Changing Doctrine

In 1872, a statement of beliefs was published, not as a creed, but to make it easier for brethren in Africa to share their beliefs.  The first subject mentioned is the doctrine of God. 

Declaration of Principles

1  That there is one God, a personal, spiritual being, the creator of all things, omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal , infinite in wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, truth, and mercy; unchangeable, and everywhere present by His representative, the Holy Spirit. Ps 139:7.

2   That there is one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father, the one by whom God created all things, and by whom they do consist;  that He took on Him the nature of the seed of Abraham for the redemption of our fallen race;  that He dwelt among men, full of grace and truth, lived our example, died our sacrifice, and was raised for our justification…..
 Steam Press of the Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association Battle Creek. Michigan 1872.

According to the book ‘Issues’, published by the North American Division, this statement is “distinctly non-trinitarian.”  The brief mention of the Holy Spirit is not a Trinitarian understanding, but a belief that God’s own Spirit represents Him in all parts of the universe.  This was the teaching of the denomination through study of the Bible and the testimony of the Spirit, from the time our doctrines were formulated between 1844 and 1848,

In 1931, a statement of beliefs was included in the denominational Year Book.  It was written by C.W. Wilcox, Editor of the Review and Herald.

“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 Him the salvation of the redeemed hosts will be accomplished; the Holy Spirit, or third person of the Godhead, the great regenerating power in the work of redemption.” 
Church Manuel 1963 edition p39.

‘Issues’ stated that the “…1931 statement differs most dramatically from the 1872 statement in that it is fully Trinitarian.” 
Issues p46.   Apart from the insertion of the word Trinity, it could be seen as non-trinitarian, and there was a reason.   F.D. Nichol said it was “doubtless framed that way in the hope that it might be acceptable to those who had held divergent views, especially over the Godhead.”  Movement of Destiny p414.

Nichol was referring to non-trinitarians. This implicated every pioneer, including the prophet, as well as those who believed the same in 1931.   The move was deliberate.

Forty nine years later, in 1980, the doctrine of the Trinity was officially voted for the first by a General Conference Session.   It read,

“Trinity.  There is one God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons.  God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever-present.  He is infinite beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation.  He (God), (who is love) is forever worthy of worship, adoration, and service by the whole creation. (Texts)” (Capital P for Persons in text)  Brackets changed at 2016 General Conference session, including texts.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church was now officially Trinitarian.

We were to believe there was one God, a unity of three co-eternal Persons -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

Seventh-day Adventists Believe
(27 Fundamentals) states our belief in more detail.    (We  now have the 28 Fundamentals, but there is little variation)

“While the Godhead is not one in person, God is one in purpose, mind, and character.  This oneness does not obliterate the distinct personalities of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Nor does the separateness of personalities within the Deity destroy the monotheistic thrust of Scripture, that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God.”   
p23. (No capital p for person)

It is important to note that it says the Godhead is ‘not one in person’, but ‘three co-eternal Persons’ who are one ‘in purpose, mind, and character’.   Yet, despite being three, they are ‘one God’. 

It further says of the three co-eternal persons,

“There is no distance between the persons of the triune God.  All three are divine, yet they share their divine powers and qualities.  In human organizations final authority rests in one person – a president, king, or prime minister.  In the Godhead, final authority resides in all three members.”   

The wording is clear – there are ‘three members’ in the Godhead, and all have equal authority. They are co-equal and co-eternal, “having a unique and mysterious relationship.”  

Between 1980 and the turn of the century, this was our belief.   However, when Volume 12 of the SDA Bible Commentary’s was published, a different teaching was put forward.  The ‘Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology was published in 2000.   In the chapter entitled ‘Doctrine of God’ by Fernando L. Canale it says,

“When God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ…. a knowledge of the Trinitarian nature of God became necessary for the Christian church.” 
p120.   This is something new.   Of whom is the writer speaking – the Father, the Son, or the Spirit?  

Following on from the above statement, the writer deals with the ‘oneness’ of God.   He says,

“The ‘oneness’ of God refers to the singleness of His being… At times ‘oneness’ can involve the meaning of unity…  However, if the ‘oneness’ expressed in these texts is conceived only as a gathering of independent ‘onenesses’ that come together in order to form a unity, the specific singleness characteristic of the one Godhead to which they testify is dissolved into a plurality of gods…. Since the God of the Bible is one and not many, all the various revelations about Him presented throughout the Bible refer to the same, one divine reality and not to a plurality of divine beings.” 

This is an interesting statement in the light of the words of the Fundamentals previously quoted.   Is the Godhead one or three persons?    Our official beliefs say the Godhead is three co-eternal and co-equal Persons.  


Is the Adventist Trinity changing?

In the above statement, Brother Canale is saying that to have “a gathering of independent onenesses in order to form a unity” becomes a “plurality of gods.”

So much for our Fundamental Beliefs!    

The Godhead is only “one divine reality”, with three “components”. The Godhead is a “complex plurality”.  His being has an “inner complexity”. The writer says this was not revealed fully until the incarnation, and yet there are “hints” in the Old Testament.  Since Christ has become part of the human race, we understand the “Trinitarian nature of God’s reality.”    

The New Testament gave us a “revelation about God’s plurality in oneness” and showed us that there is “a dynamic personal plurality in the Godhead.”   God has, according to Canale, a “Biblical Trinitarian structure”.

The article expresses it this way:  “In the being of God is an essential co-primordiality of three co-equal, co-eternal, non-originated persons.”  
p150.   Primordiality means ‘existing from the beginning, fundamental or original’.  The added prefix then includes all three components.  This means that the Adventist Church does not stand with the Catholic Church  believing the Son was eternally begotten of the Father.   Instead, all three parts of this Trinity are original and fundamentally equal and eternal.”   Ibid.

What are Seventh-day Adventists to believe?

  • The non-trinitarian belief of our pioneers? 
  • A triune Godhead of three co-equal, co-eternal Persons?   
  • A Godhead with a Trinitarian inner nature of three components? 

The article in the Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology sums it up at follows:

“In the being of God is an essential co-primordiality of three coequal, coeternal, non-originated persons. Moreover, Adventism conceives the idea of persons in its biblical sense, as referring to three individual centers of intelligence and action.
(Dederan 15) Finally, having departed from the philosophical conception of God as timeless and having embraced the historical conception of God as presented in the Bible, Adventists envisage the relation between the immanent and economic Trinity as one of identity rather than correspondence.  The words of salvation are produced in time and history by the immanent Trinity (Guy 13) by way of its different Persons, conceived as centers of consciousness and action. 

“Consequently, the indivisibility of God’s works in history is not conceived by Adventists as being determined by the oneness of essence – as taught in the Augustinian classical tradition – but rather the oneness of the historical task of redemption.
(Dederan 20)

“The danger of Tritheism involved in this position becomes real when the oneness of God is reduced to a mere unity fellowship of action. Beyond such a unity vision God has the one single reality which, in the very acts by which He reveals Himself directly in history, transcends the limits of our human reason.
(Prescott 17) 

“In no way could human minds achieve what the classical doctrine about the Trinity claims to perceive, namely, the description of the inner structure of God’s being.  Together with the entire Creation, we must accept God’s oneness by faith.  James 2:19.”

The writer of the article concludes the above with a quotation from the prophet.  When you read it, you will see that her wise counsel, indeed, the counsel of the Spirit of Christ who gave the gift, this counsel has been totally ignored, probably not wilfully, but unwittingly due to a mind completely overtaking by the error of tradition. This gives a complicated and gross misunderstanding of Scripture.

Ellen White wrote, “The revelation of Himself that God has given in His word is for our study.  This we may seek to understand.  But beyond this we are not to penetrate.  The highest intellect may tax itself until it is wearied out in conjectures regarding the nature of God, but the effort will be fruitless.  This problem has not been given us to solve.  No human mind can comprehend God.  None are to indulge in speculation regarding His nature.  Here silence is eloquence. The Omniscient One is above discussion.” 
Ibid p150.  Ministry of Healing p429. 

To quote from the beginning of the article, Canale gives wise counsel and we do well to take note of it.  “In short, true knowledge about God can be attained only on the basis of biblical revelation.  Since the Christian doctrine of God has generally been developed by assuming the speculative conclusions of natural theology as a working presupposition, the enterprise of searching for an understanding of God on the basis of the Bible alone is bound to challenge traditional ideas and render a different view of God.”
Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology.   Fernando L Canale  p106.   SDA Bible Commentary Volume 12.

If this church writer had followed his own counsel, he would have seen a completely different view of God.  He would have realised that the Trinity doctrine is not in the Bible and the verses that appear to him as Trinitarian can be explained by the prophet.  As an Adventist, he would have searched the Spirit of Prophecy writings for an understanding of these obscure verses, and realised that the prophet is totally clear on the identity of God the Father, His only begotten Son, and the omnipresent Spirit they share.

Jesus lifted up His eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee. As thou has given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.  And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” 
John 17:1.2.3.

Enjoy the blessing of a final word from our prophet that came through Bible study and the testimony of the Spirit of Christ.

“O that everyone would realize the great love, the self-sacrifice, the benevolence, and the kindness of our heavenly Father, in giving His Son to die for us that we might, if we believe and do His commandments, have a sweet peace, the Father's joy, the Father's love, and unite with Him, heart, soul, mind, and strength, to maintain righteousness and to draw in even lines with Christ.

“It is not the sacrifice of Christ only; it is the Father's sacrifice also.   The Father, in union and loving sympathy with His Son, subjected Himself to suffer with His Son.  He spared not His only begotten Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all.  This gift of Christ is the crowning truth of God's love, and this Fatherhood, through all time and through eternity.“Here is the love of God in His Fatherhood. Let us drink in this love, that we may know by experience what a real, tender, joyful, experience there is in a realization of the Fatherhood of God.” 
Spalding and Magan p68.69.