At Issue Index   Table of Contents   Previous   Next

Questions On Doctrine


Deity of Christ and Church Membership



If a Unitarian or an Arian (rejecting the trinity of the Godhead, and denying the deity of Christ) should seek admission into your church, would a Seventh-day Adventist minister baptize and receive such into membership?

Is it possible for an individual to remain in good and regular standing if he consistently refuses to submit to church authority regarding the historic doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ?


While the first question seemingly touches upon a highly important problem, it is nevertheless hypothetical—for the simple reason that an avowed Unitarian or Arian does not seek membership in an avowedly Trinitarian church while still holding his old views on the Godhead. A poll of numerous ministers of long experience connected with our denominational headquarters shows that no minister in this large group has ever been faced with such a request.

Seventh-day Adventist ministers are required thoroughly to instruct all candidates for membership preparatory to baptism. This period of instruction usually continues for some months. If a candidate persists in holding erroneous views concerning our Lord and


Saviour, who alone can save the sinner, then only one course could be followed: the applicant would have to be told frankly that he is totally unprepared for baptism, and could not be received into our fellowship. He would be counseled to study further until he understood and had fully accepted the deity of Jesus Christ and His redemptive power. We could not permit one who denies what we believe, and believes what we deny, to become a member, for we could never dwell together in harmony. Strife and disintegration would result.

Furthermore, the Seventh-day Adventist Church uses a uniform four-page Certificate of Baptism, which is given the candidate at the time of his baptism. On pages 2 and 3 appears a "Summary of Doctrinal Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists." Following article 1, which deals with the Trinity, the second article reads:

2. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Godhead, and the eternal Son of God, is the only Saviour from sin; and man's salvation is by grace through faith in Him. (Matt. 28:18, 19; John 3:16; Micah 5:2; Matt. 1:21; 2:5, 6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 5: 11, 12; Eph. 1:9-15; 2:4-8; Rom. 3:23-26.)

Then on page 4 is found the candidate's "Baptismal Vow," with thirteen terse declarations to be made in the affirmative before baptism is administered, following which the certificate is signed and dated. The first of these affirmations pertains to our belief in God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The next in the list of questions to be answered, reads:

2. Do you accept the death of Jesus Christ on Calvary as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of men, and believe that through faith in His shed blood men are saved from sin and its penalty?


This is the procedure preparatory to baptism into the Adventist faith. That this Baptismal Certificate is authoritative, and in constant use in the church, is seen from its inclusion in our official Church Manual. It would, therefore, seem that there is less likelihood of one who holds Arian or Unitarian positions entering the Seventh-day Adventist Church than of his entering some other Protestant communion.

The second question, like the first, is largely hypothetical. Our position can be seen in the official instruction for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church Manual, covering the duties, responsibilities, and procedures in church relationships. This book was approved and issued by the General Conference in regular session. concerning the authority and responsibility of the church in such matters, we read on pages 218 and 219 (1951 ed.):

"The world's Redeemer has invested great power with His church. He states the rules to be applied in cases of trial with its members. . . . God holds His people, as a body, responsible for the sins existing in individuals among them. If the leaders of the church neglect to diligently search out the sins which bring the displeasure of God upon the body, they become responsible for these sins. . . . If wrongs are apparent among His people, and if the servants of God pass on indifferent to them, they virtually sustain and justify the sinner, and are alike guilty, and will just as surely receive the displeasure of God; for they will be made responsible for the sins of the guilty."

On page 224, under the heading "Reasons for Which Members Shall Be Disciplined," there are listed seven definite departures, any one of which could be grounds for disfellowshiping a member. The first reads:

1. Denial of faith in the fundamentals of the gospel and in the cardinal doctrines of the church or teaching doctrines contrary to the same.


These "fundamentals of the gospel," or "fundamental beliefs," twenty-two in number, are found on pages 29-36 of the Church Manual. The second and third of these fundamentals deal with the doctrine of God, emphasizing our belief in the Trinity, the omnipotence, omniscience, and eternal existence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We quote:

2. That the Godhead, or Trinity, consists of the Eternal Father, a personal, spiritual Being, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, infinite in wisdom and love; the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father, through whom all things were created and through whom the salvation of the redeemed hosts will be accomplished; the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, the great regenerating power in the work of redemption. (Matt. 28:19.)

3. That Jesus Christ is very God, being of the same nature and essence as the Eternal Father. While retaining His divine nature, He took upon Himself the nature of the human family, lived on earth as a man, exemplified in His life as our example the principles of righteousness, attested His relationship to God by many mighty miracles, died for our sins on the cross, was raised from the dead, and ascended to the Father, where He ever lives to make intercession for us. (John 1:1, 14; Heb. 2:9-18; 8: 1, 2; 4:14-16; 7:25.)

The fourth of these "fundamental beliefs" stresses the nature of our salvation:

4. That every person, in order to obtain salvation, must experience the new birth. This comprises an entire transformation of life and character by the recreative power of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (John 3:16; Matt. 18:3; Acts 2:37-39.)

Salvation, then, comes about solely through "faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." One who refuses to recognize the deity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ can, therefore, neither understand nor experience that divine recreative power in its fullness. Not only is he 


disqualified for membership by his very unbelief, but he is already outside the mystic body of Christ, the church. And there would be nothing else for the church to do but to recognize this separation through unbelief, and to act in harmony with the instruction already referred to in the Church Manual. Section 5 of the reasons given for disfellowshiping a member reads:

Persistent refusal to recognize properly constituted church authority or to submit to the order and discipline of the church. 

Although the authority of the church to act in such a case is recognized, disfellowshiping a member is never entered into hurriedly, but only after much counsel, prayer, and effort to reclaim the erring one. Usually, in actual practice, either the person who loses faith in the fundamentals of the gospel finds himself so out of harmony with his brethren that he withdraws voluntarily, or his conduct is such that the church must take action in his case.

The historic doctrine of the deity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is a cardinal belief of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The Historic Basis for a Misunderstanding

Seventh-day Adventists have often been misunderstood relative to their belief concerning the deity of Christ and the nature of the Godhead. The basis for this misunderstanding lies somewhat in matters of definition and historical background.

In the interdenominational Millerite movement to which the early Seventh-day Adventists had belonged, a few of the leaders were members of a denomination known as "Christians." This group had sounded their


no-creed, Bible-and-Bible-only rallying cry in the early nineteenth century Arminian revolt against the dominant ecclesiastico-political New England Calvinism, in which assent to the Westminster Confession of Faith was a sine qua non. In their zeal to reject everything not found in the Bible, the "Christians" were betrayed by overliteralism into interpreting the Godhead in terms of the human relationships suggested by the words "Son," "Father," and "begotten," that is, into a tendency to disparage the non-Biblical word "Trinity" and to contend that the Son must have had a beginning in the remote past. (However, these people, in spite of being called Arian, were at the opposite pole from the liberal, humanistic Arians who became Unitarians, and whose view of Christ represented Him to be a mere man.)

Some of these "Christians," committed to the Bible as their guide and making Christian character rather than belief the only test of church membership, were inclined to give a sympathetic hearing to the revivalist preaching of William Miller in the 1840's and to welcome the Millerites when other churches closed their doors to them. However, in the Millerite movement speculation on the nature of the Godhead played no important part.

The earliest Seventh-day Adventists had been Millerites, coming from various denominations, and among them were two "Christian" preachers, and possibly several lay members as well. Their proportion in our early membership is unknown, and their dwindling descendants have not molded the thinking of our membership, nor did their understanding of the Godhead


become a part of our essential message to the world. Today probably only a minute portion of our membership has ever even heard of any dispute as to whether Christ once had a beginning in the unmeasured aeons of the past. And even the few so-called "Arians" among us—though erring in their theoretical theology of the nature of the relationships of the God-head—have been as free as their more orthodox brethren of any thought of detracting from the glory and divine lordship of Jesus as Creator, Redeemer, Saviour, and Advocate.

Our people have always believed in the deity and pre-existence of Christ, most of them quite likely unaware of any dispute as to the exact relationships of the Godhead. Nor has our public preaching discussed Christology, but has placed the emphasis on the distinctive message of the Lord's coming. However, we have statements from Ellen G. White, at least from the 1870's and 1880's, on the deity of Christ, and on His oneness and equality with God; and from about 1890 on she expressed herself with increasing frequency and positiveness in an endeavor to correct certain erroneous opinions held by some—such as the literalistic notion that Christ as the "only begotten" Son had, in the remote ages past, had a beginning.

Why did she not make her stronger emphasis from the beginning? Doubtless for the same reason that she advised against pursuing theological controversy with respected but mistaken brethren—for the sake of unity on the main features of the message of the imminent return of Christ, which they all felt called of God to proclaim to the world. Her advice was, in substance:


No matter how right you are, do not stir up the subject at the present time because it will cause disunity. Quite possibly our toleration of a few variant theories has not been too high a price to pay for freedom from creedal dogmatism and controversy, and for unity of spirit and effort in our world task.

At Issue Index   Table of Contents   Previous   Next