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Ellen White and the Frequency of the Lord's Supper
A Reliable Guide for the SDA Church?
By Dirk Anderson, Sep. 2011
One argument frequently presented by those advocating Ellen White's prophethood is that God gave her special discernment enabling her to correctly guide the SDA Church on questions of doctrine. SDA Professor Jud Lake writes:
Rather than draw those Adventist pioneers away from sound biblical teaching, her visions moved them toward it.1
Elder Lake cites an incident that took place on August 18, 1848, in Volney, New York, as an example of how God used Ellen White to direct "the church away from strange unbiblical ideas about...the Lord's Supper."2 Sister White was confronted with three different doctrinal challenges advocated by various individuals in the church. One man believed the Millennium to be in the past, and another believed the raising of the 144,000 to be in the past. While these first two issues could be solved by even the most elementary Bible student, the answer to the third issue was less obvious. The third issue was brought forward by one who believed the Lord's Supper should be celebrated annually. Ellen White recounts what happened:
As we had before us the emblems of our dying Lord, and were about to commemorate His sufferings, this brother arose and said that he had no faith in what we were about to do; that the Lordís supper was a continuation of the Passover, and should be partaken of but once a year.We can clearly see that Ellen White's "vision" convinced the brethren that it was an error to celebrate the Lord's Supper annually according to the Passover tradition.
Quarterly Celebration of the Lord's Supper based entirely upon Church Tradition
Seventh-day Adventists celebrate the Lord's Supper quarterly. What is their reason for choosing this frequency? According to their doctrinal statement:
Adventists have followed the practice of many Protestants to have this ordinance four times a year.4There is no New Testatement or apostolic precendence for celebrating the event quarterly. Their selection of this frequency was based entirely upon the tradition of the same churches that Ellen White labeled as "Apostate Protestantism" and the daughters of Babylon.5
Annual Celebration of the Lord's Supper an "Error"?
Is it an "error" to celebrate the Lord's Supper annually? Did God really guide Ellen White to follow the quarterly Lord's Supper tradition of Protestant churches--the same churches she called "Apostate Protestantism"? Let us examine the Biblical and historical evidence.
1. Lord's Supper Celebration Replaced Passover. Ellen White, in Desire of Ages, correctly stated that the Lord's Supper ordinance replaced the Passover feast:
Christ was standing at the point of transition between two economies and their two great festivals. He, the spotless Lamb of God, was about to present Himself as a sin offering, that He would thus bring to an end the system of types and ceremonies that for four thousand years had pointed to His death. As He ate the Passover with His disciples, He instituted in its place the service that was to be the memorial of His great sacrifice. The national festival of the Jews was to pass away forever. The service which Christ established was to be observed by His followers in all lands and through all ages.4
2. Passover was celebrated once a year on the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar:
On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD's Passover.6Just knowing these two simple facts, (1)Lord's Supper replaced Passover, and (2)Passover was celebrated once-a-year, one could logically conclude that the Lord's Supper should be celebrated once-a-year.
3. Early Christians celebrated Passover annually. There was a conflict in the early church over Passover, but the conflict was not about whether Passover should be celebrated, but upon which date to celebrate it. There were two sides to the confict. One side, headed by Polycarp, leader of the churches in Asia Minor and acclaimed to have been a disciple of the apostle John, chose to celebrate on the 14th day of the Jewish month, as had been the tradition of the apostles. The other side was led by Bishop Anicetus of the Roman Church. Wishing to differentiate themselves from the Jews, the churches of Rome and Alexandria chose to celebrate on Easter Sunday. At one point Polycarp travelled to Rome around 155 AD to try and resolve the conflict:
Anicetus could not persuade Polycarp to forgo the observance inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of the Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to keep it: Anicetus said that he must hold to the way of the elders before him.7The historian Eusebius wrote that Polycarp observed Passover this way because ďhe had always observed it with John the disciple of our Lord, and the rest of the apostles, with whom he associatedĒ.8 The issue continued to divide the Church of Asia from the Church of Rome until at "the First Council of Nicaea in 325 it was decided that all Christian churches would celebrate Easter on the same day."9
4. The Lord's Supper is referred to in Scripture as "the Passover". SDA scholar Samuelle Bacchiocchi explains:
A third indication of the continuity of Passover in the Christian church is the paschal nature of the Last Supper. The Last Supper was not simply a farewell fellowship meal; it was a special Passover meal during which Jesus instituted a new Passover to commemorate His sacrificial death.
5. Passover sets the historical pattern for the annual observance of the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is a memorial. Jesus said of the event, "this do in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). Memorials are typically celebrated annually. The Passover, a memorial of Israel's deliverance from Egypt, was celebrated annually by the Jews, not quarterly or weekly. National days of remembrance for presidents and other great leaders or war heroes are celebrated annually. There is no Biblical or historical precedent for celebrating a "memorial" quarterly. Quarterly observance of the Lord's Supper is based squarely upon the "traditions of men" (Matt. 15:9).
Did Ellen White correctly lead the SDA Church to reject annual observance of the Lord's Supper? The SDA Church's foremost theologian, Dr. Samuelle Bacchiocchi, in his book From Sabbath to Sunday, explains that the early Christians celebrated the annual Passoever in remembrance of the Lord's death.11 Bacchiocchi says the Passover was kept annually for centuries by Christians who traced their lineage to the apostles, and speculates it was only changed by Rome because of anti-semetic and pagan influences.12
In conclusion, the practice of celebrating the Lord's Supper annually on Passover evening is consistent with Biblical and historical records of the early church. The practice of celebrating the Lord's Supper quarterly rests entirely upon the "traditions of men." This being the case, is it really an "error" to celebrate the Lord's Supper annually on the date of the Passover meal? You decide.
1. Jud Lake, Ellen White Under Fire, p. 258.
2. Ibid., p. 257.
3. Ellen White, Life Sketches, p. 111.
4. Seventh-day Adventists Believe..., p. 204, footnote #19.
5. Ellen White, The Great Controversy, pp. 615-616. See also The Great Controversy, p. 382. "Babylon is said to be Ďthe mother of harlots.í By her daughters must be symbolized churches that cling to her doctrines and traditions, and follow her example."
6. Leviticus 23:5.
7. Wikipedia, "Quartodecimanism", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quartodecimanism, Sep. 11, 2011.
8. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 1995, pp. 210-211, cited from "Should Chrisitans Celebrate Passover or Easter", http://www.thejerusalemconnection.us/columns/2010/03/25/should-christians-celebrate-passover-or-easter.html.
9. Wikipedia, "Easter", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter, Sep. 11, 2011.
10. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., GODíS FESTIVALS IN SCRIPTURE AND HISTORY VOLUME I: THE SPRING FESTIVALS, chapter 4.
11. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., From Sabbath to Sunday, chapter 3, http://www.biblicalperspectives.com/books/sabbath_to_sunday/3.html.
11. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., GODíS FESTIVALS IN SCRIPTURE AND HISTORY VOLUME I: THE SPRING FESTIVALS, chapter 4. Bacchiocchi writes: "A clear indication of the importance of Passover in the religious life of the early Church is the controversy which flared up in the second century over the date for celebrating Passover. ... The two protagonists of the controversy were Bishop Victor of Rome (A. D. 189-199) and Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus. Bishop Victor championed the observance of Passover on the Sunday following the date of the Jewish Passover (Easter-Sunday). He tried to enforce the adoption of this date on the Christian church at large. Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus and the leaders of the Asian churches strongly advocated the traditional Passover date of Nisan 14, transmitted to them by the Apostles Philip and John. They refused to be frightened into submission by the threats of Victor of Rome and eventually were excommunicated by the Roman bishop. Our study suggests that two significant factors contributed to the abandonment of the Biblical Passover date of Nisan 14 and to the adoption of Easter-Sunday, namely, anti-Judaism and paganism. Anti-Judaism influenced the abandonment of the traditional date of Passover (Nisan 14) in order for Christians to distance themselves from the Jews. Paganism influenced the adoption of pagan cosmic speculations and myths to make Easter-Sunday attractive to Christians coming from a pagan background."
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