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Post War Adventism
While Seventh-day Adventism was moved from its more natural Evangelical stance by the political and religious climate of the 1920s, toward Fundamentalist positions on the inspiration of the Bible—and on Ellen White—other more pressing external subjects332 occupied their attention. At the same time, forces within and outside eventually caused the church to come back to the more balanced approach to inspiration, as expressed by Ellen White and the 1919 Bible Conference participants.
1. After the Great Depression and World War II, society became more open and progressive in this era of economic revitalisation. After the war the United States became increasingly active in world affairs and began to move into the role of being the world's policeman. The Seventh-day Adventist Church also became more conscious of global issues, rejoicing in the new freedom gained since the end of the war, and finding good success in countries where America's influence was strong.
2. Broader communications and travel greatly enhanced Seventh-day Adventists global consciousness. Further, non-Americans began to take prominent positions in leadership. One significant appointment, that of W. R. Beach to the position of secretary of the General Conference, during the time of the presidency of R. R. Fighur (1954-1966) is generally looked upon as developing an era of openness and progress.333 The appointment of R. A. Anderson, an Australian, as secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association would also prove to be of great significance. Anderson's influence was felt also when he was able
to arrange for his good friend Edward Heppenstall, an Englishman, to have a denominational teaching position in the United States.334
3. The accreditation of Seventh-day Adventist educational institutions became a powerful influence in extricating the church out of its Fundamentalist mould. Fundamentalism is often (but not always) suspicious of higher education. Since the 1930s there had been strong differences over whether the church should apply for accreditation. To a large degree the issue involved the College of Medical Evangelists in California (later to become Loma Linda University). The question arose as to whether the church should seek accreditation for this institution and train doctors of medicine with fully recognised degrees. This was important to enable the church to have a reputable university with different schools of medicine. With the denominational health message described as the "right arm of the message," the church's commitment to overseas medical evangelism, together with the counsel of Ellen White, regarding the need for higher education, it was inevitable that those who were in favour of accreditation would win.335
Once it was agreed that the college would seek accreditation, it followed that they needed to have students from other accredited church institutions. These students in turn would have to be taught by well-qualified teachers. The door was opened for higher education and the Seventh-day Adventist church began to make contact with the wider world of learning. The founding of The Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary meant that the church would have better academic education for its ministry.
Up until the presidency of R. R. Fighur it was usual to find that anyone who had a doctoral degree from a non Seventh-day Adventist institution, and who taught Seventh-day Adventist theology students, generally had the degree in an area like archaeology (for instance S. H. Horn) or Semitic languages (for instance W. G. C. Murdoch). In the 1940s R. F. Cottrell, while teaching Bible at the denomination's Pacific Union College, applied five times for permission to study toward a doctorate, but was refused and told that his Master's degree was sufficient for church teaching needs.336 Edward Heppenstall was one of the first to earn a doctorate in religious education from a non Seventh-day Adventist institution.
4. The influence of Edward Heppenstall became significant. As Andreasen had been the giant in Seventh-day Adventist theology in the 1940s and 1950s; so Edward Heppenstall became the dominant figure at the seminary and in the theological world of Adventism from the mid-1950s onwards. His ideas, in significant areas of theology, differed from those of Andreasen. During my interview with him I was conscious that he was 92 years old and suffering from Alzheimer's disease. However, I found him on an exceptionally good day. His wife, who is 12 years younger, still had an excellent, clear mind and responded well to many of my questions.337 She was exceptionally helpful, and willing to supplement her husband's answers to my questions.Like Andreason, Heppenstall authored many significant books, including: Our High Priest (1972); Salvation Unlimited (1974); and The Man Who Is God (1977). In these volumes, as well as in his teaching at the seminary, Heppenstall was aware that he was taking different positions from those of Andreasen (see the next chapter), especially in areas such as: The sinless nature of Christ, and the impossibility of sinless perfectionism being found amongst God's people just before the return of Jesus.
During the interview he repeatedly stated, "Andreasen was overboard on this. Sinless perfectionism! The idea just does not hold up. We can't be sinless before Christ comes. A man coming to Christ just a week or two before Jesus returns can't do it. His relationship to Christ, that is what matters. We must be total in our relationship to Christ. If you commit yourself to Christ you are saved. If a man dies and has committed himself to Christ he will be saved even if he has not kept Seventh-day Adventist doctrines. Some of the great preachers of today are genuine Christians." He kept repeating, "Christ has got to be central, He is the supreme person."
Judged from his writings, Heppenstall appears to have a more realistic approach to the use of the writings of Ellen White. He summarises his convictions in the following words, "Ellen White calls upon us to make sure that all the truths we hold are firmly established upon the scriptures. Therefore we deplore the idea that anything else should have prior authority over the Bible. Let her writings be our guide but not our jailer, our shield but not our straightjacket. The scriptures comprise God's final word to us"338 (emphasis added). Heppenstall had an advantage
over Andreasen in that he lived to see more evidence released of how Ellen White actually did her work before he wrote this article.
5. The 1952 Bible Conference. With the Second World War finished, church leaders were anxious to know if the effects of the war and the isolation had made differences to the beliefs of church members. The 1952 Bible Conference was to be the first Bible Conference held since 1919. Some also suspect it was Branson's intention as president of the General Conference to use this conference to settle the Armageddon issue, which had been causing some division. An additional reason was, no doubt, that the church felt a need to respond to the perceived threat of Weiland and Short's submissions on righteousness by faith. The fact that Seventh-day Adventists could once again hold a Bible Conference where ideas could be openly shared was a step forward.
"Compared with the one in 1919, this conference put greater emphasis on the doctrines of salvation and the nature and work of God's Remnant and less emphasis on the specifics of prophetic interpretations of history. . . . The General Conference afterward appointed a standing committee for biblical study and research [sic], 'to encourage, organise and coordinate . . . Biblical exegesis and research and then to function as a body of counsel to give guidance to those who in any part of the world field make what to them appears to be significant discoveries of truth.'"339
The subject regarding the inspiration and authority of Ellen White does not seem to have been of great priority in this conference. The topic was covered by D. E. Rebok who, while denying the verbal inspiration and infallibility of Ellen White, is obviously unaware of the type of material and discussions that had taken place at the 1919 Bible Conference.340
6. The Printing of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Series. Seven volumes of a Bible Commentary series, comprising some seven thousand pages, were produced by the denomination between 1953 and 1957. It was the largest single publishing project in the history of the church. The set received surprising acceptance from a wide range of Seventh-day Adventists. It was a step forward in that it recognised that, in some areas, there was room for differences of opinion. One such example was the fact that there could be an acknowledgement of more than one view regarding the nature of Armageddon.
Developments in the Protestant World
Meanwhile in the wider Protestant world significant changes were also taking place under the influence of Evangelicalism, Fundamentalism and Liberalism. For the purposes of this book I define these terms as applying to the Protestant world in the following ways: Liberalism as an attempt to account for the Bible as the product of merely human sources. Fundamentalism as an attempt to account for the Bible as the product of purely Divine sources and Evangelicalism as an attempt to account for the Bible as the product of both human and divine sources.
Many claim that evangelical theology dates back to the early Christian church or at least to the Protestant Reformation and that it was only in the late nineteenth century, as a reaction to liberalising tendencies of some Protestants that Fundamentalism arose a defence.341 John R Rice, a leading Fundamentalist, describes fundamentalism as "a vigorous defence of the faith, active soul winning, great New Testament type churches going abroad to save multitudes, having fervent love for all God's people and earnestly avoiding compromise in doctrine or yoking up with unbelievers . . . all true Fundamentalists today affirm the inerrancy of the Bible and the premillennial return of Christ, and deny all biological evolution. . . ."342
He describes its two most distinguishing features as militant defense of the faith and soul winning. George Marsden says of Fundamentalists: "They were conservative evangelicals, dedicated to soul winning and conscious of a need for militancy for defending the faith . . . almost all nineteenth-century American Protestants had been evangelical, that is, part of a coalition reflecting a merger of Pietists and Reformed heritages and growing out of the eighteenth and nineteenth century awakenings in America. . . . All Fundamentalists wanted to preserve this nineteenth century heritage, and so all Fundamentalists were evangelicals . . . [on the other hand] many who still called themselves evangelicals were liberals or modernists who had abandoned most of the distinctive emphases of the awakening; so the term evangelical had lost its usefulness. Fundamentalists nonetheless thought of themselves simply as preserving the evangelical heritage. . . . A Fundamentalist is ready to stand up and fight for the faith. . . . Central to being a Fundamentalist is perceiving oneself to be in the midst of religious war. . . . Spiritually
enlightened Christians can tell who the enemy is. In such a war, there can be no compromise. . . . Fundamentalists universally see the war as primarily a war over the Bible. To this extent, they would agree with outside observers who claim that fundamentalism is, in its distinctive aspect, a modern movement. Though Fundamentalists see this battle for the Bible as recent, they insist that their inerrancy doctrine is the historic position of the church.
For Fundamentalists, the battle for the Bible almost always has two fronts. They are fighting against modern interpretations of the Bible that they see are destroying most American civilization, which they see as founded on the Bible. . . . The way of getting at this point that has become virtually universal for Fundamentalists is to assert that the Bible is 'inerrant.' For Fundamentalists, this means that the Bible not only is an infallible authority in matters of faith and practise, but also is accurate in all its historical and scientific assertions." (emphasis added).343
Marsden talks further of the two points that would traditionally separate Fundamentalists from the rest of the Protestant world—inerrancy of Scripture and the premillenial hope of the return of Jesus. Talking about inerrancy of scripture as a test of faith was rare before the late nineteenth century, though most earlier Protestants probably assumed it.
Fundamentalism in North America had relative success and strength up until the "Scopes Trial," of 1925 when they were nationally discredited as the evidence given at the trial was made public. "After that year, fundamentalism steadily lost its national influence in America and began to retreat into separatist sectarian minorities which became increasingly isolated from the mainstream of society."344
Because of this setback, the late 1920s saw the Fundamentalist movement reorganising itself. They had been discredited inside mainline denominations. Two schools of thought developed as to how they could regain their strength. One group said that "they should simply continue to champion their cause within the major denominations, building individual Fundamentalist congregations that could resist liberal influences of denominational leadership. Other Fundamentalists increasingly concluded that the movement should form its own separate institutions, which could be freed from corrupting entanglements with
the major denominations. Dispensationalists especially were inclined in this separatists direction, since one of the dispensationalists teachings was that the major churches of this age would become apostate. Many, though not all, dispensationalists carried this teaching to the conclusion that Christians must separate themselves from any such apostasy. . . ."345
The Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia states: "To a considerable extent, Fundamentalists have ignored or rejected the valid findings of Biblical scholarship, a feature of the movement deplored by its more well informed leaders. Furthermore, there seems to be a predisposition, especially among the more radical fundamentalist groups, to take an obscurantist, irrational attitude on various matters. . . . Since about 1940 a group of fundamentalist scholars has arisen calling for a more enlightened attitude towards modern culture, especially in the areas of science and sound Biblical scholarship. Those sympathetic to this trend call themselves Evangelicals. . . ." [Emphasis added].346
Among some of the more important catalysts to cause this new evangelical movement were in the 1950s were: first, the influence of Billy Graham, who started out in the fundamentalist camp, but gradually moved away to work with a more broad based group of churches. Second, Carl F. Henry and his work as founding editor of Christianity Today. This publication became the most influential magazine in the new evangelical movement. The founding of Fuller Theological Seminary. This was destined to become the catalyst of mission for the evangelical world.
Early Evangelicals attempted to distance themselves from the extremes of the Fundamentalists and they did this in many areas such as: (a) opposing liberal theologies; (b) de-emphasising some of the strict prohibitions of the fundamentalist moral code; (c) abandoning separatism; and (d) dropping Dispensationalism, while remaining premillenialists.
However, there was one important issue, they could not agree on, which was to cause serious rifts. Dayton and Johnston state: "The question of Biblical inerrancy soon split neo-evangelicals themselves into two major camps. Progressives thought inerrancy too narrow a way to define Biblical authority; more fundamentalistic neo-evangelicals insisted on inerrancy as a test of faith. Fuller Theological Seminary, the leading neo- evangelical educational centre, split over this question
and fell into the hands of the progressives. More fundamentalistic neo-evangelicals, usually supported by Graham and Christianity Today, took the lead in promoting the inerrancy test for as much of the evangelicalism as possible. Most influential in these campaigns was Harold Lindsell, editor of Christianity Today from 1968 to 1978, whose Battle For The Bible, published in 1976, was the Uncle Tom's Cabin of the inerrancy movement . . . . fundamentalist influences remained strong." (emphasis mine).347
George Marsden describes evangelicalism in the following way: "While fundamentalism has become a fairly precise designation for a particular type of Protestant militant, it should be apparent that evangelicalism describes a much more diverse coalition. Roughly speaking, evangelicalism today includes any Christians traditional enough to affirm the basic beliefs of the nineteenth-century evangelical consensus. The essential evangelical beliefs include:
The Reformation doctrine of the final authority of the Bible.
2. The real historical character of God's saving work recorded in Scripture.
3. Salvation to eternal life based on the redemptive work of Christ.
4. The importance of evangelism and missions.
5. The importance of a spiritually transformed life."348
There can be no doubt that Seventh-day Adventists could subscribe to the above definition. However, those who have a proper understanding of Seventh-day Adventism belong more with the progressive evangelicals, particularly in the area of Scriptural inerrancy. Russell Staples of Andrews University arrives at a "yes" and "no" answer while noting, "An extremely high value of Scripture is held by both, but evangelicalism tends to accept verbal inspiration and inerrancy—although perhaps a more flexible view is held by some. Adventists adhere to a more dynamic view. . . . Evangelicals appear to be moving away from dispensationalist fundamentalism, and the differences between Adventist and evangelical eschatology appear to be narrower than previously. Both are faced with the challenge of maintaining a sense of expectancy. . . ."349
Seventh-day Adventism lives in the same world as the rest of the Christian church. It faces similar issues and pressures. As other Christian churches respond, so does the Seventh-day Adventist Church, although
usually a little later in time. Today there are militant, fundamentalist Seventh-day Adventists who are quick to point out the changes that have taken place in Seventh-day Adventism since the end of World War Two. However, they seem unaware of the changes that also took place in the 1920s. Bull and Lockhart are quick to point this out: "The changes that have taken place in Adventism since the Second World War have been far more self conscious than those at the start of the century. In consequence these developments have received a disproportionate amount of attention. But in fact the changes have been less dramatic than those of the earlier period, involving a dilution rather than a transformation of Adventist belief. . . .
"A misleading picture of Adventist history can be derived from concentrating solely on the changes that have taken place since the second world war. It can appear that the central dynamic of Adventist development has been the move away from historic certainties toward accommodation with the mainstream American religion. But what many authors take to be historic Adventism is in fact a creation of the twentieth century—a synthesis that took place in the 1920s and remained dominant until the 1960s. It was, moreover, a synthesis that in itself represented an accommodation to the newly formed fundamentalist movement. . . .
"Adventist theology has developed in parallel with that of the mainstream. It was at its most distinctive during a period of great diversity; it became fundamentalist in the era of fundamentalism; and it softened with the rise of evangelicalism. Throughout this process Adventist theology has served as a barrier between the church and its opponents. The nature of the competition has changed—from rival sects to liberal Christianity to secular humanism—and Adventist theology has adjusted accordingly. But the changes have served to maintain the distance between Adventism and the most threatening ideological formations of the day. . . .350 (emphasis added).
332 Adventism in America, Chapter 6 is written by Keld J. Reynolds and entitled "The Church under Stress, 1931-1960". Reynolds states, "Whereas the troubles of earlier days had been primarily internal, the ones the denomination faced after 1930 were largely external. International economic depression, a truly worldwide war, and a rapidly changing postwar world strained Seventh-day Adventism to the utmost. . . . Although not all the problems were resolved, the events of these years broadened the Seventh-day Adventist conception of mission in a more humanitarian direction and to some degree broke down its sectarian exclusiveness." p. 170. [back]
333 On this point there was general agreement among those who I interviewed in March 1993. [back]
334 Interview with Mrs. R. A. Anderson. March 1993. who stated that they were good friends, and tended to agree theologically and spent a lot of time together. [back]
335 Terrie A. Aamodt, in Bold Venture, chapter 6 has some reference to the struggle over accreditation during this period and the suspicions against anyone who had an outside doctoral degree. [back]
336 Interview with R. F. Cottrell 21/3/93. [back]
337 Interview with Dr. and Mrs. Heppenstall at their home March 1993. [back]
338 Edward Heppenstall's article "The Inspired Witness of Ellen White" From Adventist Heritage Centre, James White Library. Andrews University. The unpublished article is undated, however the fact that it introduces him as now retired as well as the fact that he has written it to answer the plagiarism charges currently being made prominent would suggest that he is writing it during the early 1980s when Walter Rae is making allegations against Ellen Whites borrowings of the writings of others. [back]
339 Gary Land, Adventism in America, p. 184. [back]
340 Our Firm Foundation. Vol. 1, (Washington, DC: Review and Herald. 1953). Article, "The Spirit of Prophecy in the Remnant Church" by D. E. Rebok. [back]
341 Ferguson and Wright, New dictionary of Theology. The article "Evangelical Theology" has an excellent discussion on this point. [back]
342 Donald Dayton, and Robert K. Johnston, The variety of American Evangelicalism. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 1991), pp. 22-23. Quote from Rice on this point. [back]
343 Ibid., pp. 23-27. [back]
344 John Scopes was a young biology teacher teaching in Dayton, Tennessee who faced a court trial in 1925 because he taught Darwinism in a public school. The Scopes trial [often called the "Monkey Trial] became a debate between an agnostic, named Clarence Darrow who defended him and a well known orator named William Jennings Bryan who was the prosecutor. Scopes was eventually found guilty but the decision was reversed on a technicality. However it was perceived by many that the real winner was Scopes and the material used by Darrow to defend him. The ideas used by Bryan to prosecute Scopes was perceived to be very inadequate when put through the process of the court procedures. An excellent account of this is found in Steve Daily's How Readest Thou. (M. A. Thesis. Loma Linda Uni, 1982), pp. 30-31. [back]
345 Dayton and Johnston, American Evangelicalism, p. 28. [back]
346 SDA Encyclopedia, (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1966), Article "Fundamentalism". [back]
347 Dayton and Johnston. American Evangelicalism, pp. 30-31. [back]
348 George M. Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 1991), p. 4. Recommended reading under this topic is an excellent article by A. Patrick. "An Adventist and an Evangelical in Australia. The case of Ellen White in Australia." Lucas number 12. Dec 1991. He suggests that EGW was indeed an evangelical because of her positions on primitive Christianity, the Scriptures, the Cross, righteousness by faith, and activism. [back]
349 Dayton and Johnston, American Evangelicalism, p. 68. [back]
350 Bull and Lockhart, Seeking a Sanctuary, pp. 90-91. [back]