MARCH / APRIL 2008
VOLUME 9, ISSUE 2
D E P A R T M E N T S
STORIES of Faith
Rebuilding the foundation of my faith
Like a casino sign on the Vegas strip, the words The Great Controversy suddenly blazed in my mind. "How can this be?" I protested to myself. "I don't believe in Ellen White."
Yet there they were—the words I least expected—startling me with sudden insight. Within a few seconds my entire religious foundation was gone, and I was left to piece it back together. Luckily I knew a good builder to help me: Jesus Christ.
A moderate Adventist
I grew up an Adventist, third generation to be exact. Mine wasn't the most strict Adventist home—card games and hamburgers were as common as Special-K loaf and haystacks—but it wasn't the most liberal home, either. We were somewhere in the middle of the religious spectrum. This moderate form of Adventism greatly influenced my life and shaped my religious and world views.
My years in the Auburn Adventist Academy dormitory and later my time as a student at Walla Walla College (WWC) taught me that my family life was quite normal compared with other Adventist homes today. Most of my peers had the same moderate view of Adventism that I had, and this understanding could be seen in the lives we led. The local coffee shop was a great place to gather after Friday night vespers. Sabbath afternoons often involved a spirited game of Rook. Even strict vegetarianism was a rarity at best. I was content in the Adventist church with the ability to pick and choose my religious beliefs like cafeteria items, leaving behind what I didn't like.
The major Adventist "pillar" that I tried to push aside was the teaching of E.G. White. Even as a child I was uncomfortable with her status as a modern-day prophetess. I had a keen sense that the Bible was the word of God, and it did not need any illumination from Mrs. White. I believed in the Adventist message and was content to push Mrs. White aside and grasp onto the pieces of the church with which I did agree. My mind was never totally at ease with this compromise, but at least my life was comfortable.
I graduated from high school, went to college, and during my junior year at WWC I asked my high school sweetheart to marry me. I was enveloped in a cloud of happiness when she said yes, but a slight tinge of darkness crept over the engagement when our high school pastor declined to perform the ceremony because Sarah was not Adventist. He declined because we were "unequally yoked."
How could two Christians be unequally yoked? What does being Adventist have to do with being equally yoked? I was furious at first, but somehow I convinced myself that regardless of the misguided attempt by the Adventist church to separate itself from the rest of the Christian body, it was still the truth. I simply placed this Adventist error in the back of my mind with the rest and continued to disregard them as not part of MY religion. Moreover, even though my fiancÈ was not Adventist, I knew God had placed us together to be married. I truly thought she would see the truth and join the church.
Married life was great, but in the back of my mind it never seemed to be as God intended. Four years into our marriage my wife had still not found the truth in Adventism. Oh, she tried—but she never succeeded. I know now that God was closing doors along that route I so desperately wanted to travel, but during that time I blamed Sarah for not trying hard enough. The funny thing was—she was the one reading her Bible. She was the one praying. She was the one constantly seeking God and asking Him to heal our brokenness. I—the knowledgeable and truth-wielding Adventist—only picked up my Bible to prove a point. Deep down I knew I was wrong, but I was too proud to admit it. I was taught that I had the truth, and I thought I should act like it.
The division in our marriage grew daily, but on the outside everything was perfect. We had to be perfect to continue in our church community. In a church built on works, people can't let on it isn't working for them. To make matters worse we lived in Loma Linda, California, and both of us worked for Loma Linda University Medical Center. Within the Adventist church, Loma Linda is "Mecca", and the pressure to be flawless was magnified ten-fold. The pressure soon became too much for my wife. She could not stand under the unrelenting strain of the law. With or without my blessing, she was going to find the truth.
This split between us wasn't the way life was supposed to happen. I knew Sarah loved the Lord, and I knew He had placed us together to be married, but I couldn't figure out why our marriage was suffering. It just didn't make sense.
Not too long after she had declared her intent to find truth with or without me, we started attending a "Sunday-worshiping church" called Trinity. She was going to seek out God; I was going to save her from eternal condemnation. I wanted to appear supportive, but underneath I was using every tactic in my arsenal to thwart this experiment. For example, I tend to be a prompt individual, while my wife is notoriously late. On Sabbaths her tardiness would often cause us to miss most of the church preliminaries, forcing us to find a seat in the back in some secluded corner just in time to catch the start of the sermon. This pattern would really irritate me when getting ready to attend an Adventist church, but I found it to be extremely useful on Sunday mornings. No longer would I bellow up the stairs to inquire as to the cause of her tardiness. In fact, I found myself even taking her place as the cause of our late arrivals at church.
But I was there. The Lord had me in the door. I tried not to listen. I tried to be as impersonal and unfriendly as possible. I was going to my wife's church to save our marriage and to correct the lies she may receive while there. I knew the truth already.
But again, I was there. The Lord had me in the door. I could not stop my ears from hearing. After all, the messages were not all that different from what I believed from the Adventist church. Even the people were not all that different from those in the Adventist church—at least not visually. Everything looked correct, but I perceived something very different within the church. At first I would have attributed the perceived difference to be falsehood, but I was not comfortable with that conclusion. Something was different, and it wasn't negative or wrong.
The weekends came and went, but my attitude changed very little. Monday would come, and I would look ahead to Sunday with dread. Not only were we now attending the services on a regular basis, meaning my aversion tactics failed more often than not, but I was now forced to follow up church with lunch at a church member's home. This wasn't just once or twice, but every Sunday following the service. My wife insisted she go every time, but I often found ways of getting out of it. I must have cleaned the garage a dozen times during those months.
The Lord did not give up on me. Slowly I stopped cleaning the garage so often and started attending the lunches after church. It turned out those church members who were feeding us every Sunday had a lot more in common with me than I realized. Not only were they filled with the Holy Spirit—that I could not deny, but they were former Adventist members. To add to God's divine planning, they were also the leaders of a group within Trinity Church called Former Adventist Fellowship. This group was formed to help minister to Adventist believers who had left the SDA church and were looking for answers. I began to be a bit more interested in Sunday lunch and focused my attention on the conversations going on around me.
Moment of Truth
Soon after I had learned of this group I also found out that my wife had enrolled us in a special Former Adventist Fellowship weekend that was fast approaching. At this point the Lord had removed enough scales from my eyes for me to see the timing of this weekend was not all coincidence. To my wife's amazement—and to my own, to be honest—I was not angry.
Friday night of the weekend arrived, and I went to the service with eagerness I had not known before. During the service I heard things I had never heard before and was astonished to find them directly from the Bible. For the first time I saw the Bible as good for learning and not for proving. All those months I had been going to Trinity, I probably heard many of the same truths that were spoken that night, but I never heard them for the truth they were. It was as if I had a filter over my ears and mind, and God had been slowly changing the filter over all those months to allow more information to penetrate, until at that moment at that service I had almost no filter at all.
God wasn't finished yet. Still a small filter remained, and the next day it would be removed completely. It was during one of the many classroom sessions that God unleashed His truth on me. I hadn't even chosen to go to this particular session. I wanted to attend another that sounded more interesting, but strangely I ended up exactly where God wanted me. It wasn't even a profound statement that impacted me. Rather, it was simply a question that devastated the false foundation upon which I had built my life.
It was a small, innocuous question. The answer wasn't even important. It was the question that held the key. The man teaching the session was a philosophical sort of person. As he raced through his topic on the nature of Christ, he off-handedly posed a question about Jesus. He asked, "Could Jesus as a man commit sin?"
Boom! Immediately my mind took off like a rocket-driven locomotive. I couldn't help myself. I tried to apply the brake, but someone else was driving this train. Quickly my mind found an answer:
Yes. Jesus had to be able to sin.
Because He came to conquer sin.
Because he had to show Satan and the heavens it was possible.
Because He had to prove to us that we could follow the law.
And like a giant neon sign, The Great Controversy blazed in my head! I don't remember anything else that was said to me for the remainder of the class. My wife said dinner was good, but I don't remember the food touching my lips or the conversations around me. I spent the rest of the evening in my head, opening every door and looking in every corner for what I thought was truth. I searched in vain for my foundation, but all I found was Ellen G. White. The one "thing" I knew I did not believe as an Adventist, the one influence I worked so hard to eliminate from my theology, was the one thing upon which I had unknowingly built my theological house. As strong as my foundation appeared from a distance, the stones in it were merely sandstone, easily washed away during the rains. I am so glad it was God's holy rain that came down upon my foundation that day.
I am now left to build my foundation again, but God has not left me to do it alone. He has given me Jesus. I can now use solid rock to create a firm footing for my theology. In the weeks since that day I have been poring over the Bible, and I am seeing that Jesus did have an advantage I don't have. I'm beginning to see that I misunderstood the issue. Jesus wasn't sinless because He kept the law. He was sinless because He did not have a sinful nature. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born spiritually alive. He was the only human ever born who did not have to be born again. He had no sin!
Now I attend church with a desire and passion to learn truth. I look forward to the weekend, wanting to have fellowship with my truth-filled brothers and sisters in Christ. Sunday afternoon lunch is an indescribable joy and a necessary recharge for my week. I read the Bible searching for answers, not to prove anything.
Most of all, my marriage is the way God intended, or at least it is on the right path. The rift is still present, but like a cut it will take time to heal. God now has us pulling in the same direction, and He is guiding our footsteps. I always knew God would bless my life and marriage, I just never thought I would be the one to change. †
Copyright 2008 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Glendale, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised September 24, 2008. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Cain is 27 years old and resides in Yucaipa, California, with his wife Sarah. He is a graduate of Walla Walla College with a degree in biological sciences. Currently he works in the administrative department of a skilled nursing facility and is working towards his M.B.A. at the University of Redlands.