The White Lie!

Chapter 2: Go Shut the Door

by Walter Rea

The development of the Adventist ghetto began almost at once after the Millerite movement reached its peak in 1844 and started its descent. With the help of Ellen White and her "visions," God was allowed to do some of the carpenter work on the walls. Ellen was "shown" that the door of mercy was shut for all those who had not accepted the 1844 message; so the world and most of those in it were left outside the door. Linden gives a very adequate picture of the events in his book The Last Trump.'

Exclusiveness, which starts early in any religious plan, took off at once. It's akin to the attitude "Lord, bless me and my wife, my son John and his wife, us four and no more." The shut door view was never really accepted by William Miller himself but circulated among some of the rejects. It lasted officially until after 1850, when the door was opened a little crack for the young of the faithful members to slip through, and later for the spouses of those who believed.

It is surprising what a little leaven will do to a whole lump. Even today Adventists speak of the non­members as "outsiders," "brothers­in­law or sisters­in­law of the church," or slipping once in a while, "the unsaved." In fact, in the Adventist concept, both earlier and later, just about everybody was and is unsaved. The first reason for this, the "shut door," was soon dropped because those who missed the boat of 1844 began to die off. Afterward, the unsaved, even down to our time, became all those who didn't accept Christ. All Christians knew that, but to make it a little different, and perhaps to add charm, the Adventist view came to mean anyone who worshiped on Sunday (Catholic or Protestant); anyone who smoked, chewed, drank, wenched, went to shows, or wore or ate anything that Adventists didn't-in general,

anyone who was not officially part of their show. In fact, the Adventist view probably was not much different from other views that went before; it just combined everything into one list to make it easier to find the persons the church wanted to reject and to keep that door shut a little longer.

Even those around Ellen had trouble keeping her from drawing things too tight with her visions. James, her editor husband, had to make it clear that there might be a crack in the door that Ellen did not have control of. In 1851 he felt impelled to publish in the Review and Herald a lengthy editorial (with reference to "those who have had any of the gifts of the Spirit") that included these words:

Those on whom Heaven bestows the greatest blessings are in most danger of being "exalted," and of falling, therefore, they need to be exhorted to be humble, and watched over carefully. But how often have such been looked upon as almost infallible, and they themselves have been apt to drink in the extremely dangerous idea that all their impressions were the direct promptings of the Spirit of the Lord [italics added] 2

The same editorial was reprinted in full in the editorial pages in 1853. Then in an 1855 editorial, James White referred to those previously published statements to the same effect and added: "No writer of the Review has ever referred to them [the visions] as authority on any point. The Review for five years has not published one of them." 3 With this statement, the battle was joined. James was to lose out.

It takes a dexterous mind to work its way through two problems at the same time. Often such a mind comes up with worthless answers, but it's lots of fun. In theology it's downright enjoyable. To learn to say nothing well is the first rule. The second rule is to say it in such a way that no one can question your philosophical conclusions (if you arrive at any). It's like learning a little bit about everything, so that soon you know everything about nothing. In most libraries, the religion department is under the subject heading of philosophy-and that is what it is, the defining and redefining of terms and ideas that have defied defining for centuries.

Ellen and her helpers were masters at reworking past ideas. After the great disappointment of October 22, 1844, and the futile setting of a few more times and dates, and after consigning most of the world to hell for' not believing what the Millerites/Adventists themselves were wrong about and didn't understand, the group still had that problem of the shut door of mercy. As "time continued a little longer," in the words of Ellen, the problem became more pressing. If they opened the door theologically, they would be admitting they had been wrong. If they kept it shut, and the good Lord didn't come to get t hem out of the dilemma, they would all die off and it wouldn't make any difference whether the door was open or shut.

With the skill of a surgeon, Ellen and her group cut their way through without opening the door at all, but at the same time acting as if they were really doing so. This balancing act was done by accepting what turned into the "main pillar" of the Advent faith, the theory of the sanctuary. This theory, which became the major doctrine of the church, was first emphasized by O. R. L. Crosier, who afterward repudiated it 4 What the theory does is open the door here on earth but then close it in the courts above. In the words of that once popular song, "Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try." The Adventists did try harder than most. (In fact they are still trying, and that is what has caused the big ado about the separate though related concerns expressed by Paxton, Brinsmead, and Ford).5

To make the very long story short, here is what took place after the disappointment when Christ did not come in 1844. Walking through the cornfield with his thoughts one day, a former Millerite said it came to his mind that the date the Millerites had accepted was correct but the event was hazy. It was not this earth that was cut off from mercy and about to receive justice, but the other way around. It was in heaven that justice was being decided (and mercy was still available here on earth). This process required a lot of heavenly bookkeeping, looking through the records, further recording of deeds done and not done, and compiling of vast amounts of figures that would take some time to total -thus the idea of probation. In addition, there was even room for the things we didn't do or think of. Ellen was supposed to have written that "we shall individually be held responsible for doing one jot less than we have ability to do.... We shall be judged according to what we ought to have done, but did not accomplish because we did not use our powers to glorify God.... For all the knowledge and ability that we might have gained and did not, there will be an eternal loss."6

It was like a call to the colors. No matter that some have suggested that the poor man in the cornfield might have seen a scarecrow instead of a vision. No coach could have inspired his team with a better speech. With a "let's win one for the gipper," the players ran onto the field- and have been running ever since, having devised one of the most elaborate systems of salvation by works that the world has ever seen since the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Having accepted that justice was being settled in heaven since 1844, the Adventists never did relish the idea of mercy and grace being too available on earth. In the 1970s and 1980s when the Australians (Paxton, Brinsmead, and Ford) spoke their minds, the cheap shot at them was that they were peddling "cheap grace." This just goes to show that those who grumbled had not accepted the Gospel view that grace is even cheaper than that-it's free.

When these men went public, the system banned them like the bomb. When they went to tapes to advance their views, the leaders said that whoever listened had "tape worms." Thereupon the leaders closed their meeting by announcing that their own talks were on tapes and were available for a small fee at the door. (It is well known that churches sell more tapes than most, but it's the competition that hurts. Somebody is always trying to muscle in on that heavenly franchise.)

In the late 1970s and 1980s, Desmond Ford, a most gifted speaker, was knocking so hard at that door of mercy that his voice was beginning to be heard around the world. There is nothing administrators like less than challenges and loud noises. Above all, they don't like to be told about theology, a subject that is as foreign to them as the Greek some of they barely passed and have never used. But that door that Ellen and her helpers had shut in 1844 had to be kept shut. So, like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, they all boarded their modern horses and headed for the Sanctuary Review Committee meeting at Glacier View Ranch in Colorado August 10, 1980.

The security there would have made the CIA proud and the presidential convention would look like a Boy Scout gathering. It was a truly international group of about 115, the majority fitting the "executive" category and thus beholden to the church in one way or another. Some of the administrators, who (to say it kindly) were not theologically oriented, tried to lean on that dosed door-and even suggested some form of oath of loyalty to founder Ellen and her concepts. If the meeting proved anything at all it was that shooting a man from a distance these days would be a whole lot cheaper than hanging him in public. It proved also that justice (as defined by the leaders), not mercy, was still the theme of the church. In the end, after a lot of finger­play and charades, Ford was sacked?

The outcome had never really been in doubt. So it was no surprise when the "good old" Review trumpeted: "Overview of a historic meeting: the Sanctuary Review Committee, characterized by unity and controlled by the Holy Spirit, finds strong support for the church's historic position." 8 Those hinges on that closed door had gotten mighty rusty since 1844 and Ellen's foray into theology. Although friends and foes alike had been trying desperately for decades to open up the door a little, the elders were smart enough to see what perhaps others (such as theologians) did not see: that is, if that shut door is ever opened, the Adventist heaven and ghetto is desecrated by being made available to all, regardless of race, creed, or color, and the Adventist church and system will have lost forever its heavenly franchise.

Events had to be shaped that way, for part of the Adventist theology is that the redeemed (meaning them, the faithful Adventists, of course) will some day, during the golden age of the millennium, sit on those pearly white thrones in the Far Beyond and help to judge the wicked. There all the juicy morsels of others' acts and sins will be finally revealed to them. That thought alone has helped many faithful go on to the end. To think of knowing all about everybody who didn't make it, and why. And when it's all finished, they will give God a vote of confidence and thanks that things have turned out the way they felt they should from the beginning. 9

Another very important reason in the Adventist mind for keeping that door closed either here or in heaven is evangelism. How could they ever cope with the idea that others with dissimilar habits, customs, and mores a.­e just as saved as they are? What would it do to the idea Adventists have that all the other churches of the world are the whores and harlots that the book of Revelation speaks of? This idea had come direct from the prophet. She had seen torture chambers in the basements of Catholic churches, where all men that finally worshiped on Sunday were to have a "mark of the beast," and where Adventists, as the Waldenses and Hussites of old, were to be hunted like dogs in the mountain fastnesses, to be dispossessed and finally killed by the sword.'

Fear has no peer as a substitute for motivation to action. With fear the lame can scale the highest wall, the blind can see enough to get out of the way, and the mute can have instant fluency. Love, the motivation encouraged by the Scriptures, had its best (and some think last) demonstration on the Cross-and that was a long time ago. Besides, love has to be learned. Fear, with its twin sister Guilt, always lurks in the shadows of the mind and is readily available if someone touches the right button. And theologians, divines, and spiritual administrators are experts at touching the right buttons.

To the 1844 leftovers, the idea was not new that justice had to be purchased by the penitent and mercy was free. But the idea was given emphasis by the pen of Ellen White, in whose mind shadows darker than most lay close to the surface. In her Testimonies for the Church she tells of her early experience.

It cannot be disregarded that at nine years of age she was struck with a stone, and the blow was so severe that her later impression was that she nearly died. She was disfigured for life. She said she lay "in a stupor,' for three weeks. When she began to recover and saw how disfigured she was, she wanted to die. She became melancholy and avoided company. She said, "My nervous system was prostrated."10 She was terribly frightened and lonely, and often she was terrified by the thought that she might be "eternally lost." She thought that "the fate of a Condemned sinner"11 would be hers, and she feared that she would lose her reason.

So here is a teenager who from the age of thirteen to seventeen was feeble, sickly, unschooled, impressionable, and abnormally religious and excitable at the time she first attended William Miller's 1840 lectures predicting the end of the world in 1843­44. During this time she herself felt that she was shut out from heaven. Indeed, because of her experience in life, she was shut out, and thus out, from those around her. With time, her attitudes were modified and she came to feel somewhat more accepted. But her writings, even throughout the books she published in the 1870s and 1880s, show clearly a person who looked with great apprehensiveness on much that was the real life around her. She lived in a frightening world and longed for the time when all she was afraid of would finally end.'12

This isolation she was able to provide for herself. Her shut door, though, is still closed in the minds of Adventists today. With each new world or local crisis, each new custom that is unacceptable, and all changing mores, the Adventist shuts his door a little tighter, sleeps with his bags packed, and longs for that final act of justice that will give him and his Clan, only, the assurance of mercy they so much need.'13

William S. Sadler-widely known Chicago physician and surgeon of his time, writer, personal friend of Ellen White, son­in­law of John Harvey Kellogg-wrote:

Every now and then some one arises who attempts to make other people believe in the things which they see or hear in their own minds. Self-styled "prophets" arise to convince us of the reality of their visions. Odd geniuses appear who tell us of the voices they hear, and if they seem fairly sane and socially conventional in every way, they are sometimes able to build up vast followings, to create cults and establish churches; whereas, if they are too bold in their imaginings, if they see a little too far or hear a little too much, they are promptly seized and quickly lodged safe within the confines of an Insane asylum. 14

This psychic haven is a safe region, not subject to challenge by logic, argument, evidence, or reality. And in spite of being denied all these nutrients of rational behavior and persuasion, men will still believe in the unbelievable. The ideas of the shut door, the investigative judgment, the denial of the biblical doctrine of divine grace and mercy freely available to all since the Cross were all taken by the Adventists and made conditional-on the basis of concepts rejected by most (even the originators) but endorsed and promoted by Ellen White.

And this brings us now to the last door that was closed in 1844 by Ellen and the leftover Millerites-the Gospel, the Good News of salvation. The Adventist sins are never really forgiven. They are carried on the books of heaven until payday, the Judgment-Day. No system that thrives and perpetuates itself on such a scandal can bring happiness to the human mind or experience.

The constant reviews by the church system, the daily inspections demanded by the mind, and the judgmental investigations of life, the comparisons with the lives of others to see if one measures up-these sap the strength and courage. By the time the "true believer" has done his daily spiritual calisthenics and checked over his list of do's and don'ts he is depleted. His concept of life is that God flays him over every hill, down every dale, through every forest, until, exhausted, he drops dead. In each case, if his dues are paid up, the Lord bends over and says, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."' 15

In such a system, the patron saint becomes the substitute for the Saviour. Heaven and the here­and­now are viewed through the eyes of that nineteenth­century saint. Works become the way to win or keep the concessions granted by the privileged, and life becomes a "holy" competition with other believers. No man likes to compete in an area in which he doesn't excel; so each one stakes out a claim that he can work best. It might be diet with one, clothing with another, monasticism for the extreme. Whatever the task, life becomes a vast effort to outdo the competition by climbing that greased pole first. If one can only "endure to the end" and outlast or outsmart the competition, justice says that his place is assured in the hereafter, even if it was hell living in the here and now.

Thus it has always been and always will be when the Ellens of the earth convince followers that by heavenly bookkeeping God will save or even satisfy the human soul or desire for justice. Whenever theologians or believers try playing semantical games with doctrines, they always end up losing the Saviour and the Gospel here and make a mystic mess of the hereafter. How little did young Ellen and her small band of true believers realize when they shut the door in 1844, that in trying to save face because of the disappointment experienced they were really taking away the Lord from tens of thousands and closing a door of love and mercy forever for many others. Such has been the experience of all who have tried to become, under whatever title, the keeper of the keys of salvation-that Gospel of Good News.

References and Notes

1. Ingemar Linden, The Last Trump, (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1978) pp. 80­ 07.

2. James White, "The Gifts of the Gospel Church," Second Advent Review nn./ Heral./11 (21 April lX5l\­ 7)

3. James White, "The Gifts of the Gospel Church," Review 4 (9June 1853): 13; J. W., "A Test," Review 7 (16 October 1855): 61.

4. L. Richard Conradi, The Founders of the Seventh­day Adventist Denomination (Plainview, NJ: The Amencan Sabbath Tract Society, 1939).

5. Robert D. Brinsmead, Judged by the Gospel. Desmond Ford, Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment. Geoffrey J. Paxton, The Shaking of Adventism.

6. Ellen G. White, Christ's Object Lessons (Mountain View: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1900), p. 363.

7. Review 157 (May,June,July 1980).

8. Review 157 (4 September 1980).

9. EGW, The Creat Controversy between Chnst and Satan (Mountain View: PPPA, 1888, 1911). See chapter 28, "Facing Life's Record (The Investigative Judgment)," and chapter 41, "Desolation of the Earth." Recent studies show that a large part of these chapters came from the writings of Uriah Smith.

10. EGW, Early Writings (Washington: Review and Herald Publishing Assn. assn., 1882), pp. 277­85. See also EGW's Country Living (Washington: RHPA)

11. EGW, Testimonies for the Church, 9 vols. (Mountain View: PPPA, 1885, 1909), vol. 1, pp. 9­16, 25.

12. EGW, Christian Experience and Teachings(Mountain View: PPPA, 1922).

13.dionathan M. Butler, "The World of E. G. White and the End of the World ,"Spectrum 10, no. 2 (August 1979): 2­13.

14. William S. Sadler, The Truth about Spiritualism(Chicago: A. C. McClurg)

15. Matthew 25:21.

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