Seventh Day Adventism: Who Is Telling the Truth? – Program 1

By: Dr. William Johnsson, Dr. Walter Martin; ©1985
Do Seventh-day Adventists hold to doctrines that are different from the Bible? Is Ellen G. White considered to be the infallible interpreter of Scripture?

Is Seventh-day Adventism a Cult?

John Ankerberg: Welcome! We’re glad that you joined us tonight. Tonight our guests are Dr. William Johnsson, the editor of the Adventist Review, the official organ of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, and Dr. Walter Martin, who is well-known for many of his writings on the cults, as well as contemporary religious philosophy, today in our country. Gentlemen, we’re glad that you’re here.
I thought that on the topic of Seventh-day Adventism, Dr. Johnsson, the man that is sitting next to you, in your book that you put out in 1957, Questions on Doctrine—that was the official statement of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination to non-Adventists, to the world, in a sense—there was a compliment to the guy sitting next to you; namely, that when he with other scholars from other non-Adventist churches came to you and asked questions, you appreciated the fact that he came to you directly. He came to the denomination and did research. Walter, I’d like for you to kind of go back, as we start. How did you get into going to the denomination? What was that process and what happened?
Dr. Walter Martin: Well, I was doing research on the various cults of the time, and I had written a book, The Rise of the Cults. And I received a letter from Le Roy Froom, a top Seventh-day Adventist scholar and historian, the man who wrote the Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers and other books. He took issue with me over the classification of Seventh-day Adventism as a cult. I contacted him back again and I said I was sorry he took issue, but that I had quite a bit of information which indicated to me that they were. And he said, “Well, it wasn’t accurate.” So I went to Dr. Barnhouse, who was the editor of Eternity magazine. I worked for Eternity at the time. I said, “This is a very responsible man, and I think we ought to investigate this.” Dr. Barnhouse said, “Why don’t you go down to Washington and talk with them, but I know they’re a cult because I grew up in Mountainview, California, and I met with them all the time out there. They were always giving me the mark of the beast and everything else.” He said, “You’re wasting your time.” He said, “Don’t bother.”
Ankerberg: You went down to Washington?
Martin: Oh, yeah, I went down there and I met with Roy L. Anderson who was the editor of the Ministry magazine at the time, and they had all Seventh-day ministers and missionaries throughout the world. Then I met with W. E. Read, who was a special consultant to the General Conference, Le Roy Froom, and T. Unruh who had gotten the whole thing started by discussing with us also in Pennsylvania, where we were headquartered, some of the things about Adventism.
Ankerberg: Tell us what your conclusion was.
Martin: I came out with the conclusion in 1956, and Eternity magazine came out with the conclusion, that Seventh-day Adventists who acknowledged the things that their denomination was telling us had to be regenerate Christians and evangelicals, and could not be classified as a cult. However, there were Adventists that were on the other side of the fence and we recognized them, too. We spent the time down there going over their literature, which was a morass of contradictions and materials that could be juxtaposed back and forth, either cultic or non-cultic, depending upon who wrote it. We had to go through that with a whole group of scholars and men from their publishing houses and theologians, to sift through all the materials. And the result of it was that I propounded a series of questions to them. And the series was later put into the book which you mentioned before, Questions on Doctrine. It was the first time that a non-Adventist scholar, an expert on the cults, had gone to the Adventists, sat down with them, discussed their theology openly, frankly and freely. I believe to this day that the men I dealt with on the committee, and Reuben Figuhr and the theologians who worked with us, were thoroughly honest men.
Dr. William Johnsson: I was in theological college when Walter was dialoguing with our leaders, and in fact we studied Questions on Doctrine—1957 was my first year in school down in Avondale, Australia—we went through that book very carefully. It was applauded by the teachers there, and then later I became a teacher. I taught for 20 years in the Adventist school system, lastly in the seminary for five years, where I was Associate Dean also. That book has been highly regarded. In terms of the controversy, John, there was some disagreement when it came out.
Ankerberg: Why? What’s the disagreement about?
Johnsson: Remember, I’m just telling you what I’ve been told. I wasn’t around here in the States. One man in particular, M. L. Andreasen, was not invited to be part of the dialogue. He took strong exception to some of the things in there. I think the two that I’ve heard mentioned over and over have been the human nature of Christ and then some statements relative to the atonement, the use of that word “atonement.” He became quite irate, I would say, and he sent out literature opposing the book and some people agreed with him. He got a certain following. However, by and large, I don’t think that was a large following. Now, that’s my assessment. In terms of the denomination’s stand on the book, we have not repudiated Questions on Doctrine. The book went into eight printings, 150,000 copies. Now that’s a lot of copies. It is still used in college classes. Some people feel it ought to be reprinted. We can get into that. There’s another theological volume of Seventh-day Adventist biblical theology and process, and we can discuss that. I think that’s a major reason why we are not reprinting Questions on Doctrine. But categorically I can tell you that the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has not repudiated Questions on Doctrine.
Ankerberg: Okay. Let’s plunge in here, Walter. Why don’t you start us off with some of the questions that you have already submitted to the denomination, because you are saying that you’ve heard some things and you are re-assessing what you were told the first time around, as well as some of the contemporary events that are happening right now. Where would you like to start tonight?
Martin: I think that you have to begin with the background we have already, and also with the fact that the Seventh-day Adventist denomination today, to whom I addressed my questions, responded quite differently than the denomination in 1956.
Ankerberg: How so?
Martin: In 1956, Reuben Figuhr, who considered Questions on Doctrine and the dialogue, he said, to be the most important single contribution of his entire tenure as President, began in his later life to deplore the fact that there was a strong movement within Seventh-day Adventism to undercut what they had worked so hard to establish in Questions on Doctrine. So I, after a number of ex-Adventist ministers came to me, after I received literally hundreds and hundreds of letters, documents, boxes full of documents from all over the world—Australia, New Zealand, England, the United States, you name it; they were stacked up—that we had to go through with people doing research on the subject. They all were telling the same story, these ministers and these people all over the world. They were saying, “We believe Questions on Doctrine. We cited Questions on Doctrine. We presented our views in the light of Questions on Doctrine and we were disfellowshipped; we were removed from the church. I’m now painting houses; and I was a former teacher. I was doing this, and now I’m doing such and such. What went wrong?” So, I thought it would be a good idea to ask the question: What went wrong? So, I addressed three questions to Neal Wilson.
Ankerberg: Who is the President of the denomination?
Martin: The President of the General Conference. Mr. Wilson didn’t have time to discuss it with me, so he referred me to somebody else, who didn’t have apparently the time to discuss it either, and they referred me to somebody else. By the time I did get a response to the first question—I asked three questions, three primary questions—I asked them the question that I thought was tremendously important, which is, do you still hold to Questions on Doctrine? And the answer was “Yes,” the same as Mr. Johnsson said. I thought, “That’s strange. All these people can’t be wrong or something’s wrong in the communication system.” Second question: Do you regard the interpretations of Ellen G. White of the Bible to be infallible; that is, the infallible rule of interpreting scripture in your denomination? If, for instance, an issue comes up where you’re debating something and Mrs. White speaks on it, is that the infallible voice?
Ankerberg: In other words, is that the end of the debate?
Martin: Is that it? That question was conspicuously left unanswered. And I was referred to other materials, which were rather superficial. I asked a third question. I asked them about Questions on Doctrine and why the book went out of print. Since then I have formulated now a whole new series of questions
Ankerberg: Alright, what I would like to ask Dr. Johnsson is, in my hand here I have a list of just a portion of the Seventh-day Adventist workers, the former Seventh-day Adventist workers, ordained ministers, professors, just part of the men and women that have been fired. And many of these folks have talked with me; many have talked with Dr. Martin. The main thing that I keep hearing is that in some way they touched some of the doctrines of Ellen G. White; they disagreed, from a biblical basis as far as they were concerned, and because of that they lost their jobs.
Johnsson: I’ve done a rather careful study of this myself. Remember, I was in seminary. I was Associate Dean. I know these young fellows. I’ve been in northern California where we have had a number of young fellows leave the ministry. I was in Australia in August and September of this year. In Australia that figure is 60 total.
Ankerberg: Well, I’ve got a hundred that are actually documented right here to start with. I’m sure I could get the others for you. I’d be glad to give you this list here of 100.
Johnsson: Is this from the United States or does this include the figure from Australia?
Ankerberg: These look like these are all the United States.
Johnsson: I’d be very interested to see it. On my count, the figure in the United States is around 60 to 70 and in Australia it is 60. This is an exact figure in Australia. You need to remember that in any year in the ministry there are young men and older men dropping out for various reasons. Now, I grant that the number is much beyond what we would normally expect. We also have to remember that the worldwide employee count of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is 60,000.
Ankerberg: The question that I want to ask you is, why are the men, whatever that number is—it’s substantial—the question is, why is it that these men that are basically feeling that they are holding with Questions on Doctrine, preaching the gospel, their conscience is held to the Bible, which seems to be part of the creed that you’re holding there, why is it that these men are being fired?
Johnsson: Well, I don’t see it just the way you do. You set it up there, John. I grant you that in some places it may have happened the way you have described it. But I’ve talked to a number of these men, and they’re leaving the ministry for various reasons. Frankly, many had a very strong attachment to Dr. Desmond Ford. He taught a whole generation of ministers in Australia. Here in the United States he taught for several years out in the west. He’s a powerful preacher, charismatic person, very fine Christian man, and his preaching has done much to revive this church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Some have felt sort of a sense of loyalty and with Ford falling out of favor, his particular interpretations of prophecy and so on not being accepted by the church at large, they’ve identified with him.
Ankerberg: Hold it right there with Ford, because we had Des Ford here. When we had him here, I tried to push him as far as I could, and he would not in any shape or form try to dent the denomination. I mean, he was for it 100 percent. He really talked a lot like Luther in the Reformation. He wasn’t going to leave the Catholic Church. He felt like he was getting kicked out, okay? In essence, he was trying to support it. He just felt that the view concerning the 1844 Investigative Judgment was not biblical and spent pains here on the program, as well as at Glacier View and other places, to make that known. I’ve just listened to the debate that he had, and it seems like it’s very, very biblical. Even if you disagree, is that a reason to kick him out?
Johnsson: Well, let’s look at it from another perspective. We have a statement of faith. There are 27 Articles in our statement of faith. Here is a minister who feels he cannot support our statement of faith in all articles. Now the church members are paying his salary; he’s being paid out of the tithe that they are putting in week by week, month by month. You see, here’s a question of conscience on his part. There’s a question of uneasiness on the part of members. The church undertook a large-scale study. It went to huge expense and brought in scholars and representatives from around the world, more than 100. We met for a week at Glacier View. We heard from Des; we studied his views. The church officially, in careful study, did not see light in his interpretations. Here’s a man who is out of step in significant points with Adventist doctrine.
Martin: Where would you say, Brother Johnsson, Des Ford’s view of the Sanctuary, 1844 Investigative Judgment, etc., differs markedly from Questions on Doctrine?
Johnsson: Oh, I think there’s certain important differences.
Martin: Where would you specify?
Johnsson: In terms of prophecy. Des, as I understand him, has basically thrown out the historicist’s school of interpretation. It is fulfillment either in the first century or right at the very end of time.
Martin: But that’s not sufficient ground for disfellowshipping a man.
Johnsson: No, this is in terms of interpretation of prophecy. When it comes to 1844, as I understand him, he would see that in terms of its significance for something that happens here on earth rather than something that happens in heaven above. That is certainly a significant departure from Questions on Doctrine.
Ankerberg: Wasn’t it part of the view all the way back to Ellen G. White that a person could disagree with the 1844 Investigative Judgment, and that that was not grounds for disfellowshipping? Wasn’t this part of your literature?
Martin: It was pretty specifically stated by Mrs. White that you could have differences of opinion even about her role of authority in the church and she was the one who exercised the spirit of prophecy, allegedly. You could disagree with this and not understand this and not be disfellowshipped from the church, she said. Now, how is it that Ford, who has a very high view of Mrs. White, and who wrote probably one of your best books on the sanctuary, which you’re still selling in some of your bookstores—Ford’s own work on the subject—and you hailed him as an authority on the Sanctuary and on the Investigative Judgment, and here Ford comes along and says, “Well, after some very careful study here and in the light of some of the things in Questions on Doctrine, I just don’t happen to agree with this and I would like to deal with this issue.”
All of a sudden it’s far beyond, from what I’m getting in the mails, Des Ford and a group of men following Desmond Ford. These are people all over the place who are all having the same experience; and they’ll all getting very frustrated, because every time they start asking questions, they’re not getting any answers on the subject. And it’s very confusing.
For instance, let me illustrate what I’m talking about. I met with a committee at Loma Linda University, a number of individuals were there of high rank in the Adventist denomination. Not to namedrop, but Robert Olson was there, and Roy Anderson was there, and a few others. I was very concerned about this specific issue about the Investigative Judgment, the Sanctuary and so forth, and particularly Mrs. White’s role. I asked the question at that time, the same question that I asked the general conference: Is Mrs. White the infallible interpreter of Holy scripture? Robert Olson said, “She is the authoritative voice.” I said “infallible interpreter?” That’s the key, I said, because if Mrs. White is the infallible interpreter and you cannot disagree with her on the Investigative Judgment or anything else, if that’s true, then she has become a pope above the scriptures, because who can now judge Mrs. White? The moment anybody quotes scripture to disagree with her, the denomination says you’re controverting the spirit of prophecy.
So I said, “What is the solution to the dilemma? If she’s the infallible interpreter, nobody can judge her. If she’s not the infallible interpreter, she’s subject to the scripture, and all these men who are making just criticisms, exegesis, and theories and so forth about it are every bit as entitled to it as Mrs. White was.” I got no answer at that meeting. I got no answer from the General Conference. I have no answer to date.
Johnsson: I’ll give you my answer. She is not an infallible interpreter of scripture.
Martin: You’re sure of that?
Johnsson: I’m sure of it.
Martin: That is your position or the denomination’s position?
Johnsson: I think we ought to go to the official statement of beliefs. If you want to find out what Seventh-day Adventists believe, I don’t think it’s fair to go to this person or that person. Go to the stated articles of belief.
Martin: How about the Review and Herald? You’re editor of that.
Johnsson: I’m editor of that.
Martin: Can I quote you? Review and Herald, June 3, 1971.
Johnsson: This is the Adventist Review, you mean?
Martin: It sure is. “The Bible is an infallible guide but it needs to be infallibly interpreted, to avoid confusion and division. When will the people of God cease trusting their own wisdom? When will they come to the place where they will cease to measure, construe, and interpret by their own reason what God says to them through His appointed channel? When we come to the place where we place no trust in man or in the wisdom of man, but unquestionably accept and act upon what God says through this gift, then will the spirit of prophecy as set before us in the Bible and as witnessed in the present manifestation of this gift (that’s Ellen White) be confirmed among us and become in fact a counselor, guide and final court of appeal among God’s people.” That’s Review and Herald. Now, if she’s the final court of appeal among God’s people, if this present manifestation of the gift of prophecy is indeed what this very editorial says, then Mrs. White is the infallible interpreter of scripture, by your own publication. If that’s true, Ford’s right.
Johnsson: This is one person’s opinion. The Adventist Review—it’s called the Adventist Review these days—…
Martin: Oh, yes, I know. I read it.
Johnsson: The Adventist Review is not the official organ of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is the general church paper. I am editor. Nobody is looking over my shoulder and saying, “Print this; don’t print this.” If they don’t like the work I do, they fire me. But the views in the Adventist Review are the views of the editor and writers. I’ve been associated with the paper since 1980. This, I think, goes back to 1971.
Martin: You weren’t responsible for this.
Johnsson: I was not responsible. I think it’s very unfortunate. But, again, I think you should look at other things that I, myself, have written in the Adventist Review, where I state specifically that Ellen White’s writings are not to be raised to the level of scripture. They are not to be made an addition to the canon. I’d like to go back to the fundamental beliefs of Seventh-day Adventism.
Martin: Supposing you raise something to the level of scripture without making in canonical? Supposing you say that something is equal with the scriptures but not canonical scripture?
Johnsson: I think we’d be in a real problem there.
Martin: We’ve got the problem, because Robert Olson says, “It is clear that this Investigative Judgment is the correct interpretation of scripture, because Ellen White does endorse it.” “The Spirit of Prophecy is the only infallible interpreter of Bible principles, since it is Christ through this agency giving the real meaning of His own words.” Robert Olson: “My topic this afternoon is on Ellen G. White as an inspired interpreter.” Arthur White: “Seventh-day Adventists are uniquely fortunate. We are not left to find our way, drawing our conclusions from the writing of 2,000 years, and more, ago that have come down to us through varied transcriptions and translations. With us it is almost a contemporary matter. We have a prophet in our midst.” But what about the Holy Spirit? I mean, do we have to depend upon the Spirit of Prophecy or is the Holy Spirit antecedent to the Spirit of Prophecy?
Johnsson: I’d like to come to the fundamental beliefs.
Ankerberg: Okay, why don’t you leave us with that, and we’ll come back to it next week on following this up. Give us where you’re coming from.
Johnsson: Could I read the very first article of belief?
Ankerberg: Sure.
Johnsson: “The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God given by divine inspiration to holy men of God, who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In the Word God has committed to man the knowledge essential for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and a trustworthy record of God’s acts in history.” And then later there is a statement with regard to the gift of prophecy. And you find this statement: “They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.” And so I say, John, regardless of what individuals may have said here and there, these are the fundamental beliefs. We have no Pope, only these beliefs, that only the church and General Conference session can change.
Ankerberg: Walter?
Martin: Supposing Mrs. White says, “You are to believe this” and an Adventist theologian says, “This is incorrect exegesis. It’s contrary to the Greek of the New Testament and here’s where it is wrong—a, b, c, d.”
Ankerberg: Such as Des Ford.
Martin: Des Ford, or I could name some others who have said it: “Mrs. White was wrong. She couldn’t read Greek. She didn’t know anything about the subject. She taught something that was contrary to the Greek text in the New Testament.” Now, if she’s the infallible interpreter and she says “You believe it,” are you going to accept what Mrs. White says or do you accept the Greek text of the New Testament?
Ankerberg: Alright, that’s the question. We’ve got the doctrine on the board and we’ve got these questions. We’re going to pursue this a little deeper next week, so please hang in there with us.

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  1. Leandro on January 17, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    I am very grateful for the transcription made on the site, I am ADV but I have already abandoned some visions that moved the 50s and 90s, unfortunately this historical view is dominant in certain regions, especially in South America, here egw is an infallible interpreter of the scriptures and a basic requirement for a baptism for example, the legalistic heritage is strong, and sectarianism breathes as deeply as ever, we do not have a Walter Martin in our lands and those who apply are theologians really weak in the necessary knowledge of Adventism. I would really like John to invite Brazilian apologists for an interview and to ask the same questions asked, because nothing has changed and any member who challenges egw, challenges the idea of ​​the remnant, challenges 1844 is chased by angry local leaders, usually good people even to you to be considered a heretic, after that they become executioners and turn our pulpits into a center of fake news and sectarianism, worthy of the attribute of a sect.

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