From Law to Grace


I write this as of April, 2004.

My wife Nancy and I left Adventism in 1982 after years of study and soul-searching. We still have family and friends in the "church" and so the question arises: does one ever truly leave Adventism? Each of us who have left must find our own answer.

My wife and I were both reared in SDA. I attended SDA schools, including a BA and MA from Andrews University (AU). Nancy attended public schools 1-12 and attended AU where we met.

It was at AU that I first encountered serious questions regarding the distinctives of Adventism. Several of my professors regarded Ellen G. White (EGW) as merely a product of her times and questioned many of her pronouncements. One of my religion professors introduced me to the writings of Francis Schaeffer. In looking back I see this as a turning point. In my previous SDA schooling I was taught that non-SDA authors have nothing to offer. For the first time I saw that someone outside Adventism could be a committed Christian. In the early 1970's this was a new revelation for a traditional Adventist youth.

Following my graduation with a BA in 1975 I gained a position in a Michigan SDA Junior Academy where I fumbled through my first year as a teacher. Then it was off to California where I taught at the academy attached to Pacific Union College (PUC). We were there for three years and it was a highlight of our lives. I still think that the kids that I taught were among the greatest kids ever.

It was at PUC that our adventure really began. In those days PUC was at the forefront of what I call the "grace movement" in Adventism. Des Ford was a Professor of Religion and I attended a number of his meetings listening to him present the pure gospel of grace. Those were heady days indeed. Each summer we would go back to AU where I was working on my Masters. There, we had conversations with other dissidents including Smuts Van Rooyen, Alex LeBrecque, and Alan Crandall who some of the readers might recognize. (LeBrecque and Crandall published Evangelica during the late 70's and currently are associated with Des Ford's organization) We explored the writings of Ronald Numbers, Walter Rea, and others. As a grad student I also had the opportunity to do some research in the AU Library vault where I happened across some info on the 1919 Bible Conference (July 30, and August 1, 1919) where EGW's role was discussed. This was about the same time that minutes from those proceedings were being published in dissenting magazines. Thus I was able to personally corroborate some of the "scandal". I think it was shortly after this that the AU Library severely restricted access to certain documents in the vault.

Nancy and I spent many, many long hours in study and soul-searching. We became dismayed to find that Scripture did not support many of the ideas peculiar to Adventism. It was a distressful time for us. Still, we had hope that the church would awaken and be reformed.

Fast forward to the spring of 1980. We decided to move back to the mid-west to be near family. I was able to find a position in an SDA Junior Academy where I was both teacher and principle. The school was supported by Nancy's home church and this actually made things more difficult. By now some of her family had started openly questioning SDA and I felt like I was under close scrutiny given my previous position at PUC. I felt ethically bound to support Adventism to my students and I did so, even though I had very serious doubts. I can honestly say that I never involved my students in any of the controversy going on in the church.

Gradually over the next two years, Nancy and I continued studying until we realized that: 1) we were no longer Adventists, 2) the church leadership was refusing to address the problems (this was post-Glacier View), and 3) we could no longer in good conscience be a part of Adventism.

I'm still amazed at the official reaction to our letter of separation from the church. In the letter we laid out the specific theological reasons why we could no longer be part of Adventism. I had already started a new job and suddenly the local SDA pastor came to our home during the workday and confronted Nancy. His message was clear. We were wrong and unless we recanted we were lost. Nancy invited him to meet with both of us to discuss the issues but he refused. I have always pitied him for not being able or willing to provide a reason for his belief.

We left Adventism not because of hurt feelings, or depression, discouragement, etc. We left because we discovered that Adventism is in denial of the pure gospel. This concept is difficult for SDA's to understand. The party line is that people leave the church because they somehow feel discouraged, etc. The typical SDA is in denial that anyone can actually leave the church because of theological differences.

Our progression out of Adventism consisted of a series of distinct realizations regarding doctrine/culture. The first icon we discarded was the authority of EGW. We believe that she probably started as a sincere, but ill, young woman who became caught up in an exciting phenomenon that escalated out of control. But, the evidence is clear that as time went on she became a willing part of a pattern of mistaken theology and deception. I own early editions of several of her works including Patriarchs and Prophets and The Great Controversy. It's interesting to note how the church has edited those books over the years.

It is our opinion that once EGW is dethroned, the rest of Adventism fades away. After we were free of EGW, it was much easier to understand the Biblical teachings on law and grace. After that, the distinctive SDA doctrines fell one-by-one; the Investigative Judgement, Soul Sleep, annihilationism, etc. The most difficult was the Sabbath because it is the major identifying mark of an Adventist. (sad, isn't it) It was only through a complete review/restudy of the Word that we were satisfied that the Sabbath was not for Christians. I want to be very clear on this. At the time we were studying the Sabbath issue we looked carefully at both sides of the argument. As I write this I have before me Bacchiocchi's book, From Sabbath to Sunday which I examined carefully in the early 80's. An excellent presentation of the other side of the issue is the book, From Sabbath to Lord's Day, edited by D.A.Carson, 1982, by Zondervan. This was a response to Bacchiocchi's book. These were only two of several works that we used to supplement our study of the Word. Our conclusion was that Christ alone is our Sabbath rest.

Our official leave-taking from SDA was wrenching to say the least. As I said earlier we left in the summer '82 and at that time were attending the very church in which my wife had grown up. Her mother left about the same time. A sister and her family in Michigan also left. Other family members stayed in the church and had a difficult time understanding. To the day of their deaths my parents never understood but eventually accepted our decision. (We still receive "missionary moments" from some in Nancy's family.) The local church members apparently made no attempt to understand. We were instantly the infidels. Since the day we left in 1982 not one member of that congregation has attempted to contact us. This initially surprised and hurt us but as we grew in understanding we were able to forgive.

Leaving was both easy and difficult. Easy because we were very sure of our theological position and because we immediately started attending a large local Baptist church where some of Nancy's cousins were members. They were very supportive. The difficult part included a total career change for me since I obviously could no longer be employed by the denomination and also because we had to establish a new psychological identity. I believe that the last may be the hardest part for someone leaving such a group because you experience significant culture shock.

The next few years brought exciting challenges to us. We threw ourselves into a brand new life of freedom in Christ. We experienced difficulties and made our share of mistakes but His grace has proven sufficient.

We continued studying and still do, however our study took a new course. We began focusing on the great truths of the Christian church and read widely. We deliberately left Adventism in the dustbin of history. Based on our experience I would suggest to more recent refugees from SDA that you quickly move beyond second-guessing and dig deep into the "truth treasures" long ago hammered out by the larger Christian community. In addition to the Word, which should always be in first place, study the works of contemporary Christian authors like Chuck Swindol, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and others. Then dig into some of the heavier writings of Francis Schaeffer, C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, and J.P Moreland. I would also encourage the study of classical Christian literature from the Early Fathers, Augustine, Anselm and others. These men were the intellectual elite of their times and devoted their lives to understanding and relating to the Christ. We can learn much from them. Finally I encourage us all to be thinking Christians.

So, here we are, twenty-two years out of Adventism. It has become in some ways only a distant memory. We still care very deeply for those who remain in SDA and pray that more will find their way out. It is always a difficult journey because of the "cult psychology" involved. It is this mind-set that makes it so hard to witness to them. And so we pray and hope.

Nancy and I have been abundantly blessed. We have three wonderful daughters (only one left in the nest) who are our gift from the Lord. I teach at a local college and Nancy is an expert mother and homemaker. Our middle daughter is married to an incredible young man who is the son of friends. We have one granddaughter and twin grandsons soon to be born. (Yippee) I consider myself a very rich man, not in material things, but in the eternal treasures of a loving wife and family, and a relationship with my maker. Last year we started attending a new start-up church that uses a contemporary format and follows the Willow Creek model. We are weekly treated to deep teaching from the Word. The congregation has grown from 70 to 1300 in two years. The Lord is pouring out His blessings.

I began our story by asking the question; "does one ever truly leave Adventism"? For us the answer is yes. But it did take time and more importantly I think, it took an act of the will, with a very deliberate new focus. We pray that our story may be an encouragement for others as they struggle with the challenges of shedding Adventism.

May God continually rain His grace and peace on us all.

Dane and Nancy Rehil


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