In search of true Biblical doctrines

The Faith of our Fathers

Pastor Evert Potgieter responds to the post of Dr. Martin Bredenkamp in which he questions some of the fundamental Biblical doctrines that he grew up with.

Evert en sy nuwe vrou

Pastor Evert Potgieter, B.A., M.Div.

 Editor’s Comment: Editorial context for this post

Similar Journeys

Dr. Martin, we have known one another for many years and it is therefore with sadness that I read your recent blog in which you tell about your religious doubts and your personal voyage in search of true Biblical doctrines. I empathize with you because I had a very similar experience in the early years of my ministry – around the 1970’s and 1980’s.

I am writing this response not as criticism but in the hope that the account of  my own religious quest, that was so similar to yours, might give you another, and perhaps more positive, perspective on the matters that are causing you agony and heartache at the moment.

Each of us has our own philosophy

Every single one of us have a life philosophy that grows and evolves as we age from day to day. This life philosophy is the sum total of everything we have learned and experienced since birth.

There is no escaping from the fact that a major part of this personal philosophy is based on what we hear and see and learn from people that we associate with. This includes information that we get from them, directly or indirectly.

This is why specific people groups share a specific culture and similar life styles and outlook on life. This is certainly also true of the “Biblical” doctrines that form a part of our overall life philosophy.

Relying on the interpretations of others are not all bad

The vast majority of people do not have the skill or the inclination to study the Bible in depth and in the original languages. Therefore most people rely on Bible translations (often faulty transliterations) and the writings of scholars to interpret the Bible for them. However, too many of these scholars are biased in either a liberal or a conservative way because of the life philosophy that they had developed from their earliest years.

My own search for true Biblical doctrines

Obviously a wise person will say, “I do not want my religious beliefs to be contaminated by the skewed life philosophies of scholars who write books expressing their opinions about Biblical doctrines, whether the Sabbath, the Spirit of Prophecy, or the interpretations of Bible prophecies.”

And this was exactly the conclusion that I had come to during those turbulent years of the seventies and early eighties in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I was so confused and upset by reading the books and articles of a friend and teacher of mine (Dr. Desmond Ford), that I almost resigned from the ministry.

My way of coping was to pray as never before, and to determine that for at least a year I would read nothing that was written by scholars and critics. I would only read the Bible in as many versions and translations as possible.

Unfortunately my frustrations and questions did not cease, for my skills of Bible study were rather limited.

During those years there was also a lot of criticism against Ellen White and the arguments against her were so overwhelming that I had no inclination to turn to her for clarification of Bible passages and certain questionable (to my bewildered mind) doctrines.

Getting acquainted with Ellen White

After some time of resistance, however, I came to the conclusion that I did not know enough about Ellen White’s writings to decide for myself whether she was a prophet or not. And so I started reading her books, not to clarify the Bible, but simply to judge the content of each individual book.

I started with “Steps to Christ”, then “Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing” and then “Desire of Ages”. By the time I got through all of the “Conflict of the Ages” series, culminating with “The Great Controversy” I had made up my mind that my belief system and life philosophy will include Ellen White as God’s special messenger for His church in these troubled times we are living in.

I no longer felt the need to consult either her critics or her loyal supporters, and thus I am no longer influenced by over-zealous people one way or the other.

Studying the Bible more challenging than studying Ellen White

I wish that it were that easy when it came to the Bible. In Ellen White’s case, I had access to all of her writings in the original language, and I had a reasonable command of that language. Not so with the Bible! No matter what I did, I was of necessity dependent on the work of scholars, biased or not.

I decided to consult scholars

And so there was only one solution for me. I decided that I would not restrict myself to reading only the critical works of “good” men like Ford and Rea and a host of others. (My life philosophy will not allow me to seriously study works by “bad” people who deny the existence of God and the validity of the Bible.)

I would also read the books of scholars (“good” people as well) who defended the doctrines of the church by means of in-depth study of God’s Word. Men such as Dr.William Shea, Clifford Goldstein, Dr. Gerhard Hazel, Dr. George Knight, and Dr. Jon Paulien.

The final outcome

My ultimate conclusion? Faulty as our church has been, especially in its handling of Ellen White’s writings, our doctrines are Bible-based and trustworthy.

Yes, you can find evidence that we have abused God’s Sabbath by either making it a burden, or regarding it too lightly.

And yes, for years we have taught the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment in a way that caused many to lose sight of their assurance of salvation. In addition, the evidence for this doctrine seemed a little shaky to me.

But the studies and work of Shea and Hazel and Goldstein and Knight have brought to light much stronger and convincing Bible evidence. Seventh-day Adventists (or ex-Adventists, for that matter) are doing themselves an enormous disservice if they neglect to study the clear and abundant evidence as presented by these men.

Parting from those who are critical

I love Dr. Ford and still think of him as a friend and benefactor that taught me many wonderful and valuable truths. But for my own peace of mind, and from a sense of loyalty to my Lord, I have had to part from him and others that are even more liberal than he is.

Right or wrong in my understanding of Biblical doctrines (and naturally we should all strive to be as correct as we possibly can be) it is my responsibility to build a life philosophy that will be acceptable to my God when I have to face Him soon.

My personal assurance of salvation

Thank God that as long as I stay in Jesus, His wonderful life and sufficiency will make up for the inevitable inefficiencies in my life philosophy.

But I cannot presume on His mercy and grace if I willfully and negligently distort my belief system, and present myself at His throne with a dishonest and twisted life philosophy!

We invite you to “get on to the soapbox” and share your take on the matters mentioned by Pastor Evert. Do you agree with his arguments or are there perhaps aspects that he is missing? The comment box is below.