We earlier mentioned Dr. Anthony Hoekema’s book The Four Major Cults, in which he classifies Seventh-day Adventism as a non-Christian cult system. It is necessary for me to take exception with Dr. Hoekema in this area because, in my opinion, the reasons which Dr. Hoekema gave cannot be justified by the Word of God, historical theology, or present-day practices in denominational Christianity as a whole. To illustrate this point, Dr. Hoekema stated,
“I am of the conviction that Seventh-day Adventism is a cult and not an evangelical denomination. In support of this evaluation I propose to show that the traits that we have found to be distinctive of the cults do apply to this movement” (389).
Dr. Hoekema then proceeds to list his reasons:
- An extra-scriptural source of authority (Ellen G. White).
- The denial of justification by grace alone.
- The investigative judgment.
- The keeping of the Sabbath.
- The devaluation of Christ.
- The group as the exclusive community of the saved.
Dr. Hoekema consistently ignoring SDAs official stand on EGW’s writings
It is Dr. Hoekema’s contention that Ellen White is an extra-biblical authority in that her counsels are taken to be manifestations of the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 12). But granting that the Adventists are entitled to believe that this gift was manifested in White as evidence of the charismata (a fact Dr. Hoekema could hardly honestly challenge since the gifts of the Spirit have been and are still manifested in the Christian church), why does he not take into consideration the repeated emphasis of Adventist writers concerning their official pronouncement, Questions on Doctrine, to the effect that they do not consider White to be an extra-biblical authority, but that her writings are only authoritative in those areas where they are in agreement with the Word of God, which is the final standard for judging all the gifts of the Spirit?
If the Adventists put White’s writings on a par with Holy Scripture; if they interpreted the Bible in the light of her writings, and not the reverse; if they willingly admitted this and owned it as their position, his criticism would be justified, but they do not do so.
Dr. Hoekema has apparently ignored what the Adventists say they believe concerning White in favor of what he thinks they mean as a result of his deduction from certain of their publications. It is far safer to accept at face value the published statements of a denomination representing its theology, particularly if, as in the case of Questions on Doctrine, they are answering direct questions bearing on the subject, than it is to rely upon one’s own preconceived interpretations, as Dr. Hoekema has apparently done in this instance.
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Adventists affirm that salvation is grace through faith in Jesus
It is a serious charge to maintain that any professing Christian group denies justification by grace alone as the basis of eternal salvation; and, if the Adventists were guilty of this, surely there would be ground for considering them as a cultic system. However, literally scores of times in their book Questions on Doctrine, and in various other publications, the Adventists affirm that salvation comes only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross. Why it is necessary again for Dr. Hoekema to question the sincerity of the Adventists in this area and yet accept at face value their other statements concerning their faith in the Scriptures, the Trinity, the full deity of Jesus Christ, Creation, Providence, Incarnation, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the absolute necessity for regeneration, sanctification by the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s literal return, is a puzzling inconsistency in his presentation.
(See The Four Major Cults, 403.)
Keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath does make one a cult?
Dr. Hoekema insists that the investigative judgment and the keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath are part of the reasons why he classifies Seventh-day Adventists as cultists, but, in doing this, he makes his Calvinistic interpretation of theology the criterion while ignoring the claims of the Arminian school and of semi-Arminian and semi-Calvinistic theologians, many of whom take strong exception to Dr. Hoekema’s pronounced Calvinism. On the basis that Dr. Hoekema would call the Adventists a cult, the same charge could be leveled against all devoted Calvinists who consider the Institutes of the Christian Religion and Calvin’s Commentaries every bit as much illumination and guides in the study of the Scriptures as the Adventists do where White’s writings are concerned.
In addition to this, the Seventh-day Baptists are Arminian in their theology and keep the seventh-day Sabbath. Are they, too, a non-Christian cult? They certainly meet some of Dr. Hoekema’s qualifications. Underscoring his Calvinistic oppositions, Dr. Hoekema writes:
“Adventists further teach that it is possible for a person through subsequent sinful deeds and attitudes to lose the justification he once received. This teaching implies that one can only be sure of retaining his justification if he continues to do the right kind of deeds and to maintain the right attitudes throughout the rest of his life (390).”
This point on the investigative judgment is clear evidence of Arminianism in which Dr. Hoekema finds sufficient ground to justify the cult label being applied to Adventists. But why only to Adventists? Why not to Pentecostals, Methodists, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and others who accept the same Arminian premises, though they have not carried them out to the literalism that the Adventists have in the investigative judgment?
Relative to Sabbatarianism, the fourteenth chapter of Romans justifies the keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath or any other day by any Christian who believes he is keeping it unto the Lord. It can become legalistic as Sunday can become legalistic, but merely because the seventh day is honored instead of the first day is no ground for the description of “cult.”
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A soundly orthodox Christology is hardly a devaluation of Christ
Dr. Hoekema, on page 394 of his volume, affirms that:
“Seventh-day Adventists do not … deny the full deity of Jesus Christ or the doctrine of the Trinity. … Seventh-day Adventists today affirm Christ’s complete equality with the Father, and the preexistence of the Son from eternity. … Adventists also accept the doctrine of the Trinity, and that of the personality and full deity of the Holy Spirit.”
As far as the work of Christ is concerned, Seventh-day Adventists teach the vicarious, substitutionary atonement of Christ. Yet there remains some ambiguity in their teachings on the question of whether the atonement has been finished on the cross, since Mrs. White says on more than one occasion that Christ is making atonement for us today and frequently refers to a “final atonement” after the one completed on the cross.
Dr. Hoekema follows this up by listing five reasons for his feeling that the Adventists “devalue” Christ. Three of these points involve Arminianism, concerning which Dr. Hoekema has an admitted prejudice; the fourth concerns the Sabbath, which is a matter of Christian liberty, unless one presupposes Calvin’s interpretation; and the fifth reiterates the old accusation that the Seventh-day Adventists believe that “the sins of all men will be laid on Satan just before Christ returns, and that only in this way will sin finally be ‘eradicated’ or ‘blotted out’ of the universe” (395–396). Once again, Dr. Hoekema defeats his own case by admitting that the Adventists are soundly orthodox in their Christology, hardly a devaluation of Christ!
The implications and deductions that he draws from their Arminianism cannot be considered as evidence against the Adventists, since not only they but the entire Arminian school of theological interpretation could argue vigorously for the principles that the Adventists lay down.
Finally, the Adventists themselves have repeatedly affirmed that Christ alone vicariously bears the sins of the world and that Satan only bears “his responsibility” for tempting the world to sin. A careful reading of the book Questions on Doctrine, which Dr. Hoekema lists in his bibliography in The Four Major Cults, would have answered his question regarding White’s usage of the terms “making atonement now” and “final atonement.”
The Adventists declare forthrightly that whenever terms of this nature are used, they understand them to refer to the benefits of the atonement of Christ being shed abroad through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and disown completely any implication or suggestion that the atonement of Christ was not completed on the cross. Dr. Hoekema, in company with other critics of Adventism, has not hesitated to draw upon repudiated sources to underscore the claim that the Adventists devalue Christ. On page 114 of The Four Major Cults, Dr. Hoekema states,”One of the best known is the statement by L. A. Wilcox, to the effect that Christ conquered sin “in spite of bad blood and an inherited meanness.”
Unfair representation of Adventists
Though the discussion of this matter in Questions on Doctrine implies that the denomination would now repudiate this statement, nowhere in the book are we definitely told that this has been done. In my book The Truth About Seventh-day Adventism, conclusive proof was introduced of the total repudiation of that statement by Wilcox himself. Dr. Hoekema lists the book in his bibliography, but unfortunately omits reference to Wilcox’s repudiation in order to utilize Wilcox’s statement. This is not a fair representation of what the Adventist denomination has taught or teaches in this area.
These are a few of the problems that face the interested student of the puzzle of Seventh-day Adventism, and they must be fairly considered before hastily classifying Adventism as a non-Christian cult.
(Excerpts from THE KINGDOM OF THE CULTS (Revised) by Walter Martin, Hank Hanegraaff, General Editor Bethany House Publishers Minneapolis, Minnesota, 55438 A Division of Bethany Fellowship, Inc.)