Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Celebrating the First Ten Years

The first decade of living and worshipping with mainstream Christianity is now behind us and life after Adventism deserves some honest reflection and even a celebration. Though we had been harboring doubts for decades before our official resignation letter, we didn’t really plunge full-hearted into the complete body of Christ, in all its various denominations, until 2001. 
But when we plunged, we plunged with gusto and embraced all the wonderful Christians out there by visiting every mainstream Christians church we could fit into a week. With careful planning often we could get to three different services on Sunday and at least one Wednesday night. There were even services on Saturday evening at some churches. We spent eight years worshipping and researching every denomination from Assemblies of God (Pentecostal), Disciples of Christ, Methodist, Lutheran, Calvinist--and all their different liberal and conservative branches to Anglican, Orthodox and Catholic. It was gloriously freeing!
What an adventure it has been! Even referring to ourselves as “former SDA” seems alien now since today our life as Adventists seems a blurry distant dream.
Yesterday, Arthur and had a conversation about life after Adventism that I would like to share with those of you who are thinking about leaving or have left. I pray you will follow God’s faith journey and will find true peace and joy. I tried to type the conversation as close as it was to being actually said. Sorry about the grammar and stream-of-consciousness.
Extravagant Transformation
We asked each other a pyramid of five questions, starting with the bottom up. Here are our answers. In the past decade since leaving Adventism: 
How has your relationship to other Christians changed?
 Arthur: There isn’t that us against them attitude we all experienced in the Adventist culture. There is no more fear of those who go to church on Sunday. And I think I was shocked to find out that non-Adventists didn’t really care about us. Nobody was focusing on Adventists, planning our demise. No one else in mainstream Christianity has the remnant-hood complex. Lutherans accept Methodists and Presbyterians don’t look at Baptists like they are lost. They have their differences, but they are all accepting of each other as real Christians. There is no paranoia. 
There is freedom to love without fear. There is freedom to have vehement disagreements and still love each other. 
Teresa: I just love that now I can feel in unity with my brothers and sisters in Christ in all churches. There is no more elitism or pride. The freedom I feel is so wonderful because now I don’t have this subconscious fear and judgmentalism against other Christians. If they go to church on Saturday or Sunday or any day of the week, I know God is pleased. He wants our worship any day, anytime. No more lines in the sand.

And the weird thing is as liberal as we are now--we drink wine and I wear jewelry, we dance together and you occasionally have a cigar, we are much more conservative than we ever were! Even though we are relaxed in our faith, we understand the horrors of what is truly sin much clearer than before. Now we know that real sin is about hurting others and failing to love. It is not about drinking coffee or coke. The New Covenant doesn’t have things like “touch not this or that.” In the New Covenant those are man-made traditions. Knowing what is actually sin--what God requires of us--is so much more clear and merciful now. And that makes my relationship to other Christians based on love and not fear. 
Arthur: Going to church... I just didn’t do it after leaving my parents’ house. I was a SDA atheist really. Church to me had been a confusing weaving and bolstering of remnant teachings. To me, it was much more than just what was said. It was this unspoken body gestures--eye brow raising--oh, you know, those unspoken threats of alienation and death if you didn’t do things their way. Now I feel like I have a very good healthy view of church. I went from the SDA plastic-kid’s-pool church to jumping into the Mariana Trench which is bottomless and deep--that type of church experience. 
Teresa: I guess I didn’t have that... because I always loved church. But I did notice, after leaving our Dallas First SDA church that when our family moved to Keene there was this strange Adventist subculture that was very different than the Adventism I had known. I also saw it in other predominately Adventist towns we have lived in. Adventists are afraid to have pain or admit their sufferings to others. There is this pretense of trying to look more together than others in a spiritual sense. To be honest I still see a little bit of that in other denominations, but it is really predominant in Adventism. 
In Keene, there is this need to be cool and if kids and leaders don’t reject Adventism all together and leave, then there is this contest to see if they can be “cool, edgy” about their beliefs. They make a big deal about rejecting certain old-fashioned beliefs--such as the Investigative Judgement and legalistic Sabbath keeping. They will eat shrimp in front of you, but they want to make sure everyone knows that they are still the remnant, just the hip, culturally-relevant and liberal SDA. 
Arthur: Yeah, that wasn’t me at all. A decade ago--I think I knew even as a kid that  Ellen White had a mental imbalance that was transferred to the entire church. I saw that they were trying to reach out and grab a piece of immortality by being the remnant. I think the whole church is still mentally ill--I think that even more so today as I look at them. Adventism creates crazy people or closet atheists who show up to church. Those are the ones trying not to be crazy. 

You become panicked because you know something is sick here, desperately wrong, but you can’t identify it. You hear all the arguments for Adventism and you walk away feeling like they outsmarted you, but you aren’t convinced. God is pulling you on the other side but you don’t know how to clearly articulate it.

Now the panic is over and there is no fear of their intimidation. I can love them confidently knowing the clear reasons I left. They can’t trip me up because I know scripture now and I know why I left.

I can tell you that any distance you get from Adventism you begin to experience peace and you will quickly see that their doctrines become non-issues in your Christian life. 
Adventism is like a narcotic high, you know,-- being the “chosen remnant.” It is a kind of a psychotic paranoia. Once the narcotics wear off you can see clearly and that locked room of logic is opened up and fresh air gets in and you clean it out..... and then peace.

Adventism made me anti-church before, for a long time I was a religious anarchist. But today going to mass, I cannot wait! Celebrating the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) means I am perfect, I am forgiven! Before going to church was about a good sermon, which for me were always boring, or about socializing and I didn’t particularly want to socialize with Adventists. Now the focus is totally on Christ, we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection that saved mankind. Now it is about the power of the Cross. Church isn’t play to me now. 
Leaving the SDA church, it turns out Ellen White’s predictions were the opposite. Instead of leaving the truth and then giving up sabbath and then becoming atheist, I was an Adventist who found out the doctrines were crazy, found out that Christ is our Sabbath and we live in it everyday when we are in Christ. It made me ecstatic--it made sense. That you could read the Bible and believe what it said. You didn’t have to read the Bible and then do all this conjuring in order to make it make sense. So it was the complete opposite. I went to Christ leaving Adventism. 

How has your relationship with your extended family changed? 
Arthur: All spiritual conversations have ceased with my Adventist family and friends. There is this 800 lbs. spiritual gorilla in the room. They don’t want to get into any discussions about us leaving because they don’t know how to defend what they believe in. Adventists aren’t trained to be apologists.  
It is cold and distant. I feel like anything we do out of love for them is inspected, they are suspicious that we are trying to proselytize them. 
It’s hard because we do not relate to them, there is so much change. It has been exhausting and shattering to go through all this change, but it is exhilarating too.
Teresa: My family wasn’t orthodox like your Arthur, so, I think even though they are hurt and can’t understand, we still talk. We just avoid talking about certain subjects.... We stick to something far less polemical---politics!  I do feel like you do. The changes we have been through--fundamental worldviews and theology.... It is so distancing and that it hard. We don’t think alike anymore.

How has your relationship with your children changed?
Arthur: It’s more relaxed. Before I wasn’t really a father--It was kind of a neutral position. I feel like a father now. I am able to love them now. 
Teresa: I don’t think my relationship with the kids has changed. They all left Adventism too and they are so glad for it. We left as a family and we now are so free. You have these awesome male-bonding nights where you go out with the boys (who are now men) and drink a glass of port and smoke a cigar and philosophize--a kind of Beem Inklings night, which I think is so amazing. I love to see how our whole family has grown and spiritually matured together. We have so much fun as a family now. I am not at all worried about our kids spiritually. It is so peaceful--no more paranoia of world events and coming persecution (no matter how peripheral it was in my thinking....). 
In a way, and our kids might never fully understand it, we are their heroes. We had the courage to get them out of all of that convoluted thinking. More than anything--that alone is worth all the trauma of the change. Our kids will not have to be confined to living a false belief. We led them out like Moses! 

How has your relationship with your spouse changed? 
Arthur: Only one word can describe it: miraculous. More than any other person on earth, that relationship has changed the most. This is where the difference going from Adventist to Catholic is the most dramatic. 
In Adventism I was taught that sex was a necessary evil, maybe something to “hee hee” about and feel guilty about. Catholicism celebrates sex and children and the unity of God the Trinity and men and women and children. God commanded us to go out and be fruitful and multiply. Marriage is good and children are good. 
There is a true intimacy that goes way beyond physical contact.
Sex is to marriage as the Eucharist is to the salvation of all mankind. It is declared through God throughout the universe. Sex was commanded, declared from the moment of creation, and the Eucharist (the Lord’s supper) is declared every time you go into mass. It is the living Christ. It is so counter cultural.

We are living in this culture of death that demonizes having sex the right way and having kids. The Lord violently punished Israel when they practiced the evil of the nations around them--and their culture of death. The SDA church is pro-choice and they make abortion an irrelevant issue. There seems to be no pity. In the end, they don’t really care about any non-SDAs because they are “out there--the unsaved.” Just proselytize them not for love but religious obligation.

Off topic, but I didn’t have a conversion experience until I rejected Adventism. And there would never, ever be any temptation to return. Absolutely none. It is not biblical. It is confusion and convoluted. Ellen White knew if you escaped you’d see how disturbed the SDA doctrine is. You can’t be brothers with other denominations because they would refute you by logic, the Bible and history and there would be no chance then you would return to the Adventist church. 
Teresa: Since we are drifting from the question and you already answered it better than I could, let’s go on to the final one: 

How has your relationship with God changed? 
Arthur: Well, I’m not afraid of science. I am not afraid to question anything about Him. The SDA church intimidated you into never questioning as if questioning the religion was dangerously playing with hell. Now I know God is omnipotent. Truth can be challenged, openly questioned. It is wonderfully freeing to question even the Bible and God. It is okay to question. There is logic in the Bible, God is logical. Adventism isn’t logical. 
My perfectionism is gone. Look at St. Peter’s mistakes in front of Christ himself! I always thought that if you were in the presence of Christ, you wouldn’t sin. Now I can admit my faults, repent  and ask forgiveness then grow from them. I don’t have any of that puritanical thinking that is in Adventism. If you are keeping rules for salvation you are not inclined to admit your are in pain. You have this idea that you should always say your happier and healthier than everyone else. Even if your bodies are healthier, (your spirit and mind aren’t.)
When I was Adventist I thought the idea of God was good. You know, it was a good idea on paper--like Santa Claus. Now I know God is a living-breathing eternal God that saves all men who chose Him. My heart has been opened up. It is an exciting way of thinking. God has gone from hard-hearted to a Lord who has poured out so many miracles on me--and I am like a sponge! Miracles and things I didn’t even know that I needed to know. He is a God of power now, a God I respect. He isn’t a good idea, He is the great I AM. 
Any final thoughts?
Arthur: There are no final thoughts. For the first time, there are just beginning thoughts. We’re allowed to think--no, we are expected to think. It is wonderful when we look at the things that Christ expected us to look at--not invented things. 
And something else:
People always go astray and mess up and people do good things. Don’t look at people. Look at the doctrines. Look at what the church stands for. Nobody is questioning whether Adventists are nice or not. There are lots of nice people who are willing to slit your throat because of their doctrine. Look at doctrine. 
Where does Adventist doctrine lead you to. To Daniel and Revelation, the health message, the sabbath. Everything about Catholicism leads you straight to Christ. 
Teresa: I am ready to never think about Adventism again. I don’t want to have a 20-year after-Adventism celebration. I want that whole way of thinking to disappear from my memory and I can ask “Adventism, what’s that?” But that is really not being thankful to God for where He has brought me. We were born into her for the purpose of glorifying God just like the blind man was born blind so that the world could see God’s miracle of healing. There was a purpose that we were taken through Adventism, but I am so so endlessly thankful that God gave us the grace to continue our faith journey into a fuller understanding of His salvation, His Cross and His Kingdom.


bobj said...

Great comments, A and T. It's been eight years for us since formally leaving adventism. Without going into details, it was one of the best decisions we've ever made. Like yours, our kids are also free, rejoicing in the Lord. They saw our struggle with adventism and our determination to know the truth and to follow it regardless of the cost. Seriously, what would you trade for the love and deep respect of your kids and grandkids? So when I say it was one of the best decisions of our lives, it really was. We are free forever in the Lord Jesus Christ!

Teresa Beem said...

Thanks Bob! There are thousands out there with the same feelings. Wish we could get them all to post here!