This article is a continuation of the previous, about the spiritual touchstones of Judaism and Christianity.
1. The Sabbath: Touchstone of Spiritual Reality?
2. The Sabbath and the Touchstone of Christianity
3. The Spiritual Touchstone of Adventism
4. The Spiritual Touchstone of Sabbatarianism
5. The Sabbath: Touchstone Fulfilled
There is a tendency among Sabbatarian Christians and their organizations to diminish the centrality of the cross in their theology. Seventh-day Adventists have historically objected to the biblical doctrine that Christ finished his atonement at the cross, which is the cornerstone of the gospel.
Examining Core Beliefs of Historic Adventism
Consider these quotes from Ellen G. White, the prophetess and founder of Seventh-day Adventism:
“The blood of Christ, while it was to release the repentant sinner from the condemnation of the law, was not to cancel the sin; it would stand on record in the sanctuary until the final atonement . . . . Then by virtue of the atoning blood of Christ, the sins of all the truly penitent will be blotted from the books of heaven. Thus the sanctuary will be freed, or cleansed, from the record of sin” (PP 357-58).
“[In 1844] our great High Priest entered the Holy of Holies [in heaven] … to there make atonement for all who are shown to be entitled to his benefits.” “Christ entered the holy of holies to perform the closing work of the atonement.” (The Great Controversy, 308, 428)
“It was seen, also, that while the sin offering pointed to Christ as a sacrifice, and the high priest represented Christ as a mediator, the scapegoat typified Satan, the author of sin, upon whom the sins of the truly penitent will finally be placed. … Christ will place all these sins upon Satan, … so Satan, … will at last suffer the full penalty of sin. (Ibid., 422, 485, 486)
Satan bore not only the weight and punishment of his own sins, but also of the sins of the redeemed host, which had been placed upon him.” (Early Writings, pp. 294, 295).
“Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above, are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil.” (Ibid., 425)
I encourage all Bible-believing Christians to compare the statements above with the plain reading of the Holy Scriptures:
- That the blood Jesus shed on the cross did not cancel sin
- That our Saviour has been performing His work of atonement in heaven since 1844
- That Satan is the final sin-bearer for the transgressions of God’s people
- That Christians will stand before God the Father without Jesus as their mediator
Each of these assertions are antagonistic to the gospel, affecting the very core of the Biblical doctrine of salvation through Christ. I believe that these points of belief spin off the particular brand of Sabbatarianism espoused by historic Adventism, and that they are synergistic ideas that support each other.
The Touchstone of Historic Adventism
As we had discussed in our previous article, a touchstone is something whereby an article is tested, and either passes or fails the test of being genuine. Whereas the completed work of our Saviour on the cross is the touchstone of Christianity, and faith in Him and his work is the mark of a true Christian and prerequisite for salvation, Ellen G. white believed that:
The Sabbath is the great test question. It is the line of demarkation between the loyal and true and the disloyal and transgressor. … It is the seal of the living God.” (Selected Messages Vol. 3, p. 423.)
You see, in Adventism, the great test of a person’s acceptance with God is not faith in Christ’s complete and sufficient sacrifice, not even his role as mediator, but their own performance as measured by the keeping of a ceremonial commandment.
The Sabbath question is to be the issue in the great final conflict in which all the world will act a part. Men have honored Satan’s principles above the principles that rule in the heavens. They have accepted the spurious sabbath, which Satan has exalted as the sign of his authority. But God has set His seal upon His royal requirement. Each sabbath institution bears the name of its author, an ineffaceable mark that shows the authority of each. It is our work to lead the people to understand this. We are to show them that it is of vital consequence whether they bear the mark of God’s kingdom or the mark of the kingdom of rebellion, for they acknowledge themselves subjects of the kingdom whose mark they bear. God has called us to uplift the standard of His downtrodden Sabbath. (E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church 6:352)
The Touchstone of Modern Adventism
Even today, it is the Sabbath, not the cross, that is the central motif of the Adventist religious belief system, as stated on their official web site:
“The Sabbath encompasses our entire relationship with God. It is an indication of God’s action on our behalf in the past, present, and future. The Sabbath protects man’s friendship with God and provides the time essential for the development of that relationship. The Sabbath clarifies the relationship between God and the human family, for it points to God as Creator at a time when human beings would like to usurp God’s position in the universe.
In this age of materialism, the Sabbath points men and women to the spiritual and to the personal. The consequences for forgetting the Sabbath day to keep it holy are serious. It will lead to the distortion and eventual destruction of a person’s relationship with God.
When the Sabbath is kept, it is a witness to the rest that comes from trusting God alone as our sustainer, as the basis of our salvation, and as the ground of our hope in the future. As such, the Sabbath is a delight because we have entered God’s rest and have accepted the invitation to fellowship with Him.” From http://www.adventist.org/en/information/official-statements/documents/article/go/0/sabbath-observance/
The idea that the “Sabbath encompasses our entire relationship with God” has never been a doctrine of the Christian church, and finds no resonance in the New Testament Scriptures. To the Adventist, the Sabbath performs the following roles in the life of the believer:
- Protects his friendship with God
- Clarifies the relationship between himself and God
- Points people to God
- Is a witness of true rest
- Forms the basis of salvation
- Is the ground of hope for the future
Added to this list is the warning that disregarding the Sabbath will destroy a person’s relationship with God.
These ideas do not find their ethos in Christianity, but derive them from Judaism: that mankind’s problem of sin is primarily remedied by human effort through obedience and observance of keeping of a weekly ceremony, rather than through faith in the efficacious work of our Lord and Saviour, and his shed blood on our behalf.
This is the reason why Adventism has so much trouble understanding and accepting the cross as the centre of their faith. Indeed, on the page quoted above, Jesus Christ and His work of salvation is not even mentioned. It has been entirely eclipsed by the Sabbath, because the cross is the reality of which the Sabbath was a shadow. It is impossible to serve two masters.
Here are more quotations from Ellen White regarding the necessity of Sabbath keeping for salvation:
“It means eternal salvation to keep the Sabbath holy unto the Lord. God says: “Them that honor Me I will honor.” 6 Testimonies, p 356
“Sabbath is the separating wall between believers and unbelievers”, Early Writings, p 85
“But if we turn aside from the fourth commandment, so positively given by God, to adopt the inventions of Satan, voiced and acted by men under his control, we cannot be saved. We cannot with safety receive his traditions and subtleties as truth.” Review and Herald, July 6, 1897
“No one who disregards the fourth commandment, after becoming enlightened in regard to the claims of the Sabbath, can be held guiltless in the sight of God.” Review and Herald, July 6, 1897
“All will be judged according to the light that has shone upon them. If they have light upon the Sabbath, they cannot be saved in rejecting that light.” HS 234.3
“As persons become convinced from the Scriptures that the claims of the fourth commandment are still binding, the question is often raised, Is it necessary in order to secure salvation that we keep the Sabbath? This is a question of grave importance. If the light has shone from the word of God, if the message has been presented to men, as it was to Pharaoh, and they refuse to heed that message, if they reject the light, they refuse to obey God, and cannot be saved in their disobedience.” Review and Herald, January 5, 1886
This article is continued in “The Spiritual Touchstone of Sabbatarianism“.
Updated January 3, 2015