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The theology of the Seventh-day Adventist Church resembles that of Protestant Christianity, combining elements from Lutheran, Wesleyan/Arminian, and Anabaptist branches of Protestantism. Adventists believe in the infallibility of Scripture and teach that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ. The 28 fundamental beliefs constitute the church's official doctrinal position.
The denomination also has a number of distinctive doctrines which differentiate it from other Christian churches. There are very few teachings held exclusively by Seventh-day Adventists. Some of their views which differ from most Christian churches include: the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments, the unconsciousness of man in death, conditional immortality, an atoning ministry of Jesus Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, and an “investigative judgment” that commenced in 1844. Furthermore, a traditionally historicist approach to prophecy has led Adventists to develop a unique system of eschatological beliefs which incorporates a commandment-keeping "remnant", a universal end-time crisis revolving around the law of God, and the visible return of Jesus Christ prior to a millennial reign of believers in heaven.
The Seventh-day Adventist denomination expresses its official teachings in a formal statement known as the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. This statement of beliefs was originally adopted by the church's General Conference in 1980, with an additional belief (number 11) being added in 2005. Also highly significant are the baptismal vows, of which there are two versions; candidates for church membership are required to accept one.
In addition to the fundamental beliefs, a number of "Official Statements" have been voted on by the church leadership, although only some of these are doctrinal in nature. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary is a significant expression of Adventist theological thought.
The first fundamental belief of the church stated that "The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of [God's] will." Adventist theologians generally reject the "verbal inspiration" position on Scripture held by many conservative evangelical Christians. They believe instead that God inspired the thoughts of the biblical authors, and that the authors then expressed these thoughts in their own words. This view is popularly known as "thought inspiration", and most Adventist members hold to that view. According to Ed Christian, former JATS editor, "few if any ATS members believe in verbal inerrancy".
Adventists generally reject higher critical approaches to Scripture. The 1986 statement Methods of Bible Study, "urge[s] Adventist Bible students to avoid relying on the use of the presuppositions and the resultant deductions associated with the historical-critical method."
Seventh-day Adventist approaches to theology are affected by the level of authority accorded the writings of Ellen White. Mainstream Adventists believe that White had the spiritual gift of prophecy, but that her writings are inferior to the Bible, which has ultimate authority.
According to one church document, "her expositions on any given Bible passage offer an inspired guide to the meaning of texts without exhausting their meaning or preempting the task of exegesis". "The Inspiration and Authority of the Ellen G. White Writings", document was issued by the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. It has received worldwide review and input, although is not an official statement. It concludes that a proper understanding will avoid the two extremes of regarding her "writings as functioning on a canonical level identical with Scripture, or […] considering them as ordinary Christian literature."
Adventist theology is distinctly Protestant, and holds much in common with Evangelicalism in particular. However, in common with many restorationist groups, Adventists have traditionally taught that the majority of Protestant churches have failed to "complete" the Reformation by overturning the errors of Roman Catholicism (see also Great Apostasy) and "restoring" the beliefs and practices of the primitive church—including Sabbath keeping, adult baptism and conditional immortality.
Adventists typically do not consider themselves part of the Fundamentalist Christianity community: "Theologically, Seventh-day Adventists have a number of beliefs in common with Fundamentalists, but for various reasons have never been identified with the movement... On their part, Adventists reject as unbiblical a number of teachings held by many (though not all) Fundamentalists..."
Seventh-day Adventist theology has undergone development from the beginnings of the movement. Doctrinal development has been associated with significant events, including the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference and discussions with evangelicals in the middle of the 20th century which prompted the publication of Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine. As a consequence of these developments, different theological streams have emerged which today exist alongside the mainstream of the Church.
The early Adventists emphasized the concept of "present truth"—see 2 Peter 1:12 (NKJV). James White explained, “The church [has] ever had a present truth. The present truth now, is that which shows present duty, and the right position for us…” ”Present truth is present truth, and not future truth, and the Word as a lamp shines brightly where we stand, and not so plainly on the path in the distance.” Ellen White pointed out that “present truth, which is a test to the people of this generation, was not a test to the people of generations far back.” The founders of the SDA church had a dynamic concept of what they called present truth, opposed to creedal rigidity, and had an openness to new theological understandings that built upon the landmark doctrines, or Pillars of Adventism that had made them a people.
These foundations, pillars, and landmarks are:
Still, the possibilities of dynamic change in Seventh-day Adventist beliefs are not unlimited. Those landmark doctrines are non-negotiables in Adventist theology. Collectively they have provided the Seventh-day Adventists with an identity. The pillars of their faith—the Bible doctrines that define who they are as a people—have been thoroughly studied out in the Scripture and have been attested to by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. As Ellen White put it, "When the power of God testifies as to what is truth, that truth is to stand forever as the truth. ... Men will arise with interpretations of Scripture which are to them truth, but which are not truth. The truth for this time, God has given us as a foundation for our faith. Robert Johnston noted, “Without repudiating the past leading of the Lord, it [the Seventh-day Adventist church] seeks even to understand better what that leading was. It is always open to better insights to learn—to seek for truth as for hid treasure. … Adventists are still pilgrims on a doctrinal journey who do not repudiate the way marks, but neither do they remain stopped at any of them.” Ellen further said that there is more truth to be revealed and that true doctrine will stand close investigation. But there is a solid foundation to build new truth upon.
|Doctrine||Percentage of Adventists who agree|
|Sanctuary and 1844||86% (35% believe there may be more than one interpretation of this doctrine)|
|Authority of Ellen White||81% (50% see a need for modern reinterpretation of White's writings)|
|Salvation through Christ alone||95%|
|Creation in 6 days||93%|
A "Valuegenesis" study in 2000 of students at Adventist high schools in North America showed a generally high acceptance of the church's beliefs, with some such as marriage within the same faith, the remnant, Ellen White's gift of prophecy, and the investigative judgment with acceptance rates less than 63% percent. "In looking at the research this may be because over the first ten years of Valuegenesis research, fewer young people were reading their Bibles and Ellen White. And for a church that values a written revelation of God, less reading of the Bible probably means less understanding of its beliefs."
A theological spectrum exists within Adventism, with several different theological streams existing alongside the mainstream. The conservative "historic" movement holds to certain traditional positions that have been challenged since the 1950s. By contrast, progressive Adventists typically question some of the church's distinctive teachings, and some of the fundamental beliefs of the church that are held by mainstream Adventists.
In a 1985 survey of North American Adventist lecturers, 45% described themselves as liberal compared to other church members, 40% as mainstream, 11% as conservative, and 4% gave no response to the question. There are two main organizations of Adventist scholars or interested laypeople. The Adventist Theological Society describes its beliefs as "balanced and conservative Adventist theology", whereas the Adventist Society for Religious Studies is more progressive by comparison.
Jon Paulien has identified four brands of Adventism – evangelists and frontier missionaries whose beliefs are traditional yet creatively expressed, scholars concerned with an accurate understanding of the Bible, the typical church member (including most of the younger, postmodern generation) who is most concerned with what is relevant to ordinary life and not concerned with most doctrines, and those in the Third World who are similarly concerned for a minimal belief set and passionate about their faith.
There is a common perception that different cultures and regions of the world vary in their theology.
According to Edwin Hernández, the principal investigator of the AVANCE study into Latino Adventists in the North American Division, "There was a very high degree (95 percent) of fidelity to the orthodox teachings of the church."
Seventh-day Adventists uphold the central doctrines of Protestant Christianity: the Trinity, the incarnation, the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, creation, the second coming, the resurrection of the dead, and last judgment.
In Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (1957), four authors outlined the core doctrines that they share with Protestant Christianity.
All of these doctrines, with the exception of item 11 (regarding the premillennial return of Christ), are widely held amongst conservative or evangelical Protestants. (Different Protestant groups hold varying views on the millennium.)
Seventh-day Adventists have often focused on those doctrines which are distinctive to Adventism. This was particularly true in the early days of the movement, when it was assumed that most people the church witnessed to were already Christian to begin with, and that they already understood the gospel.
Seventh-day Adventists believe that "the great principles of God's law are embodied in the Ten Commandments", and that these are "binding upon all people in every age" (Fundamental Belief no. 19). While the ceremonial and sacrificial laws of the Old Testament were fulfilled by the death of Jesus Christ, the 10 commandments are held to remain in force for Christian believers. The words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:17-20 are foundational to this conviction:
Seventh-day Adventists believe that the seventh day of the week, Saturday, is the biblical Sabbath which God set "apart for the lofty purpose of enriching the divine-human relationship". It is noted that the Sabbath is a recurring message in the Bible, mentioned in the Creation account, at Sinai, in the ministry of Jesus Christ and in the ministries of the apostles. The Sabbath serves as a weekly memorial to Creation and is a symbol of redemption, from both Egypt and sin. By keeping the Sabbath, Adventists are reminded of the way that God can make them holy, like he did the Sabbath, and they show their loyalty to God by keeping the commandment in the Decalogue. The Sabbath is also a time for Adventists to spend with other people and with God.
Adventists believe that the Sabbath is not just a holiday but rather is intended as a rest for believers to grow spiritually. It should be noted, however, that although Seventh-day Adventists do not believe that they are saved by keeping Saturday as the Sabbath, they attach considerably greater significance to Saturday-Sabbath keeping than other denominations attach to worship on Sunday.
Adventists do not see the Sabbath as a works-based doctrine, but rather righteousness comes solely through faith in Christ alone. The Sabbath commandment is seen as an act of faith in God's ideal for the believer, although its significance may not be seen by non-believers.
They believe that the Sabbath is a whole day that they can set aside to get closer to Jesus without the worldly distractions they may face in their busy week.
Seventh-day Adventists teach that there is no evidence of the Sabbath being changed to Sunday in the Bible. They teach instead that it was changed by gradual acceptance of Sunday worship gatherings which came into the early church in Rome to distinguish themselves from the Jews and to align themselves with political authorities. This change became more universally accepted with the establishment of Roman emperor Constantine's Sunday law of 321 AD and the decree at the Council of Laodicea that in canon 29 declared that Christians should avoid work on Sunday.
Seventh-day Adventists believe that prior to the beginning of human history, a dispute occurred in heaven between God and Lucifer (Satan) over "the character of God, His law, and His sovereignty over the universe" (Fundamental Belief no. 8). Lucifer was subsequently cast out of heaven, and, acting through the serpent in the Garden of Eden, led Adam and Eve into sin. God has permitted Lucifer's rebellion to continue on Earth in order to demonstrate to angels and beings on other worlds that his Law is righteous and necessary, and that the breaking of the 10 commandments leads to moral catastrophe.
This understanding of the origin of evil is derived from the Bible (see Rev. 12:4-9; Isa. 14:12-14; Eze. 28:12-18; Gen. 3; Rom. 1:19-32; 5:12-21; 8:19-22; Gen. 6-8; 2 Peter 3:6; 1 Cor. 4:9; Heb. 1:14.). The book entitled The Great Controversy by Ellen G. White, particularly chapter 29, The Origin of Evil is also sometimes referenced.
The Seventh-day Adventist church teaches that there is a sanctuary in heaven which was foreshadowed by the Mosaic tabernacle, according to their interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews chapters 8 and 9. After his death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary as the great High Priest, "making available to believers the benefits of His atoning sacrifice" (Fundamental Belief no. 24). Adventists hold that Christ ministered his blood in the first section of the sanctuary (the holy place) until October 1844; after that time he entered the second section of the sanctuary (the Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies) in fulfillment of the Day of Atonement.
Adventists therefore believe that Christ's work of atonement encompasses both his death on the Cross and his ministration in the heavenly sanctuary.
Seventh-day Adventists have always believed in a complete atonement that is not completed.—W. G. C. Murdock, SDA Theological Seminary Dean, 1980, Discussion, General Conference Session, Dallas
Venden points out that the atonement must have been complete at the cross—the sacrifice was sufficient. For when Jesus died for man's sin, it was enough to purchase man's salvation and man cannot add anything to it. Yet, the atonement involves more that just sacrifice. The process of redemption, the restoration of man's broken relationship to at-one-ment with God, was not completed at the cross, else there would be no more sin or sickness or pain or sorrow or separation or battered children or hospitals or funeral trains or tombstones or broken hearts. It is the winning of men back to a love relationship with God that is not yet completed.
Early Adventists emphasized the two parts to the atonement:
[Christ] ascended on high to be our only mediator in the sanctuary in Heaven, where, with his own blood he makes atonement for our sins; which atonement so far from being made on the cross, which was but the offering of the sacrifice, is the very last portion of his work as priest..."—Fundamental Principles taught and practiced by the Seventh-day Adventists, proposition II (1872)
They refer to his mediatorial work in heaven as an "atoning ministry" (as in Fundamental Belief no. 24).
The investigative judgment is a doctrine unique to Seventh-day Adventism, and teaches that the judgment of God's professed people began on October 22, 1844 when Christ entered the Holy of Holies in the heavenly sanctuary. Adventists find the investigative judgment portrayed in texts such as Daniel 7:9-10, 1 Peter 4:17 and Revelation 20:12. The purpose of this judgment is to vindicate the saints before the onlooking universe, to prepare them for Christ's imminent Second Coming, and to demonstrate God's righteous character in His dealings with humanity. This judgment will also separate true believers from those who falsely claim to be ones.
The biblical basis of the investigative judgment teaching was challenged in 1980 by ex-Adventist professor Desmond Ford. (See Glacier View controversy.) While the church has officially reaffirmed its basic position on the doctrine since 1980, many of those within the church's progressive wing continue to be critical of the teaching. According to a 2002 worldwide survey, local church leaders estimated 86% of church members accept the doctrine.
The Seventh-day Adventist church regards itself as the "remnant" of Revelation 12:17 (KJV). The Remnant church "announces the arrival of the judgment hour, proclaims salvation through Christ, and heralds the approach of His second advent" (Fundamental Belief no. 13). The duty of the Remnant is summed up in the "Three Angels' Messages" of Revelation 14:6-12, and its two distinguishing marks are seventh-day Sabbath observance and the Spirit of Prophecy (see below).
At baptism, Adventists may be asked the following question: "Do you accept and believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the remnant church of Bible prophecy and that people of every nation, race, and language are invited and accepted into its fellowship?" (NB. In 2005 an alternative set of baptismal vows was created, which does not contain a reference to the Adventist church as the remnant. Candidates may now choose whether to take the original vow or the new one.)
Seventh-day Adventists believe in an imminent, universally visible Second Coming of Christ, which will be preceded by a "time of trouble". The teaching that Christ will be universally visible is based on Revelation 1:7 which states that "every eye will see him." The second coming will coincide with the resurrection and translation of the righteous, as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16. Adventists believe that the unrighteous, or wicked, will be raised after the millennium.
As compared to other Christian views of eschatology, the Seventh-day Adventist view is closest to Historic (or post-tribulational) Premillennialism. Conditions on earth are expected to steadily deteriorate until the "time of trouble" (which is similar to the Great Tribulation of classic premillennialist teaching), when civil and religious authorities will combine to unleash intense persecution upon God's people, particularly those who keep the seventh-day Sabbath. The time of trouble will be ended by the glorious appearing of Christ, which will also mark the commencement of the millennium.
Adventists reject dispensationalist theology and the pretribulation rapture, believing that the church will remain on earth throughout the end-time crisis. A further difference is that the millennial reign of Christ will take place in heaven, not on earth, and will involve all of the redeemed people of God, not just national Israel. (See Fundamental Beliefs, no. 26 & 27.)
Seventh-day Adventism interprets the book of Revelation using the historicist method, but also holds that some of the events it predicts are still future (see: interpretations of the Book of Revelation).
Seventh-day Adventists believe that death is a state of unconscious sleep until the resurrection. They base this belief on biblical texts such as Ecclesiastes 9:5 which states "the dead know nothing", and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 which contains a description of the dead being raised from the grave at the second coming. These verses, it is argued, indicate that death is only a period or form of slumber.
Adventists teach that the resurrection of the righteous will take place at the second coming of Jesus, while the resurrection of the wicked will occur after the millennium of Revelation 20. They reject the traditional doctrine of hell as a state of everlasting conscious torment, believing instead that the wicked will be permanently destroyed after the millennium. The theological term for this teaching is Annihilationism.
The Adventist views about death and hell reflect an underlying belief in: (a) conditional immortality (or conditionalism), as opposed to the immortality of the soul; and (b) the holistic (or monistic) Christian anthropology or nature of human beings, as opposed to bipartite or tripartite views. Adventist education hence strives to be holistic in nature, involving not just the mind but all aspects of a person.
This belief in conditional immortality has been one of the doctrines used by critics (particularly in the past) to claim that the church is not a mainstream Christian denomination. However, this view is becoming more mainstream within evangelicalism, as evidenced by the British Evangelical Alliance ACUTE report, which states the doctrine is a "significant minority evangelical view" which has "grown within evangelicalism in recent years". Evangelical theologian and conditionalist Clark Pinnock suggests Adventist Le Roy Edwin Froom's The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers, 2 vols. as "a classic defense on conditionalism".
The church believes the spiritual gift of prophecy was manifested in the ministry of Ellen White, whose writings are sometimes referred to as the "Spirit of Prophecy". The church's 28 Fundamental Beliefs state:
Two other official statements regarding the prophetic ministry of Ellen White have recently been voted at General Conference Sessions. The June 1995 document A Statement of Confidence in the Spirit of Prophecy states that White "did the work of a prophet, and more", and that her writings "carry divine authority, both for godly living and for doctrine"; and recommended that "as a church we seek the power of the Holy Spirit to apply to our lives more fully the inspired counsel contained in the writings of Ellen G White." The 2005 document Resolution on the Spirit of Prophecy called upon "Seventh-day Adventists throughout the world to prayerfully study her writings, in order to understand more fully God's purpose for His remnant people", describing her writings as "theological stimulus".
There has been an increasing tendency in the church to view White in more human terms, although still inspired. Whatever the prominence assigned to her writings for doctrinal authority, Adventists are agreed that the Bible takes precedence as the final authority.
Early Seventh-day Adventists came from a wide assortment of nineteenth-century American Protestant churches, highly influenced in thought and teaching by Anabaptism and Restorationism. Some early Adventists, such as two of the church's principal founders, James White and Joseph Bates, had a background in the Restorationist Christian Connection church, which rejected the Trinitarian nature of God. However, the teachings and writings of Ellen White, who was raised in a Methodist family, ultimately proved influential in shifting the church from largely Semi-Arian roots towards Trinitarianism.
Before the 1890s Ellen White made no explicit anti-Trinitarian or semi-Arian statements. However, in Desire of Ages (1898) she made the shocking, to some, statement, "In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived," which brought about the development on the view of the Godhead. Over the next several decades, other Adventists explored the Bible on the Godhead and established the Adventist Trinitarian teaching on the topic.
Gradually after "transition and conflict" in the early 20th century this view of the Godhead was confirmed in Adventist theology, and by the middle of that century the Trinity became accepted. The move towards Trinitarianism can be observed in the successive doctrinal statements of the church. The 1872 Declaration of the Fundamental Principles taught and practiced by the Seventh-day Adventists mentioned Father, Son and Holy Spirit but did not contain an explicit affirmation of the Trinity:
By 1931 the Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-Day Adventists included a Trinitarian statement:
The official Adventist fundamental beliefs, adopted in 1980, include the following as statement number 2, "Trinity":
Although it states "There is one God", some point out that missing in this statement is an indication of whether or not the "three co-eternal persons" are of one being or of one essence. This has led to some debate among critics about whether the current Adventist view of the Trinity is orthodox, or if Adventist views are tantamount to the heresy of Tritheism. In fact, Adventist scholars themselves have actually pointed out the distinction between the Adventist view and the orthodox view of this doctrine:
One Adventist sociology professor has described the Adventist view as follows:
Despite their problematic history with this touchstone doctrine, the denomination has been "officially" Trinitarian for several decades. However, there remain small factions and individuals within the church who continue to argue that the authentic, historical Adventist position is semi-Arian. Some critics have tried to deny that Ellen White was a major influence in the Adventist shift toward Trinitarian doctrine and have argued that early Adventism had neither an Arian nor Trinitarian theology, but claim it was rather a materialist one, a form of philosophical monism.
Seventh-day Adventists have traditionally identified Michael the archangel of Jude 9 and Revelation 12:7 as Jesus Christ. This has led to the criticism that Adventism denies the divinity of Christ, a charge which Adventists responded to in chapter 8 of Questions on Doctrine.
For further Seventh-day Adventist perspectives on this issue, see the following:
The early Adventists came from many different traditions, and hence there was also diversity on their views of the Holy Spirit. Some held an impersonal view of the Spirit, as emanating from God, or only a "power" or "influence". However the main emphasis at this time was on Adventist distinctives, not on topics such as the Holy Spirit.
J. H. Waggoner called it "that awful and mysterious power which proceeds from the throne of the universe". Uriah Smith similarly described it as "a mysterious influence emanating from the Father and the Son, their representative and the medium of their power" and a "divine afflatus".
Yet by the end of the 19th century, Adventists generally agreed the Spirit is a personal being, and part of the Trinity. Ellen White was influential in bringing about an understanding of the Holy Spirit and spoke of "the Third Person of the Godhead" repeatedly and "a divine person".
Some Adventist books include Le Roy Froom, The Coming of the Comforter (1928); W. H. Branson, The Holy Spirit (1933); G. B. Thompson, The Ministry of the Spirit (1914); Francis M. Wilcox, The Early and the Latter Rain (1938).
Since the middle of the 20th century, there has been ongoing debate within Adventism concerning the nature of Jesus Christ, specifically whether Jesus Christ took on a fallen or an unfallen nature in the Incarnation. This was precipitated by the publication of Questions on Doctrine in 1957 which some Adventists felt did not agree with what the church held.
The debate revolves around the interpretation of several biblical texts:
According to Adventist historian George Knight, most early Adventists (until 1950) believed that Jesus Christ was born with a human nature that was not only physically frail and subject to temptation, but that he also had sinful inclinations and desires. Since 1950, the "historic" wing of the church continues to hold this fallen view of Christ's human nature.
Mainstream Adventists since 1950 believe that Jesus inherited the fallen human nature of Adam, with its physical and mental weaknesses. However His spiritual nature was unfallen and did not have the propensity to sin. Christ was tested by temptation, but did not have ungodly desires or sinful inclinations.
The controversy within Adventism over Christ’s human nature is linked to the debate over whether it is possible for a "last generation" of Christian believers to achieve a state of sinless perfection. These matters were discussed at the Questions on Doctrine 50th Anniversary Conference. Both points of view are currently represented at the Biblical Research Institute.
According to Woodrow W. Whidden II (himself a supporter of the "unfallen" position), proponents of the view that Christ possessed a "fallen" nature include M. L. Andreasen, Joe Crews, Herbert Douglass, Robert J. Wieland, Thomas Davis, C. Mervyn Maxwell, Dennis Priebe, Bobby Gordon and Ralph Larson. Proponents of the view that Christ's nature was "unfallen" include Edward Heppenstall, Hans K. LaRondelle, Raoul Dederen, Norman Gulley, R. A. Anderson, Leroy E. Froom and W. E. Read.
Seventh-day Adventists have historically preached a doctrine of inherited weakness, but not a doctrine of inherited guilt. Adventists believe that humans are sinful primarily due to the fall of Adam, but they do not accept the Augustinian/Calvinistic understanding of original sin, taught in terms of original guilt. According to Augustine and Calvin, humanity inherits not only Adam's depraved nature but also the actual guilt of his transgression, and Adventists look more toward the Wesleyan model.
In part, the Adventist position on original sin reads:
"The nature of the penalty for original sin, i.e., Adam's sin, is to be seen as literal, physical, temporal, or actual death – the opposite of life, i.e., the cessation of being. By no stretch of the scriptural facts can death be spiritualised as depravity. God did not punish Adam by making him a sinner. That was Adam’s own doing. All die the first death because of Adam’s sin regardless of their moral character – children included."
The early Adventists (such as George Storrs and Uriah Smith) wrote articles that de-emphasise the morally corrupt nature inherited from Adam, while stressing the importance of actual, personal sins committed by the individual. They thought of the "sinful nature" in terms of physical mortality rather than moral depravity. Traditionally, Adventists look at sin in terms of willful transgressions. They base their belief on texts such as "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4)
A few Adventists have adopted a more evangelical view of original sin, which believes in humanity's inherently corrupt nature and spiritual separation from God. They conceive of original sin as a state into which all humans are born, and from which we cannot escape without the grace of God. As one recent Adventist writer has put it, "Original sin is not per se wrong doing, but wrong being."
The Seventh-day Adventist church stands in the Wesleyan tradition (which in turn is an expression of Arminianism) in regard to its soteriological teachings. Wesley's views are opposed to the Augustinian/Tridentine version of justification which understood divine acquittal and forgiveness as the fruit of an infused righteousness.
This is significant in two respects. Firstly, there is a very strong emphasis in Adventist teaching on sanctification as a necessary and inevitable consequence of salvation in Christ. Such an emphasis on obedience is not considered to detract from the reformation principle of sola fide ("faith alone"), but rather to provide an important balance to the doctrine of justification by faith, and to guard against antinomianism. While asserting that Christians are saved entirely by the grace of God, Adventists also stress obedience to the law of God as the proper response to salvation.
Secondly, Adventist teaching strongly emphasises free will; each individual is free either to accept or reject God's offer of salvation. Adventists therefore oppose the Calvinistic/Reformed doctrines of predestination (or unconditional election), limited atonement and perseverance of the saints ("once saved always saved"). Questions on Doctrine stated that Adventists believe "That man is free to choose or reject the offer of salvation through Christ; we do not believe that God has predetermined that some men shall be saved and others lost." The freedom of each individual to accept or reject God is integral to the Great Controversy theme.
Assurance of salvation in Christ is part of the official beliefs, and an estimated 69% of Adventists "Have assurance of salvation", according to a 2002 worldwide survey of local church leaders.
The question of whether Christians can overcome sin and achieve a state of sinless perfection is a controversial topic for Seventh-day Adventists, as it is among the holiness movement and Pentecostalism. Mainstream Adventists hold that Christ is our example and shows mankind the path to overcome sin, and to manifest Christ's perfect and righteous character. They hold to the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists which in #10 states 'we are given the power to live a holy life' and right before that 'we are born again and sanctified' through the Holy Spirit.Ellen White wrote that the saints through faith in Christ would to reach a state such as Adam before the Fall, and refers in many of her writings that through Christ, He made it possible to overcome sin.
In his book The Sanctuary Service (1947), M. L. Andreasen taught that sinless perfection can be achieved; his theology continues to be influential among Adventists. Some Adventists insist that a final generation of believers, who will live through the "time of trouble" (between the close of probation and second coming of Christ), who receive the seal of God mentioned in Revelation 7:3, must and will attain a state of sinlessness comparable to the pre-fall condition of Adam and Eve. They believe that historically this is the authentic Adventist position on the issue as taught by Ellen White, and that denominational leaders along with Progressive Adventists, have erred in moving away from it. Larry Kirkpatrick and the "Last Generation" movement  are representative of this stream of teaching. Such quote various texts such as
Now, while our great High Priest is making the atonement for us, we should seek to be-come perfect in Christ. Not even by a thought could our Saviour be brought to yield to the power of temptation. Satan finds in human hearts some point where he can gain a foot-hold; some sinful desire is cherished, by means of which his temptations assert their power. But Christ declared of Himself: ‘The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.’ John 14:30. Satan could find nothing in the Son of God that would enable him to gain the victory. He had kept His Father’s commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could use to his advantage. This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble.
— The Great Controversy, Ellen White, p. 623
The ideal of Christian character is Christlikeness. As the Son of man was perfect in His life, so His followers are to be perfect in their life. Jesus was in all things made like unto His brethren. He became flesh, even as we are. He was hungry and thirsty and weary. He was sustained by food and refreshed by sleep. He shared the lot of man; yet He was the blameless Son of God. He was God in the flesh. His character is to be ours. The Lord says of those who believe in Him, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." 2 Cor. 6:16.
Christ is the ladder that Jacob saw, the base resting on the earth, and the topmost round reaching to the gate of heaven, to the very threshold of glory. If that ladder had failed by a single step of reaching the earth, we should have been lost. But Christ reaches us where we are. He took our nature and overcame, that we through taking His nature might overcome. Made "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3), He lived a sinless life. Now by His divinity He lays hold upon the throne of heaven, while by His humanity He reaches us. He bids us by faith in Him attain to the glory of the character of God. Therefore are we to be perfect, even as our "Father which is in heaven is perfect."
— The Desire of Ages. Ellen White, Page 311-312
Are we striving with all our God-given powers to reach the measure of the stature of men and women in Christ? Are we seeking for His fullness, ever reaching higher and higher, trying to attain to the perfection of His character? When God’s servants reach this point, they will be sealed in their foreheads. The recording angel will declare, “It is done.” They will be complete in Him whose they are by creation and by redemption.
— "Selected Messages 3", Ellen White, p. 427
However, some Adventist theologians such as Edward Heppenstall have argued the view that this state of absolute sinlessness or perfection is not possible in this life, and that Christians will always rely on forgiving grace—even after the "close of probation". It is argued that "perfection" in the Bible refers to spiritual maturity, having "the continual counteracting presence of the Holy Spirit" to be "victorious over sin and the sinful nature within us", as opposed to absolute sinlessness.
The Adventist Church world church does not officially, at this time, support the ordination of women to ministry within its standard procedures. Instead women pastors in the denomination hold the title of "commissioned" rather than "ordained," which allows them to perform almost all of the pastoral functions their male colleagues perform but with a lesser title. This compromise was reached during the 1990s, with disagreement primarily occurring along cultural lines. Although the Seventh-day Adventist Church has no written policy forbidding the ordination of women, it has traditionally ordained only men. From its formation, Adventists traditionally held to the view that no precedent for the practice of ordaining women can be found in Scripture or in the writings of Ellen G. White and the early Seventh-day Adventist Church. However, in recent years the ordination of women has been the subject of heated debate, especially in North America and Europe. In the Adventist church, candidates for ordination are chosen by local conferences (which usually administer about 50-150 local congregations) and approved by unions (which serve about 6-12 conferences). The world headquarters—the General Conference—says that the GC has the right to set the worldwide qualifications for ordination, including gender requirements. GC leaders have never taken the position that ordination of women is contrary to the Bible, but they have insisted that no one ordain women until it is acceptable to all parts of the world church.
In 1990 the General Conference in world session voted not to establish a worldwide policy permitting the ordination of women, but they did not vote a policy forbidding such either. In 1995 GC delegates voted not to authorize each of the 13 world divisions to establish ordination policies specific to its part of the world. In 2010, the North American Division of the church voted to allow commissioned pastors to lead a Conference or Mission, as well as ordained ones. In 2011, the North American Division, without GC approval, voted to permit women to serve as conference presidents. In early 2012, the GC responded to the NAD action with an analysis of church history and policy, demonstrating that divisions do not have the authority to establish policy different from GC policy. The NAD immediately rescinded their action. But in their analysis the GC reminded the world membership that the “final responsibility and authority” for deciding who is ordained resides at the union level. This led to decisions by several unions to approve ordinations without regard to gender.
In March 2012, several unions and conferences voted to support the ordination of women. These are, the Mid America Union, the Pacific Union Conference, the Southeastern California conference, the Columbia Union, and the Potomac Conference.
On April 23, 2012, the North German Union voted to ordain women as ministers, but by late 2013 had not yet ordained a woman. On July 29, 2012, the Columbia Union Conference voted to "authorize ordination without respect to gender." On August 19, 2012 the Pacific Union Conference also voted to ordain without regard to gender. Both unions began immediately approving ordinations of women. By mid-2013, about 25 women had been ordained to the ministry in the Pacific Union Conference, plus several in the Columbia Union. On May 12, 2013, the Danish Union voted to treat men and women ministers the same, and to suspend all ordinations until after the topic is considered at the next GC session in 2015. On May 30, 2013 the Netherlands Union voted to ordain female pastors, recognizing them as equal to their male colleagues. On Sept. 1, 2013, a woman was ordained in the Netherlands Union.
In 2012-2013 the General Conference assembled several committees to study the issue and make a recommendation to be voted at the 2015 world General Conference session.
On October 27, 2013, Sandra Roberts became the first woman to lead a Seventh-day Adventist conference when she was elected as president of the Southeastern California Conference. However, the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist church did not recognize this because presidents of conferences must be ordained pastors and the worldwide church did not recognize the ordination of women.
As Protestant Christians who accept the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice, Seventh-day Adventists on both sides of the issue employ the same Bible texts and arguments used by other Protestants (e.g. 1 Tim. 2:12 and Gal. 3:28), but the fact that the most prominent and authoritative co-founder of the church—Ellen White—was a woman, also affects the discussion. Proponents of ordaining women point out that Adventists believe that Ellen White was chosen by God as a leader, preacher and teacher; that she remains the highest authority, outside the Bible, in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today; that she was regularly issued ordination credentials, which she carried without objection; and that she supported the ordination of women to at least some ministry roles. Opponents argue that because she was a prophet her example does not count, and that although she said she was ordained by God, she was never ordained in the ordinary way, by church leaders.
Seventh-day Adventists practice believer's baptism by full immersion in a similar manner to the Baptists. They argue that baptism requires knowing consent and moral responsibility. Hence, they do not baptize infants or children who do not demonstrate knowing consent and moral responsibility, but instead dedicate them, which is symbolic of the parents', the community's, and the church's gratefulness to God for the child, and their commitment to raising the child to love Jesus. Seventh-day Adventists believe that baptism is a public statement to commit one's life to Jesus and is a prerequisite for church membership. Baptism is only practiced after the candidate has gone through Bible lessons. According to the Bible, the act of baptism shows that the person has repented of sin and wishes to live a life in Christ. Acts 8:36-37.
Seventh-day Adventists believe that the bread and wine (grape juice) of the Holy Communion are "symbols" of the body and blood of Jesus; however, Christ is also "present to meet and strengthen His people" in the experience of communion. Adventists practice "the ordinance of footwashing" prior to each celebration of the Lord's Supper, on account of the gospel account of John 13:1-16.
The 17th fundamental belief of the church affirms that the spiritual gifts continue into the present.
Adventists generally believe the legitimate gift of tongues is of speaking unlearned human languages only, and are generally critical of the gift as practiced by charismatic and Pentecostal Christians today.
The Seventh-day Adventist doctrine of creationism is based on believing that the opening chapters of Genesis should be interpreted as literal history. Adventist belief holds that all Earthly life originated during a six-day period some 6000 years ago, and a global flood destroyed all land based animals and humans except for those saved on Noah's Ark. Traditional Adventists oppose theories which propose interpreting the days of creation symbolically. Adventists reject the naturalistic views of abiogenesis and evolution.
Although Adventists hold that creation week was a recent event, they believe the Bible speaks of other worlds populated by intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe, which pre-existed the Earth's creation. The Seventh-day Adventist Ministerial Association's Seventh-day Adventists Believe (2005), explains that the opening chapters of Genesis describe a limited creation:
Adventists believe that inorganic matter was created prior to the creation week and was altered into its present form during the creation week. Therefore, the computed radiometric dates of standard geology are largely irrelevant to dating the creation of life on Earth; ratios of isotopic elements reflect an ancient universe. Clyde Webster calls radiometric dating an "interpretive science" with uncertainties. He stated that "it would seem logical, almost compelling to seriously consider other sources of data for determining the time of Creation" concluding that for a Christian scientist "such a primary source is the Holy Scripture."
Adventists were influential in the redevelopment of creationism in the 20th Century. Seventh-day Adventist geologist George McCready Price was responsible for reviving flood geology in the early 20th century. He was quoted heavily by William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Monkey Trial. His ideas were later borrowed by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb for their landmark 1961 creationist text The Genesis Flood. The Morris and Whitcomb position is distinct from Seventh-day Adventism because they postulate both a young earth and a young universe.
About the time that The Genesis Flood was having a large impact in the evangelical world, a number of progressive Adventist scholars educated in secular universities began promoting Theistic Evolution. Some Progressive Adventists no longer hold the literal view of Genesis 1.
In 2009, the Seventh-day Adventist Church held an international creation emphasis day as part of a "worldwide denominational celebration of the biblical account of creation." The event was part of a church initiative to underscore its commitment to a literal creation model. In 2010, the World Seventh-day Adventist Church's highest ecclesiastical body, the World General Conference Session, officially reaffirmed the Church's position in support of a literal six-day creation week.
Adventists teach that the scapegoat, or Azazel, is a symbol for Satan. They believe that Satan will finally have to bear the responsibility for the sins of the believers of all ages, and that this was foreshadowed on the Day of Atonement when the high priest confessed the sins of Israel over the head of the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:21).
This belief has drawn criticism from some Christians, who feel this gives Satan the status of sin-bearer alongside Jesus Christ. Adventists have responded by insisting that Satan is not a saviour, nor does he provide atonement for sin; Christ alone is the substitutionary sacrifice for sin, but holds no responsibility for it. In the final judgment, responsibility for sin is passed back to Satan who first caused mankind to sin. As the responsible party, Satan receives the wages for his sin and the sins of all the saved—namely, death. Thus, the unsaved are held responsible for their own sin, while the saved are no longer held responsible for theirs.
Traditionally, Adventists have taught there will be a time before the Second Advent in which the message of the Ten Commandments and in particular the keeping of the seventh day of the week, Saturday, as Sabbath will be conveyed to the whole world. Protestants and Catholics will unite to enforce legislation requiring the observance of Sunday worship. In reference to the creation of an Image to the Beast Revelation 13-17, Ellen G. White stated:
"When the leading churches of the United States, uniting on such points of doctrines as are held by them in common, shall influence the state to enforce their decrees and to sustain their institutions; then Protestant America will have formed an image of the Roman hierarchy, and the infliction of civil penalties upon dissenters will inevitably result." -Great Controversy p. 445
Jon Paulien maintains that the central issue of the "final crisis of earth’s history has to do with the Sabbath", based on the strong allusion of Revelation 14:7 to Exodus 20:11 (the Sabbath commandment of the Ten Commandments), and also other verses and themes in Revelation.
From the time of Second Great Awakening the Millerite movement proclaimed the soon return of Jesus. Adventists have traditionally interpreted this as the initial proclamation of the three angels' messages. The "three angels' messages" is an interpretation of the messages given by three angels in Revelation 14:6–12. The Seventh-day Adventist church teaches that these messages are given to prepare the world for the second coming of Jesus Christ, and sees them as a central part of its own mission.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has traditionally believed that it is the remnant church of Bible prophecy, and that its mission is to proclaim the three angels' messages.
The Mission Statement of the church declares:
Some critics and Progressive Adventists, typically reject the claim that the three angels' messages find unique fulfillment in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Mainstream Adventists believe that God has led the Christian movements in history, but progressives tend to deny putting Adventism on that level.
This means that universe was created between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago.