SECTION FOUR: CREDIBILITY
by Dr. Ralph Larson
Chapter X – The Credibility Crisis
1— Anonymous Authorship. Secrecy does not create confidence. Church members know that individuals have done the writing. They will look askance at the representations that it was done by the officers of the North American Division. They know very well that it was not written by “your church.” They will be unpleasantly reminded of the carefully concealed authorship of Questions On Doctrine, with its baleful results, and will have the sensation of “Here we go again.” Full openness would have been much better, along with full responsibility. As members reflect about the secrecy, some will conclude that, given the quality of the writing, it is understandable that no one wants to assume responsibility for it, but somebody should. Otherwise the onus for the multitudinous errors will rest upon all of the North American Division officers.
2— Inaccurate Accusations. If accusations of a personal and private nature need to be accurate, how much more those accusations that are spread before the entire membership of the church, and that by church leaders. But the Issues publication is riddled with inaccuracies. We have enlarged on this point in previous chapters, but will here mention the repeated charge that the “dissidents” are saying that the church is in apostasy, whereas informed church members know that they are actually saying there is apostasy in the church. Credibility is severely damaged by this sort of thing.
3— Unwise Recommendations. Unqualified recommendations are given by the Issues writers to a series of Review articles by Norman Gulley and to a Review tract by Roger Coon, in spite of the fact that church leaders have been shown that both contain very serious errors.
4— Totally False Allegations. The Issues appendix contains an article written by D. D. Devinich, president of the Canadian Union, and published in the Canadian Union Messenger. In the article, Devinich alleged that he found two evidences of dishonesty in the writings of Ralph Larson. I promptly offered Pastor Devinich two separate rewards of $1,000.00 if he would produce from my writings the evidence to support his allegations, and made this offer known to more than a hundred of the church’s leaders. Though months have passed by, neither Devinich nor the church leaders have responded. Yet the North American Division leaders published his false allegations in the Issues book. Why?
Meanwhile, Devinich’s article was reprinted in two other Union papers and with slight modifications in Ministry, along with personal recommendations from the Union presidents and the editor of Ministry. This would seem to have established an all- time low in administrative and journalistic irresponsibility in the Seventh- day Adventist Church. Need we comment as to the effect of this upon the church’s credibility?
5— Astonishing Claims. Statements are soberly set forth in the Issues tract and book that are breath- taking in their divergence from reality. On page 7 of the tract we find a claim, italicized for emphasis, that:
Seventh- day Adventists have never “formally” adopted a position on the question of just how Jesus’ nature compared with Adam’s and with ours. Neither has the church ever “formally” adopted a position on perfection and the precise nature of human obedience.
Incredibly, we find this claim immediately following a paragraph which refers to the statement of faith that was voted at the General Conference of 1980, thus making it as “formal” as anything can be in our church. In article 17 of that “formal” document we read that:
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. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.
In the “authoritative” writings of Ellen White described in this “formal” document, there are more than 4,500 statements affirming the reality of victorious Christian living through the power of Christ, and more than 400 statements that our Lord came to this earth in the human nature of fallen man.
Moreover, the book Seventh- day Adventists Believe, which is an explication of the statement of faith, contains 140 affirmations of victorious Christian living, and its position on the nature of Christ is stated like this on page 49:
He took the nature of man in its fallen state, bearing the consequences of sin, not its sinfulness. He was one with the human race, except in sin. As we look back at earlier statements of faith as presented in the appendix of Issues, we find more there than the Issues writers indicate. See the quotations in Chapter IX, “The PseudoSearch for Historic Adventism.”
We submit that these statements of faith, though brief, are clear. Ellen White, who is said to be “authoritative” in Seventh- day Adventists Believe, puts her position on the doctrine of sanctification in print 4,500 times. If we yet insist that it is not possible to be sure of her intention, the problem is most emphatically with us, not with the writer.
6— The Straw- Man Technique. This is one of the most regrettable features of the entire
Issues project. The straw man technique is used in debate like this: (a) You misrepresent the opinions or positions of your opponent; (b) You vigorously attack your misrepresentations, and (c) Unwary listeners will conclude that you have demolished your opponent’s argument, when, in fact, you have only demolished your own misrepresentations. It is a very effective technique, but is it ethical?
It is the straw- man technique that is being employed when the writers of Issues allege:
- That we are attacking the church, when we are actually attacking apostasy in the church.
- That we are saying the church is in apostasy, when we are actually saying that there is apostasy in the church.
- That we are setting ourselves up as examples when we are actually setting up Jesus as the example.
- That we are defending our personal opinions when we are actually defending our historic faith as set forth in SDAs Believe, etc.
- That we are defining “historic faith” by looking at the statements of 1861, 1872 and 1931, when we are actually defining it by our examination of the entire body of Adventist literature published before the appearance of Questions On Doctrine.
- That we are trying to establish a church within the church, when we are actually trying to bring a reform message to the entire church and provide a means of spiritual survival for the historic Adventists.
- That independent ministries should be divided into two groups. The good ones operate schools, clinics, etc., and ignore the church’s theological problems. The bad ones keep raising embarrassing questions about unauthorized changes in our church’s theology.
The list could be enlarged, but perhaps this is enough to illustrate our point. Thoughtful church members will recognize what is being attempted by the straw- man technique, and the damage to the church’s credibility will be enormous.
Seventh- day Adventists tend to be an intensely loyal people, loyal to the faith, loyal to the church, and loyal to the leaders of the church. They are extremely reluctant to believe that our leaders could make a mistake. But in view of the clear warnings in the Spirit of Prophecy that many of our leaders will go astray in the last days, church members are being forced to take a clear- eyed look at what is happening in the church today.
When they turn a clear gaze at the Issues tract and book, they are certain to suffer keen disappointment. Their confidence in the church’s leadership cannot but be severely damaged. A serious credibility crisis has been created. To avoid further loss of confidence, our leaders should publish corrections as soon as possible, and then make provision for a straightforward treatment of the real issue— unauthorized changes in our church’s theology.
It is to be devoutly hoped that church leaders will recognize the dire need to abandon the “good old boy” attitude of “Let’s close ranks and stonewall it” that has characterized their approach to the problems thus far. Devastating damage to church credibility is certain to result when church members learn that much of the material in the Issues appendix has already been shown to be grossly inaccurate and untrue, and that the church leaders have had this evidence in their hands long before Issues was printed. I refer in particular to the “Unity” article by Frank Holbrook of the BRI, the Devinich article, the “Tithe” article by Roger Coon, etc. For the leaders to set such articles as these before the people with no hint as to their serious faults is unconscionable.
But though this causes us much concern for the church, let us remember that there is no doubt how it will end.
The Majesty of Heaven has the destiny of nations, as well as the concerns of His church, in His own charge.— 5T 753.