The Introduction of the Trinity Doctrine into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Let me first introduce myself. My name is Terry Hill, and for almost 27 years, I have been a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bristol, England. My first encounter with the Seventh-day Adventist Church was in 1973 at the age of 30. I was baptised two years later in 1975.
Twenty four years later in 1999, my faith was seriously challenged. This was not my faith in God, but my faith concerning my beliefs. Being a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for almost 25 years, I thought by then that I had my beliefs well and truly sorted, but as you will see, I was wrong.
It was because of this experience that I had to make a decision. I had to decide whether or not to make the effort to find out if what I had been told was true.
All of us are brought to this experience at sometime in our lives. When I first heard about the Sabbath, I had to make the same decision. It took effort to find out if what I had been told was true. It is the result of making this effort that determines whether a person will come a knowledge of what God wants him or her to know. There is no sitting on the fence. Whether we seek to do something about what we have been told, or we do nothing, it will be in the eyes of God, a decision.
Before I proceed with this presentation, there will inevitably be those who will feel a little uncomfortable about some of the things that I say, but I would like to go on record as having made this statement. As Christians, I believe that we are all under solemn obligation to tell each other of anything that may effect in any way, our eternal salvation. This involves the sharing of the good news of salvation, as well as warning of that which may endanger that experience. If we fail to do this, then I do believe that God will hold us responsible for whatever consequences may result from our actions.
Just in case there are those who misunderstand how I regard the Seventh-day Adventist Church, let me make my position clear.
I can honestly say that there is no doubt in my mind that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is God’s visible remnant church. I believe that this movement came right on time to the call of Bible prophecy to give to this world, God’s closing message before Jesus returns. Now I can assure you that if I had not believed this in the past or did not believe it now, then I certainly would not be a member of this church today.
Having said all that, I must admit, that I believe our church has drifted somewhat from its moorings, but please hear me out before you say that I am wrong. That is all that I ask of anyone.
It is out of concern for our church and its members, that I bring this presentation to you. In the finality, you alone will have to decide how important it is what I say because it is you alone that will answer to God for what you believe. I can only present the facts to you as I have found them. Any decisions that you make will also be your own. If you believe that I have my facts wrong, then I have email addresses at the end of each section to which I invite you to comment, for whatever reason you would like to reply.
Early one morning I was surprised by a leaflet and a letter that I had sent to me as the Young Peoples leader of our local church.
At the top of the leaflet it said ‘Prepare for a shock!’ Halfway down the leaflet it said “What did Ellen White mean when she spoke of the Omega of Deadly Heresies?”
As I have never heard of anyone preaching a sermon on this topic, it is quite possible that you may never have come across this reference to the ‘omega heresy’. Let me therefore take a little time to give you the background to the statement.
Just over 100 years ago on Feb 18th 1902, the Battle Creek sanitarium (a large complex of medical buildings), burnt to the ground. As a way of finding the rebuilding costs, A. G. Daniells, who was then General Conference president suggested to John Harvey Kellogg, then medical director of the sanitarium, that he should write a book on physiology and health care. The idea was that the church could publish the book and the profits from its sale, could go towards the rebuilding costs of the sanitarium.
Kellogg did write a book called ‘The Living Temple’ but the committee that was set up to review the book would not approve it. This was because it contained ‘pantheistic theories and teachings’. Just a quick explanation here is needed because it is important to understand just what the church objected to in Kellogg’s book. I also believe this to be crucial to our understanding of the ‘omega heresy’.
Broadly speaking, pantheism is the belief that God is in everything. Depending on the emphasis, it could also be said that God IS everything and that He is part of His own creation. This would mean that God was in the trees, in the flowers, in the stones and in everything else.
In the teaching of pantheism, whichever way you view it, God loses His personal identity as an individual. He becomes a non-entity, someone without a personality of His own. In brief, God is not a personal being anymore. So you can see why the church refused to print Kellogg’s book.
Undeterred from this setback, Kellogg placed his own personal order with the Review and Herald. They accepted his order and agreed to print his book.
Within one month, and before the book could be printed, the publishing house, just like the sanitarium, burnt down. The plates for the book that were ready for the press, were destroyed in the fire. Many people believed then, as many do today, that this was a judgement of God against the press for agreeing to publish the book. Obviously, Kellogg did not see it this way because, still determined to get his book published, he took it to a commercial printer and had it printed.
This book became very popular among Seventh-day Adventists. Many said that what Ellen White wrote about God, supported what Kellogg was saying in his book. Even Kellogg himself said that he thought that it was in harmony with what Ellen White said about God.
Ellen White obviously thought differently. She condemned the book as containing heresy and spoke out against it. She gave a serious warning to our people not to accept what the book was teaching.
Eventually, Ellen White wrote a letter to Dr Kellogg in which she said,
“You are not definitely clear on the personality of God, which is everything to us as a people. You have virtually destroyed the Lord God Himself”. (Letter 300 March 16th 1903).
Ellen White said that what Kellogg was doing, was making God a non personal being, a non entity, something that was not a personal individual.
She said this in 1904 when referring to Kellogg and what he was teaching
“Before leaving Washington for Berrien Springs, I was instructed upon some points regarding the work at Battle Creek. In the night season I was in a large meeting. The one who has stood for many years as the leader in our medical work was speaking, and he was filled with enthusiasm regarding his subject. His associate physicians and ministers of the gospel were present. The subject upon which he was speaking was life, and the relation of God to all living things. In his presentations he cloaked the matter somewhat, but in reality he was presenting as of the highest value, scientific theories which are akin to pantheism” (SPTB06 page 41).
Notice that Ellen White said that what Kellogg was teaching was AKIN to pantheism and that he CLOAKED the matter somewhat.
In 9T p68 still concerning Kellogg’s book, Ellen White wrote
“Again and again we shall be called to meet the influence of men who are studying sciences of satanic origin, through which Satan is working to make a nonentity of God and of Christ. The Father and the Son each have a personality. Christ declared: "I and My Father are one." Yet it was the Son of God who came to the world in human form”.
During the years that followed, Ellen White gave a number special testimonies concerning this heresy in Kellogg’s book. She also warned about other heresies that were coming into the Seventh-day Adventist Church church. These testimonies were originally published in a booklet called Special Testimonies, series B No 2. and later put in the book ‘Selected Messages book one. I am quoting here from the original Special Testimonies (1904) where, on page 16 Ellen White says,
“Be not deceived; many will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. We have now before us the alpha of this danger. The omega will be of a most startling nature”.
Ellen White said that MANY will depart from the faith. Now what Ellen White is referring to here, must be understood in the context that it is written. It is not members departing from the church. Rather, she is referring to people departing from the truth that God has given to us as His remnant people and, in its place, believing and teaching error. She refers to Kellogg’s heresy as the ALPHA, meaning the beginning or basis of the heresies and then describes the OMEGA meaning the last of the heresies, as being of a MOST STARTLING NATURE.
On page 50 of the same book she says
"In the book "Living Temple" there is presented the alpha of deadly heresies. The omega will follow, and will be received by those who are not willing to heed the warning God has given".
There was no mistaking what Ellen White was saying. She said that the omega heresy was not something that might come but that it would come. She said it WILL follow, not maybe, not might be, but that it WILL follow and WILL be received by those who do not heed the warning that God has given.
Three pages later she said
“In the controversy that arose among our brethren regarding the teachings of this book, those in favor of giving it a wide circulation declared: "It contains the very sentiments that Sister White has been teaching." This assertion struck right to my heart. I felt heart-broken; for I knew that this representation of the matter was not true.
Ellen White denied the claims that what Kellogg was saying in his book could be supported by her writings. She then goes on to relate that her son persuaded her to read through with him, a portion of the book to see if it was in harmony with the light that God had given to her. In doing so, she said that she recognised the very sentiments which she had been bidden to speak in warning against during the early days of her public labours as she travelled through Vermont and Massachusetts .
She then says this
"Living Temple" contains the alpha of these theories. I knew that the omega would follow in a little while; and I trembled for our people”.
Ellen White wrote this in 1904 and she is saying that this heresy, the OMEGA heresy, would follow in a LITTLE while. Now here we are, almost 100 years later in 2002. We now need to ask ourselves some obvious but very important questions, namely, has this omega heresy already come into the church? Are many people today being deceived by it? Has it replaced the truth that God has given to us as His remnant OR, are we still waiting for the omega heresy to come. Remember, Ellen White said that it WILL come, not maybe, not might be but that it will come, and she wrote that in 1904 when she said that it would come “ in a little while”.
She also said that this omega heresy was of such a magnitude, so frightening, that she TREMBLED for her people. That should tell us the extent and size of this heresy, and maybe even the subtlety of what was coming in the church. Whatever it was that was coming, this heresy was of no small matter. She continued
“I knew that I must warn our brethren and sisters not to enter into controversy over the presence and personality of God. The statements made in "Living Temple" in regard to this point are incorrect. The scripture used to substantiate the doctrine there set forth, is scripture misapplied".
In this statement, Ellen White is referring to the core problem of the heresy. It concerns the presence and personality of God.”. This was what Kellogg’s book was all about. Ellen White told Kellogg that his book, ‘The Living Temple, destroyed God as being a personal being and that this was the alpha of heresies. Yes Kellogg was using scripture to support his teachings but Ellen White said that it was “scripture misapplied”.
“I am compelled to speak in denial of the claim that the teachings of "Living Temple" can be sustained by statements from my writings. There may be in this book expressions and sentiments that are in harmony with my writings. And there may be in my writings many statements which, taken from their connection, and interpreted according to the mind of the writer of "Living Temple," would seem to be in harmony with the teachings of this book. This may give apparent support to the assertion that the sentiments in "Living Temple" are in harmony with my writings. But God forbid that this sentiment should prevail”.
As well as saying that his book was misapplying scripture, Ellen White said that Kellogg was taking her writings out of their context to support false teachings. These false teachings made God a non entity, a non personal being.
We now know what the alpha heresy was all about. It was all about the misapplication of scripture and the misuse of the writings of Ellen White in making God a non-entity, a non personal being.
So, with that background, we can now return to the leaflet and the letter that I had received which spoke of the omega heresy. The letter made it very clear as to what was the omega heresy, at least according to its author. It said that the omega heresy that Ellen White said would come into the Seventh-day Adventist Church was, the bringing in to its beliefs and teachings, the doctrine of THE TRINITY.
Well, there it was! Now what did I think of that? My actions spoke for themselves because believing that this was just the view of some fringe or extremist group, either outside or even within the church, I quickly disposed of the letter.
My belief was that if any denomination, whatever its name and whatever else it believed, if it did not believe in the trinity, then it was doubtful whether it could even be called a Christian denomination. After all, the trinity doctrine is the central doctrine of Christianity.
As far as I was concerned, any effort to undermine the trinity, no matter where it came from, was an attempt to undermine the divinity and the deity of Jesus and remove Him from His true position as God Himself. That is why I disposed of the letter but I must admit, I did keep the leaflet, just for the sake of keeping it.
A few months later there comes a twist in the story. Some years ago, from where I cannot remember, I had acquired some back numbers of the MINISTRY magazine. As you probably know, this magazine is dedicated to serving the ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist church. I had these magazines by my bedside with lots of other very old magazines. This night, I picked up one of the Ministry magazines to read before going to sleep. It happened to be the October issue of 1993 and here I was, some 6 years later in 1999 reading it for the first time.
On the front cover there was the picture of a man looking into a full length mirror. He was dressed in the type of clothing that our pioneers would have worn during the latter part of the 1800’s. The reflection in the mirror showed the same man dressed in modern clothes. The caption beneath the picture read ‘Adventists and change’. It also had as a subtitle ‘The dynamic nature of present truth’. Obviously, what the picture was meant to depict was Seventh-day Adventists then an now.
I thought, “this looks interesting”, so, I turned to the article in the magazine and began to read. The article was written by George Knight, professor of church history at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
The article began by saying
“Most of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism would not be able to join the church today if they had to subscribe to the denomination's Fundamental Beliefs”.
Now I had to go back and read that again because I found it difficult to grasp first time around, ‘Most of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism would not be able to join the church today if they had to subscribe to the denomination's Fundamental Beliefs”.
Now I read this in almost disbelief of what my eyes were reading. That we, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the church to which I belonged, had over the years CHANGED its fundamental beliefs and that this change was so great, so big, that if our pioneers came back today it would actually stop them from joining our church. The article continued
“More specifically, most would not be able to agree to belief Number 2, which deals with the doctrine of the Trinity”. End of quote.
Now I was really bemused. Our pioneers had not believed in the doctrine of the trinity? Surely I thought, there must be a mistake? No, there was obviously no mistake. This article was not written by some extremist crusading against the church as I thought that the leaflet and the letter had been doing. It was written by George Knight professor of church history at Andrews University who was, as I realised when I read the article further, endorsing the bringing in of the trinity doctrine as a good thing, an advance even, in our understanding of God Himself. As the article continued, it was simple to see that according to George Knight at least, the trinity doctrine was a platform on which God had always wanted His people to stand.
Well, I thought, I have never read anything like this before.
The article then continued and I quote ‘For Joseph Bates the Trinity was an unscriptural doctrine, for James White it was that "old Trinitarian absurdity," and for M. E. Cornell it was a fruit of the great apostasy, along with such false doctrines as Sunday keeping and the immortality of the soul’
So there really was no mistake. As far as our pioneers were concerned, well at least the three of them that were quoted in the article, Bates, Cornell and James White, the trinity teaching was just not a scriptural doctrine. Certainly, it was not to be admitted into the beliefs and teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Well, as you can imagine, as I read this article, my mind instantly thought of the letter and the leaflet that had been sent to me some months ago. As I said, I had destroyed the letter, but I went downstairs, took the leaflet from where I had put it and read it again. This time I read it a little bit differently than I had read it before. What I have not told you is that the leaflet advertised a 90 min audio tape that said would change a persons thinking forever. Well, to cut the story short, and I think you can imagine what your own reaction would have been, I did send off for the tape.
Now, do you see why now I said that my faith was being challenged? What I had dismissed a few months previous as a mere nonsense, was not nonsense at all.
May I make a very earnest appeal to you. When I first read that leaflet I dismissed what it said as just nothing to be concerned about. Perhaps this is part and parcel of the Seventh-day Adventist problem. The one thing that all of us must face up to, particularly as Seventh-day Adventist Christians is that ‘we do not know everything’. We may think that we do, but the day always dawns when we are proved wrong.
Experience tells me that attitudes are not something that happen overnight, they develop as the years pass by and usually, they develop quite unnoticed. The danger lurking for Seventh day Adventists is that because we ‘know the truth’, we often take the attitude, ‘you cannot tell me anything’. It does appear that there are those who ignore anything that does not match up with what they already believe.
I will be the first to admit that Seventh day Adventists have been wonderfully blessed by God. Words would fail me if I tried to express my appreciation for the knowledge and insight of the scriptures that God has imparted to us as a people, particularly through the ministry of Ellen White. Unfortunately, the reception of that knowledge can become a problem.
We know the truth about the cross and the atonement of Jesus. We know the truth about the Sabbath. We know all about the prophecies and the beasts and the horns of Daniel and Revelation. We know about the pre-advent judgement and the return of our Saviour, the signs of His soon return and a thousand and one other things. The problem is, what can you tell a Seventh Day Adventist that he does not know already?
Well, this may not be how you are, but it is very easy to become that way. We can easily become Laodicean in our attitude and say that we are ‘rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing’ and whilst we are in this condition we are blind to our own attitude and how we really stand in the eyes of God.
My appeal to you today is PLEASE do not dismiss what I say as being unimportant. Truth is important. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”. This ‘trinity’ issue is an extremely important issue. It must not be swept under the carpet. Our attitude must not be that it does not really matter. It does matter. It is very important. We are talking about the very basis of the Christian faith. We are talking about God Himself. Please regard this as being crucial to your understanding of the gospel and please, check out for yourself what I say in this presentation.
Paul said to the Thessalonians,
“Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).
Since I read that article in the Ministry magazine, I have been researching just how and why the trinity doctrine was introduced into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is the purpose of this presentation to share with those who want to know the knowledge that during this time I have acquired.
Before I go any further, let me just offer this one word of caution. The ‘how’ and the ‘when’ the trinity teaching was officially accepted by our church is easily proved. This is something that no one really disputes. What is in dispute is the ‘why’ the trinity teaching was brought into the church.
Here is the word of caution. Many people have said many things over the growing concern as to WHY we, as a denomination, changed our beliefs. Unfortunately, I have found that not everything that has been said is as accurate as it might have been. I have also found that at times, people have been economical with the truth. This has led to many misleading statements being made. Now I do not know whether this is by accident or by design, it is not for me to say or judge and it certainly is not something for which I have to eventually answer. The only thing that I can tell you is ‘be careful’ because very misleading statements have been made.
To present the truth, there is a need to be unbiased and without favour. I have endeavoured to be honest, simply because I want to know myself just what is the truth. That is also what I want for you. I believe that there is no point in not being honest about what I have found.
I would like to emphasise that this presentation is only meant to be an historical perspective as to how the trinity teaching came into the Seventh-day Adventist church. It is not meant to be of a theological perspective of the trinity teaching, although obviously, in a presentation such as this there will be an overlapping.
The other thing is, that in one sense, I would like this presentation to be of a shorter length but after giving this a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that there was very little point in me making it brief just for the sake of being brief. This would leave you to find out what it has taken me over two years to find out. Now I know that a lot of that two years was taken up with finding out how the trinity teaching came into Christianity, but the point that I making is still valid. It would not be sensible to leave you to go and find out what I have already found out myself, so I have opted for the longer version.
I do intend to produce two further presentations. One set on how the trinity doctrine first came into Christianity, and the other on the relationship that exists between the members of the Godhead as revealed through inspired writers of the Bible and Ellen White.
As you progress through this study, you will clearly see, that the bringing in of the trinity doctrine into our church by our leaders during the 1930’s was not an end in itself. It did become a means to an end. This in itself is also the purpose of a heresy. I will explain what I mean in SECTION TWO
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SECTION TWO FOLLOWING