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Does the Sabbath School Study Guide Reflect Adventism?

This week, as I was preparing to teach the Sabbath School lesson, I received an email from one of our online listeners who was confused as to why I had so much difficulty with this quarter’s Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. They were familiar with the principal contributor and also had seen the manuscript for the study guide prior to submission for publication. I was able to obtain a copy of the author’s original material before submission and asked our webmaster to digitally compare the original manuscript with the published study guide to determine what was changed.

The result was that over 60% of the original manuscript was changed by the editors, including many of the daily lessons being entirely replaced with the editor’s or someone else’s own lesson.

Here is one small example of the changes made by the editors. A few weeks ago, in lesson five, Monday’s last paragraph reads:

The Hebrew wording in both Leviticus 9:24 and 10:2 was the same, ‘and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed’ (9:24 NKJV). Consumed what? In the first case, the offering; in the other, the sinners. What a powerful representation of the plan of salvation. At the Cross, the ‘fire from God,’ the wrath of God, ‘consumed’ the offering, and that was Jesus. Thus, all who put their faith in Him never have to face that fire, that wrath, because a substitute did it for them.

Here is what the principal contributor submitted for lesson five, Monday’s lesson last paragraph:

According to vs. 21, 22, the entire congregation was in danger of being destroyed because of the rebellion of these men. Presumption breeds disobedience. Disobedience, not checked, develops into full-blown rebellion. Rebellion self-destructs! Moses pled with both the congregation and the rebels. This was their opportunity, for, ‘Jesus, the Angel who went before the Hebrews, sought to save them from destruction.  Forgiveness was lingering for them.’ Ellen G. White, Patriarchs & Prophets, (Mountain View, C.A.: Pacific Press, 1958) p. 401. (emphasis supplied)  But they stubbornly persisted in their rebellion. God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, dared not allow them to live and continue their vicious work, which would have resulted in anarchy and an even greater loss of life.

Are these the same thoughts? The original quotes Ellen White on the passage, emphasizing forgiveness, while the study guide employs a violent metaphor, that God burns human flesh as punishment. Are these the same conceptions of God?

I personally know of two other principal contributors of past study guides who experienced the same thing—major changes to what they submitted without their consent. Most importantly, these changes altered the view of God they intended to share!

One of the authors was so distraught that they created their own website to make the original lessons available, but since they worked for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists at the time, their boss ordered them to take it down.

Why is this happening? Does this have any relationship to what we have experienced here in Collegedale?

Historic Adventism valued freedom of thinking and promoted the principles of Romans 14 where we “let everyone be fully persuaded in their own mind” and sought to practice the loving unity of the apostolic church.

Thus we find that Ellen White was a Trinitarian, while James White (her husband) and Uriah Smith were Arian (believing Christ was not fully divine), but this disagreement on a major doctrinal issue, the divinity of Christ, did not disqualify any of them from leadership in the church! Why? Because they all valued the principles of God’s kingdom, truth, love and freedom, they all recognized that each person must be persuaded in their own mind.

This is exactly how the apostolic church functioned. When the eunuch was reading the book of Isaiah and the Apostle Phillip explained the fulfillment, the eunuch said, “there is water what prevents us from baptizing me?” Phillip didn’t say, “Well we have 28 fundamental doctrinal beliefs you must attest to first.” He baptized him right then and there and the eunuch became a Christian. In the early church there was brotherly love, as they accepted Jesus Christ and respected the freedom of individuals to think and reason for themselves and practiced God’s methods of love in how they lived.

Early Adventism was mostly open and tolerant. Because of this history the Adventist church is filled with many perspectives, beliefs, and views on such things as why Christ had to die, the nature of the Trinity, the nature of Christ, interpretation of various prophecies, etc. Our church has historically stood for the principle of unfolding, present truth, that we must have hearts that love truth and are willing to grow in it. We have traditionally understood that our comprehension of Scripture must expand as time unfolds. Thus we have been a lovingly tolerant and accepting church.

But something seems to have changed.

Why do editors delete gracious God language and insert punitive God concepts? Why don’t they allow “divergent” views? Why do they use the names of various thought leaders, giving them credit as principle contributors, only to change those contributors’ views to something radically opposite?

Recently, when our own local leadership presented a sermon series on “The Rainbow—Views of the Atonement,” why wouldn’t they allow our view, our “color” to be presented?

Is it part of a larger controversy? Is it part of a spiritual war over the nature and character of God? Are some in leadership trying to create an “illusion” that within the Adventist church there is uniformity of thought on issues like the atonement, and if you don’t think like the study guide you are out of step?

Do we see this as part of the inevitable process of these two opposing views coming into more and more conflict as the world prepares to meet Christ?

What do some teach God will do to the wicked in the end? They say that the ten last plagues are to pressure, punish, and coerce (followed by torture and imposition of a death penalty) all who do not believe in God or accept His Son as their Savior. This is the false god concept. This is the idea Satan wants so deeply ingrained into the mindset of people: that when Satan comes claiming to be Christ they will accept the use of such violent tactics and say, “This is our god.”

God is waiting for a people who will study for themselves, who will think for themselves, who will not let another tell them who God is! Hebrews says they will know God for themselves, and will take the final message of mercy, the truth about God’s character of love, to the world! (COL 415).

Is it possible that the majority in the church are like the Jews and Samaritans of Christ’s day, eager, open, and longing for the truth about God as Jesus revealed, but there are many in leadership that are stuck in another view? Thus, when the study guide uses the names of “principal contributors” and then misrepresents their views to teach a punitive god concept, are they trying to make it appear that the majority of the church sees God in a certain “theologically correct” way?

Some argue that God will perform miracles to keep people alive in order to torture them as long as they deserve, some even say eternally. To those who teach this I say this:

Hitler burned 6 million Jews in ovens in Nazi Germany, but had the decency to gas them first and we rightly call him a monster. Yet many Christians teach God will perform miracles to keep people conscience in order to burn and torture them and they call this righteous. This is the most grostesque lie ever told about God and it is time we Christians stand up and reject it and call on our leaders to stop promoting it!
Why hasn’t Christ returned? Because the “gospel of the kingdom,” which is to be preached to the world as a witness to all nations, has been hijacked by a false gospel. The gospel is the Kingdom of Love. The good news is that the King of the Kingdom of Love is the same one who “so loved the world that He gave His Son,” that “He was in the Son reconciling the world to Himself,” that “God is for us, who can be against us?”

Reject this violent, pagan, Baal-god and embrace the God that is love. I hope that the Adult Sabbath School Study Guide will more fairly include this view of the divine as well.

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