The following is just a brief summary of The Transitional Path. If you wish to download the nine-page outline, click here.
For the questioning or transitioning Adventist it will be very helpful to outline the order of study topics. Having personally transitioned out of Adventism and communicated with hundreds of others who have done the same, I have found that most, if not the vast majority of Formers, followed nearly the same subject order in their experience. For many of us it was not an intentional order, rather, it just happened to us that way. The fact that so many of us followed the same path lends credence to it. Therefore, no matter where one is in his/her personal journey or inquiry, it is highly recommended that this order be followed. As in mathematics so it is for the transitioning Adventist. One must master one step before advancing to the next.
The Big Three
Granted, many of the study topics are interrelated and one might say that several need to be studied together. Here are the most important.
Nearly every Former I have communicated with first discovered the simple gospel. Perhaps this was the result of the early (for us) pioneers such as Robert Brinsmead and Desmond Ford who brought the message of righteousness by faith to the front and center of Adventist thought and clearly explained the difference between justification and sanctification. In that sense, one could say that this order was a historical order rather than a necessary order. Nevertheless for most of us, once we clearly understood the gospel, we began to see cracks in the Adventist theological paradigm that caused us to continue our study.
Not only is gospel clarity an important study for the process of transition, it is also the subject of utmost importance! After all, if there is one topic that needs to be clearly understood it is, “What must I do to be saved?” Therefore, we put this as the first order of business for the transitioning Adventist. One must be absolutely clear here. Misunderstanding the gospel will at best rob us of assurance, at worst; it might keep us from experiencing eternal life. The importance of this subject cannot be overemphasized.
However, before we actually get to this subject we must look at the rest of the big three.
How is one to determine the essence of the pure gospel? Is it by the study of the Bible and the Bible only? Is the by reading the Bible as interpreted by Ellen White? Or, is it by what the SDA Church states? For Adventists this is not always an easy answer. Some will say, “Just read Steps to Christ” by Ellen White. It will become clear. Other Adventists who still use the KJV might answer, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Rev. 22:14.
There are many Adventists who would agree with either or both of the above. However, there are major problems with either. Few Adventists know that the real author of Steps to Christ was Fanny Bolton. True, Miss. Bolton was working for Ellen White as her secretary when she gathered and arranged the material for Steps to Christ. So in that sense it could (and is) said that Ellen White was the author. However, one must not trust their eternal destiny to a person working for Ellen White.
Next, few Adventists—especially those who still use the KJV—know that the translation of Rev. 22:14 is not the correct translation. Modern literal translations such as the NASB or the NIV have “wash their robes” in the place of “keep his commandments” in this verse. Why? The earliest manuscript witness we have reads “wash their robes.” This is why it is best to use a modern literal translation when doing serious Bible study as it will reflect the most accurate translation based upon the best manuscript evidence. Most Adventist evangelists know that it is easer to “prove” Adventist theology from the KJV. This is the reason many evangelists give away a free KJV Bible to those who attend their meetings. While there are several other aspects dealing with the topic of authority we now turn to the last of the big three and then we will come back to each for further development.
The transitioning Adventist must once and for all come to grips with Ellen White. Either she was a true prophet, or inspired "messenger of God" or she was not. If she was, then we must all return to Adventism for she repeatedly states that those who leave the Adventist church will end up becoming infidels and lose their souls. If she was not, then we need not be bound by her many statements damming those who question Adventism.
This is no little matter for Adventists. It must be resolved. Personally I remember the months of turmoil Carolyn and I went through seeking the answers regarding Ellen White. Fortunately, there is a lot more easily accessible information available today on Ellen White than there was for those of us who left in the early '80s.
Expanding on the big three
When I was struggling with this issue, I reached my conclusion based upon the Bible, Ellen White and Church doctrine. While there are contradictions in both the writings of Ellen White and church doctrine on this matter, the Bible witness is clear.
The Bible Witness:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.
2 Tim. 3:16
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Rom. 1:16
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 Jn. 5:13
…these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. Jn. 20:31
…and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 2 Tim. 3:15
The Bible makes it very clear that the true Word of God and it's teachings are sufficient for salvation. It is the Protestant declaration that the Bible and the Bible alone is sufficient for faith and practice.
The witness of Ellen White
"But God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority—not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain "Thus saith the Lord" in its support. The Great Controversy, p. 595
There are many conflicting statements in the writings of Ellen White on this topic. At one time she will point to the Bible as the ultimate authority. At other times she puts her writings in that place.
The witness of church doctrine:
The Adventist church is also somewhat unclear. For example, point number one in the Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists states:
"The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history."
However, having stated this, we now turn to point number 17 in the same statement of beliefs where we read:
"One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested."
The problem with Adventism is that it has two sources of truth. Adventists say the Bible is their standard, however in practice it is usually the Bible interpreted by Ellen White.
If we stand in the heritage of the Protestant Reformation and considering the above passages it seems clear, at least to me, that we must take the Bible and the Bible only as our only authority in testing the “truths” of Adventism.
After determining the essence of the true gospel, understanding that the Bible is the true and only authority and making a decision on the authority of Ellen White then...
Use sound principles of hermeneutics
There is yet another aspect of the topic of authority that we must consider. Having accepted the Bible as our only authority, we must next understand the function of hermeneutics, which deals with the presuppositions and principles and of interpretation.
Adventism was founded on the “proof-text” method of Bible interpretation. When in academy I was taught to study the Bible by the “here a little and there a little” method which Ellen White endorsed. And that is the method often used to prove most of the unique teachings of Adventism. However, that is not how the Bible should be studied. We must learn to study the Bible in context, verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, book by book. While there are times when doing a topical study one must gather together a number of Bible references, nevertheless the ideal way is to read and interpret passages in their own context.
When studying the Bible it is important to let the New Testament interpret the Old. It is also vital to have a clear understanding of the covenants and know what covenant one is under.
Our doctrine and beliefs should come from passages that deal with the subject matter. They should be didactic passages, such as we find in the New Testament and especially in the epistles of Paul. For example, if one wants to understand salvation, turn to the book of Romans where Paul deals with this subject thoroughly and in the correct order of sub-topics. If one needs information regarding the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament sanctuary, read Hebrews. If one wants to understand the difference between the covenants read Galatians and 2 Corinthians 3 as well as Hebrews.
Doctrine should seldom, if ever,—I would say never—come from the apocalyptic passages of Ezekiel, Daniel, Revelation or other such apocalyptic sections. Most of these books are open to numerous interpretations.
It is also important to realize that we do not have to have all the answers, especially to questions dealing with the interpretation of apocalyptic prophecies! Rather, where the Bible is clear, we can and should be certain. Where the Bible is unclear we must be tentative. To be dogmatic in the interpretation of Scriptures that are unclear or are honestly open to more than one interpretation is the foundation of the disunity within the Christian church and the recipe for cultic teaching.
Always follow your conscience
Next, it is important to keep a clear conscience. Recognize that conscience can be misinformed based upon past erroneous teachings. However, the conscience is the voice of God to the soul and one must always follow his/her conscience. This means that only as the conscience is re-educated by the teachings of the Word of God is it safe to make major changes in one's belief and practice.
Therefore, the ABCs of evaluating the teachings of Adventism—or any other church for that matter—are to:
1. Start with the Gospel
2. Determine your source of authority
3. Make a determination once and for all on
Ellen White (or other modern-day
4. Use sound principles of hermeneutics.
5. Always follow your conscience.
While I have not mentioned it here in depth it is also important to become involved in a group Bible study with other Christians and find a person, group, or internet presence to "talk-through" the issues you personally face.
It is our prayer that this suggested "Transitional Path" will be useful to those who are earnestly seeking truth. Remember truth can stand the test of investigation. When people are afraid to evaluate evidence it is a sign they may be in a cultic group which teaches that looking at evidence will lead one into deception.