Dividing Jesus from doctrine

In light of the following verses, one becomes notably uneasy when Christians promote agendas under such slogans as “Jesus. All,” “Just Jesus,” “Jesus only,” or “Jesus period.”

Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father, which is in heaven.
Many will say unto Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 7:21-23).

 The response of many thoughtful observers to such phrases is, What is being excluded from primary importance by such declarations?  Are such phrases intended to convey the notion that issues raised by inspired counsel concerning doctrine, worship, and lifestyle are somehow less important than Jesus?  If so, how is one to harmonize such thinking with our Lord’s own statement that man shall live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4)?  Or His later statement, “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed” (John 8:31)?

Dividing “Jesus” from “Doctrine”

Such statements as the above, from the lips of our Lord, draw a sharp contrast with the disturbing agenda of those today who try to make distinctions between “following the Bible” and “following Jesus.”  What “Jesus” are these folks presuming to follow, if not the Jesus of the Bible?  The Jesus of Scripture demonstrated His strict loyalty to the written Word in His wilderness conflict with Satan, where His rejoinders to the adversary were each prefaced by the phrase, “It is written” (Matt. 4:4,7,10).  This would make no sense if, as certain ones allege, God’s written counsel is supposedly less important than Jesus or a personal relationship with Him.  No one had a closer relationship with the Father in heaven than Christ.  In view of this, why wouldn’t His reply to the devil’s challenge regarding His Sonship to the Father be a simple affirmation of that relational reality?  The answer is simple: relationships are subjective, while God’s Word is the objective, transcendent revelation of His eternal will.  Jesus’ victory over Satan in that setting—and every other—offers the clearest evidence that the objective, self-explanatory standard of sacred truth revealed in Holy Scripture was both the ultimate weapon against the tempter’s wiles and the supreme guide to faith and life for every believer in every age.

The recent passing of a prominent Adventist pastor and revivalist evoked comments from certain ones that this pastor “had only one string on his violin, and that was Jesus.”  Properly understood, I hope this could be said of us all.  But without clarification, a statement like this can lead to serious misunderstanding.  What would persons making such comments consider to be other “strings” on an Adventist pastor’s “violin”?  Are we to conclude that biblical teachings exist regarding doctrine, prophecy, or personal behavior which convey something other than Jesus?  When an Adventist pastor or revivalist preaches healthful living as presented in both Scripture and the writings of Ellen White, is such a person invariably presenting a topic other than Jesus? Can either Scripture or the writings of Ellen White be properly divided into “salvation” and “non-salvation” parts?  Is the loving character of Christ revealed in only certain inspired writings and not in others?  

Many are familiar with Ellen White’s statement during the 1888 era, where she declared: “As a people we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa, that had neither dew nor rain” (1).  (I am quite sure that if she were alive today, she would write of how, through subjective and self-accommodating spirituality, many have instead become “drippy as the swamps of Louisiana.”)  But true to form, Ellen White doesn’t leave us guessing as to the solution to the problem she cites.  In the very next sentence she admonishes: “We must preach Christ in the law” (2).  Notice she doesn’t say, “Preach Christ, then the law.”  Nor does she embrace the popular notion of so many in modern Adventism that we should simply “preach Christ, and let the law take care of itself.”  Rather, she says we must preach Christ in the law.  

In Ellen White’s theology, Christ is found in every biblical teaching and moral principle. In her words: “All truth is to be received as the life of Jesus.  Truth cleanses us from all impurity, and prepares the soul for Christ’s presence” (3).  In another statement she declares: “The whole Bible is a manifestation of Christ” (4).  There is no Bible doctrine, no standard of Bible morality, that does not reveal the loving character of our Lord.  Nor does any narrative of God’s dealing with humanity offer anything but a glimpse of Jesus.  That includes Noah’s Flood, the plagues of Egypt, and God’s judgments on the Canaanites as surely as it includes Jesus blessing the children and Paul’s teaching of righteousness by faith.  Indeed, in describing our Lord’s submission to His enemies’ abuse before the Sanhedrin and how He might have acted differently, Ellen White informs us how “one on occasion, in obedience to the command of Christ, [angels] slew of the Assyrian army in one night one hundred and eighty-five thousand men” (5).  

In other words, Jesus Himself gave the command to slay Sennacherib’s host.  The apostle Paul speaks of Christ as the One who guided Israel through their wilderness wanderings (I Cor. 10:1-10), which included both the punishment of Hebrew apostates and the destruction of pagan tribes.  The problem with too many of us is that we craft our own view of Jesus’ love and grace, without permitting the whole of inspired counsel to inform our conclusion.  

Only recently I read the statement of another contemporary Adventist pastor, in a newsletter published by former Adventists, which insisted, “Doctrine does not save us.  Jesus does” (6).  No matter how popular this mantra has become, it is contrary to Scripture.  God declared to Israel through Hosea, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee” (Hosea 4:6).  Paul declared to the Thessalonians, “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (II Thess. 2:13).  And to young Timothy he exhorted:

Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine: continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee (I Tim. 4:16).

Nothing “Save Jesus Christ and Him Crucified”

Some will point to the apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 2 where he states: “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2).  This verse has often been used as a means of devaluing unpopular issues of doctrine, worship, or lifestyle as presumably less important than the Gospel of Jesus or a personal relationship with Him.

But in this verse Paul is not contrasting a knowledge of Jesus and Him crucified with allegedly separate issues of faith or practice.  Rather, he is contrasting the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified with the use of human wisdom and unsanctified eloquence. The following verses in this chapter make this clear:

And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect; yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought (I Cor. 2:3-6).

If in fact Paul was stating in verse 2 that to not “know any thing . . . save Jesus Christ in Him crucified” was to set up a contrast between Christ on the one hand and doctrinal and moral truth on the other, the apostle would be guilty of grossly contradicting himself, as he proceeds in the following fourteen chapters to give the Corinthian church a detailed discourse on correct theology, correct worship, and correct behavior, in contrast with the errors and misconduct that permeated their congregation.  

Warnings Against False Unity

The Bible warns in a very simple and short verse regarding the danger of false unity, asking, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).  Ellen White addresses the same issue in a number of pointed passages:

Christ calls for unity.  But He does not call for us to unify on wrong practices.  The God of heaven draws a sharp contrast between pure, elevating, ennobling truth and false, misleading doctrines.  He calls sin and impenitence by the right name.  He does not gloss over wrongdoing with a coat of untempered mortar.  I urge our brethren to unify upon a true, scriptural basis (7). 
We have a testing message to give, and I am instructed to say to our people, “Unify, unify.”  But we are not to unify with those who are departing from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.  With our hearts sweet and kind and true, we are to go forth to proclaim the message, giving no heed to those who lead away from the truth (8).
Jesus prayed that His followers might be one; but we are not to sacrifice the truth in order to secure this union; for we are to be sanctified through the truth.  Here is the foundation of all true peace.  Human wisdom would change all this, pronouncing this basis too narrow.  Men would try to effect unity through concession to popular opinion, through compromise with the world, a sacrifice of vital godliness.  But truth is God’s basis for the unity of His people (9).
At times, with burning earnestness and words of terrible severity, Christ denounced the abominations He saw in the church and in the world.  He would not allow the people to be deceived by false claims to righteousness and sanctity.
We are to unify, but not on a platform of error (10).
We cannot purchase peace and unity by sacrificing the truth.  The conflict may be long and painful, but at any cost we must hold fast to the Word of God (11).

Speaking of the early Christians who refused to compromise with the great apostasy, she writes:

To secure peace and unity they were ready to make any concession consistent with fidelity to God; but they felt that even peace would be too dearly purchased at the sacrifice of principle.  If unity could be secured only by the compromise of truth and righteousness, then let there be difference, and even war (12).


  1. Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, March 11, 1890.
  2. Ibid.
  3. ----Our High Calling, p. 208.
  4. ----The Desire of Ages, p. 390.
  5. Ibid, p. 700.
  6. J. David Newman, letter to Proclamation!, April, May, June 2011, p. 30.
  7. White, Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 175.
  8. Ibid, vol. 3, p. 412.
  9. ----Our High Calling, p. 329.
  10. ----Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, p. 259.
  11. ---Historical Sketches, p. 197.
  12. ----The Great Controversy, p. 45.


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