Seventh-day Adventism is the most subtle of all the major cults of American origin. In his groundbreaking work, even Walter Martin, the cult expert, was fooled by this organization. Near the end of his life he claimed that the label of "cult" may need to be reapplied, or should have never been removed in the first place.
The following is my personal story of how Seventh-day Adventism eventually ensnared me into its legalism, slowly draining the vibrant spiritual life that had been given to me by Jesus Christ.
Broken families were becoming epidemic in the United States in the 1950's. As much as it has been talked about, broken families were not the cause of the broken society that makes up this nation; they are simply one of the many symptoms of a much deeper problem. There is no political, economic, social or religious solution to the problems America and the world faces.
We live in a world full of dead people walking around. The blockbuster thriller The 6th Sense gave rise to the phrase "I see dead people.” As in the movie, many of us are walking around completely dead in so many ways. The worst part is that we may feel alive emotionally, physically, intellectually, even spiritually, yet we remain dead at our core. Transformation from being dead to being truly alive at our core has always been and remains the only solution to any problems we may face individually, corporately, nationally or universally.
I was a spiritually still-born son of a man who was studying for the ministry, yet the family was more agnostic than anything. U. S. Agnosticism of 50 years ago was a religion of shallowly dabbling into the new or unknown with a healthy dose of superstition mixed in. It was a nice combination for those who believe in American individualism with a little feigned community in some shared values.
Although there were times when spirituality came in the home, it was usually in the form of the Ouija Board, Astrology, sťances and other spiritual activity. Using the Ouija board was a common experience while growing up. And yes, there were definitely times when the pointer on the board seemed to move under its own, or some unseen, power. During a sťance at a young age, my dad (first stepfather) saw a dead aunt and was so shocked by the experience that all of us participating became extremely frightened. It would be a long time before I participated in another sťance. "Jesus” was occasionally in the home, such as seen in a picture of a snow capped mountain where the rocks, positioned in the snow, resembled the modern picture of Jesus. There were no biblical references, in fact a Bible would have been difficult or impossible to find anywhere in the home. The name of Jesus was common in the home as it was in most homes with which I was familiar, usually accompanied with anger, frustration or other emotions that found no release other than in a verbal and often physical tirade. The curse often included the middle initial "H.” (Those theological experts in Hollywood will tell you that the "H” stands for Harold.)
My biological father was studying for the ministry at a new college in Los Angeles, BIOLA (Bible Institute of Los Angeles.) He left us at a very early age. I never knew him until I was in my twenties when he told me he gave up interest in the ministry and went into the auto parts business. I guess that auto parts is about as spiritual as some men ever get.
At one time in my pre-teens, I was invited to go to a Baptist Church and told that if I attended for 13 weeks in a row I would be given a free "Bible,” whatever that was. My healthy superstitions provided me with a strong feeling that something was wrong with a place that required attendance for 13 weeks to get a freebie. At the end of the 13 weeks I received my red-edged King James Version of the Holy Bible, signed by Mrs. Flagg, the Sunday school teacher who taught the class. Not that I learned anything about the Bible. I simply attended, got my Bible and got out: Objective accomplished. I had no idea what was in my new Bible and over several more years would rarely crack its cover, never learning what was contained on its pages. My ignorance would expose me when, in high school I took a class called The Bible as Literature. (That was doubly humorous as I didn't even know what the word "literature” meant.) On a test given on the first day, I filled in the blanks with what seemed reasonable possibilities of what would be found in a book. On a question, The four horsemen of the _____(fill in the blank)______, I added the word "plains.” Isn't that where men rode horses? And for the authors of the four gospels I thought that John, Mark, Job and Paul were pretty good guesses. (50% on that one! At least all four were biblical names.) I should have guessed that I wouldn't do well under a teacher whose initials were, as she explained to us one day, V. D.
Dabbling in satanism and the occult during my early teen years (age 11 to 15) I never became a truly "religious” or "spiritual” person. I referred to various books by Anton Zandor LaVey and others influential in satanism and the occult, and performed many of the rituals described, often using candles, repetitive bodily motions and mirrors. Fortunately I was never introduced to the very gruesome aspect of the occult which occasionally involves the mutilation and sacrifice of small animals. Although not a disciple of anyone, and not knowing the term, I was very much a practical "New Ager,” agreeing with anything that sounded good or whatever gave my existence meaning.
Having been taught the modern astrological zodiac from a very thick book, I felt there was "something” outside of myself that may exert influence on my life. One of the few books that I had read before my junior year in high school, Many Mansions taught me that reincarnation was both a spiritual truth and biblically based, and there were many good reasons to believe in the possibility of progression from one physical life to another. Although having prayed to satan, it never answered my prayers, solidifying the fact of the meaningless of my life. If satan wouldn't answer my prayers, what or who would? Empty existence and the meaningless of life was my physical and spiritual reality.
Due to the various experiences of my early life I was convinced that there is a spiritual world that is closely connected with our physical world. The spiritual world can directly affect the physical, and the physical can directly affect the spiritual.
A materialistic outlook and upbringing prepared me to become "successful” in the eyes of the world. Attracted to sports I discovered that I enjoyed running as long and fast as I could go. During my first years of running, from Junior High through my second year of high school, I never accomplished anything significant as a runner. Finishing first in many races, my times were not of a caliber to get me noticed by the coaches or other runners. I became a slightly better than average runner by my sophomore year in high school. I also discovered tennis and took that up with as much excitement as I took to running. I did not enjoy team sports but gravitated to those sports where I relied on no one else, and had no one to let down if I did not perform well.
My grades through most of my school years were horrible. A glimpse at some report cards over the years reveal a total lack of consistency and inability to grasp even the most fundamental concepts of math, English or history. I hated to read, did not get along well with others (primarily due to my extreme shyness,) felt completely stunted in the areas of art and music, had no sense of humor (as I was told by my parents,) and pretty much spent my time avoiding other people.
Coin collecting was the only enjoyable experience in my otherwise dreary existence. Staring at the surface of metal objects that had some intrinsic worldly value provided me with the hope that some value may be found within the otherwise worthless and unsuccessful person I had become by high school. (I was given my first silver Kennedy half-dollar by my grandpa Pitcher in 1964. It is a hobby that has interested me to this day.)
My biological father had left before I was old enough to know him. Now, in 1971 as I started high school, a huge crisis was again to occur. My dad (first stepfather) left. Although he was a tough man and a practicing alcoholic, he was my dad. It was a very challenging time that was temporarily relieved when an old family friend, "Uncle” Doran came back into the picture. Doran would become my second stepfather and eventually be revealed as the sinister, psychotic, abusive and deadly man that had been hidden from us as young children. None of us children were aware at the time that his several years' absence was due to a long prison sentence in San Quentin as a result of abducting and abusing young boys from Golden Gate Park and the streets of San Francisco. He had lived across from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco with two of his "friends” for many years.
A couple of years after the change in our parents' status, we moved from the town in which we had grown up to a wealthier area in a new town and into a larger house where I had my own darkroom (photography became an important hobby.) The move resulted in the absence of the few friends I had known in my life and the prospect of getting adjusted to a new high school. It was also the last time I prayed to satan. My prayers were again unanswered and the few hopes I had of a new beginning with new friends faded into the oblivion of my life.
That fall as I started school at San Leandro High School in the San Francisco Bay Area, I tried out for the cross-country team and was accepted. An average runner at Irvington High School in Fremont, CA, which was a very tough team, I easily ran with the front of the pack in San Leandro. These people seemed genuinely interested in me as a person, which I attributed to my abilities rather than any altruism on their part.
There was one guy that stuck by me that year, Dan Nelson, who would eventually become the closest friend I had ever had before or since in my life. Dan and I became inseparable as we shared our interests with each other, as well as running together without any trouble keeping up. He was a musician who built his own guitars, played piano, wrote his own songs and music and recorded on his own recording system in his bedroom. I became his closest and, most likely due to his kindness, his most honest critic. Dan and I were the same height, of similar north and western European ancestries, wore similar glasses, ran the same events in cross country and track and were occasionally confused by runners from other teams in the Bay Area. We decided to start explaining that we were twin brothers, which some of those who didn't know us actually believed.
I'll never forget that first season of running cross country for San Leandro high. At practice one day, Dan walked up to me and asked if I'd be interested in coming to a meeting. He said it's a bunch of kids from high school where they sing, have some crazy skits and one of the "leaders” gets up and talks about Jesus for a few minutes at the end. In my mind I thought, "Wow, a meeting!” Only important people were invited to meetings. I had been warned when I was younger that those "Jesus people” are pretty boring and they just go around saying "Hallelujah” and "praise Jesus” all the time. Excited at the prospect of being invited by my friend to go to a meeting with him I accepted the invitation.
Next week at the Young Life meeting I sat and watched as a roomful of kids from the high school sang religious (and some non-religious) songs as Dan played guitar. An occasional skit would "break out” (all planned as I would later learn) that would have us busting our guts and grabbing our sides. After a pretty rowdy hour, an adult (he must have been 19 or 20) got up and the room got silent. He talked about Jesus for a whole three or four minutes and when he was done asked everyone to pray. He said a brief prayer, thanked God for the good time they had had that evening, said Amen and dismissed the club. I was truly amazed that the one thing that I expected did not happen – I wasn't bored. The man, who had just finished praying, walked right up to me and thanked me for being there. I was immediately embarrassed for being noticed and, of course, had to implicate Dan as I had only come along to watch. He apologized to me for the lack of coordination by those leading the group and asked if I'd be willing to come back another time. Although I was puzzled by his apology, I accepted the invitation and said that I would be back.
That was the fall of 1973 and was only the beginning. The next one and one-half years would race by. This new "spiritual” interest was, still just that, an interest. I joined a weekly Bible study with the boys Campaigners (the Young Life boys Bible study group) as they embarked on a study of the Gospel of Mark. I had never read the Bible before but still had the King James Bible I had earned by attending Sunday school for 13 weeks several years earlier.
I attended the Bible study and Young Life club meetings weekly. Each week I became more consciously aware of Jesus as an historical person, whose acts and teachings had been recorded by Mark, one of his disciples. Mark was the perfect gospel for me to begin learning about Jesus. It was fast paced with a lot of action and it seemed Jesus was always getting into some kind of trouble or argument with some authority figure. He didn't fit into the societal mold carved out for him by centuries, even millennia of careful study, practice and teaching by the elite who thought they were "in” on God's truth as revealed to them through the scriptures known as the Old Testament. I could relate to him.
Soon Dan asked me to attend church with him. He attended a Baptist Church in San Lorenzo pastored by (to me!) a very old man, Jack Wyne. I met and seemed immediately accepted by the youth pastor, Jim Nichols. I remember the first few weeks as a new member of the youth group at San Lorenzo Baptist Church. Pastor Jim seemed to resonate with us, spoke our language, shared our concerns and found humor in everyday situations. He wasn't afraid to speak honestly about things that we, as youth, also had strong opinions. Although he often challenged us, he never seemed to be burdened with the responsibility of ensuring "common” or "correct” ideas about the world or even most religious ideas. Neither he, nor anyone I knew at the time taught about the Baptist Church or its beliefs. They simply talked about Jesus and what it meant to believe in him. There was only one thing in which he was unshakable: who Jesus is and what he had done as recorded by numerous eyewitnesses in the books of the New Testament, the second "half” of the Bible.
During that junior year of high school, I literally absorbed all that was taught about Jesus, the Bible, the 1st century bible lands and the smattering or portions of doctrines that were taught by pastors, teachers and new friends I was making that year. As the school year continued, there were changes in my self and life that came about very quickly and with no apparent self-effort, counseling, tutoring or physical training. I went from being an extremely withdrawn and shy person to one who actually enjoyed being around others. People were suddenly interesting, humorous and lively. I had rarely done well in any class and then only for portions of some classes. My teachers seemed to be founts of knowledge from whom I could not learn enough. I went from being a "C/D” student to getting only As and Bs. Through my sophomore year I could hardly read a book of any length. Now, I couldn't find a book long enough to keep me satiated before I was ready to tackle another. Barely scraping by with minimal effort in any class prior to this year, I now found that I would regularly stay up after midnight studying, re-reading and memorizing so that I could ace the next quiz or exam.
When I discovered mythology as a subject offered by the English department, I devoured every myth and re-telling available. I drew out diagrams of the worlds and universe as depicted in the various mythologies of the world. I became fascinated with Norse mythology and drew my own version of Yggdrasil, the world tree with all the different realms from Muspelheim (the realm of fire) to Valhalla (the hall of the gods) for which I received an "A” as a class project. I also became fascinated with the sciences. A year-long class covered several physical sciences in a whirlwind study that included meteorology, seismology, vulcanology, oceanology, geology, glaciology, astronomy and others. I aced that course, writing a book-length set of class notes with full-color hand-drawn illustrations of the various aspects taught in each section. That experience prepared me for college where I would study each of those physical sciences in greater depth. It was as though I was on anabolic steroids both intellectually and physically.
My race times excelled to the point that I was even recognized by teammates from my former high school. At a track meet that both schools participated in, many of my former teammates approached me and said that they had heard how well I was running and now seeing me with their own eyes couldn't believe the change. There was no one from my former team that could beat me. I was becoming one of the fastest long-distance runners in northern California in the early and mid-1970's.
The changes in home life in 1971 resulted in going from a mean-spirited jousting environment where one would occasionally get hurt, to a macabre nightmarish existence where my brother, sister and I truly feared for our lives. Home life was a drag before 1971. With the new stepfather, I now dreaded going home. On the nights that I slept, I never fell asleep with the assurance that I would wake up the next day. In the pre-1971 home there was a lot of red anger. Red anger would burn itself out in a drunken rage and perhaps go sleep in the doghouse with our St. Bernards. Our new stepfather exhibited a white rage. White rage would only be satisfied in the destruction of another person. The destruction could be emotional, physical, sexual or spiritual but was always irredeemably destructive. One by one he extinguished the emotions, passions, hobbies, spirits and bodies of everyone in the household. Even the pets would cower and pee when he passed by. To see a dog fly through the air without ever touching the ground as it passed not only crushed the animals' spirits and bodies but crushed each of us as well.
On a 1972 vacation we raced through the Colorado Rockies at over 90 miles per hour. Doran waved a loaded gun at each of our heads while he careened from one edge of the highway to the other. It was then I realized that we were already dead. We were simply living the nightmare of his (and our own) internal spiritual condition. We sat with no escape, our latent emotions occasionally bursting through our otherwise dead selves only to be forced back under in an ever more frantic attempt to calm the situation that would not be calmed by anything outside the demented horror that eventually piloted the car off the road. He got out and walked off behind some haystacks and shot the gun a few times. With almost an hour to escape, we just sat there motionless, silent, and unaware that we could simply get up, walk away and lose ourselves in the safety of the deadly Rocky Mountains. Even our mother, who had promised eventual escape, finally just sat there and did nothing. He was OK (isn't that all that mattered?)
So much for the fun times. I finished the 1973-74 school year with an elevated sense of what I could accomplish as a person. I did not know prior to that year that ideas, stories, histories and mythologies could be so exciting. Intellectually and physically I was alive. Each time I ran the endorphins that were released in my brain were so powerful that I had a significant runner's high. One day I participated in a workout and extra running that resulted in a distance of over 50 miles. I literally felt like I was flying and was not aware of the weight of my body. Each time my feet touched the ground it was as though I was landing on a springboard that vaulted me up and over the ground at a pace and with the fluidity of water over a fall.
During the summer of 1974 I made some personal discoveries that would reveal to me the reality of my own spiritual condition. My love of, and joy when running was two-sided. The sheer physical exertion was enjoyable in itself. Filling up a shoebox with medals was only a byproduct of the fun I was having in pushing my body to extremes I had never before endured. I realized however that I was running from the experiences in my life. The joy I experienced was really just one of escape, of being free of the dreadful existence in the prison that was my home. When I was running, there was nothing that could touch me. It was while running, as my heart pounded in my chest, that I realized each day that I was actually alive. Physically my body was experiencing life to a degree I never experienced before in any aspect of my life.
When I wasn't running, I was becoming more and more aware that I was not alive spiritually. The more time I spent at home revealed a deadness I could not seem to overcome. I couldn't do anything to change that. My brain seemed electrified yet my spirit seemed as though even lightning wouldn't revive me. I was dead inside. Of this, I was more sure than most anything in my life.
I seemed to be experiencing life as fully as I had ever known, yet the deadness took over when I was at home. With my new friends and experiences I was being who I wanted to be, not necessarily who I really was. At home I was my true self. The one reality I was assured of was that in the end, everyone ended up dead. At least death would be a relief from the hellish nightmare that was my home life. The escapes from that nightmare were the bright times of my life. Yet even they came to an end daily.
I was excited the next fall as school started and I began my senior year of high school. I looked forward to the classes, books, exams, cross-country and track workouts and races, my new friends, teachers and of course, the weekly Young Life meetings and Bible studies. I had never begun a school year with the expectations I had that fall. I dove into all the experiences that were in front of me with abandon. I didn't care where I ended up, the journey of learning, running, playing tennis, joking, spending time with friends as well as studying the Bible and meeting with others from Young Life and church was exciting.
While at a Young Life meeting one winter evening, the leaders announced that there was going to be a retreat in the spring. In March of 1975 there was going to be a chance to visit the Young Life camp at Mount Hermon in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was to be a weekend retreat starting on Friday afternoon and ending on Sunday. For a small price all food, lodging (rustic cabins) and materials would be provided. After thinking about it for a while I decided to ask my parents if I could attend the weekend retreat. I did not expect that I would be able to attend, but didn't realize that my getting out of the house for the weekend would please my parents as much as it would me.
I asked my friend Dan what was meant by the word "retreat.” He explained that after doing battle on a daily basis, we needed to retreat from the front lines and get rested and fed physically, emotionally and spiritually. He explained that simply living our daily lives as Christians was a battle and to rest and fellowship with others fighting the same battle was a way to "gas up” to be able to keep going. Otherwise, everyone gets exhausted and some may not survive. (Although he used the inclusive words "we” and "our” I knew inside myself that I was still an observer of these interesting people, not really one of them.)
The next few months flew by, although occasionally it seemed as though time had gotten stuck. This especially happened around the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Christmases were especially dark times and the Christmas of 1974 was no different. Under the ominous eye of our stepfather, we celebrated who knows what as we had celebrated for the past few years. Every aspect of the holidays was painful. Christmas shopping with the family was a difficult task. Picking and cutting the Christmas tree was a time I believed most families would experience joy. We were lucky to get the tree home without anyone getting too badly hurt, and hanging it from the ceiling as our stepfather's custom was. A few angry bursts cut through the dull winter day. From the cutting of the tree to New Years day my brother, sister and I were sure to present the correct facial expressions and exclamations that indicated that we were pleased with all that our parents had done.
I always looked forward to the new year as there wouldn't be any holidays or celebrations to spoil the deceitful calm that lay just above the surface of our turbulent lives. When March rolled around, I was ready for the weekend that I had been looking forward to for months. When the Friday arrived, I had been packed for a week or more, including a set of clothes that I could throw away as we were instructed. I couldn't get out of the house fast enough. In the car with the adult who would drive us to our weekend retreat at Mount Hermon, we laughed as he sang Beach Boys-style songs about all the different girls in the group. A couple hours later the car pulled into the parking lot in a grove of trees. As I got out of the car and could hear nothing but the breeze in the trees and young voices, I was ready to disappear from the daily battles of my life. I knew that I had retreated from the world. What I didn't know at the time was that in just over 24 hours I would be meeting an author that I had only known through a book of his. That meeting would change the course of my life and bring my very dead spirit to life.
Friday evening was uneventful yet the theme was definitely one of "have the best time you can while you're here and take advantage of everything we offer.” As youth, that spread through the camp like wildfire. People were going to do their best to make sure that they enjoyed the weekend. It began with stealing clothes, running underwear up the flagpole, trying to scare the girls and secret scheming for the various planned activities to make sure the fun times were going to be extreme in nature.
Saturday at breakfast we were told to dress in the clothes that we could throw away. We were instructed to come to the "soccer field” after lunch and there we would be given instructions. Approaching the field, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was definitely a huge field. However there was no grass. It was a depression about three feet deep. Through hoses or some unseen source, the field had been flooded and was now at least two feet deep in mud.
The game was called something like "Grab the Gold.” Names were called and each person was assigned to one of two teams, cowboys and Indians. A sticker was placed on our foreheads identifying which team we were on, and then we were sent to our end of the field. Wading through the mud was a blast, but it was nothing compared with the experience of running after opponents, trying to pick them up or push them over into the mud as we attempted to remove the sticker from their foreheads. Those were the rules. Remove someone's sticker and they have to go to the jail in their opponents' end-zone. The only other rule was to not purposely hurt others. Within 15 to 20 minutes I was picked up by about three guys, raised over their heads and was plunged headlong down into the mud. Upon being baptized in mud, my sticker was removed and I was eventually dragged into the jail at the other end of the field.
I don't remember who won or even how they won. It didn't matter. I hadn't had a cleaner dirty time in my whole life.
The rest of the day was just as eventful. Various pranks, some talks by speakers on subjects ranging from sex to who Jesus is, materials, trips to the ice cream bar for junk food, books and talking with friends rounded out the day. The evening activities included a very large Young Life meeting with plenty of pranks and jokes to keep everyone a little paranoid. Then a speaker got up to present the gospel message. By this time, the Campaigners had completed the study of the book of Mark. I had a good, albeit cursory understanding of who Jesus was and what he had done and taught. The speaker told us that Jesus is still alive and wants to have a personal relationship with each of us.
We were then instructed that there would be a twenty minute quiet time. Quiet times were a practice of Young Life that allowed a person time to process information that was presented. The quiet time may result in moments of clarity or understanding of things that had been either unknown or unclear before. This is a time when the leadership of Young Life would knowingly allow the Holy Spirit to do his work on the mind and heart of each individual. Young Life leadership always understood that their role was not to play the Holy Spirit to youth. They simply prepared us for him to meet with us and do his own work.
As we left the lodge I walked under the bright moon along a path that led next to a line of trees. After about 10 minutes I stopped and sat under a pine tree as I looked up and enjoyed the moon and stars. I thought about the things that I had learned the past year and a half. I could think of no reason to doubt the record of Mark. The people that I had come to know had a peace that was unfathomable. They were regular people, very much like me, some like Dan with home lives that could have been as bad as the one I had.
I didn't know where everyone went. I could have been a million miles away from the next living person. It was quiet.
The speaker had mentioned that there was only one solution to the problems that we were all facing in life. That solution was to accept Jesus' sacrifice for us and accept him into our hearts. I didn't know how to do that. I had heard many in Young Life and at church pray to God verbally in front of others. Often it sounded as if they were having a conversation with someone with whom they had a close relationship. It was at that time as I sat under the tree that I was aware of someone else near me. Although I couldn't see anyone nor could I hear a physical voice, I was aware that the author of the Bible was introducing himself to me. It was Jesus. He asked me to accept what he had done for me.
What I had learned from the gospel of Mark was true. At this point in my life there were very few facts of which I was sure. I was sure that Jesus was an historical person and had performed a bunch of miracles and stuff. I was sure that he not only lived in the past but lived today. I was sure that he wanted me to get to know him intimately. I was sure that I was dead and the only way that I could truly live was to invite him who called himself "the Life” into my heart. I had nothing to lose.
I asked the eternally living author of the book to come into my life.
After a few more minutes of quiet meditation, I got up, washed my face and returned to the lodge. The rest of the folks returned and the meeting carried on with more music, singing and praying. I was bursting inside. I was alive. I wanted to shout out to everyone what had just happened. I had not lined up a bunch of facts, made a decision and decided the best thing I could do. There was nothing I could do that would make a difference. God had met me personally and I simply allowed him to take control of my life.
I would wait until the following morning to tell anyone what had happened. That night I cried, prayed, talked, sang and rested in my new life. Sunday morning, I told Dan what had happened. He smiled and said he knew that I would eventually accept Christ. As the Sunday morning service started in the lodge, he explained that it would be important for me to tell one of the leaders what had happened. I had my first communion there by ripping off a piece of bread from a loaf of sourdough French bread and drinking from a large goblet that was passed around among the group. After the service I went and told one of the leaders. I asked what I was supposed to do. He told me he had only one recommendation: Find a church that teaches only the Bible and attend regularly. I was never told by anyone from Young Life or San Lorenzo Baptist Church which church I should attend.
After returning home, I went to church the following week and told the youth minister that I had accepted Christ as my Lord and savior. He set me up to talk with the pastor and I was baptized the following Sunday. I was baptized into Christ. Baptism was not entrance into the Baptist Church or any other denomination. Membership with a specific church would be secondary.
The previous year and a half of my life had been exciting. Meeting Jesus and accepting him was beyond exciting. I often can't find appropriate words to describe that moment. The sum of all the feelings, thoughts and experiences is that I have come to trust a living God. His name is Jesus. He gave me new life (I was born again.) He continually cleanses me from all my sin. Someday he will come to raise my still very dead body from this world.
That was March of 1975. It was an extremely busy time. High school graduation was close and I needed to make final preparations for college as well as for the senior prom that would happen that June in San Francisco.
I had no idea that there were numerous people and multi-million dollar organizations that were immediately set to work once I had become a Christian. Some people think that being a Christian should be a very private and personal thing. They are simply unaware, as I was, that a change like that results in a very real cosmic shift, with spiritual powers set at work in an attempt to negate the new status of a Christian or to cause him or her to begin doubting what had just happened. Becoming a Christian is not a private event and we fool ourselves if we think that it is private. It wouldn't take long for these organizations to find me.
I don't know how they found out. I had only shared with my friends at Young Life, San Lorenzo Baptist Church and a few friends at high school about the change. But that very month the first knock came.
"Behold I Stand At The Door And Knock”
I was at home and there was a knock at the door. Alone, I answered the door and was greeted by two young adults, a man and woman. They introduced themselves to me and said, "We're Jehovah's Christian Witnesses and we'd like to talk to you about God's theocratic kingdom.” I said, "Praise the Lord, come on in.” Although we only talked for an hour they covered many topics. They were pleased that I had recently come to know Jesus personally and glad that I was interested in Bible study. They volunteered to meet with me weekly to share the Bible and discuss the various teachings of Christ. They also shared that although I had come to know Christ, there was much more that I must learn. The disciples spent three years with Jesus and learned much. It would benefit me to continue learning and grow in my new faith. We continued to meet for a year, studying various topics they would present as we used a small book they provided for my study. They agreed that I should use the Bible only for determining what was true. I don't know how they found out that I had just accepted Christ, but they were led directly to me once I had made that decision.
Within two weeks, while at home alone, there was another knock at the door. I answered and was met by two young men. They introduced themselves to me and said "We're elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and we'd like to share the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.” I invited them in and we began to talk for an hour. They were also pleased that I had come to faith in Jesus Christ. They were concerned that I was unaware that the truths of the gospel were absent from the earth for 1800 years. They explained that there was another testament that had been delivered to mankind by God, the Book of Mormon. This book was given to a modern-day prophet named Joseph Smith and the original faith as taught by Jesus had been restored. I was always glad to learn more about Jesus. We continued weekly studies for a few months. They asked me how sure I was that the Bible that I used could be trusted. I didn't know. They would help me with that as we continued to meet.
Shortly thereafter I was at work where I shared my new faith with a fellow-worker. Not as positive as the two other groups I had started Bible studies with, he was glad that I believed in Jesus but asked strong questions about this so-called "trinity” that I now claimed to believe in. He was a member of a group called The Way International. He explained that the word "trinity” was not found in the Bible. He challenged me to study the issue of the Trinity. He took me to a bookstore that his church ran where I purchased a newly published book entitled Jesus Christ Is Not God. The author, Victor Paul Wierwille, used the Greek language to explain that the teaching of the Trinity was unbiblical and unchristian. My co-worker was right. The word "trinity” was not to be found in the Bible.
Also at work, in the parking lot I was approached by a young woman, dressed much like a hippie. As she walked toward me, she said that Jesus had broken us free from the satanic world system and we needed to share this gospel with others so they could be free too. I agreed that the world was an evil place and that only Jesus could set us free from these evils. As we talked, she seemed passionate but very angry. She explained that everyone was wrong about how to solve the world's problems. I agreed. She then shared several pieces of literature with me and told me to call or write to learn more. I took the literature home and was shocked to read the pornographic writings with provocative line drawings.
At the end of May I went to the local mall in San Leandro to pick up my tuxedo for the senior prom. As I walked to my car in the crowded parking lot a young man seemed to appear out of nowhere and startled me. He had a large paper bag in one hand and some flowers in the other. As he told me that he wanted to share the peace of Krishna and reached into his bag, I lifted my hands not knowing what to expect. He produced a beautiful, large, hard-bound colorful volume on the Bhagavad Gita. It was written by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who I learned later was the man who brought the Hindu cult known as the Hare Krishna's to the United States. He handed it to me and said that it was for me. I told him that I was a new Christian. He explained that Jesus and Krishna had the same message. I told him that I would read the Bhagavad-Gita and look at what was being taught. He gave me information on how to contact him at the local Ashram. Before leaving he gave me sticks of incense, flowers and a couple of magazines. He seemed to be a very joyful person and I was glad to have met him. I took the material home and began reading what he had given me.
Within two months of becoming a Christian I had been confronted by five different groups. Four of the groups had told me that it was good that I had come to faith in Jesus, but that there was much more to Christianity than I had been told. The fifth, the Hare Krishna, told me that Jesus and Krishna were bringing the same message. Within two months, I was not only studying the Bible with my friends, I was reading the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society along with "helpful” literature to steer me through the intricacies of Christianity. I was studying the Book of Mormon and learning about how the gospel had been restored to earth in the 1800's. I was reading literature from The Way International written by its founder, Victor Paul Weirwille. I was reading the literature given me by the group The Children of God, and I was reading the Bhagavad-Gita as translated and with explanations by the Hare Krishna's founder, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
None of these groups seemed to have been around while I was growing up. None of them made an effort to teach me about Jesus when I didn't know anything about him. But within two months of meeting Jesus personally, these groups were immediately at work to make sure I was steered carefully through the maze that had become "organized religion” or Christianity. I was not a member of any church. I didn't know that any of these five groups had ulterior motives. All I knew was that I was a new Christian and these other "Christians” were trying to help me. As a new Christian I was very happy to have so many people helping me learn more about my new faith in Jesus Christ.
When I first became a Christian I was not doctrinally astute. I had studied the Gospel of Mark and knew only the basics about Jesus and why he came to Earth. It was those basics that I had come to believe in over the last year and a half. I had been born again, and like a newborn was in need of some serious amount of milk. There was no way I could have digested meat. I was not spiritually mature enough to handle the heavier kinds of knowledge that I was now being fed. No one who had taught me about Jesus over the past one and one-half years had prepared me for the things that I was now learning. The faith that I had in Jesus was so simple and basic that there were several elements of Christianity that I had not really studied in depth. Like a baby, I was choking as these new "friends” began shoving raw pieces of meat down my throat.
I didn't know that any of the groups or materials with which I now studied had motives other than to help me. I absorbed all that I could learn. I was fascinated with the Mormon teaching about the family. Having come from a broken home, Mormonism provided a structure of which many only dream. According to Mormonism, families are supposed to be forever. That sounded wonderful to someone whose home had been broken more than once, and broken in very disturbing ways.
Although I still attended the youth group Bible study at San Lorenzo Baptist Church, I still was not sure about becoming a member of a specific church. I began attending Sunday school and worship at the local Ward, the Mormon equivalent of a church. Although they talked a lot about Joseph Smith, it was their teaching on the family that really caught me. The idea of having a close-knit family that shared faith in Jesus Christ, worshipped together and raised children in a healthy environment was appealing.
The studies with the Jehovah's Witnesses continued and I read several of their publications. I read several books and booklets from The Way, would refer to materials from other groups, but it was the closeness of the Mormons that I had come to know that gave me hope of the very real possibility of having a happy family life.
The youth minister and his wife at the Baptist Church left as a new man arrived from seminary and took over the responsibilities. I had been studying with the various groups for over a year by now and was beginning to have some understanding of what I was being taught. At one point I shared what I had been learning from the Mormons with Ted, the new youth minister. He seemed troubled that I was studying the book of Mormon. I didn't understand why he suggested that I not continue with that. Weren't these simply other Christians who were helping me learn more about Jesus? He gave me a gift one day. It was a commentary on the book of First Corinthians. As he handed it to me, he pointed out the section that discussed chapter 15, including the part on baptism for the dead. I went home and read that commentary. I didn't fully understand what was being said.
It would be my Sunday school teacher, Ed Mentzel, who would present me with the most earthshaking information I had heard to that time. He loaned me a set of tapes that he had from a man named Walter Martin. The tape set was called How to Witness to Mormons. I took the tapes home and listened to them. I was truly shocked at what I heard. A lot of information was presented. Although Martin raised many excellent points, it was one quote from a Mormon leader that shook my understanding of the objective of the Mormon Church.
Lorenzo Snow, an early Mormon leader, had written a poem. Included in the poem was the following stanza:
As man is, God once was.
As God is, man may become.
The following Sunday, I met my friends at the Mormon ward and was going to enter the church for the service. I couldn't hide the tears as I stood outside looking at paintings of some of the early Mormon leaders on the wall. One of the adults I knew walked up to me and asked if I was okay. I explained to him that I knew about the teaching regarding becoming a god. I had never read anything like that in the Bible, the Book of Mormon or any other material I had at that time. He gave a very shallow explanation, but did not deny the teaching. Although I was soon going to be baptized into the Mormon Church (a baptism of membership) I decided to cancel until I had a chance for further investigation. I had become, as Walter Martin warned, a spiritual pretzel.
Soon I visited Dearborn's [sp?], a Christian bookstore and purchased my first copy Martin's book Kingdom of the Cults. I read the book cover to cover and absorbed the information so fast my mind was reeling. I was presented with several shocks about the Mormons as well as some of the other groups with which I thought I had become familiar.
For the first time in my short spiritual life, I became aware of the powerful forces that all seem to have one primary objective: the twisting of the Christian message. This twisting has two results: 1, unconverted people receive a false understanding of who Jesus is and what he accomplished, and 2, Christians, especially those new to faith in Jesus Christ, have their faith shaken and begin to question and doubt that in which they have come to believe. My faith had been shaken. I had not had a reason to doubt anything I had learned up to this point. After having my "eyes opened” I now began to question everything that I had come to believe.
For a while I continued with the various studies in which I was involved. Everything was difficult. (It's hard to think clearly when you've been choking for a year. While choking, not only does no oxygen get to the brain, but no other food can reach the stomach.) I questioned the source of each teaching. My mind wrestled with everything I was taught. I learned very quickly that Walter Martin's material was trustworthy. I did not learn that easily as I checked everything he quoted. I was not going to take anyone's word at face value. The further I studied with each group, the more Martin's information was validated. Although it took at least two more years, I became convinced that Martin had seen a side of the spiritual world of which few are really aware.
Perhaps the most valuable thing I learned from Martin was to trust the Bible as the only objective source of truth available to everyone. And even the Bible could only be trusted as one is led by the Holy Spirit. Many people quote the Bible. Many people use portions of scripture to prove all kinds of beliefs. Scripture can be used to show that Jesus died for our sins. Scripture can also be used to show that God is just a big man (Mormonism,) that everyone should speak in tongues (Pentecostalism,) that our sins are little glitches that can be worked out (Scientology,) that one only gets to heaven by being good (popular spirituality/Unitarianism,) that we are "little gods” (Word Faith/Kenneth Copeland) and that Jesus was a great teacher (Jehovah's Witnesses.)
I eventually ended my studies with the Jehovah's Witness, Mormons and others as I became devoted to learning about the deceitful practices of those sold out to the dark side of the spiritual world. I also made a commitment that Walter Martin encouraged. He often said that if one knows the original well, the counterfeit will pose no problem. Spending many years in teaching technicians how to spot errors in microelectronic circuitry through a microscope, his advice is the best. Know how the electronic circuitry is supposed to look and when faced with an error, it is easily separated from the good and discarded or reworked. You don't have to know anything about the error. Just knowing that it does not match the original is enough. Although I made a commitment to learn the original, I was not deceit-proof as will be seen.
I spent the next few years learning more about Jesus and the Bible. I also made a commitment to have my twisted psychological self straightened out, whatever that would take. I spent seven years and thousands of dollars to allow a Christian psychologist the time to work with me. Jesus uses regular people and he uses professionals. Although some would jokingly say that I should get a refund, I can honestly say that with professional help, there is one less severely messed-up person in our society. My brother and I have often said that modern bloody horror movie-makers have nothing on us. We could easily pull off some bizarre and twisted acts on those deserving such treatment. For us it would be a walk in the park. But we have chosen not to act that way. Those who blame their horrible behavior on their past or upbringing have no excuse. We live in a society of victims. We have decided not to live as victims but victors.
After several years of attending various Christian churches I thought I understood what constituted a Christian church and what did not. In all instances, Walter Martin's material was invaluable. He would not attack or investigate those churches that were a part of the greater body of Christian churches in the world. He did spend great effort in defending some groups as being Christian, even though there were serious problems with those organizations. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is one of those.
The serpent was more crafty than any other beast the Lord had made
One afternoon while visiting my mother in San Leandro in 1984, I met a young Bolivian nurse, Norma. She worked for my sister as my nephew Ryan's full-time live-in nurse. I was immediately attracted to Norma and after a short discussion, I asked her out to a day in San Francisco. We were attracted to each other, and we both shared that we were Christian. I was currently attending a Lutheran Church across the street from the apartment complex in which I lived and she was attending a Seventh-day Adventist Church. I recalled from Martin's material that after his investigation, he determined that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was an evangelical Christian church and should not be treated on the same level as the other groups (cults) with which he had dealt. Norma had attended the Lutheran Church and Sunday school with me and did not have a single negative comment about the church. I would learn many years later that her silence was speaking volumes to me. As a typical guy I didn't know that I should be reading her silence, nor how to read it. I attended the SDA Church with her and enjoyed the enthusiasm of the Sabbath school teacher and pastor.
Having come to trust Martin, I did not concern myself with the denominational attachment of my new girlfriend. The following year, we continued to date and at one point decided that we would get married. We set a date for November, 1985. As we continued to date, she encouraged me to attend a series of studies being given at her church. I attended the Revelation Seminar and made all but the last three meetings. I had been contacted by a former Intel boss and asked if I wanted to continue working for him at another company with double the salary I was currently making.
After a free trip to San Diego, I accepted and was pleased to learn that Norma would soon be returning to her family in Riverside, 90 miles north of San Diego. My nephew Ryan had died and she had no other attachments in the San Francisco Bay Area. One day I was invited to meet Norma's father and mother who would be visiting from Bolivia. Learning about her culture, I made it a point to ask her father for her hand in marriage. As a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, he questioned me about being a Christian and how I would raise our kids. I agreed that they would be given a Christian home. He asked me about my understanding of Seventh-day Adventism. I told him that I understood that SDAs are Christians who meet on Saturday instead of Sunday. He asked me about my denominational affiliation. I told him that I was non-denominational, but if pressed, would most likely say that I was Baptist. Not a member of any denomination, the Baptists had been the kindest and most honest group of Christians I had known. He was pleased with that and agreed to give his daughter's hand in marriage.
I attended the SDA Church in Escondido, near where I lived in Rancho Bernardo, San Diego. The pastor of the Escondido SDA Church studied with me for several months. He was very honest with me about several things. One statement he made swayed me in favor of becoming an Adventist. Due to recent problems in the church he said that he would suggest that I remain a Baptist (or non-denominational) and keep my faith, rather than become a Seventh-day Adventist and lose my faith (quite a prophetic statement on his part!) One of the important teachings of the SDA Church is that the Bible is the final authority for doctrine and belief. Even the SDA prophetess Ellen G. White said so and she was quoted proliferously. As long as the Bible was to be used when determining doctrine, I was comfortable.
I felt that with his openness I was in no danger of spiritual compromise by becoming an Adventist. After studying with him, I was baptized into the church and became a Seventh-day Adventist. Soon after that, I moved to Pacific Beach and lived just across the street from the beach, on the corner of Emerald and Mission Bay. Norma and I were married in the Spanish SDA Church in Riverside in November, and we then transferred our membership to the San Diego Central SDA Church, where I also completed the Revelation Seminar.
After working in San Diego for a year and a half, I was contacted by some of my former colleagues at Intel. They told me that there was a position open and they would like me to come back and work with them. After the interview, I agreed and was thrilled to be back with a company that truly treated its employees like gold. As a new Seventh-day Adventist, some of them said that I had some strange new ideas, including not eating pork or shellfish, not wearing jewelry and making sure that I ended work before sundown on Friday. They wondered where I had gotten these new ideas. I assured them I would not push those ideas on them and it would not affect my performance or professionalism.
After two years of marriage and my return to Intel, I was informed that the ASIC facility at which I worked in Santa Clara was closing. I was recruited by some managers in New Mexico and decided to transfer there. After a trip to Peru and Bolivia, I moved to New Mexico and would be joined there by Norma and our one-year old son, Phillip in about two months.
After moving to New Mexico, I decided to check out the churches and try to find a good one to attend. Before Norma and Phillip arrived I had a chance to attend all the Albuquerque-area SDA churches. It was there that I had a very strange experience that I couldn't explain for quite a long time. At the Heights SDA Church, I was befriended by one of the elders and his wife. He taught a Sabbath school class and invited me to attend. The church was studying the book of Leviticus, a very important book to Adventists. While visiting the Sabbath school class, I was surprised to hear so many people worrying about the second coming of Jesus and whether they would be ready. Up to that point, as a Christian, I had always believed that Jesus' return to Earth was a good event for believers, an event to which Christians everywhere looked forward.
After listening to the depressing thoughts expressed by those in the class, I finally had to speak up. I quoted a passage of scripture from the letter First John. Chapter 2, verse 1 says, "My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” I explained that Jesus' blood cleanses us from all unrighteousness and therefore we could look forward to his return. Instead of supporting me, the teacher only watched as I was butchered in front of him (apparently with his approval.) I was told by at least four elderly (perhaps dead!) persons that what I quoted may have been truth for the time in which it was written, but we have "present truth” that clarified our position as end-time Christians. We would have to live at the end of time without that intercession by Jesus Christ. He would NOT be our Advocate at that time. I left that day confused and angry. Although I accepted his invitation for Thanksgiving (Norma and Phillip would not be back until December) I knew that there was something wrong with what had happened in that class. The Bible was apparently not the ultimate authority for those people. Whether one thinks of the SDA Church as a cult or not, there are definitely cultic elements that thrive and find all the support they need from church leadership.
When Norma and Phillip finally arrived we had a great reunion. They had a nice time visiting family in Bolivia, but were glad to be back home. Once they had settled into their new home, I told Norma that I had visited all seven SDA churches in the area. I told her that I did not like any of those churches but there was a Seventh-day Baptist Church that might be nice. She was cautious with that suggestion and said that she wanted to attend the SDA churches and see for herself. After attending the churches again, we met a couple at the Albuquerque Central SDA Church. Dennis and Tami were vibrant, fun and seemed to know the Bible. Dennis taught a Sabbath school class for "young adults.” He and the others in attendance seemed to be very much like Norma and I, more concerned with Jesus and less concerned with the specific denominational aspects of being Adventist. We decided that Albuquerque Central SDA Church was a place we could worship God and fellowship with other believers.
In New Mexico those ten years, we were joined by Phillip's new sister, Angela. While there I was asked to be an elder, a position I accepted, and became very good friends with several of the pastors we knew while there in New Mexico. I was also invited to preach at other SDA churches which I did occasionally, and was always invited back. During that time I started Jude 3 Ministries, an educational effort I had dreamed about for several years, that would provide information on the various cults and occultic movements that often confronted Christians.
I had been invited to speak at several churches on the topic of cults and isms including a Lutheran Church a co-worker at Intel attended. My personal experiences with well-known, and some little-known groups, provided for a rich source of how these groups attacked Christians and how to use the Bible to give an answer to everyone that asked about (or attacked) the faith. As a Seventh-day Adventist, I still loved the Bible, but began reading it with a very subtle twist towards a legalistic understanding of the gospel.
While in New Mexico, I continued research into newer groups as well as the "older” movements, most of which began in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. This included a meeting with two young women missionaries from the Mormon Church. After several months of studies, they asked if they could invite the Bishop and his wife from their local ward to our home. We agreed and had discussions for a few weeks with all four of them. The Bishop said that the church's President of Missions to the southwest United States was going to be in town and asked if he could come and speak with us. Our home was always open and we agreed to speak with him. After a two-hour discussion, the mission President finished with quite a compliment. He said that he had never met anyone who knew as much about his church including long-time members. He said that I would make a great church member if I could only forget about the problems that I had with some of their "older” teachings and practices. Forgetting was not an option. I thanked him for his honesty, we prayed and they left. After a couple more visits, the two young women ended their studies with us. Norma enjoyed these studies as she was learning how to use the Bible.
We were very active in the church and enjoyed our time in New Mexico. Norma was not happy about being so far from the rest of her family in Southern California. I explained that I would be giving up an incredible career with Intel if we were to move back to Southern California. She brought the issue up several times over the few years we lived there and eventually said that she had to be back near her relatives, no matter what. She was willing to make the sacrifices. I told her that it would be very difficult to find a similar position with a company in that part of California, and even more difficult to keep the salary that I had worked for over the years. She was determined to get back to Riverside. I eventually agreed and finally gave notice to Intel that I would be leaving. It was a very difficult decision for me, however my family was the most important thing in my life and I would make any sacrifices necessary for the sake of my family's happiness.
We first returned to Escondido, an hour south of Riverside. Norma was not happy with that move and I was unhappy with the local Adventist grade-school. After less than a year, we moved north to Riverside where we began running a home for the developmentally disabled. The home was owned by Norma's sister. We were provided with a small salary and a rent-free home and food.
Initially I was thrilled to be in southern California. My first thought was that it would be nice to be back in a church that taught the gospel. The SDA churches in New Mexico seemed outright cultic. Even with some of the more Christ-centered pastors, it was hit-and-miss. It would be nice to be in a place where the Bible really came before the writings of Ellen White.
After visiting Norma's former church in Riverside, the La Sierra University Church (LSUC,) we decided to have our memberships transferred there. As we attended week after week, I was surprised to hear many of the same ideas and doctrines taught here in California that were taught in New Mexico. The closer I listened, the more I became aware that there was something more sinister going on in these California churches. There was a lot more talk about Jesus here than in the New Mexico SDA churches. But without fail, it seemed that the ideas that were espoused by the cultic element in this church were the true foundation. It is frequently claimed that the Bible is the final authority for Seventh-day Adventists. In reality, Ellen White's writings infuse every doctrine and practice.
Although removed from my initial encounter with and conversion to Jesus by several years now, I still felt a sharp longing for those early experiences and times with Jesus people, folks who only wanted Jesus to be given the first place in everything. After almost two years of being back in California, I became very depressed. I couldn't pinpoint the source of my depression. Norma and I were not getting along as well as we had. Over the years, it seemed as though Norma had become a much more conservative Adventist than she was when we dated. Although while dating she would easily go to a movie or a restaurant during the Sabbath, over the years she began to change. She said that those things were not OK and she seemed to become more legalistic about what I considered minor aspects of our beliefs. She was only being true to her own beliefs. My shift towards legalism resulted in not being overly alarmed by her apparent changes.
Back in California, I remembered the influence that Walter Martin had had on my life. Although he died ten years earlier, in 1989, I still wanted to learn more about him and his ministry. As I searched the internet, I found Walter Martin's Religious InfoNet, a website run by his daughter, Jill Martin Rische. Many of Martins sermons were available to listen to online. I owned most of his recordings and written material, but it was in storage and not easily accessible. It was nice to connect to the internet and listen to his sermons in the comfort of our bedroom.
There was a large amount of material available about various cults written by former members of those groups as well as experts in the various isms of the day. I was not aware of any material dealing with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and had not even looked for such material. While searching the internet for information on Seventh-day Adventism, I came across a website that challenged Adventists to put away all of Ellen White's writings and the Old Testament. It challenged me to read only the New Testament and nothing else for 30 days. After reading several articles from the website, I accepted the challenge.
I began reading the gospels and quickly moved onto the book of Acts, the history of the early church. At first I didn't notice a subtle but important change in my thinking. It had been years since I had read with such clarity, and although I was still in a fog, I was being transformed by reading the New Testament. When I got to the books (letters) of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians I almost couldn't believe my eyes. These letters discuss, among other things, the various issues that I had not dealt with over the last several years as an Adventist. It was as though these letters were written directly to me. The substitutions I had made for Christ, the petty differences between believers that had become central in my life and the legalistic way I had interpreted all that I had read was suddenly under the spotlight. I did not read the book of Revelation at that time. (The SDA churches addictive abuse of the books of Revelation and Daniel made me sick. I couldn't read them without a visceral reaction.)
I realized after reading the New Testament for 30 days that I was guilty of the very things condemned in Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. I had substituted the good news and freedom that comes to believers with a legalistic "carved in stone” mentality. In the book of Galatians, Paul the Apostle says that if we or an angel out of heaven preach a gospel other than the one they received, let him be anathema (damned by God.) Those were pretty serious words. I had always used that scripture to point out the fallacy of the Mormon teachings, particularly since Joseph Smith claimed he received his new revelation, the Book of Mormon, from an angel named Moroni. I used to think that the book of Galatians was specifically an attack against Mormonism. After reading Galatians anew, I became aware that it was not primarily, or only, dealing with Mormonism, but with any person or group that would replace the Gospel with legalism of any kind. Of course that included Mormonism, but Seventh-day Adventism was guilty as well.
While searching the internet, I came across a website called FormerAdventist.com. They have a Bible study on Friday nights at a church in Redlands, just east of Riverside. The week of Friday, December 31st, 1999 I was feeling frustrated and depressed. I got in my car and drove. I had no objective or destination in mind, but ended up at the church where the Bible study takes place each Friday. I entered the foyer and asked the secretary if there was a pastor that I could talk to. She introduced me to Gary Inrig, the senior pastor who led me to his office.
As we talked, it became clear that this man had no agenda in regards to the SDA Church. In fact, he admitted only a surface understanding of some of the doctrines. As we talked and I explained my frustration with Adventism, he said one of the most amazing things that I had heard. (Now I am paraphrasing, and any inaccuracies are due to my own limited memory.) He said that we can thank God for heresy. He explained that it was when faced with heresy Christians would develop concise doctrinal statements. Although the New Testament is very clear about many things, it is in the face of false teachings that the meaning of the scriptures becomes clear. For instance, the New Testament talks about the freedom of the Spirit. But that is most easily understood by those who have been trapped by the legalism of the law. The New Testament talks about false teachers who appear as ministers of righteousness. That is most easily understood by those who have been swayed by these false ministers of righteousness.
Gary and I talked for over an hour. He said that there was someone else he wanted me to meet. It was a former Seventh-day Adventist who was on staff at the church, Kurt Stavenhagen. This former SDA and I talked for over an hour as he told me about his discoveries while studying at Andrews University, the Seventh-day Adventist seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. After that wonderful talk and time of prayer, he led me back out to the church office where I was introduced to Richard Tinker, the founder of the Former Adventist Fellowship, who just "happened” to be there at the time. Richard invited me to his home for New Years Eve, where there would be several Adventists and formers to meet and talk with.
Although it was the biggest New Years Eve in a thousand years, I chose to spend it with these people that I had just met. Admittedly it was a selfish act, when I could have spent that time with my family as I had originally planned. But my spiritual life was in turmoil again and I was not thinking clearly. I was not thinking clearly by myself, but when I was thinking with others, there was clarity to my thoughts that seemed otherwise absent. I eventually realized the clarity was provided by the Holy Spirit who was allowing me to see the various relationships I had for what they were.
When I listened to Dan Smith, pastor at La Sierra University SDA Church preach, I had clarity that this man did not know the Jesus that met me under the pine tree at Mount Hermon, in Santa Cruz. Sometimes he preached about Jesus, but I began realizing it was not the Jesus of the New Testament. Although he used different words, he often spoke of the same beliefs of the Adventists I had known in New Mexico. When I met with Gary Inrig, pastor of Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Redlands, I knew that he spoke of the same Jesus I had met on Mount Hermon. I wanted to meet more of these people that knew the Jesus that found me in 1975.
The group that I met at the Tinker's home on New Years Eve, 1999 was an eclectic bunch. The people I met wanted to be known as just plain "generic” Christians. Some had been ministers in the Adventist Church, some had never been Adventist. Some were called into full-time ministry while some were called to be Christians in other capacities (full-time nonetheless.) It was apparent that these people were just trying to spread the good news about Jesus and his freedom instead of the bad news of the law and death. I was just happy to be around people that felt the same love for Jesus that I had. I could discern no ulterior motives. No one was trying to promote one church or another, or a specific denomination. No one was even saying that it was important to leave the SDA church.
The following week I decided to begin attending the weekly Bible study held at Trinity Church in Redlands. After attending the Bible study a few times, I was invited to attend church services there, which I eventually did. I was totally unprepared for the changes that would happen in my life over the next few months.
The first change was that Norma became very upset with my attendance at the Friday evening Bible studies. I couldn't understand that. Studying the Bible was an important activity in both our lives. Studying the Bible was one thing, but studying it with "those” people at the Former Adventist Fellowship was unacceptable. (In light of the people we had studied with over the years in our own home, I couldn't understand why this was such a problem.) I had always thought that Norma had agreed with me that Jesus was important and all the other stuff was either secondary or unimportant. I discovered that was not the case. In our years of marriage, she had kept silent anytime I voiced my opinions. I was now learning that she actually disagreed with me. She had never disagreed with me openly, only to herself. Rather than deal with various issues over the years, she kept all these things hidden in her ever-growing pot on the back burner of her mind. The pot was now overflowing and causing quite a mess in her mental kitchen.
After about three months, I agreed that I would stop attending the Bible study and church on Sunday. After all, my family was extremely important to me. I began attending the Friday evening "First Service” at La Sierra University Church.
While there one evening I met with Harvey Gil, one of our pastors from Albuquerque Central SDA Church in New Mexico. I explained some of the things that I had learned about Adventism and the problems that I was having in remaining an Adventist. His only concern was that I keep it to myself. He suggested that I not disturb Norma's "simple” faith. I told him I agreed that Norma's decisions were hers to make, but I couldn't help from feeling an obligation to share with her some of my recent discoveries. After all, her spiritual life and that of my children were important to me. It was funny how he said that I shouldn't "throw out the baby with the bathwater.” Perhaps one of the most overused phrases, he was unaware that there was no baby in the filthy Adventist bathwater.
After attending the Friday evening services at the church for two or three months, I thought that it really doesn't matter whether I attend the church service or the Bible study. Either way I'm fellowshipping with other Christians. The location is irrelevant.
I began attending the Bible study again. I also decided to accept the invitation to attend church services on Sunday. This was really the beginning of the end. For an Adventist to attend a church service for a specific purpose (marriage, funeral, etc.) was no problem. But for an Adventist to attend church to worship God on Sunday was unacceptable. After I had attended church on Sunday for a few weeks, there was a coldness in the home for which I couldn't account. It became obvious one Sabbath after church.
I told Norma that I would continue to attend Sabbath school and church at La Sierra University Church with her and the kids. I had no reason to not attend. That didn't seem to be enough for her. After church one Sabbath, she finally opened up. She explained that I could not continue living in the same home as her and the kids. I was a bad example for the kids. Going to church on Sunday, after believing the "Sabbath truth” as taught by SDAs, was equivalent to accepting the mark of the beast as mentioned in the Book of Revelation (chapter 13.) I was honestly shocked. How could attending church and worshipping God be equated to joining with satan?
After carefully considering what she confronted me with, I realized that she was only saying the exact same thing the SDA Church taught me in the Revelation Seminar. In the seminar it was not stated as blatantly, and the presenters were always careful to state that "no one now has the mark of the beast,” but that it will be a future experience under the one-world government and religion established at the end of time to test who are the true Christians. In reality, anyone who rejects the Sabbath teaching and attends church on Sunday, whether it is now or future, has the mark of the beast. Norma simply believes what the SDA Church has taught. If someone in my home was practicing the worship of satan I would ask that person to leave. Norma did the same thing I would do if we shared the same beliefs. It was apparent that we did not believe in the same Jesus.
For months I refused to leave. She kept pushing and it would be August of 2000 when I told her that I would leave under one condition: she would have to sign a statement indicating that it was her desire to have me leave. Although I prepared the letter for her, it would still take her a few days to agree to sign it. She signed the statement and kicked me out of the house the week I was to graduate from a pharmacy technician training program. I was rescued by a couple I had met at the Friday evening Bible study, who had a room available.
Sitting with my children and explaining that I was leaving was the single most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. It broke my heart. Worse, it broke their hearts. They were too young to hear an explanation regarding whose decision that was. The stable and unified home that they had experienced growing up was being destroyed. And their stability and unity was being destroyed with it. The one thing that Mormonism and many other false religious groups promise, a happy family life, was coming to an end.
Soon after leaving, I learned from my son that Norma and her brother's wife had held Bible studies with them explaining why I was wrong. That cut deeply, and the wound, seven years later, is still very fresh. My children know that I love them. I refused to stoop to such low tactics. I was tempted, however, and thought of any way that I could get away with it, but in the end I couldn't use the Bible like that. To this day, every time my son asks me a pointed question, I know the source. I know that I did not raise him to use the Bible to bash people over the head. He is only living out part of the faith under which I raised him.
I dated my resignation letter to the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Halloween, 2002. I did not choose the date for any reason, it just happened to be the day that I finished writing my letter. (Looking back I find it humorous.) Although it took more than two years to receive a response, I learned in 2005 that I had been dropped from membership in 2003. I had been a member of the SDA Church for 18 years.
I must state here that although I have primarily mentioned the Sabbath teaching of the SDA Church, there are numerous teachings that compromise Christian truth and the primacy of the cross of Jesus Christ. I have dealt, and continue to deal, with those teachings as they surface in my life or in the lives of those with whom I fellowship. It is not my intention to deal with those issues here. There are many materials available for those desiring further study into the different SDA doctrines. Attached at the end of this story is a copy of my resignation letter which mentions several SDA teachings. Though the letter was written with some anger, it is still correct as related to issues with which I have dealt.
The Heresy of Seventh-day Adventism
Paul's letter to the Galatians talks specifically about the practice of circumcision. Jewish Christians were attempting to have Gentile Christians accept Jewish practices, including circumcision. Paul used the harshest words for them. In Galatians 5:11 and 12, Paul says "But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.” That sounds pretty harsh, but it is scripture.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is in the same boat. The leadership of the SDA Church simply wants the rest of the Christian world to begin keeping the Saturday Sabbath holy as given by Moses in the stone tablets known as the Ten Commandments. If Paul were led by the Holy Spirit to write specifically against the Adventists, he would probably have said that they should stone themselves every time an Adventist breaks the Sabbath, which would very quickly put the SDA Church out of business. Of course the Adventist Church doesn't want to stop there; they want Christians to stop eating meat, wearing jewelry, drinking milk and alcoholic beverages, dancing, or resting in the finished work of Christ on the cross. We should be resting on the Sabbath day, not resting in Jesus. In fact, if those Adventists in New Mexico reflect the churches teachings (which they most definitely do,) they want us to begin living perfect lives because the blood of Jesus does not cleanse us from all our sins.
Not only are these teachings not Christian, they have only one source, satan itself. Most of the world doesn't care what Christians believe, they just want to be left alone. It is only satan that is upset about the freedom that Christians have. Satan is the only one wanting us to pick up loads that are too heavy to bear. Jesus said that his burdens are light and easy to carry. The only good thing that has weight in the New Testament is glory, which is a gift of God, not anything we do. Anything else that weighs us down is not of God. It was the purpose of the written law to lead Israel to death, to prepare them for the great news of the freedom in the Messiah, Jesus. After tasting of the Spirit, going back to the letter is an act of suicide. Leading others to the written law is an act of murder. (If you have committed spiritual suicide or been murdered with the law, Jesus can even resurrect you from that.)
The Seventh-day Adventist churches ultimate teaching is the law. The SDA Church claims that the law is the representation of the character of God. They claim that they have the law of Christ. They teach the law of Christ is the Old Testament law given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The entire New Testament teaches contrary to this. The New Testament teaches that the Old Testament law was given by God, but it was given by God as a schoolmaster, a tutor to lead us to Christ. For a student, the textbook is a goal to be achieved. Once he receives a degree, he doesn't return to the textbooks, unless he is going to reference or revise them. When Jesus gave us his new law in the gospels, he didn't return to the written law, he simply referenced it, revised it and did away with the old law.
The SDA Church has clarified its official position with regard to the apparent changes it had made after meeting with Walter Martin in the 1950's. The church has shown that it has never changed from its early beliefs that it is God's only end-time remnant church, and all other Protestant churches are daughters of the Whore of Babylon.
Perhaps the most damning aspects of the Seventh-day Adventist church are their efforts to look like all the other Christian churches. It is one thing when the church is honest about what it believes. It is quite another thing then they come across sounding exactly like a gospel/cross-centered, grace-oriented church. They may teach beautiful truths and come across as believing in nothing but the grace of God. But once someone is ensnared in their folds, the life one may have experienced is slowly drained, just as a python slowly squeezes the life out of the unsuspecting victims they hug to death.
Listening To the Voice of the Shepherd
Jesus met me under a pine tree in the mountains of Santa Cruz. After thirty years, I'm returning to the pine tree. I am again a Christian, with no other titles, labels, or descriptions. Christian is the term used to describe these people in the book of Acts. Christian is the term I will always use. If someone does not understand the term "Christian” that's OK. It is not my mission in life to correct people's misunderstandings. My only mission is to share Jesus and his amazing gospel and defend the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints. (By the way, defending the faith is a far cry from defending God, which many claim Christians are guilty of. We don't defend God. He's a big God. He can take care of himself.) It's not complicated. He has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the strong, and the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. I'll continue to be weak and foolish. Then the strength of the Almighty will be demonstrated in my life. And as the scripture says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Thank you my Shepherd, Jesus, for once again coming and finding this one lost and constantly straying sheep.
Following is a copy of the letter written to the SDA Church to remove my name from their books. The churches figures regarding membership are often overly inflated. Many people simply stop attending the church and never make an attempt to have their name removed from the church rolls. I encourage anyone dissatisfied with the SDA Church to have their name removed from the church records. Over time, this may provide a more accurate number as to the actual membership, especially here in the United States.
Stephen D. Pitcher October 31, 2002
Riverside, CA 92506
Pastoral Staff, Church Board
La Sierra University Church of Seventh-day Adventists
4937 Sierra Vista Ave.
Riverside, CA 92505
Please remove my name from membership in the Seventh-day Adventist church. After more than three years of in-depth study of the New Testament specifically dealing with SDA issues, it has become clear to me that I am no longer a Seventh-day Adventist.
The Seventh-day Adventist church continues to teach the keeping of the law, specifically the fourth commandment. A proper understanding of the role of the law to bring a sinner to repentance and accept the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ is rarely taught in the SDA church, and there is much argument when it is taught. We should not use the gospel to bring people into submission to the law, we should use the law to bring people into submission of the gospel and the Holy Spirit. The law is a "ministry of death” (2 Cor. 3:7) but Jesus came to bring life; the letter kills, the Spirit gives life.
I am not saying that the law is bad or that it is wrong to teach the law. However it is wrong to equate the keeping of the law with righteousness. Jesus, Paul and others all place the law in its proper context. The keeping of the law is as manure in the sight of God (Philippians). Our righteousness is as filthy rags. Each time we fall, the law breaks us. That should drive us to Jesus, not back to the law. The law of God was to demonstrate in His people their desperate need for a Savior.
As noted in Jan Paulsen's recent address to the General Conference, the SDA church is not to be confused with the rest of the Christian world. Seventh-day Adventism chooses to stand apart from the other Christian churches. In light of the Lord's counsel in 1 Corinthians 1, it is a sin to say that we are unique among Christians. I am either a Christian or not a Christian. Once I have accepted Christ, I have been seated with Him in heavenly places. There is no special status that can be granted a believer. To be a Christian is to achieve the highest and most profound status a human being can gain, and that status is given as a free gift.
Other heretical teachings and practices that I no longer believe are: 1844 and the Investigative Judgment; the sanctuary message and completion of the atonement that was only begun on the cross; the "health message"; the sabbath as the seal of God; Sunday church attendance as the mark of the beast; the so-called writings of the false prophet Ellen G. White; the human nature of Jesus (on which there is great variety of teaching within the church, see Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology, by Eric Claude Webster, Andrews University Press, 1992); not practicing equity on the mission field; sheep stealing; footwashing as a part of the practice of communion; vegetarianism; clean and unclean foods; the state of the dead; temporal punishment in a temporary hell; original sin (as taught by many in the church); jewelry; denying baptism to wearers of jewelry, smokers, eaters of unclean foods, those who work on the sabbath; that the ten commandments are the reflection of God's character; the scapegoat; the tithe; and numerous other minor beliefs and practices.
Salvation consists of this: that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom. 10:9 NASB) I want to share in Paul's determination as stated in 1 Cor. 2:2, For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. (NASB).
I hereby renounce my baptism into the SDA church in 1985 and reconfirm my original believer's baptism administered by pastor Jack Wyne at the San Lorenzo Baptist church in 1975. (Note: I was not baptized into the Baptist church, I was baptized into Christ.)
Thank you for removing my name from the books of the SDA church. I am always available to share with you my faith in Jesus Christ.
Stephen D. Pitcher
cc: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Former Adventist Fellowship, various others
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