F A L L • 2 0 1 6
VOLUME 17, ISSUE 3
I was born on October 18, 1955, to very poor German immigrants in Winnipeg, Canada. Both of my parents and my grandparents were Seventh-day Adventists. When I was one year old, my parents moved our family to San Francisco, California. We attended church, but frequently my father would just drop us off and pick us up when church was over. Nevertheless, both my parents refrained from work on Saturdays and followed the Old Testament dietary laws. We ate some meat—and once in a great while, we ate fake meat. My mother wore a wedding band as most German Adventists did. We had the Bible in our home, but not E.G. White books; the prophetess was considered an American phenomenon.
In 1969 we moved onto a small farm in Mulino, Oregon. My father had always wanted to have a farm, and my parents were concerned about the negative influences of inner-city schools. Moving to rural Oregon proved to be a huge, largely positive change. My mother began taking us to the tiny local Adventist church where we received pressure to attend Adventist schools. Nevertheless, my brother and I enrolled in public schools.
Our small church taught historic Adventism. Ellen White was the central focus, and the members and the minister quoted and referenced her regularly. In fact, during many church services, only her books were read. One memorable Sabbath the old minister, who always wore a black suit, preached on the importance of obedience and instructed the congregation that they must not eat pickles because E.G. White forbade it. In spite of the suffocating menu of Ellen White, however, church was a social outlet for my mother. She worked hard all week at home and on the farm, and Sabbath was her one day off. Church provided an opportunity for her to socialize with other women.
I was in high school, and I did not fit into her religious culture. I was made to attend church regularly with my mother, but if I had been given a choice, I would have stayed at home with my father who refused to go. At school I began telling my friends that I was an agnostic. This personal act of boldness, however, was lost on my schoolmates; no one knew what an agnostic was.
LOOKING FOR TRUTH
My life of doubt proved hollow, though, and during my junior year in high school, I began reading my Bible. I learned the gospel as I read, and as I understood that Jesus had died to pay for my sins, I accepted Him as my Lord and my Savior. Furthermore, I became convinced that God’s plan for me was to become a physician. I was drawn to one teacher at this time who, it turned out, was an Adventist. This teacher’s Adventism only served to confirm the Adventist upbringing I had received, so as my new faith grew, I tried more and more to participate in church again. Moreover, in an effort to grow my faith, I started reading E.G. White and other Adventist books. I had no idea I was undermining the truth I had discovered in the Bible.
From 1973 to 1976 I attended Oregon State University. I was a typical overly-anxious premed student who studied almost every waking hour almost every day of the week. In spite of my being consumed with studying, however, I enjoyed those of my friends who were active in Campus Crusade for Christ. I also tried to read my Bible daily, and it gave me peace. My church attendance, though, was spotty.
In 1976 I enrolled at the University of Oregon Health Sciences School of Medicine in Portland, Oregon. I studied hard and was still convinced that medicine was God’s plan for me. Meanwhile, I chose to attend the Mt. Tabor Adventist church located across the street from Portland Adventist Hospital and the dormitory where the Walla Walla College nursing students lived during their junior and senior years of clinical experience. Not too long after beginning to worship at Mt. Tabor, I met Elaine. She was very special, and I considered her to be truly a gift from God. We married in 1978. As we planned our wedding, I said I wanted to exchange wedding bands in the marriage ceremony; after all, my German parents and grandparents had worn rings. Elaine informed me, however, that American Adventists did not exchange rings and certainly did not have ring ceremonies. Moreover, I was told that American Adventists gave expensive watches as engagement symbols instead of rings. These details were news to me, but I reluctantly went along with them.
Interestingly, a few months later my wife bought a wedding band—and insisted I wear one, too!
Life was very busy, and I struggled. After medical school in 1980 we moved to California where I started my residency in obstetrics and gynecology at David Grant United States Air Force Medical Center. I found myself in a very, very demanding program. We residents routinely worked 100 to 120 hours per week, and after work there were hours of mandatory studying. In fact, much of what happened during those residency years is a blur because I was always so sleep deprived.
We weren’t attending church very often, but I did read a book that rocked my world and changed the course of my life: The White Lie by Walter Rea, published in 1980. I could not believe what Rae wrote—it couldn’t be true! Then I read the Adventist’s answer to Rae’s book, The White Truth by John Robertson and published in 1981, and I knew that Walter Rae was right.
Ellen G. White was a plagiarist, and she lied to cover it up.
Robertson’s book attempted to whitewash the Adventists’ problem and discredit Rae’s research by calling Ellen White’s plagiarism “borrowing”. Saying that her plagiarism was not wrong because such “borrowing” was common practice in her day, however, was not a credible defense. Moreover, even if “everyone was doing it”, Ellen White claimed her words came from God. One cannot plagiarize from another human being and ascribe those words to God. To do so is immoral and deliberately deceitful.
I was shaken so hard by this discovery that my Adventist foundation was cracked beyond repair. At about this same time, Desmond Ford, a religion professor at the Adventist Pacific Union College, was fired and “defrocked”, losing his Adventist ministerial credentials, for refusing to teach the investigative judgment and teaching instead the Good News Gospel that Jesus died for our sins on the cross and completed His atonement. Ford had completed extensive research on the investigative judgment, the central doctrine of Adventism, and had found that Scripture did not support it. After he defended his research to Adventist leaders and scholars at the infamous Glacier View convocation in 1980, the Adventists rejected his biblical evidence. They would keep the investigative judgment at all costs because it defined the Adventist organization.
SHELL-SHOCKED AND DISILLUSIONED
Shell-shocked and disillusioned, I wanted to distance myself from the Adventist church, but where does an Adventist who no longer believes in Ellen White’s prophetic authority go? After all, we still have the Sabbath…right?
My work schedule made distancing very easy. In 1984 I accepted my first assignment as an OB/GYN at Fairchild Air Force Base (AFB) near Spokane, Washington. Instead of improving as I had hoped, however, my work life became worse. In our department there were just two OB/GYNs, and we had to staff the clinic and hospital 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Elaine was always supportive and loyal, but I know she was lonely even though we started our family while we were in Spokane. Spiritually, however, we were slowly dying.
After three very long years at Fairchild AFB, I regained my freedom. We moved to Portland, Oregon, where I accepted a position with Kaiser Permanente. Life suddenly improved; I only had to work 70 hours per week, and we were finally able to address our family’s deeper needs. By this time we had two small children and were spiritually starving, so we decided to look for a church. After searching we found the Hoodview Seventh-day Adventist Church. For the first time in my life we heard the Gospel of Jesus preached from the pulpit—the gospel I had first heard from Desmond Ford. E.G. White was not referenced. We were blessed every Sabbath and left church feeling so thankful that God loved us so much. We didn’t mind driving almost one hour one way because Jesus was always the “main thing” in the sermons, and we started growing spiritually. We had assurance of salvation instead of wondering if we were good enough to be saved.
We mistakenly assumed that Adventism was changing and starting to teach the gospel. We didn’t yet understand the depth of the problems with Adventist doctrine that ultimately would stamp out the gospel where it might spring up. We attended Hoodview for many years—and then our pastor was forced to leave and was replaced by another. Immediately Hoodview became a totally different church. Jesus was no longer the “main thing”, and the focus changed from Him to us. Now, instead of hearing how much Jesus loved us, we heard that we should pay more tithe and give more offerings; we should bring more visitors to church, and we were not working hard enough. Instead of feeling thankful for what Jesus had done for us, we were made to feel guilty for not doing enough to please Him. I was shocked and couldn’t believe what I was hearing! This new pastor’s message was totally different from the gospel presented in the Bible.
At this time our youngest daughter was attending Upper Columbia Academy, an Adventist boarding high school near Spokane, Washington. One Christmas when she came home for vacation, she started crying. We asked her what was wrong, and she told us that in school her religion teacher was telling everyone that the Great Recession (of 2007–2009) was proof that Jesus’ second coming was imminent, but our daughter was afraid because she was not yet good enough to be saved.
Hoping for some helpful perspective, we decided to visit the General Conference headquarters of the Adventist Church while we were on a trip back east to visit some relatives in Maryland. We were determined to learn exactly what Adventism was currently teaching. While there we were given a tour of the White Estate. The tour guide explained how, with E.G. White, Jesus, and the Adventist church’s help, we could get rid of any sin in our life and thus be ready when Jesus comes again. I couldn’t believe what we were hearing.
Back at home, we visited other Adventist churches in our area, and none of them taught the biblical gospel message. We were discouraged and didn’t know what to do as we slowly started to realize that Adventism hadn’t changed. Hoodview was not on the forefront of change, as we had hoped and imagined; rather, it had been a problem, and the “Hoodview problem” had now been fixed. We’d had blinders on; we had seen only what was right in front of us.
One evening we shared our frustrations with some Christian neighbors, and they invited us to their church. It was with great fear and trepidation that we visited this non-Adventist church—and then only because they had a Saturday evening service in addition to their two Sunday morning services. Our fear melted away, however, as we heard the gospel message presented again. We felt the Holy Spirit’s presence there—and we were spiritually blessed. Gradually we started attending the Canby New Life Foursquare church more and more. Jesus is the “main thing” there. Every week we learn how to apply the Gospel to our personal lives right now. We’ve considered this our church home since about 2010.
As I look back at our journey, I see three things that define Adventism and make the gospel almost impossible for an Adventist to see. The first defining obstacle is the Sabbath. Sabbath has been the most difficult doctrine for us to release because it and its proof-texts were hammered into us for as long as we could remember. In fact, it is arguably the most important Adventist doctrine. What has been most helpful for me to realize, however, is that the Sabbath of the Old Testament was fulfilled on the cross and foreshadows the relationship we have with Jesus right now when we believe in Him and His completed atonement. The relationship we have with Him when we enter the new covenant in His blood gives us real peace, rest, and contentment.
I do think it’s important not to work every day, so we try to take a break from our daily work and stresses every weekend, either on Saturday or Sunday or on parts of both—but not because either one is holy. Furthermore, in all likelihood Saturday is probably no more the Sabbath of Moses than Sunday is. In Moses’ time they used a lunar calendar and not the Roman solar calendar in use today. In other words, with a lunar calendar, the weekly cycle was reset every month with the new moon, so Sabbaths were not fixed days throughout the year.
The second defining obstacle of Adventism is their continuing disbelief in the classic Christian Trinity. When Adventism was birthed, the founders denied the Trinity. Besides their belief that Jesus was not eternally Almighty God, they also denied the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Adventist doctrines were formed without belief in the Holy Spirit as a person.
Over time Adventism tried to become more mainline and acceptable, but instead of believing the Bible’s teaching about the Holy Spirit, they still were totally dependent on E.G. White, and the two are mutually exclusive. After all, if the Holy Spirit lives in believers and guides them, teaching them to apply God’s word, there is absolutely no need for a prophet.
Recently I attended a new Adventist church in Loma Linda with my son-in-law. The subject of the sermon was that people should become more loving—a very laudable thought. Afterwards I talked to the pastor about how becoming loving is actually accomplished. His answer was, “Always keep your eyes on Jesus.”
When I shared with him how the Holy Spirit lives in the hearts of those who have trusted Him as their personal Lord and Savior, explaining that the Holy Spirit, not our own will power, changes us from the inside out, his response was surprising. He said, “That sounds mystical!” He had no concept whatsoever about the indwelling Holy Spirit who seals us when we believe.
In spite of their official statement that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead, Adventists are still, for the most part, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, believing that the Holy Spirit is a force or power and not fully God, the third person of the Trinity. The concept that God wants to live in believers through the Holy Spirit is totally foreign to them and maybe even anathema.
Finally, when I talk to Adventists, especially the older ones, many still believe that they are obligated to keep the Ten Commandments like Jesus did in order to be judged good enough to be saved when Jesus comes again. Their perception of their relationship with God is more like that of a slave with a master than of an adopted child with a Father. They do not believe that they qualify right now to be adopted into God’s family if they believe and trust that He died for their sins and rose again to give them life. This bondage to the Ten Commandments as a requirement for proving they are good enough is the investigative judgment doctrine even though they don’t call it by name. This belief makes it impossible for them to realize the peace and rest that they could have right now and is so sad and unbiblical.
The Holy Spirit is at work, I believe, among some Adventists I have met who do seem to have some knowledge of the gospel and have no understanding of the investigative judgment. Nevertheless, they still have an Adventist worldview and are bound to the Adventist culture.
I’m sometimes told that we left the Adventist Church because we have more in common with our new church family than we did with Adventists. Absolutely not true! We had and still have a life-time of experience and culture in common with our Adventist family and friends. Our decision to leave Adventism has strained some relationships and ended others. We miss those we have lost. It’s been extremely difficult leaving Adventism, especially for my wife who attended Adventist schools.
What has made us follow through with leaving completely is our belief that integrity is more important than family and social relationships. We hope and pray that our Adventist family and friends will have the veil lifted and finally understand the simple Bible gospel that is centered on the love of God who sent His Son to be the sacrifice for our sins, and on being adopted into God’s family.
The Son has set us free indeed (Jn. 8:36)! †
Copyright 2016 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Camp Verde, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised November 23, 2016. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org