The Martin Johnsson Debate
The John Ankerberg Show, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a weekly American religious telecast. Identifying himself as an Evangelical Protestant, John Ankerberg hosts a talk show in which he interviews various notables in and out of the several churches. Classified by many as somewhat controversial, the Ankerberg Show is recognized as an influential force on the American scene since so many view it from week to week.
In 1982, Ankerberg hosted a four-week televised interview with Desmond Ford and Walter Rea as guests. Ford had been discharged from the Adventist ministry less than two years earlier, and Rea had only recently received the same fate. As might be expected, they had quite a few things to say before Ankerberg's television cameras in August of that year.
At the time, Ankerberg claims that he asked fifteen other leading Adventist officials to be guests on his program. He says they all turned him down.
William Johnsson, the editor-in-chief of the "Adventist Review," says that, back in 1982 when those invitations were sent out, he himself was one of those invited. He maintains that he was unable to make an appearance at that time only because he was on a vacation trip. Since then, in consultation with officers of the General Conference, he agreed to appear on the John Ankerberg Show.
In January 1985, William Johnsson and Walter Martin flew to Chattanooga for the video-filming of a five-part televised interview. A friend of ours was present that night at the filming and has described it to us. We understand that the filming took place in one lengthy three- to three-and-a-half hour session. There was room for about a hundred people in the audience- and it was packed. (The present writer knew nothing about this filming, and the one in 1982, until after both had been completed.)
Later, this lengthy session was split up in the cutting room into five half-hour segments. A small- a very small amount of the subsequent-question-and-answer period was also included in one of the five telecasts. (It was given just after the five-minute break that occurred half-way through the fourth televised program.)
The Martin-Johnsson series was initially scheduled for a March telecast date, but circumstances unknown to us postponed it to May and June. Friends in various parts of the country have viewed that series at different times, over different stations, throughout these two months.
This present review is an attempt to analyze something of what took place that wintry January evening in the Chatanooga Ankerberg studio when this five-part series was filmed.
This writer has not personally viewed the television series, but has heard it on tapes in his possession. In addition, he has given careful study to a written transcript of the series. As the five-part telecast series unfolds, it becomes obvious that a decided focus exists throughout it all. John Ankerberg and Walter Martin are primarily concerned with one point, somewhat less with a second, and still less with a third. Here they are:
1-Ellen G. White. If you Adventists accept her writings as an authority in your denomination, then you are cult, and worthy to be considered the offscourings of Protestantism.
2- The Sanctuary Message, with attention specifically directed to the Investigative Judgment and the Final Atonement. If you Adventists accept these ideas-which were not in your earlier official doctrinal book, "Questions on Doctrine," then you are apostates from genuine Protestantism.
3- Obedience by faith. If you Adventists accept the possibility that the individual Christian has any part in the working out of his salvation, then you are legalists and non-Christians. And worse yet, you are "perfectionists."
Now, the above may seem like a blast more than a focus. But it is a very fine-line focus. Not once was the Bible Sabbath mentioned (either in dissent or agreement). Not once was our view of the natural non-immortality of the soul referred to. Not once were a host of other areas mentioned. Nearly all the concern was with Ellen White's doctrinal authority in our Church. And some concern was given to our historic Investigative Judgment and Final Atonement views. And mention was made of our position on obedience as a requisite of ultimate salvation.
But when one stops to think about it,- if the enemy is successful in casting out these three beliefs- he will have smashed the foundations of all our distinctive teachings!
And what was William Johnsson's reply to all this? To our thinking, his position was the most significant insight of the entire five-part series. It was not his fumbling, but his theological stance, that was the most shocking.
Johnsson claimed to represent the thinking of Adventism today, and especially the thinking of the "Adventist Review" and the General Conference in Washington D.C. To all the barrage that was thrown at him, he had but one basic reply: The doctrinal beliefs-all the doctrinal beliefs-of Seventh-day Adventists are based on our Statement of Beliefs, and on our Statement of Beliefs alone. Our faith, our theology and our doctrines are not founded on the Bible, and certainly not on the writings of Ellen G. White; they are founded on our official Statement of Beliefs, duly voted on at a quinquennial (five-year) Session of the General Conference. Nothing else has any doctrinal authority in our Church.
Repeatedly, Ankerberg and Martin tried to back Johnsson in a corner in regard to this position. But on this point he was fearless. He knew he had leadership behind him in this view, - for the only officially recognized Adventist doctrinal authority is its authorized Statement of Beliefs.
Yet such a position makes us exactly that which our forefathers feared: a creedal church; a church based on the opinions and decisions of men, and not the clear statements of the Word of God.
The papacy is built on the same position. The only difference is that it is farther down the road. When man decides that he is the measure of his beliefs, he has started down a wrong path. When we imagine that we, ourselves, are a safe normative guide, we are headed for trouble.
It would be well for the modern defenders of the Reformation to read again the words of Martin Luther:
"'I never pledged myself to chain up the Word of God, nor will I' . . 'I consent with all my heart, that the emperor, the princes, and even the meanest Christian, should examine and judge my works; but on one condition, that they take the Word of God for their standard. Men have nothing to do but to obey it. Do not offer violence to my conscience, which is bound and chained up with the Holy Scriptures.' "-Quoted in "Great Controversy",pages 167, 166.
"Prove from the writings of the prophets and apostles that I have erred. As soon as I am convinced of this, I will retract every error, and be the first to lay hold of my books and throw them into the fire.' . . 'Beware lest, by presuming to quench dissensions, you should persecute the Holy Word of God, and draw down upon yourselves a frightful deluge of insurmountable dangers, of present disasters, and eternal desolation.' -Quoted in "Great Controversy," page 159.
"Seeing that it is a question which concerns faith and the salvation of souls, and in which the Word of God, the greatest and most precious treasure either in heaven or earth, is involved, I should act imprudently were I to reply without reflection . . For this reason I entreat your imperial majesty, with all humility, to allow me time, that I may answer without offending against the Word of God.' "-Quoted in "Great Controversy, "page 156.
"'You may expect everything from me . . except flight and recantation. Fly I cannot, and still less retract.' "-Quoted in "Great Controversy," page 146.
"'I am much afraid that the universities will prove to be the great gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, and engraving them in the hearts of youth. I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt.' "-Quoted in "Great Controversy," page 140-141.
Our faith is to be founded on Inspired Scripture alone, not on the words, opinions, theological statements, or creeds of men. It is not the leading Protestant theological thinkers of our time that are to guide us to the Promised Land, nor is it to be our administrators, editors, writers, or the teachers in our seminaries and colleges. In view of the Crisis ahead, only the Words of God are safe.
Here are some interesting concepts from the first of this five-part television series:
THE FIRST TELECAST
John Ankerberg [JA] declares that in 1957 the book, "Questions on Doctrine," [QD] was the official doctrinal statement of the Adventist Church for the non-Adventist reading public at the time it was published, and that Reuben Figuhr, the General Conference president back then, said that the Martin-Barn house dialogues, and the resultant publication of QD, was "the most important single contribution of his entire tenure as president." Figuhr, Martin says, later deplored the fact that many Adventists eventually opposed that book.
William Johnsson [WJ] explains why there was controversy over GO. We expect him to say that the reason was that there was error in it, but the problem was that M.L. Andreasen opposed its publication because of wounded pride: he was not invited to be part of the Martin-Barnhouse dialogues. Also, Andreasen took exception to the Nature of Christ concept in QD and to its view on the Atonement. Some people went along with Andreasen on this and "he got a certain following" as a result. "However, by and large, I don't think that was a large following."
We find all of the WJ comments to be of special interest, since they will so heavily reflect the theological climate prevailing at our General Conference headquarters in Washington D.C. At this point, he states with certainty the present position of the "Seventh-day Adventist Church" in regard to the book, QD, and the teachings in it: "In terms of the denomination's stand on the book, we have not repudiated GO." He then explains that the book went through eight printings and 150,000 copies, and that "it's still used in college classes." In summary, he declares: "But, categorically, I can tell you that the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has not repudiated GO."
Walter Martin [WM] discloses the three questions that he sent a couple years ago to the General Conference for reply: (1) Does the Seventh-day Adventist Church still stand by the teachings given in GO? "And the answer was 'yes;' the same as Mr. Johnsson said." (2) Do you regard the interpretations of the Bible by Ellen G. White to be infallible? interpretations question was conspicuously left unanswered. And I was referred to other materials, which were rather superficial." (3) Why is CID out-of-print?
No reply to the third question is mentioned here. But elsewhere in this five-part series, the information is given that it was W. Richard Lesher, Director of the General Conference Biblical Research Institute who prepared the replies, and that the only reason the General Conference does not plan to reprint QD is because it has appointed a special committee which is gradually writing a book that will replace it. In the second telecast, he tells us that the committee has carried on its work for the last "four or five years," and that it is composed of "about eighteen scholars," including himself, and that their theological creativity is scheduled to produce three large books; one each on Daniel, Hebrews, and Revelation. And he adds, with a note of triumph: "You will not find one reference to Ellen White in this volume, not one [the first one, on Daniel, which is already essentially completed] ."
After disclosing the initial three questions, discussed above, WM adds: "Since then I have formulated a whole new series of questions."
Regarding the next item of discussion in the first telecast-the number of pastors who have been fired in the theological controversy since 1980, WJ says that it is 60-70 in the United States and exactly 60 in Australia. Both WM and JA dispute these figures and declare they are much higher.
Shortly afterward, WM says that the fact that Desmond Ford has "thrown out" the Adventist interpretation of Bible prophecy, and has substituted in its place prophetic fulfillments only in the first century A.D. or in the future-is not sufficient reason to remove him. WJ agrees with him, that that would not be a sufficient reason, by itself.
WM then declares that Ford was one of our leading theologians, and that he had written one of our best doctrinal books ["Daniel"] - a book "which you're still selling in some of your bookstores." [You will find it and other books with doctrinal error in most of our college and university book stores. The Andrews University Bookstore is one example.] After writing that book, WM says, Ford rethought the whole matter and repudiates the Adventist Sanctuary Message. [But the truth is that he never believed it to begin with: note his own testimony on October 27, 1979 at the Pacific Union College Forum Lecture] .
WM tells of his meeting with a committee in Loma Linda with several important Adventists. He asked Robert Olson, Secretary of the E.G. White Estate, whether Ellen White was "the infallible interpreter of Holy Scripture." Olson replied that she is "the authoritative voice." WM then complains that he is still waiting for an answer to that question. WJ replies boldly: "I'll give you my answer. She is not an infallible interpreter of Scripture." WM counters fast: "You're sure of that?" WJ comes back: "I'm sure of it." WM: "That is your position or the denomination's position?" WJ: "I think we ought to go to the official Statement of Beliefs."
Continually, WJ appeals to the Dallas Statement. And yet, in 1980 at the Dallas General Conference Session, delegates arose in the audience and repeatedly pled that the Session not pass such an ambiguous, compromising official Statement of Beliefs. Yet it was done anyway, and now we are living with the results: A Statement of Beliefs that denies the doctrinal authority of the Spirit of Prophecy in our Church, and the truth of the two-apartment Sanctuary in heaven where Christ is mediating His grace on our behalf.
WM then interjects a quotation from the "Review" of June 3, 1971, in which an editorial states that "the Bible is an infallible guide but it needs to be infallibly interpreted" for our safety. What is needed, the quotation continues, is for us, as a people, to let the Spirit of Prophecy "be confirmed among us and become in fact a counsellor, guide and final court of appeal among God's people" To this excellent editorial we can well say, "Amen." But WJ's reply to this quoted article was: "This is one person's opinion." WM: "You weren't responsible for this?" WJ: "I was not responsible. I think it's very unfortunate. But again, I think you should look at other things that I, myself, have written in the 'Adventist Review,' where I state specifically that Ellen White's writings are not to be raised to the level of Scripture. They are not to be made an addition to canon [the Inspired Word of God] ."
Soon JA interjects that there are only fifteen seconds remaining in the first telecast, and he asks WM to speak. Then comes the typical pattern of instilling doubt about the Seventh-day Adventist Church-at the end of nearly every telecast in the series, and just before most half-way breaks.
WM assumes a hypothetical situation in which Ellen White is contrary to "the Greek of the New Testament,"-so if "she says 'You believe it [what she says] ;' are you going to accept what Mrs. White says or do you accept the Greek text of the New Testament?
And so the first telecast ends, and in the second one we will discover that the manner in which Ellen White is "contrary to the Greek of the New Testament"-is the fact that she interprets "ta hagia" in Hebrews as applying to the first apartment of the Sanctuary in heaven, and not to the second! Martin claims that she is in error, even though she has the only consistent Biblical position on "ta hagia." For our part, we are thankful that she is always so consistent with the writings of the prophets before her time.
THE SECOND TELECAST
JA quotes a sentence from an Adventist publication that indicates the writings of Ellen White are a "continuing and authoritative source of truth," and then turns to WJ and inquires what that means. WJ replies, "I think we should take them seriously."
Soon afterward, WJ adds that "no doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was derived from Ellen White, no doctrine."
A little after this, WM brings up the Hebrews Nine and "ta hagia" issue. Throughout his comments, he assumes that his thinking (a view which is really an Evangelical error in regard to the translation of "ta hagia") must be the only correct translation in Hebrews! And therefore Ellen White is a false prophet- for she does not agree with this interpretation of the Bible and its Greek New Testament. For those of us who are acquainted with the Greek of Hebrews, it is almost ludicrous to see WM use "ta hagia" as the ground for rejecting Ellen White as being "out of harmony" with Scripture! So we learn that over the past thirty years, the famous doctrinal researcher has never found anything substantial on which he could prove Ellen G. White to be in disagreement with the Biblical writings.
And then he tells the viewing audience that W.G.C. Murdoch shared his view back in the 1950s! This is not correct. Elder Murdoch was solid in the truth, then as more recently, when he passed to his rest. [For further information on "ta hagia," as a very crucial key to a correct understanding of Paul's message in the Book of Hebrews, see my "Biblical Sanctuary" (AH-1-35).]
WM and WJ then get into an argument over the "judgment" future to Paul's time that he spoke about. As he starts into a Biblical study on how the judgment is related to works, WM interjects with "But not for salvation," and JA with "For reward." WM drums in still more on the "not for salvation" theme, and then WJ relents and says, "Well, I don't believe that the judgment is for our salvation, not at all."
A significant problem here is that William Johnsson tries too hard to be agreeable. It is not always necessary to be agreeable, - certainly not when it requires admission after admission of theological compromise to thousands of viewers over national television!
WJ then moves toward a promising area: the Biblical truth that acceptance of an individual by Christ- can later be lost if that individual leaves Christ. (WJ is trying to show a valid reason for the Investigative Judgment.) But WM, excellent debater that he is, quickly cuts it short with "Are you talking Arminianism versus Calvinism?" WJ: "In a sense-" WM: "I don't want to get into that. I just want to talk about, uh, the important point is that in 1955 and '56 when we were discussing this . . . " He has completely shifted the conversation to something more favorable. Later we will find that WJ is to return to the issue that WM here aborted.
WM informs the viewing audience that Ellen White did not believe in the divinity of Christ (that He was God) [Arianism] , or that the Holy Spirit was part of the Godhead [Antitrinitarianism] - but that she conveniently changed her thinking later. We refuse to believe these charges. Her later writings are the proof of correct belief in these matters, even though we may not always have access to all of the earlier writings. She fully believed in the Godhood of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
WM also states that many, many sections have been cut out of her writings. We refuse to accept that either. It is the work of the enemies of the Spirit of Prophecy to convince the faithful that the best thing they can do is either interpret away the Spirit of Prophecy or cut it away, in a similar manner as Modern Protestantism interprets the Bible away, as the German higher-critical school earlier cut it away.
We take the whole Bible, and we take the whole Spirit of Prophecy. We deeply value both. What a treasure house they both are! And we refuse all suggestions that we should clip out any of either-or that others, earlier, have already done so physically.
Over nation-wide television, the viewers next hear WM declare that Ellen White "was munching on oysters" "when she was writing that you shouldn't eat pork, lobsters, and crab." More suggestions that we refuse to accept. Do you, who have read her writings, believe that she wrote the material, later published in chapter 23 of "Counsels on Diet and Foods," while she was eating an oyster dinner? He says his proof is based on "eyewitnesses."
WM then says that Ellen White is a plagiarist- and proves his point by citing the fact that William Foy had a vision that Ellen later had. That is proof that is no proof.
After all this blast, JA intervenes and says that it is time to let WJ reply to what was just said . . but that first, "let's take a break." The doubts have been implanted. By the time the break is over, WJ has a difficult time recalling that which he is supposed to reply to.
After the break, WJ is permitted time for reply, and he returns to that earlier point about the judgment, on which WM had changed the subject.
We are genuinely sorry that WJ has an indirect way of proceeding into a topic. In a speaking style decidedly more hesitant than his opponents, he rambles into a topic. And about the time he is arriving, WM comes in like a dive-bomber and with a few quick, incisive words, diverts the attention to something else. This happened over and over again. Martin reminds one of a machine-gun mind in a bullet-proof personality.
On this particular occasion, about the time that he gets into the heart of his subject, WJ mentions Ellen White as seeing it the same way; and then, embarrassed and somewhat confused that he mentioned her as having any significance on a doctrinal point, he veers away from his intended thought about the Investigative Judgment to - "I don't know why we keep coming back to Ellen White as though she is the authority for Adventists! Here are our fundamental beliefs .. "
Thoroughly disoriented now from what he was originally trying to say, JA mercifully stops him, and sets the conversation into a new direction: the possibility that William Johnsson could be fired from his job if he were openly to speak contrary to Ellen White.
Of course, this makes good psychological bait to Johnsson - and our leaders as well - to stand up like men and show that they can speak in opposition to Ellen White and not be fired!
WJ's reply to JA's question is an intriguing one, for it is a quaint demeaning to her writings: "The question [you ask] will be whether my views hold up along side these sentimental beliefs. This is the test; yes." Had you ever thought of the Spirit of Prophecy as a collection of "sentimental beliefs"?
At this point, JA interjects with a comparison to poor Des Ford's plight. He got fired, and so now WJ might also.
In reply, WJ says that agreement with the "fundamental beliefs" is all that is necessary for a minister not to be discharged, and he adds that a number of the questioning ministers were invited to Washington D.C. and told, "If you want to, you can go into the White Estate, open up any door you want to. At this, WM objects and says that those doors are not opened up to doubtful inquirers, WJ quickly adds, "Well, it happened. I was there. I saw it happen!"
Another heated argument between WJ and WM then ensues over the issue of who is the authority in the Church Ellen White or the Statement of Beliefs. And yet, through it all, WJ never seems to perceive the real objective of this constant, wearing attack against Ellen White's doctrinal authority in the Church. So let me tell you what it is:
These Evangelical research experts are very much aware of the fact that our leadership has-since 1980-swung heavily toward a firm rejection of Spirit of Prophecy doctrinal authority in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. But all this public badgering of poor Johnsson in this nationwide televised presentation is nothing more than the sending of a needle-sharp message to our administrators everywhere: We don't care what you think about your Sabbath (for we well know that your membership will rise up in rebellion if you try to put that away), or your talk about the State of the Dead, the Punishment of the wicked, or the events during the Millennium. But if you will totally eliminate the influence of Ellen White from the Church, - we will consider accepting you with open arms into our Evangelical ranks of brotherly love.
After a strong parting invective by WM over the sad state of Adventism, JA announces, "All right; let's hold it right there. There is more." He then hints at dark comments by "Time" magazine two years before- and that the viewing audience will learn more about this next week.
THE THIRD TELECAST
This third section of the five-part series begins with several minutes of clips from the August 1982 Ankerberg interview with Desmond Ford and Walter Rea. As you might expect, the topic is plagiarism, and it concludes with a statement by Rea that it is because of objecting to Ellen White's authority that both he and Ford have been cast out.
The recall-clips end, and JA asks WJ to comment on all this. WJ does so by searching through his case for a sample Sabbath School Quarterly,- and then he holds it up as the long-needed proof that he is correct in his assertions that Ellen White no longer is an authority in the Church. Turning its pages, he holds it out for JA's inspection, and then describes the various parts of a page from the Sabbath School Quarterly.
Precious moments pass while he rambles on, and then JA interjects with a quotation from an earlier "Sabbath School Quarterly" (Second Quarter, 1976) that spoke of Ellen White as a "modern inspired interpreter of both the Old and New Testaments. Surely there is every logical reason to give the inspired interpretations top priority in arriving at our under standing of the Word today."
All eyes turn now to WJ to see a firm stand in defense of that lone statement from back in 1976, but no, instead, he classifies it as "one statement," and quickly returns to his appeal to take the Quarterly in his hand and look through it and see for yourself how it is laid out. "Jesus our Mediator" is the topic. On each page comes "text of Scripture; statement; comment; occasional quotations from Ellen White. This is the Church at study."
WJ's time has run out, and now WM takes over, and beats WJ with that 1976 quotation. WJ replies apologetically that it is only one little statement. WM: "Why do you sneak in these little statements from time to time? Why aren't they just banished? Why don't you say the opposite, - that she's NOT the inspired interpreter?"
WJ gives a thoughtful reply: "Well, I suppose you have individuals who, . . uh, remember the lessons are written by individuals and their stamp is put on them. Occasionally statements get in that in fact are not accurate in terms of stated beliefs "
Again, he is returning to the Adventist creedal Statement as the primary reason why everyone should reject hints by our denominational writers that she may have had some inspiration in her writings.
We have here before us a bad situation. And we cannot honestly say that Ankerberg and Martin are to blame for it. The blame must be placed squarely on the shoulders of our creedal statements - and officials who fear to stand in defense of the Spirit of prophecy. Both Ankerberg and Martin well know that the truth of the situation is that Johnson will get in trouble with his superiors, not for sidestepping the Spirit of Prophecy,- but for too decidedly defending it! His conversation with Martin and Ankerberg makes this abundantly clear.
Truly, we feel sorry for the poor man. It would be well if he would step down so that a genuine successor to the line of Woods, Nichol, Wilcox, and the other men of God who earlier headed the "Advent Review and Sabbath Herald," could take the job.
Another heated argument now takes place between WM and WJ over the authority of Ellen White. The enemies of Adventism well know that they only need remove faith in her writings from our people, and they will be able to easily conquer us and take all. Are you going to quietly sit there and let them do it? For it is happening. Month after month, year after year, the modernists within are strengthening their forces for the final takeover. With "new theology" college and university professors to instruct and guide in the path they should take when they are sent out to the local churches, the young pastors are doing their work well. And many are the older workers and leaders who care not which side they be on, as long as they remain with the majority.
Along about this time, JA and WM carry the debate over to another favored point: If Johnsson won't defend Ellen White (which he consistently won't),- then it must be that he will soon be fired for not doing so. So they play on this theme awhile. Ford and Rea were put out for doing that . .
At this, WJ brings in a powerful argument: Neither Walter Rea nor Desmond Ford have been put out! For neither one has, to date (1985!) been disfellowshipped by the Seventh-day Adventist Church!
An argument starts between WM and WJ over whether Ford and Rea's "pension" (sustentation, or denominational retirement pay) will be taken from them. WJ says it won't. [It won't because by Federal law it cannot be taken from them.]
WM is then given the final couple minutes of this telecast to launch into a tirade about "false prophets" and how terrible they are .. and how Ellen White must be one.
THE FOURTH TELECAST
After JA's introductory greeting, WM's concluding sermon against false prophets and Ellen White is repeated. As the breathless audience waits, WM turns to WJ and asks him to reply to this. Surely, we can expect a major statement at this point.
WJ replies by saying that he has already discussed the matter earlier: "I think I've already made my statement. Her relationship to Jesus; her relationship to the cross; her relationship to the Scriptures." And that's it. WM quickly comes back with more. He is determined to get WJ to say something in defense of Ellen White- or get him to say something decided against her. For, as it is, WJ isn't really saying very much at all.
Sometimes it takes more energy to keep one's balance on the fence, than to jump down to one side or the other and begin fighting. And, friends, I must say that we have come to a time when historic Adventism needs some fighters to maintain it and defend it. And you, right where you are, are the one to do it.
WM tries to edge WJ onto one side of the fence or the other; but WJ nobly resists either alternative.
WM comes forward with "we can't use Scripture [as a test] because she's the infallible interpreter . . How can we use Scripture?" WJ "YOU are saying she's the infallible interpreter [I'm not]." WM: "No you [Adventists] have said it. I quoted ten statements from your leaders that say it. WJ: "I'm quoting the fundamental beliefs that deny those statements."
Somehow, WJ never catches on to what is taking place. But taking place it surely is. Adventist leaders and workers all across the land will view this scenario- and read into it the ominous message from the Evangelicals: Get rid of Ellen White if you want peace from us. Johnsson is doing it. Better get on the bandwagon, or soon you will not be with the majority who are."
WM then claims that Ellen White was a false prophet because, he says, she earlier did not believe that Christ was really God. At this WJ hesitates, confused. He admits he knows nothing of such a quotation,- Ieaving the implication that perhaps there is such a quotation. WM: "If its there; it would make her a false prophet at that time"
And now, for the only time in the five-part series, scenes from the audience asking questions and WJ responding are shown to the viewers. But, as mentioned earlier, it is of interest that of the many questions that were asked, the only ones televised were the ones that dealt with the very same two key points that the entire series focused on: Ellen White and the Investigative Judgment.
JA: "We've got, first of all, a question from a non-Adventist, and then a question from an Adventist. I think two very powerful questions."
The first question is an extended statement. Why do the Adventists "hold on so strongly to a person [EGW] . . Let's go back to the Scriptures . . and not just keep referring to Ellen White .. I'd just like to hear an answer to that."
WJ's response to this one was more encouraging. He said that we do go back to the Scriptures, but that "her writings have brought tremendous impetus in these particular distinctives ["lifestyle, educational system, health system," etc., he said in the preceding sentences. - But note that this listing includes no doctrinal "distinctives," such as the Sanctuary Message, Last-day Events, etc.] We're not about to renounce our history and the role of Ellen White in our denomination."
Thank you, Elder Johnson, for that last sentence. It was appreciated by many.
JA: "Question. You're an Adventist, aren't you? All right, let's have a question."
The man who gave this second question later identified himself as "a minister." He spoke with a German or Eastern European accent. He asked one question, and then, after a few minute's discussion, he made a second comment. Here is his first:
"Is it not true that a scriptural or canonical prophet has continuing authority? A local Prophet's authority ceases at the death of the prophet. Why is it that we claim a continuing gift of prophecy for Ellen White when she died 70 years ago? Why do we claim continuing authority when our prophet is indeed dead?"
These objections go from the foolish to the ridiculous. Where in the world did this person dream up the idea of "local prophets"? How many local prophets have you met? How many have you heard of in your lifetime, or read of in all human history? There is no such thing. An individual is either a true prophet, a false prophet, or no prophet. All this talk about "canonical" and "non-canonical" prophets is foolishness. A "prophet" is either fully inspired of God- or not inspired at all. Rationalizing is easier than obeying.
But do remember that these synthetic distinctions by others originated with our own pussy-footing distinctions. We are officially saying that Ellen White is some different kind of genuine prophet than all the rest that God has used throughout history. Exactly how- or why - she is different, no one seems to know. But we are being told that the other prophets could bring us doctrine from God, but she couldn't. The others were able to give us information that could bring salvation, but she could only affect "life-styles" and "educational systems." The others can be used of God to provide crucial predictions of coming events; but hers can be neglected as of little consequence. The urgent warnings given by the others must be heeded lest we die; but her warnings are given only for "pastoral comfort." The others must be obeyed; but she may be disregarded. The others are prophets,- so must be considered; she is a prophet,- so may be slighted. The others speak words from God,- so are of vital importance; she speaks words from God,- so may be safely ignored:
There is more than one way to "kill the prophets."
The carefully-worded Adventist rejection of Ellen White has laid the foundation for the world's rejection of Ellen White. And those who have led out in this nefarious work will have to answer for it in the Judgment.
The Jews killed their prophets; we use more subtle methods today.
WJ's reply to the Adventist minister's question is carefully worded, so as to agree with temporizing official policy: "Well, authority in the sense of continuing counsel or value to the Church, uh, that is the status of the authority of Ellen White's writings."
WM comes back like lightning: "The brother is saying, 'The prophet's dead. If we don't consider her writings canonical Scripture, why are we still using them? "
And then, WJ states the official view more clearly: "Well, I would just go back again to our Statement of Beliefs, - the way it is set up there, that we see continuing value, counsel in terms, for instance, of our health institutions, our schools. They were counsels for her day but they set forth principles that are still valid. The health, the life style, that she sets forth continues to be valid."
It is only her health, institutional, and "life style" writings that are still usable today! And their importance is never termed something that need be OBEYED, but only as something "valid," merely one set of "counsels" among many others.
By definition, DOCTRINE is teaching that affects the salvation of man. Official Adventist Statements declare that Ellen White is not a doctrinal source in our Church and never has been one! This declaration tells us that there is nothing in her writings that has any effect on your salvation. They may ALL be safely ignored. You can burn the books and it will not matter. Official Adventist Statements declare that her writings are only valid in "life style, health, and educational areas. This declaration tells us that one's "life style"-his manner of living and his habits and practices-has nothing to do with his salvation. How you eat, drink, dress, talk, think and act have absolutely nothing to do with your salvation. How you run your business and educate your children also has nothing to do with your salvation, theirs, or anyone else's.
Twice in the five telecasts Ronald Graybill is mentioned, and both times he is spoken of as one of those who, supposedly revealed weaknesses of Ellen White. As a reward for his slanted doctoral thesis against her, he was quickly hired by North Pacific Union leadership to an important position on their staff. (Remember that, the next time the NPUC elections come around. -Or do they let you have a part in electing NPUC officers?) Later on, the leadership of the Columbia Union called him to the prestigious position of head of the "Columbia Union Visitor." This is the union paper that goes to all the workers in Takoma Park and the Review and Herald. (Keep that in mind when it comes time to reelect the officers in the Columbia Union.) There is no doubt in our mind that the leaders in both of those union conferences are opposed to the writings of Ellen G. White.
After another brief argument over the authority of Ellen White, the "Adventist minister" arises and asks his second question:
"My other brief question relates to 1844. I wonder if Dr. Johnsson can tell us what practical Christian application is there for me as a Christian from the 1844 message? It brings us in disgrace and misunderstanding with the Christian world and our Evangelical Christians. Why didn't we just drop the thing? What value is it? As a minister I've never been able to find a single item of Christian value in that doctrine."
You may be shocked, to say the least, to hear such words coming from the lips of an "Adventist minister," but we regularly receive letters from friends all across the continent, and overseas as well (especially Australia, Europe, Africa, and the Carribbean)-that tell us of apostate Adventist ministers who stand weekly in their local pulpits and teach error and reprove right.
But do not be merely shocked; do something about it! Did you know that the reason that all this continues- is because of a Church policy that administrators are not to fire any worker who doubts our doctrines,- as long as that worker does not repudiate them. If you were to ask many of our leaders about the statement by the above Adventist minister, and urge that he be discharged,- you would be told that "he will be counseled,' or "the matter will be taken under advisement" And if you press the issue long enough, you will learn that no severance action will be taken regarding that worker- for he is only trying to think through his doubts; he is not openly repudiating our beliefs!
Winning our way back to the favor of the Evangelicals is seen as a very important goal. Returning to the Spirit of Prophecy is considered to be of far less consequence. A remarkable evidence of this is to be found in those few Adventist ministers who begin openly reproving sin in our pulpits. Every year one or two of them contacts me. They feel shattered; their wives are in tears. For they are about to be fired for standing in defense of Bible-Spirit of Prophecy principles.
And yet we say, "All is well. Peace is in our land; harmony and unity is all that we need. Be loyal to leadership is all that is needed to weather the storms of life safely. Listen and read only that which has been officially approved. If a man comes urging you to study 'Great Controversy,' hear him not; but be sure and attend the approved Saturday night Hollywood films that have received committee okay."
You who read this may say, "The one writing this surely must hate our Church!" I tell you the day will come when you will look back and say, "I understand now; he was one of the few who really loved the Church; for he pled with it to forsake its sins before it was too late."
We must now consider Elder Johnsson's reply to the Adventist minister's question. Surely he will rise to the urgency of the occasion and thoroughly stand in defense of our Bible-Spirit of Prophecy beliefs in regard to the glorious truth of what the Investigative Judgment can and will do in our lives today! Indeed, there are few greater truths in all Scripture! Read chapters 23, 24 and 28 of "Great Controversy." We are now to put away all our sins, that they may be blotted out in the Cleansing of the Sanctuary, as the records of sin of the faithful are removed from those holy precincts- because the sins themselves have been removed from our lives down here on earth!
The purpose of it all is given in the summary statement of what is done on the Day of Atonement, which in our day is called the "Investigative Judgment:"
"And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls . . for on that day shall the priest make an atonement for YOU, to cleanse YOU, that YE may be clean from all YOUR sins before the Lord.
"And he shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the congregation.
"And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year."-Leviticus 16:29-30, 33-34.
Then WJ gives his reply, and we are astounded by it; for he repudiates that aspect of the Judgment that involves the putting away of our sins,- and he only retains the aspect that deals with doing good works:
WJ: "Well, it depends on the way it [the Investigative Judgment] is set forth. If it is set forth in a perfectionistic mode, it surely will not build up [help anyone toward heaven] But if it is set forth in a scriptural mode, and the Scriptures, remember, call us to judgment according to works, with Christ as our Saviour and as our mediator and judge, then there is much of value for us in that."
At this, JA recalls a passage he had read earlier in the telecast series. It was one of the many quotations from the Spirit of Prophecy that speaks about the putting away and blotting out of sin in the Investigative Judgment.
JA. "When you say that it's not a 'Perfectionistic mode;'- in the first program I read to you what Ellen G. White herself taught in the 'Great Controversy.' If that's not perfectionism as a doctrine that is stated, I couldn't enunciate it any clearer than what she did.
JA had quoted this passage in what was later to be included in the second telecast. Although he did not give a reference, the statement quoted was the seven-line sentence in "Great Controversy," page 483, at the beginning of paragraph 2. (Read it right now,- and with it, 479-491 and 418-422.) After quoting from 483,JA then said, "But if they are not, their forgiveness is rescinded and their names are blotted out of the Book of Life and they lose their salvation." He is here correctly referring to such passages as 483, paragraph 1.
WM and WJ then enter a discussion over what takes place during the Investigative Judgment. At one point in it, WM says this: "But your sins are still with you, according to Mrs. White."
This is an incorrect statement. All who genuinely repent of their sins are separated from them, and those sins are transferred in fact to the Sanctuary above. (Read "Great Controversy," 418:3, 420:1, and especially note 421:2-422:0.) They no longer have those sins in their Christian life on earth, unless they choose them anew. Modern Protestant theology teaches that men are saved in their sins; historic Adventism teaches that men are saved from sin. Thus, we are in agreement with the Bible (Matthew 1:21), and the Evangelicals are not.
JA then comments that the "Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia," under the article entitled "Investigative Judgment [page 6731, says, "the best presentation of the investigative judgment in current Adventist literature is the chapter entitled 'The Investigative Judgment,' in the book 'The Great Controversy.' " Many of us are thankful that JA mentioned that.
After some back and forth between WM and WJ over this matter, WJ wisely refers them to the parable of Matthew 18:23-35, but he does not fully come to the point of it. For a clear understanding of this, carefully read "Christ's Object Lessons," page 251, paragraph 2. Even though forgiven of our sins, we can henceforth conduct ourselves in such a manner that the forgiven sins are later rolled back on us.
Another give and take between WM and WJ goes on for several minutes, and then JA tells the viewers to come back next week for another session.
THE FIFTH TELECAST
JA begins this final telecast with a question to WM: Are the Adventists heading into a "cult" status? WM's reply is to the effect that unless the Adventists' clarify their doctrines sufficiently- so that all can know that they are orthodox,- the pronouncement of "cult" is coming. Then, so that Adventists might not be in doubt as to his area of concern, WM concludes: "I could give you twenty quotations right now from high-placed Adventists sources and publications all stating these tremendously overblown views of Ellen White."
JA then turns the topic into concern again for WJ's employment if he continues to speak as he has on the telecasts about Ellen White's inferior status in the Church. Over and over, WJ assures him that he need not be worried. JA then appeals to WJ, on behalf of the denomination, to come back to fellowship with the Evangelicals, which is what WM tried to achieve for Adventists back in the 1950s.
WJ: "Let me just say a word about our relation ship to the Evangelicals, John." JA: "Okay." WJ: "I think we fit there better than anywhere else . , but we also have our own distinctives." He then suggests that it is best that Adventists be accepted back,- but with those distinctives.
(Earlier in the telecasts, WM mentioned his theory that the growth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church since the 1950s is due to our publication of QD, which would not have been written without WM's help.)
WM then discusses his concern over the future of QD in our Church, but WJ explains that Lesher, who replied to WM's three questions, "said straight out, 'We have not repudiated 'Questions on Doctrines.' "
WM then asks about Ellen White's authority in the Church, and WJ replies: "We do not believe that" her writings "are an addition to . . Scripture," and "We do not believe that the writings of Ellen White may be used as the basis of doctrine."
Again, the others express concern for WJ's future employment with the Church. But WJ replies to all this in very relaxed tones. Yet the remainder of this telecast remains essentially on this theme: Ellen White invented 1844 and the Investigative Judgment, and if any Adventist speaks against either he will be fired, for he has opposed her authority.
Throughout five telecasts, the primary concern has been to separate Ellen White's writings from the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
JA concludes with this statement to WJ: "I hope that you will take back with you our love and our concern, and the fact that we would like to continue to have fellowship and dialogue on matters of Scripture."
This concludes the five-part telecast series. In the written transcript of these telecasts, there is an additional three-and-a-half pages of questions and answers that occurred, but did not appear on the telecasts. [In addition, we know that there were other questions from the floor that were favorable to historic Adventism.]
One question concerned how one might obtain a copy of QD. WJ said that any Adventist college would have them. "There's one nearby here, Southern College they would certainly have many copies of it."
Our colleges have many copies of these books because they are frequently used as required reading for the students.
In another comment, WM, in comparing the "SOP Bible Commentary" with "Questions on Doctrines," said something very significant that many of us had always believed: QD was not written for Adventists but solely as a bridge to the Evangelicals: "Your commentary is not addressed to the Evangelical public. It is addressed to the Seventh-day Adventists. QD was directed to the Evangelicals as a means of communicating your sincerity in Evangelical theology."