Tom: Today and next week, we’ll be discussing the theology of Seventh-day Adventism, and my guest for our subject is Dale Ratzlaff. He’s a former SDA pastor trained in Seventh-day Adventist schools and seminary. He’s the author of numerous articles and books addressing Adventist doctrines, including Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventism and Sabbath in Christ. He and his wife, Carolyn, left the SDA Church over doctrines they believed undermined the biblical gospel and now teach biblical Christians about the theological errors of Adventism.
Dale, welcome back to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Dale: Good to be with you today, and let me just say this: I really appreciate your ministry to educate evangelicals, and others as well, to the cultic nature of historic Adventism. So many pastors we meet, they tell us something like this: “Well, don’t you know that Seventh-day Adventists are evangelicals who worship on Saturday?” as if that’s the only difference, and that is not true at all. There’s all kinds of differences once you get into Seventh-day Adventist theology.
Tom: And the Lord willing, we’re going to point out some of these that evangelicals are naïve, certainly ignorant, about. So…
But, Dale, as you know, we’re living in incredibly confusing times. I mean, decades ago, you were delivered from the false teachings of Adventism, and I was delivered from the bondage and false gospel of Roman Catholicism 40 years ago. Yet today, more and more of those who claim to be Bible-believing Christians consider SDAs and Catholics to be their brothers and sisters in Christ. Now, if that’s the case, and it could be for some, what’s the criterion for a Seventh-day Adventist to be a brother or sister in Christ? In other words, what must he or she believe in order to be saved according to SDA doctrine?
Dale: Well, let me just say this: the Adventist Church right now is divided into many different subgroups. There are some who actually believe the true Pauline gospel of justification by faith alone. I have several friends in the Adventist Church who hold the gospel true. However, even these people have tremendous ethical problems in that they support the Church which has cultic teachings right in their fundamental beliefs, and when they support the Church, I might say that many of the members of the churches don’t realize that they don’t support the total teachings of Adventism.
But anyway, my conclusion is that historic Adventism is a cult in that the gospel is absent there or either totally compromised. Now I believe that evangelical Adventists ought to renounce three things as error if they claim to believe the true gospel: 1) The whole 1844 closing of the heavenly sanctuary in the Investigative Judgment. Now, that’s a big thing in itself. It is not only unbiblical, but it compromises the gospel in many, many ways.
2) They should make it clear that they reject the prophetic claims and ministry of Ellen G. White as a teacher of truth. Now granted, she said many good things, but they’re intertwined and mixed in with terribly anti-gospel error.
And 3) They should openly reject the idea that Seventh-day Sabbath is the seal of God and Sunday worship is the mark of the beast. These three things, however, are the foundational pillars upon which the Seventh-day Adventist Church was founded, and they are dead wrong and should be openly renounced by anyone who claims to be a believer in the Pauline gospel of justification by faith.
Tom: Wow, that’s stated as clear and plain as it could be, Dale. That’s a terrific insight that you’ve given us.
But, Dale, you and I believe in good works. Ephesians:2:10 says that believers are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” So why aren’t good works sufficient for salvation?
Dale: Well, for those of us who – and I’m assuming you as well – who came from a works-oriented path and then discovered the gospel, it’s fairly easy to answer in this respect: there are three main reasons that works are not sufficient for salvation. First, one never knows when he’s done enough good works to be accepted, and that’s the underlying problem of no assurance in the Adventist Church or in the Catholic Church.
Second, even though we have been born again, we still live in bodies with a sinful nature that must be disciplined, and Scripture makes it clear that we will continue to fall short of God’s perfect ideal – that’s in Romans 3.
And third, Paul makes very clear in Romans and Galatians and elsewhere that if we try to add to our…by adding to our good works for the salvation of God and the right standing with God, we only frustrate the gospel of Christ. For example, Galatians:2:20, Paul says this: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died needlessly.” Now, good works should be manifested in the life of a Christian, but they are never, never the ground of our assurance of eternal life with Christ. That is found only in the Person of Jesus Christ alone who rose from the dead.
Tom: Yeah, amen, and amen to that.
Dale you grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist. Now, was there anything in particular that troubled you about the Church’s teachings or practices that caused you to question it early on?
Dale: Well, I often had conflicts when I would read Ellen White, but I thought it was my lack of understanding. But when I had a call to the ministry and I was studying Greek… I remember the day that I tried to translate Ephesians:2:8, and we know what that says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
Well, Ellen White, the prophetess of Adventism, wrote that we should never, never say that we are saved, and she said that because once we believe we’re saved, she said, then we don’t have a motivation for good works, which is exactly the opposite of what it really is.
Anyway, this text in Ephesians says we have been saved, and in my Greek class I found out this statement is in a perfect tense in Greek, which means it happened in the past and has an ongoing result. So we live in the ongoing state of having been saved, and that is really good news. That was the first little intimation I had that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was wrong. Now, it sounds crazy to live all those many years and not realize it, but I began…I went up to my Greek teacher, and I said, “Now, this must be wrong. Is there some other manuscript evidence that we could use to show that this is true?”
And I’m glad for his response. He said, “Dale, we need to get our theology from Scripture and not try to make the Bible say what we think it says.”
Tom: Wow. That’s great. So then – but you mentioned earlier that you had a calling to the ministry. What finally caused you then to leave Seventh-day Adventism?
Dale: Well, there’s quite a bit, but I’ll try to summarize it. I’ve written a whole book on that, but again, I left the Church in the early ‘80s when there was a lot of discussion regarding 1844, the opening of the heavenly sanctuary and Investigative Judgment doctrines. And I had an opportunity to study this for a thousand-page manuscript that he wrote on the errors of this teaching, and when I read that, I said, “Wow, I can never teach this again.”
And about that time the conference president said, “Well, you have to promise to teach all 27 fundamental beliefs of the SDA Church.” There’s 28 now, but at that time there were 27.
And I said, “I’m going to refuse to do this unless you can show me how to do it from Scripture.”
And, well, I met with a number of people including the chair of the Department of Theology at Loma Linda University, and after hours of discussion, they all basically said in private, “You can’t get this from the Bible.” I was forced to resign for not teaching what the leaders knew was not true, or [was actually] error! In private they admitted it was error, and I was fired for not teaching the error that they knew it was.
Tom: You know, that’s amazing, and it just shows you the heart of man, because we’re talking about Seventh-day Adventism, but I could give you the similar examples within Mormonism, within Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on. It’s like they become a part of a club, and they just want to make adjustments to keep the club rolling. I don’t think that’s an unfair statement about what we’re seeing.
Dale: Exactly. In fact, my ministerial secretary (I won’t give you his name over the air, but he’s now deceased), he asked me to go for a little walk because he knew I was struggling, and he said, “Dale,” he said, “we both know the doctrine is wrong.” He was speaking about the Investigative Judgment doctrine. But he said, “We’re too old to do anything about it, and too old to get a job outside the church, and just do what you can with a clear conscience and try not to make any waves. You’ll be fine.”
And I told him, “Harold, God called me to preach the gospel, not to cover up error.”
I’m so glad that I left that Church.
Tom: Yeah. But it’s amazing, like…I think you said your Greek professor, we do find people within. Now, they’re accountable to the Lord, staying in…whatever it might be. But I’ve seen within Roman Catholicism priests – they know they’re in error. You just…a reading of the Scriptures, and whether it be the homilies or whether it be the gospel or whatever, they’re going through this. But one of the things that keeps them from it is, “Well, what do I do now? Well, I’ve committed my life to this priesthood, and where do I go from here?” So…but truth has to win out.
But anyway, Dale, you’ve given us some terrific information. But could you give us, for listeners who are not familiar with the history of Seventh-day Adventism, could you give us kind of a brief overview of how it started, and maybe right up to Ellen G. White? I don’t know…
Dale: Okay, Adventism started with William Miller, who was a Baptist preacher in the 1880s, and – I should say, 1820s and ‘30s—and he came up with 15 proofs, supposedly, that Christ was coming in 1843. And he had a large following – this is in the Eastern part, Northeastern part, of the United States. (By the way, he was also a 33rd degree Mason, if that made any difference.) Anyway, 1843 came and Christ didn’t, and a small group of Adventists – and at that time it wasn’t Seventh-day Adventists, just Adventists – they, by proof-texting, took the cleansing mentioned in Daniel:8:14, which referred to the cleansing of the Temple from Antiochus Epiphanes, but they forgot about that, or never learned it, and tried to associate it with the Day of Atonement, the cleansing of the sanctuary in Leviticus 16. And one of their members by the name of Snow said he checked with the Jews, and they said that the Day of Atonement was going to be October 22, 1844, and that was wrong in itself. But that set off a huge – you might say, erratic bunch of people just in fanaticism saying, “Christ is coming October 22.”
Well, he didn’t obviously. But the next day, a couple of people who stayed up all night worrying and wondering, one of them claimed to have a vision in the cornfield – who had never had a vision before or after, didn’t have any prophetic credentials, and he said that he thought he saw Christ going from one apartment in the heavenly sanctuary to the other to start a work of judgment. Well, Adventists picked up on that, because it gave them an excuse so that they weren’t really wrong; they just had prophesied a wrong event at the right time. And the Jehovah’s Witnesses did a very similar thing.
Anyway, that started the Seventh Day Adventist Church – wasn’t named that yet, and about that time Ellen White had her first vision, and she said that God showed her that this whole teaching about the heavenly sanctuary and all was of God. At first they believed that anybody who didn’t accept their view, the door of mercy was shut – called the “shut-door-of-mercy teaching.” Later, they tried to say that they gave it up, and then Ellen White had a vision that said, “No, we still believe in the shut door.” And they went like that from 1844 to about 1851, and finally they gave it up because they had to get their children in, and some of their children were born after 1844.
And then a few years later, they morphed that shut-door teaching into the Investigative Judgment, and that, again, Ellen White kept having visions, and they believed that she was a true messenger of God, and they also added the seventh-day Sabbath. And one time she said that “our message is the shut door and the seventh-day Sabbath.” That was their main message. In fact, a person can read the early writings of Ellen White and you will find almost no gospel at all until 1888, which is really interesting. It was founded based on works, keeping the Sabbath, keeping the Ten Commandments, and so on.
Dale: Well, they have reinterpreted that several different times, and Ellen White, they have rewritten some of her things: they have left out passages of Scripture, they have suppressed some of her early visions, Walter Ray has shown – and he is now deceased – shown that she copied, plagiarized, huge amounts of material.
Now, there’s a lot more to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but they still hold to the 1844 Investigative Judgment, and in their evangelistic series they still teach that Sabbath is the seal of God and Sunday is the mark of the beast, especially in third-world countries. I could give more, but maybe that’s enough?
Tom: Yeah, well, it’s fascinating. I mean, it’s sad, but to know these things, and then to see it continue, there’s almost an irony, because a movement that began with false prophecies, which they had to keep adjusting and so on… Let’s bring it right up to today: These incredible fliers come to you in the mail, and they direct you to a meeting that’s going to talk about prophecy in a big way, and rarely – and I don’t remember…it [usually] ends up being in a Seventh-day Adventist Church, but you never see that in all of the promotional material. Yet starting with false prophecy, and now they’re trying to major in prophecy with regard to that, there’s an irony there I think.
Dale: Yes, and often the Revelation Seminars (they have different names), they usually…the first few meetings are in a neutral place so people don’t realize it’s Seventh-day Adventist. But now, and we’ve given them so much hassle about that, they’re beginning now to list in the programs that it is Seventh-day Adventist.
Tom: Oh, okay.
Dale: But that’s fairly new. But in other countries, they don’t do that. So…
Tom: Yeah. As I said, I know about much of this just because of my involvement in ministry dealing with cults and false teachings, aberrational teachings, and so on, but I’m still edified by what you’re presenting here.
Now, but there is one thing a little bit shocking, especially – not for me, but for most people out there who regard Seventh-day Adventism: “Oh, it’s just another Christian denomination.” But your book Cultic Doctrine of Seventh Day Adventism, using the term “cult,” why – I’m sure you took a lot of heat for that, but why did you decide to use the term “cult?”
Dale: Well, let me give you a little idea how the cultic doctrines started, and it’s not in my notes, but I’m just going to give it to you. I was pastoring in Sedona – it’s an evangelical church [in] Sedona, Arizona – and one of my members was asked to study with an Adventist doctor, MD, retired, and they wanted me to go along. And so I said, “Sure, let’s go along, and let’s let them lead.”
Well, it happened to be on the Investigative Judgment 1844, and I knew that well. I’d read thousands of pages, and that was why I left the Church. And he pulled out the Clear Word Bible and said, “This is the most trustworthy Bible,” and he read Daniel:8:14 in the Clear Word, and something swelled up in me. I said, “This must stop. People are reading that Adventist Bible and thinking that all their doctrines are biblical.” And they have actually put Ellen White’s theology right in the text without any notes at all.
Dale: And that started me writing Cultic Doctrine, and I wrote that in six months while I was pastoring, and I have over 700 footnotes, and it shows beyond any shadow of doubt that the historic Adventism was a cult and it’s changed its views many, many times. And I encourage anybody who has a question about Seventh-day Adventism to get that book, because very few Adventists who are honest will be able to read that book and still believe in the Adventist message.
Tom: Yeah, I’ve never heard of the Clear Word Bible. Somebody says, “Well, you want a Bible that’s so far removed, that would be the Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the New World Translation.” But honestly, Dale, this is new to me, but I find it eye opening! Incredible!
Dale: Well, [unintelligible] it’s called the Clear Word, and my copy – I think it was 1993, I think I bought mine – it said it’s the Clear Word Bible. Well, it was made – well, I could say “written” – by the chairman of the Department of Theology at Seventh-day Adventist University. So he has a Ph.D. and he has his Master of Theology, so he knows the original languages, okay? And he has garbled any place where the Bible disagrees with Adventism; he has rewritten the Bible.
Let me give you a couple of examples. Daniel:8:14 is the central pillar of Adventism – let me just read that one. That was the one that lit me on fire to write this book. The New American Standard says, “He said to me, ‘For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.’”
Okay, here’s the Clear Word: “After 2,300 prophetic days (or 2,300 years), God will step in, proclaim the truth about Himself, and restore the ministry of the Sanctuary in heaven to its rightful place. This is when the judgment will begin, of which the cleansing of the earthly sanctuary was a type.” Now how’s that for reading theology into the Bible?
Tom: There you go. That’s – we call that eisegesis, right? You’re not interested in what God’s Word says; you’ve got your own ideas, which you impose upon the Scriptures.
Dale: Yeah, I call it absolute deception. For example, I don’t know if you have any time for this, but [in] Revelation where it talks about John being in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day? Here’s the way they put it: “One Sabbath morning when I had gone to the rocky island shore to meditate and worship, I suddenly heard a voice behind me that sounded as loud as a trumpet.”
Tom: Oh, brother.
Dale: So they picked the Lord’s Day, changed it to Sabbath morning; they’ve added “meditate and worship,” which is not in the Scripture, you know, in the text in Greek, to make it appear that John was spending Sabbath up on the shore meditating Sabbath, you know, on the Sabbath.
Tom: Yeah. Well, you know, it’s so flowery, I mean, the language, it almost rivals The Message, which is another abomination. But wow, that’s really fascinating.
Dale: Just part of Jude 9: “In contrast to these ungodly men is the Lord Jesus Christ, also called Michael, the archangel in charge of the entire angelic host.”
Tom: Unbelievable. Well, you know, we’ve got about a minute left. My guest is Dale Ratzlaff. We’ve been talking about Seventh-day Adventism. He was a pastor trained in Seventh-day Adventism and has written a number of books, really important books, because, you know, folks, in this day and age of the apostasy, the Scripture says, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” And when we are allowing these mixtures, whether you call it friendship evangelism or whatever it might be, we need to deal with the truth, and what Dale has been presenting to us today just lays it out as clear as it can be.
So we’re out of time with this session, but I look forward, Dale, to continue with this next week, the Lord willing. So thank you for your input, and look forward to next week.
Dale: Well, God bless you.