Program description: Tom welcomes his guest, Dale Ratzlaff, former SDA pastor and author of several books on Seventh-day Adventism.
Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. It’s great to have you with us! In today’s program, Tom welcomes Dale Ratzlaff of Life Assurance Ministries and a former SDA Pastor. Now, along with his guest, here’s TBC Executive Director, Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Today and next week we’ll be discussing some of the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventism. My guest for our subject is Dale Ratzlaff. He’s a former SDA pastor trained in Seventh-day schools and seminary. He’s the author of four books addressing Adventist doctrines. He and his wife Carolyn left the SDA church over doctrines they believed undermined the biblical gospel and now are committed to communicating the gospel to those within the SDA church as well as teaching biblical Christians about the biblical errors of Adventism.
Dale, welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Dale: Well, Tom, it’s a pleasure to speak with you and, for a few a minutes, to be part of the ministry of The Berean Call. I believe that your ministry is badly needed. Today the church at large needs people like the Bereans in Acts who will daily search the Word of God to see if what is being preached is true. So if I can help in any way, I’m just privileged to do so.
Tom: Well, we’re excited to have you talk about the subject, because I know just from my own experience with regard to what Seventh-day Adventism has been through - there have been some who say, “Well, it’s evangelical. It’s moving in that direction.” There are some that say, “No, they just have a few ideas that are erroneous,” and some would say, “No, they don’t have the gospel. This is a cult.” So because of your expertise, Dale, we’re going to deal with the issues. And, you know, as we’ve said, we’ll present this information as Dale encouraged and as we’ve been encouraging through this program: you need to be Bereans. You just don’t buy what Dale says or what I say, but you need to check it out and see if…you know, as Isaiah said, “To the law and [to] the testimony: if they speak not according to this word,” to God’s Word, “there is no light in them.” So that’s our heart.
Now, Dale, in past programs that address doctrines that seem to differ with the Scripture, whether they be from individuals or church groups or cults, we like to start with whatever entity we’re talking about regarding what is its “gospel?” Now, according to Seventh Day Adventism, what must a person do to be saved? What must an individual do in order to obtain eternal life?
Dale: Well, Tom, the answer to this is more complex than it should be for several reasons. There is a wide variety of beliefs within the Adventist church at the present time. Many Adventists would tell you, if you ask them basically, “what must you do to be saved,” they’d say, “Well, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
Dale: But that’s not the end of the story. They would then say, “Well, if you really believe on the Lord, then you would keep the commandments, including the seventh day Sabbath.” In fact, the very word that you use from Isaiah is one of their key texts: “To the law and to the testimony,” and they would say the law says the seventh day Sabbath; and if you don’t believe in that, then you’re not in the truth. They might quote John:14:15: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And in order to be baptized - now, they don’t believe in salvation by baptism, but it’s very close to it in some respects. In order to be baptized in the Adventist church among many other things, you have to believe and accept Sabbath-keeping, you need to affirm belief in Ellen White as the spirit of prophecy (whose writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth), and believe that the Seventh-day Adventist church is God’s one true remnant church of Bible prophecy.
Dale: So there’s really no clear-cut answer. The Adventist gospel is not the simple gospel taught in the New Testament - rather it starts out simple, but then it brings legalism in the back door to prove that you’ve been - and they wouldn’t say “saved,” they would say to prove you’ve been “converted to the truth.” They don’t like to use the word “saved” or “born again.” Tom: Wow.
Dale: That perhaps is not a very thorough answer, but it’s the beginning of one. [laughs]
Tom: Yeah, and it gives us some understanding…there’s a term - I don’t think I’ve coined it or made it up, but I call it “folk religion,” and that is - whether it be the Roman Catholic Church, whether it be a church that has almost a methodology or system of beliefs, very few of the followers really understand all those things; and I call it folk religion because, you know, I grew up 30 years a Roman Catholic, and we sort of made things up - you know, whether we called ourselves “cafeteria Catholics” or whatever - but much of it was either we got from the nuns, or we made it up ourselves - the point being that it deviated from Catholic dogma, official Catholic dogma. So I think that’s part of the problem. There are surely some Seventh-day Adventists that say, “No, I don’t believe that. This is what I believe,” and you know, so on and so forth, which brings confusion.
Tom: Now, what we should do is start with - briefly - how did the Seventh-day Adventism - how did it come into being?
Dale: Well, it was founded on Millerism. William Miller was a Baptist, I guess, and he predicted that Christ would come to the earth about 1843. Sometime later, his followers fine-tuned the date to October 22, 1844. Now obviously Christ did not come on that date, and the very next day after what they called the “Great Disappointment - ” October 23, I guess you’d say - Hiram Edson, one of the early Adventists, said that he was walking through a cornfield and he saw what he thought was a vision that instead of Christ coming to the earth, as they were all expecting, instead on that date, He entered into the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary for the first time. And this reinterpretation of Miller’s prediction was published in a little paper called the Day Star Extra.
And Ellen White, who had already had a vision or two, said that she felt fully authorized by God to recommend this to every saint. This interpretation caused them to go to the Old Testament and study the wilderness sanctuary as brought out in Exodus, Leviticus, and so on. And they focused on the Ten Commandments, which were in the Most Holy Place, and soon they accepted the Sabbath - actually, not from their own study, at first; they got it from a Seventh-day Baptist, and perhaps several others. And for a period of time between 1844 and 1851 - and this is not known among many Adventists today - the Adventists held what they called the Shut Door Doctrine. Their message was the Sabbath and the Shut Door. Now, by the Shut Door, they meant that everybody who did not accept this “new light,” or reinterpretation of William Miller’s prophecy, was rejected by God, and they couldn’t be saved. And many Adventists don’t even know about that, but that’s very, very clear, and there’s lots of documentation on that.
Dale: About 1851 - really interesting - they had to open the door of salvation to allow their own children who were born after 1844 into heaven or into salvation. Then between 1844 and 1888, the Adventist church was nearly devoid of the gospel. Righteousness by faith was almost unheard of until 1888. Their whole emphasis during that time was on the Sabbath and keeping the commandments. Now, in 1888 at a conference, two men by the name of Wagner and Jones brought what they called the “truth of justification by faith” to the leaders. However, if you study their writings carefully, their definition of righteousness by faith is not the Pauline version of righteousness by faith, and here’s the difference: rather than righteousness by faith being the way one is righteous - they’re accredited righteous by faith, according to Paul in Romans - their emphasis was that if we had enough faith, you could be righteous. In other words, it was more of an imparted righteousness rather than a strictly imputed righteousness, and I think most of your listeners probably know the difference. “Imparted” means - you know, especially if you came from Catholic background - it means “put into a person,” where “imputed” means you’re accounted righteous. So it’s [audio glitch] the understanding of the Pauline truth of righteousness by faith.
Now, the SDA church is still very, very fuzzy on the gospel. However, its membership has grown over the years. The church has members in nearly every country of the world. It has many colleges, hospitals - good hospitals - several universities, a first-class medical and dental school, it has a strong publishing emphasis, it has distributed millions of copies of Ellen White’s book The Great Controversy, and today, Tom, they boast about 18 million members worldwide.
Dale: And it may be of interest that about 300,000 Adventist members leave that church every year. But it’s still growing.
Tom: Mm-hmm. You know, Dale, what you’ve been describing - you don’t have to say too much about this - but what you described, they’d also spawn things like Jehovah’s Witnesses, [and] the Worldwide Church of God. Is that correct?
Dale: Yes, they all have roots to William Miller, and it’s a very fascinating thing: Jehovah’s Witnesses, you know, they reinterpreted one of William Miller’s prophecies; Adventists chose a different prophecy that William Miller used. He actually had what he called “15 lines of prophecy” pointing to 1843 for the Second Coming, and just like the Jehovah’s Witnesses reinterpreted, and said, “Well, Christ didn’t come physically,” you know, and so on. Adventists - He didn’t come here, He changed places up in heaven; it’s just a reinterpretation of prophecy.
Tom: Right. Historically, has the evangelical church - in terms of viewing both early on and today - is there confusion among evangelicals as to whether this is just aberrational or - you used the term “fuzzy” - or are these cultic teachings?
Dale: Well, there is a lot of misunderstanding in the evangelical world today among pastors. We have gone to pastors’ conferences and had a booth that had our materials and so on, and they would say, “Well, why are you talking against Seventh-day Adventists? Don’t you know that Walter Martin said they’re not a cult?”
Dale: And so there is a great misunderstanding. And let me just say a few words here - I believe that historic Adventism is definitely a cult for these reasons: it compromised the gospel - in fact, there’s almost no gospel there; it has another source of authority in the writings of Ellen White…
Dale: it has a number of unbiblical doctrines; it claims to be the only true church; it follows deceptive practices, and I can go into that a little bit later if there’s time; and it demonizes those who expose the errors of Adventism. And today there’s a growing number of Adventists who no longer believe in the historic doctrines of Adventism. So, you know, how are you going to class them?
Dale: Many remain in the church to get their salary, their retirement, and for social reasons, but there are some Adventists now who believe the simple gospel, but they just kind of keep quiet about it.
Tom: Right. Well, you mentioned Ellen G. White, her influence. Would she be an important figure even among those who say, “No, we’re more along the lines of the evangelical persuasion,” as it were?
Dale: Ellen White has a huge influence over the Adventist church and over all of its members. Some Adventists, you know, if you ask them, “Well, do you believe in Ellen White?” they will say, “Well, I don’t read Ellen White anymore. I just follow the Bible.” How often - and this is really interesting; we’ve found this to be true, and I found that true in my own life when I left the Adventist church - unknown to them, they interpret the Bible from the paradigm of Ellen White’s Great Controversy motif, and they say they don’t follow Ellen White, and yet in essence they do. There’s always an emphasis on the Second Coming, being ready for the Second Coming; there’s an emphasis on the Sabbath, and an emphasis on soul sleep, and an emphasis on - you know, the Bible has some problems. They don’t believe in the full authority of Scripture. So there’s lots of what I say of “under-understanding” in Adventist circles how much they really do depend on Ellen White.
Tom: You know, most people know Seventh-day Adventism - especially as we’re moving into the area of dealing with health issues and so on. You mentioned the hospitals - and what I’m getting at here is the dietary rules, the dietary laws. How did that come about?
Dale: Well, that’s interesting, too. Interesting you should ask that - and I think in this way that Adventists have some good points on their healthful living. I grew up as an Adventist; I was a fourth generation Adventist. I was very conservative. I didn’t eat meat until I left the Adventist church. You know, I didn’t smoke or drink or use coffee or any of those things, even though coffee’s good for us now, we understand. [laughs]
But…so there’s a positive aspect to Seventh-day Adventist’s teaching on health, but there’s also very negative results, as well. For example, you have to understand the purpose behind the Adventists pushing on health principles. They believe that the Adventist church - and this goes back to the Great Controversy motif - they believe that God has chosen the Adventist Church for a specific reason: that God raised them up in order to prove that a group of people, the remnant of Adventism, can fully keep the law perfectly. They believe that Satan has made some charges against the government of God. For example, they say, “Well, didn’t Christ keep the law?” Well, yes, and Satan would say, “But Christ, He had some divine help. Let’s see if somebody else can keep the law.”
And so, somehow, Adventists got the idea that they are the ones chosen by God to perfectly keep the law, and Ellen White said that before the Second Coming, that Adventists would have to live in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Behind many of the Adventist practices lies their Great Controversy motif. They believe that God is waiting for a group of people who will demonstrate perfect obedience to the law. They believe that God raised up the Adventists for this specific reason, and in order to reach this perfection, they will need to give up anything that would hinder their mental or physical powers, and Ellen White stated that Adventists just before the Second Coming would have to live in the sight of a holy God without a mediator, and that is a frightening thing.
Dale: She also said that those who are alive when Christ comes will have given up the use of all flesh foods, which includes fish and chicken and red meat. Now, a careful analysis of this concept shows that their goal is to develop internal righteousness so that they will no longer need Christ’s imputed righteousness. They will have 100 percent of Christ’s imparted righteousness - have the character of Christ.
Dale: In fact, this is a quote out of my head now - I don’t have it in my notes, but I used to think this was a tremendous quote. She said that when the character of Christ is perfectly reproduced in His people, He will come to claim them as His own.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Dale…
Dale: So…go ahead.
Tom: Yeah, Dale, I’m listening to this, and it’s staggering. Just as you said, these things are shocking. Number one, they’re removing Christ from salvation, in effect. There are 613 laws according to the Scripture. Do Adventists keep every one of them?
Dale: No, they’re only focused on the ones they want to keep. [laughs]
Tom: Yeah, there you go!
Dale: For example, the Ten Commandments, and they will look at some of the health laws - clean and unclean they observe - but there’s no clear theology of which laws to keep and which laws not to keep.
Tom: Yeah, so much for, then, perfection! The other aspect of this, which is like a billboard - wait a minute! The law - we have all the teachings - Hebrews…I mean, throughout the Scriptures - they were given to show that man couldn’t keep them, okay? [laughs] So that’s the antithesis of what the law is about! That’s why everything points to Christ - only He could do this! Wow.
Dale: Well, see, one of the basic flaws of Adventism is how they see Christ. Evangelicals see Christ as a substitute. He took our place. He is our perfection. He is our sin - He took our sin, and He gives us His perfect righteousness, or accredits to us His perfect righteousness. Adventists see Christ as an example, and this can go a long ways - many different avenues…I could go off on rabbit trails here. But they’re very confused about the nature of Christ. Some believe that Christ had a sinful nature just like Adam after the fall, and Ellen White has statements to that effect. And so they say that if Christ could perfectly keep the law, then He is an example that we can perfectly keep the law.
Dale: So they put more stress on example rather than substitute.
Tom: I’ve said this many times on our programs no matter who we’re talking to, but it comes down to there are only two belief systems out there: there’s what Christ has done for us; there’s biblical Christianity, looking to Christ alone by faith; and then there’s works-salvation. There’s a system in which man contributes to his own salvation, which is antithetical to the gospel, and this is what I’m hearing.
Tom: Yeah. Now we just have a few minutes left, Dale, but I want you to address this in a couple of minutes, and we’re going to pick up with it next week, the Lord willing, the doctrine of the “investigative judgment.”
Dale: Oh…how long do we have?
Tom: We’ve got about two or three minutes, but what I’d like you to do is just start us off with it, and then we’re going to pick up on it next week.
Dale: Okay. I thought this might be one of the questions, and so I have a summary that will take about two minutes. I will read it, okay?
Tom: That’s fine.
Dale: “The Seventh Day Adventist church doctrine of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary and the investigative judgment teaches that at the ascension of Christ, He entered the outer apartment of the heavenly sanctuary. From that time until 1844, He performed a ministry of intercession and forgiveness analogous to the earthly sanctuary’s outer apartment.
In 1844, Christ entered into the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary for the first time to begin a work of investigative judgment. This judgment deals only with those who have professed to believe in God. The wicked according to SDA theology will be investigated during the thousand years and executed shortly after the close of the thousand years of Revelation 20. The investigative judgment starts with the cases of the dead reaching clear back to Adam and reviews the life records of every person who has professed faith in God. Every deed is closely examined. Each succeeding generation is investigated and judged.
At some time, and none know when, the cases of the dead are completed, and then God moves to the cases of the living. SDAs believe that they will not know when their name comes up in judgment. Therefore, it’s extremely important that they engage in no frivolous activity or sin. Every sin must be confessed.” Now listen carefully: “Sins which have been forgotten and unconfessed will stand against them in the judgment. Their characters must demonstrate perfect obedience to the Ten Commandment laws, especially the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. Some names in this list of professed believers will be accepted, others will be rejected. Every person confessing faith in God has come up in review, then Jesus pleads His blood before the Father” - notice it was then that He does it - “on behalf of those who are found worthy, and blots out the record of their sins from the books of heaven. Then, not knowing if or when the work of investigative judgment has been completed, the righteous, still in their human state before the Second Coming of Christ, will have to live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor. This then completes the atonement.
Jesus then takes the sins of God’s people and transfers them to Satan, who is represented by the Day of Atonement scapegoat in Leviticus 16. Satan then bears the ultimate responsibility for all the sins he has caused the righteous to commit. He will suffer for these sins in the Lake of Fire, and then be blotted from existence. The investigative judgment is conducted before all the intelligences of the universe. This then vindicates the character of God before the unfallen beings; then everyone will know the immutability of the law of God and the righteous character of God.”
So that’s a summary of this very difficult and damnable doctrine. [laughs]
Tom: Right! Well, I wanted to underscore that, because, you know, we’re out of time for this session—however, we’re going to pick up with it next week as we continue looking at Seventh Day Adventism with Dale Ratzlaff. So, Dale, again, thank you for your input today, and we look forward to doing it again next week.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. For more information about Dale Ratzlaff’s ministry go to Life Assurance Ministries.com or call 928.554.1001. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019 Bend, Oregon 97708. Call us at 800.937.6638. Or visit our website at the bereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in and we hope you can join us again next week. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.