Engaging with Adventists
Do you have a family member or friend who is involved with Seventh Day Adventists? Speaking with someone in this movement can be difficult since they also claim to believe in the Bible and trust Jesus for salvation. Hopefully this post will help you understand and minister to someone involved with that group.
How did Seventh Day Adventism start?
Seventh Day Adventism was formally organized in 1863 by Joseph Bates, James White, and his wife Ellen White (1827–1915). According to proclamations made by William Miller (1782–1849), Seventh Day Adventists believe that the year 1844 marked the beginning of Jesus’ second (and last) phase of His atoning ministry. It was the start of Jesus’ “investigative judgment” in the heavenly sanctuaries. This time of “investigative judgment” is how the heavenly beings know who is truly in Christ and ready to enter God's everlasting kingdom.
Though they honor the Bible, Adventists also believe that Ellen White was God’s unique end-times messenger and prophet. Her writings are believed to be a continuing and authoritative source of truth which guide and correct the church.
Addressing Adventist Origins
There are at least three problems with the origin of Seventh Day Adventism. First of all, the next phase of Jesus' redemptive plan is His Second Coming (which includes the Rapture, the Tribulation, and His Great Judgment). And Jesus made it clear to His disciples that no one knows the specific timing of this (Matt 24:36, 42; 25:13; Acts 1:7). The apostle Paul repeated this idea by indicating that the day of the Lord will come unexpectedly—“like a thief in the night” (1 Thes 5:1-2). This is in direct contradiction to the fact that Adventist choose specific dates for phases of Christ's ministry.
Second, the Bible tells us to test every prophet by Scripture. No prophet should ever be elevated to a place where his/her teachings should not be tested. Any prophet who leads people to a different god, or makes a mistake in telling the future, is to be rejected (Deut 13:1-4; 18:21-22). The New Testament also warns that false prophets will come, leading many astray with doctrines of demons (Matt 24:11; Mark 13:22; 1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Tim 4:3; 2 Pet 2:1).
Ellen White’s prophetic claims stated that through the Civil War, the U.S. would be “humbled into the dust,” and slavery would return to the South. Such false predictions should be enough to disqualify anybody believed to be a prophet of God.
Third, the Bible indicates that everything we need to know has already been given to us in the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:3). We are warned against adding to or taking away from God’s authoritative Word (Deut 4:2; Prov 30:6; Rev 22:18-19). The book of Hebrews tells us that God’s method of speaking to people in various ways has passed. He has now “spoken to us by His Son” (Heb 1:1-2). These truths were intended to protect us from adding more necessary revelation to the church, and they are in direct contradiction to the ministry of Ellen White, including her additional commands involving health and diet.
Understanding "The Great Controversy"
Most Seventh Day Adventists today claim that Jesus is God, but many of the group’s founders denied the Trinity and Christ’s deity. The Seventh Day Adventist church didn’t formally adopt a Trinitarian view until 1946.
Ellen G. White had a vision that at some time before Creation, God chose to exalt Jesus to be equal with Himself. Lucifer became jealous that He wasn’t exalted, led a portion of angels in rebellion, and "The Great Controversy" began between Christ and Satan. This controversy is regarding God’s character, law, and sovereignty over creation. Earth is now the “arena of the universal conflict,” and through the righteousness of His people, God will be shown to be true and righteous.
Seventh Day Adventists say that in order for God to be vindicated, His true followers must keep God’s commandments, aided by the Holy Spirit and the angels. One of the most important ways to identify a true believer is whether a person keeps the Sabbath. Once the church can reproduce Christ’s character (who kept the Law perfectly) and take the Adventist message to the whole world, Jesus will return.
Keeping the Sabbath
Adventists claim that the Sabbath was instituted at creation as a memorial for all people. They say the Sabbath is “God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people.” When Jesus returns, those who are truly His will be keeping the Sabbath, along with every other commandment. Ellen White stated that worshiping on Sunday meant accepting a counterfeit Sabbath and bearing the mark of the beast.
The problem with a Seventh Day Adventist’s view of the Law is that it does not match the teachings of the New Testament. Paul says in Galatians that the Law was temporary (Gal 3:23-25). On the seventh day of God’s creation, God rested, but He did not give a law concerning the Sabbath until after the nation of Israel was established and came out of Egypt.
The Sabbath was a sign between God and Israel, not between God and the Church. It foreshadowed the rest which all believers have in Christ (Exo 31:17; Deut 5:15; Matt 11:28; Heb 4:1-11). Jesus came, not to abolish the Sabbath, but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17).
There is no New Testament commandment that believers must rest on the Sabbath. Paul warns that we should not allow anyone to act as our judge in relation to a Sabbath or any other religious day (Col 2:16-17). Even the early church had no problems meeting on the first day of the week—Sunday (John 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2).
The mark of a true follower of Jesus is not keeping the Sabbath. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3–5; Eph 1:13–14; 4:20). Rather than observing the Mosaic Law, true worship is in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:23-24).
Studying the Bible with Adventists
As you talk with people in the Seventh Day Adventist movement, perhaps the best topic to focus on is the assurance of their salvation. Many Adventists might claim to believe in “righteousness by faith alone,” but they interpret the phrase differently than Christians. Instead of believing that God credits Jesus’ righteousness to all who believe in Him, Adventists believe Jesus simply paid a down payment and so, by their faith in Him, He will help them keep the Law.
As you talk with Adventists make sure to go back to the Bible and study it together with them. As you study, their unique system of interpretation will become evident and they may begin to question the things they have been taught. Here are some helpful Scripture passages to cover:
- Acts 15 – The Jerusalem Council understood that God has brought salvation by grace, not by keeping the Mosaic Law.
- Galatians – The works of the Law are contrasted with salvation by faith.
- 2 Corinthians 3:4-18 – The glory of the Old Covenant of the Law has ended. We now have the surpassing glory of the New Covenant in the Spirit.
- Romans 1:16-17 – The gospel brings salvation to all who believe (Jew and Greek).
- Romans 3:21-31 – God has brought salvation apart from the Law.
- Romans 4–5 – Salvation is by God’s grace. Abraham was saved by faith in God’s promise before obeying the Law. Those who believe have peace with God.
- Romans 6 – Good works are the fruit of authentic faith, not the basis of salvation.
- Romans 8:1-11 – There is no condemnation for those in Christ. Jesus fulfilled the Law in our place and has given us His Spirit, guaranteeing our salvation.
- John 3:1-18 – Salvation is the work of the Spirit and comes by faith.
- Titus 3:3-8 – Sinners are saved by the kindness and mercy of God, not because of righteous works they have done. Good works are a response to salvation.
- Ephesians 2:1-10 – God has brought salvation and spiritual life by His grace. It is not the result of our works.
- Colossians 2:6-23 – Faith in Christ is the basis of salvation and sanctification. In him, we have fulfilled the Mosaic Law. Strict rules regarding food will not improve our spiritual walk.
As you study with an Adventist, you may want to ask him/her if their salvation would be in danger if they failed to keep the seventh-day Sabbath. Their answer may reveal the fear they have about losing their salvation. This fear is usually present because salvation depends on works. If they earned salvation, then they can lose it too.
Although there are many other troublesome views that Adventists hold, don’t get too sidetracked in a debate about every issue. Until someone is truly made alive by the Holy Spirit, he/she cannot fully understand the Bible and will not respond the way God calls them to (see 1 Cor 2:14–16). Focus on the gospel of salvation by grace, through faith, on the basis of Christ’s completed work. Above all, be patient and continue to depend on the power of the Holy Spirit as He works through the truth of the Word.