There are two major distinctive claims of Seventh Day Adventism, which separate it from the rest of Christianity:
- First, that Christians are supposed to keep Saturday, the Sabbath, holy. They oppose worshiping on Sunday, arguing that it’s against the Ten Commandments and generally anti-Scriptural.
- Second, that the founder of Seventh Day Adventism, Ellen G. White, was a prophet.
The official Seventh Day Adventist website declares:
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen. G. White . As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction.
But as we’ll quickly see, White was no prophet, and her works are riddled with errors. Let’s look at two of her major claims about the Sabbath, both from her supposedly-inspired book, The Great Controversy.
The first of the claims I want to look at is White’s assertion that all of the early Christians kept the true Sabbath for the first centuries of Christianity:
In the first centuries the true Sabbath had been kept by all Christians. They were jealous for the honor of God, and believing that His law is immutable, they zealously guarded the sacredness of its precepts.
(Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 52).
So that means that at a bare minimum, we should see every single Christian worshiping on Saturday for at least two centuries (since “first centuries” must mean at least two). Now read what St. Justin Martyr wrote in 150 A.D., in his First Apology:
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings [the Greek word here is Eucharist], according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.
But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn [That is, the day before Saturday]; and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.
So well within the first centuries of Christianity, Sunday worship was practiced. And notice that Justin doesn’t describe this as some innovation, either. He’s explaining to non-Christians what basic Christian practices look like, and Sunday worship is already the norm for “all” in 150. For someone alleged to be a prophet, White’s unable to present the truth on even this basic fact about the Sabbath.
Surprisingly, Seventh Day Adventist scholars admit that she’s wrong on this. Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, perhaps the best Adventist scholar, wrote:
The earliest documents mentioning Sunday worship go back to Barnabas in 135 and Justin Martyr in 150. Thus, it is evident that Sunday worship was already established by the middle of the second century. This means that to be historically accurate the term “centuries” should be changed to the singular “century.” This simple correction would enhance the credibility of The Great Controversy, because it is relatively easy to defend general Sabbath observance during the first century, but it is impossible to do it for the second century.
In other words, the alleged prophet’s words are true, if you change the words. This sounds like a polite way of conceding that Ellen White was a false prophetess.
But what about Bacchiocchi’s claim that while Sunday worship existed in the second century, it didn’t exist in the first? He’s making an argument from silence. This is a common tactic I’ve seen used by Protestants in defending their views. If you show that Ignatius believed that the Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Christ in 107 A.D., they’ll respond that the Church must have taken a symbolic view until 106. Of course, this sort of argumentation is ridiculous. If you’re going to make an argument from silence, the strongest argument is that no change in doctrine or practice happened — because if a change of doctrine had happened, we’d see evidence. If Christians suddenly (globally) started worshiping on Sunday instead of Saturday, wouldn’t someone have mentioned that somewhere?
White’s second claim is that it was the emperor Constantine who changed Christian worship from Saturday to Sunday. This is from p. 53 of the book I just quoted, The Great Controversy:
In the early part of the fourth century the emperor Constantine issued a decree making Sunday a public festival throughout the Roman Empire. (See Appendix). The day of the sun was reverenced by his pagan subjects and was honored by Christians; it was the emperor’s policy to unite the conflicting interests of heathenism and Christianity. He was urged to do this by the bishops of the church, who, inspired by ambition and thirst for power, perceived that if the same day was observed by both Christians and heathens, it would promote the nominal acceptance of Christianity by pagans and thus advance the power and glory of the church.
We already know that this is false: that Christians were already worshiping on Sunday well before Constantine. But what’s interesting is that White had a second and contradictory prophesy. You see, she also claimed that it was the big, bad pope, not Constantine, who changed the date from Saturday to Sunday. So, for example, in Early Writings of Ellen Gould White, we read her description of an vision she claims to have had in 1850:
The pope has changed the day of rest from the seventh to the first day. He has thought to change the very commandment that was given to cause man to remember his Creator. He has thought to change the greatest commandment in the decalogue and thus make himself equal with God, or even exalt himself above God.
From this, she learns that the pope is the Antichrist. In an earlier “vision” from 1847, she recounts:
I saw that the Sabbath was not nailed to the cross. If it was, the other nine commandments were; and we are at liberty to go forth and break them all, as well as to break the fourth. I saw that God had not changed the Sabbath, for He never changes. But the Pope had changed it from the seventh to the first day of the week; for he was to change times and laws.
Surprisingly even some of our leading evangelists believe, on the basis of Ellen White’s statements, that Sundaykeeping began in the early part of the fourth when church leaders urged Constantine to promulgate in 321 the famous Sunday Law.
This popular view has exposed our Church to much undesirable criticism. Non-SDA scholars and church leaders like Dr. James Kennedy, accuse our church of plain ignorance, by teaching that Sundaykeeping began in the fourth century, when there are irrefutable historical evidences that place its origin two centuries earlier.
I have spent countless hours explaining to Dr. James Kennedy and to professors who viewed the recent NET satellite programs, that this popular Adventist view is not reflective of Adventist scholarship. No Adventist scholar has ever taught or written that Sunday observance began in the fourth century with Constantine. A compelling proof is the symposium The Sabbath in Scripture and History, produced by 22 Adventist scholars and published by the Review and Herald in 1982. None of the Adventist scholars who contributed to this symposium ever suggest that Sundaykeeping began in the fourth century.
So, once they examine the evidence, even Adventist scholars realize that White is full of it. Obvious question: if that’s the case, why remain Adventist?
The entire Seventh Day Adventist church is discredited, because it:
- (a) declares Ellen White a prophetess, when she was clearly not;
- (b) declares her writings as an authoritative source of truth, when they clearly are not; and
- (c) continues, as its distinctive mission, is to celebrate the Sabbath on the Seventh Day, Saturday. Even the church’s name is based on this mission… yet the mission is founded on junk history, false prophesies, and bad Scriptural exegesis.
If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death— whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master— how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher?
So by the first decade of the second century, Sunday worship was already a way of signalling that the Christians believed in Jesus as the Messiah, and in His Resurrection. So even Bacchiocchi’s claim that Christian Saturday worship existed for the first hundred years of Christianity is false. And it’s incredibly unlikely that this practice was new at the time of Ignatius. Since the Apostle John died around 100 A.D., one would think that he would have spoken out against Sunday worship, if it truly was a violation of the Gospel. Unless, of course, he’s part of the massive Constantine/papal conspiracy. Of course, we also see Sunday worship in places like Acts 20:7, so there’s no reason to see this as anything other than of Apostolic origin.
UPDATE 2: Brock, in the comments, quotes from the Didache, which was probably written in the mid- to late- first century… that is, at the same time as the New Testament. This closes the case on the idea that the early Christians were Saturday worshippers:
“But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving [Eucharist] after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations. “
Good catch, Brock! I might add that the whole bit about the necessity of confession, the Eucharistic Liturgy being a Sacrifice, etc. — all incredibly Catholic.