Seventh Day Adventism: Who Is Telling the Truth? – Program 2

By: Dr. William Johnsson, Dr. Walter Martin; ©1985
Are the writings of Ellen G. White considered to be a source of truth for Seventh-day Adventists? Do they believe she speaks for God when she writes?

Do Seventh-day Adventists Accept Ellen G. White’s Writings as Authoritative?

Ankerberg: Welcome! We’re glad that you joined us tonight. My guests are Dr. William Johnsson, editor of the Adventist Review which is the official organ of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, and Dr. Walter Martin of the Christian Research Institute in California. Gentlemen, we’re talking about Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. Last week we were talking about some of the things that are happening inside the denomination. And we were talking about why it is that some of the folks that are not Adventists are looking in and we’re seeing some professors and ministers that in many senses agree with folks on the outside in Orthodox Christian belief, and these folks are being fired.
We’re talking about one specific doctrine, and Dr. Johnsson, I’d like to come to you on this. You were quoting from the fundamental beliefs last week, and I would like to go back to the fundamental beliefs concerning the gift of prophecy and the authority of Ellen G. White. One of the things that is a puzzle, I think, to me, as well as to a lot folks, is underneath the paragraph concerning the gift of prophecy that you say, “As the Lord’s messenger, Ellen White’s writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth.” What does it mean for her writings to be “a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction and correction?”
Johnsson: I think it means we should take them seriously.
Ankerberg: How seriously?
Johnsson: Just as we would any gift of the Spirit. If we accept the doctrine of spiritual gifts as set forth in 1 Corinthians 12:13, just as in some denominations they believe in the gift of tongues and so on, we should take note of instruction that comes through that gift. I would repeat that the bottom line is that the scriptures test every gift, every spiritual gift and this would include instruction that comes from that gift. The Adventists take her writings seriously. We feel that they have instruction for us.
Ankerberg: Okay, I’ve got a quote here from Neal Wilson: “There must be a renewal of personal Bible study and family worship, a re-emphasis on biblical preaching and teaching supported and strengthened by enlightenment that comes from the study of the inspired and authoritative writings of Ellen White, which is necessary.” Now, what I want to know is, if Ellen White’s writings come underneath the authority of scripture, why is he saying that it is necessary to read that Bible in light of her writings?
Johnsson: Is that what he’s saying: it’s necessary to read the Bible in light of her writings?
Ankerberg: “…enlightenment that comes from the study of the inspired and authoritative writings” not of all the Christian counselors, but specifically of Ellen White, “which is necessary.”
Johnsson: Well, I wish he was here tonight to explain just what he meant here.
Ankerberg: That’s our problem.
Johnsson: But again, let’s go back to the official statement for the church. And I would appeal, John, also to consider not merely what the church has as its articles of faith but the way in which it has operated in particular during the past four or five years as it has wrestled with these doctrinal questions raised by Dr. Ford. I’m a member of the Daniel and Revelation committee which has been set up to specifically investigate these questions. We’re a group of about 18 scholars. I have with me the first volume to come out of that committee. It’s a series of studies on the book of Daniel. There is a second volume that the committee is just bringing off the press. There will be three—a volume on Revelation, and one on Hebrews. You will not find one reference to Ellen White in this volume, not one.
Ankerberg: Why?
Johnsson: Because doctrines must be established on the basis of scripture alone. And so I say, let’s take a look at the way the denomination is functioning as it is wrestling with these important questions.
Ankerberg: Right here in our hometown a man that worked with me on television, that was a professor over here at the college, for two years he was trying to convert me to Seventh-day Adventism, and we talked. And along the way he came in one day and said, “It’s not biblical.” I didn’t say anything. He worked there for about another year and then, because of the views that he has struggled with and which he had presented in his own letters to the denomination, he lost his job because his belief was not compatible at that point. Is that what’s going to happen to other people inside the denomination that do not agree with Ellen White’s interpretation on the 1844 Investigative Judgment?
Johnsson: It’s not a matter of Ellen White’s interpretation.
Ankerberg: What is it a matter of?
Johnsson: It is a matter of the fundamental beliefs of the church.
Ankerberg: Which are founded on what?
Johnsson: On scripture. Remember that no doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was derived from Ellen White; no doctrine, this one included. She has spoken in these areas, written widely in these areas. But to be fair to Ellen White, you ought to remember that she has written many other statements about the Judgment. Let me just mention one or two of them. “If Christ is my Savior, my sacrifice, my atonement, then I shall never perish.” Can you say Amen to that? “By leaning on him I have life forevermore.” This is the same Ellen White. “Oh, that all who believe the truth would believe in Jesus as their own Savior.” If you look again…
Ankerberg: Let me just give you another one back from Ellen White. “All who have truly repented of sin and by faith claimed the blood of Christ as their atoning sacrifice have had pardon entered against their names in the book of Heaven.” Notice the tenses—have had pardon entered against their names in the book of Heaven. “And as they have become partakers of the righteousness of Christ and their characters are found to be in harmony with the law of God, their sins will be blotted out and they themselves will be accounted worthy of eternal life.” But if they are not, their forgiveness is rescinded and their names are blotted out of the Book of Life and they lose their salvation.
Johnsson: John, I could give you more statements on the other side from her, but I think we really need to go back and look at scripture itself.
Martin: Amen.
Johnsson: Remember, Ellen White is not the answer or the final authority for a Seventh-day Adventist.
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s hear from Dr. Martin. I haven’t had you in on this one for awhile. What do you think about this conversation?
Martin: I couldn’t agree more—back to scripture! The point that I was making before, last week when we got to discussing this very point; namely, Mrs. White said, “The Lord showed me in a vision more than one year ago that Brother Crosier had the true light on the cleansing of the sanctuary, etc. It was his will that Brother Crosier should write out the review which he gave us in the Day Star Extra, February 7, 1846.” “The Lord showed me in a vision….” That, according to any good Seventh-day Adventist, means the Spirit of Prophecy is at work. This is coming from the Lord. “Brother Crosier had the right view on the sanctuary.” Did he indeed? Brother Crosier’s view was repudiated by Questions on Doctrine, and Mrs. White’s view on the subject was Crosier’s view.
This is very significant because when we met, when you, as you remember before, were beginning college, I was meeting with Theodore Heppenstall and Dr. Murdoch and the top theologians of the denomination. We were discussing this very issue. Dr. George Cannon, now Professor of New Testament Greek at Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, took his Greek New Testament out. It’s as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday. He said, “Brethren, I should like to set forth a question.” He said, “If you’ll open your testaments,” Heppenstall and Murdoch opened their testaments to Hebrews 9, and Cannon read, and I followed with them, that “Jesus Christ entered once into the holiest of all with his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” And I asked the question and Cannon did too: Did this take place as Crosier said, as Mrs. White said, as the early Adventists taught? Did it take place in 1844 or did it take place at the ascension of Jesus Christ? The Greek text says, “at the ascension of Jesus Christ, once into the holiest of all, the most holy place…”
Johnsson: Just stop there.
Martin: Let me finish. I read it; I was in the room when they did it. When they got finished and the discussion pursued from there, the general conclusion was that the text of Hebrews left no doubt whatsoever that at the ascension Jesus Christ entered into the holiest of all with his own blood, having obtained that redemption for us—1844 was not included in Hebrews 9. It was written long before 1844. Crosier said no; Mrs. White said no; James White said no; the early Adventists said no. They were wrong. The Greek text is right.
It’s a question of whether you’re going to accept the text of the scripture or the interpretation of Mrs. White over that text; which brings me back to the basic question I was discussing before, is Mrs. White the interpreter of scripture to the denomination? Answer: On the Investigative Judgment of the sanctuary she most certainly is.
Ankerberg: Okay, Bill, I want you to feel free to answer. Go ahead.
Johnsson: I disagree, John.
Ankerberg: Tell us why.
Johnsson: I’ll tell you why. My doctoral dissertation from a good Southern university, Vanderbilt, in New Testament Studies, done under Leander Keck, who is now a Dean at Yale, is in the book of Hebrews, exegesis of chapter 9 and 10. I invite you to read it.
Martin: I read it in the text. That’s good enough.
Johnsson: In the text the Greek term is ta hagia. The NIV translates this as “most holy;” RSV translates as “sanctuary.” From my study of the Greek I think the RSV is correct. The term is rather “sanctuary.” It is the same term used in Hebrews 8:1-2, where Christ is set forth as a minister of the genuine ta hagia, the sanctuary, in heaven above. Sorry, Walter. I think the exegesis is wrong there. I would say that….
Martin: Murdoch didn’t think it was wrong; Heppenstall didn’t think it was wrong; Cannon didn’t think it was wrong. Murdoch has a PhD in Greek and Heppenstall had a PhD, and they’re every bit as well-informed as you are and excellent theologians. One was an instructor in Greek and he disagreed with you. He’s from your own theological seminary. He said, “No, it means the holiest of all. That’s what it means.”
Johnsson: Well, I think the definitive article was written by A. P. Salem. This has been quoted in the scholarly literature over and over. It came out in 1967, and its conclusion is that ta hagia in the book of Hebrews should be generally translated “sanctuary” rather than a specific apartment.
Martin: And would the person who wrote the article admit to the Adventist doctrine of 1844 and the second apartment of the sanctuary and Jesus going in there? Would they say that Hebrews 9 would admit that?
Johnsson: I don’t think you get all that from Hebrews 9,…
Martin: Oh, no. Not at all from Hebrews 9.
Johnsson: …but on the other hand, Hebrews 9 is not necessarily contradicting that. Hebrews 9 is addressing different questions. It is looking back to Calvary, to the all-sufficient sacrifice accomplished by Jesus on our behalf, which makes full provision for all our sins. Hebrews is looking back to that. It is not addressing the specific questions of the future, the questions of the judgment.
John, on the judgment, I wanted to just say this. If you think Adventists have a problem with this matter of judgment, I think the problem is right there with the apostle Paul. I don’t think it’s a problem. Paul, who so beautifully sets forth justification by faith, also sets forth judgment according to works. Paul does. Now, a lot of Christians emphasizing the first have wanted to just get around the last part, but you cannot get around it. Paul speaks about believer’s judgment according to works. You find it right through the book of Romans. I can show you the text…
Martin: But not for salvation.
Ankerberg: For reward.
Martin: But not for their salvation. Paul says in Romans 8 that we have passed out of death into life, having been justified by faith. If we’re justified by faith, literally it says we shall not come to the judgment that ends in death. We’re going to appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ for the deeds done in the body, for the lives we’ve lived as Christians, but certainly not for eternal destiny.
Johnsson: Well, I don’t believe that the judgment is for our salvation, not at all. The question is, justification by faith is a gift; is that gift retained by me if I lose my relationship to the giver? That is the question.
Martin: Are you talking Arminianism versus Calvinism?
Johnsson: In a sense.
Martin: I don’t want to get into that. The important point is that in 1955-56 when we were discussing this with top Adventist scholars, the concession was made at that point, there was no doubt about it from the book of Hebrews that Jesus obviously entered into the holiest of all at the ascension. There was no doubt whatever about that. That’s in Questions on Doctrine, that it’s true.
Now, we are getting a completely different story. These brothers are being judged on the basis of their assertion that it can’t be, and they’re being removed from the church because they challenge it. That is putting Mrs. White over scripture. She is not over scripture. She made mistakes. She made false statements.
Mrs. White made a statement that I think every Seventh-day Adventist ought to know and memorize. Mrs. White said that in a straight line she had “never uttered a heretical statement.” She said that clearly. “I never uttered a heretical statement.”
I will demonstrate to the world that she denied the deity of Jesus Christ at one point in her career, which is heresy of the Arian variety which was espoused by Uriah Smith and the early Adventists who influenced Ellen White. Later she smartened up and she said, “This is wrong,” and thoughtful Seventh-day Adventist scholars just expunged it, the way Arthur White goes through with his little pen and removes sections from your documents, and ellipses.
I’m collecting right now a whole series of Arthur’s little pen and the things that you’ve changed through the years. It’s scary to see things Seventh-day Adventist don’t know are going on, things that are being taken out of Mrs. White. Mrs. White at one time denied the Trinity and the deity of Christ. Mrs. White at one time was vigorous in affirming doctrines which she later turned around 100 percent and repudiated. When she was writing that you shouldn’t eat pork, lobsters, and crab, she was munching on oysters, and there were eyewitness testimonies of that.
Mrs. White was far from the prophetic voice that is being manifested in contemporary Adventist literature. I believe Ellen White was a Christian woman. I believe that Ellen White made some remarkable contributions in literature. I also believe she plagiarized materials. I also think, as Newsweek magazine indicates, she borrowed from people without stating it. And if you’re familiar with the Foy vision at all you know that she plagiarized from Foy chapter and verse, line upon line. In fact,…
Ankerberg: Okay. Hold on to that. We’ll give Dr. Johnsson a chance to respond here.
Johnsson: Well, I want to respond first of all to the judgment. As soon as I mentioned the scriptural basis, he said, “Let’s not get into the Calvinistic or Arminian view or controversy.”
Martin: Which has nothing to do with judgment.
Johnsson: Well, it really is, because the question is human will, the place of free will. What I’m trying to tell you is that the Adventist doctrine of the judgment really rests on a clearly established tradition in the Christian church. Now, if we believe that really our choice has no place in our salvation, that’s okay. That’s a particular stream. If we believe that our free choice has a particular role, then we go a different stream. There is a large body of Christendom over the centuries that has believed that the Adventist doctrine of the pre-Advent judgment is really solidly in that stream.
What we’re saying there is that the judgment determines whether I have put my will on the side of Christ, whether I am united to him. It does not mean that I have to somehow come up to absolute perfection in the judgment. Not at all. The judgment is not to tell God something that he doesn’t already know. The judgment reveals my relationship to Christ. He is my only hope of salvation. That is basically what we’re saying. You find these ideas also in Ellen White. I don’t know why we keep coming back to Ellen White as though she is the authority for Adventists. Here are our fundamental beliefs. For ministers or anyone else who is called into question, they will be questioned over against the statement of faith.
Ankerberg: Okay, let me stop you there. In terms of what you just said, are you saying what I’m afraid you’re saying, and that is the fact that you can disagree with Ellen G. White on her interpretation of the 1844 Investigative Judgment and still be in your position?
Johnsson: The question will be whether my views hold up alongside these sentimental beliefs. This is the test, yes.
Ankerberg: Okay. Now let me go back to your buddy, Des Ford. He was in almost the same position. He wrote for the denomination just like you are. I’m afraid you might disappear in six months, too. You are touching what he touched. He sat in the same spot that you did on my program and I said, “Des, you’re going to be in trouble.” And he said, “Oh, no, no, no. I don’t think they’ll ever do that,” and he disappeared. Now, you’re saying the same thing to me on the very same things that he was talking about there and I want to believe you. I’m all for you. Christians around the world are saying, “We hope so.” I think Dr. Martin went out on a limb when he wrote that judgment of Seventh-day Adventists back there in ‘57. He took a lot of heat. But what he’s finding out, though, is dear people like yourself who are saying that and then disappear, we want to know why. What’s behind this?
Johnsson: Let me tell you what happened in northern California where we lost maybe 20 or 30 ministers. I sat down and went over every name. As I say, I know many of those. They’re students. Many of those ministers, they were my students in seminary. The question was, can you support and preach the fundamental beliefs of the church? This was the issue. “Granted, brother, that you may have questions in certain areas. You may be working out some things for yourself. Can you in honesty support these fundamentals?” That was the bottom line. I know some of these fellows were given months’ leaves of absence to work out their thinking. Some came to Washington to sit down and just talk to anyone they wanted to. Some were told, “If you want to, you can go into the White Estate, open up any door you want to…”
Martin: I’m sorry. I have to disagree with that.
Johnsson: Well, it happened. I was there. I saw it happen.
Martin: There are things in the White Estate that are not available to anybody but the trustees and the people who are working at the White Estate. You, just a moment ago, you’re holding in your hand, in fact, what you urge us to accept, the doctrine of the denomination. Go to that, not to the individuals, alright? This is your Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, revised edition, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, DC, published by your denomination, okay? It doesn’t go to your fundamental statement of faith. It says, “The best presentation summary of SDA view, of the Investigative Judgment, in current Adventist literature is the chapter entitled the Investigative Judgment in the book The Great Controversy, by Ellen G. White, from which the following summary sentences were taken.” The Encyclopedia goes to Mrs. White to define your doctrine, and yet you are saying that if we go and start citing Mrs. White, Mrs. White isn’t really the one that we should go to. Doesn’t the Encyclopedia know who we should go to? You publish it.
Johnsson: The encyclopedia is a publication of the Review and Herald Publishing Association.
Martin: Brother, we’ve got a problem. The problem is, who speaks for you?
Johnsson: The fundamental beliefs are the basic statement of the church.
Martin: But that’s not what this says. This says if you want the Investigative Judgment, you go to Ellen White. That’s what it says. I think the problem that we’re running up against—and I ran up against this in 1956 and in my research work up till that period of time—there is genuine confusion, because within Seventh-day Adventism there is a hard core of individuals who are determined to enforce the idea that anything Mrs. White said is the Spirit of Prophecy, is the infallible interpretation of holy writ. They are going to live, breathe, eat, sleep and die with it. I’ve got enough quotations now to fill a small volume on the subject, of contemporary Adventist leaders and publications. I don’t care what the statement of faith in your hand says if the practice isn’t there. What good is it for me to talk about Christianity if I don’t live Christianity?
Johnsson: I dispute you on the practice. I think I know what’s happening. I travel widely.
Martin: So do I.
Johnsson: I visit the workers.
Martin: I visit them too.
Johnsson: Worldwide.
Martin: I do too.
Johnsson: I think, Walter, we don’t see eye to eye on this.
Martin: Right.
Johnsson: You have your sources of information. I think I have reliable sources of information.
Martin: Yes, but your reliable sources are tempered by an important consideration. That consideration is that the authority of the denomination dictates to you what you can and cannot say. It does not so dictate to me. Scripture dictates to me; Mrs. White dictates to you. That’s the problem.
Johnsson: Remember, I’m an editor at the church. I’m not an administrator. I know these people personally and they’re prepared to speak to me warmly and closely.
Martin: I know they are.
Johnsson: I dispute your interpretation.
Martin: I’m not challenging you in your honesty as a Christian. I’m saying that you are between the rock and a hard place because there’s enough statements, authoritative statements, to indicate that strong leadership in the denomination firmly intends to get rid of anybody—as they have been consistently doing—anybody who takes any view contrary to Ellen G. White’s.
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s hold it right there. There is more. We’ll pick this up from a different angle. We’ll take a look at some of the accusations that have been brought in Time magazine, as well as into the organ of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination concerning the writings of Ellen G. White. What has been found and what is this doing internally to some of the administrators as well as the professors? Please join us next week.

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