Following a period of spiritual struggle, Morris Venden went on to bring a renewed perspective of Jesus and salvation through faith to the Seventh-day Adventist Church beginning in the 1970s.
Venden, who died February 10 at age 80, was a well-known college pastor, guest speaker and author of more than 40 books. He was especially well received among students, young pastors and professionals who heard his sermons on assurances of salvation.
“He undoubtedly did more to teach righteousness by faith than anyone else in the denomination during his time. He preached it, he taught it, and he wrote it,” said Floyd Bresee, who served as secretary of the denomination’s Ministerial Association from 1986 to 1992.
“I think from the beginning we [Adventists] have had the right theology of grace. [Church co-founder] Ellen White spoke of that, but we are people of the law and some had what I would call unintentional legalism. Morrie pulled us further from that,” Bresee said.
Venden pastored several college and university churches, including La Sierra University and Pacific Union College in California, Union College in Nebraska, and Southwestern University in Texas. He also pastored the Azure Hills Adventist Church in Southern California before retiring in 1998.
At Azure Hills, he held three services each Sabbath that were filled to capacity. His son, Lee, recalled his father’s advice as he became a pastor himself: “The world and the Seventh-day Adventist Church are starving for more of Jesus. … Any pastor who will make Jesus the one string on his violin will be in demand.”
Venden later served as associate speaker at the Voice of Prophecy ministry, based in California. He suffered from frontotemporal dementia the final decade of his life.
Throughout his ministry, Venden punctuated his sermons with wit, delivering dry humor with a poker face. Though a strong presence in the pulpit, he was timid by nature, often shying away from greeting people before and after sermons at churches and campmeetings.
One of his most prominent books was “95 Theses on Righteousness by Faith,” published in 1987 by Pacific Press. His personal favorite was “From Exodus to Advent,” published by Southern Publishing Association, in which he compared – in his view – similar mistakes and lessons in both the biblical account of Exodus and the Seventh-day Advent movement.
“I think he was eager for his own subculture to learn from those lessons so we didn’t have to repeat the mistakes,” his son said.
Venden published 42 books through four publishers, his son said. They sold well in the United States and were also distributed internationally.
“His books were like an oasis of fresh spirituality. They uplifted Christ, not just keeping the Sabbath and keeping the law,” said Ovidiu Radulescu, a pastor now living in Arkansas, who in communist Romania secretly typed and distributed translated copies of Venden’s top seller, “Faith That Works.”
The tagline from the book on Amazon.com is "You don't get righteousness by seeking righteousness. Righteousness comes by seeking Jesus."
“I know several people who chose to stay in the church because of reading Morris Venden books,” Radulescu said.
Venden was born in Portland, Oregon, and graduated from La Sierra University in 1953. He and his brother Lou paired up as evangelists in California, for a while thinking they would become “The Venden Brothers II,” successors to their father and uncle, who were longtime evangelists.
In 1959, the duo was split up when Lou received a call to teach at Japan Missionary College.
It was during this time, in his early 30s, that Venden realized he didn’t have a strong spiritual faith, and he almost quit the ministry, his son said. “Dad went through a crisis. His own spiritual life was empty. He knew facts about Jesus but didn’t know him as a friend.”
It was through reading the book “Steps to Christ,” authored by White, that Venden began to renew his spiritual connection, later propelling him to continually underscore the denomination’s doctrines on Jesus.
Like his hero Adventist Pastor H.M.S. Richards Sr., “He believed the Adventist message could be aptly summed up in few words as ‘Jesus Only,’” his son said.
A memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m., Sunday, March 3, at the Loma Linda University Church in California.
Venden’s own thoughts on funerals, from a 2003 sermon: “A good funeral is where Jesus is the focus. …Why not glorify the life giver instead of just eulogizing the deceased?”
—additional reporting by Mark A. Kellner and Jay Wintermeyer