A recent poll from Dalhousie University showed that Canada’s millennials are turning to vegetarian and vegan diets at “mind-blowing rates.” However, one does not need such a poll to know that today’s young people are turning vegetarian and vegan in droves.
In my hometown of Toronto, Canada, you can walk into any vegan restaurant establishment, and you will see it packed full of millennials. Even in restaurants that are not wholly plant-based, they are catching onto the trend and offering vegan options. We have a rising generation of young people who find veganism to be hip, cool and the “right thing to do.” Today’s millennials are turning to vegetarian and veganism because they are health-conscious, ethically sensitive, and environmentally concerned.
But when I read this article, I couldn’t help but ask: “How come there is an enthusiastic trend towards changing to a vegetarian or vegan diet among those outside the church, but many within God’s own church are not?” Now, this is not to suggest that the rates of vegetarian and vegan eating patterns are higher out there than within the Seventh-day Adventist church.
According to one paper coming out of the Adventist Health study – 2 cohort, approximately 45 percent of North American Adventists practice some form of vegetarianism with about 8 percent being strict vegetarians. This is much higher than a national poll that suggests that approximately 3.3 percent of the American adult population are vegetarian or vegan. However, it is unfortunate that though there is a wave of enthusiasm for plant-based eating out there, that within there are still many who try to ignore, argue against, and, worse yet, even mock the health message.
As a result, this article will attempt to present answers to the common arguments some people within the church raise concerning the health message. I hope these answers will be helpful in the conversation involving God’s light on health. A question-and-answer format is used to facilitate understanding.
“It’s not a salvational issue.”
This is a very common argument people raise against following the health message. However, I don’t see anywhere in the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy where, when confronted with a plain instruction from the Lord, we get to choose what is salvational and what is not. Humanity obviously has the freedom to choose whether to obey or not. But the salvific weight of God’s instructions is not for us to conjecture about.
If a certain practice is nowhere to be found, whether explicitly stated or given in clear principle within the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy, it is man-made and we do not need to follow it. However, if a certain instruction is clearly stated as God’s will for His children, then the only response from those who love the Lord is to ask Him for divine strength to remove the barriers, and to go forward in obedience. God’s children should not mull over the question “Is this salvific or is this not” when faced with something that is clearly and unequivocally God’s expressed will.
“So, is the health message clearly God’s will for His church?”
The answer is “yes.” Ellen White states:
Seventh-day Adventists are handling momentous truths. More than forty years ago the Lord gave us special light on health reform, but how are we walking in that light? How many have refused to live in harmony with the counsels of God! As a people, we should make advancement proportionate to the light received. It is our duty to understand and respect the principles of health reform.
When one reads the inspired writings of the Spirit of Prophecy, it is clear that God is calling upon His remnant people to return back to the Edenic diet.
“If the Bible permits eating meat, then why should we follow the Spirit of Prophecy’s instructions on diet?”
God Himself gave to pre-fall humanity an originally plant-based diet:
And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. (Genesis 1:29, NKJV)
After the fall, God directly told Adam and Eve that certain vegetables were added to the diet:
… and you shall eat of the herb of the field. (Genesis 3:18, NKJV)
Following the flood, God transmitted through Noah to the rest of humanity the permission to eat meat:
…every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. (Genesis 9:3, NKJV)
Centuries later, God, through Moses, gave guidelines to His people on which meats to eat and which to avoid, the injunction to not consume the fat of the animals, and other details. This is found in passages such as Leviticus 11.
When one considers these passages, two simple conclusions can be drawn:
- God can modify His dietary instructions depending on circumstances. God’s will regarding our diet is not static.
- God can either transmit those modifications directly, or through a chosen messenger
There are certain themes in Scripture that do not change. An example is the process of salvation. The sanctuary is an illustration of how salvation works, and this is permanent. There is no scriptural evidence that this template has changed or ever will. However, not all of God’s instructions are permanent, and it appears that diet is one of those counsels which God is open to modifying (as shown above). So, if God’s will regarding His peoples’ dietary patterns were adjusted in the past, it definitely is plausible that the same can occur today. The only question then is: Is the source authoritative and inspired?
We, as Seventh-day Adventists, believe Ellen G White to be an authoritative, inspired messenger for these last days, chosen by God to transmit messages relevant to our time.  Thus, God modifying humanity’s dietary patterns through a messenger such as Ellen White is not beyond the realm of plausibility, especially since this call is merely a return to a dietary pattern already found in Scripture.
And does the Lord through Sister White clearly indicate a call back to the original dietary plan? The answer is “yes,” as clearly demonstrated in passages like the following:
Again and again I have been shown that God is bringing His people back to His original design, that is, not to subsist on the flesh of dead animals. (Child Guidance, pg. 383)
If Sister White’s writings taught that God no longer requires us to pray, to repent, to exercise faith, to keep the Sabbath, etc., then we would not need to obey such instructions, and these would put the validity of her writings into question because there is absolutely no evidence in Scripture that God has ever adjusted any of these things. However, such is not the case with diet. Scripture shares that God’s instructions on diet have changed as circumstances have changed.
This is not to suggest God made a mistake. The Fall was not His mistake, nor was the Flood, nor were the circumstances in the world during the time of Moses. The rampant disease among animals, the polluted environment, as well as our own human frailty—none of these are the result of a mistake on God’s part. These circumstances changed because of humanity’s mistakes; God merely adjusted our diet to match the circumstances of the past, and through His inspired messenger, Ellen G White, He is again adjusting our diet to His original diet, to match the circumstances and needs of today.
“But is the health message God’s will for me personally?”
This is a very fair question, because even though we know that the Lord is calling His people in general, sometimes we can wonder about whether He specifically wants “me” to follow. The answer is that it is really between the individual and the Lord. His will is expressed in writing through the Scriptures and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. To learn God’s will individually, each should prayerfully read what God has inspired His messengers to write on the subject of health. Good places to start would be the following books and passages:
- The Ministry of Healing
- Counsels on Health
- Testimonies for the Church, volume 1, Testimony 11, “The Health Reform,” pg. 485-495
- Testimonies for the Church, volume 1, Testimony 12, “Health and Religion,”pg. 465-467
- Testimonies for the Church, volume 9, Section 4: “The Health Work,” pg. 153-178
- Education, chapter 22: “Temperance and Dietetics”
“Let’s not be legalistic.”
It has become commonplace in some circles to associate the keeping of the health message with legalism. When the health message is presented, people will often say something to the effect of: “Now, now, let’s not be legalistic.” Even proponents of the health message will often insert, almost apologetically, a qualifier to ensure they are not accused of being a legalist. Though well-meaning, this often has a dampening effect such that the weight of the importance of the health message becomes nullified.
Legalism is not the minuteness of one’s obedience. Just because someone is very particular about their obedience does not make it legalism, even if it is in very “minute” details. Just ask the builders of the wilderness tabernacle, Joshua’s soldiers marching around Jericho for a specified number of rotations, or David’s men defeating the Philistines by waiting on the Lord to make marching sounds above mulberry trees whether it was worth it to obey God in the minute details.
We even have more solemn examples, such as Uzzah struck dead for merely touching the Ark, or Nadab and Abihu who used the wrong type of fire, or the prophet mauled by a lion for disobeying the Lord’s instruction to not stop and mingle with anyone before arriving at home. Minute obedience does not necessarily mean legalism.
Legalism refers to a perspective one has about the salvific value placed on obedience. The issue with the Pharisees was when they tried to enforce man-made, extra-biblical requirements and did so with the attitude that the obedience itself was the basis of God’s love and the cause of one’s salvation. This is legalism. But if one obeys God’s instructions in even the minutest of details because they love Him and are empowered by His grace to carry out the obedience, then that is absolutely wonderful and pleasing to the Lord.
“Even vegetarians get sick.”
This is true, but hardly means much when it comes to deciding whether to follow the health message. Everyone is going to get sick in some way, shape, or form, and everyone is going to die. This is the nature of having these sin-stricken, fallen natures. Even among Seventh-day Adventists, scientists are finding that Adventists are not immune from chronic diseases.
However, the key question is: “Just because we cannot eat a perfect diet, does that mean we should not eat a healthier diet?” What if the vegetarian diet is the best chance to make the most of what we have to work with in terms of our sin-stricken natures and bodies? The science is very compelling that a plant-based diet is healthier , and in fact, Adventists who follow healthier lifestyle patterns tend to live longer than other Adventists who do not. Gary Fraser, one of the lead researchers on the Adventist Health studies wrote the following in one of his papers:
…half of Adventist men and women are losing more than 4 years of life, apparently due to their suboptimal behavioral choices. 
“I see many vegetarians eating unhealthy foods.”
Many vegetarians and vegans do eat unhealthily; French fries and oreo cookies are technically vegan. Some do it consistently, while others may eat some sub-par food items on certain occasions. But this does not mean that we individually have to be like them. We can choose to be different. And in any case, if we are so quick to notice the hypocrisy of vegetarians, should we not then be consistent ourselves?
A good thing, despite some hypocrisy is still a good thing. Hypocrisy does not legitimize not following a good thing, does it? An exercise enthusiast may over-exercise and injure themselves, but this does not mean that we should not exercise. Exercise is a good thing despite the inconsistency of some, and we should exercise because it is good for us. The same goes for other aspects of the health message.
I hope this paper presented compelling arguments to common questions about the health message. I believe the health message is a tremendous blessing and God’s will for His people today. It would do well for Seventh-day Adventists to heed those instructions, not because God will hate us if we disobey, but because He loves us, and we love Him.
Thompson, Aly. Canada’s millennials are going vegan or vegetarian at ‘mind-blowing’ rates: poll. March 13, 2018; online at: http://www.metronews.ca/life/food/2018/03/13/mind-blowing-survey-finds-most-vegans-vegetarians-in-canada-are-under-35.html
Rizzo, N et al. Nutrient profiles of vegetarian and non vegetarian dietary patterns. J Acad Nutr diet. 2013 December ; 113 (12): 1610-1619
Melina, V et al. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016; 116:1970-1980
White, E.G. The Health Work. Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 9, pg. 158.
“The inspiration and authority of the Ellen G. White writings” Ministry. August 1982; online at: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1982/08/the-inspiration-and-authority-of-the-ellen-g.-white-writings
Exodus 25:9; 26:30
Joshua chapter 6
2 Samuel 5:22-24
2 Samuel 6:1-8
1 Kings 13
Kahn HA, Phillips RL, Snowdon DA, Choi W. Association between reported diet and all-cause mortality: twenty-one year follow-up on 27,530 adult Seventh-day Adventists. Am J Epidemiol 1984; 119:775-87
Fraser, G & Shavlik, D. Ten Years of Life. Is it a Matter of Choice? Arch Intern Med. 2001; 161: 1645-1652
Lap Tai Le & Sabate, J. Beyond meatless, the health effects of vegan diets: Findings from the Adventist cohorts. Nutrients 2014, 6, 2131-2147