The Hereditary View of Perfection
Few would want to deny that the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist church believed that the final generation would become perfected, or sinless, men. Said James White:
"The mass of people think that if a person is prepared to die, he is prepared for the coming of the Lord. But they do not consider the difference between dying and standing alive to meet the Lord at His appearing. It is one thing to die in the Lord, to yield our spirits to Him while He is pleading for us before the Father's throne, and quite a different thing to stand in the time of trouble after Jesus has ceased to plead in man's behalf, after His priest-hood is closed, and He is preparing to come to redeem His own, and take vengeance on His foes. They who realize these things will bless heaven that means have been devised in the mercy of God for the perfection of the saints."—Life Sketches of James and Ellen White, p. 431. (This book is not the present Life Sketches of Ellen G. White.)
And the generation who followed the pioneers believed in perfectionism. An excellent example is John A. Brunson's Week of Prayer reading which appeared in the General Conference Bulletin, III (Fourth Quarter, 1899), pages 78 to 81. One could hardly cite anything more officially accepted than a Week of Prayer reading. Said Brunson:
"Is more required of the candidates for translation than of others who have lived and died in Christ? I answer, Most certainly, Why?—Because those who shall be translated must reach that degree of perfection while in the flesh that will enable them to stand in the last times without a mediator. That means much,—a great deal more I fear than many of us realize."
". . . if His work as mediator began just as soon as the necessity for it arose, we conclude that it will cease only when the necessity for it ceases. But this necessity for mediation arose when man became a sinner, a being in rebellion against his Maker, an apostate. Hence it will cease only when God's children in the flesh have been restored to that complete harmony with God which was enjoyed by man before he sinned. That is to say, he who will be translated will be as perfectly conformed to the image of Christ, the purpose for which he was called (Rom. 8:28, 29), as Adam before he sinned was conformed to the image of God."
If anyone would like to read a documentation of the perfectionistic stance of early Adventists, We refer him to Robert Haddock's thesis, A History of the Doctrine of the Sanctuary in the Advent Movement, 1800-1905 (Andrews University, June 1970).
The third generation of Seventh-day Adventist teaching was well represented by the denominationally published works of M. L. Andreasen. His The Book of Hebrews, pages 467 and 468, clearly teaches the sinless perfection of the final generation. Says Andreasen:
"Will any ever attain to the perfection to which Paul said he had not attained? . . We believe so. Read the description of the 144,000 in Revelation 14:4, 5. . . (See also Andreasen's The Sanctuary Service, chapter, "The Final Generation.") R. A. Anderson seemed to be following James White, Brunson and Andreasen when he wrote his Unfolding the Revelation in 1946 (which can still be purchased in church book shops):
"The expression 'first fruits' refers to quality. Of all those redeemed from the earth, they [144,000] are first in quality. Those who come forth from the grave at the second coming of Christ will be raised in a state of perfection by the power of creation. Those who will be living to witness His coming will have grown into perfection by the grace and power of the indwelling Spirit.,, —Page 149.
One of the most authoritative denominational publications upholding perfectionism was Our Firm Foundation, which was the published report of the 1952 General Conference's Bible Conference. We shall not quote its numerous perfectionistic statements here, but we refer the reader to two presentations that were given at the conference—one by T. H. Jamison called "The Companions of the Lamb," and the other by W. H. Branson called "The Lord Our Righteousness." Elder Branson's presentation dominated the conference. His section on imparted righteousness is very explicit. He placed before the delegates the challenge of duplicating the sinless humanity of Jesus through imparted righteousness (see Our Firm Foundation, vol. 2, pp. 594, 595, 589, 600, 601, 607).
Then if one wants to refer to something really contemporary, one should read Elder Gordon Collier's God's Eternal Purpose in the Great Controversy. (Editorial update: Gordon Collier has now completely repudiated this sinless perfectionism presentation.) This presentation is, to say the very least, a very elaborate presentation of old-time Seventh-day Adventist perfectionism. Admittedly, it is not published by the denomination; but Elder Collier is a denominational minister, and as he claims in his book, he is receiving very wide leadership support for his publication.
Back in the 1950's, very few people within the Adventist movement had any real buoyant hope of being able to pass the scrutiny of the soon-coming judgment of the living. It is no exaggeration to say that most lived in real fear and dread of the judgment, having no way of knowing how to be ready except to "try harder by God's grace" and to hope that such judgment would not come too soon.
The idea of coming to the judgment in need of mercy or, more especially, that repentant yet sinful men could boldly and gladly enter in by faith in the righteousness of a substitute, was a new thought to many. More than that, it was the most sweet and joyful news that many had ever heard. Neither time nor circumstances, can efface the memory of souls weeping for sheer joy at the simple revelation that Christ is our righteousness in the judgment, that this judgment is for us, that the door is open, and that, looking to Christ, we can say, "All things are ready: come unto the marriage."
Dr. Edward Heppenstall was the first Adventist theologian to clearly and decisively deny sinless perfection before our Lord's second advent. God's people would not experience a condition of sinlessness prior to the second coming of Christ. Dr. Heppenstall was correct on this point. We at Present Truth Magazine agree with Dr. Heppenstal. We did not come to this conclusion by reading his presentations, but rather by (1) a thorough study of the issues of the Catholic-Reformation conflict and its relevance to the Advent message, and by (2) a re-study of justification by faith from the New Testament.
Before our perfectionist friends rush to the defense of their ideas with arguments may we make this appeal:
1. If you know the arguments in favor of sinless perfection prior to Christ's second coming, then try to objectively examine some evidence to the contrary.
2. It is not an easy thing to change a position that is deeply entrenched. In fact, it is generally impossible unless that position is replaced by something better. We intend to set forth the evidence for something better.
3. We grant that the pioneers (with the exception of E. G. White) were perfectionistic, and that they would have had difficulty accepting the view of becoming sinless at Christ's second coming. But remember that some of the pioneers also had difficulty accepting such fundamental truths as the three persons of the Godhead, full Deity of Christ, the complete atonement on the cross, as well as justification by faith alone in 1888. We must distinguish between pillars of the faith and human aberrations. Some of the "old-timers" thought that the message of 1888 was removing the pillars of Adventism. It is amazing to think that such good men thought that some of their cherished and hereditary errors were precious pillars of the faith. If such mistakes marked the lives of those spiritual giants, we grasshoppers should not be too slow to confess, "I am no better than my fathers."
Having said these things, We will proceed with the following review .