“And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.” Revelation 12:15 The devil could not scare us. He tried.
There was an attempt to remove from church and Sabbath School offices all church members who were defending the truth. There was a barrage of maledictions and false allegations from church officialdom. These allegations have ranged from comparing us the butchers of Auschwitz and Dachau, who murdered millions of Jews, to describing us as a cancer on the body of the church which must be cut out. There has been disfellowshipping of both independent ministry leaders and church members.
How have the Historic Adventists reacted?
Quite calmly. There has been no panic, no indication of fear. Some have been moved to take an even more active role in defense of our faith than they had previously taken. Others have greatly increased their financial support of ministries that they believe to be teaching the truth. Most have made a thoughtful and firm decision that if they are forced to make a choice between surrendering their church membership or surrendering the truth, they will cling to the truth. They are fully confident that the God of truth will preserve their names in the records of heaven.
The devil could not scare us. It just did not work. So what weapon does he have left? Confusion.
If he cannot scare us, his best hope is to confuse us. He is casting out of his mouth water as a flood for the purpose of confusing us.
Since waters sometimes represent people, as in Revelation 17:15, the prophecy in Revelation 12 has at times been understood to represent people with weapons of persecution in their hands. May we suggest that it might also mean people with weapons of deceit in their hands? As we are presently learning, deceit and persecution often go together.
The Historic Seventh-day Adventists have taken alarm at the flood of false Calvinistic teachings that have invaded the church. (We do not refer to the teachings of John Calvin himself, but rather to the corrupted Calvinism of our day, which teaches, among other things, the Satanic doctrine that it is impossible, even through the power of God, for anyone to stop sinning.)
In order to escape from this false teaching, Historic Adventists have sought security and safety by gathering together in camp meetings, seminars, and independent worship services. This has been effective and successful, and the Historic Adventist movement is growing very rapidly.
But now a new danger is threatening us, a new flood from the mouth of the serpent. It is a flood of new interpretations of prophecy and doctrinal challenges. Ellen White was right. She wrote of this period as a time when “every wind of doctrine will be blowing.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 80
Within the last few months, I have been called upon to answer questions about:
- A revived Brinsmead theology.
- A revived doctrine of Arianism that Christ is not God fully.
- Arguments that we must keep Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
- Two different pronunciations of the name of God, each alleged to be vital to our salvation.
- The judgment of the living and the “five angels’ messages.”
- A revived doctrine of perfectionism (not to be confused with the true doctrine of sanctification).
- Reinterpretations of prophecies that seem to go on forever.
There are times when I grow weary of the tedious labor of pointing out the problems in the various arguments, but I have gained comfort and encouragement from this counsel: “Faith grows by conflict with doubt and difficulty and trial.” Our High Calling, 361
So—let us not complain about all of these challenges to our faith, but think of them as learning opportunities. When we see how our beliefs can successfully meet attacks from every side, our confidence will be more firmly established and our faith strengthened.
In this article we will examine one of the oldest challenges—Arianism. The name cones to us from a certain Arius who lived from A.D. 256 to A.D. 336 and was a presbyter (elder) in Alexandria. He taught that Christ was not co-existent with the Father but was a lesser, created (or begotten) God.
The doctrine has reappeared at various times in the history of Christianity. It was advocated for a time by certain of our pioneers who brought it into Adventism from their previous religious backgrounds. These included J.N. Andrews, Uriah Smith, and apparently James White; but the Arian doctrine was firmly rejected by Ellen White.
The Biblical evidence in favor of our position shows that early references attributed to God are found in the plural form:
- Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image.”
- Genesis 3:22; “Behold, the man has become like one of Us.”
- Genesis 11:7: “Come let Us go down.”
In Isaiah 48, the One who identifies Himself as the Redeemer and the First and the Last (compare revelation 1:11) says in verse 16: “The Lord God, and His Spirit, have sent Me [the Redeemer].”
Here we find, unmistakably, three. The three appear again in Matthew 3:16-17 where we read that Jesus was in the water, the Holy Spirit was descending upon Him, and the voice of God spoke from heaven.
In Ephesians 3:14, Paul mentions the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and in verse 16 he adds a reference to the Spirit.
Some may respond at his point that they are not challenging the idea of three persons but are only denying that Christ always co-existed with the Father in full equality with Him. We may find help with this question by looking at such Scriptures as these: “For in Him [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Colossians 2:9 “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” Philippians 2:6 KJV In John 8:58, we find Jesus testifying to the Jews: “Before Abraham was, I am.”
The Jews understood Him. We cannot doubt that. They recognized the words with which God had announced Himself to Moses: “And God said to Moses, I am that I am.” Exodus 3:14 KJV
And so they took up stones to stone Him. They knew what he meant. We may use this a convenient point of transition from the biblical evidence to the Spirit of Prophecy evidence by considering Ellen White’s comment on John 8:58: “Silence fell upon the vast assembly. The name of God, given to Moses to express the idea of the eternal presence, had been claimed as His own by the Galilean rabbi. He had announced Himself to be the self-existent One, he who had been promised to Israel, ‘whose goings forth have been from of old, from the days of eternity.’ [Micah 5:2, margin.]” The Desire of Ages 469,470
Before leaving the Desire of Ages, let us turn to page 530: “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.”
Returning to the language of John 8:58, we add further comments form Ellen White found in Evangelism, 615: “Christ is the pre-existent, self-existent Son of God….In speaking of His pre-existence, Christ carries the mind back through dateless ages. He assures us that there never was a time when He was not in close fellowship with the eternal God. He to whose voice the Jews were then listening had been with God as one brought up with Him.
“He was equal with God, infinite and omnipotent….He is the eternal, self-existent Son.”
“He is the eternal, self-existent Son, upon whom no yoke had come.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, 395
“It was the Source of all mercy and pardon, peace and grace, the self-existent, eternal, unchangeable One, who visited His exiled servant on the isle that is called Patmos.” Manuscript 81, 1900
“From all eternity Christ was united with the Father.” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, 1115
“Christ was God essentially, and in the highest sense. He was with God from all eternity, God over all, blessed forevermore.” Review and Herald, April 5, 1906
“The world’s Redeemer was equal with God. His authority was as the authority of God. He declared that he had no existence separated from the Father….He assures us that He and the Father are one. Review and Herald, January 7, 1890
In a profound description of the three members of the Godhead, Ellen White writes: “The Father is all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and is invisible to mortal sight.
“The Son is all the fullness of the Godhead manifested.
“The Comforter that Christ promised to send after he ascended to heaven is the Spirit in all the fullness of the Godhead. There are three living persons of the heavenly trio. These powers will co-operate with the obedient subjects of Heaven in their efforts to live the new life in Christ.” Special Testimonies, Series B, no. 7, 62, 63 [All emphasis supplied.]
So the fullness of the Godhead is in each of the three, although each relates to us in a different manner. In Evangelism, page 616, we read: “The eternal heavenly dignitaries—God, and Christ, and the Holy spirit—arming them (the disciples) with more than mortal energy,…would advance with them to the work and convince the world of sin.”
And in Evangelism, 617, we read: “We are to cooperate with the three highest powers in heaven,—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,—and these powers will work through us, making us workers together with God.”
The opponents of our doctrine of the Trinity advance arguments such as these:
1. The word trinity does not appear in the Bible. We are not aware that anyone has made such a claim. Neither do the words advent, Adventist, moral law, ceremonial law, millenium, incarnation, etc., appear in the Bible. Trinity simply means three, and there are certainly three members of the godhead mentioned in Scripture. The word is not important.
Why does the Bible often refer to the one true God?
God does not always tell us His reasons for what He says or what he does. We have the fact before us that the same Bible which clearly refers to the three persons in the Godhead also insists on their unity in references to the one true God. That is the “given” with which we have to do, whether or not we can explain it.
There are explanations that do occur to us. The Israelites lived among people who believed in a vast number of gods who not only disagreed with one another but often committed crimes and even waged war against one another. This could well be the reason for the biblical statements about the unity, the oneness, of God. There may be other reasons as well.
In any case, we had best accept the Scripture testimony as it is given to us and recognize that there are three persons in the Godhead who function in total agreement as one.
3. But Jesus often spoke of His subordination to and dependence on the Father. True, but these are references to His earthly condition, when He walked on earth as a man, having laid aside all of His godly powers.
“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:6, 7
The words “made himself of no reputation” in verse 7 are, in literal Greek, “He emptied Himself.” Thus, He did not work miracles while on earth by means of His own divine powers but with power supplied to Him from the father. We must not take words that describe his earthly pilgrimage and project them either into His past or His future.
4. Why does Paul, in Colossians 1:15, call Him “the firstborn of every creature”? Does this not mean that He was born first?
Not necessarily. This is how Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek word protos that Paul used in this verse: “Foremost in time, place, order, or importance….best, chief.”
We may understand this to mean first in importance, without doing any violence to Scripture.
5. Why do the Scriptures refer to Christ as the “only begotten” Son of God?
Because He was conceived of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary and began His life in earth by the normal birth process. No other individual was “begotten ” as He was. Thus the word only is relevant and appropriate.
6. Is not a trinity concept found in paganism?
Of course. Let us remember that Satan had been exiled from heaven and knew about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He knew that his counterfeit needed to be complete. And does not the existence of the counterfeit strongly imply the existence of the genuine? Men counterfeit $5.00 bills and $10.00 bills but not three or seven dollar bills because there is no genuine. Would Satan counterfeit a trinity if no trinity existed?
We complete this study with a heightened awareness of the principle set forth by Ellen White:
“Faith grows by conflict and doubt and difficulty and trial.” Our High Calling, 361
Every comparison of truth with error adds to the luster of the truth. Our message—the historic Seventh-day Adventist message—is a body of truth revealed to us by the Creator-God; and it can successfully meet every test and every challenge that is brought to bear upon it. But will we, personally and individually, stand as firmly as the truth stands?
In order to do so, we must not only be familiar with the truth but also have an awareness of the methods most commonly used by those who, either through ignorance or guile, are seeking to introduce error among us.
Mingling truth with error.
We are much more likely to swallow poison if it is not clearly labeled as poison but rather mixed with wholesome food. (See The Great Controversy, 587.)
The papers on my desk which are challenging our faith seem to have a common factor. They typically begin with Scriptures and Spirit of Prophecy quotations that are wholesome and good but have little or no relevance to the idea being promoted. Thus we are disarmed, and our minds are prepared to accept error.
Confusing statements and interpretations.
A statement tells us the thought of the writer. An interpretation tells us the thought of the interpreter. Some seem to feel that a multiplicity of interpretations can become equal to a statement. This is not correct. Ten, one hundred, or one thousand times zero is still zero.
The Greeks had a word for it, eisegesis. To study a phrase, having due regard for both its immediate and its general context, until we can hear everything that the passage is saying to us is exegesis. The opposite is eisegiesis, which is putting our own thoughts into the Scriptural passage. In the material before me, I frequently find statements made and either Bible or Spirit of Prophecy references given to support them. But when I examine the quotations, they do not say what is claimed for them. We must carefully and systematically check every reference and take nothing for granted.
This is the opposite of the “reading into” problem of eisegesis described above. This is a stubborn refusal to accept the obvious meaning of a statement. We see this problem in the attempts that are made to explain that Ellen White’s words, such as original, unborrowed, underived, self-existent, etc. actually mean the opposite of what they say. Using similar methods, we could prove that Sunday is the true Sabbath, that tithe is 50% of profits, that pork is a wholesome food, etc. We cannot place confidence in such methods.
Describing contradictions as new light.
We read in Selected Messages, book 1, 161: “When the power of God testifies as to what is truth, that truth is to stand forever as the truth. No after suppositions contrary to the light God has given are to be entertained.”
And in Testimonies, vol. 5, 295: “Men and women will arise professing to have some new light or some new revelation whose tendency is to unsettle faith in the old landmarks. Their doctrines will not bear the test of God’s Word, yet souls will be deceived.”
The Messiah Complex.
This is a term used by psychologists to describe persons who yearn to be spiritual leaders but are not necessarily qualified for that work. In evangelism, we become well acquainted with them. They attend the meetings, see the audience, and are consumed with desire to give that audience some message of their own. Some of the messages are too bizarre to be believable. Others are more sophisticated and deceptive. We have to explain to all with this particular complex that (1) they did not hire the auditorium nor put out the advertising, and (2) the people did not come to hear them. The people came to hear the advertised speaker.
We sometimes have the same problem in our seminars and camp meetings. Persons come with agendas of their own. When time is given for the audience to ask questions, these persons seize the opportunity to make long speeches, or by a succession of questions try to lead the people into a subject other than what has been presented from the desk. This is, at best, discourteous and at worst, unchristian. Some are so aggressive that we have no choice but to deal with them firmly, reminding them that the meeting was not appointed for purposes of debate, nor yet for the purpose of providing them with an opportunity to make speeches.
We have here studied only one of the strange theories that are presently being urged upon us. We have previously examined others and will no doubt have to examine more. The apostle Paul warns us not to be ignorant of the devil’s devices. Satan’s purpose in promoting these concepts should be clear to anyone. He did not succeed in frightening us, so he is trying to confuse us and make us appear ridiculous in the eyes of others.
Let us not let him get away with it. We can escape the “waters as a flood” if we give heed to Paul’s counsel in 2 Timothy 2:15, 16: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.”