2009 blog

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Journey

I suppose I will kick off this new blog with a little information about me.

I was a Seventh-day Adventist for approximately 10 years; from 1995-2005, and during that time I had many experiences that would eventually lead me out of the Adventist denomination. As with any personal story, this one can be quite long, but to save on space and time I will cover only the particular highlights, that to me stand out as "sign posts" if you will in my deconversion process.

Sign Post #1 1888

I learned about the history of 1888 and what happened during that time in the Adventist denomination. To keep it brief, I learned that there were two individuals named E.J.Waggoner and A.T.Jones who got together on the west coast through mutual study of the Bible, and began declaring a message that centered on Christ's righteousness rather than the Law. They were actively teaching that “the Law" that was mentioned in the book of Galatians chap. 3 was not the "ceremonial law" that the Adventists had nearly always taught it was, but rather it was the whole thing, including the Ten Commandments. Their teachings aroused the condemnation of the leadership of the denomination, who actively taught against what they were teaching. Most notable in this opposition was two fellows by the name of G.I.Butler and Uriah Smith. The tension between these individuals became so palpable, that a special General Conference was called for Oct.-Nov. 1888 in order to settle this dispute. When the delegates convened, passionate arguments from both sides were heard and considered, though it has been remarked by one Adventist historian:

"Powerful arguments were developed to establish [the law’s] ‘binding obligations.’ Debaters and polemicists emerged, stressing the Sabbath, the Law, etc. — like lawyers arguing a case. Spirituality waned, and not a few became decided legalists. . . . Cold intellectualism and dry theory increased. Christ often became secondary, and Righteousness by Faith largely lost sight of, through outward profession without inner experience. The majesty of the message and the law was magnified. But something was lacking. Discussions were logical and convincing, but not Christ centered." LeRoy Edwin Froom. Movement of Destiny. [Washington DC]: Review and Herald, 1971; p. 239.

Because of this "coldness", Jones and Waggoner were treated with contempt by their fellow brethren. But why was their teaching such an issue with the Adventist leadership? Another Adventist historian sheds some light on this issue:

"The Westerners (i.e. Waggoner and Jones) had reverted to the early Seventh-day Adventist position that the law Paul here referred to as the ‘schoolmaster to bring us to Christ’ (verse 24) was the whole body of the moral law including the Ten Commandments. This position the Adventists had almost entirely abandoned during the 1860s and 1870s; the ‘schoolmaster’ was reinterpreted to mean the ceremonial and sacrificial laws of Moses which pointed forward to the Messiah. This reinterpretation had developed largely as a reaction to Protestant clergymen who interpreted Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:25 (‘we are no longer under the schoolmaster’) to mean that the Ten Commandment law had been abrogated; thus, the seventh-day Sabbath was no longer viable." R. W. Schwarz. Light Bearers to the Remnant. [Boise, Idaho]: Pacific Press, 1979; p. 185.

Thus, for the leadership, the teaching of Jones and Waggoner was tantamount to "giving in" to the Sunday-keeping Protestants' argument, and they saw that such teaching would only lead to a gradual abandonment of Sabbath-keeping as a requirement for the Christian. This they could not allow. Therefore they did all that they could to undermine what Jones and Waggoner were teaching. Even against Ellen White, who agreed with Jones and Waggoner on their position of the Law in Galatians, did the leadership actively pursue to smear and silence. They called her "senile" and sent her off to Australia where they believed she would no longer be a problem.

Now when I first learned about all of this, I was deeply troubled. No other time prior to this "revelation" did I ever think the Adventist denomination had gone astray. But clearly from the information I was presented with in writings such as "Light Bearers to the Remnant" and "1888 Re-Examined", as well as others, I had come face to face with this reality. I saw that the Adventist leadership did not accept Jones and Waggoner's "most precious message" in 1888, and I did not believe that they had accepted it in more than a century later. Primary proof of this is the fact that Adventists still teach that St. Paul is talking only about the "ceremonial law" in Galatians 3. Jones and Waggoner taught that "the Law" in Galatians is the whole thing, including the Ten Commandments. Even Ellen White, who is looked upon in the Adventist denomination as an authority (as per Fundamental Belief #18), agrees with Jones and Waggoner's position:

"Which Law Is the Schoolmaster?--I am asked concerning the law in Galatians. What law is the schoolmaster to bring us to Christ? I answer: Both the ceremonial and the moral code of ten commandments." 6BC 1109.9.

All of this was very perplexing for me, and though I did not sense the complete significance of all of this at the time, it always stayed in the back of my mind.

Sign Post #2 The Trinity

I have always had questions about the Trinity as taught by mainstream Protestantism, and by extension Adventism. It always seemed to me to be a confusing teaching about God. However, though I had questions, I found that asking those questions usually did not get me anywhere with others. I found that other people either had similar questions, confusing analogies and explanations, did not desire to talk about it, or a combination of all three. So the Trinity was a doctrine I didn't pursue much until I received a book purporting to uncover a great deception in Adventism. The book was called "No new leaders, no new Gods" by Fred Allaback, and I read through this book practically in one day. I felt so hungry for an understandable and Biblical explanation, that I simply devoured what I found. The book opened my eyes to some history in the Adventist denomination that I had never heard before. I learned that the founders of Adventism were strongly non-Trinitarian in their views. Even Ellen White was non-Trinitarian! Her books such as "Patriarchs and Prophets" and "Story of Redemption" convey this view point well. This was hugely important for me, because my desire had always been to be the best Adventist possible, and that desire led me to embrace the Pioneer's understanding of Scripture.

I began doing hardcore studying of the Bible and reading early Adventist literature on the subject, and I began to see more and more how that the denomination's official Trinitarian stance was flawed. For instance, I discovered that the general theological view in the denomination today is that Christ was not the Son of God until He came here as a human being. The various scholars and theologians of the denomination today assert that He became the Son of God during His incarnation only with either no reference to His birth from God the Father or a direct denial of the teaching! This of course, is contradicted by historic Christian teaching that Christ is the Son of God from all eternity:

"I believe...in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father through Whom all things were made." Nicene Creed.

Not only that, but I also discovered that the Adventist denomination taught a type of "role-playing" within the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:

"Within the Godhead an economy of function exists...The Father seems to act as source, the Son as mediator, and the Spirit as actualizer or applier. The incarnation beautifully demonstrated the working relationship of the three persons of the Godhead...In the economy of function, different members of the Godhead perform distinct tasks in saving man." General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, "Seventh-day Adventists Believe...A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines" [Hagerstown, Maryland]: Review and Herald Publishing Association; p.24

"In the Godhead, the Spirit seems to fulfill the role of executor. When the Father gave His Son to the world (John 3:16), He was conceived of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18-20). The Holy Spirit came to complete the plan, to make it a reality." ibid, p.61


The idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are merely "acting" or "role-playing" causes one to look upon them as insincere and deceptive, especially when Scripture affirms these various "roles" for them in a direct and straight-forward manner. For instance, in Scripture, the Father does not seem "to act as source", but He is presented as Source in all truth and honesty. The historic position of the Church, as I later found out, has always understood God the Father in this way. They, the Church, have always known that the Father is the great and original Source of the Trinity, and that Christ was brought-forth or born from Him before all time, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds from Him continually. Never has the Church ever understood from its earliest times that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are merely "acting" out "roles" that they have taken upon themselves. This would be ingenious of them. For the Church, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are what they have always been and will continue to be in truth.

Needless to say, with 1888 and the Trinity issues I was having, the "chinks" in Adventism's armor were beginning to show themselves!

Sign Post #3 Messianicism

The issues I had with the Adventist Trinity led me to seek out others who shared my views. I longed for fellowship, but most people I talked to could either care less about the truths I was discovering, or they simply believed I was in error and would argue with me.

I was at a potluck at Collegedale church in Tennessee one Sabbath when I met a lady who told me that she and an entire group of people were all non-Trinitarians, and that they were meeting downstairs that afternoon! Needless to say, I was excited! I couldn’t wait, so I rushed downstairs almost immediately. What I found were people who not only shared my convictions of non-Trinitarianism, but were also into Messianicism. There are various Messianic groups around the country, all varying from one another. This one in Collegedale was “serious” about getting back to what they thought were the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith. They would hold a worship service that incorporated Hebrew chants and dancing. Then they would study the “Torah” for approximately 4 or so hours, which I really liked. I thought, “Man, these people are so hardcore! Studying the Bible for hours on end? Wow!” Though we never really referenced the New Testament, which I thought was wrong, I did learn a valuable lesson from them.

I attended their group for about 8 months and the realization slowly sunk in that “the Law” was the “Torah”, the five books of Moses. This was very important, because as an Adventist I had always understood “the Law” to be the Ten Commandments, and them only. Now I was realizing through in-depth Torah and Biblical study that “the Law” included much more than that. I began to dive into intense Hebrew and eventually Greek studies, and was amazed at what I found. I discovered that the Adventist understanding of the Law was very inadequate. The people of the Bible did not understand the Law in the same way that the Adventist denomination understood the term. I began to see that God had much more to say, and much more commandments that needed to be kept! Because of this, I started wearing “tassels” on my clothing in order to fulfill the commandment in Numbers 15:37-41. I also began observing the various feast days and holy days commanded in Leviticus 23, as well as new moons. I was already observing the commandment to abstain from certain foods found in Leviticus 11, and also from blood and fat found in Leviticus 3:17, I was a vegetarian and then went vegan for awhile. And of course I was already observing the Sabbath.

Even though I was “keeping” all of these commandments, I knew that I was “picking and choosing”. I began to question the group why we no longer stone people for things. All I got was some disgruntled looks and stern countenances. I had no desire to begin killing people; I just wanted to know when things changed where we were not obligated to do this. After all, those were commandments too! Because of my questioning and other factors, I eventually left the group and went on my own. I felt somewhat lost, but at the same time sure in what I had been discovering. I continued to study the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, to dig for truth as for hidden treasure.

My friends and I would fellowship and give Bible studies in the men’s dorm at Southern Adventist University. Those were good times! But it was another friend of mine that would open the door to the light that would tie everything together for me.

Sign Post #4 The Christian understanding of Moses

My friend Julio, now a former Adventist, had been living in California for awhile, working with someone that he knew there. Julio had gone through some of the same experiences that I had, such as 1888, he was a non-Trinitarian, and he had experience with the Messianics before I did. He has always been an avid studier as long as I have known him, and it was his studying that got him questioning the Adventist understanding of Galatians. By the time he had come back from California, he was already on his way out of the denomination.

We began discussing things about “the Law” and what not. At the time, he sounded to me like a Baptist Evangelical, and I even accused him of it! Needless to say, we had our time of arguing; some would have called it shouting matches! But I decided to do something that I hadn’t done in awhile. I decided to sit down and read Galatians straight through with no one else around, just me and the Bible. I read it like a letter, which is exactly what it is. Now I had read through Galatians before, and studied it in-depth; but that was before I had my new understanding of the Law as the Torah, the first five books of Moses. When I listened to what St. Paul was saying I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I saw things I had never seen before! The way he was talking about “the Law” was so plain to me now. I saw that what my friend was trying to tell me was the truth! It was genuinely awesome! All those years, and all that information I had accumulated, finally came flooding back to my mind. It all made sense! I immediately knew that the Adventist denomination had gotten it wrong the whole time. I saw my experience in Adventism as wading through dark water, searching for pearls underneath its surface, only to find that pearl of great price Jesus spoke of. I finally began to understand what St. Paul meant when he spoke of the “spirit” and the “letter” of the Law. It was the true Christian understanding, and I loved it!

Conclusion

In the years since that time I have tried speaking with various individuals about the Christian understanding of the Law, Adventists especially. I have found that most of them have a difficult time accepting what I say. I believe that this is mainly due to the fact that for Adventists St. Paul is only speaking of the “ceremonial law” in Galatians. This understanding has greatly stunted the mind of Adventists, as it did for me for many years. When I was finally set free from that interpretation I was able to understand clearly what St. Paul was trying to tell the Galatian Christians.

I would implore Adventists to re-examine this understanding in light of Scripture and history. The Jews have never understood the Law to only refer to the Ten Commandments. The first Christians were Jews, and they carried over with them in their conversion their previous understanding of these things. Jesus never limited the Law to only the Ten Commandments. Neither did any of His Apostles. They all understood the Law to reference Moses and all that he wrote from Genesis through Deuteronomy. The early Christians after the Apostles continued this understanding, as is evidenced by their writings. Please, if you are currently an Adventist, look into this and discover for yourself what it means to be truly free! This was the “heart” of the 1888 message, and Ellen White herself endorsed it! Thank you for reading and God bless!

7 comments:

alt
Anonymous said...

David, your journey is like the story Christ told about the merchant man seeking pearls. You diligently sought after truth and found it. The story that you wrote gives inspiration and makes me as a christian want strive to seek after God in the same way.

Natalie

alt
Anonymous said...

I thought your article was very mature and sincere. You do not come across as an Adventist-basher, quite the contrary. It's obvious that you're trying to reach out to Adventists in a heartfelt way.

Meta comment: I'm glad that your apology was fact-based and written from the experience of study, in other words non-emotional. So many times I have heard someone saying, "Well, they left the church because someone wronged them." This is clearly not the case with you, there wasn't even a smidgen of anger or hostility. You presented the facts as they are. I would like to post a link to your article on my facebook page.

David Atkins said...

To Anonymous,

Sure, you can link to the article. By the way, what's your name?

alt
Anonymous said...

Eric

Mike S. said...

Hi David,

Your story and testimony is both informative and heartfelt! Thank you for sharing this information with us!

God bless you on your journey!

Mike

Lexaholic said...

I'm glad to see your journey. I'm also glad you've found a church home after leaving adventism.

God Bless,
John

David Atkins said...

Hey John!

Glad to see you on here!

Lexaholic huh? This current season (8) of Smallville must be extremely frustrating for you, with Lex DEAD and all! Hahahaha XD

Hey man, I also read and comment on www.sda2rc.blogspot.com

Check it out. We're currently discussing the teaching of human beings forgiving sins! Ooooohhhhhh 8O