Post 58: Authority in Seventh-day Adventism: A Creative Tension Between Scripture and Ellen White?

Catherine Albanese defines religion in terms of three words: creed, code, cultus.

These notes explore some of the ways that Seventh-day Adventists arrive at their beliefs, practices and patterns of worship; that is, how they understand authority.

Bernard Ramm suggests that authority is “that right or power to command action or compliance, or to determine belief or custom, expecting obedience from those under authority, and in turn giving responsible account for the claim to right or power,” New Dictionary of Theology, 64.

It will illumine our quest to understand something of Christianity’s experience with the issue of authority.

Each of these headings call for a detailed exploration, but the discerning readers will be able to assess the direction they indicate.

The New Testament (Christianity formed). Scripture. “The Apostles’ Creed.”

The “deformation” of Christianity: Scripture/tradition/papal and conciliar authority.

The Reformers and Scripture (Christianity reformed).

The Wesleys, Scripture and the challenge of “enthusiasm.”

The Restorationists and the Bible without creeds.

The Millerites and Scripture (William Miller, Hiram Edson). The recent doctoral study by Jeff Crocombe (University of Queensland) illumines this theme powerfully.

The Sabbatarian Adventist Experience with Authority: The Formative Years

Ellen White, December 1844: “God has shown me in holy vision.”

“A Word to the Little Flock,” the Bible but…. (page 13)

John N. Loughborough in 1861, as a “church covenant” was under discussion, stated: “The first step of apostasy is to get up a creed, telling us what we shall believe. The second is to make that creed a test of fellowship. The third is to try members by that creed. The fourth is to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed. And, fifth, to commence persecution against such.”

SDA Statements of Belief

1872, 25 propositions, Number 3: “That the Holy Scriptures, of the Old and New Testaments, were given by inspiration of God, contain a full revelation of his will to man, and are the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”

1931, 22 propositions, Number 1: “That the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, contain an all-sufficient revelation of His will to men, and are the only unerring rule of faith and practice. 2 Tim. 3;15-17.”

1980, 27 propositions, preamble: “Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. These beliefs, as set forth here, constitute the church’s understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture. Revision of these statements may be expected at a General Conference session when the church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God’s Holy Word.”

Fundamental Belief, Number 1: “The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to man the knowledge necessary for salvation.  The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history. 2 Peter 1:20, 21; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Ps. 119:105; Prov. 30:5, 6; Isa. 8:20; John 10:35; 17:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:12.”

Some significant indicators during the twentieth century

The 1919 Bible Conference.

Ellen G. and Her Critics (1951).

The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (1954-7).

“The Inspiration and Authority of the Ellen G. White Writings,” Adventist Review, 23 December 1982, 9.

George W. Reid, Understanding Scripture: An Adventist Approach (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical research Institute, 2005.

Summary: Contrast the Catholic understanding, that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Christian Science, the Jehovah’s Witnesses with the Adventist position.

Arthur Patrick, notes for a lecture presented to MA students on 14 July 2011 that now requires writing out and detailed editing.  Posted 27 April 2012.