Are Christians who meet together to worship God on Sunday deceived? Historically, the Adventist church has answered this question in the affirmative. “Sunday-worshipers”, as they are often labeled by Adventists, are obviously misled because they ignore God’s clear command to worship on Saturday, citing the Fourth Commandment as evidence (Exodus 20:8-11). And if those who worship on Sunday are deceived, someone must be guilty of promoting this deception. As such, it is perhaps not surprising to see an Adventist conclude that Christians who believe the Fourth Commandment supports Sunday “Sabbath” observance are guilty of promoting great deception. This is sadly the conclusion of a recent Adventist Review article by journalist Mark Kellner entitled “The Lure of Sabbath Deception”.
The stimulus for Kellner’s article was a sermon series he heard on the radio by Alistair Begg, pastor of Parkside Church near Cleveland, Ohio. In this series, Begg argued for a continuing role of the Old Testament Sabbath for Christians. Because Christians worship together on Sunday, Begg belives the Sabbath principle should continue to apply to this day. To an Adventist, Begg’s teaching is part of the great deception about the Sabbath that has been promoted in Christianity since the fourth century rule of the Roman emperor Constantine. Adventist prophetess Ellen White claimed that Christians would one day be tested on their loyalty to God on the basis of their day of worship—those who worship on Saturday will be eligible for heaven while those who worship on Sunday will not.
Kellner revives this Adventist teaching in his criticism of Begg. “So how did [Begg] move from dogmatic insistence on honoring the fourth commandment to an about-face on the God-specified day?” Begg’s answer, of course, is that the day of worship was changed from Saturday to Sunday in the first century as a result of Jesus’ Sunday resurrection. Striking at the heart of Adventism’s view of early Christian history, Begg stated that Constantine did not change the day of worship 300 years after Christ’s death, but merely endorsed a widespread and long-standing Christian practice. Kellner, obviously not moved by this argument but providing no evidence of his own, writes, “Such assertions, however, lack much in the way of actual historical proof...”. Nevermind that over one hundred years earlier, former Adventist preacher D.M. Canright provided ample historical evidence to support Begg’s conclusions.
Not surprisingly, Begg reported receiving harsh criticism of his position from Adventists, some even accusing him of not being a Christian. Kellner casts doubt over the truthfulness of Begg’s account, saying, “...there’s little way of proving that such a charge was made”. Perhaps Kellner chose his words poorly, but the way the article reads, Begg’s honesty is at least implicitly questioned. Kellner proceeds to counter the Adventist criticism of Begg by citing the Adventist fundamental belief statement that “the universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ.”
While Kellner is willing to give Begg the title of “Christian” with the one hand, he endeavors to take it away with the other. “To be sure, God will hold responsible those who don’t keep the Bible Sabbath when it is plainly revealed that Sundaykeeping is a counterfeit. But to multiple millions—and even perhaps to Alistair Begg himself—there is justification for ignoring the Bible’s clear command, at least for now.” It is left to the reader to decide whether Begg is really a Christian, but we can be sure that if he has ignored the Bible’s “clear command”, he will be “held responsible” for his actions. For those who know the Adventist version of end-time events, the underlying message is fairly obvious. If Begg rejects the teaching of God’s Word about the Sabbath when it becomes “plainly revealed”, he will receive the mark of the beast. The only hope is that God will not make Sunday “plainly revealed” as a “counterfeit” during his lifetime so that Begg won’t be held accountable for accepting Satan’s false Sabbath and receive his mark.
Turning his attention toward other Christian teachers, Kellner presses home his point. “...there is an added level of concern now—a lure, if you will, of deception about the Sabbath.” Listing a group of Christian authors who have written about the Sabbath as it applies to Sunday, Kellner claims that a great deception is unfolding before our eyes. Satan is using these Christian authors to lure more people into false Sabbath worship so that apparently, more people will be lost by receiving his mark. In a sarcastic tone, Kellner singles out the noted Christian author Marva Dawn. “The lures posed by radio expounders such as Begg, Tony Evans of the Urban Alternative, and some Christian authors—including Marva Dawn (author of several books on ‘keeping Sabbath’ without keeping the Sabbath)—appear to be that one can freely choose how to observe a commandment of God without adhering to what God dictates.” Using the same logic, an orthodox Jew could just as easily include Kellner among a list of authors who write about the Sabbath without actually keeping it the way God prescribed. One wonders what Kellner does with the very explicit list of commands God gave to the Israelites about how the Sabbath was to be observed, much less the commands to observe feasts and holy days.
Concluding the article, Kellner leaves his audience with the take-home message. What are we to do with this growing evangelical Christian interest in Sabbath—interest that is clothed in the world’s greatest deception? “The opportunity for Adventists, in their words and in their living witness, is to present Sabbath, and Sabbathkeeping, as not only delightful, but attractive. It may surprise many to see who shows up when we treat the Sabbath as a true delight, and share that delight with the world.” The centerpiece of Adventist evangelism is here on vivid display—it is all about the Sabbath. Non-Christians and Christians alike need this precious message, because without it, they may stand condemned. If the Sabbath is made attractive enough, people will begin to realize that they should be keeping it and thereby avoid God’s condemnation.
It’s tragic, but what’s missing from all of this is Jesus. If only Adventists had the same zeal for converting people to Christ that they have for converting them to a day of worship. Sadly, the most precious message of Christianity has been replaced in Adventism by the worship of a day. The day was never meant to be the object of worship or the dividing line between believers, but a sign pointing the way to Jesus, who deserves all worship. “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17, see also Romans 14:5-6) The apostle Paul’s teaching is straightforward. All who would divide the body of Christ over a day of worship have missed his point. While Christians hold fast to the substance of Christ, Adventists continue to direct people to his shadow and in so doing, risk missing the Savior who can redeem them from their sin, even their sin of imperfect Sabbath-keeping.
This video composed by Lane Chaplin was made in response to being “tagged” on YouTube to share five facts about himself. Instead of posting the usual mundane personal trivia, he laid bare the truth about himself as seen through the lens of Scripture. These facts are not really unique to Lane but are shared by all who are convicted by the depth of their depravity and the magnitude of God’s gracious forgiveness. Please watch this video and ask yourself whether God’s grace is your most precious possession, and if it is not, please prayerfully consider the magnitude of your sin and your desperate need for what the apostle Paul called “the washing of regeneration and renewal” (Titus 3:4-8).
Previously, we discussed a new project of the Ellen G. White Estate aimed at re-defining the life and work of Ellen White for the youngest generation of Adventists. In the January-March 2008 issue of Ellen White: Visionary for Kids, an article by Kessia Reyne Bennett was published entitled ”My Friend Ellen”. Bennett is an Assistant Evangelism Coordinator for the Oregon Conference and writes of her upbringing in Adventism, particularly regarding the impact Ellen White played in her spiritual life. Writing about the relationship to the Adventist prophetess, Bennett writes: “My friendship with her began about 11 years ago. I was a teenager at the time and had just moved 500 miles to learn more about faith and the Bible and the Adventist message. I was starting at a new school in a new place—and I felt plenty of awkwardness trying to navigate the unfamiliar hallways and social networks. I was always glad when I could spend the weekend with my new friends at Hockinson Heights Church. It was there that I first heard about Ellen, though it was several weeks before I met her personally. And when I did, I thought that she and I would be friends for a long time.”
The reverence shown here for “Ellen” is very similar to the way Christians speak of finding Jesus Christ for the first time, which makes reading the rest of this article particularly troubling. Instead of speaking about Jesus as the revealed Son of God who is able to save and keep his sheep, Bennett places the prophetess in a mediatorial role between herself and Jesus. “Most of the reason that I liked Ellen was that she was a devout Christian. It seemed she had nothing to say that wasn’t about God, and when she talked about Him it was like she really knew Him—and I could sense it. It was inspiring, really. ... The other reason I liked Ellen was that she talked straight. Flattery is annoying, and she never flattered anybody. She was always real and always concerned about what mattered. If you were too caught up in yourself, Ellen would let you know. If you were neglecting what Jesus had asked of you, Ellen would remind you of your responsibility.”
The message for the young children reading this article is clear: make friends with Ellen White so you can be reminded of what Jesus has asked you to do. But wait! Hasn’t Jesus already spoken clearly enough? Doesn’t the Bible tell us that “long ago” God spoke by the prophets, but in “these last days” he speaks to us directly through his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2)? Apparently not in the mind of Ms. Bennett and all who would saddle the next generation of Adventists with another voice competing for their attention, ultimately drowning out the voice of the Son who has already spoken with forceful clarity.
Bennett gives us a peek into what results from listening to the competing voices—as she says it, reading Ellen White gave her a “guilt complex”. “It started to drive me crazy! And besides, she was so old-fashioned and a lot of good Christians had never read anything Ellen had written . . . I was friendly on the outside but angry on the inside, hoping I’d never run into her again.” For Bennett, these feelings of guilt did not last long. Now we reach the real heart of Bennett’s message. “But when I heard people talking bad about her, calling her a liar and fake and a cheat, it kind of woke me up. Because I knew that what had bothered me about Ellen White was her truth-telling.”
The problem with this line of thinking, of course, is that it can be easily transposed to any number of “prophets” who carry similar messages aimed at inducing guilt, modifying behavior and speaking for God. Consider the dietary and behavioral restrictions placed on Mormons. Should a young Mormon “wake up” to the truth of Joseph Smith’s ministry simply because others are critical of his message?
But there is more to the story here. Bennett seems intent on keeping the kids who are reading her article from thinking critically about Ellen White, long before they reach the age where they may gain the necessary skills to do so. She writes, “...I read up on the criticisms of her ministry and the responses too. Eventually I became convinced that the critics were wrong: Ellen G. White was a faithful messenger of Jesus. Her love for and commitment to Him was so evident on every page, and she never said anything to me that contradicted the Word. I couldn’t hold against her my hardheartedness, I couldn’t hold against her the way other people quoted her, I couldn’t hold against her her faithfulness.”
The message couldn’t be more clear. Ellen White is infallible, never contradicts Scripture, and is absolutely essential to understanding what Jesus wants you to do. Nevermind that the poor children are potentially dead in their sins and enemies of God, needing to be reconciled to the Father through the blood of Jesus Christ. That’s beside the point. Instead, the children need to discover their “friend” Ellen, who will tell them exactly how to be “good” boys and girls if they listen well, unless they harden their hearts against her.
It’s popular in some Christian circles these days to downplay the importance of studying theology in favor of focusing purely on Jesus, as if a pursuit of greater theological understanding stands in opposition to a simple relationship with Christ. Pursuit of greater theological understanding is seen as an empty intellectual exercise which undermines a personal “experience” with Jesus.
This is not a new development. In 1993, when asked about the trend to minimize theology in favor of “just Jesus”, Dr. R.C. Sproul gave this answer:
“My first question to people [who believe that] is, ‘Who is Jesus?’ As soon as you start to answer that question, you are into theology. The person who says to me, ‘I’m not interested in theology’ doesn’t realize that what he’s saying is that he’s not interested in God. Because if we have any understanding whatsoever of the character of God, that’s theology. ...to be against theology...is a denial of our own humanity, because we can’t even relate to God unless we know something about Him.” (source: Interview from 1993 on The White Horse Inn)
The great danger here is in reducing Jesus to a private experience to the exclusion of seeing him as an objective, historical truth. To the extent that Christians see Jesus through personal insights gained from private revelation (either from their own minds or through the minds of an extra-biblical prophet), they minimize the historical and objective reality of the Jesus of Scripture and they send the message that the “true Jesus” is anything we need him to be. Said another way, if all of us claim to know the “true Jesus” but we come to widely different conclusions about the meaning of his earthly ministry, some (or perhaps all) of us have missed the point.
Hebrews 1:1-3 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” The apostle John describes Jesus as the pre-existent Word (John 1:1) and the “Word made flesh” (John 1:14). Given this, we need to listen to what Jesus says about himself and what the Word says about him. We should not endeavor to minimize the importance of theology because in so doing, we reduce Jesus to a “feeling” or a self-help tool, rather than seeing him as the lamb of God who takes away our sin (John 1:29), through whom we have reconciliation to the Father (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).
An interesting exchange took place on 4/14/2005 between the Christian apologist James White (not to be confused with Ellen White’s husband) and a Seventh-day Adventist on White’s Internet radio call-in program The Dividing Line. The caller did not initially identify himself as a Seventh-day Adventist and quoted several texts to support the doctrine of soul sleep. White picked up immediately on the caller’s theological position and the following exchange took place:
White: “Would you be coming from a Seventh-day Adventist perspective?”
Caller: “Absolutely, I am a Seventh-day Adventist.”
White: “Well, this particular issue would be one that we would certainly disagree on, but far more importantly, would you be one of those Seventh-day Adventists who holds to the Investigative Judgment?”
Caller: “Oh absolutely.”
White: “I would put that as being as false a gospel as Rome’s. Personally I don’t see any difference between the Investigative Judgment and the grounds that this places one’s relationship to God on, and what Rome teaches.”
White: “The reason I went to the [Investigative Judgment] and asked you where you’re coming from is because I tend to think (unfortunately) that a lot of these discussions, especially with a believing conservative Seventh-day Adventist, misses the point. Because to me, I could sit around and talk with a Roman Catholic about papal infallibility (which I’ve done) ... and it would be like talking to you about the claims Ellen G. White made concerning her prophecies, her writings and her relationship to Scripture. But, if that’s all I ever discussed, I’m not doing you any favor. Because the real issue—and the issue that I always get to with Roman Catholics—is the issue of what the gospel is (which is most important). That’s why I raised the issue. Because to me, you can be a non-Seventh-day Adventist and believe what you believe about the afterlife, but to be a Seventh-day Adventist—what’s uniquely definitional [and] what addresses the specific issue of the gospel is the issue of the Investigative Judgment. That’s why I raised the issue, that’s why I mentioned it.
"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3 ESV)