By Martin Carey
It was a joyous time and a sad time. In December of 2006, my wife and I ended our membership with the Seventh-day Adventist church and walked away from a way of life. We knew we needed to leave doctrines that diminished Christ and denied the gospel, but we also left behind our church community. Many of our relationships changed, and some ended. It felt at once liberating, sad, and rather reckless. What could prompt us to disrupt our lives in this way? The answer is, once we were confronted with truth, we had no choice. Sharon describes it this way: when you’re searching on Google Maps to find your way, you pick up the little yellow man and set him down where you want to go. Suddenly the reality of that place bursts into view. So it is when God calls us. He abruptly plucks us up and sets us on His freeway, and we can clearly see where we are going.
That next February, we attended our first Former Adventist Fellowship conference. We heard in-depth studies on the Biblical meaning of church, living the Spirit-filled life, and the Christian’s freedom that allows us to live, work, and eat with a good conscience. We got to meet and share stories with other Christians coming out of Adventism. Friday night, we stood together before the whole group and told the story of how, for the first time, we saw the glory of Jesus. His word came alive. For years, we thought we knew the Bible, at least the proof texts for the important doctrines. We never realized how much we had been missing; the Bible was so amazing! The sense of God’s greatness and kindness was overwhelming.
As the years go by we are still driven to see his great kindness again and again. There are layers upon layers of distorted thinking and feeling that must be pulled away, like peeling an onion. We have watched many others coming out of Adventism, watching their joy as they see fresh revelations of Jesus and His word. They also grieve over losses, leaving the church they knew, estranged from people they grew up with. FAF weekend allowed us to meet others on that same road and encourage them. It is a great privilege to welcome and nurture new members into the body of Christ.
Eleven years later, we love being part of FAF weekend. This year’s event reminded us why we keep returning. The theme for this year’s weekend was “The Doctrine of God,” an academic sounding title. But as Scripture was opened by our presenters, we were carried back to that old excitement over the pure wonder of God. Who is God and how has He revealed Himself? In Isaiah, God lays out His credentials. When He put the galaxies in place, He needed no counsel on how to make them. He is bigger than all of the cosmos, for:
“Do I not fill heaven and earth!” (Jer. 23:24).
While in the Adventist church, I had trouble with holding any real awe for God. I thought that God was very limited because He must answer to Satan, and to any of us who questioned Him. Martin Luther told the humanist Erasmus, “Your problem is that your thoughts of God are too human.” So often, our God has been too easily understood and too small to be worshiped. We were taught that the Great Controversy began when Satan’s accusations humbled God and forced Him to answer to His creatures. If He allows Satan to thwart His righteous plans, He does not rule his universe. He is not that kind of god:
“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘my counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Is. 46:9-10).
Satan cannot prevent God’s declarations from coming to be, or His counsels from standing. Satan is not an equal and opposite evil force to oppose God. As pastor Gary Inrig reminded us, Satan is God’s monkey, and try as he might, can only serve the Almighty’s purposes. “God is in a controversy with no one.” And because He is such a powerful God, we have the assurance that He also is able to protect the small and weak.
“He will tend his flock like a Shepherd, and gather the lambs in His arms. he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11).
The doctrines of God include the full divinity of Jesus, which has been distorted in vital ways by historic Adventist theology. Presenter Dale Ratzlaff quoted Ellen White passages that portrayed Jesus as “exalted” to be equal to the Father. Arianism, the teaching that Jesus had a beginning and was not the Father’s equal, has had a strong presence from early Adventism to the present. Tim Martin showed us Ellen White statements that Lucifer was once honored next to Christ. When the Father exalted Christ next Himself, Lucifer became jealous, precipitating the great controversy. We also learned that Jesus divinity was also diminished by the Adventist teaching that He was born with a sinful nature so He could be our example for law-keeping. God must be finally vindicated by last-day people who will keep the law perfectly as Jesus did.
Colleen Tinker showed us how Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, not the order of Aaron. Adventist teaching and artwork has always portrayed Jesus standing before His Father with the priestly garb of Aaron. However, according to the book of Hebrews, Aaron was but a shadow of Christ, and he died. Jesus is the eternal high priest and sacrifice who has made the Old Covenant with its Aaronic priesthood obsolete.
“For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” (Heb. 7:12)
In Adventist teaching, the heart of the gospel is denied, for the forgiveness of our sins is always in doubt. Jesus is portrayed as offering His blood to the Father again and again as we confess our sins, in the same manner as the priests of ancient Israel. In that picture, Christ’s atonement is not finished. There is no real cleansing of the conscience under that repeated ritual, as Hebrews 10 shows us. He is a “guarantor of a better covenant” whose sacrifice cleansed our sins once and for all. The uncertainty and guilt that cling to the investigative judgment doctrine are swept away by the blood of our real High Priest. His blood never defiles the sanctuary, or ever leaves us in suspense about our standing before the Father,
“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14).
We came away from this FAF weekend with a renewed sense of wonder at our salvation, and a refreshed desire to reach out to Adventists. We always want to remember that we were rescued in spite of ourselves, and that should humble us. We were foolish “Badventists,” resisting His word and gospel for years, so arrogance has no place here! But for grace, where would we be?
T’was grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home.