Church of God Meets Seventh-day Adventists

The open attitude of co-operation expressed by many Sabbatarians has exposed, for the first time, many in the Church of  God to Seventh-day Adventists, and vice versa. Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi’s recent acceptance of the Biblical Holy Days as being relevant for Christians today has had a profound effect upon the Church of God (a term I will use here to signify those who hold to the classical Worldwide Church of God beliefs). There is now a developing dialogue between church leaders and members of both Seventh-day Adventists and the various groups of the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God. No, this effort will not lead to organizational unification. Yes, it is, and will, lead to further cooperation and understanding.

Yet even at this stage, both sides know little about each other. We in the Church of God have not done our homework, and in many areas, we cannot engage in an intelligent discussion with SDA’s over doctrinal matters.

Comparison of Doctrinal Beliefs

The first step is for us to read each other’s doctrinal statements. To facilitate this, the Bible Sabbath Association publishes a verbatim compilation of the statements of beliefs of many Sabbath-keeping organizations, entitled Beliefs of Sabbath-Observing Groups. Contact The Bible Sabbath Association, 3316 Alberta Drive, Gillette, Wyoming 82718.

Neither Seventh-day Adventists, nor other church organizations are monoliths. However, published statements of belief should be taken at face value as reflecting the majority opinion of the group.

The statement of Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists has twenty-seven points. Members of the Church of God can agree with many of these points.

We agree that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, that God the Eternal Father is the Creator and Sovereign of the Universe, and that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to the Church. We both believe that man is created in the image of God with free moral agency and has sinned and therefore is subject to death. We believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, and that Christ’s life of perfect obedience to God’s will, and His suffering, death, and resurrection, made eternal life for man possible through repentance and accepting His atoning sacrifice for our sins. We believe in baptism by immersion.

The "Lord’s Supper," which we prefer to call, "the Christian Passover," should be accompanied by foot washing. The emblems signify the body and blood of Jesus as an expression of our faith in Him. We share the belief that the great principles of God’s law are embodied in the Ten Commandments, and express God’s love, will, and purposes concerning human conduct and relationships, and are binding upon all people in every age.

We both believe in the Sabbath as God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. We believe that Christians should live modest and exemplary lives, and that marriage is a divine institution and to be a lifelong union between a man a woman. We mutually stress the literal, personal, visible, imminent return of Jesus Christ to establish the millennium, the thousand-year reign of the Kingdom of God.

From an outsider’s view, there is little detectable difference between Seventh-day Adventists and the Church of God.

Ten Areas of Difference

However, there are several areas of strong disagreement that we in the Church of God have with SDA’s: (1) the Trinity, (2) Ellen G. White, (3) going to Heaven, and (4) the sanctuary and "Investigative Judgment," (5) the name of the Church, (6) vegetarianism, (7) military service, (8) when the Savior was crucified and resurrected, (9) observance of Easter and quarterly communion, and holidays of pagan origin, and (10) moral issues such as homosexuality, abortion, and alcohol. These differences are, in reality, quite significant.

Adventists Misunderstand Church of God

In the March 14, 1996, issue of Adventist Review, William G. Johnsson comments on the doctrinal changes of the Worldwide Church of God. He says that their abandonment of the "Old Testament festivals" was the result of the honesty of their leaders, "who faced the biblical evidence and decided that some of their positions simply didn’t hold water." Adventists, he believes, have a "wonderful opportunity" to bring into their fold former members of Armstrong’s movement who feel abandoned by their organization. Finally, Johnsson warns Adventists not to water down or abandon their distinctive: "the Sabbath, the Second Coming, the sanctuary, the [investigative] judgment, the mortality of the soul, and the Spirit of Prophecy [Ellen G. White]."

This demonstrates a lack of understanding of the doctrinal issues involved. Those who have recently left the Worldwide Church of God over doctrinal changes, such as the Sabbath, Holy Days, Trinity, etc., are hardly likely to join the Seventh-day Adventists, who support the Trinity and eschew the Holy Days. Even Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi’s recent book, God’s Festivals in Scripture and History, does not actually support keeping the Holy Days in the same sense that the Church of God tradition teaches. The likelihood that SDA’s will officially accept the Holy Days is extremely remote.

Trinity and Ellen G. White

Seventh-day Adventists do not understand that the Trinity doctrine is a major doctrinal difference between themselves and the Church of God. Even though early SDA leaders of the nineteenth century were anti-trinitarians, by the 1930s, trinitarianism had become dominant. Point #3 of the SDA fundamental beliefs states: "The Trinity: There is one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons." This statement is totally unacceptable by the Church of God.

Some Seventh-day Adventists downplay the teachings of Ellen G. White, saying their church does not hold her to be the later day prophetess, and do not revere her any more than we do Herbert Armstrong. This is not an honest presentation of the facts. Point #17 of the SDA Fundamental Beliefs states, "The Gift of Prophecy: One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction."

One cannot be an SDA in good standing without believing in the inspiration of Ellen G. White. In the first SDA Manual, published in 1932, one of the twenty-one questions ministers were to ask every candidate for baptism and church membership was: "Do you believe in the gift of prophecy which has been manifested in the remnant church through the ministry and writings of Mrs. Ellen G. White?"

Anyone who has seriously studied the writings of Ellen G. White can find clear evidence of failed prophecies, contradictions, plagiarism, and heretical teachings. The source of her visions was not the Creator God.

For further study, see our free 24-page article, "We Are Sabbath-keepers, Not Seventh-Day Adventists," from Giving & Sharing, PO Box 100, Neck City, MO 64849. In North America, you may order this free article by calling toll-free 1-888-687-5191.

Going to Heaven and Investigative Judgment

SDA’s believe that at the Second Coming, Christ will raise the righteous dead, and with the righteous living, take them to Heaven while the earth lies desolate for 1,000 years. The Church of God teaching is that the millennium will be on this earth made new, and thereafter, Heaven comes to earth in the new heavens and new earth.

Adventists believe that in 1844, Christ entered the Holy of Holies in Heaven, and began the Investigative Judgment, deciding the fate of all mankind, making atonement for those who will be saved. For SDA’s, atonement did not happen on the stake of calvary, it began to be accomplished in 1844. In the words of SDA eminent Uriah Smith, "Christ did not make the atonement when He shed His blood upon the cross." SDA’s believe that our sins have been collectively piling up in the Holy of Holies in Heaven, but in 1844, Christ moved into the apartment and began to cleanse the Heavenly Sanctuary of sin.

To the Church of God, this borders on blasphemy. According to Hebrews 9:12, 25-28, and 10:14, we believe that the atonement has been completed, and upon repentance, faith, and baptism, our sins are blotted out, Acts 3:19. God’s Heavenly Sanctuary cannot be defiled by human sin.

Other Doctrinal Differences

Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi is a controversial figure, even in his own SDA circles. Some SDA ministers do not like his support of the Holy Days. Bacchiocchi’s position opposing women preachers has generated much opposition. The Church of God position is in favor of Holy Days and against women preaching.

Historically, a major point of difference has been the name of the Church. Ellen G. White labeled those who insisted on the Biblical name, "Church of God," as "fanatics."

Many SDA’s are vegetarians. Those who are not vegetarians ignore Ellen G. White’s writings. She wrote in her Testimonies for the Church (1872), that her visions gave "positive testimony against tobacco, spirituous liquors, snuff, tea, coffee, flesh meats, butter, spices, rich cakes, mince pies, a large amount of salt, and all exciting substitutes used as articles of food." If she were a prophetess, you would think that all real SDA’s would follow her.

From its recent origins in the 1860s, the Sabbath-keeping Church of God has been opposed to military service, bearing arms, or to come under military authority. SDA’s will, if conscripted, serve as medics.

Dr. Bacchiocchi’s book, The Time of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, supports the SDA view of the traditional Good Friday crucifixion, Easter Sunday resurrection. The Church of God holds to a Wednesday crucifixion, Sabbath resurrection. This leads to another difference: SDA’s observe Easter, Christmas, and a quarterly communion, while the Church of God eschews holidays of pagan origin, and holds to the quartodeciman annual Passover. It has only been the recent generation of SDA’s who have acquired the general practice of observing pagan holidays. Bacchiocchi lambasts this practice, but he does not appear to reflect the majority SDA view on this subject.

In recent years, SDA’s have equivocated on issues such as homosexuality and abortion. There is a strong homosexual movement within the SDA church, and their leaders have been permitted to speak at SDA colleges. Also, SDA’s do not take a strong stand against abortion. The Church of God believes that the Bible condemns homosexual acts, and prohibits abortion.

Finally, Bacchiocchi’s book, Wine in the Bible, purports the questionable theory that all the "good" references to wine in the Bible describe unfermented grape juice, while all the "bad" references point to fermented alcoholic wine. He supports point #21 of the SDA fundamental beliefs, that alcoholic beverages are "harmful to our bodies." The Church of God believes the Bible supports the moderate consumption of alcohol, which is beneficial to our health.

— written by Richard C. Nickels W