The five loaves and no fish story

By Skip Baker
Former photographer, Seventh-day Adventist Church


Note from Robert K. Sanders: I am grateful to my friend, Skip Baker for giving me permission to publish his story of his first hand account of the lies and deception of the leaders of the SDA Church. Any SDA that is honest with God after reading this story should ask themselves, why do I support a church that has a false prophetess and lying leaders with my time, money and influence? —Published on Truth or Fables on January 19, 2005. Copyright by Skip Baker, used by permission.


I was raised and educated in one of the great American cults, and in mid-life found myself as one of the head Photographer at the world Church headquarters, working on a photo aimed at using one of Christ’s miracles for that year’s “investment project.” This time one of the “Elders” at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (GC) had come up with the “five loaves and two fish” miracle where Christ had multiplied two fish and five loaves of bread to feed the 5000 as a good theme to introduce the concept that Fall.

As I was working of this project, dark clouds that threatened the very underpinnings of Seventh-day Adventism threatened to break into a storm between their theologians, and I was aware of the tension between some professors of theology, especially Desmond Ford and the Church leadership in the building next to ours at the Review and Herald Publishing Association. Like Luther shaking the Catholic Church to its foundation, Ford had done the same basic thing to this little known cult in America by giving a “forum” sermon in which he explained some of the holes in the church’s “investigative judgment doctrine” and how it wasn’t supported by the Bible.

Although I didn’t know it then, my “Five Loaves and No Fish Story” would be the catapult that would eject me out of Adventism into a thinking mode that I’d never dared to question—until this assignment.

As my experiences as a photographer widened—mostly learned on the job by trial and error at great expense to the Adventist ChurchI’d begun to use larger and larger cameras aimed at providing tack sharp photos for my “clients”— the various departments at the church headquarters in Takoma Park, a suburb of Washington DC.

Really getting into the authenticity of this photo, I had set up a 4x5 camera, gotten some old wood that looked like the planks of a fishing vessel of the time of Christ, and bought two large fish at the local Giant Food store. I even hired a woman to bake five loaves of middle-eastern bread, so my photo would look as authentic as I could get it to look. Now all my labor was set before the 4x5 camera ready for “the client” to come over and approve the Polaroid's, now carefully laid out on the edge of the table.

With fishermen’s nets around the outside of the subject area, I’d set up what I felt would be truly a classic portfolio shot—those rare special photos that every photographer uses in his “book” to show art directors their work—and I was sure this was going to be one of mine!

As the “elder” from the GC examined my set up I began to wonder what was taking him so long to respond to what I felt was a “fail safe” set up that most clients would be very excited about. He then said:

“Those fish have got to go.”

“Say what?” I responded.

“Those fish have GOT TO GO!” he said in no uncertain terms.

Then it hit me, and I realized that since Ellen G. White, the founding “prophet” of Seventh-day Adventists was said to have been a vegetarian, Jesus Himself must have made some big mistake by multiplying all that “meat” for the people to eat that day that He fed the 5000 so long ago. Imagine, the Son of God making a mistake that was only caught by one of His “lesser lights” 1800 years later, because she was a vegetarian?

I begged and pleaded with the GC elder, pointing out that if we took out the fish, nobody would understand that the photo was even ABOUT the “five loaves and two fish” at all! We carried our argument down the hall into the office of the art director, me thinking that surely he’d back me up and insist that the two fish stayed in the photo!

Alas, he had to admit that “the client was always right” and if the client didn’t want to show two fish in “their photo”, then the fish had to go. Believe it or not, I took OUT the two fish from the "five loaves and two fish" photo, that left it nothing more than a picture of five odd looking loaves of bread that nobody could connect to Christ’s miracle when it was printed. I recalled looking at the photo in the general church paper months later without the fish and seeing how the people in the audience didn’t get the “investment” connection that I had attempted to draw. They had no idea that the bread they saw had any connection to a miracle 2000 years ago in the time of Christ. What I didn’t know then was that Christ was not the centerpiece of Seventh-day Adventism at all, and never had been in its entire history. How can one grow up in a church and think that one is Christian, when Jesus wasn’t even thought of as “Kosher” by the same church?

It was then as the church was engaged in one of it’s worst doctrinal debates in it’s history that all this came together, and I realized that I wasn’t even IN a “Christian Church” if the judgment from the GC was that Christ had erred and Ellen G. White had been right instead.

Suddenly, I realized that I belonged to a cult, and there was just no way around it when all the elements of the "five loaves and no fish" picture were examined.

But it wasn’t just this slavish devotion to church founder Ellen G. White that was on my mind. I had read a “transcript” from the GC White Estate vault that was said to be a copy of Ellen White’s hand written letter to Joseph Bates dated May 13, 1847.

If that transcript was true, then the very keel of the great "ship of Adventism" had a crack in it and was taking on water. The transcript seemed to be saying that Ellen G. White had taught the "shut door doctrine" over the decade of the 1840s, and sighting “visions” to support her views! The "shut door doctrine" taught that no more sinners could be saved after October 22, 1844. That had been the day that a Baptist minister William Miller had said the end of the world would come based on his study of Daniel 8:14. Since Jesus didn’t return to earth that day, it became known as the great disappointment. According to this “transcript” Ellen G. White had taught that the shut door was true, and that indeed no more sinners could be saved after October 1844!

When I pointed out what a problem this transcript created for the church’s founder to my coworkers in the art department, Tom Davis, the book editor spoke up and asked if I’d ever seen the actual letter written by Ellen G. White. When I admitted that I hadn’t seen the letter, and had no way to prove that it was true to Ellen White’s actual hand written letter, I felt he had a good point, and I resolved not to talk about the letter until I could look deeper into this mess.

As it turned out another project that I had hanging in fire in the studio, would soon bring about the resolution of this problem of the Bates letter. Hanging in the studio I had a painting that the Ellen G. White Estate had commissioned that they wanted to sell at the upcoming General Conference session that would be held in Dallas Texas that year, 1980. Ron Graybill, one of the officials of the E.G. White Estate, called me worried that they hadn’t gotten a transparency yet of the painting, and reminded me how urgent it was for their deadline!

Tell you what Ron” I said. “Bring me the letter that Ellen White wrote to Bates on May 13, 1847, and I’ll photograph your painting today!” I never dreamed in a million years that he’d do such a thing, but the next thing out of his mount was:

“Has that letter been released to the scholars?”

When I told him that it had been in 1971, that seemed to satisfy him and he seemed to see no problem with letting me see the letter!

I could have fainted dead away when he showed up within the hour with the letter, left it with me in the studio and then walked out back up to the front of the department to speak with our art director about something.

I couldn’t believe it, for in my hands I held the OLDEST document on file in the entire Ellen G. White Estate Vault! This would be like a Mormon getting irrefutable evidence from the Mormon vault in Salt Lake City that their founder, Joseph Smith, had forged the signatures of the 12 men who said they’d seen the Golden Plates from which the Book of Mormon was created!

My hands shook as I pulled the three pages out of the envelope and laid the first one under the glass of the copy table. If I worked fast, I could actually expose a roll of 120 film and put these original pages onto good negatives under cross polarized lights with a red filter and that’s exactly what I did. I worked fast and sloppy but then everything had been in place when I started so there wasn’t any time wasted in setting up the shots! In a matter of one minute I’d reeled off a role of 120 size Tri-X Film and now had the Bates letter exposed on film.

I quickly folded the letter back up and slipped them into the envelope thinking that Ron Graybill would walk in anytime catching me at the copy stand!

He didn’t return for the letter for three days!

The original photographs can be viewed here. (Scroll down and click the reduced size photos to get the larger scans.)

The information in the Bates letter was even more devastating than I could ever have imagined! Not only was it exact, proving that the “Scholar’s Transcript” was the truth, there were two hand written notes in Bates own handwriting showing that he knew at some point, where Ellen had gotten her information, proving that he knew she was stealing her materiel even back then! The letter ends abruptly at page 3, so we know she wrote more but what ever was in the rest of the letter was SO BAD that somebody made sure it was destroyed. Evidently, the damming evidence in pages four and beyond was so shocking that the editors failed to see the dynamite that the first three pages offered!

Once any thinking Adventist comes in contact with the letter that Ellen G. White wrote to Bates in 1847, they can no longer maintain his or her faith in Ellen G. White as a true prophet of God. It becomes clear that she taught, based on her first visions that the "shut door" was true, and that no more sinners could be saved after October 22, 1844. She knew that Joseph Bates was a “shut door believer” himself, and she wanted to get her letter out to him to show him that her “visions” agreed with his own shut door view of the world!

She even mentions that one of the early publications by Turner “was in the house” regarding the very same subject, but that she didn’t read it because reading at the time “injured” her head! But, oddly enough, everything that Turner taught in his Day Star or the Hope of Israel Extra is just what God had shown her in vision!

Now imagine, it’s 1845 and there’s no TV or radio, no telephones and very little reading aside from the Bible, and yet she says she didn’t read Turner’s paper that she admits being left alone with in the house. And it all just happens to agree with her “visions?”

Clearly, when we study the Bates letter we can see that William Miller, the great preacher about the Second Advent, had set New England on fire with his preaching that the end was going to come in first 1843 and finally in 1844, on October 22. People sold their farms and waited all day to be taken up into heaven at the Second Advent, and it all became known as the “great disappointment.”

But now a new wrinkle develops and some people believe that what they’re seeing is just a momentary delay—that Christ has shut the door of the Holy Place and moved into the Most Holy and is about to come any day now—so there’s no use to get new converts because “the door is shut”. That’s what Turner and Hale believed, as well as Joseph Bates who Ellen G. White was writing to in this the oldest letter in the White Estate vault! So they now band together and cut themselves off from the other churches, claiming that those churches that failed to believe their false belief that the end was going to come on October 22, were all lost and couldn’t be saved because they’d rejected “present truth.” They were about to give up their view that the “door was shut” but along comes Ellen G. Harmon (White), and says she’s had “visions” proving that the door is indeed closed! So, they believe her vision and are “confirmed in the shut door.”

One can only imagine me as a middle aged Seventh day Adventist and having this explosive information falling into my hands at the very time that the church elders are putting Dr. Des Ford on trial for being a heretic because he believes that the sanctuary doctrine that came out of the “shut door doctrine” wasn’t biblical.

Of course it wasn’t biblical, because only the false visions of Ellen G. White supported it!

Now (1980) 133 years after the Bates letter was written, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is putting Dr. Des Ford on trial over many of these issues and everybody is digging into the history of Adventism to find out what the “investigative judgment doctrine” is really based on—the Bible or Ellen G. White. That debate would in the end see every thinking Seventh-day Adventist leaving the church once they could clearly see the issues at hand. The problem was how easy it was for “the church” to cover up the facts and how well they did just that. At every point they mislead the laymen reading the Adventist Review, so that most thinking Adventists had to turn to “SPECTRUM” an unofficial magazine that was published by the church’s scholars. Suddenly, what would have been a dry and difficult to read journal, became “must reading” for those who really wanted to know what was going on.

Dr. Raymond Cottrell, who was an associate editor to the Adventist Review, was one of the 120 scholars sent to Glacier View Camp in Colorado to attend the hearing of Dr. Ford, and thankfully Dr. Cottrell knew shorthand and could write it as fast as people talked, giving us a total outline of what went on in secret behind closed doors. It was at once printed in SPECTRUM magazine, Vol. 11 #2. What it revealed is the outright duplicity and fraud the Church’s leaders used to mislead the laymen. First, the scholars voted in favor of Des Ford’s stand based on his thousand page outline used as his “defense paper” that was by then made available to laymen who wanted to read it.

It was shocking to see that when the professors voted in favor of Dr. Ford, the GC administrators flew back to Washington DC, and printed just exactly the opposite of what happened, in the Adventist Review. Those of us who had kept abreast of what was going on were horrified to see our church leaders lying about what was done and said at that "lynching" of Dr. Ford behind closed doors.

They couldn’t dare tell the truth because the truth was that the Investigative Judgment Doctrine could not be supported by Scripture alone, and required the statements of Ellen G. White. It was only here writings that saved the doctrine, because it was her writings that had forced the “shut door doctrine” onto the church. Then to hide and cover up the shut door doctrine she used the borrowed work of another scholar of the 19th Century to hide the shut door by changing” it into the investigative judgment (IJ) doctrine.

It was that fatal mistake that the “Secret Bates Letter” that I photographed that day in 1980 proved, and shed light on what had really happened so long ago when Adventism was formed. Here, the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church had a chance in 1980 to accept the Bible above the work of Ellen G. White. But they rejected it like they always had the five other times it had nearly come to a head behind closed doors.

In the Bible Conference of 1919 the General Conference men and leaders of the Seventh-day Adventists nearly accepted the “truth” and come clean on the I J. Then years before that in 1905, at the trial of Albian Ballenger, the president of the conference in Ireland, they also rejected the Bible and put Ellen G. White’s writings above scripture. And each time they held these ‘behind closed door’ meetings, they mislead the members and told them that “the heretic” had been found wrong, when that wasn’t the case at all. How many other “cults” have done the same thing each time their “sacred cow” was threatened.

It’s how cults keep their members thinking that their faith is based on solid scripture, when in fact it’s so often based on lies about their history. Because I had a front row seat I was able to watch the Adventist Church control “the facts” in such a way that the laymen never had a chance of learning the truth, and once your eyes are open to the deception around you, it’s hard to miss seeing it all around us. In so many ways we “the public” or “the members” are being mislead in so many ways, that learning how to see the lies is urgent for any Christian who wants to avoid the pitfalls of cults in America.

And so begins my story of how “We studied out way out of the truth!”


Other related information

Ellen G. White's letter to Joseph Bates

Robert K. Sanders, Founder and Editor of Truth or Fables, 1997–2012
Life Assurance Ministries assumed ownership of Truth or Fables in 2012
© 2016 Life Assurance Ministries. All rights reserved.