The Alter-Protestants: Exploring Adventisms Radical Identity (part 2)





Adventism was not born in a vacuum.

In other words, we are not as unique as we like to think we are.

Growing up Adventist many people spoke as if we somehow just dropped out of the sky with all this truth no one had ever heard of before. Nicolas Miller expressed it well when he wrote "Some Adventists appear to believe that our founders sat in a room with their Bibles and put together an entirely new set of beliefs and practices, thus building a New Testament church from scratch"[1] For some, this mythological view of ourselves makes us special. Everyone else had a few things here and there, but for the most part they were wrong. And we were right. As I mentioned in my previous post, this kind of mentality bred a sense of narcissism among us resulting in a self-aggrandizing view that placed us on a higher platform than other prostestant and evangelical Christians.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that nearly all of our beliefs were neatly spelled out and embraced long before we entered the scene?

Some of those beliefs came as no surprise to me. The five solas of the protestant reformation (scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, through Christ alone, to God's glory alone) are embedded in every protestant denomination. Belief in the Trinity, the deity of Jesus, his gospel, church, kingdom and his soon return are other basic ideas I knew we all shared in common.[2] What I didn't know was how much deeper our similarities went.

For example, Adventists believe that God is love and that as a God of love he has granted free will to all of humanity so that we can choose to love him and serve him in return without being coerced or programmed to do so. This belief is known as Arminian theology which originated with the Deutch reformer Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) and continues to be the view held by the various Wesleyan and Arminian Baptist denominations.[3] The Arminian approach to scripture is one of those foundational concepts without which Adventism simply would not exist. It is a core teaching and imperative to our identity, and yet, we didn't make it up. It was around centuries before we appeared on the scene.

The Great Controversy motif is also not unique to us. Rather, John Wesley set the foundation for it in what he referred to as scriptures "aesthetic theme". Like Adventists, Wesley had a profound fascination and interest in discovering the truth about the character of God in scripture. He began his search with the goodness of God and, using his Arminian theology, he reasoned from the scriptures and discovered that God created all things good and the rebellion of Satan, due to the misuse of his free will, led to the angelic fall and consequently to the fall of man.[4] Like Arminianism, Wesley's aesthetic theme set the foundation and spelled out many of the details Adventists rely on when discussing our great controversy narrative.

Adventists also believe that salvation is the free gift of God, not of works which basically every Protestant denomination believes. But we also believe that sanctification is an integral part of salvation, not just justification. The two cannot be separated. One qualifies us for heaven (justification) and the other transforms us into the kind of people who would like to live there forever (sanctification). The belief that justification and sanctification are one unit that believers experience simultaneously was not commonly held in the Arminian world. Rather, the common teaching was that believers experienced justification and then, a separate process of holiness began later on. John and Charles Wesley, the founders of the Wesleyan movement, popularized the unification of justification and sanctification and emphasized holiness of life more so than their predecessors.[5] This continues to be the view held by many Methodist, Pentecostal, Nazarene and Wesleyan churches.

In addition, the doctrine of "once-saved-always-saved", which Adventists reject, also has no place in either the Lutheran faith or the Methodist, Pentecostal or Wesleyan traditions. For many years I was led to believe that only Adventists rejected this false belief (which was referred to as "cheap-grace") and thus, we alone had the true gospel. I was shocked when I discovered that all Arminian denominations reject this teaching as well. In addition, the teachings that Gods spirit initiates the salvation process in every person to awaken us to our need of him (a reality we cannot awaken ourselves to), that grace can be resisted and the heart hardened against the holy spirit and that faith is a gift of God as much as grace were all popularized by Methodism. This means that Adventism's "salvation story" is not actually uniquely Adventist. Rather it is an Arminian-Wesleyan understanding of salvation.

What about the doctrine of perfection of christian character? That doctrine also finds its basis in the teachings of Wesley and continues to be held by many who self-identify as Arminian-Wesleyans.[6] Sadly, many Adventists do not realize just how similar our faith is to the Pentecostal traditions rooted in Wesley's thought. Many of us think of Pentecostals simply in relation to their loud worship styles and "speaking in tongues" and fail to realize that we hold much in common with them, and the Wesleyan churches as a whole, when it comes to our understanding of the character of God and the sanctified life.

Likewise, the Adventist view of the Old and New Covenant are identical to the views espoused by the 2nd London Baptist confession (also known as 1689 Federalism) held by the Reformed Baptist churches. Both reject infant baptism, teach that NT and OT saints were saved by grace and that the OT nation of Israel typified the church and met its fulfillment in the church. Both also teach that the law is divided into 3 categories (moral, civil and ceremonial) and that the 10 commandments are perpetually binding upon believers even under the New Covenant including the command to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy.[7]

The doctrine of the Sabbath as a sign between New Covenant believers and God is not unique to Adventism either. The Puritans saw Sabbath observance as an "enduring sign" between God and his people and understood the Sabbath with "covenantal overtones that implied a whole way of life as well as faithfulness to God."[8] Even the doctrine of the Sabbath as a seal, or test, at the end of time is not unique to Adventism. The Puritan turned Seventh Day Baptist Thomas Tillam saw the Sabbath as a seal at the end of time in contrast to the mark of the beast in Revelation 12 about 200 years before Ellen White, Joseph Bates or Uriah Smith popularized it among the newly formed Advent believers.[9]

In addition we share views with Federalism on baptism by immersion only, the Lords supper as an act of remembrance and spiritual communion with God and church discipline. We also share views on religious liberty, the separation of church and state, creation, the visible return of Jesus and reject a literal and central end-time role for national Israel believing instead that the church is the new Israel.[10]

Even the views we often consider to be unique are not that unique. For example, our belief in the perpetuity of spiritual gifts including the gift of prophecy is shared by many Pentecostal and Wesleyan churches. Our views on the temporality of hell and annihilation of the wicked (over against the eternal torment taught by most protestants) has been gaining acceptance and popularity in evangelical circles for many years now.[11] And our interpretive method for apocalyptic prophecy - historicism - is the historic method used by the reformers when interpreting prophecy. As a result, our views on the antichrist and the papacy did not originate with us.
Protestant Reformers had a major interest in historicism, with a direct application to their struggle against the Papacy. Prominent leaders and scholars among them, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, John Thomas, John Knox, and Cotton Mather, identified the Roman Papacy as the Antichrist.The Centuriators of Magdeburg, a group of Lutheran scholars in Magdeburg headed by Matthias Flacius, wrote the 12-volume "Magdeburg Centuries" to discredit the papacy and identify the pope as the Antichrist.[12]
Even the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment (IJ) has its roots in Arminian-Wesleyan theology and is impossible to maintain without that foundation. While many decry the doctrine as being anti-gospel this is only true if one is approaching the Bible from a Calvinist/ pre-destination perspective where God chooses who goes to heaven by his own will. In this framework, the IJ makes no sense. Likewise, those who approach scripture from the perspective of "once-saved-always-saved" have no use for this doctrine. But all Arminian-Wesleyans believe in a kind of judgment for the saved due to our belief that apostasy can occur in the life of a truly born again person. The difference is that for many Arminian-Wesleyans the judgment takes place upon death when the soul goes to heaven. Adventists, on the other hand, believe in soul-sleep which places the judgment (inherent in our Arminian-Wesleyan framework) at a certain point in human history rather than at each individual death.[13] In short, while the IJ as a whole may be a uniquely Adventist doctrine it is built on an entirely trans-Adventist (transcending Adventism) foundation of Arminian-Wesleyan and soul-sleep theology which was taught by reformers like William Tyndale, many Anabaptists, and suprisingly - Martin Luther himself.[14, 15]

But its not only our theology that has roots in the broader evangelical tradition. It's our culture as well. "[O]ur founders took many of our beliefs and worship practices from a variety of groups, pressed them through a biblical filter, and adopted and adapted those that remained.... These include midweek prayer meetings, Sabbath school [which we copied from the popular 'Sunday-schools' of the day], camp meetings, the order of the divine service, hymn singing, offering appeals, quarterly Communion services, and many other things."[16] Interestingly, many conservative Adventist's today act as though learning and applying practices from other denominations is a compromise of our faith. What they fail to realize is that our faith has never had practices uniquely its own. Rather, our pioneers replicated them from the non-Adventist faith traditions from which they came.

In light of all this it is no wonder that Ellen White "joined forces with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a group of Protestant prohibitionists... spoke at their rallies and... recommended that some of our best Adventist talent should work for that organization....  entrusted her signature book, Steps to Christ, to non-Seventh-day Adventists (Dwight Moody's brother) for initial publication [and] thought so highly of non-Adventist theologians and historians that she incorporated their insights—not just their language—into her own books."[17]  She "spoke to her largest audiences in non-Adventist settings.... [spoke] in the pulpits of other denominations [and] said some of these contemporary non-Adventist commentaries were among her 'best books.'[18] Church historian George Knight summarized it well when he wrote,
It was that same irenic spirit that led Ellen White to suggest that Adventist pastors should become acquainted with other pastors in their district, letting them know that Adventists "are reformers, but not bigots." Her advice was to focus on the "common ground" that Adventism shared with others and 'to present the truth as it is in Jesus' rather than to run down other churches. Using such techniques, Adventist pastors could "come near to the ministers of other denominations."[19]
In the next post I will explore the contributions and unique elements Adventism brings to the protestant conversation. But for now, we can clearly see that Adventism is not some unheard of faith-tradition with no roots in historic Christian thought. Quite the opposite, our worldview is deeply embedded and indebted to the protestant reformers that came before us. As a result, we have no right to act as if we alone have truth. Rather, we can celebrate our common heritage with our evangelical brothers and sisters. We can worship along side them, pray with and for them, enjoy their books and sermons and learn from their experiences and challenges in the spiritual walk.

_____

[1] Miller, Nicholas P. "The Reformation and the Remnant", Accesed via Kindle, (location 2106-07).
[2] http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/the-five-solas-of-the-protestant-reformation.html
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arminianism
[4] http://evangelicalarminians.org/john-wesley-on-the-origins-of-evil/
[5] http://evangelicalarminians.org/demarcating-wesleyan-arminianism-and-reformed-arminianism/
[6] The doctrine of perfection in Wesleyan and Adventist theology is not to be confused with the heresy of sinless perfectionism. One is rooted in the concept of perfection in love as an aim of the sanctification journey whereas the other is rooted in semi-pelagian ideologies and place the attainment of this perfection as the true foundation for justification. For more on Wesleys doctrine of perfection see: https://www.olivetree.com/store/product.php?productid=17158
[7] While Adventists believe in the 7th day Sabbath as opposed to a Sunday Sabbath the foundations for our teaching are actually identical to those espoused by these historic protestant positions. And even this is not unique. Our belief in the 7th day Sabbath came to us from the Seventh Day Baptists. For more on the 2nd London Baptist confession visit: http://www.1689federalism.com/
[8] Knight, George R. "A Search For Identity" Accessed via Google Books, (pg 19).
[9] http://www.sealingtime.com/resources/online-library/books/other/thomas-tillam/the-seventh-day-sabbath-sought-out-thomas-tillam-1657
[10] For more on Adventism and the covenants see: "The Hole in Adventism": https://marcostorres.selz.com/item/59000a03cca91807787e80be
[11] http://rethinkinghell.com/
[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicism_(Christianity)#Protestant
[13] http://thethinkingadventist.blogspot.com.au/2017/04/why-critics-of-investigative-judgment.html
[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_mortalism#The_Reformation
[15] While Luther cannot be regarded as fully in agreement with standard soul-sleep theology he nevertheless was a protestant forerunner to it. For a thorough analysis see: http://www.atsjats.org/publication_file.php?pub_id=398
[16] Miller, Nicholas P. "The Reformation and the Remnant", Accesed via Kindle, (location 2107-09).
[17]Weber, Martin. www.sdaforme.com
[18] Miller, Nicholas P. "The Reformation and the Remnant", Accesed via Kindle, (location 2116-19).
[19] https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2002/04/another-look-at-babylon.html
The Alter-Protestants: Exploring Adventisms Radical Identity (part 2) The Alter-Protestants: Exploring Adventisms Radical Identity (part 2) Reviewed by Pastor Marcos on May 25, 2017 Rating: 5

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