Answer to Johann Sebastian
By Paul Petersen
The only Johann Sebastian I know is Bach. Nevertheless, a friend forwarded me an email written by a Johann Sebastian (hereafter shortened to JS) who in quite strong words condemned my scholarship, questioned my credibility, and critisized the series on the Trinity I recently wrote for Record. It appears that JS has sent this email to a number of people. Without knowing JS as a person, having never heard about him or read or seen his contributions, I will nevertheless spend time on a response because his mail reflects the attitude, sentiments, and type of arguments typical for a number of anti-Trinitarians these days.
Here follows first the email by JS as it applies to the Record articles, next an answer in red.
Just an update for you! As many of you may have noticed, Paul Petersen from the SPDivision has authored three articles in the Record over the last few weeks, on, you guessed it, The trinity doctrine!
Now with his qualifications, and his knowledge of the old Pioneer anti-trinitarian position, you would assume that by now he would at least not have to resort to making statements that are misleading, or even untrue. But his knowledge, or lack of it, either wilfull or willfully ignorant, has come thru in these articles, to the extent that he has lost any credibility he may have had in the church; for not only does he show a distinct lack of scholarship, but a lack of knowledge of God's true church history! If only these academic types would read the historical study of famous Adventist authors such as B.G. Wilkinson's (our first Ph.D) Truth Triumphant, they would know about such obvious things as "The Church in the Wilderness", and the fact that God's people down thru history have been persecuted for their unbelief in the trinity doctrine, they opposed the decision of the Council of Nice, which was really a political stunt by Emperor Constantine to unite the empire, and they had to go into hiding to preserve the truth. And our Adventist Pioneers and Ellen White did not see a need to accept the trinity doctrine, and Paul P would know that James White opposed the trinity up until his death! In the last of the three articles by Paul, he tries to make it appear that James White changed his position, by using his statement regarding the SDBaptists on the divinity of Christ, when all along White and others had no problem with the divinity of Christ, no one ever has! That does not mean we have to accept the trinity doctrine, and James White never did!
So, if you are reading those articles and shaking your head in disbelief at his lack of research,
hold on to your seats, there is worse scholarship just coming off the press!
A new book, entitled "The trinity, What has God Revealed", has come out by a retired school
teacher here in Australia, G. Parfitt. It is printed down here at Signs Print, and has an
amazingly poor way of arriving at truth. This will shock you! This guy ignores the plain Word of God, such as John 3:16 & John 17:3 and tries to use mathematical "weighting" of information to arrive at a doctrinal conclusion! No hermeneutics necessary! No
rules of interpretation! Serious! He has a mathematical formula whereby he gives everything a number according to his pre-concevied conclusions, making it either for or against his
beliefs! And, in this way he proves all arguments wrong from those who oppose his views.
And he takes the same road as other authors in some ways, avoids actually defining what "his" view of the trinity is, as do others, because no-one to-date can define it in logical, rational, easily understood terms, but it is clear from some of what he says that he believes in the "same substance" theory of three co-eternal beings which are all one God, called God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, God the Father, as do others like Max Hattor and the American "scholars" from Andrew Luni such as WW Whiddon and Jerry Moon.
So, look out for it, all 800+ pages of confusion! He seems to believe that a percentage ratio
of mathematical formulations will win people to beleive the trinity! So, plain old Bible study
is no longer necessary, we just need to read all the books and articles being pumped out of the Signs to know the truth! What will be next! Will they tell us we can pray to the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit is another mediator separate from Christ, or that any one of the three persons could be called by any name! This book ignores the fact that Christ is the Divine Son of God, and that the Bible uses this name for Christ for a specific purpose. We ar now to believe in something that has no Biblical basis for acceptance, and shows that certainly we are living in the time of the Omega of Apostasy.
I would encourage everyone to be praying for these people, Paul Peterson and Glen Parfitt, and others who are pushing this new theology. Since its acceptance in 1980 into Adventism, there has been more and more confusion about who God is, and who Christ is, and how the Latter Rain will be poured out. I believe that this new theology view will lead to a false latter rain, and lead the church further into apostasy, away from the truth given to us through the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy.
You may remember that some of them say that the use of the words "Father" and "Son" is just an analogy, or as old Max Hattor says, a "metaphor". This is how far these men will go to destroy the plain word of God. This ongoing attack on our foundation principles is not going to stop, but we can awaken layman to the truth, showing who Christ is, and the work and function of the Holy Spirit, and the truth about God. We can show how this new theology has sneaked into Adventism, and with it has come the new view on the nature of sin and the nature of Christ. . . .
Wake Up! Adventists - we are on the edge of eternity, and the truth will triumph! These new theology scholars, so called, will have to show their true colours sooner or later, and as they continue to promulgate error, and attack inspiration, and raise doubts in our heritage, we can continue to reach others, and help people to question the propaganda coming out of the machine!
So, Remember, it is "Christ in you, the hope of glory".
Yours in the faith,
Let me divide my response into six sections, the reference to the pioneers, especially James White, the "literal" Sonship of Christ, recent Seventh day Adventist history, some theological terms, such as "co-eternal" and "substance", the Holy Spirit as a second intercessor, and finally a note on the tone and credibility of the email by JS.
Was James White a Trinitarian?
The answer is "no." The answer by the articles in Record was a "no." It is somewhat of a mystery how JS is able to claim that I said anything else. The third article to which he refers does not state that James White became a Trinitarian. I know of no Adventist scholar who makes such a claim. On the contrary, the well documented articles and studies by Jerry Moon and Merlin Burt to which the Record series made reference, show otherwise.
What the article does emphasize, however, is the equally well established fact that the views of some of the pioneers changed, and that the issue was not settled in the period from 1850-1890, simply because it never occupied a main position in the discussion. The article summarizes aspects of the development.
Did James White change his view on the Trinity? Judge for yourself. Is his description from 1876-77 "that Adventists hold the divinity of Christ so nearly with the trinitarian, that we apprehend no trial [controversy] here an expression of the same attitude as the statement from 1846 about "the old unscriptural trinitarian creed"? The evident answer is "no, it is not."
Did he become a Trinitarian? As clearly stated above, "no." As said in the opening of the article in Record, a "large number of our pioneers" did not believe in the Trinity. Where does the article say anything different? How it is possible for JS to deduce that from the article, beats me.
Is the change of attitude of James White and a similar change by other pioneers an indication of a direction or movement of the church? Seen in retrospect, definitely so. It shows first that a clear view on the Trinity had not yet been developed, and though the pioneers for a number of reasons, several mentioned in the article, were hostile to the doctrine, it indicates the direction the Adventist Church later officially has gone.
Christ, the Son of God
JS lashes out against Trinitarians for not believing that Christ literally was the Son of God, and he rehashes common views while ignoring several points. He does not respond at all to the quite well argued presentation of the issue of "Sonship" in the Record articles. He ignores the fact that the Bible very explicitly and repeatedly calls Jesus God, and that any use of texts such as John 17:3 and 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 to argue that Jesus is not God creates a insurmountable contradiction within Scripture.
Most importantly is JS's use or rather abuse of the human language of the Bible in describing God. He attacks Max Hatton, Glynn Parfait, and Whidden, Reeve, and Moon for understanding the "Father-Son" language of the Bible about God as a "metaphor". It is to be understood literally, JS implies.
The question he does not answer is this, with whom did God the Father have sexual intercourse in order to produce the Son?
I am certain that JS would never claim that God the Father had that! Such a view of God belongs to the Greek and Roman religions, not the biblical description of God. Nevertheless, this is exactly what the claim to "literal" sonship means. I am a father. I know what it takes. I know what it "literally" means, and there is no way about it. If God is a father in the same sense as we are, there must be a mother!
So please, JS, and the many others who constantly throws this question out in the air as if it settles all issues, tell us who the mother is, or stop claiming you believe that Jesus "literally" was the Son of God. The Bible never claims it. The Bible never uses that expression. When its authors spoke about Jesus as "Son", they used the word "son" in the context of the culture of biblical times, not ours. Do not impose our concepts upon the Word of God.
SDA history: only since 1980?
JS repeats the common misunderstanding that the SDA Church only from 1980 officially declared itself Trinitarian. He should and could know better. He ignores the facts outlined in the Record articles. He ignores the semi-official statement by Wilcox, editor of Review & Herald, from 1913. He ignores the fact that the General Conference session in 1946, when the church for the first time in history voted a statement of belief, included the doctrine of the Trinity.
As indicated by the Record articles, the discussion of the Trinity lingered on long into the 20th century. The Seventh-day Adventist Church took time to study, and many people maintained their opposition to the Trinity doctrine into the 1930's, a few old folks beyond that. When voted in 1946, the vast majority had taken their decision, based on the many Bible studies published in the church magazines. Issues such as the meaning of "Father" and "Son" and related questions, such as Jesus as the "only begotten" (John 3:16) and Christ as the firstborn (Colossians 1:15) have now been closely studied and settled.
The foundation for the development was laid in the days of the pioneers. The distinctive personalites of the Father and the Son were confirmed in opposition to modalism, the eternal divinity of Jesus Christ was underlined by Ellen White, and the distinctive personality of the Holy Spirit was emphasized in response to the challenges from Kellogg and modern spiritualism. With these three beliefs you are a Trinitarian. That is actually the very definition.
"Co-eternal" and "substance" and more?
JS seems to think that the use of the term "co-eternal" represents a major shift in position, and he labels it "new theology" and links it to what he perceives to be other changes in SDA theology. He also speaks harshly about the term "substance." I cannot say that JS has convinced me he possesses any expertise in these areas, but he reiterates common claims. Both of these terms has a separate entry on this web site, but let me just briefly comment.
"Co-eternal" is not a phrased used by Ellen White, yet, she speaks about the Father and the Son as "co-equal" (Review & Herald, June 28, 1892; April 5, 1906; November 8, 1906; quoted in the Record articles, but ignored by JS).
What is implied by the phrase? The answer is fairly simply. The word shortly emphasizes that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit always have been distinct personalites, yet one God. In other words, it was not that first God was the Father, then he became, the Son, and now he is the Holy Spirit-as one heresy has it. Neither was it a God who split up into three for a while by some sort of emanation and then when sin is gone will become one person again. When we speak about the one God, Father, Son, and Spirit are always included as three, and they have always been.
Did Ellen White, for instance, believe that even though she did not use the term "co-eternal" (as stated aboved, she used "co-equal")? The answer is a clear "yes." She repeatedly, as documented in the articles, spoke about the Godhead as a "heavenly trio", not a duet or a quartet, but a trio. That is what the SDA Church today understands by the term "Trinity."
On the term "substance", JS may be excused because many other people seem confused as to the meaning of the term. Part of the reason is that the term has had a life of its own and today is used in other contexts with a meaning quite different from the one intended by the Church fathers. It is not a "fourth" god; it does not denote something with an independent existence; it is not a physical substance, or a kind of matter of which God exists. Ellen White uses the term (as quoted in the article and also ignored by JS), "Jesus said, ‘I and my Father are one.' The words of Christ were full of deep meaning as he put forth the claim that he and the Father were of one substance, possessing the same attributes." (In "The True Sheep Respond to the Voice of the Shepherd," Signs of the Times, November 27, 1893, 54.)
The article in Record further defines it this way, "The term "substance" is not to be understood as some kind of mystical emanating energy, but as the basic attributes without which God would not be God, such as being eternal and without beginning, independent of all created, and thus omnipotent, all knowing, and for ever present."
This is biblical. This is what the God of the Bible is. Where is the problem?
The Holy Spirit a second intercessor?
JS lashes out against the notion of the Holy Spirit as a second intercessor. Well, many other people through the ages have been angry at Paul for various reasons. Some don't like the gospel he teaches. In JS's case, he seems upset with Paul for his teaching about the Holy Spirit.
In Romans 8 Paul speaks about two intercessors. In 8:26-27 the Holy Spirit is described as the one who intercedes for us, helping us to pray. The word for "intercede" is the same Greek word, entugxano which is used about the heavenly intercession by Jesus in Hebrews 7:25. But in 8:34 it is used also about Jesus Christ who intercedes for us "at the right hand of God."
In other words, both the Spirit and Jesus are in the same chapter mentioned as our intercessors. Some might say that is because the Spirit and Jesus are one and the same person, but note the difference: the Spirit is interceding for us on earth-Jesus is in heaven as our High Priest. (See the biblical questions and answers on this site for more on the Holy Spirit).
So, there are two intercessors just as there are two "comforters", Jesus and the Spirit, whom Jesus calls the "other comforter" (John 14:16). And one of the meanings of the Greek parakleitos, traditionally translated "comforter" in John 14:16, is actually someone who argues our case, speaks on our behalf, an intercessor.
So, when we call the Holy Spirit another comforter, or another intercessor, we stand on the same ground as Paul, and John, and Jesus himself. It is a good position.
When it comes to the question of praying to the Spirit, JS ignores the paragraph in the Record articles which addressess that issue.
The hateful, yet ignorant voice
It strikes me again and again how hateful many anti-Trinitarians are in their propagandistic zeal. JS is certainly no exception. The harsh and hateful tone results in peculiar personal attacks which I honestly find incompatible with the Spirit of Christ.
Yet, at the same time JS also exhibits a fair amount of simply ignorance, and he seems unwilling to closely analyse what he sets out to critisize. Consequently, he reads into the articles what is not stated, or simply ignores or avoids its arguments in a wide number of issues.
His ignorance is further exemplified by the nature of his references. The claim that Parfitt simply argues from a mathematical formula is straight out untrue, and if JS has read the manuscript, he certainly does not present it fairly. The church council in 325 was actually in Niceae, it was called with political purposes, but certainly was no "political stunt". Persecutions against other confessing Christians have been common throughout history, but is certainly not peculiar for Trinitarians. Actually, followers of the Arian teachings had the upper hand in using imperial power to persecute Trinitarians during most of the 4th century, and the church fathers who influenced the expresion of the Trinitarian statements during this period, mostly believed that religion should not be forced. By the way, the book from Andrews University (not Luni?) is written by Whidden, Reeve, and Moon.
I think it is fair to expect from any Christian who harshly critisizes others for apostasy that he has spent enough time and effort at least to get acquianted with the fundamental facts and made an attempt to understand what he attacks. JS has not convinced me that he has.
It is a common myth that the clock can be turned back, and the "good old days" reppear, and to many it is as simple as this: if you only listen to what we perceive to be the good old message, all things will be well. If JS and many other anti-Trinitarians with him are representative of such good old days as they often claim to be, may God protect and deliver us from such reforms characterized by ignorance and hate instead of divine wisdom and love.