by Richard Burkard

Church of God groups frequently make it sound like they're the only ones keeping the Sabbath today, while no other denominations do. But it doesn't take much browsing around the world of religion to find that's not true. There's one fairly large Sabbath-keeping organization with churches meeting around the world - a group whose distant branches include the Radio Church of God and related groups, according to a chart in the Joseph Tkach Jr. book Transformed by Truth.

The Seventh-Day Adventist Church usually isn't mentioned much in COG circles, unless a scholar makes a strong defense of the Sabbath which COG ministers like. Yet the SDA's have far more members, and an increasingly strong U.S. television ministry through the program Amazing Facts. It even has a couple of specialized satellite TV channels, presenting its viewpoint 24 hours a day.

Why don't SDA's and COG's seem to get along? There are many doctrinal reasons why. My longtime United Church of God Pastor summed up his disagreement with the Adventists by saying they "don't keep the holy days," as in the annual ones listed in the Old Testament. This is true - but is that all there is?

As part of my "leave of absence" from UCG exploring other Sabbath-keeping possibilities, I went to the major SDA church in my city for about four months. The differences with COG's quickly became clear. And while the Adventists truly are a "whole-Bible" group, as opposed to a completely New Testament focus, their interpretations of Scripture left me questioning their accuracy.

As it happened, the SDA church I attended hosted a month-long evangelistic campaign during my weeks there. This article will be based largely on the notes I took from those meetings, as the local pastor described the guest evangelist as giving a "crash course" in SDA beliefs (even though it was advertised to the public as an interdenominational seminar).

On the Sabbath before the seminar began, the evangelist gave a two-part presentation during the worship service. The first half consisted of "five keys to successful evangelism." He quoted Ellen White six times, and the Bible six times. That sort of mix is an automatic red flag - since during the seminar he shows a slide calling for us to follow "The Bible, and the Bible alone."

Some Adventists lean on Ellen White's writings even more than Church of God groups lean on Herbert Armstrong's booklets. She's quoted practically every week in the SDA Bible Study quarterlies. And some members openly call White's work "the spirit of prophecy." Trouble is, that's not what Revelation 19:10 says: "Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" - not a woman who wrote more than 18 centuries after Jesus.

(When I first moved to my current home city, I was at the brink of leaving the Worldwide Church of God. When I tried out the SDA's for a couple of Sabbaths, a member gave me two Ellen White paperback books to read - including one running close to 600 pages. After years of Herbert Armstrong-based teachings, I decided to follow the Bible instead of another person's "inspired volumes" about Scripture.)

We skipped the opening night of the evangelistic conference due to an online project. So we pick it up in....

DAY 2: The soft mood-setting music playing in the hall before the meeting has a woman singing, "When I go to heaven, I want to see Jesus...." The Adventist position on heaven is presented later, about being "raptured out" at some point. But several verses indicate when Jesus comes, it will NOT be to take believers to heaven.

"For the Lord himself will come down from heaven," says I Thessalonians 4:16, "with a LOUD!!! voice." (The speaker turned up his own voice when he read that, to wake up sleepy people.) "The dead in Christ shall rise first." Many Adventists believe a good number of these people have risen already, based on Matt. 27:52-53 - even though that passage does NOT say they went to heaven with Jesus.

I Thessalonians 4:17 says believers will "meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." But is Jesus going back to heaven here? Zech. 14:3-5 says the Lord will "go out and fight against those nations . . . On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem . . . Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him." This indicates Jesus is coming all the way down, to be "king over the whole earth" (verse 9).

While referring to Hebrews 11:1-7, the speaker says it never rained before the flood. I've heard other ministers claim this, both inside and outside Adventism; they use the "mist on the earth" explanation. Yet Gen. 2:5-6 would seem to suggest rain was necessary for plants to grow (especially in the New International Version).

DAY 3: We enter the meeting late, because we're part of the team putting together a computer list of attendees. The speaker says we should consider Bible teaching based on the "precept upon precept; line upon line" standard of Isa. 28:10, 13 in the King James Version. But note the NIV margin here, which says the Hebrew text is "possibly meaningless sounds; perhaps a mimicking of the prophet's words."

The Contemporary English Version has "senseless sound after senseless sound." And Eugene Peterson's The Message subtitles this chapter: "God Will Speak in Baby Talk."

During an examination of the king's dream in Daniel 2, the speaker declares verse 42 refers to "ten toes." Plenty of other prophecy-driven denominations say the same thing - but while the statue Nebuchadnezzar saw apparently was a man, the Bible never says there are ten toes. It's been presumed by many, but the verse never specifically says that.

The speaker uses Num. 14:34 to say the "day for a year" principle is prophetic. But he applies it to Rev. 12:6, 14 about the woman (symbolic of a church) being moved to a safe place "in the desert." Some Christian groups consider the Revelation days literal - 1,260 actual days, as opposed to that many years.

DAY 4: This session is held on Wednesday night, which is unusual for this speaker's conferences. He says he tries to avoid regular church meeting nights. But in this case, the following day is Valentine's Day - which is a day many Adventists seem to keep, in spite of its pagan roots (Jer. 10:2-5). The congregation I attended also had Christmas and Easter services, although some members admitted December 25 was "just another day" to them.

My notes indicate the speaker disputed the idea of calling weather-related disasters "acts of God." Yet other ministers dispute this; COG-related ministers still debate whether God sent Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans to wipe out a "very evil city" (as I heard one minister call it).

While discussing Exodus 20, the minister indicates you need to be saved first before you can obey the Ten Commandments. Then how do Orthodox Jews obey them -- at least in a physical sense?

He suggests the Bible has only one definition of sin, based on Romans 4:15. As we've noted in our detailed article on differences with UCG, breaking God's law is a definition - but not the definition. For instance, you can find another one in I Sam. 12:23.

DAY 5: The speaker cites Col. 2:14-17, and contends the Ten Commandments are NOT done away because those Commandments have "no ordinances" in them -- a rule that is temporary and subject to change. Yet in doing this, he suggests some areas listed in this passage come under "ceremonial law." One example is "holy days" (KJV) - yet Zechariah 14:16-19 indicates the Feast of Tabernacles kept each fall will be kept by all people after Jesus returns.

My notes suggest he cited Gen. 1:30 to introduce the Adventist belief in vegetarianism - the original food of creation. Yet how do Adventists explain Jesus feeding thousands of people with loaves and fishes? (Mk. 6:38-44) Shouldn't He have used simply loaves, if meat-eating is wrong? Beyond that, how do they explain Jesus serving fish to the disciples after His resurrection (John 21:12-13) - not to mention eating some Himself (Luke 24:41-43)?

The minister turns to Heb. 11:3-5, and says Enoch went to heaven. Countless churches preach this, of course. But Jesus said long after Enoch vanished, "No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven - the Son of Man" (John 3:13). Is a better explanation for Enoch sitting in Hebrews 11:13? "All these people were living by faith when they died."

DAY 6: During "question and answer" time at the start of the meeting (all in writing, nothing spoken from the audience), the speaker quotes Heb. 8:6 about "better promises." He declares the Old Covenant thus had "poor promises." This sounds like a slap at God -- because after all, didn't He give the Old Covenant to Moses? Does this make God an occasionally cheap giver?

While quoting Matt. 22:36-40, the minister concludes the Bible does not say you're supposed to "love your neighbor's wife." Perhaps this was a joke about cheating on your spouse - but isn't your neighbor's wife still a neighbor?

He also quotes II Thessalonians 2:3-7, and notes how John Wesley declared the papacy the "beast power." But then he tries to define the "Antichrist" in this context, forgetting what John warned in I Jhn. 2:18: "....even now many antichrists have come." Is this really referring to multiple Popes by 90 A.D.?

He makes a side reference to Psm. 40:8, indicating this verse defines the will of God. In reality, many other verses expand the definition. See I Thessalonians 4:3-5 and Galatians 1:4 for examples.

In the context of Deuteronomy 31, he quotes Malachi 3:6 about how the Lord does not change. Yet the New Testament indicates Jesus did change some specifications of the law. Many Adventists participate in foot-washing as part of communion, and this was added by Jesus in John 13.

He also uses I Corinthians 15:20-21 to repeat the commonly-held view that Jesus died on Friday, then was resurrected on Sunday. Yet Jesus said His "miraculous sign" to the skeptics would be that "the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Mt. 12:40). This is more in keeping with the view that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday, and actually was resurrected on a Saturday afternoon (not to be discovered by His friends until Sunday).

DAY 7: The evangelist is "on trial" with me tonight, after several sessions where he struck out. If he doesn't give a "clean" presentation of the Scriptures this evening, I plan to suspend nightly attendance. But he gets in early trouble during question time, when he says the feast seasons listed in Leviticus 23 are different from the Ten Commandments. He quotes I Cor. 5:7 about "Christ our Passover" already being sacrificed for us - but ignores verse 8, where Paul encourages a church to "keep the festival" (implying the Days of Unleavened Bread which follow).

He also gives a definition of prophecy which doesn't sound quite right. I didn't write it down verbatim, but I believe he misses the nuance that in some cases, the verb form of "prophecy" can mean simply "inspired speaking" - not necessarily about the future (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, Greek #4395).

In the context of I Corinthians 14:9, he quotes Paul's later statement: "I die daily" (15:31). Based on this, he says we should remember the resurrection daily - and thus it's OK to keep Easter. Yet encyclopedias show there's plenty about Easter that is pagan, such as eggs and rabbits. And if Jesus really was resurrected on a Saturday (he turns to Lk. 23:50-54 to attempt to explain otherwise), it's one day off.

He quotes from Rev. 1:10-14 and declares Revelation a "book of sevens, not a book of ones." Yes, there are a lot of sevens - but don't they all revolve around a One? (Rev. 4:2)

He later turns to a "trump card" verse many ministers use to declare themselves right: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8). He uses this to justify the Sabbath, as opposed to Sunday worship. Yet Mal. 4:2 describes a "Sun of righteousness" which shall arise for those who fear God's name. (Note "Sun" is capitalized in the KJV and Moffatt translations.) We have a separate article on the question of "When to Worship."

Near the end of the program, he turns to Isa. 66:22-23 - and implies the Sabbath will be kept forever. But he avoids the part about "one New Moon to another." Shouldn't Adventists keep new moon celebrations as well?

The evangelist strikes out on my scorecard (with a couple of added questionable points which are illegible as I write this). So I reduce my seminar attendance to Sabbaths, which is still two sessions a weekend.

Friday, Week 2: .At the start of this evening's presentation, the minister urges us to "study the Bible without presumptions." Then he turns to Genesis 2:7, and says the word "soul" means "person." That's a presumption right there - as the Hebrew word nephesh also is used in Gen. 1:21, 24 to refer to non-human "creatures" such as sea life and livestock. The word also appears in Lev. 11:46 concerning clean and unclean meats.

He quotes Acts 2:29, 34, and states believers "go to heaven" at the resurrection -- then later declares Elijah was carried to heaven. See the notes above about those points.

He repeats the "Friday-Sunday" argument in John 20, without offering more proof for it.

In addition, he adds Moses went to heaven at death. The Adventists base this on a dispute "about the body of Moses" in Jude 9. But some commentaries claim this dispute involved the physical body - which doesn't go to heaven, no matter which side wins the argument. (John Gill's Exposition of the Bible suggests Satan wanted to raise up Moses's body so it could be worshiped by Israel as an idol.)

The minister contends wicked people will not be saved in the second resurrection, described in Rev. 20. But what if those people lived long ago, because Jesus appeared on Earth to offer salvation?

Saturday, Week 2: During a worship service sermon/seminar on "Arabs, Muslims and Terrorism in Prophecy," the guest speaker quotes Rev. 9:8-10. He says this was fulfilled when Constantinople fell after 149 years of Ottoman pressure, using the "day for a year" interpretation. But verse 10 mentions torment "for five months." Assuming 30 days for a month, shouldn't there have been a 150th year of pressure?

Friday, Week 3: In this evening session, the host Adventist Pastor gives a testimony about how he keeps the Sabbath. Huh?!?! Doesn't he preach on that day (and in this case leads a Bible Study group)? Didn't Jesus say, "....on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?" (Mt. 12:5)

The guest speaker's topic is, "Why Do We Wear Clothes?" Citing Gen. 3:9-10, he says "beach attire" is the same as being naked. Doesn't it depend on how much of the body is covered?

His point is the basic Adventist teaching against wearing any form of jewelry. He cites I Pet. 3:3-4 - yet some would argue those verses do not condemn jewelry, but instead indicate what should be a woman's primary area of emphasis. Besides, doesn't the Bible show God considers us to be His jewels (Mal. 3:17, especially in KJV)?

Saturday, Week 3: The Bible Study hour during morning services is replaced by a very polished-looking DVD from Amazing Facts and the emerging top voice of Adventism, Doug Batchelor. It deals with The Final Events of history - and it uses Jer. 25:33 to claim "no human life will be left" at the end of the age. Yet it then turns to Revelation 20, and conveniently overlooks verse 3.

Satan will be locked "to keep him from the deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended." If everyone will be dead, who will be left to deceive? (In fact, Scriptures such as Isa. 2:2-4 indicate some people will survive when Jesus returns - not many, but some.)

The DVD goes on to Rev. 20:9, and declares the "New Jerusalem" will be safe from the final fire which will burn up the Earth. What isn't made clear is that the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven after that fire occurs, based on Rev. 21:1-2.

The guest minister's main message is on the "Four Horsemen of Revelation." He tries to put a historic timeline on the horsemen of Revelation 6, starting at about 100 A.D. Some of his dates seem hard to prove, and I admittedly have not done so as I write this. But he claims the Industrial Revolution started around 1850, when most sources put the date at least 50 years earlier.

He cites Rev. 8:1, and says the silence results from heaven being empty. Doesn't this assume God the Father comes with Jesus and the angels? There's no Biblical evidence to support that.

He mentions Acts 2:38, and says fruits have to be shown before someone is baptized. But what fruits were shown on the day when Acts 2:38 - that fateful day of Pentecost when "about three thousand were added to their number that day"? (v. 41)

He repeats the claim that Enoch is in heaven now, when referring to John 14:1-3. Church groups I've attended for years explain this verse by saying "where I am" refers to where Jesus was when He spoke these words - on Earth, not heaven. But other translations word this differently, and it has me now reconsidering that understanding.

Saturday, Week 4: It's the evangelist's farewell message before he moves on to the next city. He says we should commit to the church - and stick with it, no matter what! But the doctrines he's presented, along with weeks of other instruction in the SDA's, have convinced me this is not the right place for me to worship.

CONCLUSION: To their credit, the Seventh-Day Adventists seem to strive to live in a Biblical way. The members by and large are friendly and good-natured. The Bible Study hours on Saturday mornings before the worship services can be thought-provoking and challenging.

But in my local area, the services themselves often disappointed - as women spoke frequently during the "Children's Story" time, and the shadow of Ellen White seems to hang over much of what is preached and presented. Where the United Church of God's services struck out on our scorecard fairly often, SDA services struck out even more.

While I don't really expect it to happen until Jesus returns, my prayer is that the Adventists will come to see that they're doing what Jesus warned against in Mark 7:6-7. "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men."

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