Today, October 31, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s publication of his 95 theses in the preamble to which he had written:
Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
Today, in the same spirit, Angus McPhee, B.A. (Theology), M.A. (Religion),
retired pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,
publishes these 33 queries which he believes are among many
to which urgent attention should be given and to which answers should be provided.
Yes. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(In this paper, the pronouns “we,” “us” and “our” are often used for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.)
1. If we are justified by grace through faith, why do we circulate material that reads, “Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon earth. … When this work shall have been accomplished, the followers of Christ will be ready for His appearing” (The Great Controversy, 425)?
2. If we believe in sola Scriptura, why do we continually promote Ellen White’s interpretations of and comments on Scripture?
3. If Ellen White’s understanding of Scripture changed over the years, which of her different views should we accept as those that are the final authority?
4. If the Scriptures say that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, why do we proclaim the writings of Ellen White as the spirit of prophecy?
5. If the events of Daniel 8 are about an international military conflict in which Judea is eventually entangled, why do we turn to Leviticus to explain the sanctuary’s desecration and “cleansing”?
6. If, in the Bible, Babylon was the enemy of God’s people, why do we apply that term to Christian churches other than ours?
7. If there is no hint of historicism in the messages to the seven churches, why do we have to insist that our church is always characterized by the spiritual condition of the church in the city of Laodicea?
8. If readers are admonished to hear what the Holy Spirit says to each of the seven churches of Revelation, why do we persist in applying the historicist interpretation which overlooks that and only attempts to give an overview of church history?
9. If the cause of the “dark day” in New England, U.S.A., of May 19, 1780 has now been explained, as in “Adventist Review” of May 22, 29, and June 5, 1980, why do we continue to circulate a book that calls it a “mysterious darkness”? (See The Great Controversy, 305-308.)
10. If Jesus predicted that the stars would fall from the sky around the time of his return, why do we say that this prediction was fulfilled in the Leonid meteoric shower of November 13, 1833, just one of many such phenomena that occur regularly? (See The Great Controversy, 333-334.)
11 If the Leonid meteor shower of 1833 was not the greatest, and that of 1966 was, why should we not correct that in the book The Great Controversy, page 333?
12. If it has now been shown that there is no open space in the Great Nebula of Orion (”Adventist Review” March 25, April 1, 8, 1976), why do we not inform all our members and prevent them from circulating the idea that there is?
13. If the Scriptures know nothing of denominationalism, why do we encourage people to believe that there is one denomination to which all should belong?
14. If it can be shown that there are unusual theologies in the OT as in Judges 1:19, why might we not draw a similar conclusion about the reasons for Noah’s Flood?
15. If the extent of the famine in Jacob’s day, though said to be worldwide, was only local, why must we conclude that Noah’s Flood, although considered at the time to be worldwide, was only local?
16. If Ellen White’s knowledge was limited, why do we tacitly grant her authority in all areas in which she wrote?
17. If Ellen White did not “correct” Uriah Smith in his defense of her article on the amalgamation of man and beast, and thus tacitly approve it when he was patently wrong, why should we defend her article rather than disagree with it?
18. If the cross is the accepted symbol of Christ’s atonement for our sins, why are satellite dishes more conspicuous than crosses on our church buildings?
19. If the mutineers on HMS Bounty, when on Pitcairn Island, began religious observances east of the 180th meridian and unwittingly kept the Sabbath when they thought it was Sunday, and changed when their “error” was revealed and later reverted to Sabbath observance under Seventh-day Adventist missionary activity (https://library.puc.edu/pitcairn/pitcairn/religion.shtml), why should we continue to make issues about the day in island nations near the dateline when, by local convention in the Pacific, alterations to the date line are made and accepted by the international community?
20. If we honor Martin Luther for his stand on the Bible, why have we condemned those Seventh-day Adventists who have only tried to emulate him?
21. If it has been revealed that Ellen G. White copied from other authors but at times wrote “I saw”, why do we not alert our members to the fact that this is misleading?
22. If it has been revealed that Ellen G. White at times in The Desire of Ages employed fiction and thus might well have used it in other books in The Conflict of the Ages series, why is the reading of these books encouraged as if these embellishments are informing us of historical facts that are not included in sacred Scripture? (See Ministry, October and December, 1980)
23. If the marginal reading (”justified”) of Daniel 8:14 in the KJV was included because its translators saw its value (See REASONS MOVING US TO SET DIVERSITY OF SENSES IN THE MARGIN, WHERE THERE IS GREAT PROBABILITY FOR EACH in “The Epistle Dedicatory” of the King James Version), why do we persist in preferring “cleansed” as the translation of ntsdq?
24. If atonement was made with the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:10), why can we not admit that it, as well as the “Lord’s goat,” might represent an aspect of Christ’s atonement?
25. If we are to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world, why do healthful living and a certain criticism of Roman Catholicism dominate our public presentations?
26. If the basis for our interpretation of Revelation 13:18 is found in an application of numerical values to a Latin phrase in the spurious document, “The Donation of Constantine”, and not to an official title of the Roman Catholic pope, why do we continue to circulate this, even in our literature for the training of lay people? (See Mark Finley’s Bible handbook, Studying Together, page 68)
27. If an understanding of Scripture is best obtained through careful and intelligent study, why does the church allow widespread preaching by people who limit their research to the writings of Ellen White and who accept them as an authoritative commentary on Scripture?
28. Again, are our lay preachers Biblically literate or merely reflectors of positions taken by Ellen White, positions that might have changed with time? Do they know, understand and appreciate the Gospel of Jesus Christ, what it means to be justified by faith and to be credited with a righteousness apart from the deeds of the law?
29. If Hiram Edson only had an impression, an idea, on the morning of October 23, 1844, as has now been understood by our church historians (R.W. Schwarz: a reverie; George Knight: a “vision”; Emma Howell Cooper: a conviction.), why is the idea allowed to persist that he had a vision? (Hiram Edson himself wrote, “heaven seemed open.”)
30. If, since the days of St Augustine, the Christian church has struggled to understand the chronology of Revelation 20 when compared with the Gospels and Epistles, and has considered different and differing solutions, why have we incorporated our unique interpretation in our fundamental beliefs, making it nonnegotiable?
31. If we believe that it was eventually the intention of the founders of our church to continue the Protestant Reformation, why can we not pursue their goals while identifying their mistakes but not repeating them?
32. If the Seventh-day Adventist church has no creed, why have we shown animosity to, even denouncing, members who question aspects of some of our teachings?
33. If we are surrounded by … a great cloud of witnesses [to the importance of faith, as listed in Hebrews 11], shouldn’t we throw off everything that hinders, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us, with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (See Hebrews 12:1-2)
Finally, it is my desire to see in all our adherents the effects of the Gospel that we have seen in Martin Luther and John Wesley.
Martin Luther (1519)
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.
John Wesley (1738)
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
ILLUSTRATION: an artist’s impression of Martin Luther nailing his “Ninety-five Theses” to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, October 31, 1517.