Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Former Adventists' Journey

Lately, some of my former SDA friends have expressed concerned about me (as my journey with Christ is made public in my blogging and facebook). They believe I am falling back into strident legalism because of my new emphasis on behavior. I can see how they would think that.

Let me clarify by pointing out some stages that most people leaving the Adventist church go through and maybe this will explain my sudden “return” to behavior. This is a lengthy explanation but will also help those outside looking in on how to help former SDAs (killing two birds with one stone.....) So, contrary to all writing standards, this is written to two audiences--formers and never-been Adventists and is really about two different topics: (One day I’ll break it into two posts, for clarity sake. But today I am very tired!)



Stage One: The SDA Refugee

Most Christians misunderstand the needs of an Adventist newly thrown ashore from the theological shipwreck of their church. These Christians are not babes in the faith, they are fully grown and believe in the Bible. They are more stunted by theological abuse, twisted and deformed by false doctrine. They have heroically, daringly jumped ship of a sinking vessel and have endured a terrible emotional trauma of being cast out to sea without food and water.

Many new former Adventists have suffered severe trauma and are in desperate need of 911 Christian help when they are found face down washed up on the beach of mainstream Christianity. They do not, at the moment, need to be “educated” about the Bible. Mostly, they need to feel accepted and nurtured by Christians in other denominations. They are not stupid, nor ignorant, nor scary. They do not have leprosy. They need support and healing.

Many former SDAs have given all to escape what they experienced as a theological prison and often when they walk into another denomination, they are looked at with suspicion or with a total lack of understanding. This of course, is understandable, and I am not criticizing Christians. They just need some education about how to deal with an ever growing situation of discovering former Adventists at their doorstep.

Christians need to listen with love to a former SDA.

There are some Christians who assume that this person was so spiritually mature in order to leave Adventism, that they are ready to pick up the spiritual sword and get into the Christian battle. No, actually, most former SDAs need a nice long vacation from spiritual battles and don’t even need to be aware that there is one. They need to feel the peace of God and the assurance of His love and salvation.

Their entire world has ended, and they need a great deal of time to readjust to a different reality. They need nurture and prayers to heal from the traumatic fear and prejudice indoctrinated into them.

Most former SDAs will go through all the stages of grieving such as denial and isolation. Many SDAs will become atheists, agnostics and shun religious institutions. (Just in case you meet one at the store, rather than in a church setting.) Attempting to “convert” them is not the best thing. Be God to them, love and serve them, do not pressure them to think like you do. Trust that if God lifted the veil of Adventist error that He is leading them in the right direction. Often they will be angry, bitter or depressed. (Not necessarily at people, but at Adventist doctrines.)

The transition, no matter how close they are in their personal relationship to Christ, is difficult and this grieving is going to cause a lot of stress. Be gentle, understanding. Often the former SDA will be experiencing spiritual elation and the joy of an exodus from enslavement and at the same time feeling the trauma of their worldview crashing around them. Patient listening is crucial.

Every former SDA goes through this stage in different time frames. It took my husband about ten seconds. The stage was in the rearview mirror before he even had time to experience it. For me, I loved being an Adventist and put my whole soul and heart into it, so it took me a couple years. For those who experienced abuse within Adventism, this stage may be a lifetime of struggle.

Christians who have never been through this need to be very careful not to say to a former, “just get over it and get on with your life.” Spiritual abuse leaves deep wounds, especially if someone were raised within the Adventist school system. Just consider it a miracle that anyone ever escapes and know that where ever a person ends up, it is going to be healthier than where they were. If you see a former not “progressing” in the faith as quickly as you think they should be, pray for them and keep your mouth shut. Again, for people spiritually abused, don’t tell them about God, be God to them. Be love, be mercy, be the humble servant. Spiritually abused people need actions, not words. They do not trust words.

Stage Two: Citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven

At some point, the former SDA will acclimate to a new reality and the fear will subside. Often formers will seek a new identity. Not all will be convinced that Christianity has the right answers. Many become Jews or a Jewish hybrid. Some will give up on religion and spirituality. But the majority will join a mainstream Protestant denomination.

Surprises, wonderment, awe fills these new citizens of heaven. They will often be so excited about their newfound freedom that they will want to tell their SDA family and friends about this heaven they are living. Which will probably hurt.... for they will be perceived as the enemy and deceived by their former family and friends. (This can cause temporal confusion--maybe even panic attacks, and at this stage, formers will run back to scripture--just to make sure they read it correctly.)

Most former Adventists are in the beginning of feeling spiritually healthy, or at least on the road to recovery. Their theological footing will become more secure in their relationship to Christ and their salvation. They will probably read the Bible with renewed interest and joy.

Stage Three: Responsible Citizenship

By this stage, Formers Adventists who transitioned into mainstream Christianity are at peace with their background. They realize that being SDA was a step in their journey used by God to help them be better Christians. They can see both the good and bad in their former church. They are able to distinguish between the SDA people and the doctrine and are able to see that there is some truth in Adventism without detonating an internal theological explosion. But they also are now leaving their defensiveness and gaining utter confidence in truth and they are at ease discussing the dangerous and unbiblical doctrines of Adventism too. They feel the distance between themselves and their former church and can calmly rationally see the distinguishing marks between their old church and the Bible. In short, they are theologically confident. They are becoming educated about other Christians and now have a grasp on whether they are four-point Calvinists or are Pentecostals and why.

Now, former Adventists don’t like to be called former Adventist. They now identify with their new denomination. They are ready to do more than just receive God’s goodness and love. They are now spiritually filled--healthy enough to give back and contribute to other Christians and to the gospel.

Now they can see the Bible for more than just ways to discredit their old beliefs. And, secure in their salvation, can begin looking without fear at the process of sanctification. Sin, true sin (not the sins paraded out by Adventists--such as drinking coffee or breaking sabbath or eating pork)--sins of the New Covenant are understood. Now it is about responsible citizenship inside the Kingdom.



I am in this third stage. There are other stages that I have not yet reached, so I really can’t speak with much authority on those more spiritually mature than myself. I’ll let you know when I get there and I will be keeping my ears open for those of you who can advise me on road conditions ahead.

But let me tell you the when this stage dawned upon me--the exact moment. Arthur, my husband, and I were high upon Mt. Rainier in Washington, with white snow melting all around our feet when we paused in our hike to catch my breath (as I was always the one needing it, not Arthur).

God sent a young park ranger to ask us how we were doing, as there were still some dangerous conditions on the slopes with ice and avalanches. We got to talking and he told us that he was a former Mormon, now agnostic.

What he said dropped down into my soul and clicked into position. Yeah, he was right on. His words pulled together some things that just hadn’t really made sense before.

He told us that Christianity made no difference in anyone’s life. His parents had gotten a divorce, lived perfectly self-centered lives and were no more moral than any atheist he knew. What’s the point? If you are going to say that Christianity makes your life better, where was the evidence? No, to this guy, Christianity was an empty suit. Just a bunch of people trying to get more people to join them in being hypocrites.

For a second, my defenses were up. Hey, we are at least saved aren’t we? Come on.... don’t be so judgmental. We’re all sinners....

He shrugged off my attempts at explaining grace and the gospel to him. He’d heard it all before. What was the point of trying to be good, when you can’t? What’s the point of trying to get people into a religion that just puts a lot of restrictions on you that you can’t keep and just makes you feel guilty. He didn’t like the Christians he’d encountered. Who wants to be like them?

That conversation make me think in a new way. It opened up to me with stunning clarity the fallacy of theological legalism. And I realized the confusion of those who preach righteousness by faith and reject the works of genuine sanctification.

My generation has thrived in a type of ego-centric spirituality. We think Christianity is all about getting saved and then telling others about how to get saved. But our methods have fallen on deaf ears because we have remained in ego-centric spirituality. We spread a theoretical Christianity that we don’t actually live.

We live that we are saved without works, we live faith alone, we live that the sins in our lives really don’t matter because we have assurance. That has become the needed foundation for our generation. While that may make us feel happy and at peace, it doesn’t tell the world about the merciful and powerful Jesus we serve.

In the end, when our sins don’t matter, when our sanctification by grace has no power to change us and make us holier, we can’t give anyone else anything but an empty religion.

When we have been justified by faith, we need to then press on to sanctification so that the world can see some Christian heroes. Our sanctification is primarily for others, not for ourselves.

When we live a Christianity that is apathetic to sin, when we take living holy casually, we are saying sin isn’t really a bid deal. In the end, if we convince each other that our actions, our behaviors don’t matter, we are saying that people don’t matter.

When Christians fornicate, live together, divorce, have abortions, lie, steal, covet, live for wealth, live selfishly, then there is nothing to Christianity. It isn’t real. It has no power. So, for the youth who looks at us, what is the point of being Christian? An afterlife? Hell? They really don’t care. They need something now, something tangible that makes sense in this life. They need some proof and we are not giving them any.

From the Stage Three Perspective

What you are seeing in my writings is stage three. And it would have really freaked me out to have read someone writing this in stage one and two. I have not changed from my belief that we cannot earn our way to heaven. I am not teaching works. Actually, the New Testament spends a whole lot of time on behavior and surely you do not think they are saying we earn our way to heaven by works of the law? No way. I just now am better understanding the necessity of behaving like Christ for the sake of others. I am learning to step back from the narrow me-centric obsession with my salvation and dwell on the sacrifices I should now willing make so that others may see Jesus.

Sorry if I have been writing from the confusing perspective of stage three when so many of my former SDA friends are entering stage one, where I am probably needed most. And I also may be speaking from a very different perspective from many of you who may be in stage seven or eight. I’ll get there.... pray for me.

And one more apology. I know this will seem arrogant, thinking I am saying--”hey, you’ll progress spiritually like me one day...” However, I am not seeing any stage as better or closer to Christ than the others, more like a markers on a hike where different points-of-interest lay.

It is just nice to be aware of the healing process of former SDAs... so we can be there for each other with an understanding heart.


Peggy Ann said...

poor you

Teresa Beem said...

Peggy Ann,
Non sequitur... What do you mean by "poor you?"

Timothy Ecord said...

Scripturally your breakdown of the Seventh-day Adventist Church breaking the Ten Commandments is rife with unfounded assertions that are mis-used in the context of what they are intended for. With your first example you are quoting from E.G. White regarding a period following the 2300 days. Let's just clarify one point, God is Omnipresent, God can be on His throne AND in the holy of holies. God is One with the Son and the Holy Spirit. If you follow what is said in John 1:1-5, then examine John 1:14 you will find out Jesus is the 'Word in flesh', He is the Ten Commandments, the Ten Commandments are His, and His people will keep them at the end of time according to Revelation 12:17 and Revelation 14:12. Let's deal with the quote shown directly after your supposition of the Seventh-day Adventist Church breaking the Ten Commandments. You start with the first commandment, and make a claim that the SDA Church places the Ten Commandments above God, so in some way this is commandment worship of some kind, therefore a form of idol worship. I can assure you that is complete nonsense. We as Seventh-day Adventist only accept the Ten Commandments as a way to show obedience to our Heavenly Father. Then if you look at the example shown, there really is no connection to the commandments referenced in it, so it is quite likely you intended this to support some other imagined blight you have found concerning Seventh-day Adventist worship and the beliefs that they hold. Also, as a point of clarification, we do not hold E.G. White's writings and prophecies above Scripture. I have seldom spent much time reading her writings, and never use it to support any belief I have in Jesus. I don't dislike her readings, and I remember when I was given a copy of Early Writings, the first night I read straight through the first 90 pages and really enjoyed it. If you examine any correspondence I have shared on your blogs, I have been careful to only use thought based solely in Scripture. I do have an understanding of her writings to some degree, since while I was not a Theology major, I did take a couple of upper-level Theology classes, including Apocalyptic Studies taught by Elder Burr. That class does use mostly Scripture's taken from Daniel and Revelation, but also uses E.G. White and other writings of those instrumental in forming the basis of the '2300 days prophecies'. The Ten Commandments can not represent 'have no other god's before Me...' for they are God in the Flesh, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' If you examined John Chapter 1, when I shared it earlier, this will be crystal clear. If there is still a cloud of doubt, then wear out the carpet with your knees bent in prayer until it comes into focus. Iv'e covered quite a bit just answering the first charge of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, so I will take a break, and see if you respond, or even post this response. I won't waste pixels on futility. You did after all state this web page to be open to Adventist, as well as former Adventist, so eventually someone might take up the banner, and try to give some insight as to how you are being received by someone who is truly bound, as a bond-servant to Christ, grounded firm to the One and Only True Rock.

Teresa Beem said...

I am pretty sure you meant your comments for another post. Maybe one that dealt with the Ten commandments? Could you let me know so I can reply? Thanks, Teresa