Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Defining and Redefining Present Truth


Definition
Present Truth is a frequent term used in the Adventist community. It’s most popular definition is that Present Truth is progressive truth. That is that truth in particular for a particular time or situation. What many Adventists probably don’t know is that the term is used outside of Adventism as well. In fact Charles Spurgeon published a selection of his sermons under the title Present Truth. The Website Heaven Dwellers gives a reasonable definition of Present Truth by saying:
“In each of God's ages and dispensations there has been truth generated from God that was peculiar and particular to that age or dispensation to which it pertained. By that we mean that in each age God made known a truth which related directly to the calling that then stood before God. It has ever been the responsibility of God's people in each age and dispensation to distinguish Present Truth…”
 Adventist Church historian George R. Knight says in A search for identity: the development of Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs:
“…To adequately understand Adventism’s doctrinal development we need to examine three concepts espoused by the earliest Seventh-day Adventists thought leaders: (1) Their dynamic conception of “present truth,” (2) their attitude toward creedal statements of Christian belief, and (3) their view of the pathway to progressive understanding.” (page 18)
Is it Present Truth because we say so?
I would submit that Present Truth is in reality a euphemism for Adventist beliefs. If we (or the Adventists pioneers) believe it, it was or is called present truth. The idea that it is a progressive revelation of truth is not really that compatible with how the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist church used the term. It would be nice if it meant progressive revelation of truth but the usage in history only tangentially touches that idea.

George Knight notes that the term was not unique to the Seventh-day Adventists, that the Millerites earlier employed it in reference to the soon return of Jesus, then to the idea that the second advent would occur on Oct. 22 of 1844. To this Knight finds that the Millerites “find a progressive dynamic in understanding” Knight references the quote from James White’s book Life Incidents page 298-291 where James White says:
"The storm is coming.  War, famine and pestilence are already in the field of slaughter.  Now is the time, the only time to seek a shelter in the truth of the living God.  In Peter's time there was present truth, or truth applicable to that present time.  The church have ever had a present truth.  The present truth now, is that which shows present duty, and the right position for us who are about to witness the time of trouble such as never was.  Present truth must be oft repeated, even to those who are established in it.  This was needful in the apostles' day, and it certainly is no less important for us, who are living just before the close of time.

            "For months I have felt burdened with the duty of writing and publishing the present truth for the scattered flock; but the way has not been opened for me to commence the work until now.  I tremble at the word of the Lord, and the importance of this time.  What is done to spread the truth must be done quickly.  The four angels are holding the angry nations in check but a few days, until the saints are sealed; then the nations will rush, like the rushing of many waters.  Then it will be too late to spread before precious souls the present, saving, living truths of the Holy Bible.  My spirit is drawn out after the scattered remnant.  May God help them to receive the truth, and be established in it."
Knight also references this quote from Ellen White:
“Special truths have been adapted to the conditions of the generations as they have existed. The present truth, which is a test to the people of this generation, was not a test to the people of generations far back. If the light which now shines upon us in regard to the Sabbath of the fourth commandment had been given to the generations in the past, God would have held them accountable for that light.
When the temple of God was opened in heaven, John saw in holy vision a class of people whose attention was arrested and who were looking with reverential awe at the ark, which contained the law of God. The special test upon the fourth commandment did not come until after the temple of God was opened in heaven.”  (Testimonies to the Church Vol. 2 Page 693)
An overused term
Once you read Ellen White, who uses the term over a thousand times you begin to realize that it is not so much a term of dynamic progressive understanding but a shorthand code-word for Adventist doctrine. What the Adventists were teaching was Present Truth. The special understanding that the Adventist had given to the Sabbath was Present Truth. When the Seventh day Baptists taught it a hundred years prior it was not Present Truth.  Note in the above quote Ellen White says that in regard to the Sabbath if generations in the past had known they would be held accountable. But Ellen White elsewhere says that there was almost a continual line of Sabbath Keepers throughout history. (Which is something that the Seventh Day Baptists also said. *See the end of this article an for article excerpt on the Seventh Day Baptists.) But to Ellen White the Sabbath took on special significance because Seventh-day Adventists had determined that they lived in the time after 1844 when the temple of God was opened in heaven.

In Volume 1 of the Testimonies we find good confirmation that the Present Truth is shorthand for Adventist doctrines when it is used with another Adventist shorthand code word, “Thrid angel’s message”:
“Those ministers who have come out from the different denominations to embrace the third angel's message often wish to teach when they should be learners. Some have a great share of their former teaching to unlearn before they can fully learn the principles of present truth. Ministers will injure the cause of God by going forth to labor for others when there is as great a work to be done for them to fit them for their labors as they may wish to do for unbelievers. If they are unqualified for the work, it will require the labor of two or three faithful ministers to follow after and correct their wrong influence. In the end it would be cheaper for the cause of God to give such ministers a good support to remain at home and do no injury in the field.” (Testimonies Vol 1 page 444)
It appears that those ministers from other denominations did not possess the knowledge of the complete doctrines of the Adventists and they had to learn those doctrines otherwise they were going to cause injury. The funny thing about the term Present Truth is that in effect it is quite meaningless. It has no practical definition aside from the claims made by whomever feels they have Present Truth. In the historical context we see that it is the Adventist understanding of the Seventh-day Sabbath, 1844 and the opening of the temple in heaven and the Third angel’s message. We might be able to find a few other distinctive Adventists ideas connected such as health reform, but there is really nothing concrete that is presented as being Present Truth by Ellen White. If the Adventist church actually had something concrete to call Present Truth it would certainly have made the writing of the fundamental doctrines much easier.
As George Knight says:
“Most of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism would not be able to join the church today if they had to agree to the denomination’s “27 fundamental Beliefs”. (page 17)
He goes on to say they would disagree with the Trinity as an unscriptural doctrine, that they would have trouble with the idea that Jesus is both eternal and truly God. They would not only deny the Trinity and eternity of the Son but also deny that the Holy Spirit was a person like the Father and Son. Present Truth for them was simply what they believed as Adventists. It was not Present Truth because it was really true it was Present Truth because they were the remnant, they were the true followers of God and their distinctive beliefs were believed to be true. Here is where they tangentially touch upon progressive revelation of truth. Because they thought they were gifted with the prophetic guidance of Ellen White as the miss appropriated term “Spirit of Prophecy” they had a new revelation of truth that others did not have. In that sense their ideas endorsed by Ellen White could possibly be seen as progressive revelations, but only by those who accepted the prophet role of Ellen White.

Redefining Present Truth
Progressive Adventism has taken the term Present Truth and attempted to separate it from it’s historical use as Traditional distinctive Adventist doctrines into a concept that we should seek to learn how and when it is necessary to reinterpret our doctrines and ideas. It then sounds to the traditional Adventists who hear Present Truth as Adventists distinctives that the Progressive Adventists are talking the same language. The problem of course besides meaning different things is that we get the idea that our incorrect doctrines were at one time referred to as Present Truth. It is difficult to progress past something that we have declared to be the truth especially if it was called Present Truth, a truth of necessity because we were living so near the end of the world. Consider what Joseph Bates said in his pamplet An Explanation of the Typical and Anti-Typical Sanctuary, By the Scriptures. With A Chart Revelation III:
“Why this third angel's loud cry about the commandments of God, because the fourth one, which had been trodden down for many generations, is to be restored and kept as the commandment requires.  The second angel's message and voice from heaven required God's people to leave the churches.  The seventh-day Sabbath could not, nor can not now be restored there.  It is to be done in the Philadelphia state of the church, and no where else.  This is the present truth in the commandments in the Ark of his Testimony.  The present truth in this is: That the master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and now stands beside the Ark containing the commandments.  The "Present Truth," then, of this third angel's message is, T H E  S A B B A T H  A N D  S H U T  D O O R. See the picture on the Chart.”
Not too many Adventists still believe in the Shut Door theory even if at one time it was thought to be Present Truth. But then again most think that Present Truth is their accepted Adventist distinctive beliefs and not someone else’s distinctive belief even if it is that of an Adventist church founder. The danger here is found in the idea that we have to align Present Truth with past Present Truth. Here is what the article dealing with Progressive revelation says:
“New light will not manifest itself in a form that is altogether different from the light the church already possesses. It will take the form of a further advancement of present truth. It is a fuller, clearer, and brighter unfolding of the old truth. There will be harmony with the theological landmarks, the Spirit of Prophecy, and historicist principles of Bible interpretation. Thus it will not replace, substitute, radically change, or tear down the foundations of Adventist faith and practice.” (Seventh-day Adventist Doctrines and Progressive Revelation © P. Gerard Damsteegt Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 2/1 (1991): 77-92)
Time to abandon the term
Thus the theologian has closed the circle of Present Truth. It is always what we believe and it will always be what we believe. Present Truth is an illusion, a piece of propaganda to make the uncertain feel certain. It is a term I will no longer use and I hope that the Adventist church will also abandon the deception of Present Truth for a more reasoned truth that is subject to changing interpretations and even dare I say it…acknowledging that some things we thought were true were not.  Because that is really the only way progressive revelation will work for anyone.

* I found this interesting so I thought I would append it here as referenced above.:
 “Thus far we have endeavored to show, and think we have done so, that Christianity was planted in the islands of Great Britain in the apostolic age; that it was Sabbath-keeping in character; that for some six centuries, at least, the Sabbath prevailed in these islands, and that, on down to the Reformation, Sabbath advocates and adherents abounded in unbroken and persistent succession.
We now come to the subject of organized Seventh-Day Baptist Churches.
A.D. 1558.
Chambers' Cyclopedia states that "many conscientious and independent thinkers in the reign of Elizabeth (1558-1603)advocated the seventh-day."
A.D. 1552.
The Sabbath Recorder of June 11, 1868, says:- "In 1552 many in England were known as Sabbatarians.
A.D. 1545.
Dr. Samuel Kohn, chief Rabbi of Budapest, Hungary, in a recent work ( Sabbatarians in Transylvania, 1894, pp. 8,9) says:- In Bohemia Sabbatarians sprung up as early as 1530. Such Sabbatarians, or similar sects, we meet about 1545 among the Quakers in England. Several leaders and preachers of the Puritans have re-transferred the rest day from Sunday to Saturday; and the Christian Jews who arose in England and in 1661 partly emigrated to Germany, and settled near Heidelberg, believed, indeed, in Jesus, but they also celebrated the Sabbath and regarded the Jewish laws in reference to meats and drinks."

5 comments:

Stormyone said...

Good info, thanks for sharing it. I too will stop using the phrase because it is deceptive....

Ndyebo Kemele said...

To reject the idea of the present truth , is to reject the Spirit of Prophecy message. In her writings over and over again the Lord's Messenger refers to how the church has been given the present truth, the truth that must be proclaimed before the close of probation. I have extracted just two of these quotes from over 2000 references to the present truth. If this phrase is deceptive what would that imply about Ellen White. Let us please not mislead God's people.


What we need ... is to settle in to the living principles of present truth. Satan is creeping in with his sophistry to undermine the principles of our faith. RC 218.4

There are but few, even of those who claim to believe it, that comprehend the third angel’s message, and yet this is the message for this time. It is present truth. But how few take up this message in its true bearing, and present it to the people in its power! With many it has but little force.” 1888 165.4

Ndyebo Kemele said...

The SDA present truth is not the same as other denomination. Our present truth is linked to the Third Angel's Message and deals with such subjects as the 2300 day prophecy of Daniel, the Sanctuary, the Investigative Judgement, the Sabbath etc.

Ndyebo Kemele said...

The SDA present truth is not the same as other denomination. Our present truth is linked to the Third Angel's Message and deals with such subjects as the 2300 day prophecy of Daniel, the Sanctuary, the Investigative Judgement, the Sabbath etc.

Ndyebo Kemele said...

To reject the idea of the present truth , is to reject the Spirit of Prophecy message. In her writings over and over again the Lord's Messenger refers to how the church has been given the present truth, the truth that must be proclaimed before the close of probation. I have extracted just two of these quotes from over 2000 references to the present truth. If this phrase is deceptive what would that imply about Ellen White. Let us please not mislead God's people.


What we need ... is to settle in to the living principles of present truth. Satan is creeping in with his sophistry to undermine the principles of our faith. RC 218.4

There are but few, even of those who claim to believe it, that comprehend the third angel’s message, and yet this is the message for this time. It is present truth. But how few take up this message in its true bearing, and present it to the people in its power! With many it has but little force.” 1888 165.4