My mother was a backslidden SDA (Seventh-day Adventist) when I was growing up and so I did not attend church or receive specific Christian indoctrination of any kind. Mom said that the SDA Church had the truth and that other churches were in error, even though she was currently not currently "practicing the truth". Since I always had such a deep hunger for God I probably would have attended the nearby Congregational or Methodist Church had it not been for my mother's point of view. Why bother if other churches were wrong? On warm summer evenings I would often lie on my back and look at the stars and I knew in my heart there had to be a God "out there" somewhere. I would observe graveside services in the cemetery across the street from our house and wonder what life was all about and whether there was any life after death.
Over 50 years ago when I was probably 10-12 years old I was alone on a sunny summer day by the old slate board at the back of our house. I was looking up the driveway covered with yellow stones that went back to my dad's buidlings when suddenly the driveway was transformed into a beautiful, glistening street of pure gold. I saw dwellings that were emanating beautiful light and angels going up and down the golden street. It was undescribable in any human words. I felt totally loved and overwhelmed with a sense of peace such that had never happened to me before. I told no one of this experience until over 30 years later but just kept it in my heart. Shortly after this vision I was alone again a short distance from my slate board and suddenly a very clear revelation came to my mind--not an audible voice but totally real. Here's what was revealed that changed the direction of my life forever.
I was told: (1) Life in this present plane was short and that even if I lived to be very old my life as it is now would be brief in comparison to an eternity beyond; (2) Nothing that I was seeing around me would last. Sooner or later it would all pass away; and (3) I needed to live my life with reference to eternity and not get overly attached to anything on the material plane that I was seeing. From that day to this it has been literally impossible for me to become very fixated on anything of a material nature--cars, houses, fancy clothes, sports, or anything else. Material things are taken lightly and used where necessary and enjoyable but I feel no deep sense of attachment to anything material and never have since that revelation which was so simple, plain, and made so much sense to me.
In 1951, as I was turning 14, I had a very deep conviction that my life was empty, without meaning, and that I needed something I didn't have. I started to read the Bible for the very first time, Early Writings by Ellen G. White, and other SDA literature that was either coming through the mail or that my mom had kept around the house. Through this very intensive reading I soon began to experience such a sense of fulness deep within my soul that I determined then and there to dedicate the rest of my life to the pursuit of God as absolutely #1 and everything else would take second place. I have stayed with that focus all of my life since. Sometime that summer of 1951 I was in the optometrists office and there was a SDA magazine in the waiting room that had a picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd reaching down to pick up the lost sheep on the edge of the cliff. The Holy Spirit told me clearly that I was like that lost sheep and Jesus was reaching out for me and gathering me in His arms of love. There was a coupon in the magazine for Bible lessons and I soon started to study the Voice of Prophecy Jr. Bible Course and listening to the weekly broadcast--my first oral Christian teaching except for perhaps Unshackled from the Pacific Garden Mission which I began listening to around 1950 when it first started.
By late summer of 195l mom and dad finally separated after years of a very unhappy marriage and mom and I moved into town and starting attending the SDA Church she had belonged to many years before. In December 1951 I was baptized, an experience of deep spiritual infilling that I shall never forget--ever! I attended a self-supporting boarding school in Wisconsin my sophomore and junior years and graduated from a conference academy in Indiana in 1955. I really was heavily intrigued with Ellen White's books and read them avidly. I would spend sometimes two hours a day on my N.T. Bible class in 10th grade, mostly reading from DESIRE OF AGES.
In the fall of 1955 I enrolled in the ministerial course at Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews U.) in Michigan. However, by my second year I could clearly see that I could never be an employee of an organization that was so political so I became disallusioned more with the church organization, but not the SDA faith itself. I left college January of 1957. I had received some literature of the SDA Reform Movement in Sacramento and really studied that carefully. At the same time I got hold of 1888 Re-examined by Wieland and Short and it really impacted my thinking big time--like nothing else up to that time. I decided to go to Sacramento and join the Reform as it seemed to be more closely following Ellen White than the main SDA Church and I thought it also might have the long forgotten 1888 message that the book had told about but never actually defined.
The Reform group was small and there was a sense of family and close fellowship which was very helpful but over time I became aware of an overall legalistic way and the 1888 message surely wasn't there. When Robert and John Brinsmead came to S. California in late 1960, where I was working as a minister in the Reform group, I listened to them and decided to find my way back to the main SDA Church. One man told me that I didn't really get fully back to the church but "got off at the Brinsmead station." True, I'm sure. Guess maybe I was a bit of a rebel in not being satisfied with the "status quo" lukewarmness of Adventism. The Sanctuary Awakening Message of Robert Brinsmead was a wonderful effort to "gospelize" the 1844 sanctuary doctrine and the message of "all things are ready come to the marriage," "behold I set before you an open door" was indeed a tremendous blessing for me and many other SDAs at that time. Many who had worried themselves sick wondering if they could ever pass the "investigative judgment" in heaven found hope in the rightesouness of Christ as being sufficient for the judgment. I became very active in preaching, teaching and publishing the Awakening Message during the 1960s and traveled far and wide.
In 1962 when I moved to Springfield, Mo., I visited Assemblies of God churches several times and just loved the joy, spiritual life, peace, and dynamic Bible preaching that I heard. The first time I heard a lady get up and give a message in tongues with interpretation following I thought it was so beautiful. If I had followed my heart I would have joined the Assemblies of God at that time but my SDA background had taught me these people couldn't be right since they didn't believe in 1844, hadn't followed Jesus into the most holy place, didn't honor the true sabbath, didn't have Ellen White, etc., etc. What a contrast the A.G. Churches were to the deadness of the local SDA Church where I was branded as dangerous because of my Brinsmead connections. Hardly anyone there would even speak to me.
In the 1970s Brinsmead changed over to the Reformation/Pauline gospel and I embraced that emphasis. However, during that decade I waffled back and forth because I could see that the "old landmarks" of SDAism, especially the 1844 sanctuary doctrine, were going by the wayside. A time or two I even burned some of my Brinsmead magazines but my hunger for the gospel he was preaching kept bringing me back. The clarity of the N.T. gospel was the best I'd ever heard and a fire was kindled in my bones that is still burning today.
In December of 1979 a dear friend of mine from the Awakening Movement days sent me a copy of Des Ford's PUC Forum tape on the sanctuary and Ellen White. He wanted me to know how "far out" Dr. Ford had gone. So I listened to the tape with a rather prejudiced mindset. Boy, did I get blown away spiritually! On the first listening something tremendous stirred within and I just couldn't believe how wonderful what I was hearing was and how much sense what Des was saying both about Ellen White and the sanctuary doctrine made. I listened to the tape over and over and over again and sent to Certain Sound in Angwin, California for more of Dr. Ford's tapes and just devoured them! I shared some with probably less than 5 families in my local SDA Church where I was very actively teaching a Sabbath School class. This got the word around that I was identifying with Des Ford, the latest heretic of the denomination. I started to share some of the thoughts on the gospel in my class which was on Romans and people that were hungry for truth started to move from the other class to mine. Unbeknowns to me a tremendous storm of anger was brewing on the horizon. A man in the church had friends at PUC in Angwin and they told him of how far from the faith Des Ford was going and how he was taking people out of the church, etc., etc. Finally one day the S.S. Superintendent called a special meeting after church. I was the center of attention, the roof nearly blew off the church, and that ended my teaching in the SDA Church forever!
When I heard Des's PUC Forum tape I made a covenant with God early in 1980 to re-examine my SDA beliefs, set aside the Ellen White writings, and just see what the Bible had to say in its historical, liguistic, and cultural context. I had studied the Bible thtough the eyes of Ellen White for the past 28 years. I particularly zeroed in on the 1844 sanctuary doctrine and made a very in-depth study of Hebrews, especially chapters 8-10. The more I studied the more I became convinced the traditional SDA teaching had no basis in truth at all and was contradictory to the N.T. gospel. I called my pastor in several times to share with him what I was learning and he just hung his head with no answers to my questions. Later on he left the church also. I continued to attend church but most people would make a circle around me to avoid even speaking to me. I was like an invisible man. At that time I was too afraid to start attending another church regularly. I felt wounded and betrayed since my only intention was just to share Jesus Christ and His gospel as I was learning it and got such a hostile reception from the "pillars" of my local SDA Church where I'd been active for years.
Little by little I began to make contacts with pastors of other churches and Christians in my community and the response was so encouraging and supportive. I attended a weekly nondenominational home fellowship for several months and it was really helpful. I felt that the gospel had set me free to become a part of the larger body of Christ and that I must get out of this "remnant church" elitist mentality. I had noticed for many years what wonderful Christians I met oftentimes who loved to talk of God and Jesus but yet didn't know the "special truths of the third angel's message" for the last days.
By December of 1980 I started to attend regularly a new nondemomentational church which had quite a few members who were charismatics. I was very suspicious of anything like that but started to read some books on the charismatic experience and could see that God had more in store for me. Early in 1981 I attended a CHANGE THE WORLD SCHOOL OF PRAYER and began to increase the depth of my prayer time. During my ever expanding prayer times my mind would be directed to what Paul was saying in 1 Cor. 14 about praying in the Spirit in unknown tongues. I felt the need to praise God in a greater way and just to worship Him with more freedom. In December of 1981, almost to the day of 30 years after my water baptism (December of 1951), I was worshipping and praising God, and seeking His face earnestly in the quietness of my home and my praise was turned into another language. I felt such an infilling of the Holy Spirit and such a baptism of Divine Love. It was like being "born again" all over again. After this several of my friends who had known me for quite a while said there was something different about me. I just seemed so full of joy and so vibrant.
After receiving this blessing from God I began to repent of my pharisaical attitude towards the charismatic movement and people and sometimes I would kneel before the Lord and just weep. Praying in tongues for me is just reaching out and praising and worshipping God in a greater way than my mind will allow. That is why Paul talks about praying with the understanding and praying in the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 14. We need both! At least it has been a great blessing to me in my prayer life to pray in both ways.
Over the past 20 years since I left SDAism in 1980 I've learned to appreciate the variety and richness within the body of Christ. There is one God, not a separate God for the SDAs, the Catholics, the Baptists, etc. Each part of the church has something positive and unique to offer. The church is composed of imperfect people and so has never been perfect doctrinally or perfect in conduct. I have made it my business to share fellowship with all of the segments of the Christian church and this has been so enriching and has given me a better understanding of the "whys and wherefores" of different expressions of the faith.
I have strong feelings of "family" towards the SDA Church and always will have. I love the Adventist people greatly and only wish them good. Some of the greatest saints I've known over the years have been Adventists. I have tried to keep in touch with these dear ones if they will still include me in their lives. I greatly honor and respect those who feel called of God to remain in the SDA Church and work for spiritual renewal. I equally honor those who have been called to leave SDAism and minister and/or fellowship elsewhere. I do not desire to convert or unconvert people into or out of these various religious groupings. The only thing I really want to share with people is the closer walk with God that is available to all of His children, equally, anytime, anywhere. I don't believe God is exclusive to any of these groups. I tend to agree with a statement that I heard Billy Graham make once that as far as he was concerned all of those who reach out in their hearts for God in any way are part of the family of God. The gospel is more inclusive than some of us might want to acknowledge. I believe that the simple message of the gospel that we find in John 3:16, Rom. 5:12-19; 1 John 5:9-13, Rom. 10:9-13, Acts 16:30, 31, etc., is more than sufficient to prepare us for either translation when our Lord returns or for death and resurrection. I cannot support the concept of a "special people" with a "special message" above and beyond the preaching of Jesus and His salvation that the apostles preached in their day. I believe it is our task always to be restore the faith once for all time delivered to the saints, not add something to it, change it, or clutter it up with a lot of excess baggage.
There is a lot more I could say. In summary I would like to quote from the words of Mary in the Magnificat which express my deepest feelings and longings: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour" (Luke 1:46, 47 NKJV).
I would welcome dialogue or comments from any readers of this testimony.
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THOMAS E. DURST