Are Seventh Day Adventists right in distinguishing moral and ceremonial law and keeping the Sabbath?
I have a friend who is a member of Seventh Day Adventist. He mentioned the observance of Sabbath days (Saturday), and the Law according to the Old Testament. He said that when Jesus died the ceremonial law has been fulfilled while the moral law still stands. is this true? They don’t eat pork and exotic sea foods. How can I help him?
The false doctrines of the Seventh Day Adventist Church is nothing new. The same kind of teachings were around in the first and second century church–taught by groups such as the Judaizers and the Ebionites. In fact, the main purpose of the books of Galatians and Colossians is to counteract such legalistic thinking. First of all, the 7th Day Adventist group’s teaching on this subject was given, not by the Bible, but by the self-proclaimed "prophetess" Elen G. White. She was influenced by the Millerite movement in the 1830’s, but her stress on the Old Testment Law was her own idea as far as we know. Perhaps she was sincere, or perhaps not. About that I do not know, but she had very strong feelings about Christianity and health. In fact, I believe that if one were to follow some of her ideas about health it might be a good thing, but this is not inspired Christian teaching. That is for sure.
This group makes a distinction between ceremonial and moral law. The problem is that there is not the slightest hint in the Old Testament or even in the writings of the Jews that this is a real distinction. The Jews certainly did not recognize a distinct set of ceremonial vs moral laws. It is my opinion that this distinction was created by White and others to justify which Old Testament practices they wanted to drag into Christianity and which they felt they did not want to insert into Christianity.
The teaching about the Sabbath is counteracted by the teaching of Jesus, of Paul and by what we know from external documents about the practice of the primitive church. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-20 that he fulfilled all the requirements of the Law, so that we are free of the need for that Law. He also quite specifically declared all foods clean, as recorded in Mark 7:17-19. Neither Ellen G. White nor anyone else has a right to change Jesus’ words. Period. Paul explained in Colossians chapter two that when Jesus was crucified he put an end to the need to seek justification through law keeping. He continued to state specifically that no one should be judged with regard to a Sabbath. Therefore if a Seventh Day Adventist wants to observe a personal Sabbath for their own reasons, it is not sin, but to impose it as a Law is sin.
Another line of evidence that this teaching is not biblical is history. Seventh Day Adventists tend not to refer much to early church history for good reason. One can find no justification for their claims about the teaching of Jesus from these documents. There is no evidence at all that the mainstream church in the first centuries ever celebrated a Sabbath. Paul attended Synagogue on the Sabbath at times to preach Jesus, but all the evidence points to the undeniable fact that the church in the first and second century celebrated the resurrection of Jesus on Sunday. They called in the eighth day. Evidence for these services is found in Revelation chapter one where John describes what he was doing on "The Lord’s Day."
So, do not worry yourself too much about the teaching of Ellen G. White and the Seventh Day Adventists. By the way, many in this group are quite sincere and I believe we ought to be gentle and respectful as we try to correct their wrong understanding of these things.
John Oakes, PhD