At the Risk of Temporal Loss — A Personal Perspective - What Happened?
By Dr. Ingo Sorke
The following is an excerpt from an article originally published on ingosorke.com on Feb 2, 2019. Dr. Sorke describes his personal journey into discovering the truth about trinity in Adventism. Read the entire article HERE.
How I got into this topic to begin with . . .
For years I had questions in my mind when presenting the doctrine of the Trinity - not that we can fully understand God by any means, but the concept of the Trinity lacked a “Thus sayeth the Lord”, and it defied the most basic of logic. And many texts used to defend the doctrine simply didn’t say what we made them say, which was quite disturbing at best, and intellectually dishonest at worst.
The TOSC Committee on Ordination
Then came the TOSC Committee on ordination (2012-2014). After an insightful presentation by a pastor on the relations within the Godhead, a top-tier biblical scholar stood up and categorically exclaimed (in my hearing!): “God does not have a Son!” I was stunned - and vowed to make this my next topic of study. [The scholar has since clarified that God didn’t have a “natural” Son, like humans do via pro-creation. I maintain, however, that God had a literal Son, though the details are not revealed).
With the ordination debate getting old and not going anywhere (it was irredeemably paralyzed by analysis, emotions, misunderstandings, and presuppositions), I had asked God for a while what to study next - and here it was: The Sonship and true identity of Jesus Christ.
Reading the Bible
To that end I proceeded to read through the entire New Testament (in Greek), simply paying attention to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - no other literature or sources.
I was stunned again by the clear and consistent distinction between God and His Son Jesus Christ, and the absence of stock phrases such as “God the Son” and “God the Spirit”. The introductions to the New Testament letters in particular caught my attention. Here just one example (it works with every letter!):
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:7).
Mind you, again, I’m not in any contact with any anti-trinitarian movements, people, literature, or sources at that point. I’m simply reading, studying, pondering. Alone with the Alone!
I embraced John 17:3; 1 Cor 8:6; 11:3; Eph 4:5; 1 Thess 1:9-10; 1 Tim 2:5; 2 John 3.
Then at a church conference (at which I presented seminars) a speaker was expounding on Jesus’ relation to the Father. I sat up in my chair and elbowed my wife:”This guy knows what I know!”
I was eventually directed to a Daniel Mesa and an Allen Davis - pastors whom I had briefly met at a symposium on ordination, but whom I didn’t know personally, nor had interacted with. To my surprise, they were studying the issue of the Trinity as well and were independently coming to similar conclusions!
During that time I was also invited to speak at Michigan Camp Meeting on the topic of the Trinity. I eagerly agreed and kept studying. A few weeks before the camp meeting (summer 2016) I realized that I could not defend the doctrine of the Trinity (meaning 3 divine persons = 1 God, as formulated traditionally and by our fundamental beliefs) in good conscience, esp. not with the Bible in one hand and the Spirit of Prophecy in the other. It slowly dawned on me that I was in big trouble!
Michigan graciously granted me permission to speak on a different topic. I took the opportunity to sit in the Trinity seminar. In startling disbelief I patiently listened to the now familiar misuse of Scripture on the topic, and a puzzling oversight (avoidance?) of key Ellen White quotes. I carefully read the presenter’s book (whom I greatly respected), underlining and taking notes.
The 28 Fundamental Beliefs
In the Summer of 2017 representatives from the NAD (North American Division) came and shared with our Religion Department at Southwestern Adventist University that all professors of religion would eventually have to sign an affirming statement of the church’s 28 Fundamental Beliefs. (I don’t think this was in any way related to my situation). If a professor could not support those Fundamental Beliefs in any way, a peer review process of that professor’s beliefs would be initiated. I saw the writing on the wall, but it never came to that process for me.
The Beginning of the End
After simply liking some relevant and non-antagonistic questions on the Trinity on Facebook, one thing led to another and I lost several camp meetings in 2017 and 2018 over this issue. Some cancellations were based on mutual agreement of cordiality and respect. I did not want to bring ill repute on any church entity or leaders.
A mere Like . . . and the emails started coming. Mind you, I hadn’t spoken, printed, published, preached, or taught any anti-trinitarian sentiments. But I quickly discovered that a denominational employee can deny Ellen White, 1844, the heavenly sanctuary, the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments, the veracity of the Sabbath from Friday evening to Saturday evening (from the pulpit!) with no implications. But merely touch the doctrine of the Trinity and the axe falleth quickly. Unfortunately, rational thinking, biblical dialogue, and historical frameworks are overshadowed by emotional, knee-jerk reactions and dismissal. If the pioneers could turn over in their graves, the inside of their caskets would be polished to a silver shine. I very much appreciate the handful of scholars, pastors, and leaders who have reached out to me in a spirit of respect and constructive dialogue.
Summer 2018: At the Risk of Temporal Loss
After confiding in a church leader that it was best for me not to participate in a Conference’s camp meeting due to the rumblings of a rising rumor mill, word quickly spread of my pre-1980 pioneer views (which, again, I had neither taught, preached, or published at that point). A couple of phone calls by third parties in May 2018 led to the quick end of a 20-year teaching career for the denomination - overnight, with no study committee, no peer review, no departmental consultation, no prescribed denominational processes.
In my over 25 years of denominational ministry - and during those difficult summer days - I have learned that it is best to speak to people face-to-face. Regretfully, this is often not the case. How much misunderstanding and interpersonal harm could be prevented by following this simple procedure!
Most stunning was a comment by a church administrator during all this: “Ingo, you might be right (!), but they have to protect the institution.”
No comment. The statement speaks for itself.
The need for my resignation became most apparent - though I entertained no “new light”.
I discovered and support a belief acceptable for over 100 years!
Historical Context: Landmarks
Consider this historical factor - and affirmation:
“The leading points of our faith as we hold them today were firmly established. Point after point was clearly defined, and all the brethren came into harmony. The whole company of believers were united in the truth. There were those who came in with strange doctrines, but we were never afraid to meet them. Our experience was wonderfully established by the revelation of the Holy Spirit” (3MR 413 1903).
“As a people we are to stand firm on the platform of eternal truth that has withstood test and trial. We are to hold to the sure pillars of our faith. The principles of truth that God has revealed to us are our only true foundation. They have made us what we are. The lapse of time had not lessened their value” (Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 2, p. 51. 1904/CWE 52).
Simply put, "God is the Father of Christ; Christ is the Son of God. To Christ has been given an exalted position. He has been made equal with the Father. All the counsels of God are opened to His Son" (8T 268).
“No line of truth that has made the Seventh-day Adventist people what they are, is to be weakened. We have the old landmarks of truth, experience, and duty, and we are to stand firmly in defense of our principles, in full view of the world” (6T 17).
The Gospel is so precious and meaningful in the framework of the one true God and His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ. Honestly and humbly, I have gained a whole new understanding and appreciation of the love of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Gospel. My heart is warmed, my mind at awe.
For the sake of peace and unity, I also resigned as head elder from my beloved church plant my wife and I helped raise between 2014 and 2018. I did not wish to split a thriving congregation into an independent movement, or cause discord among the brethren. I also did not want to put my local conference in an awkward position.
Interestingly, since my departure from denominational labor literally dozens of staunch church members and respected elders (even pastors) have quietly confided in me, sharing my concerns about the wording of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs - which were never meant to be a creed AND are subject to change at every General Conference.
Some high-ranking leaders have admitted to me privately that the wording of Fundamental Belief #2 in particular was, indeed, problematic.
I simply advocate for a return to a previous, more biblical wording of our fundamental beliefs. In my studies I have concluded that trinitarian formulations are the result of a misguided attempt for the Advent movement to become ecumenically acceptable to other Christian entities.
The oneness of God is clearly not one of 3=1, but as Ellen White defined in MH 421 (which, I have discovered, is what many faithful Adventists believe):
“The Scriptures clearly indicate the relation between God and Christ,...The unity that exists between Christ and His disciples does not destroy the personality of either. They are one in purpose, in mind, in character, but not in person. It is thus that God and Christ are one” (MH 421; John 17:22!).
Therefore, I am convinced and convicted that our 1872 Statement of Fundamental Principles was sufficient in concept and wording:
“IN presenting to the public this synopsis of our faith, we wish to have it distinctly understood that we have no articles of faith, creed, or discipline, aside from the Bible. We do not put forth this as having any authority with our people, nor is it designed to secure uniformity among them, as a system of faith, but is a brief statement of what is, and has been, with great unanimity, held by them.
I. That there is one God, a personal, spiritual being, the creator of all things, omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal, infinite in wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, truth, and mercy; unchangeable, and everywhere present by his representative, the Holy Spirit. Ps. 139:7.
II. That there is one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father”
Simple. Straight-forward. Biblical.
Frankly (and unfortunately), it is difficult to keep up with the deluge of inquiries and genuine concerns; I am literally months behind in responding to the many manuscripts and resources I have received to review and respond to. I am slowly working through them, as time permits. You are not ignored!
Naturally, many rumors and perceptions about me and other believers in the one true God are incorrect and ill-informed. I am a supportive Seventh-day Adventist and believe in the Father, His divine Son Jesus Christ, and their divine Holy Spirit, according to the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy. I still attend my local church, and return my tithe and offerings locally (contrary to many mainstream conservatives now who are deeply troubled by the state of the church).
Many have pointed out to me that “we cannot understand God”. Agreed. But also consider this:
“We must know Him as He reveals Himself...all depend upon a right knowledge of God. This is the knowledge that is essential preparation both for this life and for the life to come”... “A knowledge of God is the foundation of all true education and of all true service” (MH 409).
God (and, ironically, some like-minded friends) quickly provided employment in the form of hospice chaplaincy, which is a profound blessing. I now have the privilege to reach many secular people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and most fundamentally with a basic, ground-level love for God and people during the sunset moments of their lives.
While I miss preaching the Three Angels’ messages directly within the context of denominational labor, I am reminded of Paul’s predicament in Rome:
Labor in Bonds
”And yet in less than two years the gospel found its way from the prioner’s lowly home into the imperial halls. Paul is in bonds as an evildoer; but ‘the word of god is not bound’” (2 Tim 2:9; AA 462).
”Yet it was at this very time, when its chief advocate was apparently cut off from public labor, that a great victory was won for the gospel” (AA 462).
”In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul ascribed to his own imprisonment his success in winning converts to the faith from Nero’s household. Fearful lest it might be thought that his afflictions had impeded the progress of the gospel, he assured them: ‘I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel” Phil 1:12; AA 463).
”Human expectations had failed, but not the purpose of God. Not by Paul’s sermons, but by his bonds, was the attention of the court attracted to Christianity. It was as a captive that he broke from so many souls the bonds that held them in the slavery of sin. Nor was this all. He declared: ‘Many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Phil 1:14; AA 464).
Finally . . .
“Paul’s patience and cheerfulness during this long and unjust imprisonment, his courage and faith, were a continual sermon His spirit, so unlike the spirit of the world, bore witness that a power higher than that of earth was abiding with him. And by his example, Christians were impelled to greater energy as advocates of the cause from the public labors of which Paul had been withdrawn. In these ways were the apostle’s bonds influential, so that when his power and usefulness seemed cut off, and to all appearance he could do the least, then it was that he gathered sheaves for Christ in fields from which he seemed whollly excluded” (AA 464).
”By meekness under trial, no less than by boldness in enterprise, souls may be won to Christ. The Christian who manifests patience and cheerfulness under bereavement and suffering, who meets even death itself with the peace and calmness of an unwavering faith, may accomplish for the gospel more than he could have effected by a long life of faithful labor.
Often when the servant of God is withdrawn from active duty, the mysterious providence which our shortsighted vision would lament is designed by God to accomplish a work that otherwise would never have been done.
Let not the follower of Christ think, when he is no longer able to labor openly and actively for God and His truth, that he has no service to render reward to secure. Christ’s true witnesses are never laid aside . . From the ashes of the martyrs has sprung an abundant harvest for God” (AA 465).
[I’m indebted to my faithful wife for pointing out this admittedly painful reality to me from her personal devotional time.]
I encourage all believers in the one true God and the Lord Jesus Christ not to let “any root of bitterness springing up” (Heb 12:15).
A church leader recently asked me what I consider myself, regardless of outcome of all this? Without hesitation I responded:
A Seventh-day Adventist. From head to toe.
So, onward, Waldensians.
”Lord! Open the eyes of the King of England!” - Tyndale
Ingo Sorke, Ph.D. - update 2.2.2019
For a PDF version Click HERE