W I N T E R • 2 0 1 5
VOLUME 16, ISSUE 4
I grew up Seventh-day Adventist. I don’t blame my parents; they believed they were obeying God by teaching me Adventism. They had been tricked by Adventist prophecy into joining the organization back in the 70’s when Adventism was growing in North America. In those days it wasn’t possible to check facts on the internet, and a convincing talker could charm a person ungrounded in Scripture right into Adventist membership.
I was educated in the Adventist school system through eighth grade. Fortunately, after I graduated, my parents decided not to send me to an Adventist academy. Instead, I went to a public high school, although I remained passionately Adventist and would even debate my friends on Adventist particulars. Thankfully, I was spared the Daniel and Revelation eisegetical indoctrination some of my friends received in academy. What I had, though, was much worse than mere twisted teaching; I had the Ellen White “lens”.
When I was about 11 or 12 I resolved to read the entire New Testament; after all, I reasoned, it made no sense to commit an eternity to someone I didn’t even know. People in my life had told me about Jesus, but it seemed to me that the New Testament had to be the place one would really learn about Him.
Every so often, as I read, I would come across a passage or verse that challenged my Adventist beliefs. Each time I would take my question to an authority figure who then taught me the “proper” way to understand the passage. I didn’t realize that the hermeneutic my Adventist authorities were using didn’t derive from clear Scripture but from Ellen White—and I suspect that many of them didn’t realize that fact, either. Nevertheless, in this way the Bible became a closed book to me. Although I would spend hours reading it, I was simply incapable of understanding its teachings. A “lens” developed in my mind through which I saw only Adventist teachings when I read Scripture. Significantly, when I would switch from the Bible to The Clear Word, the verses that troubled me seemed to vanish entirely. I didn’t realize it then, but that “lens” that had been installed in my brain was even more dangerous than cancer, and there was nothing I nor anyone else could do about it.
When I graduated high school, I faced a crossroad: would I enroll at La Sierra University or join the Army? It was not an easy decision. On the one hand, I knew that if I didn’t go to an Adventist university, I would have a hard time finding a good Adventist wife. On the other hand, the military was in my genes. Almost every man in my family had served in one branch or another throughout American history.
I joined the army, but I remained stubbornly Adventist; in fact, one girlfriend dumped me because I wouldn’t convert.
I believed with all my heart that Adventists were right about the Sabbath. In fact, I would have argued that all the other Christian groups were deluded by the devil; after all, the fourth commandment is so obvious, I reasoned, only demonic deception could keep people from seeing it. Once again my Adventist “lens” kept me stuck in a twisted worldview.
After two years of military training I returned home to go to college and fulfill my reserve commitment. I don’t remember why I chose not to go to an Adventist university—maybe I just didn’t want to be in an Adventist environment. Although I believed the religion was right, I wasn’t happy in the system anymore. Moreover, about that time my sister began attending a “Sunday keeping”, non-denominational church. I was angry; if I could loyally stick it out, she should, too!
During that time I met my wife. I didn’t tell her then, but I knew within a few weeks that she was “the one”. I was concerned, however, that she was a “Sunday-keeper”. I tried to convert her every chance I had, but she would check the things I claimed were in the Bible. She wasn’t buying my arguments.
We were at an impasse. I was trained to ignore or obfuscate the verses she showed me, such as Colossians 2:16, so while the Bible helped her to resist my Adventist arguments, she wasn’t skilled enough in understanding it to extract the cult from me—nor was cult extraction her job. We almost broke up over the Sabbath before she agreed to start studying the religion with my mom. When we finally became engaged, she agreed to attend an Adventist church as long as she could disregard its eschatology.
In 2008 we got married. I got a state job and a place for us to live in a small mountain town far away from where we grew up. We went to the small, local, very orthodox Adventist church once before we started commuting to church in a larger town about 45 minutes from our home.
The fact is, though, that I wasn’t happy as an Adventist. In spite of my conviction that it was right, Adventism was a burden to carry in my soul, and I can’t explain it much better than that. It wasn’t long before I didn’t want to go to church anymore and simply stopped attending. I refused to work on the Sabbath, even for overtime, and in my mind that refusal was sufficient Sabbath-keeping to avoid the mark of the beast.
Meanwhile, I met a charismatic “prophet” at work. Because we had quite a bit of down time in our duties, I would ask questions. As I began to practice the things she taught me, I came to believe that I had a direct line to God and could hear His voice. I kept a special journal of all the things I was “told”—a journal which came in handy later in an unexpected way. It is this part of my story that I don’t like to tell; I have a semi-decent excuse for growing up Adventist but not for becoming a “prophet”, so I feel shame.
Still, however, I was an Adventist in my mind. That “lens” installed in my understanding remained, and it burdened my conscience. I wanted to go to a normal church, but I simply couldn’t. One day I invited my prophet friend to the house, and she prayed with us and gave us prophetic permission to go to any Christian church that we wanted. Although one could argue that the outcome of her prayer was good, still, as I look back, I realize that the “prophet” did not understand the new covenant from a biblical perspective. If she had, she could have explained to us why the seventh day was not mandatory for Christians instead of praying prophetic permission for us to leave the day. At that time, however, I didn’t care about such things; I just knew I had what I wanted: a golden ticket to do what I wished to do. Even though I still believed that the Sabbath was God’s law for me, I had just been given a special dispensation to break it.
My wife and I started looking at the local churches in town, and we were encouraged by her side of the family who were supportive of us in our new search. We found some really good churches, but we ended up at what today I would call a seeker-sensitive, non-denominational church. The pastor would preach the gospel from time to time, but he kept things rather light. I even asked him about this “gospel light” once, and he told me that this style was purposeful in order to reach the unchurched.
I, however, was not without church; I was without Christ. Even then I was still Adventist in my mind; I just didn’t know it.
One unforgettable day I was painting my house with my dad, and we started talking about the state of the dead. We couldn’t seem to agree—a situation which wasn’t surprising since neither of us had truly studied the word of God on this topic. We were both functionally apostate Adventists with no understanding of Scripture, although I no longer used my Clear Word and had recently read a few Bible verses on the subject of death that had loosened my Adventist views on the state of the dead. I told my dad that I would get on the Internet and look for some answers and get back to him.
I wish I could remember that exact date so I could mark it on the calendar. Somehow I stumbled upon www.exadventist.com. I had just enough apostate Adventist in me not to feel guilty reading the material there with care and scrutiny. I downloaded a PDF from that site called Dialogue with a Seventh-day Adventist by Samuel Fisk. To this day I pray that the Lord blesses Samuel and his whole family now and in the future.
I spent all night reading that book; whoever wrote it really understood my “headspace”. It was a simple narrative of an Adventist and a Christian talking about Adventist beliefs and comparing them with the Bible. It was a conversation I myself had many times as an Adventist, but I had never bumped into someone like Samuel Fisk who could actually rebut my beliefs. At that point in my life I would have been willing to pay someone to convince me honestly from Scripture that Adventism was wrong, but that night I had stumbled upon answers and obtained them for free. In fact, you can also go and read the book now if you want answers; the document is still on that website. There is nothing a Christian would find shocking; it’s just Christian theology. At that time, however, it rocked my world—and I wanted more.
I haunted that website for days and read almost everything on it. My favorite part, however, was the page of interactive frequently asked questions. The most compelling thing I learned was the concept of a new covenant and how easily it could be proven in Scripture. I didn’t have to add any words to the text with my imagination; I could just read it and believe it. When I found the material on the Waldenses, the twelfth century Christians who came into conflict with the Catholic church, I became angry. Not only were Adventists just wrong about the Waldenses being persecuted for keeping the Sabbath, but Adventism had intentionally twisted obvious facts and lied to me. This premeditated deception has only become more obvious as I have continued to study, and it sickens me.
I also found help understanding Ellen White. The website had a PDF cataloging her false prophecies—I had not known she said people lived on Jupiter! More importantly, however, I was able to test her prophecies objectively and biblically and lost all fear of her.
I cannot remember if it was my dad or I who finally found Former Adventist Fellowship. We told my mom about it—and as it turned out, my mom had been discovering similar things about Adventism on her own; she just hadn’t been telling anyone yet. We decided as a group to drive to Redlands one Sunday, and we met the Tinkers and the group of former Adventists who met for lunch after church. That was a wonderful day—not just for my parents, who did most of the talking, but for me as well. What struck and shocked me was when Colleen spoke about Jesus—a Jesus Christ I’d never heard of before.
This Jesus is fully God and man; He commanded the dead to rise of His own authority, not solely as a conduit through whom the Father worked, but God of very God, incarnate in human flesh. Moreover, God is a Trinity in one being and substance. I hadn’t realized how wrong the Adventist teaching about God is. I didn’t know this God of whom Colleen spoke. I thought the difference between Adventism and Christianity was the Sabbath; I had no idea that the real difference was the actual identity of the Lord Jesus. Again, I cannot give you an exact date because I did not mark my calendar, but it was during this period in my life that I truly heard the word of God and repented of my sins. I had been a pagan of a very dangerous sort; the “lens of Adventism” imposed the law on me but hid the gospel.
As an Adventist I was baptized into the teachings and interpretations of Ellen White, into an unbiblical religion with an unbiblical god. Even though I have said these things about Adventism, however, I care deeply for the people still stuck in it, and I am grateful to the ones God used to pull me out.
The sure word
In losing my Adventist lens and becoming a Christian, I learned how to read the Bible. It wasn’t long, however, before I ran into Scripture’s challenges to my prophetic practices. I still had my journal, though, and I tested Scripture against the messages I thought I had received from God just as I had tested Ellen White. The unfiltered word of God defeated the fortresses of my own creation just as easily as it had torn down Ellen White.
Now my source of truth is Scripture, the true word of God which He gave to us for a reason. All things are to be tested by it. We are not to twist it, malign it, or place ourselves or our reasoning over it. When we do those things we are not following the Bible anymore; we just have ourselves presiding over a twisted word. There is no efficacy in a twisted word.
What is it to be changed by the word of God? I died and was reborn as a different person. I didn’t do this rebirth to myself; rather, hearing God’s word rightly taught changed me. I didn’t even participate in bringing about this change; when I believed the gospel of the Lord Jesus, this change happened to me. I was even baptized—and I won’t say baptized again. What does it feel like converting to Christianity when I thought I already was one? Overwhelmingly, I know I didn’t do it; it was done to me, and it was wonderful. Concurrently, though, it was—and still is—painful and a bit of a shock. There is loss and an almost disorienting adjustment to my worldview. There is a new identity grounded in my adoption as God’s child instead of my identity as a son of a system perpetrating illusions.
Today I blog my biblical studies and share them with Adventists who are interested. Some have been very grateful, others not so much, but I do it anyway. I stumbled upon a group of formers on Facebook who are administrators of a few groups designed to reach out to Adventists in Africa and other places. They have added me to their team, and I help with their organized efforts. I know that God doesn’t need my help to save anyone; He is sovereign and does as He pleases. Nevertheless, I am honored to be given a role to play in His story and to be used by Him even in such a small way as sharing His word online.
I grew up Seventh-day Adventist, but now I live as a new creation born of God. To Him be all the glory. †
Copyright 2015 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Camp Verde, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised May 25, 2016. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org