This is a record of an interview with John Surridge Communications Director of the Seventh-Day Adventists.
1. What are the major differences between Seventh-day Adventists and other denominations?
There are differences of course and I will mention some of them in a minute. But Christians have so much in common that we really ought to talk about those things first. Now, when we compare different Christian beliefs we have to recognise that all Christian denominations differ in some areas – that’s why we have different denominations. However there is a core set of beliefs that makes us all Christians and you will find that Seventh-day Adventists share those beliefs with all other Christians. Here are some examples of beliefs that we share with most other Christian denominations:
- The Holy Trinity – Seventh-day Adventists accept the traditional position, of three equal persons in the one Godhead. We believe in the Virgin birth and that Jesus was fully God and fully man. It is a paradox that most Christians have to face up to.
- The Holy Scriptures – Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible from Genesis to Revelation as the inspired Word of God. They do not accept verbal inspiration – it is the meaning rather than the actual words or letters, that is inspired.
- The Cross – Seventh-day Adventists accept that the cross was the full and complete sacrifice for sin. However, some of our beliefs are not shared by all Christians. For example:
- We believe that God has given us free will – we do not accept predestination.
- We believe that those who have died remain asleep until the Second Coming. If the dead are unconscious then obviously we cannot accept spiritualism and many New Age beliefs.
- We also believe strongly that Jesus will return to this earth in the near future.
But the belief which makes us really stand out, though it is not the most important part of our faith, is our belief that Saturday is the Sabbath. We believe that God gave us the seventh-day Sabbath when He first created the world. He put a special blessing on that particular day and we can still benefit from that blessing today. This is why you will find that Seventh-day Adventists all over the world attend church on a Saturday and do their best to keep it special.
2. Do all Seventh-day Adventists preach the gospel of salvation by grace?
Absolutely, yes. Along with most other Christians, we believe in salvation only by grace through faith. Perhaps in the past we have not emphasised this enough as we may have spent too much time trying to defend our belief in the Sabbath for example. But if you look closely at Seventh-day Adventist doctrines, you will find that they all revolve around the grace of Jesus and His gift of salvation to the world.
3. As in other denominations, would you feel that you have a number of members who are not born again?
Unfortunately, yes. I think it was Augustine who first talked about the visible and the invisible church. We cannot tell who is truly born again and who is not – only the Lord knows what is in every individual’s heart. Having said that, we do try to make sure that people are only baptised into our Church when they have fully accepted Jesus as their personal Saviour and fully understand what it means to be a Christian. Even after they are baptised, we encourage all our members to keep studying and growing in faith.
4. In your publication ‘Seventh-Day Adventists Believe,’ we read on page 237, “Obedience to the law, as the rule of life, is vital to our salvation.” This leads us to believe that our salvation is not entirely by grace if obedience to the law is vital. Could you explain this?
The Bible is absolutely clear that we are only saved by the grace of Jesus. If we have faith in Him and accept His sacrifice for us, we will be saved. The law is a set of moral guidelines, designed to point out where we are in our relationship to God and our fellow men. Its main function is to give us a knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20) and remind us that there are divine rules of conduct by which the universe is governed. A person may get “saved” during a revival meeting or something similar, but after a while they start asking, “what now?” The law gives us an idea of the kind of life God wants us to live after we are saved. It can be seen as a long-term blueprint for a happy and fulfilled life. Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 that we have been saved by grace through faith, but he goes on to say that we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
5. It is often said that Seventh-Day Adventists believe that Satan plays a part in salvation. Surely if he is to take sin away from the sanctuary to the lake of fire they have a point? How do you respond to this?
This suggestion has come about from the belief that on the Day of Atonement the Azazel goat had sins laid upon it and was sent into the wilderness. But in no sense is that goat a ‘sin-bearer’. The Day of Atonement is a symbol of the last judgement when Satan, Hades and death are cast into the lake of fire. The most important part of the Day of Atonement was when the Lord’s goat was sacrificed for sin, thus putting things right between God and His people. Only when the atonement was complete (Leviticus 16:16-19) did Azazel enter the picture. I think that the scapegoat was simply an indication that the devil would eventually be faced with the consequences of his action, when sin and sinners will be no more. For most Seventh-day Adventists the identification of Azazel is an obscure side issue. Whatever the truth of the matter we certainly do not accept that Satan is in any sense involved in our salvation.
6. We read further, in the above book that celebrating the Sabbath on a Sunday “had its origins in ‘the mystery of lawlessness’.” We are further told that all churches that continue to worship on Sunday will “eventually receive the mark of the beast.” Surely, this terminology is saying that all other churches are under Satan’s influence and the Seventh-Day Adventists are the only one serving the true Lord?
Seventh-day Adventists believe that the fourth commandment is just as important as the other nine and that God actually wants the people that He has saved to worship on a Saturday. Obviously many other Christians do not see this in quite the same way as we do, but we believe that some time in the future the Sabbath versus Sunday question will become a key issue in Christianity. When it does then Christians will have to make a choice as to which side they are on. It is this decision, choosing to obey God or not to obey Him that we think will eventually determine who has the ‘mark of the beast’. We don’t claim to have reached that time yet and we certainly would not say that any truly born again Christian who is currently worshipping on a Sunday has the ‘mark of the beast’ or is under Satan’s influence. However, we would ask our fellow Christians to think about the question of the Sabbath. We have done a lot of research on the subject and we are quite happy to discuss it with anyone.
7. Many people use the phrase “Investigative Judgement” when talking about Seventh-Day Adventists; please can you explain what this is?
Probably because we have always had a healthy interest in Christ’s Second Coming we have done some detailed studies of the events connected with His return. Revelation 22:12 suggests that the rewards have already been decided before the Second Advent, when Jesus comes as King. Even in the Old Testament Daniel 7:9-14 pictures a judgement scene, which precedes the Advent. So obviously some kind of investigation and decision-making process takes place before Jesus actually returns. We get extra details from the rituals and symbolism of the Old Testament sanctuary. Here we see the priests working every day in the outer court and the Holy place. However, once every year, there was the special day of judgement, known as the Day of Atonement. We believe the Jewish sacrificial year was an illustration of God’s plan of salvation and that the equivalent of the Day of Atonement has already begun. Thus we believe that Jesus, our High Priest, is now involved in a final judgement phase, the results of which will be seen when He comes again.
8. We received a letter stating that a member of an SDA Church in the West Midlands told a Christian that Jesus is Michael the archangel. Is this an official teaching of the SDA Church today, or is it something that they once taught and have now abandoned, with just a few still hanging on to it?
I have to admit that this is not something that I have heard much about. However, having looked it up I can tell you that apparently the Church discussed this issue some forty years ago and concluded that the precise identification of Michael was not important enough to dwell on at length. (Questions on Doctrine, p.71). The reasoning behind identifying Jesus with Michael probably comes from 1 Thessalonians 4:16 where the voice of the archangel awakens the dead, and John 5:28 where Jesus said that He would arouse the dead. The name Michael is always used in an apocalyptic context and I do not think that identifying Michael with Christ in any way implies that the Lord Jesus is less than fully divine. He is co-eternal and co-equal with the Father. Seven times He referred to Himself in the fourth gospel as I AM, a clear indication that He is God and not just an angel. The very expression “arch-angel” implies someone over or above the angels.
9. Are there differences between the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists in the USA and Britain/Europe?
Yes, but only superficially. Around the world Seventh-day Adventists tend to have a different “flavour” depending on the religious and social makeup of the host country. I think that this is probably true of all Churches, but with Seventh-day Adventists spread so widely around the world it is inevitable. The things that differ tend to be connected with worship style rather than with beliefs though there are minor regional differences in beliefs as well. Just what these differences are is hard to say. I am sure someone is writing a doctoral dissertation on the subject at the moment! From my own experience I feel that, for example, Adventists from former Soviet block countries tend to put more emphasis on rules and standards of behaviour, and American Adventists like to emphasise the historical roots of Adventism (which of course started in America). These are just generalisations of course – there may be just as many differences between two churches in London as between two churches in different countries. Having said all this, there is a remarkable unity among Seventh-day Adventists. You can visit a church in Ghana or a church in Scotland and still know that you are worshipping with fellow Seventh-day Adventists.
10. Do you still believe that Ellen White was a prophetess?
Yes, though she never claimed that title. She preferred to describe herself as God’s messenger, or servant, but in today’s language, we would say that she had the spiritual gift of prophecy. Ellen White used this gift from 1844, when she was just 17, to 1915, the year of her death. We believe that the main purpose of her spiritual gift was to build up the Seventh-day Adventist Church in its early stages. However some of her books, such as Desire of Ages, were written for the general public, and her work on healthy living (most of which seems commonplace today) was startling in its time.
11. Are all the teachings of Ellen White accepted as Biblical today?
No, we have never considered Ellen White’s writings to be the same as the scriptures. The Bible and the Bible alone is our standard. Ellen White saw a major part of her work as leading people to read the Bible and helping them to understand it. Her writings are not in any way a substitute for scripture but many Seventh-day Adventists have come to appreciate the Bible better after reading her writings. She never claimed to be infallible and she sometimes had to deal with mundane matters where she did not claim any divine guidance. Also, some of her writings were directed towards specific individuals or situations in her time and obviously, these may not be as relevant today as they once were.