Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Obedience in the Darkness, Part II

The best I can describe how I felt once we actually left Adventism was:

Arthur and I had survived a shipwreck and were washed ashore the beach of Christianity. Emotionally, physically traumatized and exhausted, we hoped to be “rescued” by our new family in Christ. But trying to describe to--let’s say a Baptist--what we had been through was impossible. No one could really understand how vulnerable and weakened our ordeal of leaving our lifelong church had made us. They didn’t relate to having family become suspicious of you, of being labeled a traitor or rebellious. They didn’t understand the confusion.

To make certain things are clear, we were not spiritually confused. If fact, my relationship to Christ was as strong as it had always been. We were experiencing miracle after miracle and knew God was very closes to us, leading us in this journey of faith. I was emotionally and doctrinally confused. The false doctrine had been vividly exposed to us, but what scripture actually truly said, wasn’t as clear. We knew without a doubt that God was helping us escape Adventism, we just couldn’t see the exact direction He was taking us to.

I wanted to scream out to our newfound family in Christ, “Go! Help the Adventists drowning our there from the false doctrine that has sunk their ship!” But no one understood my passion nor my panic. Most had no idea who Adventists were, and if they did, they didn’t know what they believed. (Thus began my idea to write “It’s Okay NOT to be a Seventh-day Adventist.” I figured someone aught to write a book to help those wanting to be rescued.)

Backing up just a bit:

For the first couple of years after leaving Adventism, still believing that Saturday was the correct day of worship, we went to a Friday night service at a Baptist church in Burleson, Texas. It was wonderful, but eventually Arthur took a job as a travel nurse and we began an exciting excursions of visiting many different denominations all over America. Where ever we landed for a few months, we tended towards finding a Southern Baptist church to attend at least once a week.

But in addition, because I was so excited to visit ALL different denominations, we attended other Baptist churches: Independent, Bible, Primitive, Free Will, etc. (Our kids even attended Pensacola Christian College for a few weeks before we ripped them out and fled once again--scary, scary place!--They attended Liberty University which is AWESOME!) We regularly visited Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran--Evangelical, Wisconsin and Missouri Synod (again AWESOME--especially loved the Wisconsin synod service). I sang for two years in the Episcopalian choir and we also attended a break off Anglican church. For three years our sons attended a Methodist church near us. We went rarely with them, it was just too stuffy and formal for me at that time.

We loved visiting the people of the various churches, but not the beliefs. I hated the Presbyterian USA but loved the Presbyterian of America (doctrines anyway). We often visited Pentecostal churches and our favorite of ALL churches, up until we joined one, was the Assembly of God in Fort Myers, FL with Pastor Betzar. Again, AWESOME! We got accidentally caught up in a messianic group of Pentecostals there who zeroed in on us as former Adventists inviting us to a Friday evening Shabbot Passover service complete with Challah bread and talking in tongues--very weird. As we fled their home, dabbing our brows of sweat as we left, we wondered how crazy Christianity was becoming. We certainly didn’t expect this! Other churches we visited were the Disciples of Christ, the Christian church, many non-denominational and Bible churches. I am sure there are more, but I can’t remember them all. For seven years we church shopped for one we felt accurately reflected the teachings of scripture. For a few years I was attending four to five different denominations per week. Usually hitting two to three on Sunday, (almost everywhere we went we could find a church having services on Friday night or Saturday) and then a mid week service on Wednesday evening.

During this time, I had joined an online ecumenical group with a Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish rabbi, Eastern Orthodox as well as many different Protestant groups. This was incredibly enlightening. Every day we would discuss theology and I would print their comments off and Arthur and I would discuss them during worship and study them in light of scripture.

Also, for three years I had the enormous privilege of attending Temple Baptist Church in New Bern, North Carolina. The pastor there, Dr. Steve Cobb, is a brilliant Christian apologist. Studying under him really solidified our understanding of scripture and led us where we would eventually settle. His encouragement and knowledge gave me so much courage in publishing our book as well as clarifying scriptural positions on tradition and where Biblical history fit in.

However, eventually we began to discover a real problem in choosing your own church. Oh, its easy if all you are looking for is an inspirational service. There are so many wonderful, joyful and fulfilling communities of Christ to which you can feel like you belong. The problem comes when you want your church to be based in Biblical truth. We had spent a lifetime dedicated to a church who had indoctrinated us into fiction, so we were understandably hesitant to repeat that same mistake. Fearing deception, we spent years grilling pastors about their doctrine. (Hours and hours and hours sitting in the pastors’ offices of different denominations with notepad in hand scribbling as I interrogated them about doctrine. Then holing myself up for days with prayer, fasting and the Bible to check out what the denomination taught.)

The dilemma: Every single denomination out there claims its beliefs are the most Bible-based. One pastor proof-texts infant baptism, while the pastor down the road proof-texts adult baptism--quite confusing. Theologians dueled with the original languages claiming that really, if we could read Greek the Once-Saved-Always-Saved position would be ridiculously clear or just ridiculous--depending on which scholar we asked. One pastor with two Ph.D.‘s in theology insisted that if we could, “acquiesce to neo-orthodoxy’s ontological and soteriological exegesis of justification through the feminist theological worldview we would become at peace with our post-modern epistemological quest.

I looked at Arthur and whimpered, “what?” then went home and sent off for applications to all the different US seminaries. We decided, in order not to be deceived we had to be able to read the scriptures in their original form. Arthur and I became consumed with theology. It seemed the more we knew, the more we realized that it would take every second of every waking hour in theological study for the rest of our lives to begin to know all this stuff. ...Wait...I had to take a shower ...and fix dinner... and phone my mother... I was running out of time! It was devastating to realize that to really avoid deception and know truth, we would have to be.... God.

The thought terrified us. My Christian friends all told us to relax, all we needed to understand scripture was the Holy Spirit. Yet, we knew there were false prophets (Ellen White!). As sincere Christians, how could we guarantee that would not fall prey to false doctrine again? Had God abandoned us to correctly, infallibly interpret scriptures with nothing but our average IQ’s (and we already had the Holy Spirit in our lives as ADVENTISTS--so even knowing He was in our hearts didn’t guarantee perfect scriptural interpretation.)

My passion has always been Bible translations, so we began comparing translations as well as reading massive amounts of Church history. We bought Robertson’s Ante-Nicene Fathers Writings--the entire ten volumes on Ebay for $125, which we read--all of them. We studied C. S. Lewis, A. W. Tozer, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, as well as began taking religion courses and reading all the ecclesiastical histories we could get our hand on (www.ccel.org and www.gutenberg.org are excellent websites for research.) We would travel to hear J. P. Moreland in person, we corresponded with Bart Erman, and J. I Packer. Our vacations were planned around doing Bible research. (I could go on with this, but you get the general drift--we were obsessed!)

Nothing satisfied our deep longing for truth. All the denominations were wonderful with Christians on fire, but none--none of them really seemed to understand scripture to the point that they could answer my questions. The pastors would get flustered with me and at some point simply throw up their hands and say “You gotta own it, Teresa” or I was accused of trying to stir things up. That made me feel I was back in a SDA pastor’s office. No pastor seemed to know scripture as well as I did and that was NOT comforting. Neither could they even give me any references or sources to which I could go to answer my questions. Most of them simply said that there was no way of knowing these things and just to place your faith in Jesus and that was all that mattered.

There was more. I knew there was answers. God didn’t let me give up the quest to find His truth....

No comments: