Adventists have historically viewed themselves as heirs of the Protestant Reformation, and philosophically seeking to uphold the ideals of that back-to-the-Bible movement. The Adventist church has deep roots in the Restorationist Movement of the early 1800s, with James White, and Joseph Bates coming from the Christian Connexion. The Restorationist Movement found its meaning in attempting to put aside all creeds and denominational church teachings, and going with the Bible only. This history is embodied in the preamble to the Fundamental Beliefs which states that “Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed.”
There are various groups within the broad, umbrella of Adventism, and these various groups have a multiplicity of labels that are used to identify those who form these groups. Regardless of the labels by which these groups are known, the common thread through a number of them is an abandonment of the basic ideal identified above. There appears to be many people who carry the name Adventist who do not consider the Bible to be their “only creed.”
Let’s start by examining a group that would be surprised to have this characteristic identified. There is a group within those that could be called conservative, traditional, or some other similar label that view themselves as trying to live out what they consider to be the teachings as originally embodied by the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. There are variations within this particular group, but I will not digress into a complaint about the difficulties inherent within broad, sweeping, generalized labels. There are those within this group, however well-intentioned, who in order to bolster their position, they will make reference to the writings of individuals who were leaders in the early days of Adventism. They will quote James White, Uriah Smith, Joseph Bates, J. N. Andrews, and others not simply as a historical reference, but as sources of authority. One of the clearest examples of this tendency has been the neo-anti-Trinitarian movement that has arisen in the last twenty years. In my conversations with individuals who espouse this perspective, the underlying motivation has been a hope to recapture the idealized atmosphere of early Adventism by re-introducing the beliefs held by some early Adventists. This view would be summarized in the statement, “If James White believed it, it must be right.”
This tendency to quote early Adventists authoritatively is akin to various Christians authoritatively quoting the early Christian church fathers like Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr. The early church fathers stood for Christ under intense persecution, but they were wrong about some things as well. It is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that is the source of authority, not proximity to the beginnings of a movement that one belongs to.
There is another group within Adventism that unfortunately is also abandoning a belief in the Bible as our only creed, albeit for different reasons. The academic world has been heavily influenced by the philosophy of Positivism, and this philosophy has in turn influenced Adventism. This philosophy, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a theory that theology and metaphysics are earlier imperfect modes of knowledge and that positive knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations as verified by the empirical sciences.” This view holds that “out-dated” theology must be re-examined in light of current empirical data, and that ultimately the test of what is true is “what works.” If a teaching is deemed unacceptable by some, because it in someway cuts across what is deemed acceptable by society, then it is brought under serious question. Society is considered the standard of all things, because this is verifiable by the empirical sciences. The shifting nature of societal norms undergirds the call for change to be constant.
Thus, this group also seeks to reinterpret the Bible, but in this case on the basis of the standard of contemporaneity. The Bible is not studied for what it says, but rather for how passages can be used to justify current modes of thought, and support the pre-determined thoughts of the Bible student. In this mode of thought, the Bible does not hold a position of describing our fallen, sinful condition and explaining the salvation we have access to through Jesus, but rather society sits in judgment of the—at times—out-moded thoughts of the Bible writers that must be brought up to date.
We must make a conscious choice to read the Bible, study the Bible, know the Bible, and make the Bible the foundation of what we believe. It was the apostle Paul who illustrated the importance of the Bible for everyone:
But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17 NKJV)
Ellen White adds the following warning:
God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority—not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain “Thus saith the Lord” in its support.
Satan is constantly endeavoring to attract attention to man in the place of God. He leads the people to look to bishops, to pastors, to professors of theology, as their guides, instead of searching the Scriptures to learn their duty for themselves. Then, by controlling the minds of these leaders, he can influence the multitudes according to his will. (The Great Controversy, p. 594-595)
Let’s study the Bible for ourselves, and let God speak to us through His word.