Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

History and Last Generation Perfection Theology

Previously the question was asked, why are some Adventists opposed to a Grace oriented Seventh-day Adventist church? The answer to that question is found in the Law oriented Last Generation Perfection theology which is presented by those Adventists. To understand we need a bit of a history lesson.


The Adventist tradition since its inception considered itself the last generation. The Millerites thought that they were the last generation and were preparing to be translated when the Great Disappointment found them still on earth. Some sold their possessions and some let their crops rot in the field because this was the end and they were the last generation. Those who went through this experience and maintained their Adventist expectations still maintained that they were the last generation. So certain of their last generation status they developed the Shut Door doctrine:

5. December, 1844--In Ellen Harmon's First Vision, She Was Shown that the Door of Mercy Was Shut for (a) Those Millerites Who Denied That God Had Led Them in the 1844 "Midnight Cry" Movement, and (b) "All the Wicked World" Which God Had Rejected. She Was Also Shown "The Living Saints, 144,000 in Number," Waiting for Christ's Return.

If you look at the timeline (see the Shut Door article at the EGW Estate) we see that for several years the leaders of the SDA church believed in the shut door. During the years 1848-49 with the idea of publishing to the world, the idea that the door of mercy had in fact, not been shut, began to be expressed. But that did not stop the idea that Adventists were living in the last generation. We can see many examples of this idea that they were living in the last generation in the writings of Ellen White as well as other Adventist pioneers.

Some of us have had time to get the truth and to advance step by step, and every step we have taken has given us strength to take the next. But now time is almost finished, and what we have been years learning, they will have to learn in a few months. They will also have much to unlearn and much to learn again. Those who would not receive the mark of the beast and his image when the decree goes forth, must have now to say, Nay, we will not regard the institution of the beast (Early Writings, p.67).

That was written in 1850 but even much later when writing about the signs in the son, moon and stars Ellen White sees her time as the last generation.

Christ has given signs of His coming. He declares that we may know when He is near, even at the doors. He says of those who see these signs, "This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." These signs have appeared. Now we know of a surety that the Lord's coming is at hand. "Heaven and earth shall pass away," He says, "but My words shall not pass away." (Desire of Ages Page 632 published 1898)

Connected to this last generation presumption certain Adventist added the idea of perfection. The most famous of this last generation perfection comes from the 1890’s Holy flesh movement. Out of the ferment caused by the 1888 Adventist Conference in Minneapolis with E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones, teachings about the impartation of the Spirit to promote a victorious life along with Ellen White’s various statements a new view took shape. In it perfection of flesh was to be found here and now. Here are a few quotes from Bert Haloviak’s paper From Righteousness to Holy Flesh

A focus upon the actual teachings of R S Donnell, president of the Indiana Conference during the holy flesh period, quickly reveals an emphasis upon a last-generation theology. In articles circulated throughout the Indiana Conference during 1900, Donnell clearly emphasized his central focus: "To those who are preparing for translation the question with which we introduce this article [i.e., 'Did Christ Come to This World in Sinful Flesh"] becomes indeed an important one. In speaking of their condition, and what they are to be when the Lord returns to the earth to gather up His people, 1 John 3:2 says: 'But we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him.'" Donnell's teaching was based upon his conception of what those awaiting translation had to become. Points central to his theology are taken from his republication of his 1900 articles in his publication "What I Taught in Indiana"…

One of the statements Donnell makes:

pp 24-5: Question: "Do you teach that conversion embraces both the mind and the body, so that the body in this life is fully cleansed and is brought back to the condition of man before the fall, or is this a work that begins now, and is completed at the resurrection of the just? [R S Donnell response]: Yes. The mind surely, and also the body, so far as its life or actions are concerned. . . . With the resurrected every imperfection will be left in the grave. Thus they will be ready for the finishing touch of immortality when Jesus comes. The 144,000 must also be ready for that finishing touch, and the perfection necessary for its reception must be attained in this life." Page 30

On page 33 of Haloviak’s paper we see this from H H Haskell to Ellen White, September 22, 1900:

[On Sabbath] I took up the history of this work, and related how we had met things of this nature before, and what the outcome of them all had been. One of their great burdens is moral purity (which you know all about), and 'holy flesh,' and 'translating faith,' and all such terms, which carry the idea that THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF 'SONS OF GOD'—THE 'ADOPTED' SONS OF GOD, AND THE 'BORN' SONS OF GOD. THE ADOPTED ARE THOSE WHO DIE, BECAUSE THEY WILL NOT HAVE THE 'TRANSLATING FAITH.' THOSE WHO ARE BORN, GET 'HOLY FLESH,' AND THERE IS NO SIN INSIDE OF THEM, AND THEY ARE THE ONES THAT WILL LIVE AND BE TRANSLATED; AND, AS THEY SAY, THESE WHO ARE 'BORN' SONS OF GOD ARE NOT 'GOING TO HEAVEN ON THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY,• MEANING THEY ARE NOT GOING TO DIE. . . . [Emphasis supplied. Focus again is not on Christology, but upon presuppositions relating to a last generation awaiting translation.]

The history then is Adventist continual belief in their being the last generation with a new twist in the 1890’s that the last generation will attain to a previously unknown level of perfection, a perfection that is likened to Christ’s earthly perfection. Through much of the early part of the 20th century this last generation perfection theology had been dormant until reinvigorated by M.L. Andreason who it has taken on almost legendary significance due to his attacks upon the publication of the book Questions on Doctrines in the late 1950’s. Earlier he present his last generation perfection theology. Andreason writes in chapter 21 of his 1947 book The Sanctuary Service

May the church of God appreciate the exalted privilege given here “You are My witnesses, said the Lord.” Isaiah 43: 10. There must be “no strange god among you: therefore you are My witnesses, said the Lord, that I am God.” Verse 12. May we be witnesses indeed, testifying what God has done for us!

All this is closely connected with the work of the Day of Atonement. On that day the people of Israel, having confessed their sins, were completely cleansed. They had already been forgiven; now sin was separated from them. They were holy and without blame. The camp of Israel was clean.

We are now living in the great antitypical day of the cleansing of the sanctuary. Every sin must be confessed and by faith be sent beforehand to judgment. As the high priest enters into the most holy, so God's people now are to stand face to face with God. They must know that every sin is confessed, that no stain of evil remains. The cleansing of the sanctuary in heaven is dependent upon the cleansing of God's people on earth. How important, then, that God's people be holy and without blame! In them every sin must

be burned out, so that they will be able to stand in the sight of a holy God and live with the devouring fire. [He then quotes Isaiah 33:13-16.] page 115

As George Knight presented recently (QOD: SYMBOL OF TENSION) Andreason’s objections to Questions on Doctrines were centered on Last Generation Perfection theology:

There was a good reason why Andreasen was especially concerned with the teaching of a

completed atonement on the cross. He had set forth that reason in several of his earlier writings. Central to Andreasen’s theology was a three-phase understanding of the atonement. The first phase related to Christ’s living a perfectly sinless life. The second phase was His death on the cross.

Those two phases in the work of atonement were important, but for Andreasen the third

phase was absolutely central. “In the third phase,” he wrote, “Christ demonstrates that man can do what He did, with the same help He had. This phase includes His session at the right hand of God, His high priestly ministry, and the final exhibition of His saints in their last struggle with

Satan, and their glorious victory. . . .“The third phase is now in progress in the sanctuary above and in the church below. Christ broke the power of sin in His lifework on earth. He destroyed sin and Satan by His death. He is now eliminating and destroying sin in His saints on earth. This is part of the cleansing of the true sanctuary.37

It is what Andreasen calls the third phase of the atonement that became the focal point of

his theology. Utilizing the widely held concept that Christ had sinful human nature just like Adam possessed after the fall (that is, a sinful nature with tendencies to sin), Andreasen formulated his understanding of “last generation” theology with Christ being an example of what could be accomplished in the lives of His followers. That theology is most clearly set forth in the chapter entitled “The Last Generation” in The Sanctuary Service (1937, 1947). That book specifically states that Satan was not defeated at the cross, but would be defeated by the last generation in their demonstration that an entire generation of people could live a sinlessly perfect life. Christ, having taken their human nature with all its problems, had proven that it could be done. They could live the same sinlessly perfect life that He did with the same help as He had had. Through the last generation God “defeats Satan and wins His case,” “in the remnant Satan will meet his defeat,” “through them God will stand vindicated.” At that point Christ can come.38 Pages 14 and 15

Today we find people like Pastor Larry Kirkpatrick continuing Andreason’s teachings with the addition that today the Last Generation Perfection Theology (often abbreviated as LGT or LGP) is a traditional Adventist belief. As is often the case when one says something is traditional it depends upon whose tradition one means. In this case traditional is Andreason’s version of Last Generation Perfection as even among LGT proponents the Holy Flesh movement is held in distain due to it focus on Pentecostal manifestations. A website which is itself entitled LastGenerationTheology contains many of their articles.

ProgressiveAdventism.com presented an interview with Larry Kirkpatrick who is one of the leaders in the LGT. Here is Kirkpatrick’s definition of LGT:

Could you describe LGT in a nutshell? Is this essentially the same concept advanced by M. L. Andreasen in mid-20th century?

Last Generation Theology teaches that Jesus Christ is not only fully our Substitute but fully our Example, affirms that Christ overcame sin in flesh like ours, insists that the gospel plan is for Christians to cease from sin before the Second Coming (indeed, before the Close of Probation), and confesses that the close of the age has been delayed by unconsecration in God’s people but can be accelerated by their living holy lives.

LGT has tremendous pulling power, because many of those who are theologically and historically astute recognize that it represents core Adventism, particularly that which obtained for the generation that coincided with and followed Andreasen. Andreasen did much to develop the implications of Adventism, and LGT was the result.

Interestingly, Herbert E. Douglass developed essentially the very same concepts but independently of Andreasen. Douglass told me that when he was writing his editorials in the Review in favor of the same ideas, people kept suggesting that he was echoing Andreasen, but he had never read Andreasen. Finally, after these repeated questions, he did sit down and read Andreasen. He did find much commonality. But Douglass had developed his concepts–just as Andreasen had—via his careful study of Scripture and reading of the Ellen G. White writings.

Likewise, I developed most of my understanding in the same way. It was mostly by following up key ideas in the Bible that I developed my view. Of course, the Ellen White elements came strongly to the fore. I recall in one of Woodrow Whidden’s books he follows the development of Mrs. White’s theology up to about the turn of the century, and claims that he goes no further because there were no serious points of development after that time. But Christ’s Object Lessons (COL) came out in 1905 and certainly represents a further ripening of her concepts in these areas. We might even say that COL represents White’s working-out of the implications of Adventist theology—and landing with LGT.

So Andreasen, Douglass, myself, and even Ellen White, seeking to draw the strands together into a developed whole, all land at LGT. This is Adventism. We might say much more, but I would only add that we have especially developed the gospel concepts. Look again; its not the grinch under the bridge it has been portrayed as!

So where does this leave Grace? Grace is left in the dust because the goal is for Adventists to become sinless and vindicate God by perfectly keeping the law. Grace oriented religion is termed New Theology (a termed coined by Andreason) by the LGT folks. Not that the LGT people reject Grace, they simply redefine it as something God will do in the future that will give people the ability to keep all of God’s laws perfectly.

There is little doubt in my mind as well as many in the leadership in the Seventh-day Adventist church that LGT is a false gospel. What is probably equally troubling is that it is not a gospel at all, it is not good news because when people look at themselves they see that they are indeed sinners and that they are far from perfect in either their actions or the actions they do not do. But that is not history that is reality and this was just a history lesson to answer a simple question.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

May I suggest you continue to read the Bible and EGWhite's writings. Start anywhere in the SOP, she continually informs us to get back to the word, to get out of the world, to look to Jesus. The more we look to Jesus the more we see our sinful self. This is painful but necessary that we grab a strong hold of Jesus and plead for his transforming power. If we simply rest because in what is call the New Thelogy concept we will never really see ourselves as we truly are and may never truly turn to Jesus and the Holy Spirit to perfect our character. It's too easy to leave it to grace. Not that grace doesn't have it work too

This world is not the friend of the converted. We need to be continually moving forward being sanctified that we reach the standard God wants in a people ready for translation. Look what God did to perfect a people in the Israelites for 40 years in the desert. God wanted a people that were truly his, mind, body and soul. That's what he wants of us.

Sitting in front of the TV or radio or unconverted friends, listening to everyone's else's ideas about this and that won't cut it. We will fall short of the mark and it will be our own doing. In saying that we need to befriend secular people with the view to share the reason for our faith and fill their needs, but we definitely don't need to remain on their island.

We need to return to a study our Bible with zeal as never before. Put the world and it's practices aside and do Lords bidding.

He doesn't want a half hearted, she'll be right mate attitude. This is serious stuff!
jra