SECTION THREE: THE PSEUDO ISSUES
Chapter V – The Pseudo Issue Of Attacking The Church
Chapter VI – The Pseudo Issue Of Divisiveness
Chapter VII – The Pseudo Issue Of Personalities
Chapter VIII – The Pseudo Issue Of Alleged Financial Irregularities
Chapter IX – The Pseudo Search For Historic Adventism
by Dr. Ralph Larson
The fallacy of identifying the small group of officers of the North American Division who wrote Issues as “the church” has been pointed out in Section One. We concede that they are members of the church and leaders in the church, but by no stretch of the imagination can they properly say:
We are the church! Anyone who disagrees with us is rejecting the authority of the church! Anyone who presumes to criticize anything that we do is attacking the church!
From the human standpoint we probably must recognize that if a church leader is criticized for wrong doing, his most effective defense would be to set up a cry that the church is being attacked. This would be calculated to produce an emotional response akin to that produced by the burning of the flag or an attack on motherhood. Thus we find the Issues tract and book liberally sprinkled with phrases like these:
Increasingly critical of (the church), at stake is the integrity of the church, undermine confidence in the church, threaten the viability of the church, threaten to pull the church apart, criticize and tear down the church, fighting the church, etc.
Perhaps the most astonishing of these misleading phrases is in the line that describes the purposes of Hope and Hartland as “gaining control of the church and ‘purifying’ it by purging out those who do not agree with their theology. “— Issues book, page 19. If the reader will pause a moment to reread the paragraph of descriptive phrases above and substitute the word “unauthorized theology” for every use of the word “church,” this will make it a much more accurate statement.
If the emotion arousing purpose of such language as this is successful, it can be counted upon to arouse an unreasoning fury against any persons who would so assault the church of God. But not all Seventh- day Adventists are that unreasoning or unreasonable. Many will reflect that they have not heard or read any such attacks on the church in the presentations of the independent ministries. They have, rather, heard and read many warnings against unauthorized changes in the church’s doctrines, and criticisms, by a few, of wrong doing on the part of certain individuals, but nothing remotely resembling a wholesale condemnation of the church.
Under the date of April 3, 1992, a “study paper” was circulated among the leaders of the North American Division which set forth a rationale for taking strong action against certain independent ministries. Portions of this paper were later incorporated into the Issues tract and book.
The proposed strategy is to (a) represent to the church members that certain independent ministries are “attempting to force (their) view on the church” and are planning “to purge out those who would resist them” NAD Paper, pages 9, 11, 14.
The next step in the proposed strategy is to (b) argue that since force is being used against the church, the church is justified in taking forceful actions against these ministries and those who support them.
Though the charge of “using force” is as false as it is ridiculous, this accusation is a device of deception quite commonly used by those who are trying to persuade people to do something which their consciences do not approve. While pursuing my doctoral studies in the liberal radical educational community of Boston, I attended a seminar in which the dean of a liberal theological seminary used the same technique by stating with emphasis that:
If a man overcharges you for a loaf of bread, that is violence!
The intent of this strategy is obvious. If a man is using violence against you, you are clearly justified in taking strong measures in return. So— go ahead and burn down his store, or take whatever other actions seem appropriate. You may quiet your conscience by accepting the concept that he first “used violence” against you.
But is overcharging for a loaf of bread a valid definition of violence? Not to a careful thinker. And is charging certain persons with apostasy a valid definition of “using force”? If it is, then our church has been “using force” against both Catholic and Protestant churches throughout our entire history in that we have been charging them with apostasy. Are we ready to plead guilty to “using force” against these churches, or would it be better to simply reject in its entirety this false definition of “using force”?
This is a charge that is carefully left undefined. It is apparently desired that church members simply accept the testimony of the leaders of the North American Division that the independent ministries are divisive, and not ask, “Divisive about what?” We are reminded of a passage in The Desire of Ages, page 724:
Again Pilate asked, “What accusation bring ye against this Man?” The priests did not answer his question, but in words that showed their irritation, they said, “If He were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered Him up unto thee.” When those composing the Sanhedrin, the first men of the nation, bring to you a man they deem worthy of death, is there need to ask for an accusation against him? They hoped to impress Pilate with a sense of their importance, and thus lead him to accede to their request without going through many preliminaries. They were eager to have their sentence ratified; for they knew that the people who had witnessed Christ’s marvelous works could tell a story very different from the fabrication they themselves were now rehearsing.
The purpose of the Issues writers seems to I be to avoid entering into theological discussions of any kind, yet the charge of divisiveness leads directly to theological realities. Repeatedly the Issues writers affirm that the independents are creating division by urging (forcing) their theological opinions upon the church.
We have already pointed out that it is not our opinions that we are defending, but rather the Bible doctrines that are expressed in the book, Seventh- day Adventists Believe. Thus, we challenge the use of the term “opinions,” but we do not challenge the use of the term “theological.” Theology is what it is all about, or more precisely, unauthorized changes in our theology.
Thus we are led directly to the question, Who is properly chargeable with divisiveness, those who are making the unauthorized changes, or those who are resisting the changes? Surely any fair- minded person would place the responsibility at the door of those who are making the unauthorized changes.
When the Review editor writes that disagreements about the nature of Christ are harmful to the unity of the church and create division, we respond that this is a valid point, but it is 35 years too late. It should have been advanced in 1956 and 1957 when the Review was printing arguments against our historic position on the nature of Christ and the secret writers of
Questions On Doctrine (QOD) were preparing that ill- fated volume for publication. They are the ones who destroyed the unity of the church on this point. We are not.
In our massive research report, The Word Was Made Flesh, we record 1,200 statements by Adventist writers, including many of our most prominent leaders, that our Lord came to this earth in the human nature of fallen man. Four hundred of them were from the inspired pen of Ellen White. All were published in the one hundred year period 1852- 1952. There was total unity on the subject. In all of our research, we did not find a single dissenting opinion. This perfect unity was shattered in 1957 when the secret writers of QOD foisted upon the unsuspecting church members the Calvinistic doctrine that Christ came to earth in the human nature of the unfallen Adam. Brazenly they declared that this had always been the belief of our church. Possibly never before in the history of Christianity had so many been misled by so few, and so easily.
The perfect unity that our church had enjoyed for more than a hundred years on this point and on other points that depend on it was destroyed and division was created. And now, in defiance of all logic, fairness and justice, the similarly secret writers of Issues are proposing that the independent ministries are responsible for this division. Can judgment be more unfair than this?
Likewise, the literature of our church before the publishing of QOD abounded with statements, sometimes entire articles, affirming that victorious Christian living through the power of the indwelling Christ is possible for all Christians. This statement appears in the writings of Ellen White more than 4,500 times and it has appeared in our statements of faith as well, including 140 times in Seventh- day Adventists Believe. Yet those who are bringing the doctrines of Calvinism into our church are now teaching and preaching, without authorization, that all Christians must keep on sinning until Jesus comes, at which time He will miraculously fix us so that we will not sin any more. Ellen White has written 48 warnings that nothing of this kind will ever happen.
Nevertheless, the writers of Issues are saying that victorious Christian living is a new standard of Adventism invented by the independent ministries, and are charging us with divisiveness. Yet perhaps this should not surprise us. Ellen White wrote:
When controversy is awakened, the advocates of truth are accredited with causing a disturbance.— ST 10- 17- 95.
Elijah was declared to be a troubler in Israel, Jeremiah a traitor, Paul a polluter of the temple. From that day to this, those who would be loyal to truth have been denounced as seditious, heretical, or schismatic. Multitudes who are too unbelieving to accept the sure word of prophecy, will receive with unquestioning credulity an accusation against those who dare to reprove fashionable sins. This spirit will increase more and more.— GC 458, 459.
Should divisiveness be charged against those who are resisting unauthorized changes in our church’s theology, or upon those who are making the unauthorized changes? We submit this question to the considered judgment of every fair-minded Seventh- day Adventist, and we reaffirm that this is a pseudo issue.
One of the most time tested realities about discussion and debate is that those who have evidence will present their evidence, whereas those who do not have evidence will attack the man. This has been recognized for so long that it has come down to us with a Latin name: the argument ad hominem (against the man.) It is very disappointing to historic church members when they ask their pastor or even their conference president why wrongful and unauthorized changes are being made in our church’s theology, and they are told in reply that certain independent ministry leaders are not good men. In support of this allegation, barrages of hear- say, innuendo and pure gossip are often presented by those who are expected to preach against such things.
But that is beside the point. Arguments about men can go on forever, but this has nothing to do with the problem of wrongful and unauthorized changes in our church’s theology. To point to an alleged fault in a man, or even to an apparent and discernible fault, does not provide anyone with authority to change a doctrine of our faith.
One of the most regrettable and indefensible of these arguments against the man is the allegation that the historic Adventists are setting themselves up as the standard for others to follow and imitate. (Issues, page 14, et al.) Surely this is the absolute nadir of discussion, the lowest level that argument can possibly reach.
I have been ministering to historic Adventists for nearly half a century and have become personally acquainted with many of the independent ministry leaders. I have never met nor heard of a single person among them who would dream of setting himself or herself up as the standard for anything. They would all with one accord declare that our standard and example is the Lord Jesus Christ, and that no human being should be regarded as our example. This is in sharp contrast to the theological position of the Calvinist, which places great emphasis upon the sacrificial substitution of Christ and minimizes as much as possible His role as our example. Arguments such as this are obviously pseudo issues, and should be recognized as confessions of the abject poverty of a cause.
Since this is a variation of the argument against the man, which was discussed in the previous chapter, we need not analyze it at length here. The same principles apply to both. To state the matter simply, if by microscopic examination of the life records of all independent ministry leaders it could be demonstrated that one or all of them had been involved in an apparent financial irregularity of some kind, would this provide authorization for anyone to make changes in the doctrines of the church? To ask the question is to answer it, because the idea is so ridiculous. This is transparently a pseudo issue.
But if the North American Division leaders insist on trying to make it appear as a real issue, then there are several more chapters that will have to be written and published. We will simply list a few of the chapters that would be needed:
A chapter dealing with financial irregularities involving NEMA and the Kettering law suit.
A chapter dealing with the suit against the Lake Union by Lloyds of London.
A chapter dealing with the Davenport scandal.
A chapter dealing with the unnecessary declaration of bankruptcy by the Harris Pine Mills.
A chapter dealing with the Rebok scam.
A chapter dealing with the solicitation of tithe from well- to- do members in certain conferences in North America and the diversion of that tithe to a mission field in Central America, along with an explanation of the means whereby that tithe was channeled through a North American Division office so that the donors could have a tax exemption.
A chapter dealing with the highly irregular arrangements that were set up whereby money could be channeled through the books of a certain Union in order to provide secret salaries to the wives of certain highly placed church leaders.
Much more might be added, but perhaps this is enough to demonstrate our point. I am proposing that it would be better to give our attention to the real issue of wrongful and unauthorized changes in our church’s theology and leave pseudo issues such as this one alone.
Those who are changing the doctrines of our church have endeavored to apply the term “traditional Adventists” to those of us who do not accept their changes. This may be a purposeful ploy. To most Seventh- day Adventists the word “tradition” carries very negative connotations. We have recognized and identified the problem of other churches as following tradition rather than Scripture. So we have preferred to call ourselves “historic Adventists.”
As our published writings have made quite clear, we understand and use the term “historic” to refer to the truths that were held by virtually all Adventists before the book Questions on Doctrine appeared in 1957.
We are not ignorant of our church’s history. We are well aware that the formation of our doctrines was a gradual process, with major principles being established in the early years and further refinements coming later. We are also well aware of the difference between “landmarks” and “pillars” of our faith and the less important items.
But these matters had been sorted out and our theology well refined before 1957, and it is to the common faith of the pre- 1957 era that we have reference when we describe ourselves as “historic Adventists.” Again, this is clearly stated in our writings.
We, therefore, look in wonder at the 18 page search for historic Adventism in the Issues book, pages 35- 53. The chapter requires us to look back to the earliest years of SDA experience for definitions of the term “historic Adventism.” Insofar as the present discussion is concerned, this has little or no relevance. We are talking about pre- 1957, not pre- 1857.
We are further mystified by the selection of material and by the treatment of material.
The Selection of Material. Throughout most of its existence, our church has printed and published to a phenomenal degree. The Archives contain untold thousands of pages of material in which our doctrines were expounded, explained and recommended to the world. The writers of this material did not neglect the two points of faith now under consideration— the nature of Christ and sanctification. As mentioned elsewhere, our leading administrators, editors and other writers went into print 1,200 times during the years 1852- 1952 with statements that our Lord came to earth in the human nature of fallen man, and not a single statement affirming the opposite. Four hundred of these statements were by Ellen White. Her statements expressing our historic view of sanctification total more than 4,500. The statements on that subject by other writers are too numerous to count.
There is no lack of source material. If you want to know what historic Adventism consisted of, especially in regard to the nature of Christ and sanctification, spend just a few months in the Archives. My wife and I have done this and have reported our findings in our two research volumes, The Word Was Made Flesh and Tell of His Power.
The Issues authors have not done this. They have chosen a different approach which we view with astonishment. They have chosen to ignore this enormous mass of historical evidence and look only at the few and unofficial statements of faith that can be found in the 1861,1872 and 1931 historical records.
The first statement to which they direct our attention (1861) was not by the general church but only by the Michigan Conference. It consisted of 30 words:
We the undersigned, hereby associate ourselves together, as a church, taking the name of Seventh- day Adventists, covenanting to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ.— Issues book, page 36.
The Issues writers then lead us to 1872 and a statement composed by Uriah Smith and published in the Review, of which he was editor. Here we find the treatment of evidence no less astonishing than the selection of evidence.
The Treatment of Evidence. We present this as it appears in Issues on page 39 with emphasis supplied and quotation marks to indicate the words of Uriah Smith:
In 1872 Adventists published an anonymous, non- binding statement of beliefs. In the introduction, the unnamed author (Uriah Smith) took great pains to emphasize the unofficial and non- creedal nature of the document: ‘In presenting to the public this synopsis of our faith, we wish to have it distinctly understood that we have no articles of faith, creed, or discipline aside from the Bible. We do not put forth this as having any authority with our people, nor is it designed to secure uniformity among them, as a system of faith, but is a brief statement of what is and has been, with great unanimity, held by them. We often find it necessary to meet inquiries on this subject, and sometimes to correct false statements circulated against us, and to remove erroneous impressions which have obtained with those who have not had an opportunity to become acquainted with our faith and practice. Our only object is to meet this necessity.’
The non- binding, non-creedal status of the statement is of special interest. Even more significant, however, is the fact that the statement is distinctly non-Trinitarian. Jesus is described as Creator and Redeemer but is nowhere identified as God or as eternal. He simply is “the Son of the Eternal Father.”
For those who would wish to define “historic Adventism” in terms of specific doctrinal content, the 1872 date presents a real dilemma. To accept what Adventists considered binding at that time would exclude any reference to the nature of Christ or to a particular type of obedience.
We see no dilemma. We consider historic Adventism as pre- 1957. We observe that:
1- The Issues writers in describing this statement acknowledge that it was the work of one man (Uriah Smith) and was published in the Review on his own initiative. It was, therefore, not produced by the “Adventists” speaking by way of a board, a committee or a constituency meeting.
2- Though Uriah Smith may not have been clear on the eternal pre- existence of Christ, he was clear on the human nature of Christ and on sanctification, as shown in his book Looking Unto Jesus (c189 7 ), pages 23 and 30:
3— The Issues writers also describe the statement as non- binding, unofficial, non-creedal, non- binding and non-creedal.
Yet in the tenth line following we find this: To accept what Adventists considered binding at that time. . . . So the statement no longer reflects the thinking of Uriah Smith but of “Adventists” and that which was described as non- binding, unofficial, and non-creedal, has suddenly become “what Adventists considered binding.”
While you are catching your breath, we will move on to the next problem. Throughout their discussion, the Issues writers place great emphasis on the alleged absence from the three statements (1861, 1872, 1931) of any reference to our historic view of the nature of Christ and the doctrine of sanctification. But when we examine those statements in the appendices of
Issues, this is what we find:
. . . covenanting to keep the commandments of God.— Issues book, page 36.
That there is one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father, the one by whom God created all things, and by whom they do consist; that he took on him the nature of the seed of Abraham for the redemption of our fallen race. . . . That the new birth comprises the entire change necessary to fit us for the kingdom of God, and consists of two parts: first, a moral change, wrought by conversion and a Christian life. . . . That as all have violated the law of God, and cannot of themselves render obedience to His just requirements, we are dependent on Christ, first for justification from our past offenses, and, secondly, for9race whereby to render acceptable obedience to his holy law in time to come.— lbid. 437, 439.
While retaining His divine nature He took upon Himself the nature of the human family. . . .
By accepting Christ, man is reconciled to God, justified by His blood for the sins of the past, and saved from the power of sin by his indwelling life. Thus the gospel becomes “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” This experience is wrought by the divine agency of the Holy Spirit, who convinces of sin and leads to the Sin- Bearer, inducting the believer into the new covenant relationship, where the law of God is written on his heart, and through the enabling power conformity to the divine precepts.— lbid. 444.
The end is not yet. The Issues writers have woven through all of their presentation a very strong emphasis upon the doctrines of church authority, Christian unity, and tithes and offerings. We have taken note of this emphasis in our section on side issues.
Then, turning their attention to the alleged faults of historic Adventists, they argue strenuously that if a doctrine is not specifically mentioned in the 1872 statement it is therefore nonbinding, but rather optional, and different views and practices on those points are not subject to challenge.
We ask. Where in the 1872 statement do we find a reference to the three doctrines that are the basis for their planned disciplinary actions— the doctrines of authority, unity, and tithe? Answer: nowhere. There is not a word in the 1872 statement about any of these three doctrines. Therefore, by their own argument, the Issues writers have pronounced judgment against themselves for preparing to apply church discipline to us.
We rest our case. Section Four: Credibility Credibility is a crucial factor in all church administration. The church is not able to levy taxes on its members like the government does and collect them by force, applying stiff fines and even prison sentences for failure to pay. The vast financial structure of our church and its institutions, involving total annual budgets that doubtless run into billions of dollars, must of necessity rest upon a foundation of confidence, trust, credibility. Let this confidence and trust be lost, let this credibility be destroyed, and the church will struggle in vain to collect money from its members.
How important, then, that wise statesmanship be exercised in all decision making and in the conducting of all church affairs. The question that urgently needs to be considered at every step of the way is, How will this affect the church’s credibility? Openness, accuracy, fairness, justice and truthfulness are the vital elements that will enhance credibility. The absence of any of them, in whole or in part, will do enormous damage to the church’s credibility and thus to the church’s financial structure. financial structure.
We would like to suggest that the expensive publication of the Issues tract and the 467 page book has done nothing to enhance the church’s credibility. The many responses that are reaching us indicate that it may have a severely damaging effect. As briefly as possible we will list some potential problems.