In recent times among the Seventh-day Adventist brethren, there have been a fast growing anti-trinitarian movements which are proposing to the flock of God that “the Holy Spirit is a force or energy of holy influence from the Father and the Son.” What is even more scaring is that, both camps (i.e, the Trinitarians and anti-Trinitarians) base their study and argument on the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White making those who are not conversant with the scriptures and Sister White writings to feel uncomfortable and discouraged.
This present study is not an extensive one, but it is written for those who are willing to further their study and search for truth amidst the prevailing confusion in our beloved Church.
The original author of this article is Elder (Dr.) Dennis Priebe. The whole article and many more studied can be gotten from his website.
The contemporary anti-Trinity movement teaches that there is no third Person of the Godhead. They believe that the Holy Spirit is a force or energy of holy influence from the Father and the Son. One representative of this movement says, “The Bible teaches that there are only two who are worthy of worship.”
A corollary of this teaching is that Jesus is literally the Son of the Father, having a beginning in time when the Father brought Him into existence. One has stated, “The Father and Son are both divine but not absolutely equal.” They believe that only in this way could Christ die, since the Father is immortal and cannot die. In support of this teaching, they point to some Adventist pioneers who clearly taught this, from the 1840’s to the 1890’s.
As with all errors, there is a truth at the foundation of this teaching. After the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. the papal party took the title of Trinitarians. They said that the Godhead consists of three personalities and one essence or substance, using very philosophical and metaphysical terms.
Following is a sample of Catholic instruction for confirmation. “The Son proceeds from the Father by an act of the intellect and this is termed ‘Eternal Generation,’ by which we mean not only that there never was a time when the Father existed without generating the Son, but also that the act of Generation is a continuous act.” The manual teaches that there could be no separation between the Father and the Son on earth, since this would interrupt the act of generation. Thus the Son would not exist, which would mean that the Father would not exist. Since they are of one essence, neither the Father nor the Son could exist separately from the other. (Alfred Mortimer, Catholic Faith and Practice) Is there any wonder that the pioneers rejected this doctrine of the Trinity? J. N. Andrews said, “This doctrine destroys the personality of God, and His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Review and Herald, March 6, 1855)
Part A–Three Persons
If we want to defend the truth that there are three persons with the family name of God, it might be better to use the Biblical name Godhead, as Ellen White consistently did.
Matthew 28:19 tells us to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” “Name” is singular here, and all three that follow are on the same level, with one name. The definite article is used for all three beings. The Three are God and yet they are one God.
In John 14:16 Jesus promises to send “another Comforter.” The word “another” means of the same kind as Christ, with equal rank.
In 2 Corinthians 13:14, we read of “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost.” These are three gifts from three individual beings.
1 Peter 1:2 tells of “the foreknowledge of God the Father,…sanctification of the Spirit,…and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” Here we find three functions of three individual beings.
The Spirit of Prophecy has many references to the three beings. “Three great powers of heaven.” (8T 254) “There are three living persons of the heavenly trio.” (Ev 615) “The eternal heavenly dignitaries–God, and Christ, and the Holy Spirit.” (Ev 616) “The three highest powers in heaven–the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” (Ev 617)
Part B–Holy Spirit
There are indications in Scripture that the Holy Spirit possesses personality traits that only a individual Being could have.
In Ephesians 4:30 He can be grieved. In 1 Corinthians 12:11 He divides “to every man severally as he will.” In Acts 16:6,7 He forbids Paul to preach in Asia and Bithynia. In Acts 15:28 “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us” to hand down a vital decision. Notice that the Holy Spirit has a personality similar to the personality of the apostles. In Acts 5:3,4 Ananias lied “to the Holy Ghost,” which is lying “unto God.”
“The Holy Spirit, who is as much a person as God is a person, is walking through these grounds.” “The Holy Spirit is a person.” “The Holy Spirit has a personality.” (Ev 616-617)
However, we must exercise caution here. The Holy Spirit’s purpose is to reveal the Father and the Son, not Himself, so we know very little about Him from inspiration.
Brethren should not feel that it is a virtue to stand apart because they do not see all minor points in exactly the same light. If on fundamental truths they are at an agreement, they should not differ and dispute about matters of little real importance. To dwell on perplexing questions that, after all, are of no vital importance, has a direct tendency to call the mind away from truths which are vital to the saving of the soul. Brethren should be very modest in urging these side issues which often they do not themselves understand, points that they do not know to be truth and that it is not essential to their salvation to know….Where these differences exist among us, those who stand outside will say, “It will be time enough for us to believe as you do when you can agree among yourselves as to what constitutes truth. “The ungodly take advantage of the divisions and controversies among Christians…
Some are ever seeking to be original, to bring out something new and startling, and they do not realize as they should the importance of preserving the unity of the faith in the bonds of love….We are to pray for divine enlightenment, but at the same time we should be careful how we receive everything termed new light. We must beware lest, under cover of searching for new truth, Satan shall divert out minds from Christ and the special truths for this time. I have been shown that it is the device of the enemy to lead minds to dwell upon some obscure or unimportant point, something that is not fully revealed or is not essential to our salvation. This is made the absorbing theme, the “present truth,” when all their investigations and suppositions only serve to make matters more obscure than before, and to confuse the minds of some who ought to be seeking for oneness through sanctification of the truth….
[What is one of these side issues, not essential to salvation?] The nature of the Holy Spirit is a mystery not clearly revealed, and you will never be able to explain it to others because the Lord has not revealed it to you. You may gather together scriptures and put your construction upon them, but the application is not correct….It is not essential for you to know and be able to define just what the Holy Spirit is….There are many mysteries which I do not seek to understand or to explain; they are too high for me, and too high for you. On some of these points, silence is golden…
Your mind is restless, and…you would make the mistake that many others have made, of thinking that you have new light, when it is only a new phase of error….You make take certain views of Scripture and, searching the Bible in the light of your ideas, may gather together a large number of texts and claim that they mean this and that, and call for anyone to prove to you that your views are incorrect….Here is your danger, of diverting minds from the real issues for this time….Now, my brother, it is truth that we want and must have, but do not introduce error as new truth. (14MR 175-180)
I believe that this counsel applies to all the “new light” issues that we are considering in this paper.
Part C–Jesus’ Pre-existence
What is the evidence that Jesus did not have a beginning at some point in time or before time?
In John 1:1-4 we find that Jesus was not only “with God,” He “was God.” He was not a God, but He was the Creator of everything. The life-principle was in Him, and He did not receive life from anyone.
In John 8:58 Jesus claimed the name “I am” as His own. Exodus 3:14 tells us that God’s chosen name is “I am.” “The name of God, given to Moses to express the idea of the eternal presence, had been claimed as His own….He had announced Himself to be the self-existent one,…whose goings forth have been from of old, from the days of eternity.” (DA 469-470)
“All through the pages of sacred history, where the dealings of God with His chosen people are recorded, there are burning traces of the great I AM….All the communion between heaven and the fallen race has been through Christ….Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.” (GAG 43) Whatever we read about Yahweh in the Old Testament we are reading about Christ. In Isaiah 40:28 Yahweh is “the everlasting God,” “the Creator of the ends of the earth.”
“In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.” (DA 530) “Christ is the pre-existent, self-existent Son of God….He assures us that there never was a time when He was not in close fellowship with the eternal God….He is the eternal, self-existent Son.” (Ev 615) “From all eternity Christ was united with the Father.” (5BC 1115) “Christ was God essentially, and in the highest sense. He was with God from all eternity.” (RH April 5, 1906)
PP 63-64 tells us that only one equal with God could make the atonement; that only the Creator could redeem man. If Christ had received life from the Father at some point in eternity; if His life was borrowed or derived from the Father; if He was dependent on the Father for His existence; if the Father appointed Him to the Godhead, then Christ was not self-existent; He was not God in the highest sense; He is not eternal; and He could not make atonement for the fallen race and redeem mankind.
The phrase “only-begotten” is a faulty translation. Hebrews 11:17 tells us that Isaac was Abraham’s “only begotten son.” Clearly this means uniquely begotten, one-of-a-kind, unique. Acts 13:33 tells us that Christ was “begotten” from the dead.
It is of passing interest that Mary of Agreda, a visionary Catholic nun in the 1600’s, said that the Word was conceived by eternal generation from the Father. In other words, Christ was born before time existed. (The Venerable Mary of Agreda) Perhaps the belief that Christ had a beginning and was given life from the Father is really a Catholic position.
Part D–Nature and Function
Here is a suggestion for keeping this issue in balance and resolving some apparent contradictions. The nature of the Godhead is not a central theme in Scripture. Where it is discussed it reveals three equal beings, all existing from eternity, one in purpose and mind in ways impossible for created beings.
The central issue in Scripture is the function of the Godhead. This is always described in descending rank from the Father to the Son to the Spirit. This is the way the Godhead wants all created beings to approach them. The Father is the ultimate authority; the Son is the visible representative to created beings; the Spirit is the invisible presence with all created beings.
The Father even had to explain to angels the difference between Christ and Lucifer, since both had similar functions. If this could be misunderstood in heaven, it is easy to see why we have problems understanding the Godhead.
Christ always directs attention to the Father. He takes a secondary role. The Spirit always directs attention to the Father and the Son. He is almost invisible most of the time.
The members of the Godhead are equal in nature and attributes, but are unequal in function and rank as they relate to created beings.
Part E–Adventist History
The Godhead has chosen to reveal itself gradually to the human race. This was apparently not one of the crucial issues for the redemption of mankind.
In the Old Testament Yahweh was the personal name for God. The name was interchangeable for the Father and the Son. The Spirit was unknown. There were indications of plurality in the Godhead, but the emphasis was on one God–Yahweh.
In the New Testament Christ was revealed as the Word of God, the Son of God. The Holy Spirit was revealed as the Comforter, the Advocate. The emphasis was on three Beings in one Godhead, descending in rank and function from the Father to the Son to the Spirit.
Early Adventists were concerned with the sanctuary and the 2300 days, the Bible over tradition, the seventh-day Sabbath, and there was not much study or revelation about the Trinity.
The Trinity in the early 1800’s was a mixture of Bible, medieval philosophy, and early church councils. The Christian Connection, a Protestant organization, concluded that the Trinity was Catholic and unscriptural. Joseph Bates and James White were associated with the Christian Connection. Because the Trinity doctrine apparently made the Father and the Son identical, it was rejected by our pioneers.
God was apparently satisfied to leave things this way until the 1890’s, the time when the final generation was to be formed.
Ellen White was in Australia, when W.W. Prescott visited there. He developed a new style of evangelism based on righteousness by faith and the character of God (the 1888 message). He spent time working with Ellen White, and he began to question the pioneeer’s teaching on the deity of Christ and the Godhead. A.G.Daniells supported his new direction. At the same time Ellen White was putting Desire of Ages together, in which she differed sharply with the pioneers on the preexistence of Christ.
M.L. Andreasen had just become an Adventist four years earlier. He said later that some leaders doubted that Ellen White had really written “original, unborrowed, underived.” In 1902 he made a special trip to California to investigate this for himself, and he found these statements in her own handwriting. Because of her influence and the new studies on the Godhead, Adventist theology on the Godhead took a different direction from some of the pioneers.
Why did this happen so late in Adventist history? Apparently God had an order of priority for introducing truth to the new church. He introduced publishing work in the 1840’s, church organization in the 1850’s, health reform in the 1860’s, and righteousness by faith in the 1880’s. God paced the introduction of new truth to preserve the unity of the church. Knowing the character of God was a higher priority than knowing the nature of God.
Now some are advocating a return to the pioneer’s anti-Trinity position. The most dangerous aspect of this is the question raised by its chief advocate. Did Ellen White really write all that has been published under her name? Whenever we find something in her writings which contradicts our beliefs we find some acceptable reason to set her aside. This is the heart of higher criticism. It makes her writings of none effect, since our beliefs take priority over inspiration. This is the essence of the churches of Babylon. One person commented, “Ellen G. White was inspired by God in almost all her writings, but either she or someone messed with her writings.” In this case everyone is free to pick and choose whatever agrees his or her opinions.
Perhaps even conservative Adventists will have to decide between the authority of God and the authority of men.
Dennis Priebe is a Seventh-day Adventist minister, with 50 years experience as a pastor, a teacher, and seminar speaker. Eleven years were spent as a college professor at Pacific Union College, and 30 years as a seminar speaker for Amazing Facts. He has been married for 50 years to Kay, and they have one son, Matthew. Over 900 seminars have been held in churches and schools around the U.S. He has written several books and booklets, with many audio and video tapes on these topics. His one desire is to prepare people for what he believes to be the very soon return of Jesus to this world.