I grew up a third generation Adventist. I went to Adventist elementary schools and an Adventist academy, and I attended Walla Walla College in Washington.
I loved being an Adventist; I often wondered how I had gotten so lucky as to be born into the true church when most of the world suffered either in unbelief, Apostate Protestantism, or Catholicism, the Seat of the Beast. How amazing, I often thought, that I was granted intimate knowledge of The Truth!
I knew that I would be persecuted someday because I kept the Sabbath, and I knew that someday "they" would confiscate our Bibles, and only what I had memorized would be accessible to me. I also knew that because we had the true last day prophet, Ellen White, we understood the truth about obscure passages of scripture which the rest of the world refused to acknowledge. I knew that the Catholic Church had changed Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, and I knew that most of the Christian world would bear the Mark of the Beast if it did not convert to Saturday Sabbath. I knew the Mark of the Beast was Sunday worship, and I knew that the seventh-day Sabbath was the true Seal of God.
I also knew that because I belonged to the remnant church I had special knowledge of the Bible and its eternal relevance to us. Unlike the apostate churches, our church believed the whole Bible. The Old Testament was as much our source of authority as was the New Testament. I understood that most of Christendom did not want to be responsible for God's commands, especially the fourth commandment and the Old Testament dietary laws. I knew it was a sin to eat pork and seafood, and I understood that although clean meats were permitted, Ellen White made it clear that if anyone did not give up meat eating, he could not be translated without seeing death if Jesus were to come.
The investigative judgment caused me years of fear and worry. Although I had a "backslidden" uncle who had left the Adventist ministry because he couldn't preach the investigative judgment in good conscience and although I had serious doubts about its authenticity, still the possibility that it might be true was terrifying. When would my name come up for judgment? My only hope was that if I accepted Jesus I might live a good enough life to be deemed worthy of salvation.
Many nights during my teens I couldn't sleep for fear that I had committed the unpardonable sin or that I had some unconfessed sin in my life. We were responsible even for sins we did not remember committing, and I often worried about having said "idle words" or having wasted time. Ellen White made it clear that those were as serious as were stealing, killing, or adultery. I often pled with God to forgive me for secular words I had uttered on the Sabbath, or for having wasted time between my chores, homework, and music practice. I knew that if I had even one unconfessed sin, I would be lost in the judgment. Because my character wasn't yet perfectly reflecting the character of Jesus, I knew I wouldn't be able to stand in the time of trouble when Jesus would leave his mediatorial work in the heavenly sanctuary, and we would be left without a mediator between us mortals and God.
I was proud of my Adventism. My perpetual angst was a small price to pay for having truth.
Sometimes I did wonder how I could be sure our truth was really Truth. After all, the Methodists believed they had truth, I reasoned. Who was the final arbiter of Biblical interpretation? Sometimes I even felt a pang of sympathy for the Jews of Jesus' day. I understood how they had not recognized him. If I had been told Jesus would come a certain way, I realized, I would have believed my parents' and teachers' predictions. If he had come a different way I would have believed it to be a deception. I wondered why we were so hard on those Jews.
I quieted my doubts. After all, we had Bible texts to prove everything. My church provided me with stability, identity, community. I was a big fish in a small pond. In school I was an achiever; in spite of the fact that my father was a physical therapist and not a physician, dentist, or other high-paying professional (to a great extent financial status determined social and leadership status in the church with doctors commanding the most admiration), I worked hard and earned respect for my music and my extra-curricular leadership.
I married a gifted musician, and the two of us taught in Adventist schools. I began to realize I could not be a traditional Adventist, but I loved the church. I developed ways to rationalize my growing conviction that certain Adventist distinctives were awry. After all, I believed in the main thing; I believed the Sabbath.
In 1980 I read the transcript of Desmond Ford's Glacier View defense. Afterward I studied the book of Daniel, and I knew that my childhood doubts had been right. I jettisoned the investigative judgment without a backward glance. But I still believed in Ellen White.
I still struggled to know how to have a relationship with Jesus. I tried every formula I read and every method I learned from every Week of Prayer speaker who came to the school where I taught. No matter how hard I tried, I could not find peace. "Give your heart to Jesus" was a metaphor for an intellectual decision I was making over and over.
My life began careening out of control. I'd always been able to hold things together by working hard and by putting my mind over matter. But no matter how hard I prayed, I couldn't make my marriage work. I knew that divorce was almost unforgivable. Divorce was the one sin I had always believed could not happen to me. I would not divorce; I believed in marriage.
But it happened. In spite of counseling and second tries, my marriage ended. My despair felt like death. I had no hope left. I knew that I was not innocent. My weakness horrified me. My guilt was suffocating me. My prayers and good intentions had not stopped me from the worst of all sins.
I was bereft. I suddenly had no husband, no job, and only one good friend within driving distance. One gray afternoon I paced in my apartment. I knew I was condemned. I begged God to forgive me, but I knew he could not. I had chosen to do things I could never undo. I was beyond the pale of forgiveness.
And then I knew. I heard nothing; I saw nothing. But all at once I knew. Deep inside in the place where I had been dying, I knew I was forgiven. It was a life-changing moment of grace. It was a moment that convinced me that God loved me. It was a moment that began my awakening which would take ten years to mature.
I have vivid memories of going to countless evangelistic meetings. The conference evangelistic team would come to town and would settle into a large rented auditorium or a tent, and hundreds of people would come. It seemed, though, that a major goal was to get the local Adventist families to attend. I remember the pastor saying in church, "Bring a friend to the meetings if you can, but you be there!"
The Team consisted of the evangelist, the singing evangelist, and the wives who would usually play the piano and draw black light chalk pictures during Jerry Dill's special music. The pastors always wore white dinner jackets and bow ties.
I remember one meeting in a rented hall with heavy velvet curtains hanging on the walls. Everyone's attention was riveted on evangelist Stanley Harris. But I couldn't keep my eyes off the two nuns in full habit sitting right behind my family. They both had expressions that looked like fear on their faces, and they fingered their rosaries as fast as they could move their fingers.
I also remember the almost carnival-like atmosphere near the entrance of the auditorium where local church people redeemed the attendees' nightly attendance records for prizes. Since my family attended every evangelistic series, I collected a variety of plaques with glow-in-the-dark birds and scripture verses.
But the really big prize was The Bible. If I attended 20 meetings, I qualified for the gift Bible. I could choose from white, black, or red bonded leather covers, and the Bible came in its own cedar box with a picture of Jesus pasted inside the lid. I coveted that box and Bible.
I was 10 when I finally earned one. I carried my Bible in its cedar nest home as if it were gold. I opened and closed that box, gazing in awe at the picture of Jesus inside. Months later when I put the Bible on a shelf and stored my marbles in the cedar box, my mother scolded me. It was sacreligious to put my marbles in that box because it had Jesus' picture inside it.
The meetings featured fast-pace Bible texts and hair-raising pictures of UFO's and unexplained cosmic sightings which proved that Jesus' second coming was near, even at the door. There were also pictures of the beasts of Daniel and Revelation. Evangelist Harris would read texts from one end of the Bible to the other, stringing them together in an amazing chain of guilt-producing, awe-inspiring confusion.
The most gut-wrenching part of the meetings was The Call. It seemed to extend for at least forty-five minutes. It would begin with the evangelist praying and then saying, "Now while every head is bowed, every eye is closed, is there one who has not yet given his heart to God?" The evangelist's wife would begin playing "Just As I Am" on the Conn organ very quietly, every chord trembling gently with electronic vibrato. Then baritone Jerry Dill would begin singing, "Just as I am, without one plea," and the evangelist would plead with "just one more" to come down the aisle to the front and accept Jesus.
Just when I thought he was bringing it to a close, the evangelist would say over the organ music, "I am impressed that there is one more person out there, one more person who has wandered from God and needs to come back. Is it you? If you have wandered from God, come to him now. Come right down here to the front. And while Jerry sings, respond to the call of the Holy Spirit. Don't wait another hour. If you were to die tonight, would you be right with God? Make things right with him now!"
I would always wonder if I needed to go forward again. I had sinned since the last time. Was my heart right with God? If I died that night, would I be ready? My fervor for God had abated since the last evangelistic meeting and camp meeting calls. Was that wandering? I felt compelled to go forward, just to be sure. But usually I stayed glued to my seat in fear.
At night I would lie awake, terrified I was lost. What sins had I not confessed? Why was I not able to be good? I tried so hard, but I was never good enough.
Only years later did I understand that the evangelists had to count and report every decision for Christ, every baptism that resulted from their meetings. Those numbers justified the salaries of The Team.
As a child I felt eternally fortunate to have been born not only in the United States but specifically in California, and most amazing, in the Adventist church. How could I have been so blessed!
We had The Health Message. I knew I would be healthier and would live longer because of it, but I did wish I could eat ketchup. I scoured the neighborhood for old bottles which I redeemed, and then I secretly bought and hid candy under my mattress so I could sneak it when my mom couldn't see. But even with those small sins I knew my overall life was much holier than my neighbors' lives. I felt sorry for their ignorance. I also felt embarrassed every Sabbath as we walked to the car in front of the whole neighborhood. They watched me, dressed in my grasshopper-green suit, climb into the back seat for my ride to church, before they turned back to playing in their yards.
I was fifteen when I went to boarding academy. I suffered. I wanted to be good. I was shy and lonely. I longed for understanding. I didn't fit in with most of my classmates. Almost all of them flaunted the rules. To me they seemed not to be true Adventists. I still struggled to be saved. But I comforted myself in my struggles; I was sure that quite possibly I was the best Adventist on campus, except for Doug T.
I had underlying doubts about Ellen White's true prophet status all my life, but when I got to Pacific Union College I took a class in Inspiration from Roger Coon that answered all my questions. He was full of Ellen anecdotes, and he charmed away my doubts.
After college I worked in church-related employment for nine years before my life disintegrated. My marriage to a committed Adventist unraveled into shreds of pain and distrust that no amount of counseling could cure. My divorce made me ask the hard questions. Could I still qualify as an Adventist? How was I supposed to be a good person when it seemed there were no "good" choices?
After weeks of absence from my local church, I responded to the pastor's call to meet him in his office. This was the meeting in which he attempted to "establish blame" for the divorce. That night I clearly saw the contrast between Jesus and the man who claimed to represent him. He sat behind his desk, cold and inquisitive. My eyes went to the framed picture over his desk. It showed Jesus the shepherd, cradling a lamb in his arm, looking down at me. Where is that persistent love? I asked myself as I looked back at my pastor's detached gaze and unresponsive face.
I emerged from my divorce determined to stay an Adventist but less certain that Adventism had the right answers. I wasn't as sure anymore how to be a good Adventist. I wasn't as sure anymore how to please God. I had new questions.
Colleen and Richard
Our marriage in 1989 brought us both something we'd never experienced before: we had glimpses of how much God loved us through the love of another person.
About three years after our marriage, Richard encouraged me to team-teach a Sabbath School class with a friend of mine. During the next four years I studied the Bible systematically to prepare for class. We used the subjects listed in the Adventist Church's Sabbath School Quarterly, but we made our own lesson plans. As I prepared for those classes I consciously began to pray that I would understand the Bible without presets coloring my perceptions. When my friend could no longer teach because of new commitments, Richard taught the class with me.
During this time we moved to a larger house to accommodate our two boys and a business. We learned that our new neighbors were Christians. One day Richard suggested, "Why don't we have a Bible study with the neighbors?"
In August, 1995, we began weekly Bible studies that would last three years. We studied book by book, beginning with James, and read through to Revelation. We turned back to read Daniel next, and then we returned to the New Testament and read Acts and the rest of the epistles. Those studies helped us to read the Bible with no preconceived interpretations. They prepared us to accept the truth about Ellen White.
One evening as we were studying a chapter in Revelation with the neighbors, one of us made an observation about what we thought a certain passage might mean.
"Where did you find that in the Bible?" our neighbor asked.
Richard and I looked at each other. We suddenly realized our interpretation came from The Great Controversy. We were taken aback; we had no idea that we were still seeing Bible passages in the light of Ellen's interpretation.
"Do you think we ought to tell them?" I asked Richard, giggling a bit with embarrassment. We had not talked with them about Ellen before.
We took a deep breath and blurted, "Well, you see, we have a prophet"
Our neighbors listened with growing amazement as we began explaining the role and significance of Ellen White to Adventists.
Revelation became a totally new book to us after those weeks of study. Our neighbors did not understand our "Ellen-esque" interpretations of eschatology, and we needed their input to point out the places where her influence still affected us.
In the meantime Richard had begun giving me documents from the Internet to read. The Internet had just begun to burgeon, and we were reading things to which we wouldn't have had access without it. We began to see Ellen in three dimensions. Richard was finding reams of papers documenting eyewitness accounts of her and her husband's dealings in the early days of the church. He found letters written by people whose reputations she destroyed by circulating false "testimonies." He found written accounts of people who had met her and who had watched her husband direct the substance of her visions as she lay in a trance and call her out of the trance when he was finished. He found documents and letters written by her secretaries in which they agonized over the fact that her name appeared in print on books and articles they had written. He found the written account of the 1918 Conference at which the church leaders admitted they had serious questions about Ellen's inspiration, but because they feared the church would crumble and they would lose everything to which they had devoted their energy, they decided to sweep the evidence under the rug and uphold her to the people.
The documents were unretouched by the White Estate, the Adventist church department in charge of publishing Ellen's writings after she died.
In May, 1996, we attended an Adventist Forum meeting in San Diego to hear Dale Ratzlaff speak. While Dale is Richard's second cousin, he had been the broken branch on the family tree ever since he was fired from the Adventist ministry in the early 80s for questioning the investigative judgment. When he began pastoring a Sunday church, the family knew he was beyond hope. We had never bothered to read his first book, Sabbath in Crisis, because we knew Dale was wrong.
That Sabbath in San Diego was seminal. Dale talked about the New Covenant, and he said something we'll never forget. He used a diagram to illustrate that the New Covenant was not made between God and us. The Old Covenant was between God and Israel, but the New Covenant was made between God and Jesus. Jesus kept the New Covenant for us. We are fallible; he is not. Only Jesus could keep a covenant, and he did what we could not do.
Arrival of the "Red Books"
On the first Sabbath in June, 1996, an unexpected package came from Dale. Inside were two vibrant red books: The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists, and Sabbath in Crisis (now retitled Sabbath in Christ). We were ready to learn.
Richard had been coming to the conclusion that Ellen was false as a result of his extensive Internet research. He read widely and had discovered much information that the church had withheld from the members. He was nearly ready to leave her behind.
Even though I had gradually dismissed Ellen as a source of personal authority several years before, I still held her with respect in the back of my mind. Richard's Internet documents, however, had prepared me for Dale's books.
We began to read and did not stop until we were finished. By the time we finished reading Cultic Doctrine, we both knew we had to reject Ellen. She had too many failed prophecies; too many questionable testimonies; too many convenient visions corroborating other people's ideas. In Chapter 2 of the book Dale discussed progressive revelation and pointed out that true revelation can only progress from truth to greater truth. Revelation from God cannot begin as error and progress to truth.
When we finished the red books, we knew we had to say it: "Ellen White was a false prophet." I was shocked to find how hard it was to say those words. It felt like betraying an eccentric old lady who claimed to be my great aunt. It felt like pulling up the cornerstone of my identity.
Nevertheless, we couldn't believe the freedom we experienced after we admitted to each other that Ellen had not just made mistakes; she had been a false prophet. Suddenly we were free to examine every doctrine against the Bible. We were free to read what the Bible said without trying to fit Ellen's interpretation into the words.
I was sitting beside Richard a few days after the books arrived from Dale, reading. Richard was reading Chapter 12 in Sabbath in Crisis, and suddenly he sat up straight and said, "Listen to this!"
And then he read Dale's explanation of the transfiguration. To the Jews, Moses represented The Law, and Elijah represented The Prophets. When Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, the disciples Peter, James and John bowed to the ground. A voice from heaven said, "This is my son. Listen to Him!" And when the three disciples rose, no one was there but Jesus. The law and the prophets were gone, and Jesus alone remained.
I was electrified. Now I understood. The Transfiguration presaged the New Covenant. Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets, and he is now our authority and the focus of our worship. The law and the prophets have been surpassed by God himself. Ellen's explanation that Moses and Elijah had come to strengthen Jesus before his death had never made sense to me.
Now I understood. Jesus alone is our focus. He is our law. And that explained the Sabbath. Jesus is our Sabbath rest. The fourth commandment had been a literal rest that reminded Israel that their blessings came from God, not from their hard work. Now we had the real rest, Jesus.
Although Richard and I had much more studying to do, that moment transfigured us. We knew at that moment that we were walking on the path out of Adventism.
Free in Christ
We were unprepared for the intensity of the freedom that was unfolding. When Richard and I admitted that Ellen was a false prophet, we were finally able to understand that Jesus actually gave us a new order of reality after he rose from death. We became aware of the Holy Spirit in our day to day lives. We began to realize that humans have spirits, and those spirits aren't breath as the church had taught us. The Spirit communicates with our spirits, and that's not something that happens in our noses where our breath is.
Most amazing was the security we felt. We finally knew, absolutely, that we were saved. We knew that no matter what might happen to us, our place in the heart of Jesus was secure. In God's eyes we were righteous. He had died for us, we accepted his redemption, and he required absolutely nothing from us except our belief in what he had done!
We were free-free from fear of unconfessed sins; free from worry about whether or not we "guarded the edges" of the Sabbath; free from the fear that we weren't doing enough to please God. We were free in Christ.
One morning about three months after Dale had sent us his books, Richard looked at me and said, "I feel like I've just become a Christian for the first time."
We began having home church with our neighbors who had no church home. We took turns hosting; first we'd have breakfast together, and then we'd have a worship service. Our home church became increasingly significant. Even though we and our neighbors disagreed about several fine points of doctrine, we discovered that unity in Christ transcended doctrinal unity.
Taught by the Spirit
Our walk away from Adventism was gradual-one step and one new understanding at a time. The most remarkable thing Richard and I experienced during our transition was that the Holy Spirit would make it unmistakably clear when we were to make our next move. Each new understanding and decision built sequentially on the last one. Along the way God made several things clear. Several times we "discovered" books, some of which we found in our own library, that gave us insights into living intimately with Jesus and helped us to become aware of the Holy Spirit's influence.
I found an old book which I'd never actually noticed even though I had been packing and moving it with me for over 25 years. I had gotten it from my "backslidden" uncle who had been trying to teach his resistant extended family about grace since the '60s. The book was entitled Like a Mighty Wind and was written by Mel Tari, an Indonesian who had found Christ and whom Christ had called to a life of evangelism. This book helped us to see that the Holy Spirit is more than a theory or a hope for the future, as it had always seemed in Adventism. We and our boys began to see that as Christ-followers we are his temple. He actually does his work on earth in and through us. We can know his voice.
Another pivotal book I found in our bookcase was Let Us Praise by Judson Cornwall. Written in 1973, this book talked about the function of praise in a Christian's life. As a family we began to incorporate praise when we faced decisions, uncertainties, and crises. Acknowledging God's sovereignty through praise is a powerful antidote to fear, depression, and oppression. We began to see why both the Old and New Testaments are full of commands to praise God in all situations.
A New Identity
About a year and a half after receiving the red books, Richard and I agreed that we could not remain Adventists. We weren't ready to make an official move; we simply knew that we couldn't continue to support and identify with a church that had been founded in deception.
Again, I wasn't prepared for the emotional impact of deciding I could no longer be Adventist. Even though I hadn't subscribed to most Adventist theology for several years, I was part of the culture. My identity was completely defined by the church. The church had educated me, employed me, and ultimately provided us with clients for our business. All that I had accomplished professionally had been within the church, and I was beginning to be known and respected inside the church for my work.
Outside the church I would be nobody. I had almost no contacts, no friends, no identity. I was first Adventist, then a woman, wife, mother, and professional.
For days a deep and haunting sadness held me. I thought about the people that I knew and respected who would be shocked or disappointed when they knew our decision. I thought of losing their respect and friendship, and I wondered how the emptiness would feel.
I felt as if I were literally losing myself. My career, my social life, my identity would be gone. I felt as if I were going through another divorce-and actually, I was.
The two bright spots of hope and constancy were that Richard and I were walking in step with each other, and my long-time friend with whom I had taught that Sabbath School class years before was engaged in a similar search of her own. The three of us could discuss our new ideas and could encourage each other's steps away from Adventism and into freedom. I knew how blessed I was to have two people with whom I could talk about what I was experiencing.
One evening when my sadness was especially consuming, I sat at the piano to play while Richard said goodnight to the boys. As I was playing the old Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" I began to cry. The tears came without warning, and as I played and cried, the words of the song began to go through my mind:
'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free; 'Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be; And when we find ourselves in that place just right, 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained, To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed; To turn, turn, will be our delight Till by turning, turning we come round right.
As the song played out in my head and through my fingers, I knew that I was turning, turning, as the song said. I knew that I would come 'round right, and that when I had finally turned, I would be in the valley of love and delight. I knew that I had to walk through the sadness and that God was leading me to something completely new.
I realized that Jesus was calling me to identify completely with him. He didn't want me to identify with a church or a group or a certain theology. He wanted my identity to be complete in him. He was leading me out of Adventism so I could find him. For me, the Adventist church was the "world" that God was calling me to leave. He was calling me to himself, and I had to leave every other loyalty behind. I had to belong only to him.
A New Community
In May, 1998, we knew we had to make a decision about our sons' school. The elder was 15 and a high school freshman; the younger, 11 and in fifth grade. The 15-year-old had been having a terrible year. As spring progressed, he became increasingly unhappy, and he didn't know what was wrong.
Every morning after Richard and the boys left the house, I would stand in front of the mirror, combing my hair and praying that God would help us know what to do for the boys. Gradually I began to think that we needed to consider changing schools. They were in a highly respected Adventist school, but, I began to think, they no longer believed the Adventist distinctives. Yet they were attending a school where everyone believed they were Adventists. Furthermore, many of their Adventist classmates did not respect Christianity. I began to think how severe the cognitive dissonance must be for the boys in that situation.
When I told Richard I thought we should explore a local inter-denominational academy, he reminded me that he had been suggesting that school for some time. I realized with embarrassment that I had been so worried that the boys might receive a closed-minded, anti-intellectual education at an evangelical school that I hadn't even consciously registered Richard's suggestions.
During the last week of the school year we took the boys, angry and resistant, to do a walk-through of the school. When we entered the building, we were overwhelmed with the warmth and the sense of light that filled the central mall of the building. The feeling of light was a surprise; the building was an old factory, and it only had a few skylights scattered throughout it. Faculty and students met our eyes and smiled, and some offered directions. About halfway through the building I turned to our guide and remarked, "This school has such a neat feeling!"
"Oh," she replied without hesitation, "that's the Spirit of the Lord. This is his school."
Forty-five minutes later we were on our way back home. Both boys' resistance had completely melted, and the eldest one said, "That's my school."
That visit was only the beginning of surprises. The next was our visit with the principal before we enrolled the boys. We'd asked to see him, and when he ushered us into his office, he said he wanted to pray before we talked. He prayed that God would guide our talk, that the Holy Spirit would give us discernment so that everything that needed to be said would be said and so we would understand everything that we said to each other.
By the time he finished praying I was fighting tears. I looked at Richard obliquely, and he looked a little misty, too. Never in our lifetime of experience in Adventist schools had any teacher or administrator prayed with us, and certainly never had any displayed such humility and trust that God would direct what happened.
We told him our background, and he was most understanding. He admitted that he had left the Catholic Church, and he had an idea of what our decision meant. We learned that the coming year the school was inaugurating a sixth grade, and he encouraged us to turn in an application for our younger son.
When we rose to leave the principal said to us, "Remember that when they persecute you-and they will persecute you-you are blessed." His eyes were full of kindness. And then, just before we walked out the door, he prayed with us again.
Richard and I were just beginning to realize that God was doing more than replacing the broad but superficial contacts we had in the Adventist church. He was giving us a new community in which we would be spiritually nurtured and in which we could grow.
A Spiritual Claim
A few weeks later I found my younger son sitting at the piano bench but not really practicing. He looked upset. When I asked him what was wrong, he admitted that he was worried about changing schools. I wasn't surprised to hear his admission; this was a boy who hated to wear a new style of shirt. Changing schools was a major life hurdle for him.
I insisted that he sit on the couch with me to talk about it. I began to pray in my mind that God would help me know what to say so my son could experience some resolution. He was both a stubborn boy and an exceptionally sensitive one. It wasn't easy to bring him out of a snit.
Praying continually, I began asking him questions.
"Why don't we want you to go back to the Adventist School?"
Arms crossed, eyes downcast, he replied, "Because it's Adventist."
"What's wrong with Adventist?" I persisted.
"Ellen White." His voice was clipped.
"Well, what's wrong with Ellen White?" I pressed.
"She was a false prophet," he stated flatly, arms still crossed.
"If she was a false prophet, where did her visions come from?" I continued.
"Satan," he asserted.
And then, as I continued to pray silently, I had a thought that I heard myself explaining. It was a thought I'd never had before, and the words coming out of my mouth startled me.
"If her visions came from Satan, then Satan has a claim on anything Adventist. Since the church was founded on deception, and Satan is the father of lies, he claims Adventism. Jesus has a claim too, because they teach Jesus. But because Satan has a claim he twists the truth so Adventists can't know the truth about salvation or about Jesus. Because he twists the truth, Adventists can't live in grace. It's hard for them to have good relationships or to be good friends. Status and money become more important to them than true friendships.
"We want you to go to a Christian school so you can be at a place where Satan doesn't have a claim. There will be problems as there are everywhere, but because Jesus claims the school and not Satan, it will be more possible for the problems to be solved, and it will be more possible for you to make good friends."
My son relaxed visibly, but I was electrified. I had never thought about Satan having a claim on Adventism before.
I called Richard and told him what had just happened. He listened and responded thoughtfully as he always does, "I think that's right."
We talked about it for a few weeks, and Richard and I became increasingly convinced that we had to renounce Adventism. If Satan claimed it, then it had more than a cultural hold on us. It had a spiritual hold.
One evening we called the boys together and talked about leaving the Adventist church. Both of them were excited to be actually leaving it. I marveled at their eagerness, remembering how I had feared that our leaving would leave them uprooted and without an anchor. They not only were not uprooted, they were more solidly grounded in Jesus than they had ever been. I rejoiced that they did not have 40-plus years of habit holding them back.
Together we knelt, and Richard prayed. He asked God to remove the spirit of Adventism from our hearts, and he asked God to send the Holy Spirit to live in the place in our hearts where Adventism had been.
When we stood up from prayer, I knew I was no longer an Adventist. Richard felt the same. From that moment we had absolutely no ties to the church. We've never looked back.
Within the next month we realized that not only had Adventism misinterpreted the judgment, salvation, death, and the Sabbath, but the Great Controversy was not biblical. Just a few days after we renounced Adventism, it dawned on us that the concept of Jesus being engaged in an ongoing battle with Satan is blasphemous. Jesus won the war at Calvary and on resurrection morning. Satan knows that he is a defeated power.
Adventism's claim that Christ and Satan are in a great controversy implies that Jesus and Satan are equal opponents. They are not equal. Jesus is God, and he has already defeated Satan and has broken the power of sin. And for Adventists to claim that Adventist Christians are going to help Jesus win the war is also blasphemous. Jesus is not relying on his people of any persuasion to convince Satan that he is just. God's justice and power are overarching. Satan, as a created being, is fully aware of Jesus's sovereignty. It is a great spritual deception to say that Jesus and Satan are still engaged in an unsettled controversy. And it is a seduction of flattery to suggest that humans have any power at all to help Jesus win. We have no more power to help him win than we have the power to work our way to salvation.
Jesus' victory is accomplished. We are only waiting for its final claim on this scarred planet. Jesus and Satan are not equal foes. There is no question about who the winner is. Satan has never been Jesus's equal.
A Church Home
Last fall our 10th grader began asking to go to church with his friends. One Sunday in October we decided to take him to the new church by the freeway which we passed every day on our way down the hill. We went to the worship service while our son went to his teen meeting, and we were completely overwhelmed with the preaching and the presence of the Lord in that place.
The next Sunday we went back, and we knew that we had found our home. The pastor preached on Ephesians 2:1-5. He talked about how we had been born into death. We were like "dead men walking." But God, in his great mercy, made us alive in Christ "even when we were dead in transgressions"
Richard and I were both on the edge of tears throughout the sermon. It felt as if he were preaching directly to us, affirming our experience, underscoring that we had been born into deception. But Jesus in his great love had pulled us out of that inheritance and had placed us in the body of his believers.
That Sunday they served communion, and as the matzo bread and grape juice passed down the aisles, the worship team led us in singing, "I Will Never Be the Same Again." At the end of the service, the congregation stood and sang again, "I will never be the same again; I can never return; I've closed the door"
Our past was over. The door was closed.
As the tears ran down my face I praised God for leading us into the truth about Jesus. I praised him for his great love which patiently led us, step by manageable step, out of the darkness and deception of Adventism into the glorious light and freedom of salvation and oneness with him. I praised Jesus for love that marks my relationship with him. I praised him for giving me a hope and a future.
Richard and I and our boys will truly never be the same again.
We praise God for freedom and security. We praise him for Sabbath rest in Jesus Christ. We praise him for his sovereignty and truth and powerful love. We praise Jesus for becoming one with us and for becoming a curse for us. We praise him for conquering sin and death. We praise the Holy Spirit for putting God's law of love in our hearts and for giving us the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2:16) We praise the Spirit for living in us and for making us one with God.
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." (Revelation 4:8, NIV)
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RICHARD AND COLLEEN TINKER