Category Archives: Doctrines

An Alternative View of Church Unity

Weiers Coetser

An Alternative View of Church Unity

This article was first published by Adventist Today in June 2017.


Midway through 2017 we find ourselves, for better or worse, on the rutted and pothole-filled road of “church unity.” The landscape that this road tries to navigate has been defined by some as justice. But it’s all very complicated, and here I’m going to try to give you a better lay of the land.

“The beat of justice resonates within you,” said Dan Jackson warmly and reassuringly shortly after the October 2016 Annual Council decision to accept the draft Church Unity document. He was addressing those in the North American Division who felt disillusioned by the Church’s persistent unwillingness to deal equitably and fairly with all its members and clergy—male or female.

But will things take on a different nuance if we look back at our past? Commentators have observed our tendency to co-opt, and collude uncritically, with the dominant socio-political realities of our time. A bird’s-eye view back to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is in order. We bought into the great American dream. We shaped our global expansion on the same lines. We did it with the same inexorable drive as the most august institutions of colonialism and global capitalism.

The Historical Path

Here are some connections between Adventist history and the history of colonialism:

In 1863, when the Seventh-day Adventist church was beginning to take official shape, David Livingstone was still exploring the Zambezi. Much of the African continent had not even been charted. The West was enthralled by stories of adventure purveyed by newspapers who sponsored exploratory journeys through the “dark continent.”

As the Seventh-day Adventist church put down its roots in America, and as the civil war was being fought around the issue of slavery, colonialism was far from a retreating force. Significant swathes of the world were still up for grabs by exploitative entrepreneurs and nation-states. The conditions that the colonial drive created over the next few decades were truly horrifying. Between 1860 and 1910 more than 10 million people would die in the Congo alone.

The Seventh-day Adventist church’s first missionary drive into Africa and the Orient coincided with the height of colonial optimism. Diamonds, gold, and rubber all drew prospectors and businesses to this new frontier to amass a fortune without regard to the welfare of the local nations.

Along with them went our church’s first missionaries on their own project of global expansion.

Along the way, it would be safe to argue, we Adventists bought into the worldview that underpinned colonialism. We exported an American product to the world, laced with the language of a peculiar kind of exceptionalism. In return we were buoyed by the accomplishment of our great commission as the world was transformed by this American/European vision of reality. Seldom did the Church show a deep-seated interest to engage with the cultures that it encountered, to risk being transformed, or to acknowledge the potential for diversity. Additionally, our inspired organisational structure allowed for strong centralised control.

The extent to which the Adventist church mirrored the colonial project deserves to be explored in more depth, but the evidence shows that we cannot claim that we were immune to the ideologies that undermined the fabric of society. The South African church, for example, simply mirrored South African Apartheid. We’ve been slow at setting up centres of leadership and learning in the countries we entered, relying much more heavily on a retainer class of church administrators and thought leaders who had studied in the United States, such as in the halls of Andrews University.

Colonialism insidiously undermined the fabric of the historic communities where we drew our members from. Many argue that patriarchy was a rarity in earlier indigenous societies and was a result of colonial exploitation. Women bore the brunt of the economic and physical violence perpetrated by the colonial project. Think of a system where men are forced to become migrant laborers, in cities that are designed to exploit labour but destroy family bonds. They would return only occasionally to rural areas to bring money and HIV/AIDS infections to the women and girls at home. Did we preach headship theology historically? Perhaps this was a tacit endorsement, validating violent systems of patriarchy.

Colonialism eventually collapsed, giving rise to anarchic political situations in the countries that were under the grip of Western powers for many decades. The West’s exploitation, however, did not end there. Now the international market economy took over, creating the dependencies (sometimes by propping up deeply flawed dictators, or loaning excessive amounts of money to weak nations leaving them forever indebted) and the opportunities for great multinational companies to exploit every bit of wealth that might still be present in these parts of the world.

Turning of the tide

In recent decades, however, the instability that culminated from centuries of exploitation without building healthy societies has begun to bite back. Perhaps the most telling example is the current migrant crisis where Europe and the West is being overrun by the same people whose natural resources and labour they have benefited from over the last five centuries of slavery, colonialism, and globalisation.

“Postcolonial” migrants are now coming with huge needs and stringent expectations. Europe’s response is to be completely perturbed. The European states seem inept in engaging with the crisis in any way other than to protect self-interest. Fences are being erected (literally and figuratively). The response is mostly defensive, trying to find ways to define how the situation should be managed. But the rest of the world now seems unwilling to play according to the Western rules. They keep piling in by the droves. In boat after boat they arrive to claim some of the perceived wealth and stability that Europe and America had benefited from for hundreds of years—at their expense.

Unsurprisingly it seems a parallel phenomenon is happening with Adventism. The global product of American evangelical fundamentalism that we exported to the rest of the world is coming home. I would suggest that this global picture of justice, (or the historic lack thereof) is what shapes the landscape that presents itself on the floors of the General Conference and the Annual Council.

As I listened to the October Annual Council debate last autumn, I sensed that the church still has a long way to go to deal with its colonial legacy.

  • In gathering of global church leadership we are still having problems pronouncing the names of international speakers while those of many North-American speakers pose little problem. To what extent is the notion of a global, international church just a veneer even at the level of the highest most global of executive committees? Is this perhaps a marker that we have some way to go to develop the necessary relationships and skills to deal with the intricacies of being a global church?
  • The overwhelming majority of responses were from American and Europeans. Whether opposing or supporting the motion (having to do with a document to bring North American unions that ordain women into line with the General Conference) one wonders who the real intended audience of these entreaties were. Was it the small group that drafted the report? Was it top level administration? How successful were they in addressing the global church?
  • Almost every African member that spoke (there were very few) seemed to demonstrate a completely incommensurate view of the world.  I perceived little or no interest to engage in any of the clever or intricate arguments made by the North American and European speakers. They defined the issues differently and they too were unapologetic about their point of departure.

It was like two ships sailing past each other at night. The one was largely silent. The other was full of sound and fury, but the occupants of this ship did not seem to recognise how radically power has shifted in the church. In the battle for the correct view of justice, meaningful relationships seem to have fallen on the wayside.

What about Ted Wilson?

Those in favour of women’s ordination see Ted Wilson as the one who embodies the fundamentalist drive to enforce unity. If they can make him out to be the pariah, they can still believe that they are busy with an internal theological debate within a Western church with a range of Western theological perspectives.

One commentator recently asked if Ted Wilson does not merely have his finger on the pulse of the church and knows where the power lies and the energy flows. I think that Elder Wilson embodies the challenges that face the church. His leadership has become the focal point of tensions brought about by our colonial legacy. Our real failure seems to lie in our incapability to meet in meaningful engagement across the divisions created by our legacy.

What lies ahead?

There is a danger that the church will become more fragmented. The Western church could easily dissolve in the face of the results of its own historic legacy, and become invisible. It could continue to insist on its right and ability to define the terms of engagement, erecting more robust boundaries, leaving the rest of the global church poorer. Administrative decisions by Annual Councils and General Conference sessions could become punitive, even more quickly weakening the Western church.

Or we could choose a more hopeful route. We could acknowledge the complexity of the situation and open ourselves up to learn a new set of skills to pursue justice on a broader level. The clarion call of the Gospel will never go away: for us to be big hearted and generous as we encounter the strangers at our gates.


Bosom of the Father

The "begotten' Son of God

Bosom of the Father

Pastor Pieter Gey van Pittius has been involved in pastoral work since 1986.  He  graduated with a BA Theology degree from Andrews University in 1991 and was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1995, In the same year he graduated from Pretoria University with a BA Honors in Biblical Studies, cum laude. He worked in South Korea as a teacher for 9 years where he  completed an M.ed in Curriculum and Instruction through the American College of Education, summa cum laude. In Korea he became involved in outreach to the unchurched and reaching other faiths with the gospel. He is now back in pastoral work in South Africa and is is currently doing preparatory work with the purpose of enrolling for a Ph.D. in apologetics at North West University in Potchefstroom.

The article below is the second of a series in which Pastor Pieter responds to Dr. Martin Bredenkamp’s arguments about why he no longer accepts the Trinitarian doctrine as taught by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Our readers are invited to respond to the ideas of these two authors by commenting in the comment space below the article or on the Adventist Soapbox Facebook Page.

The Word who is God

Bosom of the Father

In my first response to Dr. Martin Bredenkamp’s article I promised to address the reference to the ‘bosom’ of the Father. The verse referred to is John 1:18 “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” ASV. The Greek word used for ‘bosom’ in this verse is kolpon[i] and according to Dr.Bredenkamp this term shows that Jesus is a Son of God in a “more literal manner” (sic) or elsewhere, “This strongly implies that Christ is the literal son of God.” I’m at a loss at exactly what is implied by this statement. The closest equivalent I can think of, is what the Latter Day Saints say: that God had physical relations with a woman (whoever that may have been) and that Jesus was born from that liaison? I quote from their website “Jesus Christ is literally the son of God the Eternal Father.”[ii] Although God and his family are referred to as ‘spirit beings’, the relationships implied are literal. Once a statement like that is made, one runs into all kinds of dead ends.

The meaning in broader cultural context

However, the word itself had a wide range of meaning at the time. It could mean lap, bosom or the womb of a mother, but it could also indicate the place of honor at a table. It had a whole lot of other meanings as well, but what interests me most is that it was used in the LXX (The Greek translation of the Old Testament) to translate the word that expresses marital (intimate) fellowship! The final conclusion about the use of the word ‘bosom’ in John 1:18, according to Rudolf Meyer, is that it “expresses the closest fellowship”. This kind of fellowship is very close and very personal.[iii]

A close, personal relationship

 Looking at the wider context of the word ‘bosom’, we must read from chapter 13:23[iv] to bring us closer to the meaning the Gospel of John wants to convey with this special word. “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved” (KJV). John was part of the inner circle of three with James and Peter, but of the three he was the closest to Jesus.[v] He modestly refers to himself in the third person when he says he was the disciple “whom Jesus loved.”[vi] There was a special bond between John and Jesus, a bond of close friendship as we already saw above.  What is more, at the last supper John sat in the most honored position.[vii] This is a comprehensive, balanced and correct understanding of what is indicated by the word ‘bosom’ in John 1:18. A literalistic approach to this phrase inadvertently blinds us to the depths and rich meaning of the text and leads to a reductionist, wrong understanding of the whole passage in question. The bond between God the Father and God the Son (the Word) is extremely personal and close, this is what John is trying to tell us.

A personal God versus an impersonal God

 The conclusion that we worship a God who is highly personal, who stands in an acutely personal relationship with his Son, is quite revolutionary when it is contrasted with the Greek idea of God at the time of the writing of the Gospel of John. At first the Greek gods were simply viewed as basic forms of reality and later they increasingly denoted impersonal, metaphysical powers and forces.[viii] In a more recent study of the matter Ronald Nash points out that the prevalent view of God in John’s time was Stoic, which viewed God as impersonal and incapable of knowledge or love[ix] (emphasis mine). In contrast to this cold and impersonal force or power as our God, John communicates to us through the use of the word ‘bosom’ that God is someone more than capable of the closest, intimate relationship. He created us in his image and therefore our lives find the highest meaning in close, intimate and personal relationships. This is the way God created us to be. Little wonder, the longest running study of all time (75 years), done by Harvard University over a broad spectrum of society, concluded that healthy relationships keep us healthy and happy![x]

The image of God

We find further confirmation and illumination of the truth of God as an intensely relational God in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”[xi] This doesn’t mean that we are gods like some erroneously infer from this passage, but that we are like God. In other words this passage is a ‘snapshot’ of what God is like.[xii] We are like God because we are created in relationship, male and female. This is the closest relationship known to man, even closer than our relationship with our children,[xiii] because we do not share nearly as many dimensions with our kids as we share with our husbands and wives. In Genesis chapter 2, when Adam meets Eve, he exclaims in jubilation that she is “bone of my bones” and “flesh of my flesh”.[xiv] In other words, seeking for someone that he can have a relationship with (he was alone and that was not good), he searched in vain among the animals who were not bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, they did not have the same nature as him. A meaningful and deep relationship was only possible with someone who was of the same nature.[xv] In the same way it is impossible for the Word to know the Father so intimately as to be “in” his “bosom” if they were not of the same nature. John 1:18, then has very little to do with ‘literal sonship’ in the way that Dr.Bredenkamp implies, but everything to do with the nature of the God that we worship.

A meaningful relationship means being equal in nature

Let’s look at this from another angle. It is not possible for one to have a deep, intimate and meaningful relation with an ant.  With a dog, one can have some kind of relation. One can love it a lot, but the relationship with the dog will always fall short of all the dimensions of a relationship with a fellow human being. Even though in this crazy world, a man married to a doll claims that he has a “meaningful emotional connection”with it,[xvi] we know in our heart of hearts that this is absurd! It is clear, from the context of John chapter 1, as we shall see, that the Word and the Father are equal in nature, clearly not in status but definitely in nature. Both are fully God in nature, because they share the same Being.

Face to face, equal in nature

 When we look at the immediate context of the word ‘kolpos’ or ‘bosom’, it has an even deeper meaning. In John 1:1 we read that the “Word was with God” (KJV). A literal translation will be ‘The Logos was face to face with (pros, πρὸς) God’. “It is the word used of two people looking into each other’s eyes and loving one another.”[xvii] The same word is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12 to convey the idea of knowing something fully, or face to face. In other words, the Logos is in a face to face relationship with God the Father in which they know each other fully! It is only God that can know God fully. That is why John, to make sure that we understand what he says, immediately continues to say in the following phrase “and the Word was (ēn, ἦν) God” (KJV). There is no doubt in his mind. Only God can know God, in such a complete and intimate manner. Moreover, the verb ‘was’(ēn, ἦν) is a conjugation of the verb (i-mee’, εἰμί) when Jesus identified Himself with the God of the burning bush whom Moses encountered, the ‘I am’. John 8:58 “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am (KJV, emphasis mine). In other words, the Word ‘was’(keeps on existing) as God forever.


 The word ‘kolpos’ is part of the context of John chapter 1, and is used together with the concept ‘face to face’ of John 1:1, to establish that the Word and God are in a very personal and close relationship. Moreover, this relationship is only possible if the Word and God are of the same nature. In other words, they both need to be God to be in this kind of relationship. This is also reflected in the “Image of God” in man, a ‘snapshot’ of who God really is. In my next article, I will give attention to the rest of John 1:1-18 in relation to more statements made in Dr. Bredenkamp’s original article.

[i] κόλπον is the accusative, a declension of – κόλπος


[iii]Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel &translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol III, 1965, WM. B. Eerdmans Pub Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 824-826

[iv]κόλπῳ, the dative, a declension of κόλπος

[v]David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible, A Unique Overview of the Whole Bible. 2015, p.889

[vi]John 19:26; John 13:23

[vii]Pierre Steenberg,“It was for me, I’m forgiven”, 2017, p.19

[viii]Kleinknecht, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel & Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol III, 1965, WM. B. Eerdmans Pub Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 68-69

[ix]Ronald Nash, “Was the New Testament Influenced by Stoicism?”, March 30, 2009, Christian Research Institute, Article ID: DA242

[x]Robert Waldinger,“What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness”, Jan 25, 2016, Youtube video,, Retrieved on March 27, 2017

[xi]Genesis 1:27 (KJV)

[xii]Dick Staub, March 4, 2013, “What ‘Made in the Image of God’ Really Means Taking a second look at a very misunderstood part of our faith.”, Relevant Magazine,, Retrieved on March 27, 2017

[xiii] David Pawson, Unlocking The Bible, A Unique Overview of the Whole Bible. 2015, p.52

[xiv] Gen 2:23 “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (KJV)

[xv] David Pawson, Unlocking The Bible, A Unique Overview of the Whole Bible. 2015, p.50

[xvi]Sullivan, R,October4,2013, Davecat tells how he married a RealDoll named SidoreKuroneko,NewsComAu,, Retrieved March 27, 2017

[xvii]David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible, A Unique Overview of the Whole Bible. 2015, p.903

Do you agree with the author’s reasoning in this article that Jesus was not a literal son of the Father, but that the phrase “bosom of the Father” rather describes the intimate relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Please share your response in the comment box below or on the relevant Facebook page. Please “like” this article on the Facebook page.



Doctrine of the Trinity

A first response to Dr. Bredenkamp

Pieter, author of blog
Ps. Pieter Gey van Pittius

The trinitarian formula


Pastor Pieter Gey van Pittius has been involved in pastoral work since 1986.  He  graduated with a BA Theology degree from Andrews University in 1991 and was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1995, In the same year he graduated from Pretoria University with a BA Honors in Biblical Studies, cum laude. He worked in South Korea as a teacher for 9 years where he  completed an M.ed in Curriculum and Instruction through the American College of Education, summa cum laude. In Korea he became involved in outreach to the unchurched and reaching other faiths with the gospel. He is now back in pastoral work in South Africa and is is currently doing preparatory work with the purpose of enrolling for a Ph.D. in apologetics at North West University in Potchefstroom.

The article below is one of a series in which Pastor Pieter responds to Dr. Martin Bredenkamp’s arguments about why he no longer accepts the Trinitarian doctrine as taught by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Our readers are invited to respond to the ideas of these two authors by commenting directly on the respective blog posts or on the Facebook pages where these blogs are also featured.

A need for reverence

I’ve thought seriously on how to approach my response to Dr. Bredenkamp‘s article. It is impossible to answer all his statements in this one post and therefore I’ll do it in several deliveries.

The first point that I would like to emphasize is that one must be careful when talking about God and for very good reason: We are but mere creatures talking about our Creator and this is why we should be reverent and humble when discussing our God. This is why I was greatly disturbed by the opening story in Dr. Martin’s article, the picnic story about God. It is impossible for me to determine whether the description is a faithful account of the original content of what the preacher told his congregation, but the way it is portrayed in Martin’s post, in my opinion, shows a  lack of reverence.

The incomparable God

I don’t want to be guilty of the same mistake and that is why I start with this verse from Isaiah 40:25 “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One…” This is of course a rhetorical question with only one answer, “No one and nothing else!” This is why we should be careful when starting a phrase like “God is like…” Nothing can be like God for there is only One like Him and that is God himself. In other words, when we use analogies to try and explain Him, they can only serve in a limited way to illustrate certain aspects of His character. When any analogy is pushed too far, it breaks down (James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity, 2012, p. 13).

God’s Word in human language

Even when scripture uses analogies we must remember that “the writers of the Bible had to express their ideas in human language. It was written by human men…. The Bible is not given to us in grand superhuman language.” (Selected Messages 1,19-21). Ellen White is not alone in her conviction. Most serious scholars through the ages hold similar views about talking about God. For instance, Durand, Alfred (1910). “Inspiration of the Bible”. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York);  Luther when he said “The actual writing was a human not a supernatural act” (Farrar, F. W. (1886). History of interpretation (p. 339). London: Macmillan and Co.), and so also, Calvin (Ibid, p.345).

Human language itself breaks down when trying to describe the Divine for one thing, because of the connotations we as humans have for certain words (James R. White, 2012, p.13). One example would be the word “Son”. Martin Bredenkamp says that the use of the word ‘bosom’ “indicates that Christ was a literal son of God.” This is using this word out of its context. When reading John 1:1-18, it becomes abundantly clear that the Word is God from eternity. This exegesis I will leave for a later contribution.

Authenticity of the trinitarian formula

I want to confine myself here to one more issue from Dr. Martin’s article: “The Johannine Comma”  (1 John 5:7-8) and “The Great Commission” ( Matthew 28:19). Dr. Martin lumps these two verses together in one category as extra biblical content that have been added to Scripture hundreds of years after the New Testament was written.

These two verses just do not belong to the same category. Scholars do not dispute the fact that the Johannine Comma is a later addition. This can be well attested by studying early manuscripts. As to the truth of what this later addition affirms, it is another matter entirely. On the other hand, it is easy to prove that Matthew 28:19 is original and not inserted by Athanasius in the fourth century as Dr. Martin claims.

The internet is frequently used to spread ideas that cannot be academically justified. One instance of this is  the hype about Matthew 28:19’s authenticity that has been produced by Pastor Reckart’s statement that a Hebrew manuscript of Matthew 28:19 has been discovered without the Trinitarian formula .

What Reckart doesn’t explain to his readers is that this manuscript dates from 1380 AD! (William Horbury, Appendix p.729 in A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew ed.D. Davies, William David Davies, Dale C. Allison).

The Didache and the trinitarian formula

There is a lot of additional proof that can be cited in defence of the authenticity of Matthew 28:19, but here I will only focus on the Didache. This is unquestionable, rock-hard evidence. The Didache is a document dated by various scholars from as early as 50 AD to as late as 150 AD, but the majority dates it earlier in the first century between 60 and 80 AD (Cross, edited by F.L. (2005). The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd rev. ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 482. ISBN 978-0192802903.)

The Didache quotes the “trinitarian formula” twice. First in 7:1 “Now concerning baptism, baptize thus: Having first taught all these things (everything Jesus taught us to do), baptize ye into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living (running) water.” (The Didache, Phillip Schaff translation). The same formula is repeated in 7:3 as well, (I included some explanation in brackets for clarity). There are only two possibilities here, either the writer quotes directly from Matthew 28:19 or uses a common source. In both cases it excludes the possibility of a fourth century interpolation by Athanasius! Matthew 28:19 is authentic and was spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ himself.


In this article I emphasized that  we worship a God that defies definition. That means that we should be humble and reverent when talking about Him. Further, when scripture describes God, human language is used and that should be taken into account. Finally, I presented evidence that the trinitarian formula is as old as Christianity itself and Matthew 28:19’s authenticity is vindicated by the Didache beyond a doubt.

In a following article I will address John chapter 1 and the reference to the ‘bosom’ of the Father. I will show how John specifically addresses the divinity of Jesus and how that impacts the rest of the book of John and the New Testament’s testimony about Jesus.



An alternate view of the godhead

Author of the Trinity post
Dr Martin Bredenkamp

Editor’s introduction: In a previous blog, “Storms in the Adventist Church“, we made reference to a number of contested theological topics in the Seventh-day Adventist church that sometimes impact on congregations or individual members. The issues often result in confusion and discord. From time to time members choose to leave the church as a result.  We would like to explore this situation further. Our purpose is not to promote a particular cause or to engage in traditional apologetics for the Church. We believe the act of careful listening and trying to understand positions that we don’t necessarily agree with can open dialogue that is enriching for those who are on a journey of discovery. If the process of listening and conversation is conducted sensitively and honestly, it will almost always be an enriching exercise for all who engage in it, even if agreement is not reached. It is in this spirit that we publish Dr. Martin Bredenkamp’s  article, even though we do not endorse or agree with his conclusions.  Martin Bredenkamp grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist church and worked in its education system, but he has resigned his membership because he feels he can no longer believe in some of the key doctrines of the Church, one of these being the doctrine of the Trinity. We asked him to explain his thinking around this issue. Our questions to our readers are: What do you think of Martin’s general argument? Does he raise issues that require further investigation? Is there room for development in one’s thinking about the Trinity. Please share your insights.

Disclaimer: “The Adventist Soapbox” does not necessarily agree with or subscribe to all the views of our various contributors.

The Trinity

I have heard a sermon where the pastor used the following analogy to try and explain the concept of the Trinity and and their respective roles in the plan of salvation. He stated: “The Trinity is like three people planning a picnic. One said he would bring the food and vegetables, Another volunteered to bring the drinks, and the Last quite willingly agreed to bring the dessert. Likewise the three Gods (that are one) volunteered for their respective roles in the plan of salvation. Christ offered to become human and be the sacrifice to pay for the guilt of man. The Holy Spirit volunteered to be the omnipresent influence among humans to woo their hearts to salvation. The third, the Father, would stay in heaven and take charge of the plan, and orchestrate the activities of the the Trinity,.” This is obviously an extreme oversimplification of the concept, but it does contain the basic ideas that most Trinitarians believe in. I, however, could never agree with, this understanding of God. For me the New Testament is very clear that Christ is subordinate to the Father. Since childhood, I have accepted that God is in charge, Christ is subordinate to Him, and that the Holy Spirit is subordinate to both of them. Then, some years back, my wife was concerned about the Trinity doctrine, and I explained my understanding of it. She was not satisfied with my view, and the two of us embarked on a deep study of the Trinity. We came to the conclusion that the Trinity-concept is not Biblical. In fact the word does not even occur in the Bible. We shared our conclusions with staff and faculty at the Asia-Pacific International University (AIU) where we were employed, and the inevitable happened: We were asked by the church elders to step down from our positions in the church. One of the theologians on campus then provided us with a book written by three Adventist scholars on “The Trinity.” We soon realized that the doctrine is built on a mere 28 texts in the Bible that could be misconstrued to support a godhead of three equal beings, compared to over three hundred texts that indicate that Christ is separate from, and inferior to the Father. A closer look at these 28 texts revealed that these scholars had “cherry picked” translations to suit their dogma for these texts. The original Greek often meant something else. Sometimes it was a missing comma that conveyed the wrong ideas. Two texts had been inserted into the Bible by people promoting the false doctrine of the Trinity:

  1. Matt 28:19 by Athanasius in the fourth century that states we should baptise in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and
  2. the ‘Johannine Comma’, 1 John 5:7,8, in the 9th century, that states there are three witnesses in heaven.

The fact that these texts were inserted into the Bible is all the more reason to suspect the doctrine on the Trinity.

Christ the Son

As we were studying through the New Testament, we found that calling Christ the Son, is not just an analogy to have us relate to the connection between the Father and Son, but should be interpreted in a more literal manner. The King James Version says that Christ comes from the bosom of the Father (John 1:18). A study of the meaning of this takes us to the practice of women in the time of Christ who wore a sheet across their shoulders, tying a belt around their wastes. The sheet would make a fold above the waist, and in this fold lactating women often carried their babies, allowing them to suckle unhindered. These babies were in their mother’s bosom. Likewise Christ came from the bosom of the Father. This strongly implies that Christ is the literal son of God. Hebrews chapter 1, quoting Psalms 2, indicates that Christ was an angel that pleased the Father so much, that on a “day,” he made Him His Son. He chose Him from among His companions, the angels. The Father calls Him God at this point. This is one of the few places in the Bible where Christ is called God. Christ was not eager to accept obeisance as God, and discouraged it sometimes such as when the rich young ruler called Him “Good Master.” His reply to that was that there is no one good but the Father. The concept of being chosen from among the angels finds support at an unexpected place: Lev 16. This chapter defines the rituals on the Day of Atonement. Two goats were brought on that day, and lots were cast on them. One became the sacrificial goat, the other the scapegoat, representing Christ and Satan respectively.

The Holy Spirit

Through the years many scholars have found it difficult to determine whether the Holy Spirit is a being or the heart of God among us in His absence. Isaac Newton, for instance, studied this concept throughout his life, and never came to a final conclusion. The Holy Spirit is argued to be a third member of the Godhead. Arguments such as Him having a personality since we must not grieve Him (Ephesians 4:30) have been put on the table. Yet it is indicated that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father, and the Spirit of Christ. For example, in John 14:18, Christ says, He will not leave them comfortless, but will come to them. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is therefore Christ coming to them. The Holy Spirit is actually the Spirit of the Father through Christ.

History of the doctrine of the Trinity

What does history teach us? Eusebius (AD 260 – 340), the theological historian was not a Trinitarian but a Binitarian (Father and Son only). It is clear from his writings that the Trinity was not an accepted church doctrine before his time. Athanasius, mentioned earlier, strongly promoted the concept of three gods in heaven and largely through his influence the Trinity was accepted as doctrine at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381 ( The doctrine of the Trinity was one of the changes brought about to unify pagans and Christians in Rome, together with Sunday worship, Easter and Christmas. The pagans believed in three gods: Baal (father), Ashtoreth (mother) and Tammuz (child) ( In the places of these three heathen gods came the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son. Thus three gods in heathenism became three in one gods in Christianity – the Trinity. When Adventism came into being, many of our pioneers recognised the heathen origins, and the lack of support for the Doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible, and did not believe in it. However, in the 1930’s, long after the pioneers had passed away, LeRoy Edwin Froom, a well known Adventist scholar, developed an interest in the Trinity doctrine in the SDA church. He did much research and wrote the four volume set, “Prophetic Faith of our Fathers,” and also “Movement of Destiny.”  He researched the works of E.G. White, and collected every statement that he thought could support the doctrine of the Trinity. From this he compiled the book “Evangelism”. Some have concluded that this book reflects his bias in support of the Trinity doctrine. Many think that E.G. White wrote the book “Evangelism,” but it is a compilation. The publication of this book, together with the volumes mentioned earlier contributed to the formal acceptance of the Trinity doctrine as a doctrine of the Church in 1980.

The Adventist Church an Apostate church

The Adventist church has essentially apostatized. We are characterized as a church defending the fourth commandment. However, while we heroically protected our front door against apostasy in the Sabbath command, an enemy slipped in through the kitchen window and brought in a greater apostasy – the doctrine of the Trinity. We believe we are free from the mark of the beast by not keeping Sunday holy, but in the meanwhile we have received its mark by accepting its greater apostate doctrine of the Trinity. I believe the issue of the Trinity will be the test of loyalty to God at the coming crisis rather than the Sabbath doctrine. In summary, the doctrine of the Trinity is not Biblical. God is one God, and has given us His only begotten Son who lived for us on earth, died for us, and was resurrected and ascended for us. God’s Spirit works through His Son to influence and woo us to Him. The Spirit is not a personal being but the unseen presence of God through His Son.  Adventism started in the belief of the One true God, but the forces of Babylon infiltrated the doctrine of the Trinity into our church, making us unwittingly a part of Babylon. The final showdown at the end of time will address this false doctrine and God’s people will return to worshiping Him, the one and only true God.


Blogging through “The White Elephant” No. 6

Weiers Coetser, co-editor of Adventist Soapbox
Weiers Coetser

A Response to Brian Neumann

In a sport like football or rugby, an ultimate fear for any player is scoring an own goal. This fear also exists within the world of critical conversations or debates. This is exactly what Brian Neumann says I have done.

I wrote a blog engaging with the first chapter of Brian Neumann’s new book, The White Elephant in Seventh-day Adventism. I raised a question about the method that Brian employed in quoting verses from Scripture to establish a standard by which one should test a prophet. His proof-text approach seemed arbitrary to me, even though Brian presented it to be hard-coded into Scripture.

Brian’s response was that I have misrepresented his project, and furthermore, that my approach undermined the faith tradition that I represent in the very same breath.

In this blog, I suggest that when it comes to reading one another’s perspectives, the danger that is bigger than scoring an own goal, is that we end up misreading each other and that we essentially seem to be on the same field, but that we are playing different games altogether.

In his response, Brian made a few comments that I take to mean that if I had read his chapter with an open mind, I would not have critiqued the way that he came to his conclusions. I therefore went back and read Brian’s chapter again, along with the material that he submitted afterwards. Here is what I understand him to say.

  • Firstly, his main interest in the chapter is to make the point that he wants to use a scriptural standard as a means to evaluate the life, teaching, and work of a prophet (but not only a prophet – Scripture is his standard for measuring anything.)

This is his main argument.  And as such I think that I have misread him. I struggled quite a bit to extract a template or a list of proofs or tests by which he wants to evaluate the work of Ellen White. He does mention a number of these tests in his chapter, but every time I read the chapter looking for a coherent list, I struggled to distil exactly which elements are important to him. The eventual list that I thought he had come up with was: 1.) Does her life and teachings conform to the Bible? 2.) Did her predictions come true (except if there were clear conditional elements.) 3.) Does her visionary experiences conform to the visionary experiences of Biblical prophets?  But subtly throughout the chapter he states that he is not convinced by this third test, and his second chapter confirms that he rejects this element as a proof.

What confused me was that he mentioned some other aspects of prophets that never featured in this final list, for example, the variety of ways in which they received messages from God, and the fact that prophets were not always exemplary in their lives and witness. He also stated that he is not trying to do an in depth, systematic study of the prophetic gift in the Bible. He also completely overlooked key New Testament passages about the gift of prophecy. This left me with the feeling that everything is just a bit too arbitrary – especially if he is trying to set a strict “legal standard” and a direct scriptural pattern by which to evaluate the work of a prophet. I was looking for a systematic study of the phenomenon of biblical prophets, but I never really found that.

It is in this context that I noticed that he strings (what seems to me to be unrelated and, at times, even spurious) Bible verses together to make his argument about the need for a prophet to conform to the whole of Scripture. I chose to call that out. I still stand by my view that there are better ways to make an argument for employing Scripture. But having read Brian’s responses carefully, I am quite willing to admit that I got out of the starting block too quickly to make generalisations about his approach. I don’t think that my critique undermines his argument that we should use Scripture as the final standard to evaluate the spiritual impact and truth claims of a prophetic life and message in general.

The lack of a systematic study of Biblical prophets at the beginning, does however mean that he will have to work harder in future chapters to show that he is in fact employing his scriptural standard wholistically, consistently and with fairness. I am quite happy to give Brian the benefit of the doubt to see where he will go with the standard. I look forward to see how he will do it. In my Blog number 4 I tried to outline some of the elements of prophetic ministry that I would like to be on the lookout for.

I hope that this response will satisfy Brian. I also hope that Brian will be willing to read my comments as a token of friendship. We live in a world in which it is very difficult to get people to really stop and pay attention to each other. Often we struggle with ideas in isolation. Writing can be a lonely process. It’s a pleasure to be able to take time to really engage.

Own Goal?

Let me address the question about the own goal. Brian is keen to point out that my interpretation of Isaiah 8 places me at odds with Ellen White, and the scriptural tradition that I come from.  He quotes sources at length to prove this. I can see that Brian feels that he is justified in using Isaiah 8:20 to make his argument. I agree that, based on a long tradition of reading scripture, this is defendable. (I have far bigger objections to the other verses that he employed in his argument.)

He might find it strange that I do not yet feel the compulsion to change my perspective on Isaiah 8. I have set out the method by which I have approached the text, which I believe is defensible and faithful to the standards that one should use when one takes Scripture seriously. I also reject the notion that there is any attempt to obfuscate Scripture in any way.

I would suggest to Brian that it is a misreading to conclude that I am therefore disregarding my heritage and my faith.  I don’t believe I am less committed than Brian, or any Seventh-day Adventist for that matter, to give an accurate account of what Scripture teaches, or to hold it as the highest standard. My critique was never intended to undermine this principle. Perhaps the best way to show a commitment to Scripture is to put one’s best efforts into reading it. This is in my DNA as an Adventist.

I am also committed to the heritage that has brought Seventh-day Adventism to where it is today. In my teaching and in my ministry, I always set out to help support and nurture those who I have the privilege to encounter, to affirm and grow in their understanding of Bible fundamentals and Adventist beliefs.

Adventism is however a big tent and there is constant debate and conversation about how to interpret Scripture and history. Just this week (19 February 2017) I received a newsletter of the Adventist Theological Society announcing plans to publish several new Bible commentaries before the General Conference Session of 2020. These new commentaries contain some of the latest Bible scholarship, and new discoveries that have been made in biblical archaeology and the biblical text.

There is room for new perspectives around Scripture. While I am not going to presume that Ellen White would agree with my conclusion on Isaiah 8, I at least know that she would not be offended. She was a proponent of independent study of Scripture. Take this statement as an example:

“When no new questions are started by investigation of the scriptures, when no difference of opinion arises which will set men to searching the Bible for themselves to make sure that they have the truth, there will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition and worship they know not what.” Testimonies 5. p.707. (1889).

There are also new perspectives that develop around Ellen White and around the views of our church pioneers. There are even disagreements. It is simply impossible to paint an ideal historical picture of what a true Seventh-day Adventist should be and then expect that to remain the same for always and forever.

This creative tension between continuity and discontinuity is not confined to Seventh-day Adventism, or even to faith traditions in general. At the time of this conversation there is considerable public debate around the appointment of a new supreme court justice in the United States of America. One of the core issues that is being fiercely contested is how one should give proper account to the original principles of the United States constitution. Some choose a fundamentalist reading which try to retain the original core principles of the constitution independent of context, while others argue that the original principles of the constitution require that it be reinterpreted in the context of present day society. Both camps remain fundamentally American in their thinking even though they take different approaches.

In the process of trying to distil my thoughts for this article, I read the last chapter of The White Elephant. In that chapter, Brian also sets the requirement for every Seventh-day Adventist who wants to stand by the prophetic ministry of Ellen White to fit into a very specific mould that he thinks adherence to Ellen White would require and to be consistent with every truth claim, scriptural interpretation, and lifestyle standard that she proposed.

When I look at Brian’s interaction with me, and I read the testimony of Kamy in the context of this last chapter, I sense that Brian does not accept that there is room for pluralism in the Seventh-day Adventist faith. He sees anything other than a full commitment to a certain version of historical Adventism as fundamentally dishonest. Brian’s arguments against Ellen White works very well if he can convince his readers that there is only one legitimate way to read Ellen White. He can then point out the inconsistencies and this then gives him significant authority to force readers into an “either you are in or you are out” approach.

When a pastor or a reader of Ellen White chooses to make accommodations for faults or weaknesses in the way that our faith tradition has been shaped, or even in the life of Ellen White…if a re-interpretation is suggested… this is regarded as dishonest, double dealing, and portraying a lack of integrity. For Brian the only option is to either accept everything lock stock and barrel, or to reject it. He would even argue that this is intrinsically part of the fundamentals of Adventist belief and that Ellen White herself demands this. The ferocity of Brian’s attack against those who disagree with his version of historic Adventism suggests to me that his arguments against Ellen White stand or fall on this narrow binary view.

My intuition is that this will ultimately prove to be the biggest weakness of Brian’s argument. Such an inflexible monolithic view of a system of faith, and how adherents to a system of faith function, simply does not conform to reality.

The life of every human being consists of a mixture of passions, commitments to truth, personal failures, weaknesses and contradictions. This is true of Biblical writers as much as it is of modern people. We are all also products of our culture and our environment and we cannot escape this. There is no person who does not lose their way from time to time. Everybody, at all times, have many forces acting on them. Our lives also do not remain static, but follow trajectories in which change happen for good and bad. When you combine many such lives and individuals into a community, or into an institution the complexity becomes even greater.

The amazing thing about the testimony of Scripture is that God really works through these human factors – often despite these human factors.

It is for this reason that grace becomes such a prominent theme in Scripture. As Christians wend their way through the inevitable difficulties of the human condition, some of the Bible’s most salient bits of advice is to be patient, generous, longsuffering, slow to find fault… to treat people as you would like them to treat you. There is nothing dishonest about doing this. God did this for us. I would urge that this is the biblical standard by which we should also evaluate anybody whom we encounter in our lives.

By all means! — Let us be honest about the history and the true nature of how we, and our pioneers live our lives and interact with our world. I think this is the strongest contribution that Brian makes in his book. It is wrong to try to suppress or hide what is true. Unfortunately, many of these details have been slow to emerge.

But a hermeneutic that does not make allowances for the human condition, as well as factors such as interpersonal and broader historical context, while insisting on being the ultimate arbiter of what is right or wrong, is in my opinion unbiblical and needs to be approached with some suspicion and care.

What is your response to the concepts discussed in this blog? Please leave a comment below or take part in the dialogue on Facebook.

Storms in the Adventist church

Can the Adventist Church survive the 21st century?

Editor of website
Dr. P.W. Coetser

Storms in the Adventist Church

“A low pressure system has moved in across the borders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Everywhere on the leading edge, and in the wake of this frontal system, storms of mixed intensity are raging. Huge trees that have stood the tempests of time for a hundred and fifty years or more are being shaken to their roots and being bent into contours and shapes that could never be imagined. Historic landmarks are being defaced or pushed into the mud. In some cases churches (congregations) are splitting down the middle. In others, doctrinal controversies have erupted and church leadership is called in to try resolve the issues – or at least to prevent the flames of dissent from spreading to neighboring communities. Many valiant guardsmen, overcome by poisonous “fumes of heresy,” have fled to “cities of refuge” (such as the welcoming arms of atheism, Buddhism  or any of another number of “isms”). Some have discovered safety and security in traditionalist mainline churches.  Still others have, in the process of switching loyalties, become vocal and active critics of the Church.

From metaphor to reality: Why people leave Adventism

There are many  doctrinal storms raging in the Adventist church today. The following are possibly the most significant:

  1. Disagreement with regards to women’s ordination
  2. Lack of clarity relating to the nature of biblical inspiration as well as the inspiration of the writings of Ellen G. White.
  3. Renewed challenges around the Trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ
  4. Longstanding conflict around the Church’s view of eschatology – specifically the 2300 day prophecy and interpretation of the book of Revelation.
  5. Questions around a recent 7 day creation week
  6.  Reaction against the Church’s dealings with sexuality and GLBT issues.
  7. Consistently high rates of “de-conversion”- the large number of Adventists who leave the Church for various reasons.

In the rest of this article  we will focus on only one of the contemporary “storms”in Adventism and what the Church is doing, or should be doing, to deal with it: The “de-conversion” issue. However, none of the “storms” in the Adventist church today exist in isolation of one another. More often than not aspects of one issue are also interrelated to aspects of some of the other issues.

The scope of the problem

During the 2016 Annual Council the General Conference Secretariat reported that the Adventist world church, now with nearly 18 million members, has lost at least 1 in 3 Seventh-day Adventist members in the last 50 years. Also, in this century, the ratio of people lost versus new converts is 43 per 100.

These statistics are alarming and call for deep introspection, to determine why people leave Adventism, and to implement bold strategies to reverse this trend.

Reasons why people leave Adventism

There was never a time in the history of the Adventist Church that converts and believers did not for one or other reason decide to leave the Church. This phenomenon has always been a matter of concern and of study to Adventist leadership. The precise causes and exact nature of why people leave Adventism have been debated for generations. Let us note the input of three different voices on this issue:

The first voice: Fritz Guy

Fritz Guy1, respected Adventist scholar, thirty years ago already, shared the following insights regarding the “de-conversion” issue. He compares his observation of why people leave Adventism in the 1980’s with why they left the church in earlier decades: He states:

  1. In previous generations those who left the Adventist Church tended to be careless, rebellious, or embittered. Now they are often serious and thoughtful women and men whose personal pilgrimage leads them away from Adventism.
  2. Previously, when people gave up Adventism they usually gave up Christianity along with it. Now, however, more and more young people give up only their Adventism, and remain seriously Christian—as Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Catholics.

Guy’s investigation on why people leave Adventism also brought out the following factors:

  1. They think that Adventism is not entirely believable. For one thing, Adventism has been talking about the soon coming of Jesus for more than 160 years. After all this time, it is not clear what soon means. The prophetic time periods and “signs” plausible in the mid-1800s don’t seem to matter much to them in the late 1900’s (or in 2017, for that matter – Editor).
  2. For another thing, some people who leave the church are convinced that literalistic interpretations of the Bible are no longer viable. Such interpretations, they believe, are contradicted by an overwhelming weight of scientific evidence. Adventism has always understood itself as being committed to the truth, but some of our sons and daughters think that is no longer the case. For them Adventism is not credible.
  3. They think that Adventism is not relevant to today’s world. On the one hand, it seems stuck in the past, trying to preserve the culture of another century and perpetuate the thinking of an earlier generation. On the other hand, Adventism doesn’t seem to have anything to say or do about the current problems of the world. . . .

According to Fritz Guy, therefore, people were leaving the church, in the 1980’s, mostly for doctrinal, or other intellectual type reasons. Our “intuitive” observation is that this has not changed significantly in today’s world , thirty plus years later.

The second voice: Br. Anderson2, one of many critics of the Adventist Church

Critics of the Church are generally less tactful  when they point out their understanding of the causes of the high de-conversion rate in the Adventist Church. Brother Anderson, creator of the anti-Adventist website seems to come to similar conclusions as Guy when he writes:

“There are a myriad of reasons why people leave Adventism, but in recent years, one reason has begun to stand out above all others: Knowledge. With easy access to the Internet, Adventist members have at their fingertips a wealth of knowledge about the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Thanks to former SDA ministers such as Elder Dale Ratzlaff, Elder Sydney Cleveland, Elder Walter Rea, Dr. Desmond Ford, and many others, a wealth of knowledge regarding the fallacies of Seventh-day Adventism is now available to anyone willing to take the time and effort to study their religion.

He explains:

Adventists are often sucked into the SDA Church through cleverly disguised and advertised evangelistic campaigns held in a public location with no mention that the meetings are organized by Seventh-day Adventists. The multimedia presentations are designed to appeal to the senses and the emotions. End-time prophecies are presented in such a way as to arouse alarm and fear. Participants are bombarded with proof texts and one-sided arguments until they are convinced of the necessity of joining God’s “one and only true remnant” church: Seventh-day Adventism.

Later, after the rush of excitement fades, these new Adventists start asking questions. It is not long before it dawns on many of these new arrivals that all may not be exactly as they had been told. Cracks begin to appear in the once-thought-to-be ironclad presentations of SDA Bible prophecy. They start asking questions, and instead of getting answers, they find that their questions are getting dodged. They soon discover there is a large and growing segment of Adventists who do not believe in Ellen White, or the peculiar SDA views of Bible prophecy. And yet, these are often the very reason the new arrivals joined the SDA Church! It is not long before they discover there are different factions in the SDA Church, each with their own idea of “truth”. As they begin examining the SDA doctrines more closely, they soon discover that there is a BIG difference between Bible Truth and SDA truth.

He concludes:

More and more, Adventists are now studying their way out of Adventism. Click To Tweet

In this connection the reader is referred to 2 recent blogs on this website:

Martin Bredenkamp’s story My Journey to Biblical Truth and Kamy’s Journey, part 1 and 2

 The third voice: The voice of Church-sponsored research3

In a recent study (2013) conducted by the Center for Creative Ministry, former and inactive Seventh-day Adventists were asked what contributed to leaving the church the most. The top three reasons cited for dropping out of the Adventist Church were:

  • No big issue—just drifted away (28%)
  • Lack of compassion for the hurting (25%)
  • Moral failure on my part (19%)

A study conducted by the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research (2014) asked what event triggered former members’ decision to leave the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The most significant reasons respondents gave for leaving were:

  • Perceived hypocrisy in other church members
  • Marital difficulties
  • Lack of friends in the church
  • High level of conflict in local congregation
  • Family conflicts other than within marriages
  • Personal conflict with local church members

Veteran Adventist Church researcher Monte Sahlin summarizes the conclusions of the various studies that were commissioned by the Church by concluding  that the reasons people leave Adventism often have less to do with what the church does and its doctrines than with problems people experience in their personal lives—marital conflict or unemployment, for example. What the church does that contributes to the problem, he said, is not helping people through their tough life experiences.

The Church's answer to growing membership may not be in adding new faces, but taking care of… Click To Tweet

From Sahlin’s interpretation of the results of the official studies it seems evident that the Church’s research does not quite support the conclusions of both Fritz Guy and the critics of the Church who see unhappiness with the doctrines and the teachings of the Church as the main reason why people leave Adventism.

So, why then do people leave Adventism in large numbers?

Probably the true answer to the reason for the large number of de-conversions in the Adventist church lies somewhere in between the points of view of Fritz Guy and the critics of the Church on the one hand and the findings of various surveys and Church commissioned research projects, on the other hand.

We suspect, furthermore, that there are complex cultural factors, both in our broader society, and in the church at large that also impact on the reasons why people leave Adventism. Many church denominations are experiencing similar difficulties in retaining members and presenting an authentic voice in the common culture.

Within the church at large – both Adventism and other main line churches –  there also seems to be increasing fragmentation of views on doctrine, church tradition, and church authority. Often these perspectives actively vie against each other. Daniel Duda, field secretary for evangelism in the Trans European Division, states that groups in the church quite possibly spend more money and energy trying to convert members in the church to their own perspective of truth, than they do to convert people from outside the church.

We think that one factor that deserves more study is that the methods that we use to bring people into the church often rely on simplistic and sensationalist interpretations of Scripture, while the factors that keep people in the church require a greater focus on nuance, and faith maturity. Are these two approaches incompatible? Do new converts to Adventism need to undergo a second conversion to a more nuanced perspective on history and doctrine. Is this even possible?

What is the way forward?

We think that proposed solutions to the complex problems of the church should be aimed at dealing with some of the underlying interpretive difficulties that affect how we present our doctrines. But there should also be a concerted focus on discipleship and spiritual growth.

When we reflect on the personal stories related in this blog, along with the theological debates that we find ourselves engaged in, we think the following interventions could be helpful. 

  1. The Church should do more to disseminate “accurate” knowledge and information about the nature of prophetic inspiration coupled with a correct understanding of the role and function of the Spirit of Prophecy in the Adventist church.

We do recognize that the Church has already made a huge investment of time and talent in the establishing of various Ellen G. White information centers around the world. The contribution of these centers has been significant in making information on Ellen G. White available. But in a sense these centers have also contributed to the present controversy around E.G. White in that they have, by and large, perpetuated a view of an “inerrant prophetess”, rather than to educate the Church regarding the true nature of Ellen G. White’s inspiration – “thought” -inspiration rather than “verbal” inspiration – which has been, and still is, the dominant understanding of the Church at large.

During the 1919 Bible  and History Teachers Conference A.G. Daniels asked the following rhetorical question:

Is it well to let our people in general go on holding to the verbal inspiration of the testimonies? When we do that, aren’t we preparing for a crisis that will be very serious some day? If we had always taught the truth on this question, we would not have any trouble or shock in the denomination now. But the shock is because we have not taught the truth, and have put the testimonies on a plane where she says they do not stand. We have claimed more for them than she did.4

What we therefore propose is that the Church embark on a purposeful and concerted effort to implement Daniels’ suggestion. It may be a hundred years late in coming, but if we fail to do this, the de-conversion rate, because of a wrong understanding of Ellen White’s inspiration, will escalate exponentially as people are able to freely access criticisms on this point

2. Devise strategies to support and establish new converts.

In this connection, we support the recommendations that the General Conference’s Anthony Kent, makes in his report to the 2016 Annual Council:

  1. Implementing comprehensive, widespread, practical and effective training in conflict resolution and reconciliation throughout the Seventh-day Adventist Church
  2. Incorporating discipleship mentoring into the DNA of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
  3. Initiate: ‘Operation Reconnect”

There is of course, a very real danger that these recommendations will go the same way as the Daniels’ recommendation in 1919.

Let us pray that this will not be the case!

How do you view the changing Adventist landscape of the 21st century? Can the Church stem the exodus of Adventist believers? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below or join the discussion on Facebook. Please remember to “like” our page and to share it with your friends. If you subscribe, you will automatically receive all new posts in your inbox.



The essence

Reflecting on my Journey to Biblical Truth

The essence by Martin Bredenkamp
Dr. Martin Bredenkamp

Martin Bredenkamp has recently shared with us how he and his wife Charmaine have been disillusioned with some of the doctrines of the Adventist Church and how they have started on a personal search for the essence of Biblical truth. In this blog Martin shares some of his introspective reflections on the journey that they have started on. Self-analysis does not always come easily, neither does an honest sharing of one’s conclusions. We laud Martin for sharing with us and pray that he will continue to walk humbly with his Lord and will find peace in the path that the Lords leads him in.  Editors.

The essence

I read through the testimony of Evert Potgieter before I went to South Africa, and it got me thinking deeply about the essence and meaning of our respective religious experiences. I pondered his experience and that of other genuine and serious seekers after truth, children of God, and wondered how it is that we arrive at such diverse outcomes. I mention him because of his reaction to my blog on the Soap Box. I also want to mention Brian Neumann, and Ps. Marthinus Pretorius.

Evert Potgieter

I was in grade 10 at Sedaven high school when Evert Potgieter was our boys’ preceptor. He held that position the year before Dr. Paul Coetser arrived  (1971). The essence of Evert’s ministry as preceptor was that he really cared about us boys. One of his peculiarities was that he had us run before dawn every morning to keep us healthy. He gave sincere talks at our worship times. He then moved out of my life and I lost contact with him for many years. I was unaware of his struggle with God a few years after he started his pastoral ministry. When I read his blog a few weeks ago I was touched by the deep conflict that he went through when he doubted the church and its doctrines. After a period of doubt and uncertainty, he chose to accept the church and E.G. White, while rejecting the teachings of one of his respected university mentors.

Evert’s story made me rethink where I am right now, in the process of rejecting some of the Adventist doctrines. Am I correct in rejecting these doctrines, or have I been misled? I revisited my stance on these doctrines, and concluded again that what I have found is not error, but truth. Truth, that I believe is supported by the Bible, by the history of doctrines, and in places by my understanding of science as well. Does that mean that my childhood mentor and friend has been misled in his beliefs?

Brian Neumann

I know Brian Neumann from my Helderberg College student days. I was in college at the time and Brian in the high school. Brian came from a strong Adventist background, but was a devotee of the popular music industry of that time. God called him out of that, and he then committed himself with his whole heart to  evangelism. While being very active in the ministry, he started doubting the Adventist interpretation of the Spirit of Prophecy. He came to opposing conclusions relative to Evert Potgieter.

Is he right and Evert wrong? Which of them were “led” by the Spirit of God, and which was “misled?” This is the essence of some of my thoughts during my vacation.

Marthinus Pretorius

Then there is Marthinus Pretorius. I know him personally too since he studied theology at Helderberg College while I was studying Science there. I know he is genuine and a seeker after truth. He recently wrestled with the essence of Brian Neumann’s book, “The White Elephant,” and after much soul searching he opted to remain loyal to the church and its doctrines. Was he “Spirit-led” in his decision, or “misled?”

I grappled with the outcomes of the soul-searching of these three friends, others too, and my own. If we are all seekers after truth, why such diverse outcomes? Did the Spirit of God bring us to these opposing conclusions? Did God lead some of us, and not the others? What is the essence of the matter?

New insight

A new thought came to my heart and mind: Is the outcome of our searches important to God, or is it what searching does to us that God is concerned about? Have we learned to know God better as a result of our search? Is our personal relationship with God in place? Are we part of the elect? God loves us too dearly to reject us when we make mistakes or wrong decisions. I believe that the essence of true religion is that God reveals Himself to those who diligently seek Him. I believe that those that seek Him in all sincerity and submission are already saved, and when our walk of life comes to and end on this earth, He will take us to Himself when this dispensation ends at the Second Advent.

My conclusion

The essence and final implication of all of this is that doctrine is not the most important issue in salvation, but rather,
  1. whether we really know God, and
  2. how we relate to our fellow men?

The essence of God’s Kingdom

Christ told a number of parables to teach people about the essence of the Kingdom of God. The parable of the sheep and the goats is one of these parables. In this parable I read nothing about doctrine. I do, however see Jesus placing the emphasis on love for our fellow man. From this parable I learn that the citizens of God’s Kingdom are those that care for the needy. Their care for others are so automatic that they do not even know they are doing it. The goats, on the other hand, believe they are serving God, but neglect their neighbors. They are lost! 

 Buddhists in the Kingdom of God

I am amazed when I look around me in Thailand, and see how caring the Buddhists are to each other, and to strangers! I believe there are many sheep here that have not even heard of Christ yet. However, at the end of time, God will reveal His will clearly and unambiguously. I also believe that denominations will have little to do with the saved or the lost when that time comes. In fact, God is going to call his children out of all denominations into His fold. Christ Himself will lead His Church then, and not some human leader. The essence of our work, to prepare for this time, is to seek God sincerely, and be prepared to give Him whatever He requires of us. God, in His love for us, will make sure that none of us will be lost if we seek Him and belong to Him. The elect will not be deceived in the time of great deception.

Blessings to all of you, and may you find great joy in God’s love while you seek Him.

How do you relate to what Martin shares in this post? Please feel free to respond by putting your comment in the box below or on our Facebook page. Please remember to “like” our page and to share this post with your friends who may be interested. Keep in mind that this is but one of many posts and if you subscribe you will receive each new post in your inbox the moment it is published.



Testing prophets

Distinguishing between true and false prophets

Editor of website
Dr. P.W. Coetser

Testing Prophets

In this blog post Dr. Paul summarizes Chapter 7: Testing Prophets of G. Bradford’s book: More than a Prophet. For the most part the contents of this post is a verbatim summary of Bradford’s chapter and is therefore printed in italics. Where paragraphs or sections have been omitted for the sake of brevity the ellipsis mark:  … is inserted. Testing Prophets can be read online.

This blog is a partial response to the first chapter of Brian Neumann’s book: The White Elephant in which he (Neumann) sets out to prove that Ellen White is a false prophet. We, the editors of the Adventist Soapbox, believe that Bradford’s study on the criteria for testing a prophet is based on a ‘better’ scriptural hermeneutic than that of Neumann and is thus worthy of serious consideration in the dialogue around the prophetic ministry of Ellen White.

Testing Prophets

This is a complex subject. And some of the complexities are shown in the story of two prophets found in 1 Kings 13:1-32. Here, a true prophet courageously makes a prediction before a wicked king who seeks to harm him, but God works a miracle to save his life. On the way home he meets an older prophet who lies to deceive him into coming to his house for a meal. The younger prophet goes against what God had clearly instructed him. While at the meal the older prophet, now under the Spirit of God, makes a prophecy regarding the death of the younger prophet who has disobeyed God. That prediction comes to pass when the younger prophet is killed by a lion. The older prophet appears to be remorseful and gathers the body for burial.

This is a puzzling and disturbing story that breaks many of the rules we would think should operate regarding the judging of a prophet to be true or false. The older prophet speaks both lies and, as well, gives a true prophecy described as the “word of the Lord.” The younger prophet gives a true prophecy, but is deceived into disobedience and loses his life. It teaches, as does the story of Balaam, that someone may have been a true prophet and yet become a false or apostate prophet.

How Not to Judge a Prophet

How then shall we judge a true prophet from a false prophet? First, Let us consider how not to judge a true prophet.

Not by physical manifestations

Daniel experienced loss of strength (Daniel 10:8), he did not breathe (Daniel 10:17) and he was given extra strength (Daniel 10:18-19). But it is well known that these experiences can be found in the occult as well as in biblical prophets; therefore the Bible never sets them up as a means of testing true prophets from false. …

… the physical experiences and claims of the prophets of Israel were not unlike those of nations around them who claimed to have contact with their own peculiar deities. Both true and false prophets can have many of the same physical manifestations. No doubt they often did as there would be an expectation by the people as to how a prophet should act. Acting against expectations could lead to rejection.

In the New Testament concept of prophecy, Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 14: 32 that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets” makes the point that true prophets are rational and under control as they prophesy. We would not expect them to be acting as did the pagans in their irrational behaviour. While prophets may have visions in an ecstatic state, they were to declare them in a rational manner.

Not by prophecies coming to pass in isolation from other factors

Jeremiah 28:9 is often quoted regarding the need for prophecies to come to pass in order to tell a true prophet from a false prophet. Is this the right passage of Scripture to use? It deserves close consideration: “The prophet who prophecies peace will be recognised as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.”

The context of this passage is of a prophetic contest between Jeremiah and Hananiah. Hananiah says there will be peace for Jerusalem and Judah; while Jeremiah says the Babylonians will come and destroy the city of Jerusalem, and the Kingdom of Judah will fall. Jeremiah responds by saying that if Hananiah’s prophecy of peace comes to pass then they will know that God has spoken through him. In other words, this is a specific situation being addressed. It ought not to be used as a blanket statement regarding testing prophets if they are true or false on a basis of whether what they say comes to pass.

Deuteronomy 13:1-5 shows why this can be dangerous, and gives a more complete picture regarding fulfillment of prediction as a test. “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or a wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) and ‘let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. . . . That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God. . .”

This passage warns that if a miraculous sign or wonder takes place as foretold by a prophet, this is not of itself sufficient to say that that prophet is of God. False prophets, may, at times, predict events that come to pass. We see this through the powers operating within the occult. Evil angels can work through human agencies to foretell the future with greater accuracy than humans left to themselves. This passage tells us that the prophet must also teach us to worship the One True God and give obedience to Him. …

Sometimes when prophecies are given by true prophets there are conditions to be met in order for the prophecy to come to pass. In giving the prophecy there may be built in safeguards that can be difficult to detect at first. For example, Paul appeared to give people in his age the hope that Christ would return in their time. That is, while the present generation was still living. He wrote to the Thessalonians and Corinthians: “According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. . . . After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air . . . .” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, emphasis added). “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51, emphasis added).

To the first readers and hearers it would appear to be quite clear that Paul was promising them that some would live through to see Christ come. Certainly that is how the Thessalonians understood him as some began to stop working because they felt the coming of Christ was so near. Paul rebuked them for this in his second letter where he appears to modify his earlier statement to suggest the coming of Christ may still be further down the track because the “man of sin” must first arise to do his anti-Christian work….

Not by inerrancy of lifestyle

Although godliness was the usual direction of their lives, we do see the best of prophets stumbling and falling at times. We should be careful not to judge them on their worst times, which may be fleeting compared to the overwhelming amount of their lives which were godly. Note these: Abraham (the first person ever to be called a prophet) denied Sarah was his wife and told the half-truth that she was his sister (Genesis 12: 10-20). Samuel deceived Saul into thinking he was going out to make a sacrifice when in reality he was going out to anoint David as king (1 Samuel 16:2). David lied to the High Priest to get the consecrated bread (1 Samuel 21:1-9). He was also a mass murderer and an adulterer. Jeremiah lied to the people at the king’s suggestion (Jeremiah 38:24-29)…

In the New Testament, Peter is led astray in his judgment by the Judaisers and withdrew from eating with Gentiles. He was later rebuked by Paul for denying “the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2: 11-14). Earlier, though, he had been given a vision to show that all people were equal in the sight of God (Acts 10:9-48). After realising the significance of the vision and declaring it to others he later fails to live by what had been revealed to him and what he had proclaimed to others.

Paul had a sharp disagreement with Barnabas about the future ministry of Mark. He did not think him worthy to go with him on his next missionary journey and they parted company. Paul went with Silas and Barnabas took Mark with him. Subsequent events showed that Barnabas showed better judgment than Paul. Mark performed well when given the chance (Acts 15:36-41).

We must recognise that prophets are human, like the rest of us. They can make mistakes. They can follow poor advice. They can misjudge a situation. They can be discouraged and irritable. They may be well informed in some areas and not so in other areas. Even prophets used mightily by God are still very human. The danger is that we may expect them to have the perfection we see in Christ. The truth is that no one has lived as He lived. If they fail at times it does not make them false prophets because of their lapses.

How Then Shall We Judge Prophets?

Regarding Old Testament prophets, Craig Evans has some helpful advice: “The difference lay in their hermeneutics. The false prophets and other ‘official theologians’ (that is, the priests and wise men) maintained a hermenutic of continuity. That is, after reviewing Israel’s sacred traditions, they were convinced that the God of Israel who had bought His people out of the land of slavery and into the land of promise would surely preserve His people in that land. If Yahweh had the power to humble mighty Pharaoh, deliver Canaan into Israel’s hands and enable David to capture and establish Jerusalem as the holy city, then Yahweh could always be expected to crush Israel’s enemies in her hour of need. . . . despite Israel’s sin God still remains gracious. . . . It induced the belief that Yahweh was God only of the Hebrews and never of the enemy. Thus the official theologians attempted to limit, localize, and domesticate God for the immediate and short range interests of Israel. Such a hermeneutic sought to manipulate God: ‘if we do this then He must do that.’ If Israel got into trouble then repentance and reform obligated Yahweh to straighten things out. The false prophet’s messages of reassurance which were sweet to the ears—failed to inform Israel prophetically. When crushing events unfolded, the words of these prophets were found to be false. Their messages had failed to explain to Israel who her God was and what He was like. History had judged their hermeneutic to be false….

How could a king—sitting on his throne, with two sets of prophets speaking entirely different messages—determine who was speaking on behalf of God? The answer was to be found in the fact that the false prophets offered prosperity without repentance. They preached the gospel without the law. The writings of the true prophets are full of complaint against them. For example Jeremiah complained, “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:13-14).

True prophets stressed that God’s people had to turn from their evil ways or face the consequences. They preached “repent or perish” (Ezekiel 14:6; 18:30). As such they were the guardians of the covenant God had made with Israel. They were there to remind Israel of the promised blessings, which come from obedience and the curses that had been promised from disobedience.

In New Testament times the classic test of a true prophet is the statement made by Jesus: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. . . . Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:15)

This passage of Scripture is of vital importance to testing true prophets from false. Here Jesus Himself lays down clear criteria. It is not by laying claim to working in the name of Jesus. It is not by miraculous manifestations whether that may be the physical manifestations accompanying the prophet’s work. It is not by driving out demons.

The real test is that of obedience. Verse 23 says, literally, “Depart from me the [ones] working lawlessness.” The word translated “lawlessness” is anomia. Nomia means “lawfulness” and an “a” before a word in Greek means “against.” It is the equivalent of “un” in English and reverses the meaning of an adjective. So the word literally means “against the law” or “unlawfulness”.

True prophets will uphold obedience to God’s law both in their lives and in the lives of others. Jesus illustrates this when He states in verses 24-27 that it was the wise man who built his house on the rock. He obeyed the words of Jesus. It was the foolish man who built his house on the sand and lost it. He was foolish because he did not obey the words of Christ.

When prophesying of the coming of the day of the Lord, Peter states another important work of prophets with the challenge to live holy lives. “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:11-12).

Paul provides some additional ideas on how to test true prophecy from false when he addressed the church in Corinth.

  1. First he says they can not be true prophets if they cried out, “Jesus be cursed!” (1 Corinthians 12:3).
  2. Second, true prophecy will edify and build up the community of believers (1 Corinthians 14:4, 31).
  3. For John the test was that the prophet must acknowledge that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (1 John 4:1-3).
  4. For both Paul and John the important test for a prophet can vary according to the local situation and the issues being faced.

The great test to be applied to prophets, to determine if they are true or false is: Do they call us to worship the true God and give obedience to his laws by living a holy life? If we have erred from the faith they will call us to repent and give obedience to God’s Word. They will call us away from false worship. This puts the test within the understanding of the educated and the uneducated alike.

And for Paul, anyone claiming they are from God will preach the true gospel. Even if they are an angel from heaven, if they preach not the true gospel they should be eternally condemned (Galatians 1: 6-11). The gospel Paul claimed was revealed to him by direct revelation is spelt out by him: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. . . .” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Please feel free to participate in the dialogue


Blogging Through “The White Elephant” No.3

Rethinking standards for testing prophets

Author of the four gospels
Ps. Weiers Coetser
Devil's Advocate
Devil’s Advocate



Paul Coetser: Co-editor and Devil’s Advocate




Weiers is a pastor in Northern Ireland and co-editor of the Adventist Soapbox website and blog.

We’re blogging our way through Brian Neumann’s book, The White Elephant in Adventism. In a previous post, Weiers was pondering the bigger interpretive context of the debate. Today he asks some questions about the assumptions that underlie Brian Neumann’s standards for testing prophets in Chapter One: The Standard, (pages 37 to 58).

Brian spent many years of his life as an Adventist evangelist. Chapter One: The Standard, brings out his evangelistic colors beautifully. I can see him standing on a stage, hardly taking a breath before he launches into his presentation with gusto and persuasive power.

The task that he sets out to accomplish is to establish a standard by which one could evaluate the work of any extra-biblical prophet. It comes as no surprise that he expects any prophetic claim to be measured by the strictest Scriptural standard.  

He lists four of these standards:

“[1]The aspects of the physical signs while in vision; [2] the example of the prophet’s life (integrity etc.), [3] whether their teaching is in accord with the ‘law and the testimony’/the scriptures (Isaiah 8:20) and [4] whether their work truly edified and brought about unity of faith, all need to be examined.”

He invites his readers to study these prophets in depth in order to establish how the prophetic gift manifests itself. After discussing the prophetic ministry of a number of Biblical prophets, he refers to the fact that prophets could lose their way with God (p.40), and he states: “No doubt for this very reason, God gave specific tests that the calling and labour of those who claimed to be speaking on God’s behalf could be verified and tested.” He goes on to state that these tests would apply to all who profess to be a prophet, including modern day prophets.

A statement like this always makes me sit upright and pay attention. It comes across as very authoritative and clear cut. The implication is that the Bible has been written and put together with the purpose of helping us make a decision on the veracity or authenticity of any prophet, and especially Ellen White, a 19th century prophet who lived nearly 2000 years later.

I do not object to applying Biblical principles, to evaluate a prophetic ministry, but I do want to challenge the way in which Brian chooses these principles and attempts to make it appear that it was hard coded into the Bible from the beginning.

Let’s look at the texts that he quotes one after another to make his argument:

  • Isaiah 8:20 in the KJV says “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

This is the main text that Brian repeatedly refers to as a key text to evaluate the prophetic ministry of Ellen White. I want to evaluate if this text is really such a sound text to use for this purpose.

There is an important principle in Biblical interpretation that demands that we should always interpret a text within the larger textual context that it appears in.

The context of this text (the whole of Isaiah Chapter 8) is that Isaiah was bringing a message that was quite unpopular to his audience at the time. It was a radical message of judgement and destruction. At the beginning of the chapter, the Lord tells Isaiah to write his prophecy in a large scroll (vs 1). Isaiah takes two witnesses and he begins to write the prophecy of doom (vs 2).

It might have taken some time to write this prophecy. In the process Isaiah even conceived a child with his wife and gave the child a name that conveyed this judgement, saying that before the child could call his father’s name, the destruction would have arrived upon Israel (vs 3,4). (John Calvin’s commentary on this text speculates that it did not really happen, but that the birth of the child and the naming of the child might have been a vision that God had given to Isaiah for illustrative purposes.)

The prophecy continues with several more warnings and pronouncements.

In verse Isaiah 8:16, Isaiah then commands that this prophecy that has now been written on a scroll needs to be sealed up: “ Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples” (KJV).  Isaiah repeats the fact that he and his child are the signs of what God’s plans are for Israel (vs 18.).

He then warns against consulting false gods and spirits who might bring alternative soothing messages. (Isaiah 8:19). The translation of these verses are quite difficult because at least one of the words in these verses don’t appear in its particular form anywhere else in the Bible.

Modern translations of the Bible, like the New Revised Standard version actually says:

19 Now if people say to you, “Consult the ghosts and the familiar spirits that chirp and mutter; should not a people consult their gods, the dead on behalf of the living, 20 for teaching and for instruction?” surely, those who speak like this will have no dawn! .

The King James translation says “20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

It seems clear to me that Isaiah is saying in this text that it is his message, his testimony, that is authoritative, and it would be wrong to follow any alternative prophecy. His prophecy comes from God. Whichever translation one chooses to use, it is doubtful that this verse sets up a test that is relevant for all prophets and that this test refers to the whole of scripture.

I think we do the text a disservice if we pull it out of its original context and then apply it for our own purposes in an argument that the original text never envisioned. It also makes the case that we are trying to build a little less secure.

I would challenge Brian and his readers to also re-study the other texts that he lists in that same section.

  • Brian refers to Luke 24:44 to show that Jesus advocated adherence to the writings of the Old Testament as a test for the authenticity of a prophet. But when we read Luke 24:44 in context it becomes clear that Jesus is merely saying that He (Jesus) is the the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. There is no suggestion that he implies in his words a standard for testing a prophet.
  • Isaiah 28:10 is quoted to prove that a prophet needs to be true to the whole Bible. 

“For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (KJV)

 But when one studies the chapter carefully and reads the commentaries one finds that most everybody agrees that Isaiah 28:9 and 10 is in fact a mocking mimicry of the people of Ephraim upon whom a judgement is being spoken. Adventist apologists have for years mistakenly used this verse out of context to prove that the Bible needs to be read as a whole.

  • Deuteronomy 19:15 is the next verse in Brian’s arsenal of proof texts. This verse demands that there must be three witnesses to bring evidence against an accused in order for him to be found guilty. Brian once again takes this verse out of its context to prove what he wants it to say. In the way Brian uses it, it is no longer a person who witnesses in a trial, but Scripture that must become proof or evidence for a prophet’s claims.

I think there are sufficient grounds here to step back and re-evaluate whether we agree with where Brian might be heading. If his proofs for a prophet are based on inadequate evidence, they become assumptions and there is a very real danger that he might come to the wrong conclusion when he begins to evaluate a prophet’s work based on these assumptions.

In this first chapter, Brian rightly argues that those who supported Ellen White’s ministry from the start used many of these same tests for a prophet to defend her ministry.

As the chapter continues Brian modifies his list of tests for a prophet slightly (compared to the first list). He wants a prophet to:

  1. Agree with Scripture, be
  2. Accurate in predictions, and
  3. The physical phenomena associated with receiving visions should be similar to the experiences of Biblical prophets. (He does seem to give a hint that he disagrees with this test, but this is not yet explicitly clear in this chapter. He uses eight pages to explore what the Bible says about prophets’ experiences in vision.)

Right now I am not taking issue with these items. However, I am skeptical of a methodology that is based on a proof text method.

I think that item one: “Agreeing with Scripture” needs to be developed on a more careful and nuanced Biblical foundation. It seems to me that we need a more complete theology of the function and role of Biblical prophets rather than to reduce their work to prediction of the future, or seeing visions, or even holding them to a narrow view of how to interpret scripture.

I therefore ask the question: At the end of this chapter – has Brian really succeeded in defining trustworthy and dependable standards for testing prophets by which we can or should evaluate the prophetic ministry of Ellen White? 

I am also concerned with what might be left out of the list, that should possibly also be included.

I hope to explore this concern further  in a future blog.

Commenting on standards for testing a prophet
Devil’s Advocate

Weiers, I agree essentially with your assessment of Brian’s arguments. One should keep in mind that this is the introductory chapter of a book in which Brian sets out to “prove” that Ellen White is a false prophet. Brian claims here that he will be ‘objective’ and that he will apply his standards for testing a prophet strictly according to Scriptural principles. I am troubled, however, by his ‘hermeneutic’. It seems quite evident to me that at the foundation of his arguments lies a very ‘verbal’ view of Biblical inspiration. This, in my opinion, does not build confidence with regard to ‘evidences’ that he may present in future chapters. Let me point the reader to another blog on this website where the same topic is being discussed but with a much ‘healthier’ foundational hermeneutic.


Brian Neumann wrote a response to this blog post. When he published it, we had already started work on Blog 4 and 5. We will however soon reflect on Brian’s response.

In the meantime we link to the document below:

Response to No. 3 by brianneumann on Scribd

We invite you to share your views on this topic in the ‘comments’ block below or on our Facebook page. Please remember to “like” our page and to share this article with any of your friends who may also be interested in an review and assessment of Brian Neumann’s “The White Elephant”.


Faithful Dissenters: a guest post by Reinder Bruinsma

Is it possible to dissent from some Church doctrine and still be a loyal Adventist?

Reinder Bruinsma, author of the blog faithful dissenters
Reinder Bruinsma

Faithful Dissenters

Reinder Bruinsma may be retired as far as career goes, but at 74, this former pastor, teacher, and high-ranking administrator has viewed retirement as freedom to double down on what he loves most. He preaches, writes books, translates scholarly tomes, and from time to time, joins his local hiking club for a 10-mile hike along the canals. And when he is not doing that, he will be lecturing or presenting papers at conferences in his own country and all over Europe. He and his wife Aafje live in The Netherlands where people know how to pronounce his name.

Faithful dissenters

Once in a while I stand before one of my book cases and see a book that I only vaguely remember buying and reading. It happened a few days ago when my eye fell on a book published in 2000 by the progressive Roman Catholic publisher, Orbis books: Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women who Loved and Changed the Church, by Robert McGlory.  The author provides short biographies of people as diverse as Catherine of Siena and Yves Congar, and as different from each other as Cardinal John Court Courtnay was from Hildegard von Bingen.

Retrieving the book from the shelf, and glancing through it, I saw that I must have read it quite thoroughly, for words and phrases throughout the book were marked in my usual (according to my wife: very sloppy) way. As I re-read some sections, my memory was gradually awakened and it came back to me how much I had enjoyed reading this book and how it had inspired me.

The stories by Mr. McGlory, (at the time of his writing an associate professor of journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.) are all about men and women who were courageous enough to openly distance themselves from certain church doctrines or interpretations thereof, and to put the spotlight on ecclesial structures that they felt were no longer relevant or were pushing the church in a wrong direction. But they had something else in common. They had not turned their back on their church. They continued to love their church and to be faithful to it, even when the church did not love them and gave them a rough time.

In the book’s introduction the author poses a number of probing questions (p. 2):

  • Is it possible that long-accepted traditions or interpretations of the Sacred Scriptures may be an erroneous expression of God’s design, or does the Church’s stamp of approval guarantee the truth?
  • Does the obligation of obedience to legitimate Church authority always take precedence over innovative response in certain situations, or is there room for exception?
  • Is the non-acceptance of Church doctrine by a great number of Catholics over a long period of time a sure sign of rampant infidelity, or is it a call for reconsideration by Church authority?
  • Is dissent by its very nature disruptive of good order, or are there situations when it creates a greater good?

Faithful dissenters in an Adventist context

Now, more than perhaps when I first read these words more than ten years ago, these questions that were written in a Roman Catholic context, also seem totally applicable to the Seventh-day Adventist situation. I suggest that you read the above questions once again and now think of Adventism and consider the questions many Adventist believers are currently asking with respect to their church. Surely these words could also have been written with the Adventist context in mind.

Last night I re-read the chapter about Yves Congar—one of the ‘faithful dissenters.’ Congar (1904-1995) was a French Dominican friar—a famous priest, theologian, and promoter of ecumenism, at a time that his church wanted to stay far away from the growing ecumenical enthusiasm in the Christian world. Several of his books were officially denounced by the Catholic authorities. His support in the 1950s for the priest-worker movement in France, and many of his other ideas, were not appreciated. For many years he was not allowed to preach or teach. In his later years he was, however, rehabilitated and a year before his death he was even made a cardinal. But most of his life he could be characterized as a ‘faithful dissenter’.

The two great temptations

In one of his early books, Yves Congar wrote of the two great temptations confronting the Church in every age (p. 124):

  1. Absolutizing religious rules and regulations rather than serving the spiritual and pastoral needs of the people.
  2. Freezing tradition in such a way that it cannot develop beyond what was understood in the past.

I can only fully agree with Congar. These temptations that he feels are confronting the Church in every age, are, in my opinion, also a very ‘clear and present’ danger in contemporary Adventism. 

What can be done to make the church see these temptations and to avoid, or even resist them, where and when needed? Must Seventh-day Adventist believers, who recognize these two dangers, stand up as ‘faithful dissenters’? I believe so. This may, at times, not be easy. Very fittingly the book Faithful Dissenters ends with a short chapter entitled ‘Costly Fidelity.’ These two words resonate with me.

If I want to be a ‘faithful dissenter’: I may have to pay a price for my ‘dissent’. Click To TweetThat may prove to be costly. But that should not make me less determined to continue showing ‘fidelity’ to the movement to which I belong and that is so important to me. In particular, I owe it to the many fellow-believers (who share my concerns, but are often unable to put their concerns into words), that I try to encourage them and do my best to model faithfulness and fidelity as we pray and work together for change.

What do you think? Is there room for a “faithful dissenter” in the Adventist congregation where you worship, or for that matter, anywhere in the Adventist Church? Are there degrees of ‘dissent’? Please share your thinking in the comment box below or on our Facebook page. Please remember to “like” our page and “share” this post with your friends.