A number of burning questions are facing the Adventist Church today.
There are questions regarding equality, authority, sexuality, Science vs. Scripture, culture vs. revelation, ecclesiology vs. doctrine, and many more. I am suggesting in the following paragraphs that if we come to understand the genesis of conflict-- if we come to terms with the evolution of evil itself-- we will have an informed basis for understanding and resolving these current dilemmas.
The Bible identifies Lucifer, a gorgeous and supremely-gifted angel, as the original source of evil. Although he was the most privileged of all of God's creatures, he somehow came to covet the very prerogatives, glory and nature of God Himself. This did not lead to the prosperity of the universe, as he proposed it would, but to chaos, rebellion and expulsion from Heaven. The Lord said of him: “You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; you were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you...." (Ezek. 28:14-15).
How could one so intimately acquainted with Almighty God turn away from his very source of existence and purpose? There is no reasonable explanation for this "mystery of iniquity," but consider how this crucial disclosure continues: “… your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor." Lucifer’s obsession with self "corrupted his wisdom" in such a way that Lucifer came to believe that he himself could achieve a higher state— “…I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God...I will be like the Most High.’” (v. 17). Note how the NASB translates the last phrase: “I will make myself Like the Most High!"
We often limit the interpretation of this text to the idea that Lucifer simply wanted to assume God’s high position, but Scripture, the Spirit of Prophecy and history grant us further insights concerning the evolution of evil, and the seductive error that Lucifer used to win the allegiance of angels, and men. First, let us note how Lucifer was able to promote his own version of reality among the heavenly host (PP 37.1):
Leaving his place in the immediate presence of the Father, Lucifer went forth to diffuse the spirit of discontent among the angels. He worked with mysterious secrecy, and for a time concealed his real purpose under an appearance of reverence for God.
At first Lucifer feigned reverence for God, and acted as if he was merely continuing his appointed work of defusing God’s truth, but through the power of insinuation he incited rebellion, questioning “the establishment” and the laws of God, making it appear as if angels were themselves so morally advanced that they needed not external rules or imposed limitations:
He began to insinuate doubts concerning the laws that governed heavenly beings, intimating that though laws might be necessary for the inhabitants of the worlds, angels, being more exalted, needed no such restraint, for their own wisdom was a sufficient guide. They were not beings that could bring dishonor to God; all their thoughts were holy; it was no more possible for them than for God Himself to err.
Don’t miss it— Lucifer claimed that by their very nature they were “exalted,” that their own wisdom would be sufficient guide, that all their thoughts were “holy,” and thus could no more err than God Himself! Using a flattering chain of logic Lucifer inferred that they were not just holy because of their association with a holy God, but they were innately holy! Where did this theory come from?
"Little by little Lucifer came to indulge the desire for self-exaltation. The Scripture says, "Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness"(Eze 28:17). "Thou hast said in thine heart, ... I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. ... I will be like the Most High" (Isa 14:13,14). Though all his glory was from God, this mighty angel came to regard it as pertaining to himself (PP 35:2).
Herein lies the genesis of conflict, the development of the most ancient, pervasive heresy in all the universe! By reason of fixation on his own personal assets, Lucifer’s wisdom was “corrupted,” and he began to believe that his glory was coming from within— that he was a self-evolving being, a god in progress! And if this were the case, then no one should stand in the way of his development.
Before we examine how this demonic theory has become the basis of all false religion in our own world, there is one more significant piece of data we need to consider to understand the evolution of evil. Deluding himself in his own bid for deification, Lucifer came to regard Jesus (in His pre-incarnation identity as Michael, or the son of God) as his rival, not only in authority, but also as the chief impediment to his and his fellow angels’ inevitable exaltation:
The exaltation of the Son of God as equal with the Father was represented as an injustice to Lucifer, who, it was claimed, was also entitled to reverence and honor. If this prince of angels could but attain to his true, exalted position, great good would accrue to the entire host of heaven; for it was his object to secure freedom for all. But now even the liberty which they had hitherto enjoyed was at an end; for an absolute Ruler had been appointed them, and to His authority all must pay homage. Such were the subtle deceptions that through the wiles of Lucifer were fast obtaining in the heavenly courts (PP 37:1).
Lucifer’s campaign for exaltation was both a bid for unfettered personal development as well as competition for supremacy: because an “absolute ruler” had been appointed over them, he and his fellow angels had lost their liberties and were now restricted. If Lucifer were supported in achieving his “true, exalted position,” all the heavenly host would benefit in suit. Thus he argued for the deposing of Jesus, and urged them to press on for the liberation and exaltation of the fittest among them!
You may view what I have noted thus far as merely interesting speculation, but as we shift from heaven to earth, we will confirm Lucifer’s modus operandi, and observe how this all connects with our present predicament as a church. In Ellen White’s day, none other than Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a world-renowned physician and Adventist luminary, came to adopt a heresy known as Pantheism, the belief that God is an essence pervading all nature. Sound familiar? Note how she addresses this matter in Testimonies to the Church, volume 8, starting with page 290:
False science is one of the agencies that Satan used in the heavenly courts, and it is used by him today. The false assertions that he made to the angels, his subtle scientific theories, seduced many of them from their loyalty.
Having lost his place in heaven, Satan presented his temptations to our first parents. Adam and Eve yielded to the enemy, and by their disobedience humanity was estranged from God, and the earth was separated from heaven.
Two significant points should be noted here. First, she characterizes Satan as using “false science” and “scientific theories” to seduce the angelic host, and shake their loyalty to God. Second, “having lost his place in heaven,” he presented these same temptations to our first parents, which they also adopted, leading to disobedience and estrangement from God. We have no Biblical record of the “false science” Satan used to incite rebellion in heaven, but we do have a record of his approach on earth: “‘Has God said you shall not eat of every tree in the garden?’…Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5).
Why might White have described Satan’s approach as “scientific?” Let us remember that the scientific theory of Evolution was just breaking ground in her day— a theory that would base both our origins and destiny on a rationalistic (humanly-reasoned) interpretation of nature, rather than on revelation from nature’s God! Then as today, the serpent appealed to Eve in rationalistic terms: God’s prohibitions are unnecessary and limiting— eat the fruit and see for yourself. Assert your self-development, your independence, your equality, your freedom! Embrace your inner knowledge, and you will advance to immortality, omniscience and divinity! Eat, and let Nature take her course. Then show Adam the way…
Notice how Ellen White applies this sophistry to her day and ours:
The field into which Satan led our first parents is the same to which he is leading men today. He is flooding the world with pleasing fables…
We are living in an age of great light; but much that is called light is opening the way for the wisdom and arts of Satan…
The path of error often appears to lie close to the path of truth. It is hardly distinguishable from the path that leads to holiness and heaven…
Already there are coming in among our people spiritualistic teachings that will undermine the faith of those who give heed to them. The theory that God is an essence pervading all nature is one of Satan's most subtle devices. It misrepresents God and is a dishonor to His greatness and majesty (8T 291).
Referring to the scientific advances of her day, Sis. White noted that hers was an “age of great light,” but there were those coming up among our own ranks who were generating a strange fusion of science and spiritualism that appeared reasonable in substance, and holy in character, but was based on the ancient lies first fomented in Heaven, then Eden. She was shown in vision a meeting over which Dr. J.H. Kellogg was presiding:
In the night season I was in a large meeting. Dr. Kellogg was speaking, and he was filled with enthusiasm regarding his subject. His associate physicians and ministers of the gospel were present. The subject upon which he was speaking was life, and the relation of God to all living things. In his presentation he cloaked the matter somewhat, but in reality he was presenting scientific theories which are akin to pantheism, as of the highest value… . One by my side told me that the evil angels had taken captive the mind of the speaker… —Manuscript 64, 1904, pp. 1, 2. (“A Warning Against Deceptive Teaching,” June 23, 1907.)1190
You may question whether it is fair to connect a purely scientific approach to our origins with spiritualistic pantheism. We will make that connection clear in part 2. What we must note here is that Dr. Kellogg was actually ahead of his time in yielding to the temptation to meld the two together, and proposed his pantheistic views in a “scientific,” rationalistic manner, but in substance it was spiritualism in disguise. What would be the result of imbibing a philosophy that deifies nature?
• These theories are soul-destroying agencies. Darkness is their element, sensuality their sphere. They gratify the natural heart and give license to inclination. Separation from God is the result of accepting them.
• Followed to their logical conclusion, [they] sweep away the whole Christian economy.
• They do away with the necessity for the atonement and make man his own savior.
• These theories regarding God make His word of no effect, and those who accept them are in great danger of being led finally to look upon the whole Bible as a fiction.
• They may regard virtue as better than vice; but God being removed from His position of sovereignty, they place their dependence upon human power, which, without God, is worthless…
• Those who continue to hold these spiritualistic theories will surely spoil their Christian experience, sever their connection with God, and lose eternal life (8T 292).
In this list of anticipated deviations we can trace every one of the current issues we face as 21st century Adventist, whether they be social, moral, theological or ecclesiastical. We will come back to these points and spell out these issues. At this time we are laying the groundwork for understanding the formative sources behind the debates. There are bright, passionate, committed people on all sides of the issues. The real question we should all be asking ourselves is, are we truly basing our views on what is revealed in the Scriptures and the pages of Inspiration, or have we taken the “broad way,” based on the evolutionist-pantheistic views that have been impacting society in general for decades, and have more recently found their way into Christianity?
Satan’s policy in this final conflict with God’s people is the same that he employed in the opening of the great controversy in heaven. He professed to be seeking to promote the stability of the divine government, while secretly bending every effort to secure its overthrow (GC 591).
In part two we will let prominent thought-leaders establish the connection between evolution and pantheism, and in part 3 we will get specific about how this “omega” of apostasy has been impacting the Church.
Sam Solér currently teaches in the Religion Department at Ouachita Hills College. He has pastored for 25 years, and besides sharing Jesus with others, Sam enjoys outdoor adventure, travel, science, history and the arts. His wife Marti is registrar at the college, and they have 3 fine young adult children, Raquel, Raphael and Sophia.