My story began in the heart of a "Seventh-day Adventist Ghetto", Takoma Park, Maryland. My extended family on both sides is loaded with multi-generation SDA pastors, educators, and administrators. For me to ultimately exit the SDA church was tantamount to a child being born in Salt Lake City to the Young or Smith family, then discovering the truth about and leaving Mormonism.
I graduated from an SDA grade school, attended an SDA academy, and spent a year at an SDA college. Until I was 25, I lived within walking distance of an SDA school and church. My neighbors and friends were almost all SDA. Growing up in this exclusive environment inculcated me fully into all the fundamental SDA beliefs, and I was especially trained to accept everything that Ellen G. White had written on every subject of everyday life. I learned that questioning her was tantamount to questioning God. I accepted the entire SDA message and was baptized in an SDA sanctuary at the age of twelve.
I found comfort in knowing that I was a member of God's remnant church. He was leading us to Heaven just as He led the Israelites to Canaan. The SDA church was the modern Jewish nation, and it felt nice to have such an exclusive understanding of God and be the only channel for His last-day messages to the world. We were the final, ultimate expression of the reformation! Our theology and understanding of the Bible and the Gospel was more complete and superior to all others whom I had been taught were really rebellious, deceived, and lost underneath their otherwise sincere Christian exteriors. I learned that there would be non-Adventists from the past in heaven, but that in the time of trouble only people who kept the Sabbath and who were true to every facet of the SDA message that Jesus showed EGW in visions would be saved. We were able to judge other Christians based on what God had shown EGW, and not by their fruit. I learned to distrust my instincts and judgment in favor of what she had written on a particular subject. We just knew that our denomination contained the people God favored above all others no matter how consecrated, peaceful, joyful, and "Christ-centered" any other "Christian" appeared. We knew that since they didn't keep the Sabbath they were just whitewashed tombs. I learned that Billy Graham was preaching an incomplete Gospel. Christians in the last days needed to keep the Sabbath to mark them as servants of the Creator. We were taught that when the going got tough and it certainly would any day now those same non-Sabbathkeeping so-called Christians would maliciously turn and try to kill us for our Sabbath beliefs.
Throughout my childhood I faced much cognitive dissonance, but learned to write it off as the cost of not being as holy as I should be. I thought my inability to follow all the policies and procedures of Christian living that God showed EGW was costing me understanding. I felt that if only I could better represent the remnant, if only I could conquer these nagging burdens of sin in my life, then God could reveal to me the hidden wisdom behind the apparent theological inconsistencies. I couldn't understand why we wouldn't baptize a smoker or a drinker, and I wasn't satisfied with the explanation given by my father, an SDA Bible teacher. He said it would be irresponsible to baptize someone who wouldn't repent of their sins. He and my mother were privileged to have been baptized yet they were still sinning every day. Something didn't add up. I thought this was pinnacle of hypocricy. But I trusted his experience, and my church. I wondered if I had lost my salvation because I had started smoking and drinking after I was baptized. Another time my brother-in-law was denied baptism because he refused to remove his wedding ring. Yet the pastor wore a nice watch, drove a luxury car, and his wife wore a gaudy pin in her hair every Sabbath. These kind of theological conundrums tormented me endlessly. But because God had spoken directly to us through EGW, the theology written in her "red books" certainly wasn't the basis of my misunderstanding. It must be because I was such a dreadful sinner that God was withholding the blessing He had given other, more faithful SDAs. I blamed myself for lack of victory and understanding, and kept trying to behave more righteously the way all good SDAs were supposed to. I determined that I needed to repent of smoking and drinking so that I would not lose my salvation. However, I had become hopelessly addicted to nicotine and could not quit no matter how hard or how often I tried. I despaired in my hopeless condition and had no security in my salvation in Jesus. Besides cigarettes, I was not living up to all the other "precious light from the throne" given us through EGW's ministry. I ate butter, cheese, eggs, and sometimes meat even unclean meat. I drank water with meals and snacked occasionally. I didn't guard the edges of the Sabbath and skipped tithing from time to time. I went to movies occasionally. I had played cards. Guilt, shame, frustration, and despair marked my spiritual journey for many years.
I found that no amount of effort made any difference. I would have a few "good" days, but eventually some pesky temptation would trip me up and I would move back to square one. I was in a spiritual death spiral. I still had desires to sin and lived with fearful expectation that God would not save me until I overcame them. This limp in my walk with God was agonizing and I kept trying to clear it up through "better" behavior ("better" as defined by EGW).
Finally, after years of this cycle of trying to be holy then always finding myself as unholy as I was before, I simply gave up on pleasing God. I walked (some would say ran) away from Him as far as I could. My reasoning was that I was just not meant to walk the walk of a righteous SDA so I might as well live the life I wanted since it was all I would get.
Yet deep inside my soul, I still felt the inescapable presence of God. Somehow I still knew that God loved me and wanted better for me. But I had no idea how to take hold of Him. The SDA-slash-EGW path was the only path I knew, and I knew that it was the only path to God in the last days. I was utterly hopeless to take hold of the Savior who kept knocking on the door of my heart. I was miserable in my conscience. I was the chief of all sinners, having a burning desire for God, and yet unable to reach Him.
It was then that I hit bottom. I knew that God was all-powerful and so I simply cried out to Him for mercy. I begged Him to either save me or leave me alone. I told Him that I couldn't find a way to please Him but that I felt Him still reaching out to me, and that I accepted his presence in my heart and in my life. Still blinded spiritually, I understood this to mean that he would empower me to be a better SDA than ever before. I had been taught that the Gospel since 1844 meant accepting Jesus PLUS the "special truths" He gave to EGW. Acceptance would result in God empowering the person to live a holy life. That is what would sustain me through the time of trouble when I would have to stand before God without Jesus' mediation.
Was I in for the shock of my life! Rather than fortify my ability to be a faithful Seventh-day Adventist, it seems that God immediately did everything He could to prevent that from happening. Someone emailed me information about websites with powerful evidence against EGW's claims. I had heard about "heretics" Walter Rea and Desmond Ford and figured that these sites were supportive of their positions and, as such, could not contain real truth. Then simply out of curiosity and boredom, I began to research some of the links in the email. I went to www.formeradventist.com, www.ellenwhite.org, and www.truthorfables.com. Especially disturbing to my foundation of SDA beliefs was the essay "New Covenant Christians" at www.graceplace.org. The amount of cognitive dissonance I had before visiting the links increased exponentially as I visited one after another. I found that I was not able to concentrate on anything else but finding out the truth about EGW and SDAism. I devoured every word I could find on the subject, from both sides. Over the course of two years, I read thousands of pages both for and against SDAism and EGW, as well as nearly everything attributed to her pen.
During my research I received a call out of the blue from an SDA seminary-trained associate pastor from the SDA church I had attended. After explaining to him that I had significant unresolved issues relative to SDAism, he confessed that he too had been struggling with similar issues. This was a real eye-opener to me. If a well-trained, well-behaved, well-reputed pastor in the church was struggling with the same cognitive dissonance I had, maybe my questions really were valid after all, and they needed be asked and answered. I came to realize that the burden of proof was on SDAism to validate its claims, and not on Christianity at-large to prove those claims false. Then, when I started finding sensible answers to my theological questions on the non-SDA websites, and only weak or convoluted ones on the pro-SDA websites, I began to see that these issues bothered me, him, and many others for good reason. The SDA church was not able to provide the hard evidence necessary to support their claims. The best they could provide was fancy, complex allegorical explanations that proved nothing beyond their ability to provide many words and few evidences.
Concurrent with my fresh look into Seventh-day Adventism, I began come into some resources that actually helped me deal with some of the sins I had been struggling with. These weren't Seventh-day Adventist resources either. They were sponsored by "apostate Protestant" churches. Part of me was still very afraid that I was being deceived, but all I knew was that what these people said actually worked! God was beginning to give me the victory I had been asking Him for my entire life, but completely opposite of the way I expected. I began to look at God in an entirely new light. It was apparent that I really didn't know much about Him at all and that I should humble myself very quickly and very deeply and just let God come to me on His terms rather than the other way around. I was so happy to have some victory that I really didn't care what the ultimate source was, even if it was deception after all. The "lies" were clearing up my problems in this life, even if I was going to hell in the next.
As I dug deeper into the evidence presented on the various websites, I had to keep from falling out of my chair at times. I found the Camden vision that the founders had deleted from EGW's writings in which she said Jesus told her not to pray for the enemies of SDAism. That is opposite of Jesus' own words telling us to pray for our enemies. No wonder the founders had deleted it from her early writings! Somebody had to be wrong, either EGW or Jesus. The light finally went on over my head and I realized that IT HAD ALL BEEN BASED ON LIES. By definition, it had to be from the father of lies. It became crystal clear to me that Ellen White was no kind of prophet except a false one. It followed that the Seventh-day Adventist church was not the remnant church, but a cult. The inevitable conclusion was that everything I needed to know about the Sabbath could be found only in the Bible. This was very important to me. I had already decided that anything that could not be documented with only a Bible had to be thrown out of my theology. A contextual reading of Deuteronomy 5, coupled with a responsible reading of Galatians makes it obvious that the heretofor "eternal" law of God the ten commandments were only from the foot of Mt. Sinai to the foot of the cross where Jesus cried out "it is finished!" It is easy to prove, even to a child, from Scripture ALONE.
I realized that I had never come to Jesus Christ. I had only come to His shadow. My parents simply put me in the pew of their particular church and told me that was where Jesus was, and warned me that He could not be found anywhere else. I trusted them so I believed them. Then they put all these shadows in front of me that obscured Him, boiled His Gospel down to a behavioral checklist, and robbed me of the eternal security that was rightfully mine in Him. They didn't realize it, but that is exactly what they did. Once I realized this, I experienced the new birth. I accepted Jesus and ONLY Jesus as my personal Savior and Lord. I asked Him to protect me from the spirit of deception rampant in SDAism and all false gospels, and to lead me into all truth. He replaced the spirit of deception by filling me instead with His Holy Spirit Who testifies to my spirit every day that Jesus not His shadow - is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I asked Him to replace His shadow with His presence. No shadow can ever substitute for having the actual One present!
I am saddened by how deceived and misled I was for so long, and that this clever deception is still being fostered on millions of people around the globe. I feel that I and millions like me have been cheated out of the grace and peace Jesus died to give us. But I have learned that Jesus redeems all our apparent waste and turns it into precious gold. Today, my heart aches for my family who remain in bondage to EGW and blinded to Jesus Christ. I pray that He will lead them to replace their misplaced faith in His shadow and instead direct their full faith to Him.
Like Dr. Martin Luther King, I too have a dream I have a dream that all Seventh-day Adventists will go back to the cross. Let them not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the Christian dream. I have a dream that one day the SDA church will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed --- "Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves to the law and the sons of those who kept them in slavery to the law will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a desert church sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of grace and peace. I have a dream that my little daughter will one day go to a church where she will not be judged by the day she worships but by the One she worships. I have this dream today.
Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I am free at last!
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