Seventh Day Adventism at the Crossroads – Program 3

By: Rev. Walter Rea, Dr. Desmond Ford; ©1982
Why are so many in the SDA church reluctant to voice concerns about Ellen G. White or her writings? What disciplinary action might they face?

Are Those Who Question the SDA Church Guilty of Heresy?


Dr. Desmond Ford—Widely respected Adventist theologian, author and pastor. He received his PhD from Manchester University, England, and has served as a theology professor at several Adventist seminaries and colleges. He is the author of nine books and many articles published in Adventist journals, and has sat on the highest doctrinal body of the church, The Biblical Research Institute.
Rev. Walter Rea—Scholar, author and pastor. Rev. Rea is recognized as the leading authority on the writings of Ellen G. White and has written more concerning her works than any other person.

Ankerberg: Now we come to questions and answers from the audience. And the last couple of weeks I have been meeting with people within Seventh-day Adventism. And gentlemen, from what you have been saying, as well as from what my first man who is going to ask a question here has been telling me, there is some hesitancy about even asking a question publicly about the things of Ellen G. White, the writings and so on. Why are you hesitant to even ask a question?
Audience: Well, largely because of the prejudicial views some people hold that if you have anything at all to say that may cast doubt upon what the church has done, then your head could be on a chopping block. You can be suspected of being a heretic, a dissident, and so on, and right away you may find people that you thought were friends are no longer friends.
Ankerberg: Is this widespread in our country?
Ford: It is widespread.
Rea: John, I would like to speak to that for just a moment, because I think it is tremendously important. Des and I, we joke a little, but we are not as opposed as we might seem in a lot of areas. But in this area I think he does recognize as I do that there is a tightening and a hardening of the lines in Adventism that is almost unbelievable, and we have both seen this. That is, I have been banned, as well as Des, from all of the colleges, including our university. Men in the theological department that should know, and should talk with us, and should be knowledgeable, to meet whatever objections might come, they are not allowed to meet with us. They are not even allowed to be here tonight. In fact, the very presence of this man might jeopardize. And to prove that, let me read a letter that has just come. It is a confidential letter from a conference in Africa, but I could duplicate this in America and Australia and other places. Notice what it says. It says, “Unauthorized tapes and literature: Whereas there has been an influx of tapes and literature distributed to our members and workers…,” Des’ tapes, my tapes…
Ankerberg: How many, Des?
Ford: Well, there is at least a half a million in America of mine.
Ankerberg: Yes, and I could see why they would have their finger on you.
Rea: “…Whereas the contents are being questioned with regard to its conformity to the fundamental beliefs of the church, voted that a conference tape and screening committee be appointed to screen tapes and literature that have not been promoted or compiled by the regular denominational sources. Should it be brought to the attention of the Conference Committee that any worker has questionable tapes in his or her possession, which are being circulated among other workers and members, the committee would view this in a serious light and would no doubt take suitable action.” This is almost unbelievable.
Ankerberg: Whose desk did that come from?
Rea: This came from the office of the President of that particular conference in Africa. And I have others that have come from Australia, invoking the name of the General Conference.
Ankerberg: Before you go on further, you still want ask a question here? Think about it! Des, what do you have there?
Ford: Books like this, Omega by Louis Walton, are root causes of the problems. A book like this makes ordinary Christian people…
Ankerberg: What is Omega?
Ford: This is a book by an Adventist lawyer, an able writer who has suggested that a prediction of Ellen White about apostasy, which he named by the last letter of the Greek alphabet The Omega, is now being fulfilled in such things as Ford and Rea. It does not name Ford and Rea, but when Smuts Van Rooyen, who works with us, sent a personal inquiry to the author, he did not deny it. And this book causes church members to look at each other, because it seems to suggest that there are demons in human form in Adventist pews. And you see, that creates quite a problem. And the church is promoting this book even though its scholars and its archivists have rejected it and said it has many errors, historical and theological. Now I must admit there are many in the General Conference that are now opposed to the book and regret it has ever been advocated. But, sadly, the Review and Herald [Publishing Association] has now put out a second book, Decision at the Jordan.
Rea: By the same author.
Ankerberg: Who is the Review and Herald?
Ford: The Review is the publishing association that is most prominent for America.
Rea: The official organ of the church
Ankerberg: Okay.
Ford: Yes, official organ of the church. And this book is being sent out free to the ministers with such statements as this, “Some of the areas under attack are the validity of the spirit of prophecy, the scriptural basis for the doctrine of the Sanctuary, particularly Investigative Judgment, and even the place of the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath. These from influential people of our own number.” So it is a sense of paranoia that these books are fostering that does cause difficult relations in churches, but I’ll add this before you cut me off, because you have much to add. The problems in Adventism don’t just grow out of Seventh-day Adventism, they grow out of humanity. And similar problems are found in every church group that I know of that has any life in it. Parasites are only attached to living things. Some churches in the past have been so dead you couldn’t get a heresy in. Wherever there’s excitement over heresy there is still life. Now in dispensational groups in this country you can’t get in the lecture circuit if you deny the pre-tribulation rapture in many areas. So, please, let’s not think these problems are because of Adventism. They come from humanity. Adventists’ human nature is no worse than other human natures and no better.
Rea: Without Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: Okay, I think that we would agree with that and I think we are sorry to hear it in any sphere.
Ford: Yes, it is widespread, not just Adventists.
Rea: Well, we ought to lighten it up a little. This came from Australia. It says, “Coming soon to your friendly Adventist Book Center: Omega.” And that’s the one that he is talking about, which I paraphrase to say that its main thrust is if anybody has an IQ over 85, they are a threat to the Adventist church.
Ankerberg: Let’s move on. What was your question there?
Audience: My question is this, I think Dr. Ford touched on the humanity of it, could it be that the church administration is so upset over this whole situation mainly because they are losing their ability and power to manipulate people: because so often as, well in other Protestant circles and so on, you may superstitiously quote scripture in an attempt to manipulate someone whether it be for collecting an offering for something, whether it be in communion, or house guests or whatever else, there has always been this application of scripture so binding as to be used as a weapon, as a tool, and now that you have shall we say brought to light some different perspectives, the church administration is greatly threatened because suddenly their power and ability to manipulate diminishes?
Rea: I think both Ford and I agree in this area, that there has been a vast abuse of Ellen G. White…
Ford: Correct.
Rea: …and I think both of our crusades are that we would like to make them free in Jesus Christ and the gospel of Christ. Diminish Mrs. White to whatever role God let her play, but not make her the authority in faith and doctrine.
Ford: Amen.
Rea: And thus they would lose control. But we believe that the control comes through the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ, each man being his own priest before God, rather than a system that says, “You must do this or you will be thrown out.”
Ankerberg: Is there a fear that you won’t have Seventh-day Adventism if you get rid of Ellen G. White?
Rea: They fear this, I don’t.
Ankerberg: Why would somebody fear that you won’t have it?
Rea: What they fear is that they will lose the control such as we are seeing.
Ankerberg: Of course, you would lose some of your major pillars, too. Your distinctive doctrines that make you Seventh-day Adventists.
Ford: No, they didn’t originate with Ellen White. No doctrine of the Adventist church came with Ellen White.
Ankerberg: But they still hold it?
Rea: They could change.
Ford: Let us say the wrong use of Ellen White is used to support them. John, let me add before the questioner comes, please, It would be quite wrong to say that all the administrators are in some terrible scheme to keep the people down. Administrators are like the rest of us, they are a mixed group. And all of us here in our Adventist administration, we could live and die with, see? But they are like the people in the pew and the ministers, they are a mixed group and sometimes temptation can be overwhelming.
Ankerberg: You are also on your way to Washington to talk with the administrators, aren’t you?
Ford: The brethren asked me to go there last week and I had talked with them. They have told us where they are unhappy with us. And we have told them where we are unhappy with them. And we are good friends, too.
Audience: The Seventh-day Adventist Church originally gained credibility in evangelical circles back in 1957 when Walter Martin and Donald Barnhouse approached the church to ascertain whether Adventists were Christians. Walter Martin and Barnhouse concluded that Adventists were Christians. But those were based on deceptive answers that they received from the denomination. My question today is, based on what we know about the pillars of the church in 1844, are Adventists Christians or are Seventh-day Adventists, the denomination, a cult like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormon church would be considered?
Ford: Can I say something, John, in answer to that?
Ankerberg: Alright.
Ford: The vast majority of the men that teach our ministerial students and other students in the colleges in America, Australia, and other countries very much believe in the basic fundamentals of the Christian gospel. They believe in the Trinity, they believe in the deity of Christ, they believe in the substitutionary death of Jesus, they believe in his virgin birth, they believe in his second coming. Now, on most fundamental pillars of the faith the vast majority of the teachers are agreed. The same would be true with a large number of the ministry, particularly those who have been trained at these institutions. However, as the questioner implies, there is also a group which would have questions in some of these areas. But year by year it is a lessening group. It is true to say Adventism has been on advancing ground. It has thrown out error after error in its period of existence. I could name about 20 of them, beginning with positions like Arianism, and denying the Trinity.
Ankerberg: Arianism is denying that Christ is God.
Ford: Yes, yes, that’s right. Early Adventists, many of them, held these views. An incomplete atonement. Many of these positions have been repudiated as the years go by.
Ankerberg: Let me press you, though. Do you feel that the majority of the hierarchy right now believes that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life?
Ford: Yes, definitely.
Ankerberg: But you would have to admit that some are teaching other things right now.
Ford: Well, unfortunately there are some who have believed that Jesus had a sinful nature and yet lived a sinless life. And that puts the heat on us because it means that we with a sinful nature are expected to have a similar attainment, and that’s what really kills the gospel, because it makes Jesus an example rather than a Savior.
Ankerberg: Okay, but of Walter Martin and Anthony Hoekema, Hoekema said that Seventh-day Adventism was a cult because he believed that Walter Martin was wrong in accepting, as this gentleman just said here a few moments ago, the statements. He didn’t believe that it represented all Seventh-day Adventists.
Ford: It didn’t represent all Seventh-day Adventists. It certainly represented the thinking majority of the scholars of the church, but not all Seventh-day Adventists, no.
Ankerberg: Let me give you a hypothetical. Let’s go back to this thing, if the denomination takes the next step and hardens up the line and makes Ellen G. White an extra-scriptural source of authority, which is a possibility, denies justification by grace alone in the sense that the Investigative Judgment stays in there?
Ford: We become a cult if we take those two steps which deny the gospel.
Ankerberg: And you have a devaluation of Christ, namely he had a sinful nature.
Ford: That’s right, I do not think the church will ever do with Ellen White what you have suggested.
Ankerberg: But if that is true.
Ford: If they did we would have left Protestantism. Protestantism is the Bible and the Bible only as the sole source of authority for doctrine, which is the position that Ellen White personally held.
Rea: Of course, I would like to comment as a pastor, John, and that is I found as a pastor that my people knew what we call the “Red Books,” would get much of their instruction and inspiration or whatever from Mrs. White; but they very seldom ever mention Jesus Christ as a moving force in their life or the peace of the fruits of the Spirit that come only through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. And my concern always was as a pastor, “Look, you have superseded.” Well, technically Ford is correct in that we have declared since our inception that we believe in the Bible as the only rule of faith. In practice every Adventist knows that Ellen White is still the one that must interpret that scripture or it is not accepted. I think this keeps us from the real gospel and the real personal experience of Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: I think a lot of people want to know, if the church goes the other direction, let’s say in the weeks ahead, because we don’t know, at the taping of this program… you are to go see the leadership in Washington. You both have been defrocked in the sense that you cannot preach, you cannot meet on the campuses and so on. If your membership were to be taken away, and these things that Evangelicals have asked—hoping that you would not say that Ellen G. White is as authoritative as the scripture—that you would no…
Ford: That position will never be taken.
Ankerberg: Okay, you don’t think that that will ever change?
Ford: No, the church would never survive if it took that position, because every man that teaches in the colleges, almost, is opposed to such a position. The vast majority of the ministry is opposed to such a position. It is not quite the same proportion in the administration, but there is a large number of administrators that are very much opposed to making Ellen White equal with the Bible.
Ankerberg: Where I was going is that I heard that there were 120 educators and pastors that, when you were fired over what you disagreed with, they too lost their jobs. And some of the men in pretty solid positions that were meeting with me, they knew that they were on the carpet for preaching “just the gospel.” Now, what I am saying is, I am starting to feel with some of those fellows because they have got families. They don’t know what they are going to do next.
Ford: Yes, that’s true. It is tragic, it is tragic, the church must be honest to God if it is going to have the blessing of God. It must be. There is work to be done, of repentance and restoration and change.
Ankerberg: You know, for many of the evangelicals that are watching this program tonight, I think that, sad to say, they have lumped the Seventh-day Adventists together with other cults that I could name, alright. Hopefully in hearing you fellows talk about your desire to have the denomination turn to the pure gospel; to see Ellen G. White as she saw herself; as you see what she is saying be presented to the rest of the folks in your denomination as not equal in authority with scripture but as an advisor like Calvin or Luther, to other denominations; and that your great desire is to have that and for other evangelicals to pray that this would happen.
Rea: Yes, it’s possible.
Ford: Amen.
Rea: Cottrell, who is a leading theologian and an editor in our paper, said that neither Ford nor Rea are enemies of the church, they come as a friend. I think he said it well.
Audience: Okay, I have a question. I would like to first make a statement and then ask a question. I am a member of the Board of Trustees of Andrews University which includes our seminary, I am from out of town, not from this area. But also I am concerned that Adventists are being portrayed in a wrong light tonight. I feel like most people in other churches feel like they can ask questions. I ask questions in my church. I have been on the Board of Andrews for six years. I am not afraid of losing my job. I speak out on the Board. We do have questions in the church going on today, and especially regarding Sister White, as many people call her, Mrs. White. I feel like a lot of this is good for the church in a certain way. I think Dr. Ford particularly, is an honest man, in the way I perceive him. I hope that a lot of our administrators will tend to study into this. I would like to ask Elder Rea, Pastor Rea, why he took such a derogatory view, not only of Adventists but entire Christendom, speaking of the “TV super salesman”? When I do read Sister White’s books, I perceive love. Love does not come through his book—I have read almost all of Elder Rea’s book. I get a feeling of hate, a feeling of being.. .something is coming through there that is not love and it is not Christian.
Ankerberg: Okay.
Rea: My answer to that is that in the critique that the church is promoting at the present time, The Truth About the White Lie, I think they make some very false statements. For example, the statement that he just said is that I make fun of all religion. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do declare that I certainly look in a derogatory way on all systems that become a political system to use the people’s money to control them, and to drive away the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ford: Amen.
Rae: So I would say that of Adventism or Mormonism or Catholicism or anything else. So I am striking out in the book against that type of abuse. And I also say if they read it carefully there are many faithful, honest Christian ministers who do serve in that capacity. I think the book, because they couldn’t fairly deal with the evidence, is now trying to smear my character. And this is characteristic of all who have come to where I have in the past, and that also is true for Ford at the present time.
I think also the criticism that I am getting in the mail, 20 or 30 to 1 from the laymen, are not stating what the administrators are saying. When I saw I could not get an honest hearing in the Adventist intellectual community by some scholarly method because the church defrocked the guru of gurus—Dr. Ford—the man who is known as the spiritual head of our theology, who had two PhDs, the church left me no alternative but to meet one extreme with another. That is why I used the method that I did.
However, I am finding that those who are honest enough to read the book a second time and a third time, who can honestly speak out—you have yet to demonstrate to this group or to me or to anyone else that any man can honestly critique my book and give it favorable comment and publicity who is working for the denomination. When I find that that’s true then I think you will get a different criticism, such as many people… I have letters that are saying, “You know, I appreciate the book. You have spoken forthrightly and honestly and the second time over it does present its message.” So that’s my own true feelings.
Ankerberg: We are out of time here, and for further conversation you fellows are willing to talk about this?
Rea: Amen.
Ford: Gladly.
Ankerberg: And we open this conversation for you to return with hopefully some of the leaders and we would like to see progress as other evangelicals that are looking in would. I hope that others that are my friends and other denominations that love the Lord will pray for the Seventh-day Adventists.
Ford: John, opinions can be wrong but love never is. That’s got to guide us.
Ankerberg: Alright. Goodnight. Thank you gentlemen for being with us.

Ankerberg: Would you mind if I asked you a question? Do you think you can hold the gospel and the concept of the Investigative Judgment at the same time? If you say “Yes,” then I assume you believe Ellen G. White was correct in telling us Jesus began his Investigative Judgment of all Christians in 1844.
Now if so, if Jesus were to investigate your life now, would you pass his test? Can you say that you are living perfectly right now? Remember, if you hold to the Investigative Judgment, it means that even though you have accepted Christ and received his forgiveness, according to Ellen White you are still not saved. You must use God’s grace to clean up your life. Have you done that?
What about every lustful thought, every harmful word, every wrong motive for service, every relationship in your family life? Can you say there have been no problems, no faults, no slips? Can you honestly say you have conquered your sins and are living perfectly right now? Are you ready for Jesus to investigate you at this moment? If you say “No, Hey, I am not living perfectly,” then it is possible you might be investigated by Jesus tonight according to Ellen White. And you might be found wanting and you might lose your salvation forever.
Let me ask you, is that good news? Is that the gospel that you hold? I hope not. The Bible says in Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now if we are justified—that is, judged or pronounced free from the penalty of our sin—at that moment God judges us, pronounces us free from the consequences of all our sin. But then where does it say he will judge me again? Where does it say that what God did because of Christ is not enough? What further test does God impose on us?
The only test in scripture is the gospel itself: whether you will receive God’s free gift of salvation or reject it. The gospel is God’s gift. If I accept his gift, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit enters my life and seals me. There are no special groups who have special privileges because they do certain things that others do not. Every person who believes in Jesus Christ is said to be one with him.
Now, if you leave the Adventist church, can you still be saved? Yes. Jesus saves you because he loves you. God forgives you because of what Christ did for you, not because of where you go to church or whether you obey more Bible commands than others. The ultimate test is not keeping the Sabbath, or which church you attend. The ultimate test is, have you accepted or rejected Jesus Christ’s free gift of salvation? The Bible says if you have placed your faith in him, God looks at Jesus’ work for you and declares you are forever free from his judgment. He give you eternal life.

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