S U M M E R • 2 0 1 6
VOLUME 17, ISSUE 2
Rick Barker is a native of Southwestern Ohio and facilitates a weekly Bible study for former and transitioning Adventists in the Dayton, Ohio, area. Rick graduated from Andrews University in 1987 and received a Masters degree from the University of Dayton. Rick and his wife Sheryl formally left the Adventist chuch in 2004. Prior to this they had been active in the Miamisburg and Wilmington, Ohio, churches.
Adventism’s Fundamental Belief #19
The great principles of God’s law are embodied in the Ten Commandments and exemplified in the life of Christ. They express God’s love, will, and purposes concerning human conduct and relationships and are binding upon all people in every age. These precepts are the basis of God’s covenant with His people and the standard in God’s judgment. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit they point out sin and awaken a sense of need for a Savior. Salvation is all of grace and not of works, and its fruit is obedience to the Commandments. This obedience develops Christian character and results in a sense of well-being. It is evidence of our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow human beings. The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives, and therefore strengthens Christian witness.
Comments about the belief statement
I will examine this fundamental belief point by point to determine which statements can be supported biblically and which are built on speculation, assumptions, and Ellen White’s interpretations.
The great principles of God’s law are embodied in the Ten Commandments and exemplified in the life of Christ.
While some people may disagree with the underlying Adventist implications of this sentence, on the surface the words sound good. While the great principles of God’s law are loving God and loving others, the word “embodied”, however, overstates how these great principles are illustrated through the Ten Commandments. Nevertheless, the Ten Commandments do describe behaviors that are consistent with loving God and others, and love is exemplified in Christ. Therefore, I see little reason to make an issue of the opening statement.
They [the Ten Commandments] express God’s love, will, and purposes concerning human conduct and relationships and are binding upon all people in every age.
This sentence both introduces speculation and contradicts Scripture. Deuteronomy 5:1-3, for example, tells us that the Ten Commandments were given specifically to Israel at the time of the Exodus, and specifically not to the generations before: “Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: ‘Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully. The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.”
Paul also makes clear that the law was given specifically to the nation of Israel. First, Romans 5:12-13 says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.”
Next, Paul clarifies that there was a time before the law—the time from Adam until the time Moses received the law: “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”
Paul repeats this statement of timing in Galatians 3:17: “What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later [after God’s covenant with Abraham], does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.”
Furthermore, the law was not binding on all people for all ages. We have seen there was a time before the law and people before the law. Moreover, Paul shows us in Romans 2:12 that, even after the giving of the law, not all people have been “under the law”: “For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.”
Thus, without even approaching the question of whether the law continues as a binding requirement on believers, we have already seen that the Seventh-day Adventist Fundamental Belief #19 makes claims that are at odds with Scripture. CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE
These precepts (the Ten Commandments) are the basis of God’s covenant with His people and the standard in God’s judgment.
This claim was true of Israel’s covenant with God, but it is not true of His covenant with Abraham, into which believers are ushered. Again I turn to Paul’s explanation in Galatians 3:15-18:
“Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ. What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.”
Adventist fundamental belief #19 directly contradicts this text. According to the Adventist church, the Law is “the basis for God’s covenant” while Scripture plainly states that the Abrahamic covenant, which is fulfilled in the new covenant, is based on a promise and not on the law. This is the second direct contradiction to Scripture in this belief statement.
Through the agency of the Holy Spirit they [the principles of the law] point out sin and awaken a sense of need for a Saviour.
This claim is consistent with Paul’s description in Galatians 3:23-24, that before faith came, the law was a tutor to lead us to Christ.
Salvation is all of grace and not of works, and its fruit is obedience to the Commandments.
In this belief statement, Adventism talks out of both sides of its mouth. This sentence says salvation is all of grace, but an earlier sentence described the law as the basis for God’s judgment. Even here they contradict that salvation is “all of grace” by adding obedience to the law as necessary “fruit”.
The earlier claim that the principles embodied in the Ten Commandments is the basis for God’s judgment is misleading. In fact, God’s law, both written Scripture and nature’s revelation, condemns all mankind (Rom. 1:18–3:9). The law judges that “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10), and “All have sinned and fall short” (Rom 3:23). It reveals our natural state of condemnation, but it is not the standard determining our salvation.
Adventism most seriously misunderstands the Law in its relationship to salvation. Salvation is accomplished “apart from the Law” (Rom 3:21. 28). Believers are not judged by the law. Believers have already passed from death to life (1 Jn. 3:14; see also Jn. 3:14-18 and Jn. 5:24) based on faith alone in Christ’s completed atonement for sin.
This obedience develops Christian character and results in a sense of well-being.
This statement is typical of the Adventist focus on the person and his works. In contrast, Scripture teaches that Christian “character” is the result of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer and producing fruit, not the result of obedience to the law (see Gal. 3:1-5 again). Furthermore, our sense of well-being isn’t based on behavior because our obedience is never adequate. Rather, our sense of well-being comes from knowing that we have been adopted as children of God just as we are (Eph 1:5, 13-14; Rom 8:14-17).
It is an evidence of our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow human being.
Here Adventists have turned the commands to believers to love God and others—the truly eternal principles—on their heads. Now the Ten Commandments become the litmus tests of that love, when in fact these commandments do not begin to encompass the demands for true love. Furthermore, this statement ignores the obvious questions: who is examining this evidence of obedience, and why is this evidence needed? Adventism’s investigative judgment doctrine teaches that obedience to the law is evidence God needs to determine our salvation, and unfallen beings need it to judge between God’s and Satan’s truthfulness. The Bible teaches, however, that our obedience to the Lord’s commands to love one another selflessly is evidence to those around us that we are His disciples (Jn. 13:34-35). The difference between obedience to the 10 Commandments and obedience to Jesus’ new commandment that we love one another cannot be overstated.
The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives, and therefore strengthens Christian witness.
Adventism has misused the phrase “obedience of faith”. Nowhere does Scripture describe obedience to the law as an “obedience of faith”. Instead, Scripture refers to believing in Christ. For example, in Romans 1:5 and 16:26 Paul uses “obedience of faith” to denote people’s conversion to believing in Christ when they learn the gospel of Jesus’ finished work for the forgiveness of sins. (See also Acts 6:7.) This phrase does not refer to keeping the law.
In summary, the Law is good, but only when it is used properly (1 Tim 1:8-10). Belief statement #19 reveals some of the ways in which the Adventist church is misusing God’s Law, particularly as it relates to our salvation and our covenant relationship with God. Adventists will often claim to believe in salvation by faith but strategically omit their simultaneous belief that sincerity of faith is determined and revealed by obedience to the law. This “hidden” belief means obedience to the law becomes a prerequisite of the faith that saves; in other words, Adventist doctrine insists that there is no salvation apart from the law. This belief is the polar opposite of biblical salvation that is based on a promise—that through faith we are counted as having a righteousness that is not our own and is apart from the law. †
Copyright 2016 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Camp Verde, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised August 23, 2016. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org