My Work in Historic Adventism

[Editor’s Note: Deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Ralph Larson, often regarded as the patriarch of historic Adventism, we reprint this article that was first published in the July 1996 LandMarks and which presents his view of his work.]

What we do is closely related to what we are. It is said of Christ that His nature and His work are inseparably intertwined and interwoven with each other, and the same is true to a lesser degree of all of us. We are what we do and we do what we are.

Consider my life span. I became a Seventh-day Adventist in the year 1936, when I was sixteen years old. Although I did not realize it at the time, I was a very fortunate and privileged person, because being baptized at this particular time gave me the privilege of living some thirty years during the Golden Age of Adventism, from 1936 to 1966. The tragic book Questions On Doctrine, [Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, D. C., 1957] which brought the Golden Age of Adventism to an end, was published in 1957. It took about ten years for it to really have much influence upon the church. But by 1966 the dire influence of that fateful volume had become widespread, the precious unity and harmony of the church had been destroyed, and the Dark Ages of Adventism had begun, and have continued for thirty years (until 1996). Thus my Christian life has consisted of thirty years in the Golden Age of Adventism and thirty years in the Dark Ages of Adventism. I am able to make comparisons.

What were the characteristics of the Golden Age of Adventism that I experienced from 1936 until 1966? Not the absence of problems. We had our share of them. Not the favor of the world. The world and the worldly churches cordially hated us and maliciously lied about us. Not wealth. The depression was still in force. But we had something far more precious than any of these things. We had unity and harmony throughout the entire church. We were one in faith and doctrine.

During those years you could travel to any foreign country, find the local Seventh-day Adventist church, walk in through the front door and say, “I am home. I have never seen these people before, but I know them. I know their beliefs and I know their lifestyle. On all of the important matters of life, their hearts beat as mine.” This was especially true of church workers. When two of them met, anywhere, there was an instant bonding and a fullness of fellowship. How precious were those days, now known only as they are held in sweet remembrance. We would have treasured them even more had we known what was ahead.

Fidelity to the Bible and to the Spirit of Prophecy was taken for granted. Infidelity was neither glossed over nor excused. Not long after my baptism in 1936 I enrolled as a freshman at Walla Walla College [Walla Walla, Washington]. By the time a few weeks of the school year had passed, it had become apparent that three of the Bible teachers, including the chairman of the Bible department, were undercutting the Spirit of Prophecy. Careful investigations were conducted, and by the end of the first quarter, all three of these teachers were gone from the campus. Two quickly found their places in Sunday keeping churches, where they belonged, and the third retired to his hog ranch. Yes, his hog ranch. But none of the three were undercutting the Spirit of Prophecy nearly as much as is being done in many of our college Bible classes today, while church administrators look on indifferently or benignly.

Our week of prayer speakers ministered to our needs in a careful and conscientious way, always teaching us the joys of victorious Christian living. If any of them had announced to us that it is impossible to stop sinning, we would have heard him no further. And the administration would have replaced him, even before the week was over.

So that is where I am coming from, and that is who I am. I listen in astonishment to earnest young Calvinists among us describing those years as the “age of legalism.” They can’t kid me. I was there.

I was taught our faith and doctrines by dedicated men who were one hundred percent Seventh-day Adventists. I spent fifteen years of my ministry in full-time evangelism. (The other years were divided between pastoring and teaching in college and seminary classrooms.) In my evangelistic work I was required to closely examine the false reasoning, the sophistry, and the casuistry in the writings of the “Evangelical” ministers who were desperately opposing our message, and show their tricks to the new converts. You can imagine the pain I feel when I see the same sort of material being set forth by some Seventh-day Adventist ministers now. When they proclaim that “We are Evangelicals!” my response is, “You really didn’t need to tell me. I knew that already. The methodology of your writings makes it abundantly clear.”

So my present work is preaching to and teaching the historic Seventh-day Adventists in camp meetings and seminars. I am in the pulpit virtually every Sabbath, either near my place of abode, or in some other state. I answer innumerable theological questions, by mail or by telephone. For want of a better place to go, ministry leaders often come to me for counsel. And in between these activities, I try to find time for writing. I feel guilty because I am not writing more, but I run out of time.

But in it all, I am happy. I know that I am defending God’s pure and holy truth, and I have no moments of anxious foreboding such as the Calvinists among us must certainly have. The shaking time is moving in on us. By God’s grace, I will survive it, and live again in the happy fellowship of a purified church.