last prophet of God. Classic examples are Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons, and Sun Myung Moon, the leader of the Moonies.
The SDA certainly bears this characteristic since it was founded by a person who claimed to be a messenger of God. The SDA affirms this in its official creedal statement, section 17, entitled "The Gift of Prophecy:"
"One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. As the Lord's messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction."33
This is a serious matter since the writings of Ellen G. White are full of biblical errors, inaccurate prophecies, and downright silly commandments. Also, much of her writing is plagiarized.
Her biblical contradictions are extensive in nature. She asserted that the plan of salvation was an afterthought of God following the sin of Adam, whereas the Bible says it was preordained before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:18-20). She claimed that pre-flood humans mated with animals and produced a sub-human species that was destroyed by the flood. There is no mention of this in the Bible. In fact, the Bible asserts that animals can reproduce only according to their kind (Genesis 1:24-25). Ellen White also wrote that the tower of Babel was built before the flood; that angels (rather than ravens) fed Elijah; that Paul learned the Gospel from men rather than Jesus; that the seal of God is the Sabbath instead of the Holy Spirit; and that we can know the date of the Lord's return.34
Ellen White's inaccurate prophecies are also well documented. She endorsed William Miller's prophecy that Jesus would return in 1844. She proclaimed that salvation for all sinners ended in 1844 when Jesus supposedly entered the Heavenly sanctuary. This was called "the shut door" doctrine. It was conveniently abandoned in 1850. She prophesied that some who were alive in 1856 would live to see the Lord's return. She predicted that England would enter the Civil War. She claimed she would be one of the 144,000 saints who would be living when Jesus returned. In 1850 she rebuked Bible scholars who were predicting an end time return of the Jews to Israel. She proclaimed that "Old Jerusalem will never be built up."35
Ellen G. White pontificated about every aspect of life in her writings, and most of her non-biblical comments are an embarrassment today. She wrote that "drug medication... is a curse." She stated that using medical doctors was a dishonor to God. She denounced the eating of eggs, milk, cream, and butter. In fact, she stated that eating eggs would make your prayer life useless! She spent most of her life advocating a vegetarian diet even though she ate meat herself. She forbid the drinking of tea and coffee and the eating of mustard, pepper, pickles and cinnamon. She put a ban on card playing, chess, and checkers, saying that such games "open the door for great evil." Picnics and parties were condemned. Tennis, cricket, baseball, and bike riding were labeled "species of idolatry."36
And these are only a few of her many commandments. Keep in mind this is a woman who claimed to speak for God and who had the audacity to proclaim, "There is one straight chain of truth without one heretical sentence in that which I have written."37
4. The Source of Authority
The fourth characteristic of a cult is that there are always some extra-biblical writings that are considered to be equal to or superior to the Bible. The Mormons have their Book of Mormon and the Jehovah's Witnesses have their own eccentric and highly inaccurate "translation" of the Bible. The Children of God look to the letters of their founder, Moses David (David Berg). The proclamations of Herbert W. Armstrong and Reverend Moon have been considered holy and infallible by their followers.
What is the status of Ellen G. White's writings among members of the SDA? This is a difficult question to answer. The official creedal statement affirms the Bible as "the infallible revelation of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God's acts in history." The statement also says "the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested."38
But all these orthodox declarations about the Bible are qualified by the creedal statement that the writings of Ellen G. White "are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction."39
It is confusing, to say the least. What makes it even more so are the many statements by SDA leaders and pastors that leave the clear impression that Ellen White's writings are considered to be on a level with Scripture:40
"I believe... Mrs. White's writings are the world's only inspired Bible commentary."
- E. E. Cleveland, one time Secretary of the General Conference.
"She did one of the greatest works that I have ever known since John the Revelator. She's to me one of the greatest prophets that have ever lived. Why? Because she had the same gift that Daniel had..."
- Stanley Harris, SDA pastor.
"Ellen White reinterprets Daniel for our time. And because I fully believe and am convinced that God spoke to and through Ellen White, I accept her writings 100%... I accept her as an inspired writer."
- Raymond F. Cottrell in a talk to the Association of Adventist Forums. Dr. Cottrell was the former editor of the Adventist Review and served as a collaborator on the Seventh Day Adventist Bible Commentary series.
In 1928 the SDA issued an official position paper on the writings of Ellen G. White. It said, "As Samuel was a prophet of Israel for his day, as Jeremiah was a prophet of Israel in the days of captivity, as John the Baptist came as a special messenger of the Lord to prepare the way for Christ's coming, so we believe that Mrs. White was a prophet to the Church of Christ today."41
In the October 1981 issue of the SDA Ministry Magazine, the following statement was made about the writings of Ellen White: "We believe the revelation and inspiration of both the Bible and Ellen White's writings to be of equal quality. The superintendence of the Holy Spirit was just as careful and thorough in one case as in the other."41
In recent years, the status of Ellen White's writings has been a source of constant internal debate and strife. This conflict motivated the current president of the SDA, Jan Paulsen, to make the following statement at the May 2002 General Conference:
"A further word needs to be said about our being 'loyal to our heritage and to our identity.' Some would have us believe that there have been significant shifts in recent times in regard to doctrines that historically have been at the heart of Seventh-Day Adventism.
The historic sanctuary message ['investigative judgment'], based on Scripture and supported by the writings of Ellen White, continues to be held unequivocally. And the inspired authority on which these and other doctrines are based, namely the Bible, supported by the writings of Ellen White, continue to be the hermeneutical foundation on which we as a church place all matters of faith and conduct. Let no one think there has been a change of position in regard to this."42
Notice carefully the wording, "the Bible, supported by the writings of Ellen White." Does the Bible really need the affirmation of an external, human writer? I think this statement makes it clear that to this day the leadership of the SDA considers the writings of Ellen G. White to be on a par with the Scriptures, and that is clearly a cultic characteristic.
5. Attitude Toward Others
A fifth characteristic of cults is their exclusivistic and sectarian attitude. They always view themselves as God's only true church and refuse to have anything to do with other Christian groups. They also tend to be secretive in nature - as evidenced by the secret temple rites of the Mormons.
Once again, the SDA fits the bill. In her early writings, Ellen G. White condemned Christendom as "Babylon" and asserted that the SDA was the "Remnant Church." As recently as their 2000 worldwide General Conference meeting they passed a resolution affirming this belief. They continue to refer to other Christians as "apostate Protestants," "Babylon," "Sunday-keepers," or "sheep that have not yet come into the fold."43 A former Adventist has expressed it this way:
"Adventists are taught from childhood that they are God's only true church on earth and that they are God's remnant people. They are taught that they have the "truth" and all other Christians are wrong and are apostate."44
SDA leaders have toned down their public statement of these sentiments in recent years because of their desire to gain acceptance as a legitimate expression of Christianity. Another motive has been the desire to gain access to Christian television and radio networks. Their strategy has worked, but the change in attitude is only cosmetic in nature.
Although the SDA operates much more openly than do the Mormons and JWs, they are still characterized by a commitment to secrecy when it comes to interacting with the public. This is manifested in the way they try to hide their identity when attempting to communicate with non-members.
None of their media ministries identify themselves as being affiliated with the SDA. When one of their prophecy seminars comes to town, the area's mailboxes will be flooded with beautiful, eye-catching, full color brochures that never reveal any SDA connection. The seminars are always held at a neutral site like a hotel ballroom, and they literally sneak up on the audience with their SDA doctrines. Here is how a participant has described the experience:
"Their prophecy seminars take you through a very well developed prophetic scenario, amazingly illustrated and convincing. They give you lots of free stuff to keep you coming night after night. Then, on the last night, the real agenda appears - they reveal the secret, coded, 'scriptural' information: all those who reject Sabbath worship will receive the 'Mark of the Beast.'"45
Their publications do not reveal their SDA origin or affiliation. Either the publisher is not identified or the publisher is a non-descript entity like "Pacific Press" or "Pilgrims' Press." Ellen White's most famous book, The Great Controversy, is often distributed under the title, America in Prophecy. And her name on the title page is often printed as "E. G. White." This is obviously done to hide her gender and to keep her from being easily recognized.
Since beginning my in-depth research on the SDA, I have gotten on several of their mailing lists. I recently received a mailing from their number one media outlet, Amazing Facts. The mailing encouraged me to distribute a video called "The Final Events of Bible Prophecy." It gave detailed instructions about how to go door-to-door in an effort to convince all my neighbors to watch this propaganda piece.
Part E of the instructions was entitled, "Addressing Denominational Questions." I was told that if I were asked, "What church are you with?" I was to reply: "I am representing Amazing Facts, a Christian ministry that provides Bible study resources for people of all different faiths. My goal is to encourage others to read the Bible and learn how to find God."46 In short, do not reveal that you are in any way related to the SDA! This is deception, pure and simple.
6. The Type of Governance
The sixth and final characteristic of a cult relates to governance. The cults tend to be authoritarian, dictatorial, and sometimes even totalitarian. Someone at the top - either an individual or a collective group - calls all the shots. The classic example of this trait can be found among the Mormons and JWs.
The SDA does not appear to be as controlling as these groups, but there is little tolerance for divergent views or independent thought. The fate of Dr. Desmond Ford, mentioned earlier, is a good example of how rigid the SDA is with regard to doctrine.47
Christian or Cultic?
So, where does this leave us? Is the SDA a cult or not? I have proposed six tests. The SDA failed all but one of them - the one concerning the identity of Jesus. And there are serious questions about that one.
I am convinced that Walter Martin declassified the SDA as a cult in 1965 because he became convinced that they had an orthodox view of Jesus. To him, that was the acid test. I would agree that it is the most important one, but the group's perverted concept of the Gospel must be ranked as almost equal in importance because of Paul's warning in Galatians 1:8-9.
I therefore must conclude that the SDA should be considered a cult until they are willing to repudiate the "Investigative Judgment" doctrine and are willing to clearly state that the Bible, and not the writings of Ellen G. White, is their final authority in all matters.
After I concluded this essay, I decided to contact Dr. Ron Carlson, the man who is considered to be Christendom's foremost expert on the cults today. I asked him for a statement about the SDA, and this is what he wrote in response:
"As you may know, Walter Martin was my mentor and dear friend for 20 years and spoke at my ordination. I was to have lunch with him the day he died in 1989. Walter had a real influence on many of the SDA leaders in the 70's and early 80's seeking to move them to a Biblical position. Many were, and there was hope for the SDA Church. What has happened in the last 20 years is that nearly 50% of the SDA pastors and leaders who were seeking to move it to an evangelical position have all been 'kicked' out or left the SDA. The people who are now in control have moved the organization back to following the teachings of Ellen G. White and denying some basic doctrines of Biblical Christianity. In fact, their official position is that if you do not worship on Saturday you are not a Christian and will not go to Heaven. Sunday worship is the mark of the beast. They are clearly today a false Cult."48