2010 DOCTRINAL SERIES BY DERRICK GILLESPIE
PRE-1915 SDA PIONEERS DEBUNK MODERN SDA ANTITRINITARIANS- Part 3
You will notice that in parts 1 and 2 of this series I said that pioneering Adventism gradually came to later admit to three persons in the one Godhead which they freely expressed as a "Trinity" in their Fundamental Statements of Belief by 1913. That fact cannot be overturned by anyone... indeed by no anti-Trinitarian alive today in Adventism. It is also a fact that no anti-Trinitarian existing in Adventism today can find even one shred of evidence that early SD Adventists, before the late 1880s or more so the 1890s, ever spoke freely of and admitted to three persons of the Godhead. In fact what can be found in earlier years are very strong sentiments opposing the idea that the Holy Spirit could even be considered a personality, much more deemed a “third’ and “distinct” personality. Early pioneering Adventism never gave assent to the view that the Holy Spirit was a person or personality in any way whatsoever. It was not until pioneering Adventism first endorsed basic Trinitarianism in 1892 --- by publishing Dr Samuel Spear’s Trinitarian article, originally titled “the Subordination of Christ”, but subsequently RENAMED “the Bible Doctrine of the Trinity” by SDA pioneers themselves, and published as a missionary tool expressing what Adventists had come to believe/endorse--- that we then see an increase of E.G. White expressions about “three persons” comprising one “Eternal Godhead”. None of the SDA pioneers before Mrs. White ever went so far to admit to these “three persons” of the one Godhead in their own writings. I wait for the day when any anti-Trinitarian in Adventism today can prove otherwise with solid documented evidence. Now here is some of what SDA pioneers published/endorsed as “the Bible doctrine of the Trinity” way back in 1892, long before even pioneers Robert Hare or F.M. Wilcox’ made their “trinity” admissions/declarations
before 1915 (note the distinct Trinitarian undertones and expressions, despite the article’s rejection of the traditional explanation of “the mode” of the Trinity):
“…The Godhead makes its appearance in the great plan for human salvation. God in this plan is brought before our thoughts under the personal titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, with diversity in offices, relations, and actions toward men. These titles and their special significance, as used in the Bible, are not interchangeable. The term “Father” is never applied to the Son, and the term “Son” is never applied to the Father. Each title has its own permanent application, and its own use and sense. The distinction thus revealed in the Bible is the basis of the doctrine of the tri-personal God… The exact mode in which the revealed Trinity is … must be to us a perfect mystery, in the sense of our total ignorance on the point. We do not, in order to believe the revealed fact, need to understand this mode. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity—whether, as to its elements, taken collectively or separately — so far from being a dry, unpractical, and useless dogma adjusts itself to the condition and wants of men as sinners…. The truth is that God the Father in the primacy attached to Him in the Bible, and God the Son in the redeeming and saving work assigned to Him in the same Bible, and God the Holy Ghost in his office of regeneration and sanctification – whether considered collectively as one God, or separately in the relation of each to human salvation—are really omnipresent in, and belong to, the whole texture of the revealed plan for saving sinners." - The Bible doctrine of the Trinity- Pacific Press, 1892
Rather telling isn’t it? In fact, in 1892 and 1894 respectively here is what SDA pioneers said glowingly about the same Spear article quoted above: “… We believe that it sets forth the Bible doctrine of the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with a devout adherence to the words of the Scripture, in the best brief way we ever saw it presented." -Signs of the Times , Vol.18, No.22, 1892.
“…It presents the Bible view of the doctrine of the Trinity in the terms used in the Bible, and therefore avoids all philosophical discussion and foolish speculation. It is a tract worthy of reading." -Signs of the Times, Vol. 20, No. 29, 1894. And so what we see is a GRADUAL development of Adventist thought regarding the acceptance of a “threefold” Godhead, and yet this development became a radical departure from traditional Trinitarian thought because the Adventist explanation of the Godhead has always maintained that in the Godhead individuality of the persons is not lost (!!). This would explain Mrs. White’s later monumental admission (quoted below) to there being “three holiest beings in heaven”, while speaking of them collectively as “God”, and as being our “Father” collectively, who all “pledged” to and henceforth subsequently “receive” us as “sons and daughters” upon our baptism (a matter some, especially the modern anti-Trinitarians in Adventism, find hard to come to grips with even today): "God says, [notice after this whom she means says this] "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, . . . and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." [Now notice carefully] This is the pledge of [not just one person, but] the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit [i.e. the *pledge to receive and be a Father to you]; made to you if you will keep your baptismal vow, and touch not
the unclean thing…” -E.G. White, Signs of the Times, June 19, 1901
“You are baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. You are raised up out of the water to live henceforth in newness of life--to live a new life. You are born unto God, and you stand under the sanction and the power of THE THREE HOLIEST *BEINGS IN HEAVEN, who are able to keep you from falling. . .” -E.G. White, Manuscript Release, Vol.7, pgs. 267, 268
How very telling, in terms of how well this compares with what the Presbyterian Trinitarian minister Samuel Spear said in his Trinitarian article way back in 1889; an article which was directly affirmed by Adventist pioneers in 1892, and said to be “a devout adherence to the words of the Scripture” about “the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”. There is no escaping this reality, no matter how much some anti-Trinitarians today in Adventism would like to cover up or ‘escape’ this fact!! Now, most modern anti-Trinitarians in Adventism (and certain ones of the past) engage in semantic gymnastics and talk about Mrs. White always speaking of the Spirit as a personality without individuality, and never speaking of the Holy Spirit as a “being”, but only as a “personality” of the Father and Son, as if he is a non-entity, yet the record plainly testifies that she used all three descriptive words, namely “personality”, “person” and “being” to describe all three of the Godhead, as the foregoing and the following shows, and, more importantly, she treated all three the same way in terms of infinite divinity being ascribed to them, as well as prayer and religious service directed to all three by her word and example. She distinctly said:
The Holy Spirit is *ONE OF-
“The Three Holiest *Beings in heaven” -Manuscript Release, Vol. 7, pgs. 267-268
“The Three Persons” [of the Godhead] - S.D.A. Bible Comm., Vol. 6, pg.1074
“The Heavenly *Trio [‘group of three persons’] of Three *Living Personalities/Persons”
-Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 7(1905), pgs. 62,63
“The Eternal [‘existing always’] Heavenly Dignitaries” [‘high ranking persons’] – Evangelism, pg. 616 “The Three Dignitaries and Powers of Heaven”
-S.D.A. Bible Comm., Vol. 6, pg. 1075
“The Three Great Agencies” [of the Godhead] - S.D.A Bible Comm., Vol. 6, pg. 1102 “The [three] Highest Powers in Heaven”
Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 7(1905), PG. 51 “[three] Powers infinite and omniscient” - S.D.A. Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, pg. 1075
It should be noted here that her special effort to call the Holy Spirit ONE OF the “LIVING Personalities” of the “Heavenly Trio” is strong evidence that she wanted us to see the Holy Spirit as a “living”, conscious, individual Person (the “Third Person of the Godhead”) in the “Heavenly Courts”, having His own “will” (1 Cor. 12:11), and who (according to her) though he “personifies Christ, yet is a distinct personality”. How else do you logically or intelligently explain her praying to the Holy Spirit along with Father and Son, her repeatedly numbering “three persons” or “three holiest beings” (not two), her indicating that we must “serve” all three” that she listed separately when she said they should be “served”, and, more importantly, her indicating that all three “pledges” to be “a Father” to all those who carry out their baptismal vows?
Some try to sidestep and foolishly explain away these matters but I will not. But this now leads me to determine whether this “trio” is really a “trinity”, as F.M. Wilcox and Robert Hare testified to before 1915.
DID SDA PIONEERS ACCEPT A TRINITY?
Trinitarianism is predicated upon the principle of a belief in “three Persons” within the “one Godhead”. It is Biblical to affirm “three living [literal] personalities” in the Godhead, and this is what “a trinity” is (as EVENTUALLY attested to honestly before 1915 by SDA pioneers; seen in introductory quotes). Even the false trinities, triads and trios in pagan religious (even consisting of individuals with differing genders) – proclaim the true definition of a “trinity”. Once, by a Christian, “three persons” are affirmed in the Godhead, whether as three separate persons or beings (which some mistakenly call tri-theism), whether as three distinct personalities, but all are related and in union, or whether as three personal and distinct “manifestations” of the one “existence” or reality (being), but all related in “substance”, then that
Christian is a Trinitarian (but can either be an "orthodox" or "unorthodox" one). Some, unwittingly, are Trinitarians (unorthodox ones of course), and believe in a “Trio” in the Godhead, but resist and deny the label. J.H. Waggoner (a pioneer), a few years before the SDA church started to increasingly affirm three persons in the Godhead, stated that trinitarianism is simply based upon the true definition of the word “trinity”, which means “three [distinct] persons” who exist together by close relationship; just like “trio”, “triplet”, “triad” and “triumvirate” – all coming from the prefix “tri” [three]. Here are his words: “A Trinity is three persons. To recognize [admit to] a trinity [the true type], the distinction between the Father and Son must be preserved.” -J.H. Waggoner, 1884, The Atonement, pgs. 167-169 Thus a TRUE trinity in not supposed to be, by Waggoner’s logical reckoning, a single person, personality, or individual, or even a threefaced singular being, as critics rightfully charge the Roman Catholics to be teaching!! But, if in Adventism, since 1892, and long before 1931, the three Persons in the Godhead, and in fact basic/economic trinitariansim through Dr. Spear’s article were directly affirmed by SDA pioneers, then as sure as trilogy, tricycle, triennial, triplicate, trident, tripod, and tripartite all relate to “three” distinct, but related entities, pioneering Adventism became supportive of a “trinity” in the Godhead (if even not by orthodoxy). Many anti-trinitarians can’t appreciate this reality, as if only Catholicism (since the fourth century) has a ‘divine copyright’ on the word “trinity”, and only they can explain what a basic trinity is, and contrary too to what the etymology of the prefix “tri and the suffix “nity” means. But in just the same way even Sunday worshippers were, at one time, historically referred to as “sabbatarians”- because they insisted (without concrete biblical proof) that Sunday is the “Christian Sabbath”- what’s to hinder SD Adventists also (but even more so)
properly referring to themselves as “sabbatarians”, and yet the meaning is different from the expression as it applies to Sunday “sabbatarians”? I see nothing to discount that reality. The same principle applies to trinitarianism. And so, all I am left to do here is to finally discuss whether the charge that the term “trinity”- it being admittedly an extra-biblical term- is so sinful to use when talking about the threefold Godhead.
‘UNCSCRIPTURAL’ WORDS FOR THE GODHEAD?
As it concerns the issue of condemning extra-biblical words and phrases like “trinity” or “God the Son” as employed/endorsed by even bona fide SDA pioneers before the death of Mrs. White (and without rebuke from her, mark you), I must hasten to point out the following reality to the anti-Trinitarians in the SDA Church today who usually insist on being “accusers of the brethren” in this regard, without stopping to think their stance through carefully.
*As seen hereafter, in several instances even Mrs. White herself was working from a framework of what is IMPLICIT in the Bible about the Godhead “trio” of “beings”. True too is that she even presented certain teachings about the Godhead that cannot be even substantiated by the Bible itself (whether by deduction or assumption based on implications there), but by SDA faith only that she got that ‘special revelation’ in vision!! That therefore means that pioneering Adventism is not free from both deducted theology, or assumed theology (based on implications in Scripture), and even more importantly, we are not free from extra-biblical expressions regarding the Godhead, as some make out, even as they lash out at all forms of Trinitarian thought. That too must be confronted honestly and squarely and addressed if one is going to be consistent!!
FOR EXAMPLE: NOWHERE IN THE ENTIRE BIBLE IS IT EXPLICITLY STATED THAT: 1. It was because of being jealous of Jesus' position (not the Father's) that Lucifer sinned against God when the Bible said he sought to "be like the Most High". Yet this is what the extra-biblical revelations of Mrs. White declare. Speculations? Deductions? Or extra-biblical revelations? NOWHERE IN THE ENTIRE BIBLE IS IT EXPLICITLY STATED THAT: 2. The Godhead, the "Eternal Godhead", is a “Great threefold Power”, consisting of a "heavenly trio" of "three living personalities" or "three holiest beings of heaven". Yet this is what Mrs. White's teachings indicate. Speculations? Deductions? Or extra-biblical revelations? NOWHERE IN THE BIBLE IS IT EXPLICITLY STATED THAT: 3. All three are to be "served" as "a Father", after we have accepted Christ, as seen in the following clearly expressed E.G. White statements. Speculations? Deductions? Or extra-biblical revelations? 6BC 1075— "When we have accepted Christ, and in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit have pledged ourselves to serve God, the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit—the three dignitaries and powers of heaven—pledge themselves that every facility shall be given to us if we carry out our baptismal vows to come out from among them, and be...separate." "God says, [notice after this whom she means says this] "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, . . . and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." [Now notice
carefully] This is the pledge of [not one person, but] the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit [i.e. the *pledge to receive and be a Father to you]; made to you if you will keep your baptismal vow, and touch not the unclean thing… In order to deal righteously with the world, as members of the royal family, children of the heavenly King, Christians must feel their need of a power, which comes only from the [three] heavenly agencies that have pledged themselves to work in man's behalf. After we have formed a union with the great THREEFOLD POWER [singular; collective], we shall regard our duty toward the members of God's family with a sacred awe.” -E.G. White, Signs of the Times, June 19, 1901
The expression, “sweep around your own front door”, seems rather apt at this time in response to all those in Adventism so hung-up on condemning extra-biblical expressions that may not be explicitly stated in the Bible, but are implicit there when one looks at the big picture. But suffice it to say, when modern SD Adventist anti-Trinitarians (opponents to any form of Trinitarianism) attempt to prove that the Trinity is not a Bible doctrine, they always seem to focus (most times unwittingly) on either the Roman Catholic Trinity, or on the recent (admittedly faulty) mainstream SD Adventist Trinity explanation of three self-originate, role-playing Godhead beings, rather than on the truly Biblical trinity or trio of "the three holiest beings of heaven" (as Adventism's E.G. White so succinctly puts it), and usually they do so while forgetting the simple noun definition of a trinity in the dictionary (it being defined as a trio as well). Truth be told though? These SDA anti-Trinitarians are right in a certain regard! The explained Roman Catholic Trinity after the fourth century is not found in the Bible, neither is Adventism’s more recent insistence on three role-playing self-originate beings there. But, most assuredly, the ‘Headship’ and distinct/separate being of God the Father, the distinct/separate being and the Deity of Christ (the truly begotten Son of the Father), and the distinct/separate personality/being and the Deity of the Holy Spirit (a distinct “representative” personality originating from the Father and the Son), along with the harmonious
working of a symbolic “one-body-but-three-members” filial type relationship of the “Three Persons” in the “Godhead” (as Biblically indicated in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 11, 12) are clearly taught! No wonder the Father is the "Head" of Christ, with Jesus being depicted as the "arm of the Lord" (other times His wisdom, word, power, mind, eternal life, et al), and with the Holy Spirit being deemed to be the "hand" or the "finger of God" (other times his presence, mind, power, et al); a clear symbolic union of oneness (like one human body in principle and not one literal, consubstantial, or “indivisible substance” in actuality)... which still shows why the three (despite being called “three holiest beings in heaven”) are not 'three Gods', but the one Godhead!! It is just like Christ having many members but this does not produce many true ‘Christs’ or true Churches, but one mystical “body” of Christ, with one head (i.e. one true Church).... all symbols showing the spiritual and relational oneness that is quite similar to the Godhead in family terms.
WHAT I AGREE WITH THE SDA ANTI-TRINITARIANS ON
In closing Part 3 of this series, let me hasten to say that mainstream Adventism, while clearly correct in admitting to a trinity, as SD pioneers themselves gradually accepted before 1915, yet we are indeed guilty of some of the charges of the anti-Trinitarians in our Church. It is true that many of us on the Trinitarian side in Adventism, have not only denied that Jesus was indeed begotten by the Father from all eternity (a truth Mrs. White and all the SDA pioneers upheld, just like all Trinitarians historically), but, in our poor handling of the truth that a trinity or literal trio of separate beings are indeed in the Godhead, have gone to the extreme of teaching that they are all eternally self-originate beings who are simply 'role playing' as Father and Son, and Holy Spirit. That I have unreservedly rejected several years now, and continue to agitate for its rejection as a recent teaching. Others of us (not all) have even been reverting to the traditional Trinity explanation (i.e. the three sharing one indivisible substance) because it is thought that this is what Mrs. White's teaching meant when using the expression "of one
substance" about Father and Son. These are clearly all dangerous denials of what the pioneers came to believe and accept about the Godhead. Closeness to what Catholics believe about the three persons of the Godhead does not mean we should not note the critical differences. As Adventists we have been entrusted with truths that differ from what Roman Catholics teach, no matter the closeness of certain common truths that we share.
CRUX OF THE MATTER. Let me close with a simple reminder. In 1913 a statement of some of the points of our SDA faith was published on page 21 of the October 9 edition of The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. The following is the section important for our study, revealing quite clearly how modern SDA anti-Trinitarians are debunked (and continue to be debunked) by our own historical records regarding what Adventist came to believe WHILE MRS WHITE WAS STILL ALIVE:
"For the benefit of those who may desire to know more particularly the cardinal features of the faith held by this denomination, we shall state that Seventh-day Adventists believe, -
1. In the divine Trinity. This Trinity consists of the eternal Father, a personal, spiritual being, omnipotent, omniscient, infinite in power, wisdom, and love; of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the eternal Father, through whom all things were created, and through whom the salvation of the redeemed hosts will be accomplished; the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, the one regenerating agency in the work of redemption..."