As we survey the landscape of the church these days, the prospects are not encouraging to those who remember the pillars of our faith. What is happening? Why is it happening? What to do? These questions and more are addressed in a series I am sharing with you in this update and the next few following. I pray that this first hand experience of what went on in our church in the 1950’s with the writing of the book “Questions on Doctrine” and beyond will be enlightening and instructive to all who read this. And may we run the way of His commandments!
The Scandal Of A Book, PART 1, THE DIAGNOSIS, by the late Dr. Ralph Larson
When we look out at the Seventh-day Adventist Church today, what do we see? We see confusion bordering on chaos. We see theological debate and controversy. We see brazen and bold rebellion against the Spirit of Prophecy. We see more and more criticism and challenging of the Scriptures. We see some persons even trying to bring the idiocies of evolution into our faith. We see collapsing church standards, and rapidly increasing worldliness. Our schools are no longer “Cities of Refuge” for the young. What ever happened to our church? The answer to this question is so simple that you will find it hard to believe. These momentous and tragic changes were caused by a book. Yes, you read it correctly, a book. The book that was produced and published under the name Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine. It is now more commonly referred to as Questions on Doctrine, or just by the initials, QOD. Church to buy its devastating, worldwide, impact on our church, it would have to be seen as One of the Devil’s greatest masterpieces of all time. It shattered our previous theological unity. It created widespread contempt for the Spirit of Prophecy. He created the necessity of dividing the years of our church’s history into Pre-–QOD and Post–QOD. These are two very different historical periods. Those of us who have lived in both periods can testify that the differences were and still are enormous. Questions on Doctrine was published in the year 1957. I had joined the church in 1936, so I lived in the Pre–QOD era for 21 years. I entered the ministry in 1945, so I ministered in the in the Pre–Q OD era for 12 years. In my evangelistic work during those Pre–QOD I used to I assure the new members whom I brought into the church that they could go anywhere in the world, find a Seventh-day Adventist church, open the door and step inside and say, I am home. This was thrilling to them. In that Pre-QOD era, when two Seventh-day Adventists from different parts of the world met, there was an instant bonding. They knew and great deal about each other, even though they had never met. They had similar religious convictions, similar worldviews, and similar hopes, dreams, and plans. They even wore similar clothes and ate similar foods. And they knew some of the same world leaders of the church. It was wonderful, it was precious. It was Pre-QOD, before Questions on Doctrine. But now it is gone. As you well know, when two Seventh-day Adventists from different parts of the world, or even from the same country, meet, in our time, they have to carefully and cautiously explore each others thinking before there can be any real fellowship like we used to have. For we are now in the Post-Questions on Doctrine years of controversy, from 1957 until the present 2004. Where did this tragic book, Questions on Doctrine, come from? It was prepared by our own Ministerial Association and printed in our own Review and Herald publishing house. So it was a self-inflicted wound. This makes it harder to understand, but it is the awful truth. The grisly events developed like this: In the early 1950’s Dr, Donald Grey Barnhouse, editor of Eternity, a magazine for Evangelical (Calvinist) ministers preached a radio sermon. A Seventh-day Adventist minister, J. T. Unruh, heard the sermon and wrote Barnhouse a letter of appreciation. Reminded of the Seventh-day Adventists by the letter, Barnhouse suggested to his co-worker, Dr. Walter Martin, who was studying cults in America, that he investigate our beliefs. This led eventually to a series of conferences that resulted in the publication of Questions on Doctrine. Just who the Seventh day Adventists were who participated in these conferences was not officially stated until recently,1 but various unofficial reports had already made it quite clear. They were Dr Leroy Edwin Froom, a professor in our theological seminary, Elder Roy Alan Anderson, secretary of our Ministerial Association, Elder W.E.Read, a general secretary of the General Conference, and Elder T.E.Unruh, president of the Pennsylvania conference. Some reports indicated that Dr Edward Heppenstall, a teacher in our seminary, was also involved. The Calvinist theologians were at Dr Donald Grey Barnhouse and Dr Walter Martin. Barnhouse and Martin had proposed to the Adventist representatives that if they would repudiate our teaching that Christ came to the earth in the human nature of fallen man, and make some other changes, they would stop telling the world that we were a “cult,” and accept us into their “fellowship.” Incredibly, our men agreed to do this, and the results are now before us in the present confusion and controversy in Adventism. The methods used by the small Adventist group to accomplish this purpose are utterly shocking, and defy all explanation. They appear to have been done by men bereft of their reason. As you will see, they were simply scandalous. Through no choice of my own, I have had the misfortune of being at a storm center of the controversy. So I was there. This is how it happened with me. This is the story of my own personal journey through the wilderness created by the scandalous book, Questions on Doctrine. I graduated from last Sierra College in 1945 and after a year in Nevada, went to Hawaii, where I ministered for 12 ½ years. I pastored in Kapaa, Hilo, and Honolulu, then spent 2 ½ years as Hawaii’s first full-time evangelist. I was then transferred to Northern California where I spent seven years in evangelism. I loved evangelism, but I had to recognise that an evangelist must of necessity preach the same truths over and over and he must spend much time visiting homes to answer Bible questions. This leaves him very little time for advanced study. I therefore started working some study time into my program, and in a few years, I had earned two Master degrees, and a Doctorate. Then I accepted a call to pastor the Glendale Church in Arizona, and conduct an evangelistic experiment that I was interested in. Then one afternoon I received a telephone call from my conference president, Elder Frank Sherrill. He said that the administrators of the South-eastern California Conference wanted to talk to me about coming to their conference to be senior pastor of the campus Hill Church in Loma Linda. I responded (reacted) immediately. “There is no need for them to talk to me,” I said. “You can tell them that I am not interested.” He agreed to do it, and I thought that would settle the matter. But that night, to my surprise, I received a telephone call from the South-eastern Californian Pres, Elder Walt Blehm. He spent some time telling me all of the nice things about the campus Hill church. I was trying hard to be respectful and courteous, and yet to be firm in my position that I did not want to make the change, and leave my project in Arizona. Then he mentioned the name of the union conference president, Elder Cree Sandefur. That startled me. I said, “Walt, is Sandefur with you on this?” He said, “Yes he certainly is.” I sighed deeply. That put a completely new face on the matter. I said, “Walt, will you let me talk to Sandefur?” If I call him early tomorrow morning, and then get back to you, would that be all right?” He said, “Yes, that will be fine.” At 8 o’clock the next morning, I walked into my church office, and the telephone was ringing. It was Sandefur. He had not waited for me to call him. He was calling me. As soon as I heard his voice, I knew that the game was over. I could not say “No” to Sandefur. This was not only because he was the Union president. It was also because I owed him an enormous personal debt of gratitude. When he had been president in Hawaii, he had let me leave the pastorate of the Honolulu Central Church and go into full-time evangelistic work. That was the beginning of 15 years of evangelism, which I will always think of as the best years of my life. Even today I would say, “Give me a summer evening, and a big tent pitched on a vacant lot, with a crowd of people softly singing the sweet songs of Zion, and I will tell you, “This is as good as it gets in this world. Nothing can
surpass this” ” Sandefur didn’t press me. That was not his style. He just said that he would appreciate it if I would come over to Southeastern to take a look at the situation and discuss it with Walt Blehm. I agreed, and made the trip, and then the later move. I felt that I had no choice. I tell you this so that you will know how it happened that I got involved in the controversy that was raging throughout our church. Strangely, it had not come to my attention before I moved to Campus Hill. But when I got there it started hitting me from all sides. I felt like I was in a “combat zone.” Two different theologies were being taught in the Sabbath school classes in Campus Hill Church. One was our true theology, being presented in the lesson quarterlies and our church literature. The other, I learned, was being called “New Theology,” and was being strongly promoted by a teacher at Pacific union college, whose name was Desmond Ford. Church members were becoming increasingly concerned and confused. So I was forced by the circumstances to investigate the “new theology,” and was appalled by what I found. It was nothing but centuries-old corrupted Calvinism. Our pioneers had known it and rejected it in their time, and in my evangelistic work I had encountered it many times. It was all written up in standard textbooks of Calvinist theology. Let me explain that the two major points of Calvinist theology that are very different from our beliefs are (1) that Christ came to this earth in the human nature of the unfallen Adam, and therefore was altogether different from us, enjoyed great advantages over us, and should be seen only as our substitute and not as our example. The other (2) was a natural result of the first. If Christ had such great advantages over us, it would be unreasonable and unfair for God to expect us to live as he lived. So God does not expect or require us to stop sinning. He saves us in our sins, not from our sins. It is a doctrine of salvation in sin, that Christians cannot and need not stop sinning. It was a shock to me to hear these Calvinist falsehoods being presented as truths in a Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath school, to the great confusion of the people. I felt that it was my duty to defend the sacred truth, so I did. Then the fireworks really started.
References: 1. See their General Conference announcement entitled “World church Questions on Doctrine book annotated, republished,” (http://www.adventist.org/news/data/2003/10/1069166562/index.html.en).