15 May 2023 |
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
Protestants historically hold to the idea of “biblical sufficiency”: that the Bible is the final authority for Christians, and that all other authorities are subservient to it. Our first Fundamental Belief affirms that the Bible is “the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration,” that it is the “infallible revelation of His will” and “contains the knowledge necessary for salvation”—but it doesn’t exactly say that it is the only authority.
Here’s why I ask the question: when we talk about interpretations of Scripture, no Bible text is ever the last word: in every book, in every Sabbath School lesson, Biblical doctrines must be confirmed by quotes from Ellen White.
Aunt Sevvy, do Adventists actually believe that the Bible is sufficient?
Signed, Bible Believer
Dear Bible Believer,
You ask a very difficult question—one which has troubled many Adventists.
In fact, we Adventists have not one but two authorities that are employed by some to supersede the Bible—although those who do so generally deny it.
The first is Ellen White. Our 17th Fundamental Belief says that Ellen White’s writings “make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.” But in actuality Aunty can’t imagine church leaders ever saying, “Well, in this case, Ellen White was wrong, so we’re going to go by the Bible”—even in cases where her writings are acknowledged to be biblically, historically, or scientifically questionable.
In a discourse at the 2014 Annual Council Elder Ted Wilson addressed this in a sermon entitled “God’s Prophetic Movement, Message, and Mission and Their Attempted Neutralization by the Devil.”
On this point you might say, “Why does Wilson always refer to the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy? Isn’t the Bible sufficient for all that we need to know?”
Of course, it is. As Seventh-day Adventists we believe in “sola scriptura.” We believe that God’s Word is the final authority of all Christian faith and practice. And it is in that very Word of God that the Lord reveals that His last-day people would be guided by the prophetic gift!
By this definition, “sola scriptura” includes the writings of Ellen White! Aunty will be blunt: as long as no Adventist has freedom to hold a biblical doctrine which Ellen White didn’t approve, Ellen White is effectively above the Bible.
The second authority is the church itself. General Conference leadership takes very seriously a statement from Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 492:
When the judgment of the General Conference, which is the highest authority that God has upon the earth, is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be maintained, but be surrendered.
If the General Conference can vote the meanings of scriptural texts into fundamental doctrinal statements by which the beliefs of members and church workers are measured—affecting their membership or employment—then the General Conference has placed itself above the Bible.
So Aunty believes the answer to your question is a simple “no”: Adventists do not hold to the sufficiency of Scripture, no matter what the Fundamental Beliefs say. It is subject to both Ellen White and the authority of the General Conference.
But that doesn’t stop any individual Adventist from conducting his or her life by the Bible and the Bible alone, and I hope most do.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identifying the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.