JOURNEY to BETHLEHEM: What you should know. Part One

"Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (I Tim. 4:16).

I have a few resources of false religions and cults in my library. A few notables are:

The Book of Mormon: Mormonism

The New World Translation Bible: Jehovah's Witnesses

The Humanest Manifestos I and II: Secular Humanism

A Quran: Islam

The Clear Word Bible: Seventh-day Adventists

It's that time of year, friends, when living nativities provide Christmas entertainment and lasting memories for little ones . . . memories not unlike treasured ones akin to visiting a zoo or a well produced dramatic play. Did you know that Adventist productions such as The Journey to Bethlehem are far more than mere Christmas time events? How well acquainted are you with the 27 Fundamentals of Adventist Doctrine, and specifically a doctrine called the investigative judgment? Did you know that Seventh-day Adventism has its own Bible? Are you aware that Adventists use the same terms to talk about salvation and other theological issues, but the terms mean something quite different from Christian teaching? Coming soon are more commentaries about these very subjects.

Tyler Ramey

A few days ago a friend of mine initiated a discussion about Seventh-Day Adventism.  He’s planning to take his family to the local Adventist living nativity and wondered aloud about the SDA church.  Somehow he got around to remarking that his former pastor fully endorsed Seventh-Day Adventism; this, in my friend’s thinking, told him that the organization was O. K.  Because of this, he seemed disinclined to scrutinize the presumed “evangelistic” purpose for such a public event.  A few immediate lessons can be drawn here.

First, never uncritically accept any teaching from a pulpit or a pen, including this one.  Always measure what you hear and read by God’s Word.  Second, while there are certainly many fellow Christians within Adventism, it is not necessarily the case that SDA doctrine is O. K.  Third, it is important to note that there is a huge difference between SDA doctrine and SDApeople.  Criticism of doctrine is not criticism of individuals.

Adventist doctrine differs so much from traditional Christianity that I can’t answer comprehensively how they differ without a lengthy series of commentaries.  So, I’ve limited this article to a very brief exposition of the single most significant doctrinal issue between Seventh-Day Adventism and basic Christian doctrine.  Before responding to the question at hand, however, a few words are in order.

According to many former Adventists, Seventh-Day Adventism is a church in crisis.  One former Adventist with whom I recently spoke and who is a CAMA pastor in California, indicated that the SDA church consists of many people who are disillusioned with doctrines they’ve held for years, and some no longer believe teachings that have defined Adventism from its start.  No doubt there are many fellow believers within the SDA church who are captive to the constraints imposed by years of allegiance and commitment to the organization.  Many of these are choosing to stay within Adventism hoping to effect change; others are leaving the church upon learning truths hidden from them for years.  Some former Adventists have even started outreach organizations committed to evangelizing Adventists caught in the institutionalized legalism inherent to SDA doctrine.  Incidentally, it is an interesting thing that there are so many former Adventists and outreaches dedicated to evangelizing Seventh-Day Adventists.  This fact seems to oppose notions that the SDA church is just another Christian denomination; otherwise, why would former Adventists be such advocates for newly found doctrines of grace and want other SDAs to know and experience what they have now learned and live?

This article is limited to examining the Adventist teaching of “investigative judgment,” but keep in mind that the church teaches several unbiblical doctrines; none, though, is more significant than the investigative judgment of Christ.  Below is a brief exposé of Adventist investigative judgment theology.  Those familiar with the Christian doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone will recognize a fundamental incompatibility of the investigative judgment with basic Christian doctrine.   

The doctrine of investigative judgment is exclusive to Adventism.  It has an interesting history directly related to other problematic doctrines and was formulated to accommodate the failed return of Jesus predicted for October 22, 1844.  Because Jesus did not return as expected, an explanation was constructed to help alleviate the fears and disillusionment experienced by Adventists who had prepared to meet the Lord.  This time became known as the Great Disappointment.

The hope of Adventists at that time was that Christ was coming to “cleanse” an earthly “sanctuary.”  But the failed prediction proved to be a “grand misunderstanding,” so a new explanation was devised to accommodate it.  Instead of Jesus returning to earth to “cleanse an earthly sanctuary,” he passed from one “apartment” of a “heavenly sanctuary” (the holy place) to another “apartment” of the same “heavenly sanctuary” (the most holy place), this, in order to begin a “second phase” of ministry in heaven.  It is in this current “apartment,” the most holy place, that Jesus, according to Adventist doctrine, is presently performing a second aspect of heavenly ministry, a “closing work” called the investigative judgment.

On page 312 of Seventh-Day Adventists Believe . . . A Biblical Exposition of Fundamental Doctrines published by the official publishing arm of the Adventist Church, it says:  “The investigative judgment reveals . . . who among the dead are . . . 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] are ready for . . . His everlasting kingdom. . . . It declares that those who have remained loyal to God shall receive the kingdom.”

According to Adventist doctrine, the investigative judgment is the present time when Jesus is scrutinizing the believer’s life in order to determine whether or not the believer has been “abiding in Christ, keeping the commandments of God.”  And, if you’ve not guessed by now, demonstration of “loyalty” to God for Adventists is based on strict commandment keeping; hence, keeping the fourth commandment, the Sabbath, is incumbent upon all those who hope to be “ready for the kingdom.”  

Adventist doctrine says that “we regard the observance of the Sabbath as a test of our loyalty to Christ as Creator and Redeemer.”  So, according to SDA doctrine—not necessarily every individual Adventist—the implication is clear.  Salvation is dependent on keeping commandments, especially the fourth.  The Apostle Paul, though, clearly addressed how keeping the Law affects salvation (Gal. 3:1-3 and 5:1-4, 6). 

Note:  Former Adventists point out that non-Adventist churches are evangelistic opportunities for them.  Those who do not demonstrate loyalty to God through commandment keeping are as lost as anyone who has never heard the gospel.  This exclusivism of Adventism was affirmed by SDA President Jan Paulsen at the May 2002 Adventist General Conference.  He said: “. . . we believe that being Seventh-day Adventists has direct bearing on our salvation; . . . I would risk my whole spiritual life and salvation were I to leave what I am now and join any other community.”  Being saved, then, according to Adventist doctrine and leadership, seems contingent on being a Seventh-Day Adventist and, therefore, a commandment keeper, an assertion confirmed by current and former Adventists.

One need not understand the details of investigative judgment theology (IJT) to suffer its effects or to project them on others.  Those who are captive to the precepts of investigative judgment theology often do not realize it.  SDAs who emerge from Adventism may experience varying periods of transition as they encounter and even suffer the social and personal effects of IJT.  It is not uncommon for former SDAs to continue living a “milder” but no less binding form of the doctrine.  Loyalty to Christ for these folks often manifests in their own lives by demanding behaviors of themselves and others as proof of Christian commitment.  So, things like church attendance, consistent prayers before meals, various sorts of “pure” behaviors and actions, and other patterns of conduct thought holy and demonstrative of loyalty to God all replace the former IJT and become the new, “milder” form thereof.  Again, this is most often unrealized by the former SDA, but it can be as socially damaging and restrictive to freedom in Christ as any form of legalism.

Several Adventist doctrines are unbiblical and differ significantly from traditional Christian teaching, but the doctrine of investigative judgment as it is directly related to salvation doctrine is most significant.  Be advised that while much of Adventist doctrine is biblical, concern rests with those teachings that jeopardize one’s eternal destiny.

If you have additional questions regarding Adventism or need directions to appropriate resources, feel free to contact me by any of the methods below.



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