People may also have heard about a woman named Ellen G. White who was a leader of the group way back in the old days who held to some quirky ideas about sex and of course, theology.
In his most recent issue of As I See It, Doug Kutilek reviews three key apologetic books on Seventh-Day Adventists.
Notable Books on Adventism
I very highly recommend the following works on the history and doctrines of Seventh-day Adventism. The authors were in every case long-time Adventists thoroughly acquainted with SDA history, doctrines, claims and controversies, and all left the movement when they honestly faced the irreconcilable conflict between Adventism and the Bible:
The Life of Mrs. E. G. White, Seventh-day Adventist Prophet: Her False Claims Refuted, by D. M. Canright. Salt Lake City, Utah: Sterling Press 1998 reprint. 185 pp., paperback.
The White Lie, by Walter T. Rea. M & R Publications, P. O. Box 2056, Turlock, California, 1982. 409 pp., paperback. 383 pp.
Cultic Doctrines of Seventh-day Adventists, by Dale Ratzlaff. Glendale, Arizona: Life Assurance Ministries, 2003.
These three books are excellent sources for information about the Seventh-day Adventist cult–and it is indeed a cult (the claims of late Christian apologist Walter Martin to the contrary, notwithstanding). The all but universal earmarks of a false cult are claims of 1. a new prophet; 2. a new and advanced revelation (beyond “that which is written” in Scripture); 3. salvation by works; 4. no salvation outside the group. These are the earmarks of Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Moonies and the Unification Church, Islam (which began as a Christian cult), so-called “Christian Science,” and just about every other fringe group. Also commonly characteristic of such cults is unitarianism and a direct denial of the Trinity; that Adventism is on paper Trinitarian does not remove them from “cult” status; indeed, a substantial percentage of early Adventists were unitarian in belief. Further, cults regularly (though not quite universally) are obsessed with prophecy, the end of the world and the Second Coming, usually making predictions of the Second Coming of Christ which of course always fail utterly, followed by tortured “explanations” of how the prophecy did not really fail.
The first book, The Life of Mrs. E. G. White, Seventh-day Adventist Prophet: Her False Claims Refuted, by D. M. Canright, was originally published in 1919, just four years after Ellen G. White’s (1827-1915) death. Canright was a devout Adventist for nearly 30 years (later becoming a Baptist). He knew the Whites personally and closely, and was well acquainted with Adventist doctrine, practice–he was an Adventist preacher–, and most of the major figures of the first 70 years of Adventist history (1844ff). He writes from full knowledge of his subject, and liberally sows his book with quote after documented quote from Adventist literature, the supposedly inspired and infallible writings of Mrs. White, and correspondence of leading Adventist figures to demonstrate his thesis.
In his introduction, Canright shows that Ellen G. White’s –and Adventism’s–claims of being the true worshippers of God, with the real truth from God, is paralleled by a whole host of other cult groups–the Shakers, the Christian Scientists, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and others now utterly forgotten (and what an array of diverse false cults were generated in 19th century America!!). Adventism is just another group of those who arrogate to themselves claims of exclusive possession of the real truth, and who alone have a proper relationship with God. At least all but one of these cults must be in error, since their mutually contradictory claims cannot all be true (and of course, they are in fact all false, since they conflict with the basic and foundational teachings of the Bible).
Ellen G. Harmon (later White), severely injured as a school girl of nine by a rock smashed against her head, was a very ignorant and uneducated teen-ager when she was caught up in the manic enthusiasm of William Miller’s predictions of the Second Coming in 1843 and 1844. Though most of Miller’s followers–and Miller himself–repudiated his predictions as misguided and erroneous when they were proven unmistakably false by the failure of Jesus to appear on the specified dates, there was a small core of enthusiasts who nevertheless clung to this embarrassingly and shamefully false prophecy, among them Ellen G. Harmon. She soon began having “visions” associated with the frequent seizures caused by her earlier head trauma. She at first doubted these visions were from God, but encouraged by her husband (whom she married at 19) and by others, she began to accept them as Divinely-sent; such continued until about age 50. These visions–some 2000 in all are alleged–became the basis for her voluminous writings, which are more than 10 times as long as the entire Bible; historically, Adventism has claimed all of White’s vision-inspired writings are a continuing and authoritative voice from God, and equally infallible with Scripture. Embarrassing to say, though Adventists officially claim White’s writings as inspired, they nevertheless have systematically suppressed some of her earliest writings, and have edited much of the rest, to remove blatant errors, contradictions, and other obvious blunders (including numerous failed “prophecies”–cf. Deut. 18:21-22).
Canright shows that there is a perfectly naturalistic explanation to White’s “visions” directly traceable to her childhood head injury and the repeated seizures she had until menopause. He cites the medical literature of his day, showing that White’s “visions” are of a piece with those of other “non-inspired” individuals, and therefore have NO Divine origin. Notably, other woman in the early Adventist movement had similar “visions” but not being encouraged by others to accept them as from God, their visions soon ceased.
White also claimed something like Pat Robertson’s bogus “word of knowledge”–the ability to see into the hearts and lives of other people, with the implied (and often exercised) threat to “expose” secret sins. What “knowledge” she had of people’s secret sins was nearly always gathered through an extensive network of “gossips” who were all too happy to pander to the prophetess. Of course, White frequently “missed” seeing gross sin in close and influential Adventists, and sometimes made false “inspired” accusations against innocent parties. Oh, well.
White was easily influenced by other Adventist leaders, and could conjure up “visions” to order, to teach whatever new doctrine she had been influenced to embrace this week–the hours for keeping the Sabbath, the early “shut door” claims of Adventism, Sunday worship as “the mark of the beast,” a new Divinely-sanctioned clothing style imposed on the faithful (abandoned after a few years), and much more. Of course, her later writings often directly conflict with her earlier writings–all being supposedly inspired by the same God!
As a woman of very limited education, White relished her status as the sect’s infallible oracle, and sought to enhance her standing by voluminous publication, far beyond what a woman of such limited education could be expected to produce. Of course, the key to her productivity was the practice of wholesale plagiarism from standard and respected Christian authors of the 19th century. So brazen was her practice that at least one of her books had to be removed from the market when the publishers of the work she plagiarized threaten a lawsuit. And not a few of her claimed writings were actually done by subordinates, under her “supervision.” Such dishonesty is not of God.
Many leaders and people in positions of authority (and salary) in Adventism during White’s lifetime knew full-well of White’s all-too-human fallibility, contradictory writings and claims, failed prophecies, gross plagiarism, pretensions to knowledge of secret sins, and even her own hypocritical eating of meat after forbidding it to others, yet, for the sake of power, position, prestige or pay, they conveniently looked the other way, or helped conceal the truth from the run-of-the-mill followers of Adventism.
In short, the ENTIRE foundation of Adventism is a colossal sham and fraud. But fanaticism dies hard, and some people seem much more than willing to be led astray, regardless of the facts or evidence or truth. All this has been public information since Canright’s book first appeared in 1919 (Canright wrote another earlier work, Seventh-day Adventism Renounced, which was first published in 1889, and went through at least 14 editions, and was in print as recently as 1948; only recently I acquired a used copy of the 1948 printing).
Walter Rea’s book, The White Lie, is the product of years of investigation by a long-time Adventist pastor and scholar, who discovered on his own what Canright had written about decades earlier–Ellen White, the supposed inspired prophetess of Adventism was a profuse literary thief, who passed off the pilfered and plagiarized writings of others as though they were Divine revelations given to her in visions from God. Worse was the discovery that this dishonesty and blatant fraud was common knowledge in Adventist inner circles back to the mid-1800s, and consistently their only response to such was to cover it up and conceal it!
When Rea sought to bring his findings to the attention of the “powers that be” within Adventism, he was by turns ignored, stonewalled, rebuked, threatened and shunned. Preserving the façade of White’s status as Divine messenger was defended at all costs, including the cost of plain honesty and integrity. The Lie was defended and the truth subverted. Rea includes many, many pages documenting the blatant plagiarism practice by White and condoned by the SDA hierarchy.
Dale Ratzlaff was a fourth generation Adventist, and was educated from kindergarten through seminary in SDA denominational schools, and pastored SDA churches for 13 years. He left Adventism when his seminary study of the doctrine of “the investigative judgment” (a distinctive and central teaching unique to Adventism) led him to conclude that it could not be supported by Scripture, but was in fact based on a gross perversion of what the Bible actually taught, and destroyed the doctrine of salvation by grace. For the sake of still-enslaved Adventists and recovering former Adventists (a full 50% leave the denomination ultimately), Ratzlaff founded “Life Assurance Ministries” in Glendale, Arizona.
Ratzlaff surveys Adventist doctrinal distinctives, gives a history of the origin and development of these denomination teachings, and analyses them in the light of Scripture. He notes how a number of doctrines embraced early on (the “shut door” teaching doctrine, especially) were subsequently changed and abandoned, though they had been founded on the “inspired visions” of Ellen White. Ratzlaff in an appendix gives the official SDA confession of faith, “Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists.”
In his book, Ratzlaff, inter alia, addresses the question “is Seventh-day Adventism a cult?” His conclusion is that historic, traditional Adventism does indeed have most of the characteristics of a cult. He does note the fact that there are factions within Adventism–the historic, traditional Adventists, who buy into the whole package: Ellen White as inspired prophetess, vegetarianism, rigid adherence to Saturday Sabbath, constant fear of rejection by Christ during the “investigative judgment,” and more. Then there are the evangelical Adventists who recognize the defects, errors, foibles and mistakes of White-ism, refuse to accept her writings as normative, do preach a true Gospel of salvation by grace and not law, but who for whatever reason remain within the Adventist fold, and are scarcely Adventists at all. There are also the liberal Adventists, liberal in a theological sense, who reject the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible and deny the doctrine of substitutionary blood atonement. These differ little from mainline denomination theological apostates. And then there are the denominational Adventists, those who above all else wish to retain power and control over the denomination and its resources, and will say and do pretty much whatever is necessary to retain that power and control.
All of these books, and much other excellent literature exposing the lie and false Gospel that historic Adventism is, can be purchased through “Life Assurance Ministries,” an organization focused on rescuing Adventists from the soul-condemning errors of that cult. They also have a regular publication “Proclamation.” Their web-site is www.LifeAssuranceMinistries.org and their e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. They stock a very wide selection of first-rate material on the error of Adventism, all that anyone could possibly hope for or need, for his own enlightenment, or for that of others ensnared in the errors of SDA-ism.