To the Pastor and the board of the SDA Church
The following letter contains my personal reasons which are at the heart of why I’m no longer an Adventist. After reading this letter I hope it will become clear to you and to the board of the church that I’m no longer Adventist at heart and you will show the necessary respect for my religious freedom and will not continue to keep me a member of your church against my decision to resign my membership in the Adventist Church.
Until the mid fifties of the 20th century, the SDA Church was classified in the same category with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and other Pseudo-Christian churches. The Church dedicated itself to the task of correcting her bad image and to demonstrate that her particular understanding of the gospel is in harmony with the gospel of the Reformation, in line with the gospel of Luther, Calvin, Zwingly and the evangelical world, in contrast with the gospel of the Roman Catholic Church and the above mentioned groups. Truly, the gospel is the decisive factor which establishes if the existence of the SDA Church is justified (or vindicated).
In the 50s of the 20th century, Walter Martin, a well-known cult expert, had placed Adventism in the same category with the Mormons and Jehoiva’s Witnesses because of the rejection of the finished atonement accomplished by Jesus on the cross, Arianism, legalism rooted in the Sabbath-Sunday-Mark of the Beast theory, and the belief that Jesus possessed a fallen human nature. Coming in contact with some leaders of the SDA Church, after some exchanges and the publication by the Adventist Church of the book Questions on Doctrine, supposedly an official and authoritative formulation of the present faith confession of the church, Walter Martin re-evaluated his attitude toward the Adventist Church, removing the label cult, recognizing that she is part of the historic orthodox Christianity.
It’s noteworthy to mention that Walter Martin had not changed his previous evaluation of the early Adventist Church, the Adventism of the pioneers, seeing it as heretical and cultic because of the reasons previously mentioned. He had modified his position exclusively in correspondence with the contemporary Adventist theological stance represented by QOD (Questions on Doctrine), perceiving it as different in the points previously mentioned than the historic Adventism understanding of the pioneers. He had considered that the Adventist Church had renounced the idea that on the cross Jesus just started the process of atonement which will be finished after 1844 in another work of cleansing and atonement for sins according to the model of the Old Testament mosaic sanctuary, containing 2 types of services, one daily and one annually (Day of Atonement). The Adventist position is that in 1844 the Day of Atonement begun in order to complete the process of atonement left unfinished by Jesus after the cross. Nevertheless Walter Martin, being assured by the QOD that Adventist now believe that the atonement was finished on the cross and whatever Jesus is doing in the heavenly sanctuary is only an application of the benefits resulting from his already finished work of atonement on the cross, concluded that indeed the church departed from his previous position, and removed the label cult.
At this point a parenthesis is required in order to understand the evangelical-protestant perspective regarding the finished atonement on the cross. Essential in this understanding is the biblical formula “once for all”, repeated especially in the Epistle to the Hebrews. A simple reading of this epistle will be sufficient to see that there is a repeated contrast between the Aaronic priesthood, pertaining to the Old Covenant, and the Melchisedechian priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the priesthood of the New Covenant. This contrast is seen especially between the plurality characterizing the Old Covenant (OC) and the singularity characterizing the New Covenant (NC)
For example, in the OC there were many priests, in the NC there is a single priest, in the OC there were many sacrifices, in the NC there was a single sacrifice. The superiority of the NC becomes evident in the fact that the sacrifice of Christ obtained an eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12) in the same way his priesthood is eternal.
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:14
A finished atonement means that the punishment for sin was suffered by Christ once and for all, making in this way “perfect for all time” the true believers. In the same way that Christ’s offering was once for all time, irrepeatable, what he accomplished on the cross for the believer, the righteousness imputed is irrepeatable. When the naked hand of faith receives Christ, to the believer is given what the Lord Jesus obtained on the cross and he becomes perfect for all time. From now on, before God the believer is perfect, covered in Christ’s robe of perfect and spotless righteousness. Jesus Christ sin not dying repeatedly for the believer’s sins after every “serious” sin, He died once for his past, present and future sins.
It results that the believer is justified not only for the present moment, but also for the future, perfected for all time. The continuous intercession of Jesus Christ assures a permanent, uninterrupted application of the benefits of the salvation he obtained by his perfect life lived and a perfect sacrifice, cleansing continually the believer’s life, saving him to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25) those who approach God through Him. There is a difference between progressive sanctification, an internal process, and justification, a one time event. This is why it may be affirmed in the present that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
Now, today, when for the first time the sinner believes, he is blessed with the promise that the future will bring no condemnation to himself. In spite of the fact that he will sin in the future being guilty before God and under a right condemnation, he is covered from in Christ’s robe of righteousness, nobody and nothing being able to separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nobody can bring charges to him because Jesus died and intermediates for him, and after God already pronounced him righteousness, who can contradict him?
Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Romans 8:33,34)
All of these are rhetorical questions pointing to the reality of the perfect assurance which the believer has in Christ.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38,39)
The assurance of salvation lies in the accomplishment of a perfect atonement on the cross, which assures to the believer a blameless status before God which assures him that he had escaped from the future wrath of God, the future judgment. Not that there will be no future judgment, but the believer had already been judged, dying with Christ under God’s condemnation and raised together with Him to eternal life, being already seating in heavenly places.
These realities are confirmed clearly by Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John, chapter 5, where he talks about the judgment by which it is understood the eternal punishment.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life John 5:24
Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. John 5:28-29
It is in the present time when the believer passes from death to life, from a resurrection of judgment and death to a resurrection of life. It is like he is a student who had already passed the final exam, keeping in his hands the positive result of his exam. These are the benefits of a finished atonement which the believer shares from the first moment of faith.
Walter Martin believed that Adventism stood in line with the evangelical gospel, but the events related with Desmond Ford’s case, his expulsion from ministry, together with the firing of many other Adventist pastors who shared his views regarding the Sanctuary, brought him second thoughts. Martin became aware of the possibility that the Adventist Church may have a different position than what he believed was expressed in QOD regarding the finished atonement on the cross.
He was well informed about the controversies QOD brought immediately after its publication, especially those stirred by M.L. Andreasen, the recognized Adventist expert in the Sanctuary doctrine. Interesting is that Andreasen shared Walter Martin’s opinion regarding the significance of QOD for the traditional position of Adventism, both viewing it as a departure from the traditional and accepted fundamental belief of the church. In spite of having different feelings than Martin about the book, condemning it in harsh language (as a sold out of Adventism to the evangelicals, a sign of the final apostasy), the irony is that Andreasen confirmed indirectly the conclusions of Walter Martin regarding Adventism, based on his perception that there was a real change iin rapport with the pioneer’s position.
In Martin’s eyes, the Adventist Church at its origins could not be considered a protestant evangelical church, and as far as there is no real change in the Adventist theology, especially regarding the atonement, the SDA Church could not claim to be evangelical, in line with the Reformation. In Walter Martin’s eyes QOD brought a real change and Andreasen’s opposition coupled with his lost of credentials brought a welcomed confirmation. Walter Martin was satisfied that officially the church sustained QOD both in theory and practice, taking a stand on its side, but the management of Desmond Ford’s case made brought him second thoughts about this subject.
He noticed that the theology of Desmond Ford who led to his exclusion from ministry does not said in essence nothing different than what Walter Martin believed that was stated by QOD: Jesus Christ entered into the Holy of Holies of the heavenly sanctuary immediately after his resurrection and ascension in the first century AD, not in 1844 as previously was believed, after he accomplished a finished atonement on the cross. Ford’s lost of job for taking a position which Martin perceived to be in harmony with QOD had raised questions about the validity of Martin’s assessment of the situation.
Walter Martin noticed also that the writings of Ellen White were used as a theological arbiter against Desmond Ford. Consequently, the cult expert questioned the General Conference regarding Ellen White’s status, if she is or she is not the infallible interpreter of the Bible. Martin offered a clear example: when disputes appear regarding the interpretations of some texts, has Ellen White the final word? He received no answer form the General Conference, and his suspicion that the writings of Ellen White were used as an infallible interpretation of the Bible grew. A lack of answer worried him, especially because he was very clear in stating that Ellen White should not be a feminine Pope if Adventists want to be numbered between the evangelicals. Otherwise they are in the same category with the mormons and their prophet, Joseph Smith.
At the same time, Walter Martin noticed that QOD was no longer in print, another possible sign that the church departed from QOD’s position and benefited illegally from the positive evaluation of Walter Martin. Even if he received messages that the book still represented the official position of the church, Martin insisted for a reprint coupled with an official explicitly approval, otherwise he will be under the duty to rewrite the chapter about Adventism from his book Kingdom of the Cults, reclassifying the Adventist Church between the cults. A premature death prevented him to formulate his conclusions of his re-evaluation started in the years of Ford’s crisis.
Yet recently, the SDA Church reprinted QOD, albeit not without modifications. The original content was not modified, but notes were added together with a historical introduction written by the well-known theologian Dr. George Knight, who was a professor of Adventist history for many years at Andrews University. His notes and the introduction confirmed Walter Martin’s fears, stating that what for many loyal Adventists seemed to be and abandonment of the classic historical position regarding the unfinished atonement was in reality just a semantic facelift. The book represented classical Adventism reworded in order to speak the evangelical language of Walter Martin. According to Knight, even if the authors of QOD used words that apparently conveyed the impression that the atonement was finished on the cross, they only stated that only the sacrificial part of atonement was finished, the process of atonement itself, far from being finalized on the cross, continuing in the sanctuary, a process not finished yet.
Instead of sharing in the benefits of a finished work, of enjoying a salvation and full cleansing of sins, the believer still waits for the judgment’s verdict, because the atonement is not complete and his final fate is undecided. Exactly the opposite of what Walter Martin believed that QOD stated.
Recently a conference took place at the campus of the Andrews University commemorating 50 years from the first publishing of QOD. This conference confirmed what Knight wrote in his introduction to QOD. They recognized the theological changes brought by QOD regarding the human nature of Christ, but also stated that QOD changed nothing regarding the atonement. Perhaps nobody will understand perfectly were the fidelity to the specific denominational theology ends and were inappropriate concessions to evangelical start, nevertheless there is no reasons, according to the leaders involved in the conference to continue the internal division of the church regarding QOD on the atonement subject.
At the end of the Conference, a Lord’s Supper was officiated by Angel Manuel Rodriguez, George Knight, and also by Colin Standish (founder of the ultraconservative Hartland Institute and a vocal critic of QOD). In such a symbolic way it became clear the internal unity of Adventism regarding atonement, if there was need for other proofs. The tendency to reunite the dissident groups with the church proves in the best case great confusion regarding the gospel in the Adventist Church and in the worst case, a clear rejection of the evangelical gospel.
In conclusion nothing significantly changed in Adventism regarding its gospel message, confirming Walter Martin’s fears, and the classification of the Adventist Church in the evangelical group is no longer true, if it ever was.
As long as the Adventist Church will not renounce its anti-gospel position, my desires for good and my affectionate attachment toward this church in which I grew up, in which I learned to study the Bible, in which I made many friends; all these things taken together cannot compensate for the theological problems. I want to be well understood: my attitude toward members at the individual level is different than my attitude toward the theological system, toward the organized faith of the church. I’m positive toward members and negative toward their beliefs. I believe that there are Christians in the Adventist Church as there are Christians in the Roman Catholic Church, but both churches besides teaching historical Christian doctrines reject the gospel of justification by faith alone, substituting to Christ’s finished atonement on the cross with something else. This creates irreconcilable differences between Adventism and Catholicism on one side and the true evangelical gospel on another side. For these reasons I cannot remain as a member of the Adventist Church because of reasons pertaining to the conscience.
I will pray that some day we will be united again around the gospel and the present disagreement will disappear. May God bless you and the church with wisdom to understand his will regarding this life and death subject.
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