Those of us who joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church rejoiced that we had found the truth. Many had searched for years, praying and longing to find the true church. Finally, there was a sigh of relief – home at last.
Most did not know that a controversy had waged for years over the Trinity doctrine. Many church leaders knew our fundamental beliefs had been changed, but when joining the church in the 1960s and 1970s, we had no idea.
The subject was never mentioned, not even in our baptismal studies. We just assumed all Christendom believed in the same God.
Of course, by the 1980s, a new struggle arose over doctrine when Dr. Desmond Ford presented his accumulated errant findings. However, this fiasco did not affect the controversy that had begun years earlier. It still smouldered, biding its time until it was able to break forth into a hot and consuming fire.
It has yet to rage to its fullest, but even now, if you mention your aversion to the Trinity in certain circles, there is a very negative reaction. It can be rather heated, even nasty.
Speaking to non-Adventists on the subject brings the same reaction – You aren’t a Christian.
Why is this so?
Why must every Christian believe in the Trinity?
Is it because of the creeds of Christendom?
Our pioneers rejected all the creeds, including Nicaea, Chalcedony, Constantinople and others, as these were Catholic councils and not the source of truth.
Ellen White wrote, “The Bible, and the Bible alone, is to be our creed, the sole bond of union; all who bow to this Holy Word will be in harmony.” Review & Herald. Dec 15. 1885.
Many Seventh-day Adventists are aware that our pioneers had a different belief on the doctrine of God.
George Knight, Adventist historian stated, “Most of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism would not be able to join the church today if they had to subscribe to the denomination’s Fundamental Beliefs. More specifically, most would not be able to agree to belief number 2, which deals with the doctrine of the trinity.” Ministry. Oct 1993. p10.
Does this include the prophet?
William G. Johnsson confirmed the change in the ‘Adventist Review’, “Adventist beliefs changed over the years under the impact of ‘present truth’. Most startling is the teaching regarding Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Many of the pioneers, including James White, J.N. Andrews, Uriah Smith, and J.H. Waggoner, held to an Arian or semi-Arian view… that is, the Son at some point in time before the Creation of our world was generated by the Father… the Trinitarian understanding of God, now part of our fundamental beliefs, was not generally held by the early Adventists. Even today a few do not subscribe to it.” Adventist Review. Jan 6. 1994. p10.
The truth is that all our pioneers rejected the Trinity doctrine. James White called it the “old Trinitarian absurdity...” Review & Herald. Aug 5. 1852.
(Uriah Smith had problems in the beginning, believing Jesus to be created, but came to realise this was false and changed his belief to be in harmony with his brethren)
Our pioneers rejected all versions of the Trinity doctrine because it was not revealed in the Bible.
In 1981, the following was stated in a special issue of the ‘Adventist Review’, “While no Scriptural passage states formally the doctrine of the Trinity, it is assumed as a fact by Bible writers and mentioned several times.” Adventist Review. 1981. Vol. 158. No.31.
And again, “The concept of the Trinity, namely the idea that the three are one, is not explicitly stated, but only assumed.” Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia Vol.12. p138. Doctrine of God. Fernando L Canale.
This is generally accepted in Christendom also, as is shown in the following quotations. “Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament...” The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. Vol. XI. p928. 2003.
“Christianity derived from Judaism and Judaism was strictly Unitarian [believing that God is one person]. The road which led from Jerusalem to Nicea was scarcely a straight one.” The Encyclopaedia Americana. Vol. XXVII. p294L. 1956.
“In the New Testament we do not find the doctrine of the Trinity in anything like its developed form, not even in the Pauline and Johannine theology.” Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. Vol. XII. p458. 1951. J. Hastings.
“Because the Trinity is such an important part of later Christian doctrine, it is striking that the term does not appear in the New Testament. Likewise, the developed concept of three coequal partners in the Godhead found in later creedal formulations cannot be clearly detected within the confines of the canon…” Metzger. B.M & Coogan. M.D. The Oxford Companion to the Bible p782. 1993.
These statements and others show why our early pioneers rejected the Trinity – they did not find a Trinity in the Bible.
After the disappointment of October 22 1844, those who continued to believe God had led them began studying together that they might discover the truth.
Sister White wrote, “Many of our people do not realize how firmly the foundation of our faith has been laid. My husband, Elder Joseph Bates, father Pierce, Elder (Hiram)Edson, and others who were keen, noble, and true, were among those who, after the passing of the time in 1844, searched for the truth as for hidden treasure. I met with them, and we studied and prayed earnestly. Often we remained together until late at night, and sometimes through the entire night, praying for light and studying the Word…” 1 Selected Messages p206.
James White had been an ordained minister of the Christian Connection Church when he heard William Miller. This was a church that refused all creeds, determined to follow the Bible and not theology. As a result, they rejected an eternal-burning hell, the immortality of the soul, and the doctrine of the Trinity. Joseph Bates, Joshua V. Himes, Lorenzo Fleming and Timothy Cole were also members of that church. Ellen White was a Methodist; other pioneers were Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Dutch Reform, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Seventh-day Baptists, Congregationalists and more. Prophetic Faith of our Fathers. Vol 4. p954. 510. 633. 510.
When the members of this study group first met, they had many differences in doctrinal understanding, but were willing to put aside their own thoughts and rely on the Lord to lead them into all truth.
Sister White said of her own experience, “During this whole time I could not understand the reasoning of the brethren, My mind was locked… I was in this condition of mind until all the principal points of our faith were made clear to our minds, in harmony with the Word of God.” 1 Selected Messages. p206.
God had a purpose in keeping her mind locked.
“When they came to a point in their study where they said, ‘We can do nothing more’, the Spirit of the Lord would come upon me, I would be taken off in vision, and a clear explanation of the passages we had been studying would be given me, with instruction as to how we were to labor and teach effectively. Thus light was given that helped us to understand the Scriptures in regard to Christ, His mission, and His priesthood…” Ibid p206.
Did you grasp the full impact of these words?
The Holy Spirit explained to Ellen the true meaning of the Scriptures relating to Jesus Christ.
Did the Spirit reveal the truth?
What about Ellen White – did she accept the testimony of God’s Spirit? After all, she was a Methodist Trinitarian. We can safely assume that God would not have continued to guide her as the messenger of the Lord for the rest of her life if she refused the light given.
Some of our scholars say Ellen White remained a Trinitarian, a ‘closet Trinitarian’ if you will, for the next fifty years, and in 1898 made her first Trinitarian statement. They believe this marked the beginning of our non-Trinitarian pioneers maturity on the subject. Yet there was no public declaration and no correction of her brethren for believing error so many years!
A single line, “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived” was written. The Desire of Ages. p530. (There are other sentences in this book that are now believed to be Trinitarian, but this is the main one)
Were these words the prophet’s public introduction to revealing her belief in the Trinity?
These seven words are not original in ‘The Desire of Ages’, but quoted from another passage where Sister White is speaking about the type of life Christ possessed. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men; It is not physical life that is here specified, but immortality, the life which is exclusively the property of God.
The Word, who was with God, and who was God, had this life. Physical life is something which each individual receives. It is not eternal or immortal; for God, the Lifegiver, takes it again. Man has no control over his life.
But the life of Christ was unborrowed. No one can take this life from Him. ‘I lay it down of myself’ (John 10:18), He said. In Him was life, original, unborrowed, underived. This life is not inherent in man. He can possess it only through Christ. He cannot earn it; it is given him as a free gift….” 1 Selected Messages p296.297.1897.
Is this passage about the Trinity?
Trinitarians believe the words in ‘Desire of Ages’ prove that Christ is eternal and without beginning, which in turn shows Him to be the second Person of a three-in-one Godhead.
But, is this true?
If you and I receive this life as a gift, does that prove we have lived for eternity? Of course not.
It has been said that our pioneers were “not endowed scholars” and we cannot expect them to have the maturity we possess today. Isn’t this rather arrogant?
There is no question they would have matured in their understanding, but within the framework of the truths already received. It is the same for us – we continue to mature, but new light never contradicts old truth.
“Although new and important truths appropriate for succeeding generations have been opened to the understanding, the present revealings do not contradict those of the past. Every new truth understood only makes more significant the old.” Review & Herald. Mar 2. 1886.
It took four years for the truths of God’s Word to be made clear to all the Advent believers. Being scattered in different parts of Eastern United States, they could not meet at one time, so meetings took place in little groups, each studying different subjects.
In 1848, five meetings were held in large barns of various brethren, called today the Sabbath Conferences. Of those who attended, “hardly two agreed”, and all wanted the opportunity to preach. Messenger to the Remnant p38.
In the confusion, Ellen fainted. The brethren prayed for her, and she was soon lost to earthly things. In her vision, she was instructed to tell the brethren that their ideas were not according to the Bible. These Sabbath Conferences united the brethren on the great truths connected with the message of the third angel.
Five months after the last Sabbath Conference the prophet wrote, “Our position looks very clear; we know we have the truth.” Letter. March 1849. Record Book 1 p72.
Six years later she said, “The truth is now made so plain that all can see it and embrace it if they will, but it needed much labor to get it out clear as it is, and such hard labor will never have to be performed again to make the truth clear.” Manuscript 2. Aug 25. 1855. Messenger to the Remnant p40.
Sadly, the Adventist Church has moved away from the revelation given by the Holy Spirit in those early days, and today we need to go through that hard study again. As we do not have a living prophet among us, we must compare our conclusions with the inspired Spirit of Prophecy writings for confirmation.
The counsel is, “When the power of God testifies as to what is truth, that truth is to stand forever as the truth. No after suppositions, contrary to the light God has given, are to be entertained.” EGW Letter 329. 1905. Counsels to Writers and Editors p31.32.
Dear Reader, if nothing contrary is to be believed, what does that make the Trinity doctrine?
The prophet continues, “One will arise, and still another, with new light which contradicts the light that God has given under the demonstration of His Holy Spirit… if such application moves one pillar from the foundation that God has sustained these fifty years, is a great mistake. He who makes such an application knows not the wonderful demonstrations of the Holy Spirit that gave power and force to the past messages that have come to the people of God.” EGW Letter 329. 1905. Counsels to Writers and Editors p31.32.
As you and I did not see the power of God’s Spirit in those early days, should we not quietly submit to the light revealed to the messenger of the Lord?