A special note to any of my SDA friends reading this letter: Many of you have had a significant impact on my life, encouraging me to love the study of Scripture, to share my faith, and, most importantly, to love Christ. Some of your actions are described here, but all of them are cherished in my heart.
My journey out of SDAism starts with how I came into the church. Although I had been raised, baptized, and confirmed in the Lutheran church and attended regularly, I saw more of the rituals of the liturgy than of Jesus. It seemed to me that religion should be something more. I attended youth functions of various groups and ended up with a growing list of questions but few answers.
Around this time, I became friends with and started dating a SDA I had met at work. Eventually I asked her to marry me, and she made one condition. That I honestly look at what she believed. She said that regardless of my decision after I looked, she would marry me. She, in typical SDA fashion, was convinced that anyone taking an honest look would obviously become SDA. My extensive questions and challenges must have scared her plenty. I picked apart too many of the pre-packaged Bible study lessons, particularly as I pointed out proof texts that were taken out of context. Eventually we studied with just a Bible and a concordance. Much to her relief I became an SDA (and I still love her in spite of this!). I quickly became friends with other SDAs who focused their study on Scripture. I knew about EGW, but among the people I had met, the Bible always seemed to be, by far, the most important book. I thank God to this day for this influence, as it solidified a love of Scriptural study.
My first truly negative experience with Adventism happened in relation to my baptism. Near the time I had finished studying with my wife-to-be, I was attending church with her regularly. The local church was going to hold a Revelation Seminar and I was encouraged to attend. In hindsight that encouragement was more about making the numbers from the seminar look good than anything else, since I was already becoming convinced on nearly every doctrine. I was taken aback by the deceit of hiding the fact that it was an SDA event. I was even "coached" how to respond to anyone's questions about that. The rationale was explained, and I reluctantly accepted it. Then when I told the pastor that I was interested in Baptism, he encouraged me to do it during the seminars and further to come forward during a particular alter call. During the prayer for this alter call, the evangelist said something about "not knowing if anyone had made the decision yet for baptism." My jaw nearly hit the floor. I felt guilty for participating in that little deceit for years. But I attributed this to the person, not the church. I was excited about being an SDA. I decided to change college majors and become a pastor.
My parents didn't take this decision, or my enthusiasm for my newly found "truths," too well. A wise and Godly Lutheran pastor stepped in at this point. He told my parents that there was no need to worry, if I was excited about God and the Bible that God would take care of me (or something to that effect). He also talked with me about some of his own experience at seminary and offered encouragement. I looked forward to seeing him when I visited home. His kindness and respect made a lasting impression.
So off I went to Andrews where I studied Theology, undergraduate not the Seminary, for over 2 years. During that time I took nearly every theology class that was available to undergraduates (auditing some and obtaining permission to sit through some others without credit). Potential pastors were "strongly encouraged" to colporteur during the summer and one summer I did. This was one of the worst experiences of my life, as I was coached in deceit and treachery in order to "spread the Gospel." I had a hard time seeing how selling something spread the gospel. And I could see no reason for using deceit as a Christian tool. At this point I had yet to have any particular concerns with EGW. I spent most of the summer giving away her books, as this fit better with my idea of spreading the Gospel.
My concerns about EGW grew from two particular experiences. The first was my class in homiletics (sermon delivery). The professor of this class was head of the religion department and held great influence in which students were "called" before going on to the seminary. And suffice it to say that he wielded this influence boldly. It soon became apparent that the path to getting high grades was to include EGW quotes in your sermons. I recall one particular sermon that I delivered in class. Afterwards a number of students, including several with whom I rarely spoke, commented on what a blessing they had received from the sermon. It was returned to me with a C- and notes about where I should have included EGW quotes. This started me to question whether I could be effective as an SDA pastor. I thought I should be able to preach straight from Scripture, and accepted low grades throughout the remainder of the class rather than bend to the idea of quoting EGW.
The second element in my concern came out of my work as a teacher's aide for one of the religion professors. I was researching EGW quotes, in the basement of the JW Library, for a paper one of my professors was working on. I'll admit that it bothered me that someone would need to add a compilation of EGW quotes to the Scriptural arguments that they had already put together in order to avoid being labeled heretical. But I had been inside SDAism long enough to understand this practice. In addition to what I was looking for, I also started finding a growing number of statements that I couldn't reconcile with Scripture or with reality. I had heard people explain how EGW had known about the health problems associated with meat eating long before scientists and that this was proof of her prophetic gift. When I read the statements that made that connection through the extended loop of, meat eating excites animal passions which in turn leads to secret vice and/or marital excess which causes the health problems, I had to conclude that this "proof" of her prophetic gift was seriously flawed.
I had never been a strong believer of EGW before; at that point I had to conclude that her "inspiration" wasn't any greater than that of other Christian writers. I concluded that her writings could bring spiritual blessing (though I was no longer interested in reading them), but they couldn't be a basis for any beliefs. This was also the end of my pursuit of being a pastor. I didn't feel that I could be an SDA pastor without believing in the Spirit of Prophecy.
During my days at AU there was one other keystone event the helped to shape my thinking about EGW and the church. I was serving as a student representative to a GC working group on alcohol and drug abuse in the church (I don't recall the exact title of the working group). During a meeting of the entire working group at AU, one of the leading conservative Seminary professors spoke about abstinence from alcohol. He concluded by saying that there was not a Biblical case for insisting on abstinence and suggested that the best path to strengthen the resolve of church members would be to strengthen belief in EGW. I looked around waiting for someone to pose a question, and all I saw were heads nodding affirmation. I couldn't believe I had heard with my own ears that a conservative SDA scholar would promote that a core SDA belief required support of EGW to establish. It made it much easier for me to believe reports that similar statements had been made in regard to the sanctuary doctrine during the investigation into Desmond Ford's teachings.
When I changed majors out of theology, nearly all of my friends that were still theology majors had no interest in remaining friends. It was like I must be contagious or something. In my mind I contrasted this with my parents' pastor, and the outcome was not favorable for Adventists. Only one friend I went to classes with continued our relationship. Our friendship continued after school was completed and miles separated us. His friendship later brought much spiritual healing into my life.
About this time I also started to look seriously at the teachings about the nature of Christ and our ability to be sinless. This continued over the next 2 years, or so. I found it interesting that you could believe just about whatever you wanted regarding the nature of Christ's incarnation and still be an SDA so long as you didn't question Sabbath and/or the Sanctuary doctrine. I thought that this was backwards. This is when my questions about the SDA church started in earnest. I wondered, how could anything be more important than our understanding of Christ's life and sacrifice? I think I was starting to understand grace at this point. I had certainly started seriously questioning the Investigative Judgment, the remnant concept, the role of the law in the life of a Christian and Christ's primary function being our example of how to live a perfect life. I was no longer an SDA in my heart.
This led to a long, dark spiritual depression. I thought that if SDAism was wrong, then I wasn't "in touch" with God. I had prayed and studied Scripture and, as a result, felt led to become an SDA and to enter the ministry. Now that I was rejecting both, I must be either rejecting God or had never known Him in the first place. At the same time, the legalism of SDA teachings also grabbed hold of me (don't ask me to explain how this could be) and I was convinced I could never be good enough for God, there was no use trying and no hope. This lasted for about 7 years. I wanted nothing to do with God. At first I had tried to explain my concerns about the SDA church to my wife, who didn't understand at the time. As I sank into the spiritual depression, I was scared to talk about my concerns because of where they had led me, and I wouldn't have wished that on my worst enemy. But God was still standing by me.
After our children were born, my wife encouraged me to attend church as a good example. Not the greatest motive, but God used it. The SDA church we were attending had an associate pastor who preached about a "real" and "powerful" God that answered prayers and bestowed real spiritual gifts (not just paper-based tests). It is sad to say that his message seems to remain a rarity in the SDA church today. I started wanting to go to church when he would be preaching. Later he was chased from that church (I suspect for making people uncomfortable, but a spark had been rekindled in my soul. I still struggled with the doctrinal questions, but now God mattered again. Not long after this, I finally started to understand grace. And Paul's writings started making so much sense.
A year or two later another pastor dragged me kicking and screaming back into the pulpit. I prayed a lot, and said no many times, before I finally decided to give in to his relentless efforts (and I thank him to this day) and both preach and teach SS classes. After praying and discussing it with my wife, I decided that I couldn't teach something I didn't believe and I didn't want to abuse the trust placed in these roles either. I would only teach on those topics where my beliefs overlapped with those of the church. Before long my consistent topic became grace, and I was OK with that since the church seems to talk out both sides of its mouth on this topic. My wife continued to pray that God would lead us to unity in our beliefs. The answer to that prayer surprised her.
Sheryl had doubts about EGW long before meeting me. These doubts were primarily the result of the harsh, critical and perfectionist attitude of EGW. My own questions had only frustrated and confused her further. For a while she gave up on church as well, feeling that she didn't have a relationship with God anyways and that she was tired of just going through the motions. God started wooing her back during her second pregnancy, and she started eagerly seeking a real relationship with God. She concentrated on spending time with God and ignoring the things she didn't agree with in the SDA church. During this time she was praying for us to come into unity in our beliefs. She explained later that she thought that God would lead me into being a fully believing SDA, and then I would be able to explain how it all fit and that there really weren't any problems in SDA.
The first thing that happened is when our oldest daughter was in 4th grade, we had a bad experience with the SDA school system. It became an eye-opener for my wife that SDA's really don't care about academic excellence, but only that kids are brain-washed into staying an SDA. After comparing the SDA curriculum with our local public school curriculum (which is a top public school), we discovered our kids were between 1 and 2 years behind in Math and Science. When we confronted the principal she acted like she had never heard of such a problem. We were struck at the visit to the public school and during the past year there, how kind and respectful most of the kids were, and how interested the teachers were in the kids individually. For the very first time, our younger daughter actually had a lot of friends. At the SDA school she had zero friends.
During the summer before starting public school, our younger daughter who was 8 1/2 at the time, volunteered to give the offering appeal at the local SDA church. My wife tried to talk her out of it, but was told she should do it. That left Sheryl to make sure she knew what to say up there. We asked our daughter if she knew what the tithe and offerings were for. She said the tithe went for missions. Sheryl explained that actually it gave the pastors a paycheck. Our daughter was absolutely shocked and said "WHAT?!? You mean we give a speech up front, have prayer and march down with offering plates just so the pastor can have a PAYCHECK? I thought the tithe was for God! What if he spends the whole thing on rubber duckies?" Sheryl talks about how that really hit her square in the face. She set out to show our daughter from the Bible that what the church taught about tithing was correct. Instead she found that the church's practice of tithing was nothing like the Biblical example.
Then Sheryl started searching the internet about tithing, and found many sources of information on tithing, as well as websites that explain why many SDA's have left the church. She found that she could relate very well to their reasons. She concluded that tithing was only for the Israelites and in the New Testament it is all freewill offerings as the Holy Spirit impresses a person. It could be less than 10% or far more than 10%. Also, if you were tithing like the Old Testament, it was only for land owners and animal owners, and it was each tenth, not the first tenth (again contrary to SDA teaching). For example, if a person owned 9 cows, there would be no 10th cow to "pass under the rod" so that person owed nothing for tithe. God never was into extracting tithe out of destitute people.
When Sheryl first started facing all the SDA problems head-on she was ready to never step foot in an SDA church again. In an interesting twist, I thought she was going too fast. I had stopped caring about where my membership was many years earlier. My membership was with God. I had quit caring about finding a perfect church and was happy to be in a place where we enjoyed worshiping with the other people attending.
Around this same time, our oldest daughter was interested in being baptized and we were looking through the Bible study book that was recommended for her age to see what it taught. We realized we could never feel comfortable having our kids baptized into the SDA church just to have them eventually struggle with the same issues we are and then end up leaving. Leaving is a painful thing to do, especially when it's from a group that sees itself as the only correct group in the world. We didn't like the emphasis in that Bible study book that if you don't tithe you're breaking the "Do Not Steal" commandment. If you eat pickles, ice cream, smoke, or do drugs you're breaking the "Do Not Kill" commandment. And of course we didn't want our kids confused about and forced to claim allegiance to Ellen White in order to be baptized into the SDA church.
Now we shared the same questions about EGW that I had been having for years. How many times does a prophet have to directly contradict Scripture before you question their gift? How many times can they go back and re-write what they saw in vision? How many failed prophecies does it take to make a false prophet? How many copied historical errors are too many? We concluded that there could not be a neutral ground about her writings. Either she was a prophet from God as she claimed, or her prophecy had another source. We threw away many books from our bookshelves. This was a painful thing for a book lover like me. My wife suggested that we should start replacing EGW's works with writings from other Christian authors. We went shopping one afternoon and loaded up several armfuls of Christian books that looked interesting. One that had a particular influence on me was Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel. It was the first time I had seen many of the ideas about grace that were floating around in my head (or maybe that is in my heart) put together. I read most of the book with tears streaming down my face. Yes! God is that great!
We decided this Spring that we would be leaving the SDA church. My wife hadn't decided how she would break the news to her family and I still had SS teaching responsibilities and 2 upcoming sermon dates. I decided to fulfill these and speak as plainly and strongly about grace as I could during that time. In the meantime we started looking for a new church family and praying about the best way to break the news.
We finally decided that there would be no best time or easy way to break the news. In the words of the Nike advertising campaign we needed to "Just do it." In the membership resignation letter to our church, we explained our reasons in terms of the Reformation principles that we feel have been trampled by SDAs. Namely sola scriptura, sola fide, and sola gratia. Our description of how these principles have been ignored in SDAism follows.
SDAs claim to be heirs of the reformation. But their teaching and practice run contrary to the very principles on which the reformation was based, specifically: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, and Sola Gratia. We choose to stand with the great reformers on these principles.
Sola Scriptura. The Scriptures are the Sole Authority for Faith and Practice.
The SDA belief is that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching must be tested, rather than the sole authority. Ellen White's writings are described in the 27 Fundamental Beliefs as an authoritative source of truth. In principle this might seem to be a small distinction, in practice it becomes considerably larger.
One blatant example of this is the Clear Word. Changing the content of Scripture should be considered an abomination by any church that upholds the infallible Word of God, instead the SDA church publishes, advertises and has church leaders endorse the value of this book.
Another example is the frequently repeated idea that the Bible is too hard to understand, that is why God used Ellen White. I don't know of any other Protestant Church that would promote the idea among its members that the Bible is too hard for the average person to correctly understand. Read the typical book published for the SDA member to better understand a doctrine. Compare the number of Biblical quotes with the number of Ellen White quotes. Adventists are a people of the books (of EGW) rather than the Book.
When Ellen White directly contradicts Scripture, it is treated as a deeper understanding rather than the outright error that it is. Compare her statement about Sampson's choice of a mate (P&P 562-3) with the Biblical description. Sampson's decision to take a wife from among the Philistines "was of the Lord" (Judges 14:4).
EGW: "A young woman dwelling in the Philistine town of Timnath engaged Samson's affections, and he determined to make her his wife. ... The parents at last yielded to his wishes, and the marriage took place. ... The time when he must execute his divine mission -- the time above all others when he should have been true to God -- Samson connected himself with the enemies of Israel. ... He was placing himself in a position where he could not fulfill the purpose to be accomplished by his life. ... The wife, to obtain whom Samson had transgressed the command of God, proved treacherous to her husband" (Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 562,563).
Bible: Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines. So he came back and told his father and mother, "I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife." Then his father and his mother said to him, "Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?" Bus Samson said to his father, "Get her for me, for she looks good to me." However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. Judges 14:1-4.
While this is only one simple and clear example of Ellen White's contradicting the teaching of the Bible, even one contradiction is too many and should be enough to conclude that there is "no light in them" but there are many more cases.
Sola Gratia. Salvation is uniquely God's gift, it is not earned nor merited, and Sola Fide. Justification is by faith alone.
Adventists display very convoluted teaching on these related points. Morris Venden's Obedience of Faith book is a clear example of this. The back cover promises that "there must be a way of obeying God that has so far escaped some of us". For 92 pages of this book, he builds the case that obedience can come by faith alone. His argument culminates on pages 92-3 "Our Saviour not only proved that the law of God could be kept, but he makes provision for each one of us. Christ had no advantage over us (The Desire of Ages, p 119). 'Not even by a thought did he yield to temptation. So it may be with us.' ibid, p. 123 We may follow Jesus' example of obedience (ibid., p. 74); can overcome as He did (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 17); can obey as He did (The Desire of Ages, p. 309). The law of God can be perfectly obeyed by every child of Adam through grace (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 49). Jesus' life in you will produce the same character as His (ibid., p. 78). 'Satan had claimed that it was impossible for man to obey God's commandments; and in our own strength it is true that we cannot obey them. But Christ came in the form of humanity, and by His perfect obedience He proved that humanity and divinity combined can obey everyone of God's precepts.'-Christ's Object Lessons, p. 314.'The life that Christ lived in this world, men and women can live through His power and under His instruction. In their conflict with Satan they may have all the help that He had. They may be more than conquerors.'-Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 22." And then, only 2 paragraphs later, in the final paragraphs of the book "But my failure does not invalidate the fact that God has the power available to keep me from sinning" He continues, "If you still have failures in your life, remember that so did the disciples. Are you disappointed about your failures? Welcome to the club. So am I"
There are several interesting points to this long example. For well over 95% of the book the case is built that perfect obedience can and should be obtained, and then in the closing page and a half of the book he says that failure is common and can provide no examples, outside of Christ, of anyone who has accomplished what he has been telling us can be accomplished. Not himself. Not the disciples. But he continues to insist that it is not only possible, but what we must strive after. By adding "of faith" to the word obedience, somehow SDAs think that it negates claims that they believe anything besides salvation by faith alone. EGW clearly states that people in the last days must be perfect in character in order to be sealed. As such, they become acceptable to God because of what they have done through reliance on God's strength. But it is still reliance on their character rather than on the grace of God, through Christ. This is not "grace alone." A popular SDA phrase a while back was "Do your best and God will do the rest." How truly wrong! God has done it all, through faith we can accept His grace.
The long quotes from Venden's book provide some additional points to ponder. First, rather than sola Scriptura it is almost entirely based on EGW. In that way it is a typical example of SDA teaching. Furthermore the notion that Satan claimed it was impossible for man to obey God's commandments is not a concept that is found in Scripture, but it is central to many SDA teachings.
Several quotes from Seventh-day Adventists Believe... (pages 164-168 regarding the 3 Angels' Messages), illustrate that the SDA belief about what the phrase "Righteousness by Faith" means is very different than that of the Protestant reformers.
This message also calls on all to worship the Creator. God's call to worship must be seen in contrast to the summons to worship the beast and his image (Rev. 13:3, 8, 15). Soon everyone will have to make a choice between true and false worship-between worshiping God on His terms (righteousness by faith) or on our terms (righteousness by works). By commanding us "'to worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water'" (Rev. 14:7 cf. Ex. 20:11), this message calls attention to the fourth commandment. It leads people into true worship of the Creator, an experience that involves honoring His memorial of Creation-the seventh-day Sabbath of the Lord, which He instituted at Creation and affirmed in the Ten Commandments (see chapter 19 of this book). The first angel's message, therefore, calls for the restoration of true worship by presenting before the world Christ the Creator and Lord of the Bible Sabbath. This is the sign of God's Creation-a sign neglected by the vast majority of His created beings.
This is only the first example within this same set of texts, so if it is not obvious please bear with me through the remaining quotes. Through a clear set of progressive steps we move from "true worship" to "worshiping God on His terms" to "righteousness by faith" back to "true worship" and on to "the seventh-day Sabbath." These terms are treated as being equivalents. Righteousness by faith is seen as being equivalent to keeping the Sabbath or perhaps the other way around keeping the Sabbath is righteousness by Faith. You may think I am making a stretch here, but let me continue with a quote from the section on the 2nd Angel's Message.
Babylon falls because she rejects the first angel's message-the gospel of righteousness by faith in the Creator. As during the first few centuries the church of Rome apostatized, many Protestants of today have departed from the great Bible truths of the Reformation. This prophecy of Babylon's fall especially finds its fulfillment in the departure of Protestantism at large from the purity and simplicity of the everlasting gospel of righteousness by faith that once so powerfully impelled the Reformation.
The doctrine that is enforced is Sunday keeping. The deception that SDAs believe the Papacy has extended into Protestantism is Sunday keeping. Therefore the doctrine and practice that SDAs teach other churches have departed from is 7th Day Sabbath keeping. Yet the quote reads "the departure of Protestantismfromrighteousness by faith." Again it looks like these statements equate righteousness by faith with Sabbath keeping. I will continue with the section on the 3rd Angel's message to lay any doubts to rest.
Every person will have to choose whom to worship. Either one's choice of righteousness by faith will be revealed as one participates in a form of worship God has endorsed, or one's effectual choice of righteousness by works will be revealed as one participates in a form of worship God has forbidden but which the beast and his image command, a man-made worship. God cannot accept this latter form of worship, because it gives priorities to the commandments of men and not to those of God. It seeks justification through the works of man and not by faith that comes through a total surrender to God as Creator, Redeemer, and Re-creator. In this sense, then, the message of the third angel is the message of justification by faith.
Allow me to re-write this slightly by substituting in what SDAs believe is the "form of worship God has endorsed" and the worship God has forbidden. "One's choice of righteousness by faith will be revealed as one keeps the 7th Day Sabbath and one's righteousness by works will be revealed as one worships on Sunday."
Between the quotes from Venden's book and the use of the term righteousness by faith in the book Seventh-day Adventists Believe, it is clear that the SDA understanding of righteousness by faith can be summarized "If we sufficiently exercise our faith, we can obey God perfectly and that keeping the 7th day Sabbath IS righteousness by faith." Through the teachings on imparted righteousness, SDAs have thoroughly twisted the meaning of righteousness by faith into salvation by works and obedience. SDAs have rejected the reformation teaching on justification by faith alone and instead accepted the Roman Catholic position espoused at the Council of Trent that justification includes changing the inward man such that his behaviors become just.
This disposition, or preparation, is followed by Justification itself, which is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting. Decree on Justification. Chapter 7.
We agree that God works in us to produce good fruits, and that as we mature in Christ, our deeds do change. We must conclude that even these deeds are still filthy rags compared to the righteousness of Christ, so that ultimately we are always returned to "justification" by faith alone, or imputed righteousness. The Investigative Judgment is predicated on imparted righteousness; God must judge whether our lives and behaviors are sufficiently righteous, as a result of imparted righteousness received by faith, to warrant acceptance in His kingdom. The only righteousness that warrants acceptance is perfect righteousness. There are a number of statements from EGW and other SDA authors, like Venden above, which make it clear that perfect righteousness is readily within reach of all of us. The Investigative Judgment demands nothing less than perfection, which according to SDAs is within our reach, in order to justify our acceptance into God's kingdom.
We can no longer accept these teachings. There is One who is perfect; by accepting His free offer of grace, God credits His righteousness to us. If His righteousness is credited to us, there is no need to investigate whether His righteousness is sufficient. Since the offer of grace is a gift, there is no reason to investigate whether we have earned the right to accept or keep the gift. In short, there is no reason for the investigative judgment doctrine other than to justify the mistaken teaching that Christ would return in 1844.
Earlier we presented a quote describing the 2nd Angel's Message where the SDA author concluded that "Babylon's fallfinds its fulfillment in the departure of Protestantism from the everlasting gospel of righteousness by faith that once so powerfully impelled the Reformation." From what we have shown, it is the SDA church that has departed from the gospel of righteousness by faith as it was so powerfully preached during the reformation. It is the SDA church that has accepted the counter-reformation doctrines about justification as established by Roman Catholicism from the Council of Trent.
We choose to stand with the great Reformers in accepting Scripture alone as our basis for belief. With Scripture as our basis, we concur with the Reformers that our justification is by faith alone, given to us solely through grace.
Rick and Sheryl Barker
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RICK AND SHERYL BARKER