Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
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....
Monday, April 4, 2011
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 false...so 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 .....like 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.....