The problem of pinning down “official” Adventist teaching is alive and well. In fact, Tim Martin from The Centers for Apologetics Research has been writing a pamphlet about Seventh-day Adventism, and in his research he has bumped into this problem.
In his research, Tim encountered the work of M. L. Andreasen, one of Adventism’s most prominent theologians during the 1930’s and 40’s. Andreasen is remembered especially for formulating the idea of “Last Generation Theology” which he developed from the writings of Ellen White.
In a nutshell, Last Generation Theology explains that when Jesus comes again, all who are alive will need to have reached perfection of character and perfect law-keeping in order to be saved.
What Tim Martin has found, however, is that in spite of Andreason’s ideas conforming to Ellen White’s writings, “it is rejected by many of the mainstream SDA folk.”
This contrast between M. L. Andreasen and Ellen White [EGW], however, is entirely contrived. Most of us who have been Adventist know that Ellen White is internally contradictory. One can find statements from her writings to support nearly any theological position one wishes to take.
EGW is internally contradictory and cannot be pinned down regarding salvation, the nature of Christ, His righteousness, or its application to humans)—that is seen as “official Adventism.” In practice, things which are actually written/edited, endorsed, and published by the Executive Committee of the General Conference are seen as official. Works published by the official Adventist publishing houses, if not written by the General Conference officers, will be seen by members as trustworthy and will become integrated into Adventist life, but if they become “problematic” in any way, they may be officially denied or ignored.
Even today, my conservative Adventist family members disagree about Adventist teachings and practices if those beliefs disagree with their own understanding of EGWs commentary. For example, if the General Conference makes a statement or recommendation with which my family disagrees, they say, “That’s not our belief.” End of argument. This denial of personal acceptance of Adventist belief has always been the “Adventist way.” In fact, this phenomenon is part of the reason the infamous Questions on Doctrine was so divisive after Walter Martin met with Adventist leaders in the 1950s.
Walter Martin, the author of The Kingdom of the Cults, set out to interview the theological minds of the common sects or cults that existed on the fringes of Christianity. He interviewed Mormon leaders, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists, and others with the purpose of explaining their doctrinal flaws and declaring them to be cults or heterodox Christians.
The Adventist leaders who met with Walter Martin deceived him, and today this fact has been publicly admitted by Adventist historian George Knight. In the annotations within the 2003 republished version of Questions on Doctrine, Knight admits that the Adventists used words that they knew Martin would hear as being evangelical while the Adventists themselves might take offense at them. Underneath, however, they were attempting to harmonize Adventism with evangelicalism, trying to keep Adventists happy and simultaneously attempting to convince Martin that they were not a cult.
This duplicitous process has created doctrinal schism in Adventism which remains to this day. Adventists internally disagree—even hotly disagree—on many points of doctrine and practice. Nevertheless, they all claim to be Adventists while clinging tightly to their own beliefs, and the General Conference has not clarified these doctrinal disagreements.