TL;DR: I’m not sure on the official positions of the SDA, so can’t say for certain whether it is cult or Christian. Undoubtedly, some in the SDA are Christian and others are not. The crux of the matter is where they put their trust for salvation, and how they view the authority and interpretation of the Scripture (as explained below)…
I’ve had a couple people recently ask me if I thought Seventh Day Adventism (SDA) was Christian or Cult. So I thought it might help to write out a brief answer here…
Walter Martin, who was seen as an authority on Christianity and Cults, and wrote the book “Kingdom of the Cults”, said that SDA was Christian (and not a cult). However, he did express some serious concerns he had with them, later on, and has been challenged by other Christians on his assessment.
As for my own view, I consider 3 things in determining whether certain beliefs are truly Christian:
- What do they view as their highest authority?
- How do they interpret their highest authority?
- How do they define the gospel (i.e. the nature of Christ’s saving work and the nature of Jesus/God)?
These 3 elements are sort of like dominoes, so if 1 falls, the other will be dragged down with it.
The Biblical answers for all 3 questions are:
- The Scriptures (which are God’s very words written down) are the highest authority. These consist of the 66 books of the Protestant Canon – no more, no less.
- The best interpreter of Scripture is the Author: God. And the surest way to know God’s thoughts on a matter is through His written word (Scripture). Thus, we use the Scripture to help us understand other Scripture (e.g. Matt. 4:6-7). A good principle of interpretation is to use the plainer portions of Scripture to help give light on the more complex portions. God aids us in this through His Holy Spirit (e.g. 1 John 2:27), through other teachers (e.g. Acts 18:26), and through natural revelation (e.g. Rom. 1:20ff). But all of these should submit to God’s word as the highest authority – even as Jesus Himself did (see Matt. 4:4-11). See more on this.
- The biblical gospel affirms that humanity is in sinful rebellion to God and incapable of saving themselves from God’s wrath. But Jesus (who came to earth as fully God and fully man) took God’s wrath on Himself when He died on the cross. His resurrection is proof that His death paid the full price of sin. And all who turn to follow Jesus and trust in His work alone will be spared from God’s wrath, and receive full pardon for our sinfulness.
I do not know precisely the “official” stance of Seventh Day Adventism on these 3 points. And, ultimately, various people within SDA will fall different ways on these issues – some affirming biblical Christianity and others not. However, there are some concerns I have on all 3 points within SDA:
- The SDA affirms the Bible as authoritative, but also seems to esteem the writings of Ellen G. White at an alarmingly high level.
- Similarly, Ellen G. White’s interpretations of the Bible also seem to be alarmingly elevated to a place beyond other interpretations of the Bible.
- SDA seems dangerously close to believing that people must obey the law (especially celebrating the Sabbath on Saturday – one of the hallmarks of their faith) in addition to trusting in Christ in order to be saved. This is in contrast to a Biblical gospel, and the numerous Scriptures that see salvation as happening by Christ alone, and received through repentance/faith alone. For instance: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Rom. 3:28).
Thus, in my opinion…SDA seems, at best, confusing, and at worst heretical. But I’d love to learn more from others who have knowledge on this subject.