Jemdude's note: The following is a general answer to criticism some have toward the Adventist Church or those who believe Adventists are some kind of "cult".
TO MY CHRISTIAN FRIENDS OF MANY DENOMINATIONS
I have interacted with many Evangelicals over the years who just don't get Seventh-day Adventist theology and I'd like to give you a few things to think about. In dealing with your Adventist friends, I'm sure you've spent many long hours searching out Bible verses to argue about various points. I won't therefore bother to do the same here. This statement is not about trying to win an argument. Doctrinal correctness and moral correctness are two different things, but both are necessary for a right understanding of God and His truth. This is about asking you to look at some simple points of logic that I hope will explain the Adventist position on a number of topics. I write this as an individual Seventh-day Adventist Christian and draw this information from my own study of the Bible. I am not speaking as an official representative of the Church.
#1. I've always found two things in common regarding anti-Adventist rhetoric. One is a rejection of the 1844 Sanctuary Doctrine, dealt with below. The other is the bad example of some individual church member who has turned the author of the book, video or website off to the church. Yes there are many people within the Adventist Church who may seem cult-like in the way they act. That's because they don't really understand their own beliefs. That does not in and of itself constitute a valid reason for criticizing the group as a whole however. The same problems with human nature exist in every church. After much time being fed from the pulpit, lay church members often end up trusting their minister for salvation and not studying enough on an individual basis. This always leads to either liberal permissiveness or conservative extremism because the people end up idolizing their leaders.
#2. The supposed Adventist emphasis on works for salvation is totally being misunderstood in the Evangelical camp. The way to understand it is that Sanctification is JUSTIFICATION ALL OVER AGAIN! Jesus purges you of what you know to be sin when you accept Him, and then the Holy Spirit guides you through the rest of your life teaching you practical, faith-growth lessons that improve you as a person. All this is also done by the grace of God and therefore comes from Christ. Adventists are simply following what He has revealed as they individually study His word.
Are you a member of a church that teaches in order to be saved you must first repent of your sin and then accept Jesus as your Saviour? Well, what then is the definition of sin? Without the Law in it's proper place, there is no clear definition. Is it a sin to drink alcohol, yes or no? Is it a sin to wear jewellery, yes or no? The list of "do's and don'ts" within Adventism is much larger than that of many other born-again believing faith groups. However, that list is the result of serious Bible study and these "do's and don'ts" are not rules, they are a vital part of the salvation experience. Jesus has saved us from alcohol, unclean meat, jewellery and many other things the world says is important. Has He saved you to this degree as well? Jesus has saved us from wrong understandings of what constitutes keeping His Holy day by drawing our attention to the fourth commandment. He has saved us from spiritualism and the lies of the New Age movement by teaching us the truth about death. Remember, it's by mercy AND truth that we are saved, Proverbs 16:6. Is this experience the same for you?
#3. People don't understand the 1844 Sanctuary Doctrine because they don't realize we're forgiven in two ways. Every time anyone does something good, an Angel writes it down. Any time anyone does something bad, an Angel writes it down. With all the billions of people who've lived over the 6 millennia of human history, that's trillions, maybe even quadrillions of sins all written down. God Himself with His infinite mind could deal with it in a second couldn't He? But Angels don't have infinite minds, do they?
AGAIN, WE'RE FORGIVEN IN TWO WAYS! The Holy Spirit speaks to each person's heart while that person is alive and offers forgiveness as a promise to claim. Jesus promises that because he won the victory over sin by dying and rising again for us, He will wipe out the sins of anyone who accepts this victory in true faith. The 1844 Sanctuary Doctrine is simply stating that Jesus has been doing exactly that since 1844 for all whom He will rescue at the Second Coming, with the secretarial help of the 100 million Angels mentioned in Daniel chapter 7. By wiping out the sins of the righteous ahead of time in the presence of the Heavenly beings, Jesus is not only keeping His promise to each one of those who've accepted Him, He's doing it in a way that will prove to the rest of the universe that He is just and fair, and that these people can be trusted with salvation. Acts 3:19 confirms this as Peter clearly says that the forgiveness to come is not instantaneous but at “the times of refreshing“. (It becomes easier to understand when one accepts the truth about death, dealt with next.)
#4. Regarding what you call "soul sleep", why is it wrong to go to a seance? Why is the New Age movement of the devil? Because every time anyone tries to contact the dead, they are contacting evil angels. Even the appearances of Mary and supposed miracles of the dead saints within Catholicism are nothing but evil angels in disguise. The truth about death, that none of us go to Heaven until the Second Coming is just that, truth. You don't have a soul, you are a soul. Notice carefully the exact wording of Genesis 2:7. Man became a soul when body and “breath of life” were put together by the Lord.
Your computer has a processor that is a physical piece of hardware. It doesn't work without the force and power of electricity does it? BUT! The electricity itself doesn't do the processing alone, it's just electricity. It's the same with your mind. You run on electricity, but the electricity is not going to go to Heaven, you are. This truth puts Heaven in the same physical reality as this world. There is no such thing as a spirit world and Heaven is not a ghosty-whispy fairyland, nor is it in some sort of other dimension, a peusdo-scientific way of saying the same thing. Heaven is as real as the table your computer is sitting on, as real as your house or car or anything else.
John 14:1-3 show very clearly that Jesus promised after He went to Heaven, He'd come back and take us there. In other words, while He's preparing a place for us (which really is a reference to His work in the Sanctuary), we are not there with Him! Why would He need to come back and get us if we all went there as soon as we died anyway? We fall asleep in death, go to our graves, and will be awakened by Him at the resurrection.
#5. Ellen White's writings are not a new Bible like the claims made about Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy and others. They are simply a Bible Commentary, the same Bible over again in greater detail. There's no conflict as each one of our teachings can be found in the Bible itself. There were many prophets mentioned in the Bible who did not get their written words added to the Canon of Holy Scripture, Nathan from the time of David is a good example. Their ministry was significant to their existing generation only. Adventists think of Ellen White in a similar vein as is shown by their book, “Questions On Doctrine“, pages 89-98.
Regarding her supposed false prophecies, was Jonah a false prophet? There is such a thing as conditional prophecies not coming true when conditions change. Regarding her 'extrabiblical' statements, look up Matthew 22:30 and tell me where in the Old Testament Jesus gets this from? What He says there is not found anywhere else in the Bible, it's new truth. It is possible for a prophet to proclaim new truth. The test is that new truth never contradicts old truth. Regarding the question of whether God would call a woman to the role of a prophet, who was there in the temple to greet Joseph and Mary when they brought Jesus to be circumcised on the eighth day? Two prophets, one was a man, the other a woman. Philip also had daughters who prophesied.
Now let’s go on to the dreaded plagiarism charges. What does the concept of “all the glory goes to God” mean to you? Is He not the originator of all that is good? Therefore whenever anyone comes to understand something right and true, who does that truth ultimately come from? Did you know Paul plagiarized in Acts 17:28? Where is the footnote giving the exact reference to the Athenian poet(s) he is quoting? Those who lay these charges against Ellen White do so because they don’t really know how the Bible was written or how a prophet is inspired. The only words in the Bible that are direct quotes from the Lord Himself are those noted by phrases such as “thus saith the Lord”. When God inspires a prophet, be it Moses, David, Paul or Ellen White, He puts pictures in the person’s mind and then leaves the person to choose the words to describe those pictures. The concept of copyright, that a human being could take credit for and own what is ultimately taught him or her by the Lord was not the same in Mrs. White’s time as we have it today.
Let’s say that tonight the Lord gave you a vision on the subject of the futility of a life of sin. When you went to write out the meaning of the vision the only words you could think of to describe the feeling a person goes through when the Spirit convicts them of sin was “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now it seems as though they’re here to stay.“ When John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote those words, they were their own. If you as God’s new prophet thought those were best described the contents of the vision you were given, they have now become the word of the Lord.
The Lord gave Ellen White vision and dreams covering a wide range of subjects. On the topic of the conflict between good and evil over human history, Ellen White was given visions and then left to study out their meaning for herself. This study came contemplating those visions, but also from the Bible and from church history. The appendices of Selected Messages, Book Three contain three letters from her son, W.C. White. In these he clearly admits that yes, at times when she thought someone else’s words best described what God had shown her in vision, she copied those words. What’s the big deal? She was the one who was given those visions in the first place. (Take careful notice how those against her fail to say anything about the Biblical way in which those visions came to her with supernatural manifestations, most notably her not breathing, sometimes for hours.)
When she spoke on what God had shown her on other topics, such as health reform, at times she was asked if she had read such and such a Health Reformer. She clearly answered that no, she purposely did not read the works of others so that no one could say that she was being influenced by another. So ultimately God was working through her and others as well. He enlightened Ellen White supernaturally and lead others to discover similar information through their life experience as medical professionals. The most significant thing about this is that since the other reformers were writing out of their own experience, they were sometimes right and sometimes wrong. Ellen White said things similar to these reformers, but without their mistakes! She was never wrong. How could that have happened if she tried, without any previous knowledge, to sort out the good from the bad of what others were saying?
Those who criticize the Adventists over doctrine should pay very close attention to what those Adventists are saying, and notice just how many Bible verses they can quote to support their beliefs. For those who believe such false doctrines as Once Saved Always Saved or the Secret Rapture, of course they're going to call Ellen White a false prophet. She isn't telling them what they want to hear. Therefore, they will tell themselves that Adventists are brainlessly following Ellen White. Stay with the Bible when you talk to an Adventist and you will see that's where our teachings come from.
#6. Christianity is all about freedom, but what kind of freedom? Do you want to be free from the law or free from sin? It has to be one or the other. Cross-reference Matthew 24:12-14 with Galatians 1:6-9 and you'll see that there are two gospels out there, one is false and one is true. Since sin is the transgression of the law according to 1 John 3:4, wouldn't freedom from sin therefore include harmony with the law? Which gospel then do you really think is true? If New Testament Christianity really has no place for the Law, then I should be able to steal the offering money in front of everyone at your church this Sunday. You already know yourself that's ridiculous.
I think the real source of the problem between you and your Adventist friend comes from a simple misunderstanding. You were once in the world, yet you saw through it's vanity and found Jesus, the only true way to Heaven. You accepted His death for your sins and came up out of the baptismal waters with a sincere desire to live a new life for Him. When your Adventist friend came to you essentially saying "hey there's still more to the experience", it baffled you. You know you were sincere, so how could you have a true experience with God and it not be the end all and be all of what is truth? Remember Proverbs 4:18. Truth is progressive, you need to be continually learning as you study God's word. The initial experience you received was from God, but it is not the end all and be all of your growth in Him, only the beginning. What your Adventist friend is sharing with you in the way of doctrine is intended to add to that growth as he or she was once where you are now.
Are you really sure your favourite minister is telling you everything you need to know? Do the 8 references to the first day of the week really outweigh the 168 references to the Seventh-day Sabbath? Are the 5 or so verses that speak as if people go to Heaven or Hell right after death being understood correctly in light of the almost 70 verses that use the concept of sleep as a metaphor for death? What then about all the verses that use words or phrases like "perish", "shall be no more", "shall be as grass", and "ashes" to describe the results of hell-fire?
Over the years I've spent a lot of time arguing doctrine with my evangelical friends. Now I see it's pointless and futile. I hope this discussion has given you some things to think about, but most of all I hope it's been done in a good way. Just please make sure you know what your Bible says. Ask God to lead you and not a human being. By understanding what your Seventh-day Adventist Church friend is trying to say, I hope you can come to peace with your friend, yourself and the Lord.