SDARM, Health, Cheese & Chocolate

Eating our Way to Heaven – Reformist Style

The Reformists of the SDARM generally BELIEVE and TEACH:
- Vegetarianism should be a ‘salvation issue’ as a test of fellowship.
The Reformists are WRONG because:
- Ellen White herself explicitly said vegetarianism and other food-related reforms should not be a test of fellowship.
- Eating meat clearly is not a sin.  As observed in Luke 24:42-43, Jesus in His Resurrect form ate fish.
- Ellen White herself ate meat at times when other foods were not available.
- Ellen White gave no counsel against chocolate or cocoa.
- Ellen White did counsel against cheese; however, as her son later noted, she and her family continued to eat soft ‘dutch’ cheeses, like cottage cheese.
- Ellen White taught that food reform would be progressive, dependent upon time and geographical location.  For example, her own family distinguished between beef in agrarian nations like Australia compared with others.
- The idea that vegetarianism should be a test of Christian fellowship has absolutely no basis in scripture.  Reformists do not in practice uphold the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura – the Bible and the Bible alone.

Militant vegetarianism

The extremist SDARM views on vegetarianism?
As observed by Helmut Kramer in SDA Reform Movement at page 45, the SDARM Church(es) make vegetarianism a test of fellowship, which dramatically impacts the Reformist ability to spread the Gospel worldwide:
‘the Reform Movement has made it a worldwide test of fellowship that no flesh may be eaten by its members. This stand, though well meant, bars the proclamation of the last message from countries where other foods than flesh are not readily available. How would it be possible for the Reformers to bring the message to the Eskimos, for example? Despite the fact that I am a confirmed vegetarian, I see that this unbending stand limits the outreach of the gospel. In addition it places the teachings of the church above that of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy.’
Reformists do not merely promote good health.  Rather, they effectively make it a ‘salvation issue’ essential to one’s faith.  As stated by Paul Godfrey in “What Has Diet Got to do with My Salvation” from ‘independent historic’ Reformers Sabbath Sermons:
‘What has health got to do with our salvation? Has health got anything to do with our salvation? Am I saved by having a certain diet? Am I lost because I eat bacon? Am I saved because I don’t eat bacon? How does health and diet impact my spirituality? Many people are divided on the topic. Many texts are used to support that diet has nothing to do with our salvation.’
Should vegetarianism be a test of fellowship?

As observed by Helmut Kramer in SDA Reform Movement at page 28, the Reformists make vegetarianism a test of fellowship, despite counsel from Spirit of Prophecy against imposing such a test:
‘For example, the Reform Movement has made the question of vegetarianism a test of fellowship, despite the clear statement from the Pen of Inspiration that no such position should be taken: "We are not to make the use of flesh food a test of fellowship..."’
What did Mrs White teach about vegetarianism?
As always, Mrs White was a very practical woman.  She understood and endorsed the importance of good health, which included a vegetarian diet.  However, she understood that such ideas must not be applied with the sort of inflexibly or fanaticism common amongst Reformists.  Ellen White explicitly stated on the subject:
‘My brother, you are not to make a test for the people of God upon the question of diet… I have never felt that it was my duty to say that no one should taste of meat under any circumstances. To say this . . . would be carrying matters to extremes. I have never felt that it was my duty to make sweeping assertions. What I have said I have said under a sense of duty, but I have been guarded in my statements, because I did not want to give occasion for anyone to be conscience for another (Counsels on Diet and Foods, pp.205, 462, 463). (emphasis added)
Did Ellen White eat meat herself at times?
Ellen White was a pragmatic woman – not a fanatic.  She recognised that one should eat the best food that was available.  However, as admitted by the Ellen White Estate, meat eating could be warranted due to availability of vegetarian foods (especially when travelling); due to poverty; or due to medical emergencies.
As to eating meat on account of travelling, the Ellen White Estate admits:
‘You will find in Sister White's writings several instances where she says flesh meats do not appear on our table, and this was true. During a number of years when on rare occasions a little meat was used, [it] was considered to be an emergency.’
As to eat meat on account of poverty, Ellen White herself acknowledged, in an 1895 letter from Australia to Elder A O Tait:
‘I have been passing through an experience in this country that is similar to the experience I had in new fields in America [in the earlier decades of the nineteenth century]. I have seen families whose circumstances would not permit them to furnish their table with healthful food. Unbelieving neighbors have sent them in portions of meat from animals recently killed. They have made soup of the meat, and supplied their large families of children with meals of bread and soup. It was not my duty, nor did I think it was the duty of anyone else, to lecture them upon the evils of meat eating. I feel sincere pity for families who have newly come to the faith, and who are so pressed with poverty that they know not from whence their next meal is coming.’ (Letter 76 (June 6), 1895).
As to eating meat on account of medical emergencies, Mrs White stated:
‘In certain cases of illness or exhaustion it may be thought best to use some meat, but great care should be taken to secure the flesh of healthy animals.’ (CTBH 117, 118 (1890); cited in CD 394, #699)
Is eating meat a sin?
The Bible makes clear that Jesus ate meat.  If eating meat was a sin, it would make Jesus a sinner! In fact, one should consider the theological consequences of Jesus in His glorified (as opposed to pre-Cross) Resurrected body eating fish as recorded in Luke 24:42-43:
‘They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.’
By contrast, Paul Godfrey in “What Has Diet Got to do with My Salvation” from ‘independent historic’ Reformers Sabbath Sermons, tries to argue that the NT Church in Acts 15 prohibited meat eating in its entirety:
‘When you see in Acts 15 the council of Jerusalem about the Law of Moses and circumcision the Apostle said, don’t worry about circumcision. Leave these things alone but make sure that people avoid fornication. Don’t eat blood and things that are strangled and things offered to idols. These things are carried forward into the Christian church. That means red meat is not Christian according to the apostles. (emphasis added)
However, Paul Godfrey’s statement makes little sense.  The fact is the Law of Moses does allow meat eating – there was an entire sacrificial system built around it no less.  Jesus’ last meal was the Passover, which involved the consumption of meat. 
What the OT forbade was not meat per se but eating certain types of animals, the eating of blood or the eating of fat. It is the eating of blood that is forbidden in the Noahide Laws found in Gen 9, which even Jews today think binds Gentiles.  Thus, what both the OT and NT require is kosher slaughter, which involves the draining of all blood from meat – i.e. no medium rare steaks.  Similarly, the OT Noahide laws possibly require the consumption of ‘clean’ foods because Noah had 7 pairs of clean animals on the Ark – and these rules still seem to apply in the NT period.
Therefore, both the OT and NT uphold the Adventist teachings on eating certain kinds of meat, as well as prohibitions on types of slaughter.  However, there is no basis to support Paul Godfrey’s assertion that this ‘means red meat is not Christian according to the apostles.’ That is simply wrong.
Ellen White also rightly observes that Adventists refrain from meat as a principle of good health, not because eating meat is itself a sin:
‘I advise every Sabbathkeeping canvasser to avoid meat eating, not because it is regarded as a sin to eat meat, but because it is not healthful.’ (Manuscript 15, 1889)
As meat-eating is not a sin, it is difficult to see on what basis it should or could be considered an ‘essential’ salvation issue that warrants becoming a test of fellowship.  In any event, Ellen White herself made clear that eating meat shouldn’t be a test of fellowship. 
What about prophecies about future vegetarianism?

Both the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy suggest a time will come in the future where God’s people will not eat.  Jesus talked about a return to our Edenic conditions and Daniel and his vegetarian friends may be an eschatological archetype for God’s End Time People.  However, whilst that is the eventual objective, one should recognise that is a gradual process, as admitted by Sister White:
‘Among those who are waiting for the coming of the Lord, meat eating will eventually be done away; flesh will cease to form a part of their diet. We should ever keep this end in view, and endeavor to work steadily toward it. I cannot think that in the practice of flesh eating we are in harmony with the light which God has been pleased to give us.’— Counsels on Diet and Foods, pp. 380-381 (1890). (emphasis added)
One would not her use of the phrase ‘steadily toward it’, which suggests a gradual process – not a radical or inflexible imposition.  Similarly and again, reform of diet is a gradual process:
‘The diet reform should be progressive. As disease in animals increases, the use of milk and eggs will become more and more unsafe. An effort should be made to supply their place with other things that are healthful and inexpensive. The people everywhere should be taught how to cook without milk and eggs, so far as possible, and yet have their food wholesome and palatable.’— Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 365 (emphasis added)
However, Mrs White warned:
‘The time has not yet come to prescribe the strictest diet.’— Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 163.  (emphasis added)
The important point is that diet reform is progressive and incremental, and driven by changing conditions in the location environment.  In fact, dietary reform is likely to occur at different rates in different countries. Mrs White’s son recognised this, in explaining an occasion where Ellen White did eat meat whilst in Australia:
‘When I bought the beefsteak, I reasoned that freshly killed ox from this cattle country, would probably be a healthy animal and that the risk of acquiring disease would be very small. This was eight or nine years before Sister White decided at the time of the Melbourne camp-meeting [1894] to be a teetotaler as regards the eating of flesh foods.’
A modern analogy is to observe meat is simply not the same around the world.  For example, beef from Argentina and Australia are still grass fed and thus the cows are relatively healthy – much the same as cows in biblical times.  By contrast, beef in the US is ‘industrialized’ on a massive scale, where cows are held in large factory-pens and fed nothing but corn. 
Thus, Ellen White’s prophecies about unsafe meat has immediacy in the US a way it does not in say Argentina and Australia.  Again, it is not so much the Reformists’ view as their inflexible and dogmatic application which is the primary problem.
So after all this, how can the SDARM Church(es) make vegetarianism a test of fellowship?
As outlined above, Ellen White made very clear that vegetarianism should not be a test of fellowship.  Moreover, Sister White made comments that we are not yet at a time where the strictest diet should be prescribed.  
As explained in their fundamental of belief on Christian Temperance, the simple way the Reformists get around this is to suggest Sister White’s prophecy is now fulfilled.  They suggest we are now in fact living at a time where the strictest diet should and indeed must (on pain of disfellowshipment) be enforced around the whole world:
It is evident to us that the time has come for "the strictest diet [to] be prescribed."’ (emphasis added)
Of course such a view is problematic because:
·       it effectively means the diet Reformation has stopped and is no longer progressive;
·       it fails to acknowledge that the quality of meat around the world is in fact still different, where not all countries have adopted the sorts of industrialized farming techniques that Mrs White warned about;
·       it effectively amounts to an attempt to guess the ‘hour of His coming’, by imposing an institutional mandate of suggesting the End is Come; and
·       it amounts to an institutional and artificial law, rather than allow the Holy Spirit to eventually reform each of God’s People in their own hearts and minds, according to their own localised situation.
Would Ellen White be expelled from the SDARM today?
The great irony of course is that by SDARM standards, Ellen White herself probably would be disciplined.  By modern fanatical Reformist standards, Ellen White’s statements and actions regarding diet would probably render her liable for expulsion from the Reformist Church(es).

Bizarre aspects of the Reformist understanding of health
Prohibitions on cheese and chocolate
As observed by Timothy D. Manning in ‘Seventh-day Adventists: Withdrawing Consent or Forging the Chains of Servitude on the relationship of ‘Church and State’ (North Carolina Heritage Foundation) at page 10, many Reformists take some pretty extreme views on matters of diet, such as prohibit the eating of all types of cheese and chocolate:
‘Other such critical requirements were that members are not permitted to eat chocolate or cheese, may not go to the cinema, dance or watch television.’
As for a prohibition on cocoa and chocolate, as argued by Jethro Klodd in “Back to Eden”, cited in the ‘independent historic’ Reforms Sabbath Sermons, referring to a purported statement by SDA Pioneer E. J. Waggoner:
‘But you drink cocoa and chocolate?” No; I have no use for them; for while they contain a little food, they contain more that is injurious.’ {September 20, 1900 EJW, PTUK 608.9}
However, at best Klodd can only point to statements by Waggoner and Jones – not Mrs White. In fact there is no such prohibition from her, as admitted by the Ellen White Estate:
‘Neither cocoa nor chocolate are mention in E. G. White’s writings, published or unpublished… Cocoa and chocolate, unlike tea and coffee, do have food value.’
As for cheese and milk, Sister White does warn against such products. 
‘Now if we persist in taking in food and drink that are filled with germs, such as meat and cheese and unsterilized milk and butter may we not expect that when a severe strain is brought upon us, or when some contagious disease is prevalent, the body will be so overtaxed that we shall not be able to resist an attack? If the antiseptic powers of our bodies are taxed all the time to their utmost capacity, we are entirely unprepared for an emergency. The body can offer little or no resistance to disease.’ {February 17, 1895 N/A, GCB 184.1} (emphasis added)
However, one will note the mention of unsterilized milk. Thus, one must consider the 19th-Century circumstances of Ellen White’s times, before the wholesale pasteurization of milk. Moreover, the issue is not about a simplistic prohibition – as many Reformists would have it.
As to cheese, there are debates about the types of cheese Mrs White might be referring to – whether it included all types of cheese, both hard and soft, regardless of the type of milk used.  Again as admitted by Ellen White’s son:
‘Cottage cheese, sometimes called “Dutch cheese” or “smear-case” was not included in Mrs White’s condemnation of cheese.  This was used by herself and her family.’
As recent scandals concerning contaminated milk in China, like many food issues, the question of progressive health reform very much relates to particular individual circumstances worldwide.  Thus, there will no doubt come a time when Ellen White’s prophecy will be fulfilled:
‘Tell them that the time will soon come when there will be no safety in using eggs, milk, cream, or butter, because disease in animals is increasing in proportion to the increase of wickedness among men.’—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p. 135.
Once again, the principal concern with the Reformists is not merely their views but their rigid and inflexible application of those views. 
Do the SDARM uphold other pillars of the health message – like exercise or rest?
As observed by Helmut Kramer in SDA Reform Movement at page 45, for all their fanaticism on diet, Reformists seem to be fairly non-observant when it comes to other principles of health reform, such as exercise and rest:
‘The Reform Movement has stressed the health message, but often without proper direction or true understanding. In essence, their entire health message centers around diet. Very little is ever mentioned about exercise and the need for sufficient rest.’
No doubt the Reformist ideals of restrictive clothing (in fact more restrictive than biblical standards) has something to do with the lack of sufficient exercise. See the article on Dress Reform for further information.
Do the SDARM introduce largely irrelevant rules about health?
As also observed by Helmut Kramer in SDA Reform Movement at page 19, the sum total of SDARM health reform in some countries is a bizarre application of unscriptural rules, such as forbidding the mixing of sweet and sour foods:
‘In Mexico, for example, the very essence of the health message was not to mix salty and sweet foods at meals. The union president taught that this counsel came from the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy which, of course, was not the case.’
A similar bizarre observation is made by Timothy D. Manning in ‘Seventh-day Adventists: Withdrawing Consent or Forging the Chains of Servitude on the relationship of ‘Church and State’ (North Carolina Heritage Foundation) at page 9, concerning a debate about eating beans and rice at the same meal:
‘There were numerous eccentricities and inconsistencies in this movement. For example, at one of their [SDARM] General Conference sessions, it was debated whether to make it “unlawful” to eat beans and rice at the same meal, and to make this a testing point of faith and membership. This was strongly supported by the South American delegations, but was finally rejected.’
Do the SDARM largely ignore basic rules of good health – like basic sanitation?
In fact, like the ancient Pharisees in Mark 7 who ritually washed their hands – but only with a thimble of water which thereby defeated the whole health purpose of the practice – the Reformist ideas about the health message actively defeat or ignore some of its more important features.  For example, as also observed by Helmut Kramer in SDA Reform Movement at page 45, whilst being extremely fanatical on diet, Reformists in many countries lack even basic knowledge in the rudimentary of sanitation:
People in those areas of the world who take the most extreme positions on diet know little or nothing about simple sanitation. For example, I think of an experience I had while visiting one of the countries of Central America. The mission operated a bakery on its grounds. Supposedly, the workers prepared good healthful bread. To my shock, the rising loaves were covered with flies. A cat ran freely through the bakery, and a parrot sat in an open window nearby. The director saw no problem with these conditions, even though he was overly strict in other areas of healthful living.’
Do Reformists promote things actively bad for one’s health?

It is one thing to promote good principles of health albeit in an fanatical way.  However, Reformists arguably go further in actively promoting things dangerous for one’s health.  For example, as observed by Timothy D. Manning in ‘Seventh-day Adventists: Withdrawing Consent or Forging the Chains of Servitude on the relationship of ‘Church and State’ (North Carolina Heritage Foundation) at page 10, Reformists often do not accept vaccinations for their children:
‘Also, they do not accept vaccinations for their children, and tend to keep away from orthodox medical practices and cures. There are also some “regular” SDA's who follow some these practices and made them issues in their local churches.’
Does the Reformist fanaticism towards health distort their view of scripture?
As again observed by Helmut Kramer in SDA Reform Movement at page 46, the Reformist fanaticism towards health can and does distort Reformist views of scripture, such as whether Jesus did or did not in fact eat meat whilst on earth:
‘At a seminar I taught in Central America some of the students asked me to confirm their conviction that Christ, while on earth, did not eat fish. Rather than answer their question with a yes or no, I suggested that we turn to the Scriptures. The Bible plainly stated that Christ ate fish along with the disciples. Even after His resurrection He ate fish. “And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them" (Luke 24:42-43). This so shocked the students that I feared they would lose their faith in Christ. Health reform had become so distorted in their minds that it took precedence over the example of Jesus.’

Principal concerns about Reformist fanaticism on health
What are the principal concerns about the Reformist views?
The principal concern is not the promotion of good diet. No doubt all Adventists would be better off if they adopted a vegan lifestyle without meat, eggs or milk products.  However, by placing such an emphasis on diet, even to become a test of fellowship, the Reformists arguably create additional and unscriptural burdens that make it unnecessarily difficult for people to accept the Gospel.  One is mindful of Jesus challenge to the Pharisees about such burdens in Matt 23:3:
‘They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.’
The principal concern with the SDARM Church(es) is that in their fanaticism about health, diet becomes more important than spreading the 3-Angel’s messages, as observed by Helmut Kramer in SDA Reform Movement at page 46:
‘In many areas of the world the Reformers have perverted the health message by giving it precedence over the three angels' messages, and even the Ten Commandments. In those areas the health message has changed from the right arm to being the entire body. This the Lord never intended.’

Lessons from Scripture about health fanaticism
A lesson from Mark 7
No one is denying that food is important, and that the health of the body does impact the spiritual life of a person.  Paul attests as such in 1 Cor 10:31:
‘Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.’
The problem with Reformists is in fact that in their fanaticism they defeat the very benefit to which it was intended.  A lesson for this topic can be taken from Mark 7.    
In Mark 7:18-23 Jesus states:
‘He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”’
Contrary to what is commonly taught by non-Adventist Christians, Jesus was not advocating pork eating in vs19.  Rather, as made clear in verse 1-5, Jesus was dealing with the Pharisaic practice of washing hands:
‘Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.  (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders;  and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)  So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”’
Now the Law did require cleanliness – but only for the Temple Priests when eating consecrated food, as attested in Num 18:13:
‘The first fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours; everyone who is clean in your house may eat of it.’
The problem with the Pharisees is that in typical fashion, they had extended a ritual from the Sanctuary and applied it to laymen and ordinary food in everyday situations.  As such, they had effectively devised up a man-made rule and imposed it on the people – even though it was unscriptural.
Secondly, the Pharisees were not washing their hands for hygiene because they were only using a thimble of water.  As such, their washing was only a ritual – it offered none of the practical health benefits which undermine most of the ancient OT food laws.
Finally, the Pharisees’ obsession with ritual purity had nothing to do with health and everything to do with ideas of spiritual elitism and self-righteousness. For these reasons, Jesus made clear that a person’s moral and ethical purity is not a food issue.  After all, Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian - so we should be careful of equating morality with food practices alone.  
Jesus condemned the Pharisees on all of these accounts. The SDARM face similar dangers.  First, they effectively develop man-made laws about health.  Second, in their obsession over diet they in fact dispense with other important principles of health reform.  Third, they elevate issues of diet to moral and ethical issues.  As such, they arguably undermine the very purposes for which the health reform message was given.   
A lesson from the Eucharist controversy
As a final illustration, the Reformist view reminds one of the Eucharist controversy about the nature of Christ.  In short, during the Chalcedon controversy in the 4th Century, and then centuries later between Luther and Zwingli, the Roman Catholic faction of Christendom has argued that the bread wafer of the Lord’s Supper literally comes the body of Jesus.  Part of the theological rationale for this view, as first argued by Cyril of Alexandria, was the idea that through eating the Eucharist one attains apotheosis – i.e. to literally become ‘god like.’ 
During the Protestant Reformation, Zwingli argued against Luther than the bread is only a symbol, not the literal body of Jesus.  Adventists have long upheld this view.  As part of his reasoning, Zwingli said that to suggest one can ‘eat their way to heaven’ is an anathema to the message of Christ.
As a lesson from the Eucharist controversy, and important question arises.  No one denies the importance of good health, including a vegetarian diet.  However, do the Reformists take it too far? 
Are the SDARM Church(es), in making a vegetarian diet and other food laws a test of fellowship, effectively saying one can eat themselves to heaven?  With the greatest irony, do Reformists adopt a Papal attitude to the issue of health? 


  1. Inconvenient truth

  2. Really appreciate you article! Very valuable advice :)


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