Your Bible Questions – Nominal Adventists


To whom was Ellen White referring when she used the term “nominal Adventists” or “nominal churches”?


There is no doubt that when Ellen White said, “Adventists,” she was referring to a group or a church of people who believed that Jesus was going to return to this earth, for that is virtually what the word means, looking for the advent of Christ.

However, she used the word nominal, meaning “in name only,” a number of times in different situations and different settings; therefore, one can hardly say that she was always talking of the same group of people when she used that expression.

For instance, we will use an example that is easy to figure out about whom she was talking: “I saw that God had children, who do not see and keep the Sabbath. They had not rejected the light on it. And at the commencement of the time of trouble, we were filled with the Holy Ghost as we went forth and proclaimed the Sabbath more fully. This enraged the churches, and nominal Adventists, as they could not refute the Sabbath truth.” Review and Herald, July 21, 1851.

We can plainly see here that she is not talking about Seventh-day Adventists, but Adventists who do not keep the seventh-day Sabbath. Undoubtedly she was referring to first-day Adventists, and other Sunday-keeping churches.

Another example of this is: “This is the word of the living God. The law is God’s great moral looking-glass. He is to compare his words, his spirit, his actions with the word of God. If we decide that in these last days we have no work assigned to us that is out of the common course of the nominal churches, we shall meet with great disappointment. The great question to be investigated, weighed, and decided is, ‘What can I do to reach souls that are lost?’ ” Special Testimonies to the Battle Creek Church, 1898, 18, 19.

Here we can plainly see that she was not using the word nominal as referring to Seventh-day Adventists but to other churches. Now, let us look at another statement that seems to refer to another group of people:

“Much of the faith which we see is merely nominal; the real, trusting, persevering faith is rare. Moses realized in his own experience the promise that God will be a rewarder to those who diligently seek Him. He had respect unto the recompense of the reward. Here is another point in regard to faith which we wish to study; God will reward the man of faith and obedience. If this faith is brought into the life experience, it will enable everyone who fears and loves God to endure trials.” Conflict and Courage, 85.

There are many more statements in the inspired writings about nominal Christians. Sometimes she was referring to first-day Adventists, but we must be careful that we do not miss the point of instruction that the Lord was seeking to give to Seventh-day Adventists.

When there is a warning against being a nominal Christian, we need to take heed to it and not get careless with our habits. We need a close walk with Jesus and a constant awareness of His presence in our lives. We need to develop a close relationship with Him. This will take earnest prayer and determination to follow all the instruction that divinity decides to give us.

We are living in a day and age of this world’s history when it is fatal for anyone to be a nominal Christian, and we dare not brush off the instruction by saying that that was written to the first-day Adventists. It will be impossible for a nominal Christian to go through the time of trouble and be saved in the kingdom of heaven.