The Seventh-day Adventist Doctrine of God – Gary Hullquist

Belief in the Begotten

Part I: The Pioneers []

 What do we Adventists believe?

“Most of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism would not be able to join the church today if they had to subscribe to the denomination’s Fundamental Beliefs. More specifically, most would not be able to agree to belief number 2, which deals with the doctrine of the Trinity.” George Knight, Ministry, October 1993, p. 10.

“Adventist beliefs have changed over the years under the impact of ‘present truth’. Most startling is the teaching regarding Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord…the Trinitarian understanding of God, now part of our fundamental beliefs, was not generally held by the early Adventsists.” William G. Johnsson, Adventist Review, Jan 6, 1994, p. 10.

This is evidenced by the 1874 statement of faith published in the June 4 issue of the Signs of the Times:

  1. That there is one God,a personal, spiritual Being, the Creator of all things, omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal; infinite in wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, truth and mercy; unchangeable, and everywhere present by His representative, the Holy Spirit. Psalm 139:7. [Where can I go from Thy spirit? or where can I flee from Thy presence?]
  2. That there is one LordJesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father, the One by whom God created all things, and by whom they do consist…” All 25 points are listed in Appendix A.

Compare this with today’s 28 Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church number 2

There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons.”

Most Adventists credit this dramatic change to the influence of progressive revelation from the pen of Ellen White in the last years of her life. Yet she denied any change, insisting that truth does not change nor contradict past truths.

“That which was truth in the beginning is truth now. Although new and important truths appropriate for succeeding generations have been opened to the understanding, the present revealings do not contradict those of the past. Every new truth understood only makes more significant the old.” EGW, Review and Herald, March 2, 1886

There has also been no change in the tendency of Adventists to quote her as the ultimate authority in what is truth. But she placed the Bible first in being the standard of truth.

“But don’t you quote Sister White. I don’t want you ever to quote Sister White until you get your vantage ground where you know where you are. Quote the Bible. Talk the Bible. It is full of meat, full of fatness. Carry it right out in your life, and you will know more Bible than you know now.” EGW, April 1, 1901 Battle Creek College Library meeting in Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 174

“The testimonies of Sister White should not be carried to the front. God’s Word is the unerring standard. The Testimonies are not to take the place of the Word…Let all prove thier positions from the Scriptures and substantiate every point they claim as truth from the revealed Word of God.” Letter 12, 1890 (Ev 256).

“You must bring your creed to the Bible and let the light of the Bible define your creed and show where it comes short and where the difficulty is. The Bible is to be your standard, the living oracles of Jehovah are to be your guide.” Faith and Works (1979) p. 77

We must not speculate on the nature of God–what God is, but we may certainly study God Himself–who He is, and what is revealed about Him in Scripture.

“The revelation of Himself that God has given in His Word is for our study. This we may seek to understand. But beyond this we are not to penetrate. . . . None are to indulge in speculation regarding His nature. Here silence is eloquence. The Omniscient One is above discussion.” The Faith I Live By p. 40

The study of God and His Son is not a trivial, side-issue. It is central to our three most distinctive doctrines:

  • The Sabbath, established by Jesus, our Creator.
  • The State of the Dead, demonstrated by the death of Jesus, our Saviour.
  • The Sanctuary in heaven where the pre-Advent investigative judgment, is even now being conducted by Jesus, our High Priest

These are embodied in the proclamation of the three angel’s messages of Revelation 14: to “fear God for the hour of His judgment is come” to the heavenly sanctuary, and “give glory to Him” who raised Jesus Christ His Son from the dead, and “worship Him who made heaven and earth”, the Creator of the first Sabbath..

Not only are the patient saints who deliver the three angel’s messages to “keep the commandments of God” (Rev 14:12), but they will also keep “the faith of Jesus” as preserved in His Word.

“We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, p. 196, 1892.

“When a doctrine is presented that does not meet our minds, we should go to the word of God, seek the Lord in prayer.” Gospel Workers, p. 301; Review and Herald Aug 27, 1889

“The only right way would be to sit down as Christians, and investigate the position presented, in the light of God’s word, which will reveal truth and unmask error.” Review and Herald, June 18, 1889.

“…all should decide from the weight of evidence.” 3T, p. 255.

“There are many in the church who take it for granted that they understand what they believe; but, until controversy arises, they do not know their own weakness. When separated from those of like faith and compelled to stand singly and alone to explain their belief, they will be surprised to see how confused are their ideas of what they had accepted as truth. . . . This light should lead us to a diligent study of the Scriptures and a most critical examination of the positions which we hold. . . . Believers are not to rest in suppositions and ill-defined ideas of what constitutes truth. Their faith must be firmly founded upon the word of God so that when the testing time shall come and they are brought before councils to answer for their faith they may be able to give a reason for the hope that is in them, with meekness and fear. . . ” God’s Amazing Grace, p. 30.

The transformation of Seventh-day Adventist doctrine from a widely held belief in the Son of God begotten of his Father (that remained uncontested for more than 50 years prior to the death of Ellen White) to our current officially proscribed unbegotten second Person of a Triune Godhead was a concerted effort waged against staunch opposition well into the 1940s. Here is the story of that battle.

Early Adventist Doctrine

The formulation of the “foundation of our faith”, the “principal points of our faith” was through much prayer and earnest Bible study by the early pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church:

“Many of our people do not realize how firmly the foundation of our faith has been laid. My husband, Elder Joseph Bates, Father Pierce, Elder {Hiram} Edson, and others who were keen, noble, and true, were among those who, after the passing of the time in 1844, searched for the truth as for hidden treasure. I met with them, and we studied and prayed earnestly. Often we remained together until late at night, and sometimes through the entire night, praying for light and studying the Word. Again and again these brethren came together to study the Bible, in order that they might know its meaning, and be prepared to teach it with power. When they came to the point in their study where they said, “We can do nothing more, ” the Spirit of the Lord would come upon me, I would be taken off in vision, and a clear explanation of the passages we had been studying would be given me, with instruction as to how we were to labor and teach effectively. Thus light was given that helped us to understand the scriptures in regard to Christ, His mission, and His priesthood. A line of truth extending from that time to the time when we shall enter the city of God, was made plain to me, and I gave to others the instruction that the Lord had given me. During this whole time I could not understand the reasoning of the brethren. My mind was locked, as it were, and I could not comprehend the meaning of the scriptures we were studying. This was one of the greatest sorrows of my life. I was in this condition of mind until all the principal points of our faith were made clear to our minds, in harmony with the Word of God.” EGW 1 Selected Messages pp. 206, 207, 1904

It was an understanding of “the scriptures in regard to Christ” that was first made clear. Then, upon this foundational truth, an understanding of “His mission and His priesthood” and “all the principal points of our faith” was made plain to them.

Although “all the principal points of our faith were made clear” by “the Spirit of the Lord” shortly after 1844, it is today suggested that God allowed the important truth of the Trinity to slowly develop some 40 years later. But such a conclusion may be premature. Ellen White said the issues had been fully explored and nothing changed over time.

“That which was truth in the beginning is truth now. Although new and important truths appropriate for succeeding generations have been opened to the understanding, the present revealings do not contradict those of the past. Every new truth understood only makes more significant the old.” EGW, Review and Herald, March 2, 1886

This is a plain statement showing that “progressive truth” cannot contradict old truth. New truth can never reverse the position of original truth; the present only enhances the past. Thus, if Ellen White eventually became Trinitarian she would fail her own counsel of holding old truth. There is no need to speculate when we limit our statements to those in the Bible. We must compare scripture with scripture, quote the Bible and study His Word!

So what was the “truth in the beginning,” what was past truth, what was old truth? First, it is recognized that the “personality” of God was one of old landmark pillars of faith:

“Those who seek to remove the old landmarks are not holding fast; they are not remembering how they have received and heard. Those who try to bring in theories that would remove the pillars of our faith concerning the sanctuary or concerning the personality of God or of Christ, are working as blind men. They are seeking to bring in uncertainties and to set the people of God adrift without an anchor.” EGW, Manuscript Release 760 p. 9.5, 1905

“The statements of God’s Word are plain. Plant your feet firmly on the platform of eternal truth. Reject every phase of error, even though it be covered with a semblance of reality, which denies the personality of God and of Christ.” EGW, Review & Herald, August 31, 1905

And what “denies the personality of God and Christ” ?

“The doctrine of the Trinity which was established in the church by the council of Nice, A. D. 325. This doctrine destroys the personality of God, and his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” J. N. Andrews, Review & Herald, March 6, 1855

“Here we might mention the Trinity, which does away [with] the personality of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ…” James S. White, Review & Herald, December 11, 1855

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The Seventh-day Adventist Doctrine of God – Gary Hullquist

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