This is my testimony of my journey to becoming a woman of Grace. The journey has not been easy, but it is wonderful to experience freedom in Christ and to know He accepts me fully-warts, hang-ups, and all!
My parents were sound, moral people who brought us children up to live right. I was born and raised in the West Indies on the island of Grenada. The community was close-knit, like blood relations, and people cared deeply about one another. We had freedom to go to the village Methodist church whenever we wanted to go, and I knew I needed Christ in my life.
I recognized my lack of Bible teaching and so responded and accepted the powerful, dynamic presentation of the Seventh-day Adventist doctrines which appealed to me: an honest-hearted, pliable, obedient seeker of true Bible knowledge. When I was in my late teens, in 1973, my heart was stirred by the Holy Spirit to receive my Lord as my Savior. I remember the joy that flooded my soul as I can personally say, heaven came down to me. At that time I was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist church.
I sought the Lord. I went to Adventist college. I majored in Religious Education and prepared to teach. I never wavered in my zeal to know Christ personally and to spread His Word as I had been taught. I served in many capacities at my local church from youth leader to deaconess, and I even worked at the conference/mission office for a short period.
I read, studied, and used Ellen G. White's Spirit of Prophecy books as a guide for every area in my life. I used The Conflict of the Ages Series and The Morning Watch commentaries for my private devotions, Messages to Young People for teenage counsel, The Adventist Home as a marriage manual, Child Guidance for a child-rearing reference, and Counsels on Diet and Foods to justify and defend my vegetarianism. Other books such as Education, Evangelism, and Colporteur Ministry have been among my favorites, too.
Life in Disarray
To the best of my ability I lived up to the church standards and adhered to the doctrines, always trying to do better. All I wanted to do was to live an upright, godly life regardless of what went on within or without the church or denomination.
Yet my life was constantly in disarray; I had no peace in my soul. As the years passed, the level of cognitive dissonance increased. I was confused. I picked up some subtle but strong messages; sometimes they were spoken, but more often they were not. For example: to be saved eventually, a person has to understand the doctrinal facts of Adventism correctly; growing in Christ meant knowing and explaining the prophecies; we were never to question or require accountability from leadership-they were hierarchy; non-Sabbath keepers who have heard the Adventist teachings should join the church and keep Sabbath, or they'll be lost; be aloof and separate from other denominations except to give them the third angels's message".
As long as I read, studied, and followed the Spirit of Prophecy counsel, my life was going nowhere. I felt more and more frustrated by never being able to measure up to the standards and by obsessing about my shortcomings.
I knew many wonderful, sacrificial, hard-working, zealous, conscientious Adventists, but they all seemed to lack spiritual maturity and an understanding of GRACE. They tried to sound excited, but I could sense their struggle as they "hoped to make it." As seasoned (old) as they were, they displayed a critical, judgmental spirit. Few demonstrated any inner joy or peace.
Truth and Lesser Light
I had been taught that we Adventists had all the "truth" because God gave the church the Spirit of Prophecy--Ellen G. White. Therefore, for years, I was extremely cautious and afraid to listen to our read anything that came from anyone but an authorized Adventist.
But if we had all the "Truth" and EGW was always right, didn't that make us infallible? Didn't the Roman Catholic Church (Babylon, we Adventists called it) make the same claim about themselves and the pope?
I was taught the Roman Catholic Church teaches extra-scriptural doctrines. Proudly, I boasted about Adventists being "sola scriptura". But no conscientious Adventist, I realized, would deny that EGW's writings are the main source of study references--even more than the Bible.
If I had said that I didn't care for the Spirit of Prophecy or Ellen White, I would have been deemed blasphemous. I had one question: why does a person need the lesser light (Ellen White) when they have the greater light-the Bible?
We claimed to proclaim "God's Last Day Message." If Jesus were here today, I believed, He would certainly attend an Adventist church on Sabbath. I felt pride at being among the spiritual elite. We condemned other denominations as "law breakers" and "second class Christians". We even mocked and dismissed them as having cheap grace and "Jesus only," while Adventist have the "Meat of the Word"--the Investigative Judgment (the concepts of which keep the vast majority of the members in fear), diet, and the law.
Yet in spite of having the "Truth", most of us Adventists suffered with an insecurity complex.
Of Doctrines and Coldness
I had an unhealthy obsession with Sabbath. This subject overshadowed almost everything else, especially Christ and the life-changing reality I should have experienced. I hardly ever heard the Holy Spirit mentioned; it seemed to be a foreigner in church. We talked and sang about the Spirit and the Christ-centered life, but the focus for most of us was Sabbath and the impending doom of the National Sunday Law. Sabbath was, I believed, the Seal of God.
What did it mean, I sometimes wondered, when scripture says God anointed us and set His seal of ownership on us and put His Spirit into our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come? Also, if we make a thing or day more important than the Creator and the Holy Spirit, is this not idolatry?
Some have observed that coldness and harshness is indigenous to Adventist congregations. I haven't been everywhere, but I have lived both inside and outside the United States, and I agree. Something is wrong when constant schisms, bitter strife, and political manhandling designed to keep power in the ranks of the hierarchy characterize a Christian organization.
Years of Fear-and Release
Fear and defensiveness characterized my almost 26 years as an Adventist. The fear was like a prison that boxed me in. I felt that as long as I attended church and participated politely and quietly, I was assumed to be okay. I became tired with the political maneuverings and fights about issues that really did not matter to the heart of God. My fears were like giants in my life that I had to struggle with constantly. These were the fears of being rejected, of not measuring up, and of losing my salvation. I even feared being judged and condemned if I were to be open about my struggle to know whether God loved me personally. I masked these fears by appearing belligerent and outspoken. I wore a tough veneer, all the while crying out from inside, "God, please love and accept me! I want to be good! I want to know You. I want to love you. If You are in control, why is my life such a mess? Why is the church such a mess?"
In the fall of 1998 I attended an Episcopal Church retreat. I was amazed at the clarity with which the members expressed their relationship with Christ.
An Episcopal church? No way!
Yet I sensed the Holy Spirit begin stirring within me then. I was at the end of my rope, and I felt like I was drowning when a furious storm from hell hit my local church. God somehow used that diabolical fiasco in my church to break my fear of leaving Adventism. In September, 1998, at a local church board meeting, I watched a conference official wield arrogance, intimidation, shame, and control as weapons against the church members. The cold, harsh attitude and schemes that prevailed that night repelled me.
As the storm raged in my church, God showed me that my fear could be used to honor Him. My fear is no longer a chain around my neck; it became courage to conquer the giant.
I finally realized I could leave the Adventist church. God has affirmed me. I know I have been facing many giants-criticism, advice, disapproval from friends-yet I can walk confidently in the Spirit. God is supplying my needs for affirmation, appreciation, encouragement, and more.
Christ My Focus
Now Christ is the focus of my attention. I have begun to understand, experience, and witness what being kind, forgiving, gentle, patient and unconditionally loving looks like in the Body of Christ. These things are in bold contrast to the insecurity and fear of losing my salvation that I lived with as an Adventist.
Ironically, my critics are those who've been my friends. Many of them know and admit the blatant, ungodly administrative practices in the church. They experience confusion, unease and emptiness in their Christian walk. Yet they prefer to live in denial than to examine the errors and contradictions of EGW with scripture. Others cling to the church, believing it is their responsibility to change things with their influence. A few are afraid of losing their cherished jobs. These people are the same ones who encouraged prospective members to trust God if they lost family or jobs over the Sabbath issue.
My assurance of salvation has given me a joy and peace I NEVER had before. It has brought me into a closer walk with Christ. I can say, "I AM SAVED!" I am awed and amazed that He cares about me in a deep, personal way. For the past eighteen months I have seen God's transforming power surge through my whole family. Our spirits have come alive.
God has pursued me over the years, trying to show and teach me His ways. He is the Rock of my salvation. I can now say with deep conviction, I am uninterested in being a Seventh-day Adventist. I cannot return to spiritual mediocrity.
I am walking in the Spirit who seals us in Faith Alone, by Grace Alone, with Christ Alone. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!
I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice to worship you; Oh, my soul, Rejoice!
"You are God's workmanship, created for good works which God prepared for you in advance." Ephesians 2:10
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ERMA BMORGAN TOUSSAINT