Monday, April 4, 2011

Obedience in the Darkness

I haven’t wanted to do this. In fact I dread it. But perhaps it will be helpful to many former Adventists out there.

I am not a big fan of “personal testimonies” as an evangelistic tool because Christianity has turned into a denominational musical chairs game. Instead of telling me your angelic vision of why you went from Episcopalian to Pentecostal or the deep experience in your non-denominational church, tell me the doctrines. Are they really and I mean really supported by scripture? Do you have to ho and hum around when asked hard questions about what you believe? Are you confused by some of your own church’s doctrines or your own personal interpretation of scripture?

Currently everyone seems to accept Christian Relativism and pass by doctrine and truth for a personal experience to tell them if they have a relationship with the Lord or not. “I know, because I know because I know--the Holy Spirit confirms it in my heart!” (Which is actually what St. Paul says, but confirming it in your own heart and then trying to convey that as absolute truth to another just doesn’t work in today’s world.) Christianity is confused about truth--not individually, but as a group.

However, having written that, we live in an experiential-craving generation so I will toss mine into the grab bag. If nothing else, it
does bring us together in an interpersonal way--a relatable way. And there is a LOT to be said for that--even if doesn’t bring us closer to truth--we can be closer together emotionally.

My EXTREME Trauma of leaving the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

(I am not going to focus on doctrines, but on the experience--if I haven’t made that clear enough earlier.)

As I have written numerous times, I grew up in a very happy, very secure loving, grace-oriented and very liberal Seventh-day Adventist home. I was born near Andrews University while my father was taking theology. (He didn’t finish but ended up becoming a lay SDA minister later in life.)

I loved Jesus from my first thoughts. When I was tiny, I remember thinking that I was going to marry Jesus when I grew up. When I told my mommie, she said I couldn’t do that, so I went to the second best--my dad. Again, mommie said that daddy was already married. That put me in quite the predicament. Who could I marry that was a great as Jesus and daddy? Okay, I figured it out--I would marry the next best thing, my older brother Edmund.

At night I would lay and imagine dancing with Jesus and singing with Him. I pictured the Second Coming. I prayed so hard that I would be able to be alive to see it. I would even go through having bamboo shoots shoved up my fingernails. I would be strong
to death for Jesus’ Sabbath-- for I knew that I would someday have to be put in prison and tortured for the Sabbath truth. When our class read something like Project Sunlight, (I’m not sure that was the book) my fear of the last days went from hoping Jesus would wait to come back just until I got my first kiss to something far more horrible. In the last days, the Catholics would drag my family into court and torture them in front of me to get me to crack and go do church on Sunday! That was a pretty terrifying picture to put into a fifth grader’s imagination! Nevertheless, as creepy as that was, I didn’t ever worry about my or my families’ salvation.

My dad was so liberal as to almost be a universalist. We were not into rules and my parents didn’t guilt us into sabbath regulations. We drank Dr. Pepper, went to movies, wore jewelry, danced--at home for fun. My dad’s music taste was conservative and he wasn’t too fond of the Heritage Singers. But over all, I couldn’t WAIT till Sabbath because I loved church and we would stop and get donuts on the way and go out to eat at a good Mexican food restaurant with friends afterwards. Sabbaths rocked in our house. Our parents made it the funnest of all days!

We grew up attending the Dallas First SDA Church on Central Expressway in Dallas, Texas. The greatest people on planet earth went to that church--Jim Gilley and his family (last I heard he was president of 3ABN taking Danny Shelton’s place), the Rices, Leachs, Martwichs, Hollons, Mary Zeline Winsett, Cunninghams. I grew up hearing Herman Harp and Marvin Ponder sing at church. A lot of the Dallas people went on to be conference “big whigs.” I dated briefly, Pastor of the Loma Linda Church, Randy Roberts.... He will probably deny it. Haa haa! We moved to the “holy city” of Keene, Texas to attend Southwestern Adventist University, but I also attended Southern. I lived in Loma Linda for a while as well as near Hagerstown, MD and near DC--attending the SDA churches there.

I have two degrees from SDA universities (having grown up in their schooling system), I taught children’s church, sabbath school, taught in SDA elementary schools, sang in the choir, wrote for their periodicals. I was president for Adventists For Life for a while. I was as entrenched as an SDA can be and truly loved being Adventist. You see, I was especially blessed by God, I was an
enlightened Adventist. Our intelligent, taboo-shunning version of Adventism was so far superior than those fundamental Adventists hovering around the periphery of truth. You know, those that actually thought Ellen a prophetess and still clung to silly beliefs such as the sanctuary message and the last-day prophecies. We believed in a non-judgmental, non-legalistic Sabbath--a Sabbath that was a blessing! The rest was for--you know--the conspiratorial crowd (we would smile sympathetically but condescendingly.)

I rarely actually met or spoke extensively to these Ellen White banging SDAs--I had just heard they were lurking around---somewhere. Our group was so vocal and prominent at the Dallas church I suppose we intimidated most orthodox Adventists into silence. Once our group migrated out of the Dallas area into Keene (the Collums, and Gilleys, etc) I heard some of the fundamentalists came out of the closet.

As time flowed on, the progressives seemed to be making encouraging inroads. Legalism was out, grace was in. The reason to stay Adventist, besides being socially inculcated, was about the Sabbath. Even the most progressive of us had to admit that was right. Our generation of Adventists was going to move the church into the mainstream, dropping all the weirdities. But that Sabbath was true, so we’d keep that.

There was never a time in my life that I left the faith. I wasn’t rebellious against God even as a teenager and always wanted to serve Him. Bible study and prayer was always a routine for me. There were dry times, but eventually the inspirational times would return. Being a good girl was what I desired in life and I felt a calling to be a pastor’s wife. (Which, after dating many of the SDA theology students, sent me into wild disillusionment about pastors and I decided on a good boy--like Arthur, my husband, instead.)

So when God finally opened my eyes through prayer and Bible studies (it took living in the heartbreakingly dysfunctional city of Keene for twenty years to see what Adventism really looked like through the eyes of believers), I sent in my resignation (2001).

No one hurt me. I loved my church and my culture.

What was traumatic, deeply agonizingly traumatic was the actual leaving part. I kept looking away from the pain of the truth for years. I knew something was innately wrong with Adventist doctrines in 1988, but I thought--well, we had the Sabbath truth. That was enough. The good far outweighs the that makes it alright, right?..... (cringe.) Being a mother and wife kept me busy and who had time to really think and study Adventism through?

Yet the time did come and God called me out. I desperately wanted to cry over my beloved Sodom and Gomorrah--I was so tempted to look back but I didn’t want to turn into a pillar of salt.

Why was leaving so difficult?

Because I had grown up in this precious, wonderful, innocent “Leave it to Beaver” atmosphere. It felt so safe, so right--so Uncle Dan and Aunt Sue--so, “Andy Griffith.” The world outside Adventism was so dark and dangerous with deception lurking around every corner. I didn’t want to leave.

Then there was God. What kind of God could be so unthinkably cruel as to allow such nice, sincere people to be so deceived? Everything I trusted in, my whole world and worldview was submerged, steeped, marinated in and permeated in Adventism. My earliest thoughts had been formed around its paranoia, my hopes and dreams shaped by its restrictions and taboos. Liberal SDA or not, Adventism was the warm and fuzzy fabric of my life. My heart was made secure by its doctrines of what was right and wrong. I happily colored within the Adventists’ lines and the picture was really, really pretty (even if my color choice was shockingly bright for SDA standards!)

But then when I checked Adventist doctrine’s accuracy with the scriptures, the foundation of my life was wiped out. When finally I rejected the false doctrines of Adventism I felt like I had jumped off a cliff into a deep, black hole. I had looked down and realized that underneath what looked like the gentle, protective godly fundamentals of Adventism, was the diabolical smile of the Father of Lies.

How could my parents have bought into it? Was I in the Truman Show or in M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Village? Or better still--was that Rod Serling’s voice I heard and am I a part of an episode of the Twilight Zone? (My husband’s transition out of Adventism was a piece of cake because he had never been a part of it. He had always thought it was insanity and had kept his heart protected by being an Adventist atheist--like many of my generation. He--by the way--is now a believing Christian.)

All those years of participating in mind-numbing circular arguments with the SDA scholars--like an eternal swirl of a toilet flushing never actually going anywhere! Why didn’t God see our zombie-like devotion to a false prophet and our sincere but total brainwashing and rescue us!! Why did we not matter enough to Him to send an angel or earthquake or something to shake us from the stupor of our imbecility? How embarrassing to let such nice people give their lives and hearts over to, to, to such... senseless drivel. And how embarrassing that we actually believed it. Why would a loving God allow that?

Hour upon hour my thoughts drifted through the people in my life--my extended family (many who had been pioneers of Adventism and currently were employed by or had given their lives for the church) and friends. Wave after wave of anguish soaked me through. They had all fallen prey to the deception. Were we all idiots? Oh it was just too unbearable. That veil being torn from my eyes was painful. That's why I think most Adventists never even look towards truth. Better to stay pain-free and oblivious.

I knew too well what happened to people who left or even questioned the SDA church. How they were branded rebels, deceived or “fallen stars.” Their names were whispered and prayed for as if they had done something cosmically shameful. Gentle white-haired widows would be seen, eye’s widened in horror, weeping when a faithful Adventist child would “go astray.” And fervent mid week church meetings were held to pray them back into the fold.

How could I put my family through that? Is the evil of that pain thrust upon them worth the effort of leaving and having to readjust to a new reality? Wouldn’t it be simpler to just love Jesus and stay within the accepted comfort of Adventism and don’t make waves? Isn’t unity more important? Happiness and harmony.... (I thought of the movie
Willy Wonka and Veruca’s mother sitting there knitting, her father popping Rolaids while trying to find a golden ticket.)

After all, out there in non-Adventism land it is worse than inside Adventism. You know, they had a little error mixed with a lot of truth which was, of course, much worse--much more evil than.... a little truth mixed ......with lots of error Adventism.... wait? Was that right? That didn’t make sense and yet that is what many Sabbath School teachers had said to our bright, innocent and gullible eyes through the years. They said that it was the 5% error mixed in with the 95% truth that was the most deceitful. Hmmmm....

No matter what, we had the Sabbath truth.... no matter how many babies our hospitals killed in abortion, no matter how many sexual abuse cases were covered up by the conference, no matter how many despicable things happened at the Adventist academies, no matter how much our SDA church school failed in educational standards, no matter how hypocritical, unloving, negligent or abusive our families were, no matter how dysfunctional and historically innaccurate our doctrine---in the end, none of that mattered for we were sabbatarians. Which, if the Sabbath IS the end times test for Christians, would be a very good argument. However, that is just a pure fantasy of the church’s visionary pioneers which takes a bit of twisting of scripture to arrive at.

One Sunday, my first attempt at going to church with the rest of the Christian world, I pulled down my car mirror and looked for the 666 to be slowly emblazoned on my forehead.

Yes, it was a dark time. Not dark in the sense of evil, but dark in the sense that I didn’t know where I was going. I just knew God was holding my hand and we were fleeing. He didn’t turn on the lights so I could see ahead, He didn’t make the journey pain-free. I was knocked around quite a bit, scuffed up and left bleeding--I felt homesick, church-sick, and heartsick.

Obedience to God is often about being obedient in the dark.

And that my dear friends is my experience of leaving Adventism. I will try and do a part two about finding the church of my dreams but then we will be leaving the experiential and entering the doctrinal which will bore you... even more.....


Jennifer Rector said...

Wow, Teresa!!! Beautifully done (and that's an understatement)! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this and share it with us.

David said...

I left Adventism in the early 80's in the Desmond Ford uproar. My transition from SDA member to Generic Christian was relatively painless. The probable reason was that I was the youngster who sat listening to the sermons in Adventism with a slightly guilty turn of covert skepticism. "I don't think so", or "Preacher, that argument isn't nearly as water-tight as you might think it is" was often my private thought.

Arik said...

It seems clear to me from your'e experience as an Adventist, that really you were not an Adventist at all. The "Adventism" you and your'e family practised was indeed not Adventism at all.

Is it possible that in order to not fall into the fanatical EGW thumping group (which is dangerous) you and your'e family may have went too far left? There are ditches on each side of the path you know?

Anyway, I think that it is not wise to judge Adventism by the way you were raised in it. Personal testimonies should only be judged by the bible, even our experiences can be false and should also be judged by the word of God. You are right about experience trumping doctrine and truth.

There is only one thing that stands against the many well prepared arguments against the Truth, and that is that Truth SANCTIFIES. It is much more than just a mental ascension to Truth. Error can in no way sanctify and will stunt a Christian's growth in Christ! And I am convinced that there was much error in the way you practised the Gospel, especially Sabbath keeping.

A person who has been sanctified by Truth can not be moved from it! no matter how cunning an argument is against it. Sincerity is not a test of Truth or Sanctification as many people mistake it to be. We can be sincerly WRONG!

Only God can judge what is in a persons heart of course, but as I have read your'e book and read your'e arguments against the SDA doctrine you give a window into your'e heart, and I can tell you that you take much, very much indeed, of SDA and especially EGW statements out of context to prove your'e point that SDAism is false. I would think that if what you are saying is true there would be no need to do this. The facts would stand on their own without any help on your'e part to twist them into saying something they do not say.

So in the end all of us must be honest with ourselves and by ourselves ask if the doctrines we believe of Christ make us Sanctified? Do they make us love Christ with all our heart? Do we seek God with a heart that is prepared to go wherever He leads. Being a true Christian today is inconvienent with the world, does our walk put emnity between us and the world? This is where experience can play a role in determining Truth.

Teresa Beem said...

You are correct, our family was at the very periphery of Adventist doctrine, but living in the SDA meccas and having been to many of the little SDA churches around America--I can tell you that most of my generation are closer to the edges than the center of Adventism.

My husband was raised very orthodox. So I have gotten a glimpse into the spectrum.

How one practices Adventist doctrine varies, but how we practiced isn't what made the Lord grab us and flee into mainstream Christianity. It was when I started actually studying the 28 fundamentals of Adventism and comparing them to scripture.

Scriptures taught me that Adventism doesn't have the fullness of the truth and is seeped in many dangerous errors.

You read scriptures through the eyes of your church. That is why it seems logical to you. So there is really no sense in us judging one another. Sincerity is very good and we should all seek God in the most sincere way we can, but sincerity isn't truth.

You cannot prove your interpretation of scripture anymore than I can prove mine. So, what do we do? We have to do the very best research, with prayer and Bible study, and be humble enough to soak in truth.