SDARM, Isolation & Separation

SDARM Isolation: Purified Elite or Exclusive Cult? 

The Reformists of the SDARM generally BELIEVE and TEACH:
- An aversion of social relations with non-Reformists.
- Teach (if only implicitly) that salvation is in the SDARM alone.
- Practice closed communion for the Lord’s Supper.
- Overuse disfellowshipment (i.e. excommunication) as a tool for dealing with sinners.
- Impose a type of creedalism rather than allow liberty of conscience.
- Use Papal-like and cult-like controls over their members.
The Reformists are WRONG because:
- Jesus regularly ate, drunk and partied with some of the worst sinners, as recorded in Mar 2:15-17.
- Avoiding being unequally yoked as Paul commanded in 2 Cor 6:14-17 does not mean to become avoid all personal contact with non-believers.  It means avoiding relationships with non-believers of unequal power over you.
- Ellen White advised that to avoid the world does not mean being a recluse.  Enoch did not become polluted by mixing with sinners.  Sister White tells us, ‘The society of unbelievers will do us no harm if we mingle with them for the purpose of connecting them with God and are strong enough spiritually to withstand their influence.’
- Jesus made clear in Mar 9:50 that regardless of what official group to which one belongs, whoever is not against Him is for Him.  Thus, salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone – not membership in any particular Church or organisation.
- There is no biblical basis for closed communion and simplistic parallels to the Jewish ritual of Passover are not sufficient, as Christians are not bound to observe OT Jewish feasts.  Moreover, Paul makes clear in 1 Cor 11 that participating in communion is a deeply personal choice – not a decision for Reformist popes and prelates to judge. 
- Ellen White herself approved of a visiting non-Adventist Minister participating in the Lord’s Supper service.  She commented, ‘There may come in among you those who are not in heart united with truth and holiness but who may wish to take part in these services. Forbid them not.’
- The Reformists use disfellowshipment (excommunication) as a blunt instrument of discipline, much like the Roman Catholic Papacy has throughout its history.  This seems to come more from the authoritarian German origins of the SDARM than the Bible or SOP. Their attitudes have much in common with the ancient heretical sect the Donatists.
- SDARM attitudes, which impose a de facto creed of their members, are contrary to the strong stance of the original SDA pioneers towards religious liberty and anti-creedalism.

The official SDARM position on separation from the world
The official SDA Reform statement of belief, Health and Dress Reform, under the heading “Associations”, claims:
‘God has made His people a light in this world. As such, they are to enter into social relations with the people around them with the purpose of bringing the gospel message to them. Matthew 5:13-16; John 17:15. But God has also made a definite distinction between His people and the world. If we want to be identified with Christ, we will shun the society of worldlings, which would be detrimental to our Christian experience. We cannot place ourselves where Christ cannot go with us. Ezekiel 44:23; Amos 3:3; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17.’
Many Christians would agree with much of the above statement.  Most Christians do adhere to the general maxim derived from Rom 12:2, ‘be in the world but not of the world.’ However, with many things involving the SDARM, the issue goes beyond their public statements and into how they practice Christianity on a day-to-day level.  Like poison, there may only be a drop of harmful chemical in a large body of pure water – but that harmful drop is deadly.
As will be explored in this article, the SDARM promotes extreme views and practices tending towards isolation and separation from the world.  These SDARM views include:
·       aversion of social relations with non-Reformists;
·       teaching salvation is in the SDARM alone;
·       the practice of closed communion;
·       the overuse of disfellowshipment as the tool for dealing with sinners;
·       the imposition of creedalism rather than liberty of conscience; and
·       the use Papal-like authority by the SDARM leadership.

Aversion of social relations with non-Reformists
The SDARM position
For anyone with practical experience with the SDARM, one will soon notice that they foster an extremely isolationist view when dealing with the wider world.  The Reformists do not merely attempt to be in the world but not of it, but in effect attempt something akin to complete separation from the world altogether.  As argued by John Thiel in “The Love of God in Worldly Associations”, in the 'independent historic' Reformist publication Sabbath Sermons:
‘Anything to do with friendship with the world is enmity with God. Contemplate the love of God in worldly associations. Our worldly associations must not be in friendship among them…

God loves this wicked world. He came very close and died for them. But here he says don’t get too close! What concord hath Christ with idols? Come out from among them and touch not the unclean. How does this fit in with his program. He wants to help them. If you will come out from them, I will be a father…
We are to follow in the footsteps of Abraham. Abraham had relatives he mingled with until the time it became difficult. Some make light of the atonement. Those who abide with these people, will have constant impasses made towards them. Abraham responded to the call. Come out and I will show you the land. What did it involve?
Can we see who we come out from and who we don’t? We see how we are to treat those who spurn God. We are living under the time of the latter rain. Under such a message the Lord qualifies in their experience of who is with the Lord and who is not…
What is the world today affected by? Drunkenness. How are we to meet the people in Babylon? It is a habitation of devils and the hold of every foul spirit. Babylon has a way of thinking, a way of being. Easter, Christmas, Mothers Day, attractiveness of the world, self indulgences. We are told to come out of her my people. The voice from heaven is the Holy Spirit. He works through the angel.
Jesus ate with Publicans and sinners some may say so its ok to do so. But those publicans and sinners were wanting to follow Jesus… However we are told not to eat with those who are not following God.’
The implication of the above statement is that:
  •  we should not have friendships with non-believers;
  •  we should sever our family relationships with non-believers, as Abraham did;
  • we are now living in the end time of the latter rain, so we must separate now;
  • we should have nothing to do with worldly social gatherings, including holidays such as Easter, Christmas or Mother’s Day; and
  •  we should not even eat with non-believers.

The end result of the above statement is the preclusion of any sort of fellowship or friendship between Christians (or rather SDARM Reformists) and non-Christians (or even ordinary mainstream Adventists).  A Reformist will therefore adopt classic ‘cult-like’ behaviour, in severing all relationships except those with sanctioned fellow Reformers – under the watchful eye of SDARM leadership of course. 
This might include going so far as to refrain from eating lunch with non-Reformists colleagues at work, or not going to an office end of year Christmas party or a colleague’s birthday morning tea.  The only possible exception, as outlined above, is a non-Reformist who is interested in possibly converting, and thus willing to meet on ‘SDARM turf’.
The rotten fruit of the SDARM view

In support of this stance, the most often quoted text cited by the SDARM is 2 Corinthians 6:14-17:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”’
However, the Apostle Paul may not be promoting the extreme view adopted by the SDARM.  What does it mean by ‘yoked together’? The term is heterozygew, and can be translated as ‘mismatched’ (NRSV) or ‘unequally yoked’ (CEV) in other versions.  As made clear in the “IVP” commentary, published in the Biblegateway:
‘The command is literally Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. The verb heterozygew is an agricultural term that refers to the practice of yoking to a plow too unequal kinds of animals such as an ox and a donkey. This would suggest that unequal associations between Christians and non-Christians are what Paul specifically has in mind. Five synonyms are employed to describe the kinds of associations that are forbidden. Metoche ("have in common"), found nowhere else in the Greek Bible, and koinonia ("fellowship") mean to partner or share. Symphonesis ("harmony") signifies to be in agreement with or of one accord. Meris ("in common") denotes a shared lot or portion. Synkatathesis ("agreement") is commonly used of a decision arrived at by a group. Paul is clearly thinking of associations that involve a partnership rather than a casual or occasional working relationship.’

And as confirmed in the “Reformation Study Bible” commentary, published in the Biblegateway:
‘The prohibition against being yoked together with unbelievers must be considered in situations where significant control over one’s actions would be willingly yielded to an unbeliever through a voluntary partnership or association.’
Thus, Paul is vague at best, but probably concerned with unequal associations, especially where it would give considerable control of oneself to a non-believer.  To say one should not have an unequal association is not quite the same as saying we should have no associations at all with non-believers.  As explained in the “Reformation Study Bible” in the same passage:
‘Neither Paul nor the rest of the New Testament tells us to have no association at all with unbelievers (Mark 2:15–17; 1 Cor. 5:9, 10). But we are told not to be “yoked together” with them in such a way that they significantly influence the direction and outcome of our moral decisions and spiritual activities.’
Paul makes clear in 1 Cor 5:9,10:
‘I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.’
Finally, the fact remains, Jesus did regularly eat and drink with people we would today consider the scum of the earth.  As recorded in Mar 2:15-17:
‘While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”’
As to the argument that Jesus was illustrating an exception, not a rule, because these tax collectors and sinners were intended to follow Jesus, the scriptures do not tell us that – the SDARM position is pure speculation.  All we know is that Jesus was the sort of person who sinners went out of their way to fellowship with – the opposite most non-Christians feel about Christians today.  His method of ministry was friendship first.
Jesus core teaching in the parable of the Good Samaritan is that it is the people who we think are the great sinners of the world, that are truly doing God's will.  Instead, the so called Chosen People of God worry too much about contamination from the world, and as a result fail to upholds the greater things of the Law - justice and mercy.
Ellen White made this point several times, that we should follow Christ’s example and never refuse to mingle with unbelievers if invited.  As made clear in Counsels for the Church, page 312:
‘The question may be asked, Are we to have no union whatever with the world? The word of the Lord is to be our guide. Any connection with infidels and unbelievers that would identify us with them, is forbidden by the Word. We are to come out from among them, and be separate. In no case are we to link ourselves with them in their plans of work. But we are not to live reclusive lives. We are to do worldlings all the good we possibly can.
Christ has given us an example of this. When invited to eat with publicans and sinners, He did not refuse; for in no other way than by mingling with them could He reach this class. But on every occasion He opened up themes of conversation which brought things of eternal interest to their minds. And He enjoins us, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.
The society of unbelievers will do us no harm if we mingle with them for the purpose of connecting them with God and are strong enough spiritually to withstand their influence.
Christ came into the world to save it, to connect fallen man with the infinite God. Christ’s followers are to be channels of light. Maintaining communion with God, they are to transmit to those in darkness and error the choice blessings which they receive of heaven. Enoch did not become polluted with the iniquities existing in his day; why need we in our day? But we may, like our Master, have compassion for suffering humanity, pity for the unfortunate, and a generous consideration for the feelings and necessities of the needy, the troubled, and the despairing.’
No one is suggesting we should become unequally yoked with unbelievers.  But if we try to totally separate ourselves from the world, we lose an important opportunity to spread the Gospel.  Christ demonstrated that whilst public preaching worked to some extent, it is through our personal relationships that evangelism is most effective.  Ellen White made this exact point herself:

‘Now, shall professed Christians refuse to associate with the unconverted, and seek to have no communication with them? No, they are to be with them, in the world and not of the world, but not to partake of their ways, not to be impressed by them, not to have a heart open to their customs and practices. Their associations are to be for the purpose of drawing others to Christ. (Spalding and Magan's Unpublished Manuscript Testimonies of Ellen G.White. 1915-1916 (Payson, AZ: Leaves-Of-Autumn Books, 1985), pp. 19-25.)
The SDARM forgets (or deliberately ignores) this point, and in doing so falls into the same danger of ancient Israel, of no longer being salty or in hiding their light under a bushel.  As Jesus warned in Matt 5:13:
‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.’

Teaching salvation is in the SDARM alone
The SDARM position
The SDARM formally teaches that one need not be a member of their church to be saved, as stated in the article “God’s Embassy”, from the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement of Australasia:
‘Can One Be Saved Without Being A Member Of The True Church?
Independence runs rife in today’s society. Many interpret the Scriptures for themselves instead of allowing the Bible to interpret itself. Consequently they find it difficult to agree with, and do not support any church. Others support all churches, believing they all have some good.
…From early in one’s experience, the Lord directs the honest seeker to His church. Although membership with God’s church is not the criterion for salvation, it most certainly is a fruit of one’s conviction to the Word of God. There are many lost sheep who are not of the fold of God, but in the final work in the earth they will join the true church. Christ foretold this: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” John 10:16.’ (emphasis added)
However, Vance Ferrel observes in The Truth About the Adventist Reform Church at page 12, that on a practical level, the SDARM does suggest, if implicitly, that salvation is found only in its ranks:
‘That was not easy, for Anna had nowhere to go. Church conditions must have been pretty bad, if she had to leave all she had and go out to nothing at all! Aside from her son, she had utter loneliness. But, before she left, she was read the “unity and church texts” about how we must stay with the church. Years earlier, Reform workers told her she must separate from the church or be lost, and now they were telling her if she separated from the church, she would be irretrievably lost. So it goes.’ (emphasis added)
And at page 21:
‘We need to give the True Message—and let separation come if it will. But we should not preach separation as the message! Preach the message, not separation!’
The rotten fruit of the SDARM view
Jesus made clear that organised religious groups have a role, but they are not the keepers of the keys to salvation as the Roman Catholics teach.  In fact, when confronted by a disciple that was preaching in Jesus’ name but not part of the official group, the disciples complained to Jesus.  The Lord’s reply in Mar 9:50 was:
"Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you."
As Mrs White herself made clear:
‘We are not saved as a sect; no denominational name has any virtue to bring us into favor with God. We are saved individually as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. And “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” We may have our names recorded on the books of the most spiritual of the churches, and yet we may not belong to Christ, and our names may not be written on the Lamb’s book of life.’ RH, February 10, 1891 par. 5

The practice of closed communion

Helmut Kramer observes in SDA Reform Movement at page 51, a perfect illustration of the SDARM’s isolationist approach is the practice of closed communion:
‘Another teaching and practice which sets the Reform Movement apart from Adventist thinking is its position on the observance of Communion. Reformers hold that since Christ held the Last Supper alone with His disciples, the Communion service is reserved only for church members who are in good standing. The Adventist practice of open Communion provides for them another "proof" that the church is a "fallen organization." In addition they take issue with the Adventist Church usage of individual cups in the Communion service. They base their stand on the biblical report that Jesus "took the cup [singular], and when he had given thanks, He gave it to them: and they all drank of it" (Mark 14:23).
Christ's example forbids exclusiveness at the Lord's Supper. It is true that open sin excludes the guilty. This the Holy Spirit plainly teaches. I Cor. 5:11. But beyond this none are to pass judgment. God has not left it with men to say who shall present themselves on these occasions. For who can read the heart? ... "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup." For "whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink of this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord." "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." I Cor. 11:28, 27, 29.11
…In the book Evangelism, pp. 276-77, Ellen White recounts an experience where a minister of another church attended an Adventist Church one Sabbath when the Communion service was held. He was invited to take part in the Communion even though he did not desire to participate in the foot washing. The servant of the Lord clearly approved of this. The Lord gave further instruction through His servant:
There may come in among you those who are not in heart united with truth and holiness but who may wish to take part in these services. Forbid them not.’

The overuse of disfellowshipment as the tool for dealing with sinners
Another illustration of the cult-like practices of the SDARM is its overuse of disfellowshipment as the tool for dealing with sinners.  As Helmut Kramer observes in SDA Reform Movement at page 51:

‘Reformers on the other hand believe the only way to show contempt for sin is to disfellowship members for any wrong action (apart from minor infractions). Since the Adventist leadership did not disfellowship Elder Conradi and his coworkers as punishment for their mistakes in World War I, they argue that the General Conference became guilty of committing the sin itself.
…Such longsuffering action is not in agreement with the underlying spirit of the Reformers. They believe that in order to rid the church of sin they must remove every "sinner." When this kind of procedure is followed, then the church is properly discharging its duty. Instead of working on the problem with the view of saving the sinner, Reformers commonly "solve" the problem by removing the sinner from fellowship. All too often there is a veiled, or not so veiled, threat that unless you get your life in order, the church will have to deal with you.
The SDARM position is not that dissimilar from the ancient heretics in the Early Church called the Donatists. They were best known for their extremely legalistic, authoritarian and strict views.  In particular, unlike the rest of the then-Church which saw itself more as a hospital for the sick, the Donatists saw themselves as an elite of saints, where any minor infraction must result in discipline.

The imposition of creedalism rather than liberty of conscience
The SDARM also allows no variation on doctrinal belief as taught by its Reformist leaders.  As Helmut Kramer observes in SDA Reform Movement at page 42:
‘The concept of individual responsibility and freedom of conscience has caused much misunderstanding between Reformers and the Adventist ': Church. The Reformers insist that the church must hold up strict standards for the people to follow. In many cases the members themselves expect the church to specify every detail of how they are to act in any given situation. Little room is given for one to make decisions for himself.
The Adventist Church has given more latitude to its members by encouraging them to search the Scriptures for themselves. It has emphasized the need for every person to make moral decisions in accordance with the understanding he or she has gained from personal study of the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy. This different approach has led Reformers to believe that Adventists have lowered the standard of Christian living.’
Such a SDARM stance flies in the face of the SDA pioneers, who were extremely against any form of creed.  The early Adventist Church of the SDA pioneers actually promoted theological variation and innovation, as it was the apostate Protestant Churches they had left, like the Early Church when it became the Papacy, which had strict enforceable creeds.

The use Papal-like authority by the SDARM leadership
Finally, the exclusivism of the SDARM is seen in its use of Papal-like authority.  As Helmut Kramer observes in SDA Reform Movement at page 43:
‘This concept of personal responsibility is foreign to most members of the Reform Movement. They have been taught to obey the dictates of the church without question. When a problem arises, instead of going to the Source of all wisdom, they send a letter to the leaders of the General Conference.’
As Vance Ferrel in The Truth About the Adventist Reform Church at page 12 further notes:
‘Reform Church leaders are determined that everyone remain in line and in subservience, or out they go. This is partly due to the German origin of the movement. By nature, Germans make excellent leaders/ followers. That is why they command such brilliant armies. Church members are also carefully marshaled like soldiers in the ranks. No one must get out of line. Perhaps that is partly why my later contacts with Amish and old-order Mennonites reminds me so much of them; they all tend to have Gothic origins.’
One might legitimately ask what the difference is between the SDARM position and the Roman Catholic doctrine of Papal infallibility?  Not much, if one is honest.

Koresh and the Waco Tragedy: A warning from history
So where does such isolationist and exclusivist thinking lead?  Well unfortunately, the Adventist movement has a long history of schisms and offshoots radicalising.  A very tragic example of this was the Waco Siege in 1993, involving David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, which led to the death of some 86 people.  Whilst Reformists might claim their movement has nothing in common with the Branch Davidians, which descended from another SDA offshoot the Shepard’s Rod, these two movements do in fact have much in common – especially when it comes to exclusivism, elitism and authoritarian control.

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