I am the daughter of an SDA pastor, who is the son of an SDA pastor who was the son of a devout SDA layperson who heard E.G. White speak. That would make me a fourth generation SDA except for one blessed thing: the gracious intervention of Jesus who would not leave me alone until I could experience the intimacy with Him I so desparately needed and sought after. In order to experience this love and freedom in Christ, I had to break step with previous generations by disassociating myself from Seventh-Day Adventism. Here is how it happened.
As a small child on my mom's lap, I can still visualize the evangelistic meetings my father sponsored from his rural SDA church. The images of the beasts and the talk of the bomb and how Christ must come soon or we will all destroy ourselves. Then the fear of that heavenly judgment of the righteous. I figured Jesus must have gotten to the "S's" in the heavenly books by now as over a hundred years had passed since he started judging (1844 to 1954). I felt I was always begging Jesus to forgive me for something, anything, just so I could experience some security. But that prayer was not to be answered until decades later.
I attended SDA schools from first grade through graduate school, including boarding academy and SDA college. My second year of college was spent in an SDA college in Austria where expectations were even more rigid than I had experienced in the U.S. but they weren't the same expectations. Since I had tried to please authority most of my life, this was very disconcerting. In Europe, attending movies was OK with God but not in America. In Europe it was wrong to miss prayer meetings on Wednesday night, but not in America. European SDA's ate meat, even in their schools! The God I longed to know and experience more intimately was breaking out of the mold I had for Him.
When I returned to America, which I also saw with new eyes, I began to question everything and decided to dis-engage all beliefs and start reconstructing them one at a time. I became very interested in C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. I decided I was definately a Christian, though I had considered Eastern thought, but was an SDA Christian only by default because I had to plant my Christianity somewhere. It was easy from that frame of reference to toss out Ellen White when the news broke of her plagarism. Getting into the intellectual and philosophical ideas of Christianity gave me a false sense of freedom from legalism. I drank in the heady discussions and for several years, even organized home discussions based on philosophical matters related to Adventism. But my heart was still starving. The ideas related to the moral influence theory of the atonement supported by Dr. Jack Provonsha and Dr. Graham Maxwell added to my headiness. This doctrine was never officially endorsed by the church but was strangely tolerated during the years I lived in Loma Linda, while things less central to the gospel were quickly squelched.
Then I befriended an old man that I miss terribly to this day, Dr. Edward Heppenstall. For over 50 years, he was a leading SDA seminary professor and church pastor. He and his wife took me in and treated me like their own daughter. I spent many week-ends in their home in Carmel, talking with him and traveling with them as he spoke in small churches. When he spoke, I always seemed to know God better and on a more personal level. I began to have hope that I could know God personally and have assurance of His Presence in my life. I even got interested in my own personal Bible study and was amazed that the Apostle Paul and Dr. Heppenstall sounded so much alike. He and Margit told me that I should be warned that the denomination considered them to be heretics. I remember the smiles on their faces. He was retired and it didn't seem to bother him. He was still on fire with love of the scriptures and knew the church needed to do some serious self-examination to measure up to the Bible. Dr H. is the one who set me straight about what happened at the cross so I could see the falsehood in the moral influence theory of the atonement. He also taught me that the Investigative Judgment was a false doctrine. I had already discredited any beliefs I thought were based on Ellen White, but failed to realize how much of my understandings had come from her instead of the Bible. Sometimes when trying to recall something I had memorized, I couldn't even remember if it was Ellen White or the Bible. Still I bought the argument that the foundations of the church had been established first on the scriptures and not on Ellen White so in my mind I was still an Adventist without needing to accept Mrs. White.
The doctrine of the State of the Dead became a non-issue for me when I heard Dr. Tony Campolo speak at Loma Linda about how God is outside the dimension of time altogether. There seemed no point to arguing if a person were with God or in the grave. That was a "time bound" concept.
Many of my friends left the church and became disinterested in spiritual things. Some remained Adventists but claimed their allegiance was based on belonging to a cultural group and not to a belief system. The traditional, legalistic Adventists I knew, I chose to avoid, hoping legalism would soon die out and those of us who wanted the church to change for the better would win out eventually, though we didn't know exactly how to make that happen. I decided that the only reason I would ever leave would be if I believed the church did not teach the Bibilical truth.
My spiritual life was completely disengaged from my emotional life. And my emotional life was in steep decline when I finally cried to God and said, "If You are real, I have to know You where I am hurting or I don't want to go on." I sensed that I might need to be willing to look beyond the confines of my SDA sub-culture to follow God's answer to my cry, so I began to examine the scriptures on the only unique SDA doctrine that I still believed was true, the Sabbath. I used Strong's Concordance and looked up every verse that mentioned the word, "day" and read everything around that word to be sure I understood everything God was trying to say. I found the Sabbath to be a very culturally unifying thing for the Jews (as it had been for me as an Adventist). But I didn't find any emphasis on the Sabbath in the new testament. If the Sabbath were to be as important as Adventists taught during the "Last Days", Jesus certainly failed to give it proper emphasis. He would be worse than a professor that didn't adequately cover the material He would be testing over. And current events didn't seem to be moving in the direction where I could ever visualize the world making a "big deal" about a day of worship. Bigger issues, like whether or not there are absolutes, seemed more likely to be at the bases of the battle between Light and Dark.
The passage in Romans 14 where Paul says that each should be convinced in his own mind, if he considers one day above another or every day equal was the only verse I found addressing "day of worship" in the New Testament aside from Jesus' accounts of tangling with Jewish leaders over the issue. I took that passage to Dr. Heppenstall and explained the study I was doing to him. It was the only time I saw him show uncertainty about the meaning. He simply said, "So you don't think that was just referring to cerremonial sabbaths?" "I can't see that Paul is limiting his statement in that way," I replied. He showed silent concern but didn't answer.
After this study, I put in my resignation at the SDA school where I was teaching. I made plans to get personal counseling and move away from the Adventist community. The next seven to eight years would be ones of social, emotional and spiritual rootlessness as I floundered around without belonging anywhere. I had a hope of knowing God but lacked the connection that would make "the walk" possible. I did not know how much He loved me and from what He had saved me. I tried to synthesize my beliefs with new age thought, got involved in Eastern meditation, avoided church, and got very depressed. One night my despair reached its limit over a disappointment in a relationship. I stood on top of my R.V. in the middle of the moonless Arizona desert sky I cried to God. Somewhere inside me, He spoke thoughts that I knew could not have come from me, thoughts I knew I was incapable of generating, especially in my current depression.
He said, "Jeralee, see that big dipper and how it always points to the North Star?"
"Well if you were to hop into a space ship and come close enough to one of those stars, the dependability of the directions from those stars would be all messed up. It's only because of your near infinite distance that you can depend on those stars. And it's only when you seek Me, THE INFINITE, F I R S T that you will find the true security you seek. It won't be in your ideas, the people you hope will love you...etc. Your security will only come by focusing first on me."
It was a profound moment where my walk with Jesus began and He became the center of my being. I have grown closer to Him each day since that moment and have been certain of my salvation. I have more recently grown to love God's word slowly as His Spirit began to erode the pride in my heart and thoughts.
When God's Spirit started to deal with the pride in my heart, He had no small task! My mind was so clever at taking the glory for even His work! I had been so accustomed to thinking of myself as privileged above other Christians (non-Adventists). About three years after my close walk with Jesus started, I was accepted into Dallas Theological Seminary to study media arts ministry. There was an entrance examination required of every seminary student which I fully expected to ace because I felt I had an advantage of having studied the Bible in every year of my school life.
The exam was not an entrance requirement but was merely used as a pre and post measuring tool of how much students learned during their training at DTS. I walked away from that three hour exam with a new humility about the scriptures. Most of the questions covered things from the scriptures I had never heard about. I think my scores were in the bottom quartile. And perhaps that lesson of humility was one of the main reasons God wanted me to spend the two semesters there. After two semesters, I lost my job and it became necessary to return to California in order to find comparable employment. My aging parents and aunt also needed me to be near by, all who are still devout SDA's.
My rootless wandering has stopped as I have found a wonderful church home at Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley. My love of the scriptures has ignited into a blaze under the responsible teaching of my pastor/teacher, John Milhouse. Prophecy has become a passion as I now see how it unifies the entire Bible. I find spiritual fellowship with many Christians in different churches without thinking there has to be just one true church.
The Lord's direction in my life in the last eight years is unmistakable. The emotional roller coaster has become anchored on The Rock. The restless daughter who always dreaded caring for the elderly in her life is doing so with 100% love and willingness. The finances that were disrupted in the job loss and move from Dallas have been more than adequate allowing me to be a first time home owner with my parents now living with me.
I am now seeing Adventism from the outside with insider knowledge. And I see it every day as my parents are very involved in their church and have 3ABN running all day long. The Lord is teaching me to trust Him in every interaction. But I see even more clearly than I ever did, how dark a shaddow false doctrine can cast across ones path. It's an enlightening but sad experience because of the family and friends who I believe are still experiencing less than God has for them. I now pray that my mom, who will be having cancer surgery soon after this is written, will KNOW WITH CERTAINTY that Jesus loves her. And I pray I will live the kind of life that Jesus can use to help her know Him that way.
So I am a daughter of an SDA pastor, who is a son of an SDA pastor, who is the son of a devout SDA who heard E.G. White speak. But that's only my carnal heritage. I am a daughter of God whom He will never leave nor forsake who longs for His return recognizing new signs of His coming every day. Come Lord Jesus!
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JERALEE A. SMITH