Legalism is NOT the Problem
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You might be surprised to hear me say that I don’t believe that the problem with Adventism is legalism. I’m not saying that Adventism if free from legalism, merely that the problem with Adventism is NOT legalism. And contrary to what I read from plenty of former SDAs, I do not believe that the book of Galatians was written to a group of people similar to Seventh-day Adventists. Allow me to explain.

 If the problem with Adventism is simply legalism, then the answer is to find one of the Adventist churches that doesn’t have strict rules. Maybe those are harder to find in remote areas, but if you live near any enclave of SDAs, you can certainly find a church that is accepting of women, and even of men, wearing jewelry and where going out to eat, or anything else for that matter, is perfectly acceptable on the Sabbath. In fact, the general lifestyles at many SDA churches are probably far less conservative than many of the other local churches surrounding them. The fact is, most Adventists aren’t any more legalistic than the other churches around them.

 “What about the Sabbath?” you ask. “We all know that deep down every SDA believes that you have to keep the Sabbath in order to be truly saved. Doesn’t that make them more legalistic than their neighbors?” You might be able to convince yourself that this makes SDAs uniquely more legalistic than anyone else, but I think you will have a hard time convincing an unbiased observer.

 The problem with Adventism is much more serious than legalism. Until we recognize the real problem we are misleading other Christians about the nature of Adventism and we may not be proclaiming the Gospel plainly enough to those who are within Adventism. It is hard to truly capture the “problem” with Adventism in a few short paragraphs because each error is tightly intertwined with the other errors, but here are what I believe are the more serious errors:

  • Adventism denies what the Bible teaches about how it is inspired and instead relies on Ellen White’s description of her gift as the basis for understanding inspiration. Just like Ellen White sometimes has errors, Adventism views Scripture as having some errors. Just like Ellen White said things that don’t apply anymore (think photographs and bicycles) so does Scripture. Just like Ellen White’s words can be compiled, edited, redacted and modified by others, so can Scripture (think the Clear Word). And just like everyone can pick and choose which parts of Ellen White’s writings matter, Scripture can be approached in a similar manner. Without Scripture as the complete truth, the accurate truth, and the only fully reliable truth, Adventists can not be said to truly follow Scripture.
  • The SDA teaching of God is not the God of Scripture, which isn’t surprising given the Adventist view of Scripture. Adventism denies the Triune God composed of three consubstantial persons and replaces that with a godhead composed of three beings whom are co-equal and co-eternal. Adventism insists that God has a physical body and that man is created in the image of that physical body. This is one reason why Adventists have such a hard time even considering the concept of a Triune God. This denial of God as spirit also impacts the ability of SDAs to consider man as having any spirit (other than breath). I would summarize the Adventist understanding as being “God is spiritual rather than spirit”. 
  • Adventism has a very different view of sin and redemption. In Scripture God knows everything from the beginning to the end; God had known that man would sin and as a result the lamb was slain from the foundation of the world-before the world was made, Christ’s atoning sacrifice was a certainty. But that is not the case in Adventism. The Father was going to destroy Adam and Eve after the Fall, but Jesus came up with a plan to offer Himself as a sacrifice and, after much effort, convinced the Father to go along with this plan.
  • Adventism has a different idea of atonement than is taught in Scripture. The Adventist atonement is incomplete and incapable of saving a person. Christ’s death on the cross did not secure any person’s salvation. It only provided a temporary and conditional forgiveness of sins. According to Adventism, a person’s confessed sins are forgiven until the time of the Investigative Judgment. At that time, the whole of the Adventist’s life is examined to determine if they have actually repented of that sin in a manner demonstrated by their subsequent actions. If the Adventist’s life is deemed worthy of the forgiveness that was temporarily given, their sins are placed on Satan to take into the bottomless pit and lake of fire. If the Adventist isn’t found worthy, these confessed sins are placed back on the believer and they bear their own sins into the lake of fire. Thus forgiveness is temporary, from the time of confession to the Investigative Judgment, and conditional. The previously confessed sins may be placed back on the person if they are not judged worthy.

 The book of Galatians was not written to a church that is similar to modern Adventism because the book of Galatians was written to a church of born again Believers. Galatians was written to warn these Believers of some vipers among them who were usurping the message and leading Believers away from the simple message of salvation they had accepted at conversion. These deceiving vipers were not believers but were condemned to damnation (Gal 1:10) and were severed from Christ (Gal 5:4). The letter to the Galatians was written to those whom the vipers were trying to deceive, not to the treacherous vipers. The book of Galatians was warning Believers about people who were much like the modern SDA church.

 The problem with Adventism is not that it is legalistic. The problem with Adventism is that it is a different religion that has been carefully crafted to sound a great deal like Christianity. The solution to Adventism isn’t to become free of its legalism; the only true solution is to be born again and embrace the Gospel.


Rick Barker

Rick Barker

Rick Barker is a native of Southwestern Ohio and facilitates a weekly Bible study for former and transitioning SDAs in the Dayton, OH area. More information on this study group can be found at Rick graduated from Andrews University in 1987 and received a Masters degree from the University of Dayton. He previously served on the staff of the Thomas Bilney Institute for Biblical Research and is an active member of his local Lutheran church. Rick was a volunteer on the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website for 6 years and remains a participant on the discussion boards. Rick and his wife Sheryl formally left the SDA chuch in 2004. Prior to this they had been active in the Miamisburg and Wilmington Ohio churches.
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One comment

  1. Rick,

    Thanks for this thought-provoking article.

    Here are some brief comments on it.

    Point 1: The Inspiration of the Bible: the Bible Canon:

    Here is the family relationships of the Authors of the Biblical Canon:
    [These determine the Canonical Authority of the Biblical Canon.]

    (A) The Line of St Luke (the presidents of the Men of the Great Assembly) either authored or sanctioned almost all of the OT. They also delegated Judas Maccabeus to close the Canon of the Tanak, known as the OT.
    See Talmud – Tractate : Baba Bathra 14b (order) & 15a (authorship)

    (B) Non-Pauline NT (all linked in some way to the Luke Line – the House of Arimathea – the Jewish Royal Line)
    This Line had a track record of discerning Biblical Canonical Literature – see A above. Thus, what they were writing was, de-facto “Canonical” in authority, even as it left their quills. And thus did not require any Hellenised gentile to officially declare them “Canonical” in Authority.
    Mary the Mother of God was a first Cousin to St Joseph of Arimathea through their fathers. They shared a common paternal grandfather in Matthan (Luke 3:24)

    # John – the Beloved (priest in the Line of Modin)
    Family Links: his mother Salome – younger sister to Miriam (Mary) Mother of God,
    – his father Zebedee – distantly related to St John the Baptist.
    – his wife was St Mary Magdalene (married at Cana).
    Author of – Gospel, 3 Epistles in his name, Hebrews, Apocalypse,
    Didache, Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Passing (Dormition) of Mary the Mother of God,
    Liturgy of St James (went out under James’ name).
    Chief steward of 1 Enoch and 1 Maccabees

    # Luke – Gospel Writer
    Family Links: doctor, lawyer to St Joseph of Arimathea, also Church’s first Iconographer
    Author of – Gospel, Acts,

    # Peter – Apostle
    Family Links – wife Perpetua, daughter of Aristobulus. This Aristobulus is the younger Brother of St Joseph of Arimathea
    Author: 2 Epistles

    $ St Joseph of Nazareth Family
    Family Links – Joseph betrothed to Mary the Mother of God
    – Joseph’s paternal grandfather Heli (Luke 3:24) adopted by Matthan (Luke 3:24) and called Jacob (Matt 1:1:16) Matthan (Luke 3:24 – paternal grandfather of Mary the Mother of God)
    Authors in this family: James and Jude – sons of Joseph of Nazareth.
    Protevangelium of James

    $ St Cleopas of Bethany family
    Family Links – Cleopas is the younger brother of St Joseph of Nazareth
    – his wife Miriam (Mary) – younger sister to Mary the Mother of God
    Authors in this family – Matthew (Gospel), Mark (Gospel ) – Cleopas’ sons,

    # Philip
    Family Links – mother Miriam – adopted sister to Mary the Mother of God
    After the death of St Joseph (12CE), he was cared-for by St Joseph of Arimathea.
    Author – Gospel of Philip

    # Thomas
    Family Links – adopted “twin” to Apostle Philip (see above)
    After the death of St Joseph (12CE), he was cared-for by St Joseph of Arimathea.
    Author of – Gospel of Thomas

    (C) Paul (Saul of Tarsus) – the perennial outsider.
    Family Links – Herodians. An Idumean in descent, a convert to Judaism (Benjamin – his “adopted tribe”)
    Author – numerous writings in his name.
    Was first considered a “canonical authority” by Marcion, later considered “canonical” by the Hellenised church of Constantine.

    For now, for this issue on Biblical Canonical Authority, I will leave it at that.

    Point 2 ; the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology:

    Adventism, along with much of Protestantism has difficulties here. If we take the Trinitarian Theology and Christology of the 8 Ecumenical Councils, we will see the difficulty:

    Council #1 – Nicaea 325CE – contra Arianism
    – affirmed Jesus as being fully Divine
    Council #2 – Constantinople 381CE – contra Arianism
    – reaffirmed Jesus as being fully Divine.
    – finalised and delivered the Nicene Creed without alteration, addition or erasure.
    Council #3 – Ephesus 431CE – contra Nestorius (the analogue of Arius)
    – reaffirmed Jesus as being fully Divine.
    – commanded the use of “Theotokos” (in Greek) as applying to Mary. This was and remains a Christological Term simultaneously affirming Jesus as fully Divine and Fully Human.
    – “Theotokos” was rendered in Latin as “Dei Genetrix”, and thence into English as “Mother of God”
    Council #4 – Chalcedon 451CE – defined Jesus as being both Deity and Humanity – both Sinless. Built on the foundation of Ephesus in 431CE
    – union without fusion, distinction without separation.
    Council #5 – Constantinople 551CE – affirmed Jesus as having two Natures: Divine and Human – both Sinless
    Council #6 – Constantinople 680-81CE – affirmed Jesus as having two Wills: Divine and Human – both Sinless
    Council #7 – Nicaea 787CE – affirmed Jesus as being fully human
    – the Holy Icons sanctioned at this council proclaimed Jesus’ humanity
    – contra the heretical Iconoclast Council of 754CE
    – these Holy Icons also reaffirmed the Doctrine of the “Communion of Saints”
    – Icon-haters anathematised.
    Council #8 – Constantinople 879-880CE – affirmed Jesus as being fully human
    – supported Nicaea 787CE

    Which Council above can Adventism fully and unambiguously support and adhere to in both its Trinitarian theology and in its Christology? If it cannot do so for ALL eight of them – without omission, it is officially non-Christian.

    Parts #3 & 4 – Sin and Redemption, and Atonement.

    The entire basis and structure of Adventist Harmarteriology and Soteriology has no basis in the Church’s History of Doctrine.

    The idea of Jesus being a perfect “penal-substitute” for sin is also unbiblical. For a starting-point, see:

    It is also in defiance of (1) the Nicene Creed and (2) the Church’s Liturgical Theology until the Protestant Reformation where it made its official entry with the Calvinists.

    I may return to and expand on this later upon request.

    # Galatians.

    This was Paul’s riposte to the Acts 15 Council in 49CE. It was written to pre-empt anything in writing that may issue from Jerusalem on that Council.
    The Canonical Book of James (early 49CE) was written as a trial-document of Paul at this Council in 49CE.
    Paul illegally and systematically defied and misrepresented every instruction of that Jerusalem Council in his letters to both the Galatians and to the Corinthians.
    The “vipers” Paul was referring to in Galatians were none other than those led by St James the Just in Jerusalem who had presided over that 49CE Council!
    He was finally pulled up by Jesus Himself in Revelation 2:2 (written 65CE – first three chapters). These three chapters in Revelation – written after the Ephesus gathering in 64CE, were written to pre-empt Paul as Paul himself had done with the earlier writing of Galatians.

    Here is the Chronology of Galatians:
    52 CE (Antioch) – issued pseudonymously (Luke not present to witness its writing and issue)
    66 CE (Rome) – officially claimed by Paul – early-Spring (written 52).
    Paul’s official claiming of it caused Timothy to depart to Asia and thus to St John the Evangelist in Ephesus.

    I may return to and expand on this later also upon request.

    I thus fully endorse your closing comment:

    “The problem with Adventism is not that it is legalistic. The problem with Adventism is that it is a different religion that has been carefully crafted to sound a great deal like Christianity.”

    I Trust that this assists.

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