Are Sunday Laws an Anachronism of Nineteenth-Century Adventism?
By Marvin Moore | 31 January 2019 |
In an article that was posted on the Adventist Today website on December 7, 2018, Reinder Bruinsma argues that the Adventist teaching of end-time Sunday laws is becoming increasingly implausible. Sunday laws were being enforced in the United States in Ellen White’s day, especially in the Southern states during the late 1880s and the early 1890s, but that was then, and this is now. Today, an increasingly secular society wants to do away with Sunday observance altogether. Therefore, Bruinsma concludes, the Adventist mission today needs to change from one that proclaims the immanence of Sunday legislation to one that proclaims the spiritual and physical benefits of Sabbath observance. Bruinsma also concludes that, in light of this development, we need to reevaluate Ellen White’s inspiration, though he doesn’t make any suggestions about what that revised view might entail.
I will disagree with Bruinsma’s suggestions for the following reasons.
Obedience to God’s Law the Great Issue
Ellen White stressed repeatedly throughout her writings that the overriding issue in the final conflict will be the law of God, especially the Sabbath. And Revelation supports that conclusion. Chapter 12:17 says that Satan will “make war against . . . those who obey God’s commandments,” and chapter 14:12 calls for “patient endurance on the part of God’s saints who obey God’s commandments.” And the first angel’s message ends with a command for God’s people to call the world to “worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” That is almost a direct quote from the last sentence of the Sabbath commandment in Exodus 20:11.
So the conclusion that the great issue in the final conflict will be over the law of God and the Sabbath isn’t just an Ellen White idea. It has clear support in Revelation. The application of this fact to the enforcement of the mark of the beast in chapter 13:17 isn’t as direct, but I believe it’s a reasonable conclusion.
It’s my understanding that Joseph Bates was the one who first proposed a link between Sunday observance and the mark of the beast, and Ellen White picked it up from him. Had she mentioned it once or twice in her writings, I might be willing to agree with Bruinsma, but she repeated over and over throughout her entire lifetime that the final conflict will be over the law of God, especially the Sabbath. If we remove that piece of the final conflict from her end-time scenario, we might as well give up on her as a prophet—which is basically what Bruinsma proposes that we do. I am not ready to join him!
Religious Freedom Under Fire
That’s how unrealistic Ellen White’s view of the demise of religious freedom in the United Sates appeared back then. However, I’m certain that if Rev. Nelson were commenting on religious freedom in the United States today, he would not be nearly so confident of its security. The LGBT community is increasingly challenging Christian business persons in the wedding, counseling, and other industries that they have no right to discriminate against them based on the “free exercise” and “free speech” clauses of the first amendment. And secularists are becoming extremely hostile toward the whole idea of religious freedom.
Recently, Karen Pence, the wife of United States Vice President Mike Pence, accepted an appointment as an art teacher at a conservative Christian school that requires students and staff to sign statements that they will adhere to the biblical concept of marriage. The left-leaning media went berserk. She was criticized for accepting the position in her role as the wife of the vice president, and Daily Show host Trevor Nelson ridiculed the school’s policy and called the whole concept of religious freedom “crazy.” And this is one of hundreds of similar criticisms by the American left about the constitutional principle of religious freedom.
A One-World Government
Revelation 13:7 says that shortly before the end of time the beast that rises from the sea will “be given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.” That’s global authority. And Adventists have traditionally understood the beast from the sea to be the papacy. So who will give the Vatican that global authority? Revelation doesn’t answer this question, but I think the possibilities are fairly limited: either Satan (the dragon), or God, or the world’s population of human beings at the time the prophecy is fulfilled. I suspect that it will be a combination of all three: Satan will initiate it, God will grant him permission to carry out his plan, and Satan will inspire the world’s people to authorize it.
And there’s more. Revelation says that a lamb-like beast (verse 11), which Adventists have always understood to be the United States government, will support Satan’s plan. He will “[exercise] all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and [make] the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast”; and he will “[deceive] the inhabitants of the earth. He [will order] them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by sword and yet lived” (verses 12, 14, italics added). Notice that the beast that rises from the land has global authority, and it lends that authority to the beast that rose from the sea. So again, we’re talking about another entity that has global political authority, which it will lend its support to the beast from the sea, that is, the papacy.
Is anything like a global authority possible in the near future? I think it is. I receive emails from various financial advisors (I suspect that most of those reading this article do too), and one thing I notice that they have in common is the prediction that a global world order is in the making. One of those whose emails I receive is James Rickards, who says that he consults with the world’s financial elites, and what he sees coming in the fairly near future is a collapse of global money with a global government emerging from the crisis. Is this correct? I think it’s entirely possible.
In August 1850, a series of mysterious rappings at the home of Margret and Kate Fox in Hydesville, New York, were widely reported at the time to be the work of spirit beings from another realm of existence. The girls could ask questions, and the spirits would answer them with taps to indicate “yes” or “no” answers. The girls went on to become fairly famous spirit mediums, though later in life one of them said that the rappings were trickery they played on family and friends. Be that as it may, news of the rappings caught the attention of Ellen White, and it formed the basis of her later views on the dangers of modern spiritualism. As she understood it, spiritualism will capture the attention of the whole world during the final crisis, and Satan and his angels will use this device to persuade human beings that spiritualistic manifestations are the work of divine power.
Throughout her life, Ellen White warned against the dangers of modern spiritualism. As she saw it, spiritualism will be one of Satan’s most potent forms of deception during the final crisis. Following is one of her most specific statements about spiritualistic influences during the final days of earth’s history: “Through the two great errors, the immortality of the soul and Sunday sacredness, Satan will bring the people under his deceptions. While the former lays the foundation for spiritualism, the latter creates a bond of sympathy with Rome. The Protestants of the United States will be foremost in stretching their hands across the gulf to grasp the hand of spiritualism; they will reach over the abyss to clasp hands with the Roman power; and under the influence of this threefold union, this country will follow in the steps of Rome in trampling on the rights of conscience.” Later on she said that “as the crowning act in the great drama of deception, Satan himself will personate Christ” (The Great Controversy, 588, 624).
The extent of spiritualism in the United States today is difficult to assess, because, to my knowledge, spiritualists don’t as a rule keep and publish membership statistics. However, a study by Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut between 1990 and 2008 found that the number of people in the US who identify as Wiccan increased from 8,000 in 1990 to 340,000 in 2008. And the Pew Research Center ran a survey in 2014, which showed that 0.4 percent of Americans identify as Wiccan or Pagan, which amounts to 1 to 1.5 million people.
Calamities and Natural Disasters
Jesus predicted that one of the signs of His return will be “great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive” (Matthew 24:21, 22; see also Daniel 12:1). In other words, the coming time of trouble will be the worst since Creation, or perhaps more correctly, since the Flood. And if God didn’t cut it short, the human race would become the next extinct species!
Ellen White also made it very clear in her writings between 1895 and 1905 that severe natural disasters and other calamities will come upon the United States and the world during the final years of earth’s history. For example, in Christ’s Object Lessons, in her chapter on the ten virgins, she said that “a sudden and unlooked for calamity, something that brings the soul face to face with death, will show whether the soul is sustained by grace. It will show whether there is any real faith in the promises of God (page 412). In a similar statement she said that “the armory of God is open; all the universe of God and its equipments are ready. One word has justice to speak, and there will be terrific representations upon the earth, of the wrath of God. There will be voices and thunderings and lightnings and earthquakes and universal desolation. Every movement in the universe of heaven is to prepare the world for the great crisis” (Special Testimonies, Series A. 1b:38);
Many of these disasters will no doubt occur during the time of trouble after the close of probation—but not all. For example, she said that “calamities will come—calamities most awful, most unexpected, and these destructions will follow one after another. . . . Strictly will the cities of the nations be dealt with, and yet they will not be visited in the extreme of God’s indignation, because some souls will yet break away from the delusions of the enemy, and will repent and be converted, while the mass will be treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath” (Evangelism, 27). And she also tied these calamities to Sunday legislation. She said, “Satan puts his interpretation upon events, and [men] think, as he would have them, that the calamities which fill the land are a result of Sundaybreaking. Thinking to appease the wrath of God these influential men [will] make laws enforcing Sunday observance” (Last Day Events, 129).
I certainly agree with Bruinsma that we need to proclaim the spiritual and physical blessings that come from Sabbath observance. Too often we’ve made the Sabbath a pure doctrine, a legalistic law to be observed, rather than presenting it as a loving relationship with our God and each other on that day.
Bruinsma is also absolutely correct that we live in an increasingly secular world, in which biblical values are taking second, third, and tenth place in society. And I can understand why he would say that “there is an ever-deepening chasm between the reality of Sunday observance in today’s western world and the message that continues to be heard in some quarters of the Adventist Church, namely, that we will soon have to face severe Sunday laws.” However, I suggest that he and we not hasten to the conclusion from these realities that Sunday laws are a relic of the past. If we have any confidence in the guidance of Ellen White regarding the final events of earth’s history, then we should not jettison too quickly her predictions about persecution over our refusal to comply with Sunday laws just because in today’s world that scenario appears to be unlikely. Let’s wait for today’s world to play itself out!
I pointed out earlier that the idea of the Sabbath being a central focus of the final crisis isn’t just an Ellen White idea. It’s entirely biblical. Revelation itself predicts a conflict over the law of God during that awesome time. We also need to keep in mind that Ellen White’s predictions about Sunday laws are a part of her over-all worldview that we and she call “the great controversy” theme. That theme, especially its final stages during the final crisis, are a composite that can’t be broken apart without damaging the whole. Like a jigsaw puzzle, remove one piece, and the picture is imperfect. I like to think of Sunday laws as one of those pieces in Ellen White’s and our understanding of the final stages of the great controversy. Remove one piece, and the picture is damaged. In fact, Sunday legislation is such an important part of her end-time scenario that I would compare removing it to cutting a third to a half of her end-time great controversy emphasis right out of the middle!
As most Adventists who have read very many of my books know, one of the major themes that I like to write about is end-time events. I have given a great deal of thought to how these events will develop, and from the brief survey I’ve given in this article, what follows is how I would expect the final crisis will play out.
- One of Ellen White’s major predictions is that religious freedom will be eliminated in the United States, and ultimately the rest of the world, during the final crisis, with the major issue being Sunday laws.
- And religious freedom is already being seriously compromised in the United States today, especially through the influence of secularists and the LGBT community.
- I believe that secret forces at play behind the scenes (the “deep state”) in today’s world will usher in a one-world government with a global cash system that at first will be controlled by secularists.
- And as natural disasters multiply, this secular control of the global government will yield to a Catholic control that is supported by the United States government.
- Religious forces, both Catholic and Protestant, will demand that Sunday laws be enacted to appease the wrath of God.
- And satanic spiritualist forces working miracles will persuade enough secularists to join with them that Sunday legislation will be enacted, no doubt over the protest of those who choose to remain secular.
That’s how I currently see the Adventist end-time scenario playing out, though I’m sure I’ll modify it as time goes on.
- See James Rickards, The Road to Ruin: the Global Elites’ Secret Plan for the Next Financial Crisis: New York, Pinguin Random House LLC,, 2016. See especially pages 90, 91; 260–266; 295, 296. ↑
Marvin Moore is the editor Signs of the Times magazine, and author of numerous books about end-time events. He writes from Nampa, Idaho.