Post 38, Sources for the Study of Adventism: Magazines, Journals and Websites

I will begin today’s discussion of sources for the study of Adventism by quoting a letter that I wrote to the editor of the magazine Adventist Today, printed in the Spring 2010 issue, page 4. Here is the letter, exactly as it was published:

“Since 1958, I’ve subscribed to Review (under its various titles: Review and Herald, and Adventist Review). For the past forty years, I’ve subscribed to Spectrum. Since 1993, I’ve subscribed to Adventist Today. Today I’m reading recent copies of Adventist Review (often the 36 issues published each year reach Australia in small bundles), along with the Fall 2009 issues of Adventist Today and Spectrum.

“Right now, I’m interrupting my reading to write to you, because I want to shout, ‘Thank God for the dependent and the independent press in the Seventh-day Adventist community!’

“Each of the three magazines I’ve named command my immediate attention the moment they arrive in my postbox. I admit I don’t read every article in the Review; after all, some of them are rather predictable. That is not a criticism; the magazine is for the entire, diverse Adventist family. We expect it to report from the bridge of the Good Ship Adventist.

“The voyage would be much less engaging without Spectrum and Adventist Today. The independent press can probe issues and share perspectives that may never appear on the official radar. It can propose analyses and even solutions that “the bridge” declines to admit or refuses to discuss, even though it quietly accepts some of them in a decade or two. (Note, as one extended example, the hundred best articles Spectrum about the life and writings of Ellen White.)

Adventist Today (Fall 2009) takes us to the core of the tithe issue, equips us to read George Knight’s most-controversial book, reminds us of the unfinished business we have from 1980, and invites ‘all three kinds of Adventists’ to live in community here, until we ‘revel together before God’s throne, singing his praises through all eternity.’

“Let me add that even the right wing, independent publications have a place: I need to know why my brothers and sisters are so disturbed. Reading their writings may be both depressing and frustrating. But it is essential if I am to relate to my ‘spiritual relatives.’

“I have confidence (established since 1993) that the Adventist Today Foundation will maintain the quality of Adventist Today. I can hardly wait for the ‘fairness, candor, and good taste’ that the next magazine will apply to ‘contemporary issues of importance” for the church we love.”

That is the entire letter. Two years after it was written, I’d like to add two comments.

First, the letter was written before my article, “Contextualising Recent Tensions in Seventh-day Adventism” appeared in the September 2010 issue of Journal of Religious History. That refereed journal is available worldwide in any scholarly library, so my readers can access my article for more detailed comments about the range of magazines and journals that are available to English-speaking researchers who want to understand Seventh-day Adventist history and thought.

Second, magazines and journals are costly to produce and distribute. Especially younger people in Western cultures are relying more-and-more on various forms of electronic communication. It is a pity that famous publications (including my favorite Australian newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald) are deeply challenged by the technological changes that are occurring in our generation. A downside of the present is that church publications face some of the same stresses; for instance, Adventist Review struggles to maintain its circulation. I hope that we Adventists will keep buying the print copies of our magazines and journals; that way we will all have a part in preserving the heritage that they report and analyse. However, we need to also use the websites that Adventist Review, Spectrum, Adventist Today and other publications maintain, with diligence and at considerable cost. Some of the valuable material on such websites is not available from any other source.

On earlier blogs I have given details of some of the resources that are available, without cost, at the press of a few computer keys. I am continually amazed that by simply entering my name and any one of a multitude of subjects into GOOGLE, I can access so much of what I have written since 1997. The same can be said for many others who are trying to offer reliable data and analysis of interest to “thinking believers.” How deeply privileged we are!

Arthur Patrick, 31 January 2012

Post 37, Ussher, Adventists and the Age of the Earth

I was a bit nervous about the blog that I posted on Australia Day (January 26). Would my readers understand it? So I sent it to one of the best-informed, young (well under thirty-years-of-age!) scientists that I know.

His reply was re-assuring. In part it says: “I read and enjoyed the Ussher blog. I like that you point out his chronology was ‘well-meaning’, and I think that it is valuable to recognise Ussher was using the best research tools and methods available to him.  The fact that we might come to a different conclusion today says more about our extra sources of information than it does about our intentions or intellect.”

What are some of those “extra sources of information” that we must take into account when we estimate the age of the earth?

First of all, the Bible. I am of the opinion that nobody who respects the authority of Scripture should presume that they are using the text of Genesis faithfully, when they claim that the earth is about six thousand years old, unless they have studied in detail Dr Colin House’s excellent doctoral dissertation. Colin is a dedicated Bible scholar, a graduate of the premier Adventist educational institution (School of Graduate Studies, Andrews University), who has used the best-available tools of biblical interpretation. It is evidence such as Colin offers that, over many years, has driven me to the conclusion that God never intended us to assume his Word tells us the age of the Earth.

Of course one PhD study, on its own, is not enough to settle such an important issue. Colin is a pioneering Adventist researcher who has spent years learning Hebrew and its related languages and studying the Bible thoroughly in its setting (the there and then) so that he can cogently express the message of Genesis for us today (that is, in the here and now). Many scholars of repute agree with the essence of his insights. As mentioned earlier, Dr Siegfried Horn wrote the significant article, way back in 1978, “Can the Bible establish the age of the Earth?” Spectrum 10:3 (1979), 15-20. Note this paragraph from page 18:

While there are numerous ‘chronological statements’ in the Bible pertaining to the periods from Abraham down through the ages, not a single ‘chronological statement’ can be found in the entire Bible which helps us date any earlier events…. For the time preceding Abraham, no events recorded in the Bible are connected with any dates, secular kings, or any other chronological peg on which we can hang the biblical stories.

If you doubt the substance of this quote, why not study the 128 articles that Dr Horn published between 1973 and his death in 1993, as indexed in the Seventh-day Adventist Periodical Index. You will quickly come to understand the development of his thinking about biblical archaeology and chronology, and the reasons why we can trust his conclusions. Note such articles as “From Bishop Ussher to Edwin R. Thiele,” Andrews University Seminary Studies, Vol. 18 (Spring, 1980), 37-49, a piece that gives us cause to appreciate some of the accomplishments of both Ussher and Thiele. Dr Horn’s conclusion reads:

Some thirty-six years have passed since Thiele’s work was first published. At first there appeared to be a certain reluctance on the part of many scholars to accept a chronological scheme which seemed to demonstrate “conclusively the precise and dependable accuracy of Hebrew chronology of the times of the kingdoms,” to use the words of the prominent OT scholar William A. Irwin. Others, especially conservative students of the Bible, however, were delighted to see that some of the thorny problems of biblical studies had successfully been solved. Yet, Thiele’s chronological scheme with its logic and historical integrity has gradually been accepted by an ever-widening circle of biblical scholars of all persuasions, and I foresee the time when it may universally be adopted and used as an accurate chronological framework of the history of the monarchies of Israel and Judah, enjoying the position formerly held by the chronology of Ussher.

Balance like that is difficult to achieve, but it is a mark of the genuine scholar who weighs the evidence carefully and gives credit where credit is due.

Second, we need to carefully assess the evidence from science. Were Ussher alive today, given the diligence with which he pursued the evidence that was available in his day, undoubtedly he would offer us very different conclusions about the earth’s age. Take, for instance, what the fossil forests of Yellowstone in the United States reveal-as one graphic example.

When I first attended degree-level lectures about biblical chronology, my lecturers never once hinted that they knew anything about the remarkable forests that are so well preserved in the Yellowstone region. However, when I was at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary (Andrews University) from 1970 to 1972, one of my professors spent many lectures trying to explain how these petrified forests might fit into a short time frame. Looking back, I deeply respect his sincerity and his diligence, even though further reading has convinced me that the trees are in a position of growth, and that it took many volcanic eruptions to wipe out the scores of new forests that developed, each on top of the previous one. New soil had to form after each volcanic eruption, and new trees grew to large sizes before they were wiped out by the next volcanic event. The data are clear: the Yellowstone area records the passing of a succession of long time periods.

However, Yellowstone is only one of countless places where the crust of the earth records the fact that it is a long time since “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1: 1, NIV). The Bible calls us to “Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Revelation 14: 7). In the wisdom of God, to cherish the Sabbath and worship our Creator, we do not need to know in detail when he did his work of creation!

Arthur Patrick, 29 January 2012

Post 36, From Archbishop Ussher to Ellen White

With a name like Patrick, my readers will understand why I have some affinity with the millions of Americans and Australians who identify genetically or affectionately with the Emerald Isle. So I have a soft spot for the Irish prelate and long-time archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher (1581-1656). Ussher was born in Dublin, became famous as a scholar and fellow of Trinity College (Dublin), chancellor of St Patricks, professor of divinity, privy councillor for Ireland, and so on. After 1640, Ussher the Irishman lived in England and was deemed worthy of burial in Westminster Abbey.

Why another blog about Creation (see “Thanking God for Scientists That I Know,” 3 December 2012) on this website about Adventist Studies? Because, if one reads such publications as the Adventist Review (see, for instance, the issues dated December 8 and 15) and the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, the subject is attaining increasing importance as we near the General Conference Session slated for 2015.

It is remarkable that Archbishop Ussher exerts a continuing influence on more than sixteen million Adventists in general, and in particular upon our current General Conference president, Pastor Ted N. C. Wilson.

The world may have largely forgotten Ussher as one of the many archbishops of Armagh had he not been a prolific writer. One account of his life notes: “Of his numerous writings, the best known is the Annales Veteris et Novi Testamanti (1650-54), which propounded a long-accepted chronology of Scripture which fixed the Creation precisely at 4004 BC.”

Now, of course, traditional Adventists may not believe the precise date (4004) is absolute, but in general the majority of us follow the mode of thought that Ussher popularised so effectively.

Take the “Big Bible” story, in its historical context, as a case in point. The narrative has had countless retellings, one of the most impressive (in my memory) was that Pastor Arthur L. White gave us in the first-ever Seminary Extension School held in Australia (December 1957 through January 1958). Remember the illustrations derived from the incident, when well-known athletes and little known college and high school students were invited to hold a similar weight on an outstretched arm? The gist of the story is briefly recounted by Dr. Herbert Douglass, Messenger of the Lord, page 146.

What is seldom mentioned any more is that many such nineteenth-century Bibles carried, in their margins, the dates that people like Ussher popularised two centuries earlier. Recent studies of the chronologies of Genesis indicate that we have seriously misunderstood the purpose of these Scriptures, reading them through Western rather than Eastern eyes. (See, for instance, the doctoral dissertation that Colin House, an Australian, completed at Andrews University).

The punch line is plain indeed. When Adventist pioneers, including Ellen White, wanted to know when a biblical event happened, they quite naturally turned to the margins of their Bibles. The message was there without equivocation: Creation happened 4004 Before Christ. The impact of this process struck me forcibly last week when, as a pastoral volunteer in the College Church office, I took down from the bookshelf a very big Bible that carries introductory notes by the Reverend John Brown, “Minister of the Gospel at Haddington.”

Brown was born in the county of Perth, Scotland, in 1722; he died on 19 June 1787. As a preface to the text of the Scriptures, Brown gives “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God” on pages i to lxxxii, including Chapter V, which is entitled “A Chronological Harmony of the Scripture Histories, and of the Fulfilment of Its Predictions.” Under “Year of the World,” year 1 is identified as 4004 “Before Christ,” with this description: “God created all things; covenanted with mankind; Adam fell into sin, and his posterity in him; God published salvation by Christ, but denounced troubles and sorrows in this life, Gen. i.-iii.; Exod. xx.11, Ecccl. vii. 29; Rom. v. 12-21; 1 Cor. xv. 22.”

On page lxxxi Brown predicts that in the “Year of the World” 6900, or “about 150 years later” there will be “The general judgment of the world, and the renovation of the earth will take place.”

Almost two centuries after Brown’s death, Adventism’s greatest archaeologist of the twentieth century (Dr Siegfried Horn) wrote a significant article pointing out that beyond the time of Abraham, no biblical date can be established with any sense of certainty.

In Century 21 we need to distinguish between the well-meaning chronology of Archbishop Ussher and what the Bible actually says and does not say. It will require several more blogs to begin to unpack some of the relevant evidence. Let us not downgrade Ellen White because she read well (and believed) the margins as well as the text of her Bible.

Arthur Patrick, 26 January 2012

Post 35, The Sanctuary/Investigative Judgment, 1844-2008: A short, documented history of an Adventist teaching

This paper summarises, in four thousand words, what may well be the most-discussed teaching of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Since the paper attempts to present impartially the views of many commentators, it lists in its footnotes (another two thousand words) some of the vast literature that is located in the church’s research centres. The reading of the text on 1 November 2008 was accompanied by visual portrayals of some of the documentation that is readily available for further study.

Twenty-eight articles of faith form the Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists; number eleven was voted at the General Conference session of 2005, all the others were voted at the General Conference session of 1980. A preamble states the twenty-eight Fundamental Beliefs “constitute the church’s understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture.” Number twenty-four, entitled “Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary,” describes “the second and last phase of [Christ’s] atoning ministry” as “a work of investigative judgment” that is “part of the ultimate disposition of sin.”[1] The outcomes of this judgment are described with the help of four verbs: reveals, makes manifest, vindicates and declares. “The investigative judgment reveals to heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have part in the first resurrection.” It “makes manifest who, among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore, are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom.”  It “vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus,” and it “declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the kingdom.”[2]

The sanctuary/investigative judgment teaching has evoked strident criticisms and attracted vigorous affirmations. During the 1950s, Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895-1960) was widely known in the United States as a “Presbyterian fundamentalist pastor, Bible expositor and journalist.”[3] With other evangelical Christians, helped by extended dialogues with Adventist leaders, Barnhouse closely examined Adventist history and doctrine before publishing his opinion of the investigative judgment as “stale, flat, and unprofitable,” “the most colossal face-saving device” in Christian history.[4] A polar-opposite position is declared by those who identify the investigative judgment as an important part of Seventh-day Adventism’s distinctive contribution to Christian thought.[5] To document the history of the sanctuary/investigative judgment teaching is to place such contrasting viewpoints in an understandable perspective.

In Adventist thought, the doctrine of the sanctuary is the over-arching teaching of which the investigative judgment is a sub-section. It is well to begin an historical exploration of the sanctuary teaching by observing a famous original source relating to the transition of a small number of Millerites into Sabbatarian Adventists.[6] This particular source is incomplete: only pages 5 to 11 remain from a handwritten manuscript of unknown length that lacks the name of its author and a title, and has no recorded date of composition. However, it is usually assumed the seven extant pages were written by Hiram Edson some years after 1844. If so, Edson is describing his own Millerite experience leading up to the Great Disappointment and its aftermath on the morning of 23 October 1844.[7] After breakfast that day, in company with an unnamed associate, Edson set out to “go and see, and encourage some of our [brethren].” The following narrative is embedded deeply in Adventist memory.

We started, and while passing through a large field I was stopped about midway of the field. Heaven seemed open to my view, and I saw distinctly, and clearly, that instead of our High Priest coming out of the Most Holy of the heavenly sanctuary to come to this earth on the tenth day of the seventh month, at the end of the 2300 days, that he for the first time entered on that day the second apartment of that sanctuary; and that he has a work to perform in the Most Holy before coming to this earth.[8] 

“He has a work to perform”

“Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary” has, therefore, been under consideration by Second Advent believers for 164 years. Edson and his colleagues, Owen Crosier and F.B Hahn, came to believe the “daily atonement” portrayed in the services of the first apartment of the Hebrew sanctuary and in its heavenly counterpart was for the forgiveness of sins, whereas the ministry of the earthly High Priest in the second apartment of the sanctuary pictured the blotting out of sins. They concluded that since 22 October 1844, Christ was blotting out the sins of believers and thereby cleansing the heavenly sanctuary. A doctoral dissertation completed by Merlin Burt in 2002 thoroughly examines the development of the sanctuary doctrine from 1844 to 1849.[9] It would be the next decade (that is, the 1850s) before an “investigative judgment” was named as a central feature of the work Jesus had to perform.

Beginning in the 1850s, Uriah Smith and others used the chronology of 1844 and the sanctuary teaching to emphasise the imminence of Christ’s glorious return.[10] When the specific term “investigative judgment” was first proposed, James White could see no light in it. However, before the decade of the 1850s was over, the investigative judgment was accepted as a way to explain the apparent delay of the Advent–the “work” of Jesus was to go over the books of record thoroughly. Even at the rate of a minute per person, it was estimated the process would take some time.[11]

The Challengers: Some Typical Examples

The nineteenth-century writings of Joseph Bates, J. N. Loughborough, Uriah Smith, James White, J.N. Andrews and particularly Ellen White[12] developed and stabilised the nineteenth-century understanding of the sanctuary teaching, including the investigative judgment. However, often at about two-decade intervals, dissenters have challenged the orthodoxy of their time.[13] The following examples illustrate the historic struggle.

Dudley M. Canright (1840-1919) wrote the most-quoted attack on Adventism in general and its sanctuary teaching in particular. Canright liked to emphasise Owen Crosier’s claim that his famous 1840s article was written to “support the theory that the door of mercy was shut.”[14] Paul McGraw’s doctoral dissertation (2004) observes the church did not do well in answering the questions Canright posed in such books as Seventh-day Adventism Renounced (1889).[15]

Albion Fox Ballenger (1861-1921) found nine “misfits” in the way Adventists interpreted the first-apartment ministry of Jesus. In Ballenger’s view, prior to Calvary Christ ministered for thousands of years in the first apartment and then moved into the second apartment at His ascension. A coherent understanding of Ballenger’s position may be gleaned from his book Cast Out for the Cross of Christ (1909) and from the biography of Ballenger written by Calvin Edwards and Gary Land.[16]  Like Canright, Ballenger left the church and majored in opposition to it.

William W. Fletcher (1879-1947) was born in Tasmania, served as a church leader (many roles, including president, South Australian Conference, president of the Indian Union Mission; Bible teacher at Australasian Missionary College) in Australia and Asia. Fletcher contended that at the time of His ascension our Lord entered the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary and “sat down at the right hand of God.” Another Australian, Keith Moxon, spent years gathering data that illumines Fletcher’s gracious life, deep convictions and tragic severance from the church. Fletcher’s major book is entitled Reasons for My Faith (1932).[17]

Louis R. Conradi (1856-1936) was born in Germany and served the church in ministerial and leadership roles in the United States and Europe for over fifty years. For about three decades, Conradi pondered the questions that in 1932 caused him to leave Adventism and  become a Seventh Day Baptist minister. To some extent, Fletcher’s concerns in Australia were similar to those Conradi expressed in Europe as the longest-serving Adventist leader who left the church over its sanctuary and related teachings.

During the 1950s, Robert Greive, as president of the Queensland conference, opposed the right-wing views of the Brinsmead family, developing a view of Righteousness by Faith that was interpreted as diminishing the traditional Adventist concept of the sanctuary. After his transfer to Auckland, in 1956 Greive was dismissed from the leadership of the North New Zealand conference and from Adventist ministry. At least four of Greive’s ministerial staff were dismissed for identifying with the same issues.

While these dissenters were all terminated from their employment within the church as was Desmond Ford at a later time (1980), the questions they raised and the answers they attempted to give remain crucial for those who wish to understand the Adventist doctrine of the sanctuary. Also important are the writings of many others who remained within the church even though important questions with which they struggled remained unanswered to their satisfaction. Some of the best known of these thought-leaders are highly-regarded as editors of periodicals like Adventist Review and Ministry or as editors/authors of the SDA Bible Commentary: W.W. Prescott (1855-1944), L.E. Froom (1890-1974), F.D. Nichol (1897-1966) and Raymond F. Cottrell (1911-2003).[18]

More Voices from the Golden Age of Adventist Apologetics

In contrast to those who wished to reduce or even discard the sanctuary doctrine, there were stalwart believers who wanted to extend its application in significant ways. The towering crisis of 1888 that focused on Righteousness by Faith also intensified discussion about the sanctuary teaching in general and the specific meaning of such matters as “the daily” in Daniel 8. One of the leading protagonists of the time, Ellet J. Waggoner (1850-1916), says he “dropped” the sanctuary teaching; in fact, he moved to apply its “cleansing” as a subjective, mystical purification of the human soul or “church.”[19] By 1905, Alonzo T. Jones (1855-1923), already on the road toward serious conflict with the church, was interpreting the cleansing of the sanctuary as the perfecting of the individual in readiness for the Latter Rain. Milian L. Andreasen (1876-1962) emphasised the sanctuary teaching as disclosing how the final generation of living saints would demonstrate God’s ultimate answer to the problem of sin. It was only another short step for Australian Robert Brinsmead to develop one of the driving ideas of his “Sanctuary Awakening” movement that flourished from 1958 until about 1970. In Brinsmead’s thought, the “final atonement” blotted out the “scars” of sin so that perfected believers could receive the Latter Rain and finish the work of God by giving the Loud Cry of the Third Angel.

More centrist views were expressed in major books and conference presentations.[20] W.H. Branson (1887-1961), a missionary to Africa who later served as General Conference president (1950-1954), helped in 1933 to articulate the view of the sanctuary that characterised the golden age of Adventist apologetics. However, it was Francis D. Nichol (1897-1966) who, despite his private dilemmas, became the prince of all defenders of the sanctuary faith in his Answers to Objections in its various editions (see, for example the third edition, 1952). Further, supported by others such as Don Neufeld and Raymond Cottrell, Nichol as general editor of the seven volumes (1954-1957) that are part of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Series (1954, volume 13 is under preparation, 2008) helped Adventists look exegetically at the entire Bible. The controversial volume Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (1957) may have been less divisive had Neufeld and Cottrell been involved with it. However, with the publication of Walter Martin’s The Truth About Seventh-day Adventism (1957) and the Adventist responses in Doctrinal Discussions (circa 1962), pro and con arguments relating to the investigative judgment were very much out in the public sphere. The issues were sufficiently sensitive that a committee meeting over a four-year period could not render a coherent report to the General Conference president. Raymond Cottrell’s published accounts of this committee cohere well with the memories (after forty years) of Dr Earle Hilgert who wrote as follows on 24 September 2008:

You graciously invite me to share any thoughts I may have regarding the paper.  On p. 6 you mention briefly the committee set up by the General Conference in the early 60’s, which as I recall was called “The Daniel Committee,” but really focused on the issue of whether the traditional Adventist doctrine of the sanctuary could be substantiated from the Bible.  I suspect that I am the only living member of that committee left.  It was made up of a dozen or so persons drawn from the GC, the Seminary and the Review and Herald:  those I remember were Harry Lowe, the chairman, R.A. Anderson, Leo Odom from the White Estate, Ray Cottrell and Don Neufeld from the Review, Richard Hammill, W.G.C. Murdoch, Siegfried Horn and myself from the Seminary.  Ted Heppenstall may also have been there, but I’m not sure.  There was also another man from the GC whose name I have forgotten.  We met twice a year at the GC building, I believe for four years, read papers which we had prepared, and struggled. Some of these I think were published (in Ministry?).  As you mentioned, we were unable to come to a consensus.  This became evident at the last meeting, which I recall vividly.  A poll was taken as to where we stood.  The large majority agreed that we had not been able to establish the doctrine of the investigative judgment from the Bible, but that they neverless believed it was there and felt that if we only kept studying, light would break in, and it would be substantiated.  Cottrell and Neufeld said that they didn’t think it was in the Bible, but that they accepted it on the basis of the writings of Ellen White.  I, alone, had to admit that I didn’t think it was in the Bible, and that I couldn’t accord that kind of authority to Sister White.  I think that the papers that were written at that time are probably on file at the GC, as years later I had a letter from Dick Lesher, who was then at the GC, asking permission to circulate something I had written, to which I agreed.[21]     

An Era of Fuller Biblical and Historical Reflection

The issues raised in the Questions on Doctrine dialogues were made both public and intense in M.L. Andreasen’s vigorous writings between 1956 and his death in 1962.[22] Andreasen’s campaign was supported by the effervescent writings of Robert Brinsmead in Australia, as well as the publications of Al Hudson and others in the United States. However, a foundation for a better understanding of the sanctuary teaching was also being laid, as in the work of Jerome Justesen who showed that Adventists needed to interpret Daniel 8:14 in view of the actual meaning of the word translated “cleansed” in the King James Version.[23]  Far more influential in this regard was the teaching of Edward Heppenstall (1901-1994), not least in the first Seminary Extension School held in Australasia, December 1957 through January 1958. During the later 1960s, Robert Haddock, by examining the history of the sanctuary doctrine from 1844 to 1905, helped Adventists look more closely at the historical development of their concepts.[24] However, even in that era, portrayals of the judgment in standard Adventist books were still inadequate, in the later opinion of Dr Richard Davidson, for many years a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary teaching the doctrine of the sanctuary. Davidson eloquently described this reality to a campmeeting audience, declaring how glad he was for the picture that was then (2001) “finding its way into our more recent books on the judgment.” To emphasise the reality of his concern about the inadequate portrayals that were common in the earlier period, Davidson stated that he has “ripped all the pictures out of those old books” so that his children would not see them.[25]

The fracas over the writings of Andreasen and Brinsmead caused the (then) Australasian Division to rely much on Desmond Ford as the major defender of orthodoxy. There was an obvious need for a better understanding of numerous matters. Ford, in his second doctoral program, developed a substantial study of prophetic interpretation (1972) that had a significant relation to the sanctuary teaching. Norman Young (1973) and William Johnsson (1973 ) wrote dissertations that helped the church listen more acutely to the heartbeat of the Epistle to the Hebrews. As the 1970s wore on, the thinking of the loyalists who signed themselves “Concerned Brethren” opposed the directions being taken by Australasian church leaders with reference to the sanctuary doctrine (for instance, a lessened emphasis on two apartments and a greater emphasis on two phases of ministry). Meanwhile, Robert Brinsmead’s spiritual migration caused him to re-examine core Adventist teachings, including Adventist claims about the significance of 1844. As a response to Brinsmead, the Adventist Forum at Pacific Union College persuaded Desmond Ford to share a perspective on the issues, at a meeting that convened on 27 October 1979.

Official reactions to Ford’s proposals included the Glacier View Conference held from 11-15 August 1980. Ford’s 900-page submission (see footnote 18, above) should be evaluated in the light of the two Consensus Statements (one on Christ’s ministry, the other regarding Ellen White) voted by the review committee. Ford claimed at the time that a dozen points in the longer Consensus Statement coincided with emphases in his manuscript. Twenty-five years later, coherent perspectives on the Glacier View conference were shared with the Sydney Adventist Forum on 22 October 2005. The events are now contextualised in Milton Hook’s biography (2008) of Desmond Ford. It is clear that the main Consensus Statement needs to be understood in the dual light of both the Righteousness by Faith Consultation (1979-1980) and the discussions of the Sanctuary Review Committee.

A Time of Fuller Accountability?

The context within which Adventists discuss the investigative judgment in 2008 is very different from the context of the discussion even as recently as 1980. Some of the important differences may be illustrated by the following observations.

1. The initial reports about the Sanctuary Review Committee and its aftermath (as in Ministry, Adventist Review and Record) are now known to be overly defensive. They reflected the “Ten-Point” statement that was not even discussed by the entire assembly (let alone voted upon), rather than the more forward-looking Consensus Statement that was voted by the conferees. The Sanctuary Review Committee, like the Righteousness by Faith Consultation, offered constructive outcomes that the harried administrators of the time largely failed to perceive.

2. Since 1980 the church has spent years assembling the potential data and the arguments that clarify and support its sanctuary teaching in general as well as the investigative judgment concept, thereby producing an array of books, papers and articles.[26] While the church has been more willing to cite officially its traditionalist rather than its progressive scholars, independent presses on the right and the left have rounded out the picture. The copious publications of the Standish brothers leave little more to be said from a far-right perspective; more moderate but still traditionalist views are expressed by Adventists Affirm and Journal of the Adventist Theological Society; more open perspectives are shared by Spectrum and Adventist Today; both informative and polemical critiques abound in print and on the Internet. The comparative dearth of reliable information that characterised earlier sanctuary discussions (even those of 1980) is now a problem of the past.

3. Since “Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed,” the ultimate solution to controversy depends much upon responsible biblical exegesis. A wealth of publications (dissertations, books, articles) on Leviticus, Daniel, Hebrews and Revelation (the four biblical books cited in the 1980 statement of Fundamental Beliefs) help to exegete thoroughly the evidence from Scripture.[27]

4. Significant doctoral dissertations now clarify the historical and theological issues. For instance, Kai Arasola (1989) discusses the fifteen ways that William Miller “arrived” at the date 1844 and thereby demonstrates the necessity of careful exegesis in order to determine what the Bible says and what it means. Another example of the many explorations is that by Rolf Pöhler whose Andrews University doctoral dissertation (1995) has developed into articles and books, including Continuity and Change in Adventist Teaching: A Case Study in Doctrinal Development (2001). Pöhler convincingly presents the importance of understanding the constructive change that has occurred over time in Adventist teaching.

5. As an articulate presenter of an alternative from the traditional position, Desmond Ford’s historical and exegetical analyses are widely available on the Internet, in magazines such as Good News Unlimited and Good News for Adventists, and in a long series of books. Responses to Ford’s proposals from various perspectives–uninfomed, passionate, reasoned, scholarly–are abundant in magazines, journals, books and on the Internet.[28]

6. More church leaders are now equipped to analyse the complex issues than was the case even in 1980. Many of the issues are resolved at least in part. For instance, Daniel 7 is widely recognised as picturing God’s judgment of the Little Horn more than His scrutiny of the saints.

7. Whereas Ellen White’s authority may have transcended that of the Bible for some Adventists in the 1980s, she is now better understood as recommending a scriptural foundation for all doctrine. Further, historical studies now demonstrate more clearly that Ellen White developed her doctrinal understandings in a symbiotic relationship with the Advent Movement. Controversy is slowly moving toward more effective consensus as the church handles tensions in more mature ways.[29]

8. Probably the most significant objection to the investigative judgment teaching has been the perception that it militates against the doctrine of Christian assurance.[30] A careful listening to the campmeeting series by Richard Davidson illustrates the church’s studied attempt to present the judgment as a “friendly”, “joyful” event in terms of the Gospel.[31]

9. Higher degree students continue to ensure a flow of significant information is maintained. Six recent dissertations illustrate this potential: Michael Chamberlain (2001, re-written as a major book, 2008), Paul McGraw (2004), Julius Nam (2005), Rick Ferret (2006), Eric Livingston (2007) and Michael Campbell (2008).[32]

10. The church remains at least somewhat aware of the pain and loss that its South Pacific Division suffered, during the 1980s in particular. Controversy regarding the sanctuary/investigative judgment teaching was one of the cluster of issues that led to the termination or resignation of scores of ministers during that difficult era. These events are now carefully analysed in several doctoral studies and there appears to be a collective will not to repeat such patterns of the past.


The Adventist concepts of the sanctuary and the investigative judgment have experienced constant development and change since the morning of 23 October 1844. At present the older term investigative judgment is still official but is often being rephrased as a new descriptor gains favour: the pre-Advent judgment. In its present form, the pre-Advent judgment teaching says very little about a number of the orthodoxies of the past.[33] In all aspects of it except for its chronology it has been deeply impacted by a better understanding of linguistic, contextual and other studies of Leviticus, Daniel, the Epistle to the Hebrews and Revelation, as well as by a more mature grasp of Righteousness by Faith. For at least some well-informed observers, a century-and-half of controversy is giving place increasingly to an understanding that more clearly presents Jesus in His role as the merciful and faithful high priest portrayed in Hebrews.

Adventists do well to remember that the way of salvation is simple enough for the thief on the cross to receive assurance of paradise, even though the Bible is a mine of truth that no human being has yet exhausted. As the church seeks more fully to understand its identity and mission in terms of Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, it needs to be open to the insights of a wide range of specialists. At the very least, these must include those who can best translate the Scriptures from the languages in which they were first written (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek); observe the immediate and wider biblical context of each passage; assess the historical interpretations given to important texts in the light of Christian and Adventist literature; and explore the theological implications of each portion of God’s Word. Diligence in each of these arenas is essential for those who would make a mature response to the guidance of the Spirit and bear effective witness to Christ and His redemptive work.

Arthur Patrick, 31 October 2008[34], posted 16 January 2012

 [1] The full text of Fundamental Belief 24 reads as follows: “Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary. There is a sanctuary in heaven, the true tabernacle which the Lord set up and not man. In it Christ ministers on our behalf, making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice offered once for all on the cross. He was inaugurated as our great High Priest and began His intercessory ministry at the time of His ascension. In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry. It is a work of investigative judgment which is part of the ultimate disposition of all sin, typified by the cleansing of the ancient Hebrew sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In that typical service the sanctuary was cleansed with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things are purified with the perfect sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. The investigative judgment reveals to heavenly intelligences who among the dead are asleep in Christ and therefore, in Him, are deemed worthy to have part in the first resurrection. It also makes manifest who, among the living are abiding in Christ, keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and in Him, therefore, are ready for translation into His everlasting kingdom. This judgment vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus. It declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the kingdom. The completion of this ministry of Christ will mark the close of human probation before the Second Advent. (Heb. 8:1-5; 4:14-16; 9:11-28; 10:19-22; 1:3; 2:16,17; Dan. 7:9-27; 8:13-14; 9:24-17; Num 14:34; Eze. 4:6; Lev. 16; Rev. 14:6-7; 20:12; 14:12; 22:12.)”

[2] Emphasis is supplied to highlight outcomes described by the statement and to identify who benefits from these outcomes: the dead, the living, God, the loyal. The full text of Fundamental Belief 24, cited above from Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook 2008 (Hagerstown, MD: General Conference of SDA), 5-8, is explained in Seventh-day Adventists Believe…: A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines (Washington, D.C.: Ministerial Association, General Conference, 1988), 312-331; Seventh-day Adventists Believe…: A Biblical Exposition of Fundamental Doctrines (Silver Spring, MD: General Conference of SDA, 2005), 347-369. Note the unvoted but important expressions of Adventist belief dated 1872, 1894 and 1931, as discussed by Robert W. Olson, “Who Decides What Adventists Believe,” 15 March 1978, DF 326f, Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, Avondale College. For an apt definition of the investigative judgment and a short description of its history, see “Investigative Judgment,” Don F. Neufeld, editor, Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Second Revised Edition (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1996), 788-992. For a representative bibliography of books, journal and magazine articles, document files and Web URLs, use GOOGLE to access “Sanctuary Doctrine in SDA Church” Bibliography by Gary Shearer, Reference Librarian, Pacific Union College, Angwin, California, USA.

[3] J.A. Carpenter, “Barnhouse, Donald Grey (1895-1960),” Dictionary of Christianity in America, Daniel G. Reid, editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1990), 117-18.

[4] See Arthur Patrick, “The Questions on Doctrine Event: Contrasting Perceptions, Their Impact and Potential,” in the context of the conference papers presented at the 50th Anniversary Conference, Andrews University, 24-27 October 2007,

[5] Richard W. Schwarz and Floyd Greenleaf, Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Nampa: Idaho, 2000), 163-4; cf. 625 and Richard Schwarz, Light Bearers to the Remnant (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1979), 170, 396-7. For an overview by Gerhard F. Hasel entitled “Divine Judgment,” see Raoul Dederen (editor), Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), 815-856. In an e-mail, Clifford Goldstein appropriately calls for due recognition of the biblical doctrine of judgment, for “how can anyone ever with the most cursory reading of the Bible not see the theme of judgment.” Goldstein to Patrick, 19 October 2008. Seldom has this doctrine been expressed more succinctly or with better balance than in the writings of New Testament exegete Norman Young,

[6] William Miller proposed a number of potential definitions for the sanctuary: note the descriptions of these by Adventist writers including that by Kai Arasola in his doctoral dissertation (Uppsala, 1989).

[7] Nichol interprets Edson’s experience on 23 October 1844 as being the birth-moment of Seventh-day Adventism “as a distinct religious body.” See Francis D. Nichol, The Midnight Cry (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1944), 478.

[8] Transcribed in “The Disappointment Remembered,” Ronald L. Numbers and Jonathan M. Butler, The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987), 231-216.

[9] Merlin D. Burt. “The Historical Background, Interconnected Development, and Integration of the Doctrines of the Sanctuary, the Sabbath, and Ellen White’s Role in Sabbatarian Adventism from 1844 to 1849” (Andrews University: PhD dissertation, 2002). Note Alberto Ronald Timm, “The Sanctuary and the Three Angels’ Messages 1844-1863: Integrating Factors in the Development of Seventh-day Adventist Doctrines” (Andrews University: PhD dissertation, 1995).

[10] See Edmund A. Parker, “Uriah Smith and the Investigative Judgment,” unpublished paper, DF 680, Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, Avondale College.

[11] Computer technology as it is now understood allows even conservatives to offer a different perspective on the issue of time.

[12] For an introduction to sources for the study of Seventh-day Adventism, see Arthur N. Patrick, “Seventh-day Adventists in the South Pacific: A Review of Sources,” Journal of Religious History 14, no. 3 (June 1987), 307-326.

[13] See Raymond F. Cottrell, “The ‘Sanctuary Doctrine’–Asset or Liability,” a presentation to the San Diego Forum, 9 February 2002, in DF 597, Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, Avondale College.

[14] I thank Frank Basten for facilitating my contact with Fernand Fisel who has a paper (over fifty pages) nearing completion under the title “From Millerism to the Sanctuary Doctrine: A critical analysis of O.R.L. Crosier’s evolving theology.” E-mails, Basten and Fisel to Patrick, October 2008.

[15] The preface to the fourteenth edition of Renounced, available online with the help of GOOGLE, offers a window into Canright’s career and concerns.

[16] Calvin W. Edwards and Gary Land, Seeker After Light: A.F. Ballenger, Adventism and American Christianity (Berrien Springs, MI.: Andrews University Press, c. 2000). The extensive Ballenger papers are located in the La Sierra University Library.

[17] For a short biography of Fletcher, see SDA Encyclopedia; the Moxon collection is located in the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, Avondale College.

[18] For readily accessible documentation regarding this section, see Desmond Ford, Daniel 8:14, The Day of Atonement and the Investigative Judgment (Casselberry, Fl.: Euangelion Press, 1980), 11-100. However, extensive documentation is available in the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centres that serve the church’s thirteen world divisions. For biographies of Prescott, Nichol and Froom, see SDA Encyclopedia (1996). All four were prominent editors of Review, Ministry, and/or SDA Bible Commentary.

[19] Woodrow H. Whidden, E.J. Waggoner: From the Physician of Good News to the Agent of Division (Hagerstown, MD.: Review and Herald, 2008), 344-354.

[20] Note in particular the Our Firm Foundation Conference of 1952 and the subsequent publication of its presentations in two volumes.

[21] E-mail Hilgert to Nels Nelson and Arthur Patrick, 24 September 2008.

[22] See, for example, Andreasen’s Letters to the Churches and other of his writings readily available on the Internet.

[23] Jerome P. Justesen, “On the Meaning of SADAQ,” Andrews University Seminary Studies II (1964), 53-61.

[24] Robert Haddock, “A History of the Doctrine of the Sanctuary in the Advent Movement, 1800-1905 (BDiv thesis: Andrews University, 1970). Compare and contrast the way in which Roy Adams, a decade later (1980, 1981), analysed three approaches to the sanctuary doctrine in a doctoral dissertation and a major book.

[25] Cassette recordings of Richard Davidson’s series on the sanctuary, presented at the North New South Wales (NNSW) camp meeting (2001) are available in the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre at Avondale College. Davidson’s Thursday morning Bible study emphasises the role of Jesus in the judgment; the statement about the removal of pages from his books is located about fifteen minutes from the beginning of the address. As a past-president of the Adventist Theological Society as well as a teacher of the doctrine of the sanctuary at the Seminary, Davidson’s analysis merits careful consideration. A series of evening presentations in the main tent at the October 2008 NNSW Conference campmeeting included a Wednesday night focus on the sanctuary doctrine, presented by Pastor Gary Webster, Ministerial Secretary of the South Pacific Division. In the context of his series, Webster retained the well-known chronology but transformed the non-Gospel interpretation of the investigative judgment, the matter that Davidson suggested was inadequate in earlier Adventist literature. Observe the way in which Clifford Goldstein, a passionate defender of the investigative judgment, laments: “Most Adventists, when being taught the pre-Advent judgment, have been taken into the Most Holy Place without blood, which leads only to death because in the Most Holy Place is the law, and the law condemns, not pardons.” Email, Goldstein to Patrick, 19 October 2008, now located in the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, Avondale College.

[26] See the entire Daniel and Revelation Committee Series, such as Volume 2, Frank B. Holbrook, editor, Symposium on Daniel (Washington, D.C.: Biblical Research Institute, 1986). The scholarly writings of William Shea in the DARCOM series and elsewhere are simplified in such volumes as William H. Shea, Daniel: A Reader’s Guide (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 2005). Older works remain instructive, such as Jacques B. Doukhan, Daniel: The Vision of the End, Revised Edition (Berrien Sprigs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1989), and new studies abound, like Zdravko Stefanovic, Daniel: Wisdom to the Wise (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 2007).

[27] It is noteworthy that some exegetes of Hebrews hold a traditionalist position on the sanctuary/investigative judgment even though they claim that Hebrews does not teach it–that is, they suggest it must be found elsewhere in Scripture.

[28] For one of many recent examples of the lively Internet discussion, see the Adventist Today website for A REVIEW OF THE REFERENCES TO DES FORD’S NEW BOOK Posted September 12th, 2008 by Clifford Goldstein.

[29] A number of papers on canvass such themes, with particular attention to the study of Ellen White’s life and writings.

[30] The Valuegenesis studies provide a context for assessing this matter within the recent past. See eight publications by V. Bailey Gillespie and his colleagues, 1979-2001.

[31] A similar emphasis has characterised the extensive writings of Alden Thompson since the early 1980s, as evidenced by his website at Walla Walla University. Cf. the written and oral presentations of Clifford Goldstein and Gary Webster as referenced above.

[32] In order to identify these dissertations and understand this brief history in a wider context, the reader should consult two documents: Adventist Studies: An Annotated Introduction for Higher Degree Students (2006) and “Contextualising Recent Tensions in Seventh-day Adventism: ‘a constant process of struggle and rebirth’?” (2008). The latter article has been refereed and accepted for publication by the editors of Journal of Religious History; it is available at  Clifford Goldstein refers to a doctoral dissertation by Martin Probstle, entitled “Truth and Error: A Text-orientated Analysis of Daniel 8:9-14” (SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University, July 2006, UMI number 3238260), as “probably the most thorough linguistic and exegetical work ever done on those verses, and one which comes up with conclusions that certain sectors of the church might not necessarily like.” E-mails, Goldstein to Patrick, 17 and 28 October 2008. 

[33] The concept that the investigative judgment teaching has been variously interpreted over time was articulated again vigorously by a pastor when this paper was nearing completion. On 16 September 2008, Smuts van Rooyen wrote on the Adventist Today website as follows: “But the most helpful way to keep our church from its urge to engage in self-defeating behavior is for us to accept the identity we have come to find in Christ over the years and to abandon the 2300-day prophecy as our distinctiveness.  There is enough substance in the Second Advent of Christ, the Sabbath rest in Christ, and salvation by his grace to make us a unique and desirable denomination.  The treasure already lies buried in our own backyard.  The 1844 prophetic schema is no more our core identity than a purple hairdo is the real identity of a teenage boy.  The string of changing interpretations we have given this prophecy from Second Coming, to Shut Door, to Investigative Judgment, to cleansing the Living Temple, to Vindication of God’s Character, to simple Pre-advent Judgment should alert us to the fact that something does not add up.  How many changes of identity can we survive?  Why is Jesus not enough?”

[34] A plethora of constructive comments have been shared with me since this paper became public six months ago. In response to a few of them, I offer five observations.

  1. On 19 April 2009, a trusted friend lamented in an e-mail that the above script does not adequately express the view proposed by Arnold V. Wallenkampf in The Sanctuary and the Atonement (Washington, D.C.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1981), 582-603. Wallenkampf concludes: “Possibly the term investigative judgment is infelicitous since it may connote what decisions as to a person’s destiny are being made during it. But such is not the case. Probably it might more correctly be called an audit. An audit of paid financial bills just verifies that the debts have been liquidated.  No decisions are made in an audit.  The audit is just confirmatory. The investigative judgment might therefore more appropriately be called the pre-advent heavenly audit.” While at the time of writing I expected readers to consult the bibliographies that I recommended, I now acknowledge that I should have made specific reference to Wallenkampf’s article.
  2. An e-mail received on 28 April 2009 emphasises well that a range of descriptors are applied to the processes of judgment: “the pre-advent judgments (one that occurs “moment by moment” and is thus a “Decisive Judgment,” and one that is a final “audit” or “Affirmative Judgment”), and the post-advent judgments (“the “Millennial Judgment” and the “Executive Judgment”). I acknowledge that rather than a reference to the Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, I should have referred to an article by Jiri Moskala, “Toward a Biblical Theology of God’s Judgment: A Celebration of the Cross in Seven Phases of Divine Universal Judgment (An Overview of a Theocentric-Christocentric Approach),” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 15, no. 1 (Spring 2004):137-165; or and

3. I also acknowledge that an entire paper needs to explore the issue of theodicy in Adventist thought (ably presented by Dr Edward Heppenstall at the first-ever Seminary Extension School held in Australia, December 1957/January 1958, and in Heppenstall’s later teaching and writing, as well as that of others) and its relation to the theme of judgment.

4. Centrist Adventist literature on the sanctuary and the judgment is identified clearly in the paper; see, for instance, Raoul Dederen, editor, Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), 411-12, 855-856, the comprehensive data compiled by Gary Shearer, the oral (and written) presentations by Richard Davidson (note the following electronic list and others. However, the paper specifically acknowledges “voices” to the right and the left of the official literature, deeming that mature readers expect some reference to the wide-ranging discussion of the past 165 years, plus notice that an increasing number of doctoral dissertations explore component or related issues.

5. The reader needs to be aware that this “Short, Documented History” is not a position paper. It would be a very different piece if its intention was to present the convictions of its author. Because particular names are mentioned or specific persons are quoted implies that they articulate a viewpoint that has some importance within the overall discussion, not that I agree or disagree with the viewpoints that are expressed. The paper was written succinctly for those who want to reflect on a very long and intense discussion that embraces a vast literature. All of us are to “form our opinions for ourselves as we are to answer for ourselves before God.” Note the apt definition of “the first and highest duty of every rational being” so well articulated in The Great Controversy, 598.

Arthur Patrick, 30 April 2009

Post 34, When Seventh-day Adventists Agreed on Their Name

“It seems to me that the child is now so grown that it is exceedingly awkward to have no name for it,” James White commented at an epochal conference that began 29 September 1860.

The “child” was the Sabbath-keeping branch of the Second Advent Movement, already sixteen years old. It was born amongst scattered groups of “the people of the Advent near,” now best known as Millerites. As earnest believers continued to study their Bibles, they added to their passion for the Second Advent four other “S” ideas: Sabbath, Sanctuary, State of the Dead, Spiritual Gifts. But they still couldn’t decide what to call themselves.

Ellen Harmon’s first vision was distributed as a broadside (a large sheet of paper printed only on one side) dated 6 April 1846, addressed in capital letters “TO THE LITTLE REMNANT SCATTERED ABROAD.” A year later, nineteen-year-old Ellen, now Mrs James White, teamed with her husband and Joseph Bates to produce a pamphlet entitled “A Word to the ‘Little Flock’.” During 1849, James White published a tiny hymnal, Hymns for God’s Peculiar People That Keep the Commandments of God and the Faith of Jesus. “Little Remnant,” “Little Flock,” “People That Keep the Commandments.” All Bible ideas, for sure, taken from Revelation 12:17 and Luke 12:32–but hardly suitable as names!

Many other titles were used briefly by various companies of believers: “Friends of the Sabbath,” “Those With An Interest in the Third Angel’s Message,” “Seventh-day People,” “Sabbath-keeping Adventists,” Seventh-day Brethren.” Some names were first hurled as epithets by critics who wanted to disparage the struggling groups now seeking a fresh identity: “Seventhday Door Shutters” and “Shut Door Seventh Day Sabbath and Annihilationists.” A Seventh Day Baptist wrote amicably to James White in 1853 stating that it was “resolved that we instruct our corresponding Secretary to correspond with the Seventh-day Advent people, and learn their faith.”

Discussion about a permanent name continued for seven more years; the pages of the Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald often devoted space to it–and the need for effective organisation. Believers sacrificed to buy tents for evangelism in several states, but in at least one case the state evangelists left the Second Advent cause and took the tent with them. James White legally owned the infant publishing house, a fact that made him very uneasy. There was no one to guarantee that travelling ministers were reliable, or to ensure they neither starved nor became discouraged for lack of financial support. Churches were being built on donated property; they could quickly be lost if the erstwhile generous donor experienced a change of mind. So the need for a name was as dire as it was complicated.

Finally James White called for a general conference of believers to convene in Battle Creek, Michigan, on 29 September 1860–to settle such questions as the legal holding of church and publishing house properties and to choose a name. The discussion began on Saturday night and rolled through Sunday until, on Monday afternoon, it was voted to adopt a name. “Church of Christ” had been a favourite for some, “Church of God” was still zealously advocated. Finally David Hewitt, a layman, proposed “That we call ourselves Seventh-day Adventists.” Discussion surged on, but at last the conference voted its approval, agreeing also to recommend the name to the churches, and to report the decision in the Review.

There were cogent reasons why the process of adopting a name was fraught with great difficulty. The Sabbatarians had been cast out of churches that had names and creeds: they never wanted that to happen to anyone again–ever! Some feared the movement would become Babylon immediately it adopted a name, let alone organisational structure. The years of indecision were tedious, the resolution was a relief to most, but a few departed in sorrow. Ellen White confirmed the decision when she wrote: “The name Seventh-day Adventist carries the true features of our faith in front, and will convict the inquiring mind. Like an arrow from the Lord’s quiver, it will wound the transgressors of God’s law, and will lead to repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Testimonies, I, 224).

Arthur Patrick, written 22 June 2010, published (in edited form in Record, 7 August 2010), posted 16 January 2012