Controversial Ministry Spreads Myths that Will Make you Cringe

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Controversial Ministry Spreads Myths that Will Make you Cringe

On April 11–13, 2019, an organization known as Pioneer Health and Missions conducted a weekend sermon series, titled “The Shaking,” in Berrien Center, Michigan, fewer than ten minutes from Andrews University. The organization and its members identify as Seventh-day Adventists, though they are no longer affiliated with the world church.

 

The primary point of contention is their anti-trinity stance, which they explicitly differentiated from an anti-trinitarian stance, for they still claim to love those who adhere to what they consider to be a false doctrine. They have established themselves as believers in the one true God—the Father.

 

According to their perspective, the Holy Spirit is the spirit of the Father and Son, not a being. Furthermore, Jesus Christ is worthy of adoration and worship, but the Father begot Him—not created Him, but begot Him—and bestowed to Him lordship. The bottom line is that the Son had a beginning. PHM has concluded that mainstream Adventism and its members are guilty of polytheism and idolatry because of adherence to the trinity doctrine.

 

Though I found out later that there were other components to the schedule, I decided to attend and cover the three advertised presentations.  I did my best to prayerfully, objectively, and conscientiously view these sessions through the prism of what the Lord has taught me through the Bible and Ellen White’s writings over the years. To that end, this article will serve as a summary and/or assessment of the key elements of the series that will be as fair, respectful, and honest as possible.  Before diving into some details, I will start by saying that I found some of the issues they raised valid, while others I found concerning, occasionally a bit disturbing.

 

A short video vignette preceded each of the three primary sessions. The opening question was, “Are you a 7th Day Adventist who wants to finish the work?” From there, its emphases included the various calamities infecting the world, Jesus’ yearning to return and deliver His children, and what is essentially the Laodicean state of the church at large.

 

Though one may, through acute dissection, identify some subtleties of PHM’s crafting of the video and the stage it sets for their theological objectives, the general concerns it posits are legitimate. We must be much more effective at actively alleviating people’s pain and suffering, delivering to them the gospel, and preparing them for the unfolding of earth’s final few moments. Otherwise, the delay in Christ’s second advent will continue to extend.

 

Dr. Allen Davis, PHM’s Operations Manager, shared the first message, titled “The Return of the First Angel.” He began by referencing an article from one of our sister magazines warning Berrien Springs residents about this series of meetings. He suggested that the article’s quote of 1 John 2:19 might be myopic, then read verses 20–25. He didn’t unpack the passage as such, but I deduced that he wanted to direct focus on Christ’s Sonship and relationship to the Father, their perspective of which differs from that of mainstream Adventism, as I already indicated.

 

From here, I’ll insert an encapsulated list of the many inspiring quotes that Davis used. This will hopefully make your follow-up study of these subjects a little smoother, especially if you opt to copy and paste into your own notes. Actually, most everything else I extract from this and the other two sessions will be in list form.

 

  • 1 John 4:1–6
  • Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 194, par. 2
  • The Review and Herald, May 25, 1905, par. 28
  • The Great Controversy, p. 423
  • Revelation 14:6, 7
  • John 3:14–16; 17:3, 4
  • Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 359
  • Psalm 111:10
  • 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30
  • Proverbs 1:7; 8:13
  • Isaiah 2:10
  • Exodus 34:6, 7
  • Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 115
  • Ecclesiastes 12:14
  • Psalm 98; 94:15
  • John 3:3, 7
  • Romans 12:1, 2
  • 1 John 2:1
  • Early Writings, p. 270
  • Hebrews 4:9, 11
  • The Great Controversy, pp. 489, 490
  • Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 380

 

Intertwined with these references, Davis’ themes included the following:

 

  • Springboard question: “With the cancer of apostasy amongst many Christians metastasizing, how can you or I have any reasonable hope of being translated or raised from the grave when Jesus returns?” This question demands an answer from us individually and corporately.
  • Failure to adhere to 1 John 4:1–6 may instigate shaking out of God’s remnant.
  • The assertion that John Harvey Kellogg’s wandering into pantheism triggered the belief in the three-person Godhead, with milestone dates of development being 1913, 1919, 1946, 1957, and 1980. Davis called this the alpha of apostasy.
  • An increased emphasis on the sanctuary doctrine and the acknowledgement that it opens to view a complete system of truth, “not a progressive one.” In the sanctuary, we learn the state of the dead, Sabbath, second coming, the personality of God and of Christ, etc.
  • A black-and-white connection between anti-trinitarianism and complete victory over sin, and the double inverse thereof.
  • Understanding the everlasting gospel means understanding who God is and what He did in Jesus Christ.
  • The foundation of the gospel is that the only true God—the Father—sent His only-begotten Son.
  • A rhetorical expansion of Ellen White’s “not one in one hundred” reference, to present-day, potential reality—one thousand, ten thousand, one million, 21 million (membership tally for worldwide SDA Church)
  • We are here to finish the work, not perpetuate it.
  • Standing in the judgment means being covered and cleansed by the blood of Christ and transformed into His likeness.
  • Jacob went from being a deceiver to an overcomer by wrestling with God in the person of His Son.
  • Experiencing a true cleansing is predicated on understanding the foundation or our faith, which is tied to the gospel foundation above.
  • We can partake of the divine nature and be released from the shackles of sin.
  • The allegation that there is no scriptural evidence of the Son being inherently and of Himself eternal and equal with the Father; if He was, He could not have suffered, died and been raised by the Father, who made the Son equal.
  • The world has continued to exist over 170 years after 1844 because we do not know who God is.
  • In worshipping the Son in spirit and truth, we rightly worship the Father.
  • To answer the springboard question, one must see the difference between the true God and false gods.
  • Final admonition: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

 

Thomas Akens, who not only speaks for PHM, but also works in publishing, shared part 2 of this series and titled it, “Come Out of Her, My People.” His sermon seemed more saturated with quotes than the other two were, though there was relative equity between all three. Here is a representative list:

 

  • Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, February 7, 1856, p. 148, par. 22
  • 2 Corinthians 6:17
  • Isaiah 58:1
  • Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, p. 232, par. 1
  • Present Truth, April 1, 1850, par. 9
  • Revelation 14:1, 5, 12
  • Letter 242—1903, par. 18, 14 (I’m not sure why he reversed order)
  • The Review and Herald, May 25, 1905, par. 28
  • Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, p. 298.2
  • The Review and Herald, September 5, 1893, par. 8
  • Revelation 18:1
  • The Review and Herald, April 1, 1890, par. 8
  • The Review and Herald, December 31, 1857, par. 5
  • Letter 102a—1897, par. 12
  • John 3:19
  • Hosea 4:6
  • Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 55.2
  • The Great Controversy, p. 389.1
  • Revelation 18:2, 3
  • The Great Controversy, p. 603.2
  • Revelation 18:4, 5
  • Manuscript 30—1889, par. 14
  • Letter 232—1903, par. 58
  • Early Writings, p. 261.1
  • Letter 32—1892, par. 38

 

Some of Akens’ main points included:

 

  • To understand the shaking (which is a Seventh-day Adventist theme), one must understand the message and messengers, the latter necessitating historical review, especially of early-1800s onward.
  • Seventh-day Adventism exists to continue the Protestant Reformation where it halted and bring it to completion.
  • The message is to call people out of sin.
  • The fall of the Protestant churches was the first shaking, a product of so many people not standing for truth.
  • God’s spiritual Israel not only keeps the commandments, but also the faith—the doctrines and teachings that have passed down from the apostolic to current periods.
  • The foundation of Adventism and its pioneers laid within the first fifty years must be retained, with no facilitation of any other foundation.
  • A quote from Gamaliel: “Let’s not be found fighting against God. For if it is the work of God, nothing shall stop it, but if it’s the work of man, it will come to naught.”
  • The shaking is caused by the straight testimony of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to Laodicea.
  • The message of the angel of Revelation 18 is a message of protest.
  • An advertisement for the subject of his Sabbath-morning sermon—what constitutes Babylon.
  • Various statistical charts reflecting beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists regarding the following (Source: Pew Research Center):
      • Absolute standards for right and wrong—45%; depends on the situation—55%; neither/both and unsure—marginal.
      • Existence of heaven: yes—85%; no—7%, unsure—7%.
      • Source of guidance on right and wrong: religion—66%; common sense—24%; philosophy/reason—4%; science—3%; unsure—2%/
      • Abortion: illegal in all/most cases—54%; legal … —42%; unsure—4%.
      • Human evolution: always existed in present form—67%; evolved, God’s design—19%; “” natural processes—5%; “” unsure how—2%; unsure—7%.
      • Homosexuality: discouraged—59%; accepted—27%; neither/both—7%; unsure—6%.
      • Size of government: bigger, more services—53%; smaller, fewer—42%; depends—3%; unsure—2% (Akens found this disturbing because of religious liberty/mark of the beast issues).
  • God is calling people to take a stand for Him and His truth

 

Daniel Mesa, PHM’s Evangelism Coordinator, delivered the final message of the series on Sabbath afternoon. Its title was, “The Beast and His Image, God and His image.” He exhibited significantly more fervor and passion than the other two speakers did. In keeping with the pattern that I established above, the first list is comprised of many of his references:

 

  • Deuteronomy 13:1–4
  • Ministry of Healing, p. 409.1–3 (response to Kellogg’s The Living Temple)
  • Revelation 14:9–11
  • Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 26.2
  • The Great Controversy, p. 578.3
  • Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 305.4
  • Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 115.1
  • Ezekiel 20:12, 20
  • The Signs of the Times, May 26, 1898, par. 10
  • Medical Ministry, p. 184.2
  • Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 355.1
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3
  • Ephesians 3:9
  • Colossians 1:12–13
  • John 5:22, 27
  • 1 John 5:11, 12
  • 2 Corinthians 5:19
  • Galatians 4:4–6
  • 2 Corinthians 4:14
  • Matthew 11:25, 26
  • 1 Timothy 1:1
  • John 6:27
  • Philippians 4:19
  • A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White, p. 52.3
  • Early Writings, p. 50.3

 

These references seasoned the veggie meat and potatoes of Mesa’s sermon, which included these elements:

 

  • A dramatized recounting of the Jews choosing Barabbas over Jesus, followed by the assertion that SDA preachers are committing the same offence.
  • He labeled himself a “company man” when working with the church.
  • A mention of the 1980 General Conference decision to accept the trinity doctrine “in place of the one true God of the Bible.”
  • A list of the players in the third angel’s message: third angel, any man, beast (papacy), image (apostate Protestantism, especially in the USA), God, holy angels, Lamb (Son of God), and saints.
  • What is the timing of the third angel?
  • Those who worship false gods will not be in the book of life.
  • He trumpeted what he considers the biblical veracity of anti-trinity doctrine, later admitting that he used to believe that there were three thrones in heaven and the Holy Spirit wore a crown.
  • End-time issues parallel Cain and Abel with respect to true and false worship.
  • Establishment of Sunday worship and trinity doctrine within a four-year span (AD 320s).
  • He claimed that Adventism is embracing ecumenism and approaching unity with the other churches.
  • An active focus on the seventh-day Sabbath and how it ties into the worship issue.
  • A list of who the Father is: Comforter, Creator, Deliverer, Judge, Life, Reconciler, Redeemer, Resurrector, Revealer, Savior, Sealer, Supplier.
  • As the Father works through the Son, the beast works through its image.
  • An ambiguous differentiation between begotten and created and why the Son is worthy of worship, but Lucifer was not.
  • Claimed that God’s current organized church has His oracles, the health message, dress reform, keeps the commandments, and has the right day, but the wrong god, just like Israel (who rejected the Son, thus rejecting the Father).
  • Told the Central California Conference that they were disfellowshipping him because he studied the Bible and discovered who the true God is, hoping this statement would ring in their ears.
  • The Son is God, but not His Father’s God; in contrast, the Father is the Son’s God.
  • He believes that other ministers in Adventism believe this “truth,” yet are afraid to lose their jobs.
  • Charged the congregation to believe in the Father and His image, not the beast and its image.

 

In agreement with my Compass colleague, I dedicated the lion’s share of this column’s volume to summarizing the series itself. Nevertheless, I will conclude with a selective handful of personal yet Spirit-directed commentary. To be more accurate, the very conclusion of this column will be a hearty list of Bible and Spirit-of-Prophecy passages that I assembled with the prayerful hope that it will round out your follow-up study.

 

As noted above, Davis used the word “progressive” early in his homily. This word is anathema to PHM. In an attempt to offer partial sympathy to them, I will state that the infrastructure of principles that God designed does not facilitate progression, for He never changes. However, there is a progression in His people’s awareness and understanding, and to deny that is downright silly.

 

The Great Disappointment itself was a pivot in progression. The early pioneers thought Daniel 8:14 pointed to Christ’s second advent, and He let them believe that for years. It was not until the mid-1840s, over a decade after the movement began, that He clarified, “Actually, the sanctuary in Daniel 8:14 is up here in heaven. I will be cleansing it as the High Priest.” That’s progressive.

 

Never mind that the seventh-day Sabbath, unclean foods, and many other truths reached their awareness later than this did. It is important to respect our pioneers, but to think that they got everything right on the front-end and any change was flirtation with apostasy is short-sighted.

 

PHM’s members and partners are staunch monotheists. Don’t get me wrong, I’m convinced that monotheism is foundational to our faith. However, I recommend reducing the rigid over-emphasis on the quantitative dimension of oneness and balancing the scales toward the qualitative dimension.

 

Furthermore, if I may be so bold, I consider it more monotheistic to give primary worship to three infinitely self-existent beings than to give even secondary worship to a being with a beginning or origin, even if the Father sanctioned this arrangement, as is the case within PHM’s framework. I say this because timeless, immeasurable eternality is the one—THE ONE—attribute that legitimately solicits worship more than any other, and this is patently biblical.

 

In addition, the one characteristic that serves as the backbone of who God is love. I and many others wonder how that agape love would have been manifested during the period of “time” when only the Father existed.

 

The speakers expressed disappointment that they were relegated to holding this series at a semi-isolated site and only attracted two-to-three dozen attendees. They would revel in the opportunity to share their findings in a mainstream setting. In theory, I could support this, but theory is probably the realistic limit to this idea, and I’ll explain why.

 

We can’t ignore the elephant in the room: the biggest debate in our church right now is women’s ordination. On multiple occasions, representatives of all sides of the debate supplied their input—from the same pulpit or podium; within the same four walls. Somewhat recently, I attended a seminar on the various perspectives on Daniel 11. Again, same pulpit, same walls.

 

The caveat is that they all, more or less, made the concession, unspoken or deliberate, to stay within the hedges of presentation and not venture into the realm of proselytization. Considering PHM’s palpable zeal and the mission they sense to call the rest of us out of Babylon, I am hard-pressed to expect that they would stay within those hedges.

 

Thank you for investing some time into reading this review. Compass and I appreciate your readership. By the grace of God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—may this final list of passages prove helpful.

 

  • Deuteronomy 6:4 (“one”—Hebrew echad: connotes unity more than quantity); Genesis 2:24; 11:6, 7
  • Isaiah 6:3; 44:6, 8; 45:21, 22; 48:16; 61:1; 63:9, 10
  • Mark 12:29, 32
  • John 1:1–3; 6:46; 10:30; 14:1–3, 10, 11, 16 (“another”—Greek allos: other of same kind, as opposed to heteros), 20; 15:26; 17:10, 11, 21, 22
  • Gen 1:26 (Hebrew elohim is plural); 3:22
  • Matthew 3:16, 17; 12:30, 31; 19:4–6; 28:19
  • Galatians 3:28; 4:6
  • 2 Corinthians 13:14
  • 1 Corinthians 12:4–6, 20
  • 1 Peter 1:1, 2
  • Revelation 1:4, 5
  • Ephesians 2:18
  • 1 John 2:1
  • Romans 8:34
  • The Review and Herald, August 15, 1907, par. 4
  • The Ministry of Healing, pp. 421.2–422.1
  • Evangelism, pp. 615.1–617.3
  • The Desire of Ages, p. 671.2
  • Manuscript Releases, vol. 20, p. 324.2
  • Manuscript Releases, vol. 7, p. 299.2

Note: The PHM folks will dispute the authenticity of these quotes, but ample evidence in the form of handwritten precursors from Ellen White’s pen are available to corroborate them.

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About the author

John Simon

John Simon, an almost lifelong Michigander, is a freelance editor and writer. He previously spent a decade working with Adventist Frontier Missions in an accounting role. Though finance wasn't exactly a hand-in-glove fit—more of a hand-in-toaster fit, frankly—it was a privilege to help advance the cause of reaching the unreached. John enjoys spectating and participating in various sports (hockey being on top of both lists), driving/road tripping, visiting his feisty yet loving and supportive family on the other side of the Mitten, and spending time with friends.