19. Why does the SDA Church have all these distinctive beliefs – was it random or is there some sort of overall conceptual and theological framework?

The SDA Church’s distinctive beliefs were formulated over time by a number of different individuals, who Adventists would argue were guided of the Holy Spirit.  However, although these beliefs may appear random, they do potentially fit within an overall conceptual and theological framework – often described as ‘Wholism’.
Adventism aims to remove the influence of pagan philosophy from Christianity, notably Platonic-dualism and Gnosticism.  Pagan thought (especially Greek-Hellenised but also Babylonian, Assyrian and Egyptian) has greatly influenced Christianity (and to a lesser extent Judaism through Notzrim and later Kabbalah).  The SDA Church believes it has a special role pursuant to Revelation 14 in imparting this message to the rest of Christianity, to call it out of ‘Babylon’, as outlined in fundamental #13:
“13. The Remnant and Its Mission:
The universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ, but in the last days, a time of widespread apostasy, a remnant has been called out to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. This remnant announces the arrival of the judgment hour, proclaims salvation through Christ, and heralds the approach of His second advent. This proclamation is symbolized by the three angels of Revelation 14; it coincides with the work of judgment in heaven and results in a work of repentance and reform on earth. Every believer is called to have a personal part in this worldwide witness. (Rev. 12:17; 14:6-12; 18:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:10; Jude 3, 14; 1 Peter 1:16-19; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Rev. 21:1-14.)”    
As noted by Cross, F in The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church, the theories of Plato (b428 - d347 BC) heavily affected Western Civilization, including Christianity (especially in the Latin West).   Plato claimed there was an immortal and spiritual soul, which was said to exist prior to, and as separate from, the material body.  As admitted by the Catholic Encyclopaedia:
“It is clear, however, that Plato holds the spiritual nature of the soul as against the materialistic Atomists, and that he believes the soul to have existed before its union with the body.” (emphasis added)
            See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platonism
This philosophy was contrary to historical ideas as found in the Bible, which reserved immortality for God alone (Ex 33:20, 1 Tim 6:16).  Thus, which rejected belief in a separate immortal soul outside of the physical body (Eze 8:4, Eccl. 9:5,6; Ps. 146:3,4) and only recognised an afterlife within the context of a physical resurrection (1 Kin 17:17-24, 1 Thess. 4:13-17; John 5:28, 29; Rev. 20:1-10).
As noted by famous Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel in The Prophets (1962):
“One of the major intentions of Plato’s philosophy was to show that the soul is best by a duality… The former is identified as the rational and immortal component, and the latter as the irrational and mortal (p320).
…The ideas that dominate the Hellenistic understanding of the emotional life of man must not affect our understanding of Hebrew thinking.  The Bible knows neither the dichtonomy of body and soul nor the trichotomy of body, soul, and spirit, nor the trichonomy of the soul.” (p331) (emphasis added). 
As also observed by Roman Catholic theologian John F. Haught in ‘Christianity and Science’ (2007), citing with approval the views of prominent Catholic theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:
“If the immortal human soul can break out of its material prison, the demise of the physical universe should have no bearing whatsoever on our hope for immortality.  This approach to the problem of death appeals to many religions…
…To many of its proponents metaphysical dualism – an ancient worldview that allows for the separation of mind, soul and spirit from matter – may still seem the mot efficient way to accommodate both the requirements of science and the hopes of religion.  Unfortunately, however, from the point of view of Christian faith such dualism is objectionable.  Christians believe in bodily resurrection, and bodies are inseparable from the material universe.” (p154,155) (emphasis added)
Furthermore, the related movement of Gnosticism, which greatly influenced and was influenced by Plato, effectively involved the characterisation of all matter (including the human body) as intrinsically evil, as was the Creator-God who made it:
"A collective name for a large number of greatly-varying pantheistic-idealistic sects, which flourished from some time before the Christian Era down to the fifth century, and which, while borrowing the phraseology and some of the tenets of the chief religions of the day, and especially of Christianity, held matter to be a deterioration of spirit, and the whole universe a deprivation of the Deity, and taught the ultimate end of all being to be the overcoming of the grossness of matter and the return to the Parent-Spirit, which return they held to be inaugurated and facilitated by the appearance of some God-sent Savior.”
Gnosticism taught that the true and supreme deity is in fact an impersonal, unknowable Something of spirit, quite distinct from the Creator-God of the Bible who cares for His world and the suffering of its people (Ex 2:23-25, Jhn 3:16):
“This undefined infinite Something, though it might be addressed by the title of the Good God, was not a personal Being, but, like Tad or Brahma of the Hindus, the "Great Unknown" of modern thought. The Unknown God, however, was in the beginning pure spirituality; matter as yet was not.” (emphasis added)
Furthermore, as distinct from the original Something, the Creator-God was some lesser created being or manifestation of the supreme deity (often described as an ‘Aeon’ or ‘Demiurge’ – i.e. a form of Arianism), whose creation of the material world was not ‘good’ or ‘very good’ (Gen 1) but rather a flaw, a passion or a sin:
“The transition from the immaterial to the material, from the noumenal to the sensible, is brought about by a flaw, or a passion, or a sin, in one of the Aeons.” (emphasis added)
This is in contrast to Judeo-Christian views of a world that was originally created perfect but rather became corrupted by the fall (Gen 3) – i.e. the world was not intended intrinsically evil or flawed at the moment of creation.  Thus, in contrast to Judeo-Christian hopes of a re-made but material new heaven and new earth (Is 65:17, Rev 21:1) Gnosticism aims to liberate mankind from material existence altogether:
“The ultimate end of all Gnosis is metancea, or repentance, the undoing of the sin of material existence and the return to the Pleroma.” (emphasis added)
Although Gnosticism has routinely been condemned as a heresy by most Jewish and Christian groups over the centuries, including by the Apostle Paul himself (1 Tim 4:1-5), and later by the Roman Catholic Church, it appears to have nevertheless greatly influenced ‘orthodox’ Christian doctrine.  Beliefs such as Arianism, the immortal soul, eternal torment in hell, purgatory, monasticism, aestheticism or divine impassability, all seem to be heavily influenced by this pagan philosophy.
As admitted by German Protestant theologian Jurgen Moltmann in Spirit of Life (1992):
“In the degree to which Christianity cut itself off from its Hebrew roots and acquired Hellenistic and Roman form, it lost its eschatological hope and surrendered its apocalyptic alternative to “this world” of violence and death.  It merged into late antiquity’s Gnostic religion of redemption.  From Justin onwards, most Fathers revered Plato as a “Christian before Christ” and extolled his feeling for the divine transcendence and for the values of the spiritual world.  God’s eternity now took the place of God’s future, heaven replaced the coming kingdom, the spirit that redeems the soul from the body supplanted the Spirit as “the well of life”, the immortality of the soul displaced the resurrection of the body, and the yearning for another world became a substitute for changing this one”. (p89) (emphasis added)
By contrast, Adventism confirms the unity of the body (i.e. dust of the ground) and spirit (i.e. breath of God) in one soul.  For this reason, Adventism believes in Soul Sleep (unconscious state between death and the resurrection) and Annahalationism (complete destruction of the wicked rather than eternal punishment):
Adventists also affirm that the Creator-God is not a mere created being or manifestation of the true Something, who created the world through some flaw, sin or passion. Rather, Adventists affirm the ‘orthodox’ doctrine of the Trinity, recognising that Jesus Christ is the fully co-equal Second Person of the Godhead, through Him all things were made:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (Jhn 1:1-3)
Furthermore, in contrast to Gnostics, the SDA Church believes the Creator-God and His material creation are not intrinsically evil but essentially ‘good’ or ‘very good’ (Gen 1), although subject to effects of the fall (Gen 3).  Thus, the Sabbath (i.e. first part of the SDA name) holds special importance for Adventists, because it is the only commandment that explicitly requires man to acknowledge God’s essential goodness as Creator over the material universe (Ex 20: 8-11).
Moreover, Adventists place special emphasis in the literal and visible 2nd coming of Jesus Christ (i.e. the second part of the SDA name).  In this way, Adventists have hope in a physical resurrection (1 Kin 17:17-24, 1 Thess. 4:13-17; John 5:28, 29; Rev. 20:1-10) and the re-making of a material new heaven and new earth (Is 65:17, Rev 21:1) rather than some ethereal spirit world.   
Finally, along with the physical world, the human body is seen as the image of God (Gen 1:26, 27), and is thus not some evil flesh to be destroyed or flagellated, but the very the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:20).  For this reason in direct opposition to monasticism and other religious practices, Adventists promote a balanced, holistic attitude towards healthy living.  This includes refraining from harmful food and drinks including alcohol, tobacco, drugs and ‘unclean’ meat, remembering, "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31).
Thus, far from being random, Wholism provides SDA theology with a coherent framework, which essentially attempts to de-paganise Christianity.  Wholism arguably encompasses many of the SDA Church’s beliefs, such as the Trinity, the Sabbath, emphasis on the physical 2nd coming of Christ, Soul Sleep, promotion of health, rejection of Antinomianism, many of its eschatological (end-time) systems and its remnant message.  Perhaps for the above reasons, whilst Wholsim is not one of the 28 official fundamentals of the SDA Church (as it encompasses many), it is often viewed by Adventist theologians as its most valuable contribution to Christianity.
In summary, given Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians are increasingly coming to similar conclusions about the influence of pagan philosophy on the history of Christianity, together with the need to return to more Bible-based holistic practices, the fundamental beliefs of the SDA Church could hardly be characterised as heretical or cult-like.

1 comment:

  1. Didn't know about Gnosticism and Plato - very interesting. I'm an Adventist.