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.