Four books were published in 2018 taking to task Adventists whose beliefs have been called "Last Generation Theology." Two of these new books are published by the Pacific Press, one by the Pacific Union, and one by Andrews University Press. You may have read the following ad copy in a recent sales catalogue advertising two of these books. The heading says, "What is Last Generation Theology." The reader is asked:
Do we all have to be perfect for Jesus to come again? Must we purge the church of those that disagree with us to make that happen?
This is rhetoric. No reputable person is teaching that everyone must be perfect in order for Jesus to come again. I don't even know of anyone disreputable who teaches that. Nor has anyone teaching Last Generation Theology suggested conducting a "purge" of those who disagree. Such language is flammable and irresponsible. Is someone trying to create conflict?
In any case, this is the language you are hearing. Our goal in this meeting is to refresh our understanding so that you might make your own evaluation of this recent wave of coordinated publications.
Opened to View
Let's recall what Adventism is. You know the Bible teachings we embrace as a people. So, a question: Which teaching, singular, is completely distinct to Adventists?
[response]: "The sanctuary!"
Yes! In her book, The Great Controversy, Ellen White writes:
The subject of the sanctuary was the key which unlocked the mystery of the disappointment of 1844. It [the subject of the sanctuary] opened to view a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious, showing that God's hand had directed the great advent movement and revealing present duty as it brought to light the position and work of His people (The Great Controversy, p. 423).
As His people, then, we have a position; we have a work. The Bible says,
'Unto two thousand three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed' (Daniel 8:14 KJV).
Jesus is our Great High Priest. Ellen White describes His work:
Not alone at the Saviour's advent, but through all the ages after the Fall and the promise of redemption, 'God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.' 2 Corinthians 5:19. Christ was the foundation and center of the sacrificial system in both the Patriarchal and the Jewish age. Since the sin of our first parents there has been no direct communication between God and man. The Father has given the world into the hands of Christ, that through His mediatorial work He may redeem man and vindicate the authority and holiness of the law of God (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 325).
All the redemption of man is through Christ. Through Jesus' mediatorial work He redeems man and He vindicates the authority and holiness of His law. We believe that we can only be declared righteous through Jesus and only made rightous through Jesus. Yet, even when our heart is changed, we receive no merit toward our salvation for anything we have done or could do.
All of the merit by which we are saved is from Jesus Christ. Jesus is our source of justification. Jesus is our source of sanctification. Our cooperative part is necessary--we get to say Yes or No to Him--but when we say Yes, we are still unprofitable servants (Luke 17:5-10). He is Savior; we are never our own saviors. This is why, in my 2006 book, Cleanse and Close, I spent two entire chapters describing how any and all of our works are absolutely non-meritorious.
Having said that, we must say also that God's work to save us is transformative. He changes our hearts, He changes our minds. We believe and know by experience that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).
No wonder Ellen White writes so plainly that
Through the merits of Christ we have access to the throne of Infinite Power. 'He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?' Romans 8:32. The Father gave His Spirit without measure to His Son, and we also may partake of its fullness. Jesus says, 'If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?' Luke 11:13. 'If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it.' 'Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.' John 14:14: 16:24.
While the Christian's life will be characterized by humility, it should not be marked with sadness and self-depreciation. It is the privilege of everyone so to live that God will approve and bless him. It is not the will of our heavenly Father that we should be ever under condemnation and darkness. There is no evidence of true humility in going with the head bowed down and the heart filled with thoughts of self. We may go to Jesus and be cleansed, and stand before the law without shame and remorse. 'There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.' Romans 8:1.
Through Jesus the fallen sons of Adam become 'sons of God.' 'Both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren.' Hebrews 2:11. The Christian's life should be one of faith, of victory, and joy in God (The Great Controversy, pp. 477-478).
Is it or is it not the privilege of everyone so to live that God will approve and bless him? Is it or is it not true that we may go to Jesus and be cleansed, and stand before the law without shame or remorse? Is it or is it not true that the Christian's life should be one of faith, of victory, and joy in God?
True, true, and true, I say!
I'm not sure what we want to call this. Adventist Theology? Core Theology? Last Generation Theology? Or really, how about Bible Theology?
What I am sure of is that I became a Seventh-day Adventist because I saw this teaching of present victory over sin in my Bible, and I believe that God led me to the Church which teaches that experience. An assault on the possibility of overcoming in the power of Jesus is an assault on Christianity.
The New Books
The four new books are God's Character and the Last Generation (2018 Pacific Press, ed. Jiri Moskala, John C. Peckham; George R. Knight, End-Time Events and the Last Generation, 2018 Pacific Press), (henceforth GCATLG and ETEATLG), In All humility: Saying No to Last Generation Theology, 2018 Oak & Acorn, Reinder Bruinsma, and Salvation: Contours in Adventist Soteriology, 2018 Andrews University Press, ed. Martin E. Hanna, Darius W. Jankiewicz, John W. Reeve. They say things like this:
LGT tends to reduce sin to merely actions that transgress God's law, while correspondingly denying or downplaying the bent disposition of the human condition with its unchosen, inborn, propensities toward evil. This allows LGT to at least give the impression that humans may perfectly overcome sin in all respects by force of the human will (GCATLG, p. 272).
Adventists believe the Bible tells us the truth. First John 3:4 says "sin is the transgression of the law." The authors of these new books are misunderstanding the difference between tendencies we inherit and the actual embrace of sin that occurs when we choose to become transgressors. The Desire of Ages makes clear two classes of effects: hereditary, and cultivated, or, we can call them unchosen and chosen:
Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power. It is the Spirit that makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world's Redeemer. It is by the Spirit that the heart is made pure. Through the Spirit the believer becomes a partaker of the divine nature. Christ has given His Spirit as a divine power to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil, and to impress His own character upon His church (The Desire of Ages, p. 671).
Can that love for sin that we have so unwisely cultivated be overcome? Yes. Can the tendency toward sin we have inherited be overcome? Yes. Does Mrs. White give indication of scope? How much overcoming does she have in mind in this quotation? Yes:
"all hereditary and cultivated tendencies."
I don't see the Bible downplaying the effects of hereditary tendencies to evil, nor Ellen White, nor those who preach "LGT." The authors of these new books seem skeptical that this human, or rather, inhuman condition can be overcome.
I believe it can.
Did you notice another misrepresentation? No one is saying that humans can overcome sin by the force of the human will. Nor do the authors of the new books give evidence that they know of anyone who is actually making such a claim. No substantiating quotes are provided. Could such quotes have been found, I believe they would have shared them.
The situation of fallen humans left to ourselves is tragic and hopeless. The human will, apart from the power of God, is impotent. But the Holy Spirit will make all the difference for us:
The fruit of the Spirit is. . . self-control (Galatians 5:22, 23).
If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Romans 8:13-14).
If we consent, He [Jesus] will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us.
As Christ lived the law in humanity, so we may do if we will take hold of the Strong for strength (The Desire of Ages, p. 668).
Those are words of hope. In contrast, the new book someone wants to sell you, says,
humans inherit a nature that is infected with sin (GCATLG, p. 277).
This "sin as an infection" language is found several times in the book (GCATLG, pp. 17, 182, 272x4, 274, 276x2, 277x4).
The trouble here, is that sin as an "infection" is an idea not found in the Bible or in Ellen White, nor in Adventist historical writings.
But in the book numerous attempts to teach what is, in effect, the Roman Catholic dogma of original sin. For at least 60 years some have been trying to bring this viewpoint into the Adventist Church. The basic idea is that people are born guilty for Adam's sin. Therefore, everyone needs salvation from the first moment of birth because they are born with involuntary, unchosen sin, and sin always comes with guilt attached.
Adventist Fundamental Belief statements from the beginning until now have never said this. When I was baptised in 1989, the statement said,
When our first parents disobeyed God, they denied their dependance upon Him and fell from their high position under God. The image of God in them was marred and they became subject to death. Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil.
This is exactly the place where we could say that children "are born guilty." But we don't say that. Our belief statements have never said that. It says today exactly what it said in 1980. Nor have we as a church ever practiced infant baptism as Roman Catholics do. Babies are not born guilty. They and we all are born with mental, volitional, and emotional faculties disordered, as we are all born. So Ellen White says,
"By sin the image of God in man has been marred and well nigh obliterated; it is the work of the gospel to restore that which has been lost; we are to cooperate with the divine agency in this work" (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 743).
It is the work of the gospel to take needy humans and restore in us the image of God. There is no higher calling.
The devil has a purple hatred for this work. He is determined to confuse us. He wants to short-circuit this work, and there is no better way to do that than to introduce this veiled form of the Roman Catholic dogma of original sin. If you are guilty just by being, just because you are a human, guilty with every breath you take, there can be no such thing as overcoming.
God's Character and the Last Generation uses numerous phrases and statements to describe sin which are not normal Adventist statements. Samples:
p. 48: "original corruption"
p. 50: "the flesh with its involuntary sin"
p. 56: "Paul's references to sin that dwells in us and in our flesh identify the fact and state of our sinful nature."
p. 67 "Adam and all subsequent humanity received a sinful nature and legally stood guilty before God."
p. 106: "The Adventist theology of original sin. . ."
p. 183: "Adam's original sin."
We are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil, but we are not born guilty. And no one is guilty of Adam's sin until they choose to join in it. There is no Adventist theology of infant baptism and there is no Adventist theology of original sin. Such a theory might, to some, seem theologically essential; but it was not theologically essential to the Adventist pioneers, to Ellen White, nor to any set of Seventh-day Adventist General Conference Session delegates, from the first General Conference Session until the most recent.
An Adventist Understanding of Sin
What is the Adventist understanding of sin? Seventh-day Adventists believe the Bible. The Bible teaches that at the end of time just before the Second Coming of Jesus, opportunity for humans to choose to live God's way, ends. We call the end of this opportunity the close of probation. Jesus finally pronounces His acceptance of our chosen-forever alignment in Revelation 22:11:
He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.
In her book The Great Controversy, Ellen White describes the arrival of this event:
An angel returning from the earth announces that his work is done; the final test has been brought upon the world, and all who have proved themselves loyal to the divine precepts have received the 'seal of the living God.' Then Jesus ceases His intercession in the sanctuary above. . . Every case has been decided for life or death. Christ has made the atonement for His people and blotted out their sins (pp. 613-614).
Sin can be blotted out. Ellen White says it. John said it in Revelation 22:11. And so, Adventists say it. God's commission to us to "tell it to the world," is His commission to us to tell them that Jesus is a sin-pardoning Savior. He not only forgives sin; He removes sin. He restores "that which has been lost."
In John 5 Jesus healed the disease-stricken man at the pool of Bethesda. Later, Jesus found the same man in the temple, and Jesus said to him, "See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you" (John 5:14 NKJV).
Later, when the woman was caught in the very act of adultery, Jesus prevented her from being killed, but He also told her, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11).
Somehow, it looks like Jesus didn't get the memo about it being impossible not to sin.
John didn't get it either, for as we noticed in Revelation 22, he believes that some people will be righteous and holy, and that in the power of God it is possible to be righteous and holy--possible not to sin.
When probation for humans closes there is no more forgiveness. If there is no more forgiveness, then it is imperative that no one sin. I want to ask you: Will any of these end-time commandment keepers, end-time Jesus followers, want to sin? No, they won't. They have fully resolved who they are copying: Jesus!
They would rather die than sin.
They will be glad to follow Jesus. They will be urgent to follow Jesus. They will be determined to be faithful to Him. And the words He has with reference to them are calmly prophesied in Revelation 14:12:
Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
Not, here are they who sin and who disregard; not, here are they who crucify Jesus afresh. But, here are they who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.
The message of the Bible about sin is a message of hope. Jesus saves His people from sin. His grace, His strength, is sufficient for us.
We will not arrive in heaven on spiritual life-support in the back of an ambulance; Jesus will see us through the closing movements.
God's love for His people during the period of their severest trial is as strong and tender as in the days of their sunniest prosperity; but it is needful for them to be placed in the furnace of fire; their earthliness must be consumed, that the image of Christ may be perfectly reflected (The Great Controversy, p. 621).
In His strength we will triumph. And our triumph won't be our triumph. It will be His triumph. Because recall our statement at the beginning of this message:
The Father has given the world into the hands of Christ, that through His mediatorial work He may redeem man and vindicate the authority and holiness of the law of God (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 325).
See, our victories are really His victories. He is the Redeemer. We are not our own redeemers; we are not our own saviors. Jesus is Lord.
The ad copy in the camp meeting catalogue asked, "What is Last Generation Theology?" This morning we have instead asked, "What is Adventist Theology?" An answer might be articulated like this:
Adventist Theology is the word about God entrusted to His people for the world. It is a gift from heaven to us, a life-changing understanding of the Bible, echoed in the writings of Ellen White and entrusted to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is the message we understand after 6,000 years of divine revelation to fallen men. Adventist Theology especially illuminates the question of salvation for lost humans as indicated through God's sanctuary system and the vindication of God's character through Jesus. The "Adventist" part of the salvation question is not only Jesus' death on the cross but what we call "the final atonement."
If we boil everything down to the primitives, to the basic bits, Adventist theology is about knowing Jesus and receiving His power to be present overcomers. It is about His being fully our Savior.
The best books I know of are the Bible and the writings of Ellen White. These books teach me about Jesus' victory. They don't make any excuses for me.
I surely have miles and miles to go to be like Jesus. But the closer I come, the less interested I am in excuses to keep on sinning.
Even so, come Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20).
Internet NN 2018-11-11