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February 2015 A Publication of Seventh Day Home Church Fellowships Vol 06 - Issue 01

Are You a Legalist?

by Raquel Akens

Ellen White At General Conference

Some would have us believe that Seventh-day Adventism began as a movement with a wrong platform of too much focus on the law. That although this movement had many Biblical truths, “there was something fundamentally wrong with the emphasis of this group”1. The fact that the righteousness by faith message was given to the Seventh-day Adventist people in 1888 must lead some to conclude that the Adventist message was wrong all along regarding this matter, and that it had a legalistic religion from the beginning. They point to 1888 and say, See! Adventism started out with a wrong emphasis on the law that God decided to correct 44 years after its birth. But, is this necessarily so? Did the Adventist people begin on the wrong foot? Was the Adventist message wrong to restore the Sabbath commandment? Did it have a wrong emphasis on the law or a right one?

Before we can respond to some of these questions, let us first consider these two points:

  1. It was God who built the platform of truth for the Adventist people. God did not only raise up men and women who were lovers of truth, but also the very truths which were to define Adventism, were divinely established. The following statements make this clear (all emphasis supplied):

    1. In 1844, when anything came to our attention that we did not understand, we knelt down and asked God to help us take the right position; and then we were able to come to a right understanding and see eye to eye . . . (Gospel Workers p. 302.1).

    2. We are to be established in the faith, in the light of the truth given us in our early experience … We would search the Scriptures with much prayer, and the Holy Spirit would bring the truth to our minds. Sometimes whole nights would be devoted to searching the Scriptures, and earnestly asking God for guidance. Companies of devoted men and women assembled for this purpose. The power of God would come upon me, and I was enabled clearly to define what is truth and what is error (Ibid, p. 302.2).

    3. As the points of our faith were thus established, our feet were placed upon a solid foundation. We accepted the truth point by point, under the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. I would be taken off in vision, and explanations would be given me … (Ibid, p. 302.3).

  2. Righteousness by faith was not “new” to Adventism in 1888. The people at this time had lost sight of the realities of this beautiful truth, but it was not because God had left them in darkness regarding this matter, for Ellen White says that she had been presenting it to the people all along.

    1. I have had the question asked, What do you think of this light that these men are presenting? Why, I have been presenting it to you for the last forty-five years--the matchless charms of Christ. This is what I have been trying to present before your minds. When Brother Waggoner brought out these ideas in Minneapolis, it was the first clear teaching on this subject from any human lips I had heard, excepting the conversations between myself and my husband. I have said to myself, It is because God has presented it to me in vision that I see it so clearly, and they cannot see it because they have never had it presented to them as I have. And when another presented it, every fiber of my heart said, Amen.--Ms 5, p. 10. (Sermon, Rome, New York, June 19, 1889.) (Manuscript Releases, Vol 5, p. 219.1)

Three Angels' Messages

Taking into account point number two, we can see that the Adventist people had no excuse to be in the condition they were in, for the Advent message bore the truths of righteousness by faith. One of the problems with the accusations labeling Adventism as legalistic is that they make no distinction between the message and the people. These accusations leave the impression that because the people were wrong in 1888 then the message of Adventism must also have been wrong. But this conclusion does not necessarily follow in every case. We need to properly answer the following question: Is the message to be at fault or the people? When we read about the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and their legalistic religion, do we blame the message of the Old Testament? Or do we blame the attitude and hearts of the Pharisees that interpreted the Old Testament? The answer is plain; to blame the message would be to blame the author of the message, which is God. And this brings me to another point, to find fault with the message that God gave the Adventist people to bear to the world is to find fault with God. But what exactly was this message?

Our message is to preach the law and the gospel – This is the third angel’s message.

If we would have the spirit and power of the third angel's message, we must present the law and the gospel together, for they go hand in hand. As a power from beneath is stirring up the children of disobedience to make void the law of God, and to trample upon the truth that Christ is our righteousness, a power from above is moving upon the hearts of those who are loyal, to exalt the law, and to lift up Jesus as a complete Saviour … (Gospel Workers, p.161.3).
The third angel, flying in the midst of heaven, and heralding the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus, represents our work … (Pamphlets 157, p. 22.2).

Many churches of fallen Protestantism, if not all, believe that having absolutely anything to do with “the law” should be considered legalism. Therefore, these find fault with the message of Adventism and thus with the Author of the message as well. You see, protestants teach that legalism is not just the belief that salvation can be attained through keeping the law (works) but that it is also the belief that we need to keep the law to maintain salvation. This second definition of legalism leads protestants to accept the doctrine, “Once saved, always saved.” You can clearly see this connection in the following quote found in a protestant website, Reformation Theology.

Legalism could be defined as any attempt to rely on self-effort to either attain or maintain our justification before God … Legalism always seems to have one thing in common: its theology denies that Christ is sufficient for salvation. That some additional element of self-effort, merit or faithfulness on our part is necessary. As an example, those who erroneously teach that a Christian can lose his or her salvation are, in essence, denying the sufficiency of Christ to save to the utmost. They believe sin to be greater than Christ's grace. But Christ's righteousness which he counts toward us is not only efficient for our salvation, but sufficient. His once for all sacrifice put away sin for all time in those He has united to Himself … We must, therefore, reject any and all attempts to maintain a judicial standing before God by any act on our part. Salvation is of the Lord.2

How sad to read this un-Biblical and extreme stance on the law and the plan of salvation from professed Christians! The apostle Paul makes it clear in Hebrews 10:26-21 that those who sin after believing the truth will be judged of God. “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries…” The apostle James plainly states to believers that if they break the law, they sin (James 2:5-12), and we know that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). In 1 John 5:2-3, the apostle John plainly teaches that a good judicial standing (the keeping of the commandments) before God is a sign of true love for God and our brethren among believers. And not only this, but Revelation portrays God’s remnant people as law abiding (Rev 12:17, 14:12), and those who partake of the tree of life and enter the holy city are those who do God’s commandments (Rev 22:14).

Why the emphasis on the law if it has been taken out of the picture by Christ? Well, it has not been and Satan would have us and the whole Christian world believe this lie, because he knows that the last great controversy will be over God’s law. For this reason God raised up Seventh-day Adventism to warn the world of the coming conflict and to point to our only safety, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten of the Father.

And for this reason also, Satan, has been for a long time working hard to keep Adventists from preaching fully and clearly their God-given message. Notice how he has done it in the past and you can be sure, he is doing it now. The paragraphs below were written by a Seventh-day Adventist minister several decades ago, please take careful note of the methods that Satan used for he is using the same methods today.

Satan carefully programmed a preparatory campaign to make any protesting preacher [protesting against compromise in the Church] appear as an enemy of righteousness by faith.
With great shrewdness, Satan gradually introduced among Sabbath-keepers, the subtle concept that any concern about careful obedience was tied to legalism. Many faithful pastors began to feel guilty about preaching sanctification, and a strange shift of emphasis began to alter the kind of Sabbath sermons being preached in Adventist churches.
Fewer and fewer messages dealt with the responsibility of the Christian of living a life of obedience to God’s law. Before long the very law which is a transcript of the character of Jesus was coming across as an enemy of righteousness by faith. Some leading theologians began to deny the Bible definition of sin as “the transgression of the law,” and declared that sin was not breaking the law, but “breaking a relationship.” Such clever play on words, containing partial truth and partial error, led many actually to look with contempt upon that which was “holy, just and good.” (Romans 7:12) Christians who still believed that obedience was both necessary and possible were chided as being “works-oriented,” a nice sounding euphemism for “salvation by works.”
With all the froth skimmed away, the substance of the sermons preached under this liberated theology gave recognition only to justification and the cross – never to the corresponding activity of obedience equally demanded by the gospel. Christ did everything for us, including obedience, and our part was only to believe and love … 3

Notice some of the corresponding theology that follows this false message of righteousness by faith which was designed to undermine the Adventist message: 1. Sin is not really the breaking of the law, but rather “breaking a relationship”. 2. The law is regarded with contempt and is an enemy of righteousness by faith. 3. Legalism is believing that obedience is required. 4. Christ did everything for us, we are only to believe. 5. Only justification is taught while sanctification is ignored. 6. Only the cross is recognized or the doctrine of only one atonement.

This false message of righteousness by faith sounds like a repackaged and refined gospel of the apostate, fallen protestant world! There is nothing new under the sun, and unfortunately many sincere Adventists today are accepting these erroneous views of the law and the gospel, which unfits them for the work that they are supposed to fulfill.

Dear friends, God raised us up as a people to give a certain and clear sound to the world, we are to continue the reformation which Protestantism failed to carry forward, but instead we see that many are in fact falling short of their calling and are returning to the doctrines of Babylon and her daughters. Let us not be deceived by the wiles of the Devil, but let us stand with the full armor of God and study to show ourselves approved unto God so that we can proclaim the true message of the gospel and righteousness by faith.

1Open Face No. 95 March 2014

2Reformation Theology http://www.reformationtheology.com/2006/06/what_is_legalism.php

3Reaping The Whirlwind, page 19, Joe Crews . copyright 1985

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Seventh Day Home Church Fellowships is an association of Sabbath-keeping groups, which through web & tele-conferencing provides means for study, fellowship, and jointly organized missionary projects.

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