There and Back Again
Bilbo Baggins (a.k.a. The Hobbit) titled his autobiography as “There and Back Again”. Whereas he had a fantastic adventure slaying a dragon and finding a magic ring, I have done none of those daring deeds. What I do have in common with him is the predicament of being on a journey that can’t possibly be understood except by those who have been to the same places I have. I’m sure Bilbo found it difficult to accurately convey his amazing experience to his fellow Hobbits who had never left the Shire. He had to put it down in a book. I also must put my journey into writing, for no other reason than I just need to tell it. Of course it’s impossible not to hope that someone might benefit from my folly and examine their own direction. But even if that never happens, I still am compelled to tell it.
This story is true, but only insofar as my memory holds and my perceptions are accurate. In that sense, all our stories are tainted by the dimness that time brings to our recollections and how far we allow our feelings and attachments to bias our truth. I try to not misrepresent anyone or any situation, however I have my human limitations. I apologize in advance for the inevitable event that I will offend. My beliefs are strong and I am going to speak freely about some religious groups and denominations. I however do not pass judgment on individuals based on their membership in these systems. I assess believers in Christ based on the fruit in their lives, not on the information between their ears, as our Master instructed. We are told to judge (discern) but not to condemn. That type of judgment we have no business in. Salvation is of the heart. The Bible must be our ultimate authority, but until perfection comes, we will not agree on everything it says. We must agree on the gospel of Christ, and beyond that, I can’t base my faith on anything else.
To save anyone who would be completely bored to tears from reading any further, this is my testimony of being raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, coming out of it, and what transpired over the following eight years as we (my husband and I) became involved in the Messianic/Hebrew Roots movement. We were miraculously rescued from our warped thinking by the simple truth of the Word of God enlightened in our minds by His Spirit. We take no credit for where we are now. If God had not worked a drastic intervention, we would still be blindly following false doctrines that had bound. Religious deceptions are clouds that attempt to get between us and the light of the Son. Thankfully, no darkness can successfully shut out the light of His awesome glory.
I praise and thank God frequently for our deliverance and for the amazing outpouring of blessing He has given us since that time. The joy and spiritual blessings steadily increase as we continue to follow our Redeemer, Friend, Brother and King.
A Rocky Start (1)
Every journey begins somewhere. I started mine in Oklahoma City, where my father was a Seventh Day Adventist ministerial intern. He had recently graduated from Andrew’s University, the SDA seminary. Being an SDA pastor’s kid is similar to being a child to someone in the military. You’re always on the move. Although my father left the ministry when I was about ten years old, we had already moved four times in the short time I’d been alive.
In Oklahoma, I remember my father being responsible for churches in three different towns. This was a common practice in those days, for what reason I’m not sure. I’m told the salary was the same, regardless. Many Sabbaths we were privileged to hear (or from a child’s perspective “endure”) the sermon again as we traveled to a neighboring town for a second church service. We later moved to Colorado where the same situation existed. In one small mountain town, my mom would take us on walks instead of sitting through another sermon. We loved to explore an old cemetery nearby. I remember being sad when I saw how many babies and children had died there in the 1800’s when the town was a thriving, silver-mining community. I tried to imagine the resurrection and all the little ones coming up out of the ground, since we did not believe in a spiritual existence between death and the second coming of Jesus.
I started school during this time, and began having trouble sleeping. I also had frequent stomach aches. My mother took me to the doctor who could find nothing wrong. I became very unhappy and schemed with my younger brother how we could run away. Of course we never did, but looking back, I realize I was sensing the unseen discord in my parent’s marriage, and suffering the ensuing emotional neglect that occurs when adults are wrapped up in the turmoil of their own pain.
The time we spent here created some of the best and worst memories of my childhood. We had a close-knit church family there, with many Saturday night snowmobile parties at our house, as well as summer hiking and camping trips. I learned to fish, ski, and backpack. I completely fell in love with the Colorado Rockies. I couldn’t imagine a better place in all the world to live. The majestic peaks had many faces as the seasons changed, the air smelled like Christmas every day, and the summer streams flowed with the clearest, sweetest water I’d ever tasted. My grandparents were also nature lovers and they gave me a love for knowing names of birds, flowers, and trees. I remember one weekend backpacking trip with my father and some friends where we counted over 90 types of wildflowers, although we couldn’t name very many.
In spite of a crumbling marriage, my father continued his work of building up a church. After several months, his church grew to the point of starting their own building program. They excitedly drew up plans, and soon the plans became a reality. I watched it go up, from foundation to finish, and we all did what we could to help. My father and the other members accomplished most of the work, so it felt like it was truly our special place. One side of the building had expansive windows designed to soak in the solar heat, and a large wooden cross was part of the window framing in the middle.
While I had heard all of this from birth, something else in this series of meetings moved me deeply. They showed a set of films on the life of Christ up on a big screen. Never having been to a movie theater, this captivated my full attention. Through the films I fell in love with Jesus and was very touched by his love, compassion, and suffering. The crucifixion affected me in particular. I believe I understood then, in part, something of his sacrifice for me, but only a small part. I wasn’t old enough to understand theology, but I could perceive a great love.
Much of what took place in those few short years is a blur in my memory. I have clear bits and pieces, but the final crucible came for my parent’s marriage, and it failed under the pressure. They could no longer maintain the facade, and my mother decided on divorce. My father moved out, and as the months wore on, the realization hit me that my whole world was about to turn upside down. The little red house nestled in the trees was up for sale. My father was moving to another town, and my mother, brother and I were moving back to Denver. One night as I realized that I was going to have to leave the mountains and live again in a dirty, noisy city, I cried myself to sleep, begging God to let us stay. It would be months later before I would again grieve for the loss of my father and start to experience an even deeper tearing. The divorce tore my mind and spirit in two, leaving only a body that could not divide itself, able to be only in one place at a time, always missing another place and another person.
If the first ten years were rocky, I’m thankful I was not then able to look ahead to the next ten. Of course I had many blessings and privileged moments along the way, especially the times I now recognize my life was spared. God is so merciful, even when we are not acknowledging Him. I can point to many aspects of my childhood that could be viewed as a disadvantage, yet they do not excuse the choices I made later.
I compare it to a cross country foot race where two runners have failed to hear the shot fired signaling the beginning of the race. One runner realizes he is at a disadvantage but determines to finish as well as he can and exerts more effort than he had planned to catch up. The other one sees he is behind and decides it’s not worth it to even try compete. He takes a stroll, wanders off the path, and ends up lost with a search party rescuing him from deep ravine he unknowingly falls into. He complains he would have never gotten in such a situation if someone had just made sure the starting shot was loud enough for everyone to hear. It would be ridiculous for him to blame his final predicament on his first disadvantage, but people often do when it comes to life.
Along with severe scrutiny of its doctrines, the church also suffered a blow to the credibility of its primary founder and revered prophet, Ellen G. White. When a devout pastor, Walter Rae, determined to study her life in depth, he shockingly discovered that she had plagiarized a huge portion of her writings, many times claiming she “was shown” by God. When Rae brought these findings to the authorities of the church he was instructed to forget it and keep quiet. He refused to keep quiet and suffered the consequences.
My senior year I went to live with my father and attended public school for the first time. I never adjusted to life on the “outside” and felt very much an odd ball. It seemed others had some type of radar that detected I was from another planet and should be avoided. I made up for the deficit of peer rejection with male companionship. This pattern had begun much earlier, but my senior year it went into overdrive. I made good grades, worked more than one job, paid for all my car expenses and clothing, and seemed mature and responsible. I was not able to completely hide the inside reality which eventually expressed itself in a lifestyle of promiscuity, alcohol, and drugs.
During the traumatic time of dealing with the new monster of alcoholism I had never encountered before, and healing from a severe motorcycle accident, my spirit started to get hungry. My mind began searching my knowledge and experience database for some paradigm of truth I could live by. I wanted answers to the purpose of my existence, and I also wanted to avoid the type of pain I’d discovered life could deal you. From my negative experiences with the SDA church, as well as the anti-Christian sentiment I managed to absorb in my one year in a state university, I directed my spiritual search away from the Bible and Christianity. I wanted to explore all other possibilities, even wondering if God existed at all.
One day after the motorcycle accident, I was in health food store searching for a supplement that would help my severely injured leg heal faster. A sweet grandmother-type behind the counter asked if I needed any help finding something. She expressed genuine concern for me and seemed able to look past my obvious physical injuries and see deeper into the spiritual and emotional part of my being. She spoke with me for a very long time. I found her easy to talk to, and she seemed to understand me. I was starving for someone to relate to who was on my wavelength. I had been through severe trauma with no support system of family or close friends. My in-laws blamed me for everything, and being a transplant from Colorado into small town in Texas, I found another culture-shock experience similar to the one I experienced in my year of public high school.
This sweet woman was familiar with the books I had been reading and offered suggestions for my emotional well-being as well as physical health. She invited me to attend a weekly meeting of like-minded people at the home of a friend of hers. I was so touched by her concern for me that I decided to go, although I had reservations. But I became instantly attracted to their way of thinking and quickly dove into pursuing this new path to knowledge that I was sure would give the answers I wanted. I’d seen a glimpse of these ideas in college, and now I was in full pursuit. I wanted to find knowledge that would transcend and unify the religions of the world. I couldn’t read books fast enough.
Occasionally something would directly confront my past understanding of God, Christ, and sin – but I would dismiss it as my past primitive understandings. I began to meditate regularly and believe I could directly alter my life through positive thoughts and affirmations. Good and evil were explained has higher and lower frequencies of energy, and I started to take seriously the possibility of communicating with higher entities than ourselves. I was exposed to channeling and other psychic phenomenon, experimenting with them myself.
The spirits driving me in this search are gaining more converts in our world every day. This New Age mysticism has moved from the fringe movements of the hippies to an often unspoken, politically-correct, modernistic view of spirituality. Christianity has swallowed much of its appetizing bait in the guise of science or tolerance, and more recently, church-growth strategies. The pull of the New Age, as with all false religions and cults is the appeal to a person’s pride, a promise of being superior, or more powerful in some way. These are tight chains broken only by God moving on a person’s heart.
Our awesome, sovereign God did exactly that for me. Fast forward a few years. I’m remarried with a beautiful baby boy. When he is just a few weeks old, I am overcome with overwhelming thankfulness. I have a loving husband and amazing children who are miraculous in and of themselves. I knew I couldn’t take the credit for the blessings in my life, because I didn’t deserve any of it. My new husband who had at first followed me in my metaphysical explorations had revealed to me while I was pregnant that he had chosen to follow Jesus instead. He had made no moves to attend church but simply stopped pursuing the direction I was headed. I was absolutely furious when he told me this. I felt betrayed and alone. I ran to my older woman friend for comfort, but she had nothing much to offer in the way of reassurance. We didn’t have a faith, we had a cosmic void with ethereal ideas. Now, I realized, I had a deep desire for worship, to thank the Source of the blessings in my life, but how could I ever turn back to simple-minded Christians and go to church?!
Soon, being in the Bible belt, we received an invitation to visit a church with a friend. I had many fears and objections, although I had started picking up my Bible to read from time to time. Early on in our attendance, I heard a gospel message of sin, repentance, and forgiveness. My mind was flooded with a picture of Jesus and my own shame swallowed me. I realized He was very real, and I had turned my back on Him, playing the spiritual harlot. This was my repentance – my revelation of my true nature and sin. I came to Jesus that day, in tears and in thankfulness. I had experienced the heavy hand of sin’s consequences, but these had not drawn me to God. I knew I deserved pain and tragedy, so why should I cry out for Him to save me, if He was even there. But when I encountered mercy and favor I did not deserve, I realized He had been there all along, and I received what some might call, irresistible grace. I then experienced the miracle that takes place when the Holy Spirit unites with a human soul, bringing it to life. This does not come only through mental assent to facts, although our mind is involved. Rebirth involves our entire being, a spiritual rebirth and joining of the human heart to a living God. The facts are necessary, but by themselves do not produce this birth of a new child of God.
At the time sadly, I did not have a biblical foundation to truly understand the implications of what had happened. I knew I was different, but no one was available to disciple me into what it meant to follow Christ, or explain what God has provided for those who are His new creations. Scripture for me was confusing as I had been ingrained with interpretations which were at odds with traditional Christian understanding. The church I was attending frightened and confused me at times, in spite of the fact that they had been the tool God used to bring me to Him. I soon felt a draw to return to my roots and re-examine everything again, from an adult perspective.
But despite the evidence that nothing at all had changed in the church of my birth, I was terrified to go anywhere else. I kept thinking, what if…. what if….. If they are right, and I choose 14th Baptist Church down the road, I’m in big trouble. At one point I determined to study Revelation, and speculated that the church with the best explanation for the end times had to be the true church. I am now amused when I think of how I sat down with books, commentaries, and the Bible, trying to make sense of it all. Of course the interpretation that made the most sense to me was the one I had always known. Honestly, I couldn’t even understand what most of the other theories were trying to say. Adventist eschatology has its share of complicated mind benders, but I’d heard it taught in depth many times growing up.
I have to digress for a moment and share about my husband’s part in this story. He had been raised in a broken home, with multiple marriages. His parents had not attended church after their divorce when he was 5, and the only church he experienced was through his grandparents. They were Pentecostals on one side, and his maternal grandmother was a Baptist. As a child he had been fascinated with Mormonism, and a close friend of his had been a Jehovah’s Witness. In his late teens, his father had joined the Worldwide Church of God and abandoned his lifestyle of partying and drugs. He saw what he thought was a genuine change in his father, and they had frequent theological discussions. He would take questions to pastors he knew about what his father was telling him, and none could seem to give him a satisfactory answer. They could not explain to him from the Bible that the 7th day Sabbath had been changed to Sunday. They all upheld the ten commandments, but there seemed to be a discrepancy in practice. He was also fascinated with the Biblical holidays and didn’t understand why Christians would not acknowledge them as well. As he studied the writings of Herbert W. Armstrong and added this group to his bag of religious curiosities.
I entered the picture, and he followed me down the New Age trail for a short time, probably losing his senses as a byproduct of being lovesick, but quickly became disillusioned when he realized nearly the entire movement was headed up by women. He was not a chauvinist by any means, but was looking for male mentors since he had never had one. He told me he wanted to follow a man, and the only man he knew worth following was Jesus Christ. I couldn’t understand why that was important at the time, but Christ was beginning to draw us both back to Himself.
When we became disillusioned with the church where I had been saved in for reasons I won’t go into here, we entered limbo – a place we would return often. A Jehovah’s witness knocked on the door one day and my husband was seeking a faith based on facts, not on emotion and experience. They impressed him with their ability to open up the Bible and answer any question he threw at them. While impressive, he gave over his mind to be taught of them, rather than search the scriptures himself through the Holy Spirit. I would soon follow suit with Adventism, but of course his direction concerned me deeply.
Soon he was reading nothing else but JW material. He became consumed with studying their books and nothing I said could persuade him. He had an answer for every question I raised about their beliefs or credibility as an organization. He started attending the Kingdom Hall. But before he came into it all the way, the Armstrong teaching must have trumped Charles Taze Russell and he instead became convicted he should keep the Sabbath, which they did not do. He was saved from one cult, but not to freedom in Christ.
After the JW presence left the house, a dilemma then arose over the Sabbath and the feast days. I was opposed to the festivals, and saw no point in it whatsoever. I did agree to visit his dad’s Worldwide Church of God congregation in a nearby city. Within the first few visits they played a video presentation by the president of the denomination. He was declaring a major shift in their belief and focus. We sensed turmoil and chaos which was not appealing when we were seeking solid ground, so we chose to not continue.
My husband knew of no other groups observing the feasts so we turned back to the Adventist church. He put the issue on the shelf, but he never let go of it completely. I had visited already, and after satisfactorily completing the necessary studies and agreeing with the essential points of doctrine, we were led into baptismal waters. I felt a strong desire to be re-baptized because I had backslidden so badly. This baptism was for Christ, not for a church, although their practice is to attach membership through it. I had assurance this time that my relationship with God was real and restored. But as stated earlier, I still had so much to work through. I had an assurance that Adventist theology did not give anyone.
It may be hard to understand how I could fall in step again so easily with the church after the background of my childhood and all the controversy I was aware of in the 80’s. I did have many issues I wanted to settle, but it didn’t take much for me at this point to accept them back, much as an abused wife believes her husband’s explanations for his outrage and promises for reform. The SDA was a familiar, comfortable spot for me after years of crisis. The SDA system offers much a person can do to feel that they are earning points with God, something I may have felt a need for after my sordid past.
I dealt with all my former doubts in various ways.
My father and all who had left the church with him did not produce good fruit. None became grounded in a biblical church. Most dove off into the world, with tragic stories. I could see no evidence that they had made the right decision.
On the issue of Ellen White, I read the book, Prophet of Destiny by Rene Noorbergen. This book clearly outlined a distinction between the gift of Ellen White and that of a common psychic or occultist. Not discerning that a false prophet posing as a Christian can look very different from a fortune teller of the occult, I bought the line and decided to accept her as a messenger of God. The book was a great piece of convincing propaganda, and once again, saved me the trouble of sitting down to test the spirits against the Word of God as we are commanded to do. I read the book Early Writings and was astonished by some bizarre stories and statements, but you can’t question a prophet of God. Once prophet status is established, all questioning ceases.
As I read portions of her writings today, I find it absolutely incredible that it took accusations of plagiarizing and character assassination to discredit her. The false teachings are in such extreme contrast to the scriptures in so many places that it amazes me it’s not obvious to everyone. The scandal of the 80’s when Walter Rae published his findings reveals to me the level of blindness that occurs in those who accept her as a messenger of God. Those investigations should have never even been necessary. Yes, it’s true she copied or wrote many beautiful, true statements. But they cannot hide or gloss over the gross contradictions which can be found sometimes as close as adjacent paragraphs to the statements that sound so biblical.
The SDA church we attended also had a different twist on Adventism I had not encountered before, which made it easier for me to come back. This gave me the impression I was actually joining something different than the church I had grown up in. They had answers for my former objections having to do with the true nature of the gospel. In essence, it was only a better way to word the same doctrines I had always been taught. Instead of all this law-keeping being a method of striving for salvation, which they defined as legalism, it was instead presented as the evidence of the Holy Spirit working in our lives and the proof of our salvation. The New Covenant was explained as the ten commandments written on our hearts instead of on stone, and that while the Israelites couldn’t obey them, we now could because Jesus had made it possible.
It sounded okay until the teachings of perfection crept back into the picture. Perfection was still required. Christ’s bride would be spotless when He returned, and He had to wait for it to be so. But instead of working in our own flesh to achieve this, God would be the one to do the work through faith. Either way, it still had to be done. And perfection included not just a loving character as Jesus taught – but all the instructions given to the last day church by Ellen White, God’s messenger. To be perfect, you could not eat any meat, cheese, use black pepper, wear jewelry, go to movies, along with a list of literally thousands of other rules she “was shown” God required of His remnant people. Here is one Ellen White statement to demonstrate how the very food you eat could put you in danger of losing your salvation.
What at first felt like a Walton’s homecoming soon became suffocating. But this was the true church! I continued to try to make it work. In spite of many things I refused to accept, the Sabbath was the sticking point that kept me from leaving or further questioning.
Baby Steps (4)
Now I can’t even remember what issue prompted me to start doubting SDA claims and begin searching for answers once again. Probably, it was a culmination of many things. My husband had doubt from day one. He couldn’t quite accept the writings of Ellen White as inspired of God. Also, he asked every SDA pastor, teacher, and theology student he could find about Zechariah 14 – where it speaks of all the nations celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles during the Millennium. Usually, they found some way to answer without really answering. I didn’t care either way, but the fact that my true church didn’t HAVE an answer made me wonder what else they didn’t know.
Another belief my husband had picked up along his spiritual diversions with Herbert Armstrong and the Jehovah’s Witness studies was the conviction that Christmas was a pagan holiday Christians should avoid. At first I couldn’t see why it mattered. Who cared where it came from thousands of years ago? But he succeeded in convincing me and I not only agreed, but began to search out origins of other traditions as well. We did not keep our views private and our pastor designed a sermon one week with us in mind – on how Christmas had pagan origins, but we should just keep it anyway. He didn’t give any good reason why we should, just his opinion. I found it ridiculous to teach Sunday worship was wrong because it originated (supposedly) from worshiping the sun god, then to use a double standard when it came to other Christian traditions.
Eventually I decided it was time to start over again and I began reading the New Testament, from start to finish. I deeply wish I had understood more of it than I did at the time, but one thing began to be glaringly obvious. The Sabbath was not the gospel of Jesus, Paul, or any of the apostles. Neither were health issues. In fact I saw clearly where early believers were instructed to NOT make an issue out of these things. I saw so many passages that contradicted what we believed. I had read them before of course, but now, as I read whole books together, getting the big picture of who said what to who and when and why, it became very difficult to apply the standard SDA interpretations to problematic passages. I began to feel a bit fearful, and confused, wondering why the contrast was so drastic. I saw myself and my fellow church members more in the logic of the Pharisees than in the teachings of Christ. I saw that Paul was concerned only for preaching the cross of Christ, and even if he did keep the Sabbath himself, he never talked about it. How could that be? Didn’t he know it would be the mark of the true believer before Christ came? I couldn’t understand how our church could have a focus so out of line with the focus of the first believers.
During this time I realized I did not trust any man-made explanations for anything anymore and begged God to send His Spirit to teach me as He has promised in His Word. I put my full trust in God to show me the way and to be my only guide. I began to journal my prayers and earnestly plead with God to show me, through His Word. I wasn’t asking for experiences anymore, just the truth. I felt so close to God, and trusted him as a child trusts a Father. If only I had been able to hang in there with that perspective. Once I felt comfortable, I let go of His hand again, thinking I could navigate in my own wisdom.
My personal study took place over the course of several months. Ironically, as I started on the book of Hebrews, I was on a trip with my mother to Andrew’s University for her graduation ceremony from nursing school. One night as I was reading in our dorm room, on the very campus where I was conceived, God gave me a present.
The very first, founding doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist church is known as the Investigative Judgment. No other church has this “truth” and historic Adventists see it as their unique message for the world. And what a message they bring. If you know the fairy tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, this will make sense. In the 1800’s, a false teacher named William Miller had set a date for the return of Jesus. When it did not happen, he set another date, one year later. This time his followers were so convinced, many failed to harvest crops or take care of other earthly matters because they believed there was no need. Sadly, the day came and went, leaving them where they stood in white ascension robes they had made themselves, in humiliation. Many committed suicide, others were placed in asylums. Newspapers around New England told the tragic events of the following days. The truth of this Adventist beginning is not what we were told growing up. The reality was very dark and destructive. A well-documented account of this history can be found in the book “It’s Okay Not to be a Seventh Day Adventist.”
Many realized they had been terribly wrong and returned to their former churches and lives in humiliation. But a faithful few, refusing to admit defeat, claimed visions explaining the true meaning of the now failed prophetic event. Ellen White was one of these disappointed followers who claimed to have been shown the true meaning of Daniel 8:14, the scripture in question. Instead of an earthly return, this significant date marked the time when Jesus moved from the Holy Place to the Most Holy Place in the heavenly tabernacle in order to cleanse it. They taught that as Christ moved from one compartment to the next, He was beginning a new phase in His ministry as our mediator, and working to finally complete the work of atonement for mankind. This is a serious heresy and a results in a “different gospel” than one we have been given through the apostles.
What most Adventists do not realize what Ellen White believed and taught for several years after this, that everything had been decided and no one else except those that had accepted the message in 1844 could be saved. It was known as the “shut door” doctrine, and she even claimed this belief was supported through vision – a vision that has been conveniently removed from modern church history, but careful research shows this was the belief of the first Seventh Day Adventists. For more information see http://www.ellenwhiteexposed.com/
Just as the high priest of Israel entered to make atonement once a year, they now teach that in 1844, Christ entered to make his final atonement. Ellen White clearly stated in her writings that the atonement was not finished at the cross. This work consists of reviewing the life record of every person who has claimed to believe in Him and determine if they are worthy of salvation. If they are, his blood is applied to their sins. If not, they are lost, and blotted out. In order for the sanctuary to be truly cleansed, the believers still alive on the earth at the point of His return will have to be completely without sin or they would once again defile the Most Holy Place and Jesus could not cease His work there and return for His spotless bride.
The final nail on the coffin of our blessed hope was the fact that no one could know when they were being scrutinized. If you were having a bad day when your name came up and failed to adequately confess your sins to God, you might have a tragic outcome. They taught Jesus started with the names of the dead first, then would move on to those who were still alive shortly before His return. From this you can easily see why the doctrine of soul sleep is also necessary. You can’t have conscious spirits of believers running around in heaven if they haven’t even been judged or at their atonement applied to their name. Very problematic.
I’m sure many would take issue with various points of my explanation, but this is how I clearly remember the teaching through the years, as do many others. The church has applied many spins on it since the controversy began decades ago, trying to give it validity when it has no biblical basis whatsoever. I’d heard a few explanations of what it “really meant”, but I don’t know how you reconcile your prophet as valid, then proceed to not take her at her word and reinvent the doctrines she helped devise. Once again, I highly recommend the book previously mentioned, Cultic Doctrine.
How does this negate the gospel? I could not begin to count the ways. Yet, as a mind has been taken in by twisted biblical interpretation and trained to make sense of double speak, it makes complete sense. When I finally realized how badly this teaching destroyed the true picture of the finished work of Jesus on the cross, it sickened me, and still does.
That day in Michigan I read a wonderful passage in Hebrews.
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, Hebrews 10:12
I cannot begin to explain in words the effect this verse had on me. I’m thankful I am not a seminary theologian, and was able to take this simple statement at face value. There are times when you can read a passage of scripture and it becomes more than physical words on a page. The Word of God is alive and when it enters us, it changes us. When truth has been imparted to our inner man, our spirit resonates with recognition. In one very quick moment, a huge lie I had believed crumbled into nothingness. I experienced incredible peace, joy, elation, thankfulness, and I had no one to tell. I wanted to jump up and down and shout with glee. Maybe I should have, but I was not even close to being ready for a confrontation. I was in the enclave of the most respected SDA scholars, so how could an unlearned simpleton like me understand the Bible? However, I now know many of them are only pretending to believe this doctrine to avoid losing their status and positions. I called my husband and said, “I have something very exciting to tell you when I get home!”
I also recognized in short order that any “prophet” seeking to teach the aforementioned heresy could not be a true prophet of God. Easy conclusion. I could care less what wonderful things she wrote that were actually correct. A prophet is not given the privilege of false visions and false doctrines. Good statements do not justify the falsehood. False teachers take true statements and use them as bait in order to place the hook of their lies in people’s minds, whether they realize they are being used this way or not.
Other verses in Hebrews added to the witness against her and a church who continues to propagate a teaching which is a known fabrication and leaves people striving in fear, without true faith in the finished work of Christ.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Hebrews 1:3
Looking to Jesus, the founder and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2
Even a child with an understanding of the gospel could identify the problem here. This story I’m telling does not glorify me in any way, and it gets worse before it gets better. As I look back at my ignorant past, it does not bring pride, but shame and embarrassment. I tell it to expose the lies, and to warn others from taking the same paths.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Psalms 51:12,13
The Leap (5)
Prior to my trip to Michigan, we had stopped attending church for a short time over personal issues. I won’t go into details because it does not pertain to the point of this story. However, we did learn some valuable lessons about gossip and respecting authority, even if you are not in agreement with it. We acted wrongly and we repented and apologized for our actions. Being a long way from accepting traditional Christianity, we had nowhere else to go during this time. We tried to have “church” with just our own family, but it turned out to be flat and felt like we were just going through motions. One day we went for a nature hike, one of the Sabbath memories of my childhood I enjoyed. I thought we could have church out in the woods, but it still felt silly and lonely to be doing church by ourselves.
In March of that year, (my trip was in August) my husband cut off a finger on a miter saw at work. He had surgery to have it put back on, eventually making a miraculous recovery, but he could not work for three months. God met all our needs during those months through many sources. Even though we had not attended for months, our small SDA church showed up at our door with massive quantities of food and household goods. They had also taken up an offering for us. We were very touched. We could tell they had genuine concern and their act of compassion did cause us to reconsider. We went back, and even with comments from a friend and one lay member’s sermon, suggesting the accident was a result of our unfaithfulness, we took it in stride. A series of evangelistic meetings were coming up and we agreed to help out in any way we could.
I returned from my trip to Michigan just before the meetings started. My husband felt he should keep his word and help as he had promised, although our doctrinal doubts were mounting exponentially. Our pastor rented a conference room at the local college and they advertised all over town without identifying the denomination. People showed up from many different churches to hear lectures on prophecy. The first night the pastor instructed his evangelism team that if anyone asked us if he was a pastor, to say, “No, but he might be pastoring a church here in the fall.” My husband flat refused and said he would not lie about it. We couldn’t believe he would even suggest such a thing. Evidently the commandment about lying is okay to break as long as you are getting people to believe in the Sabbath.
My husband’s job was to videotape each meeting. He endured the full dose of doctrine every evening. I came to most of the meetings also, and as the veil was beginning to lift, I saw so many things in a different light. While I still believed in Sabbath observance, I couldn’t make the connection where Sunday worship became the mark of the beast. My recent epiphany had put me on high alert for further biblically inconsistent teachings. It seemed that while we had been claiming to teach an orthodox gospel, this teaching contradicted it, believing the final destiny of each person in the end times depended on a day of worship. How could an outward, amoral observance be a test of faithfulness if we are saved only by faith in Jesus? These concepts can only co-exist in the world of divided thinking.
The crystal clear message of the entire series came through for us, and it wasn’t Jesus. He was included, but He wasn’t the message. I could no longer belong to a church with a false prophet, false teaching, and false agenda. While they claimed to be obeying the Law of God, they had created a massive system of idolatry, not only of the Law itself, but of their own organization. So much literature centered on singing their own praises, confirming they were indeed, the only true and remnant church of Bible prophecy. Where I saw in other believers an earnest burden to reach the lost, we only wanted to show Christians which day to worship.
We finally made our exit. We stopped attending again, and wrote a letter asking to be removed from their membership. The experience was so uneventful that I now can’t even remember who called, who didn’t, or what they asked. We encountered no confrontations or theological debates as anticipated. Even now, nearly ten years later, we still have contact with many SDA members we knew then, and to this day, no one asks the question you want them to ask. “Why did you leave?”
And Again . . . (6)
The first few weeks were agonizing, simply because I loved and missed my church family very much. Our departure had nothing at all to do with personal offenses. I felt like I had filed for divorce, not renounced a membership. Their overall silence also hurt, but I understood. I had been on their side of the fence long enough to know what they were thinking. If we had been able to find a church quickly, maybe the transition could have been easier, but we were not ready for an evangelical church, and they certainly would not have understood us. We made a few half-hearted attempts, but found it too confusing and frustrating. We discovered we had several obstacles. Some originated in from our own issues we had not settled, others developed as we tried to navigate so many different flavors of Christianity.
Our baggage was loaded down with the following problems:
- Still feeling superior to mainstream protestant/evangelical churches due to holding the Sabbath/Biblical Feast observance perspective, even if we were not practicing it ourselves. We had also been taught an unbalanced view of church history which caused us to view all churches with suspicion.
- Believing in soul sleep, and no eternal hell
- Seeking the same, warm community feeling all churches should have, but more commonly found in cults which have a false unity not based in Christ alone. (We have discovered what happens to this bond of “Christian” love when you no longer agree with them.)
- Placing too much emphasis on needing to agree with absolutely everything a church teaches or practices.
- We still did not celebrate Christmas
Our first year out of the church can be compared to getting your first job at McDonald’s then looking for an investment broker. Not only did we not have much to offer, we had no idea what we were looking for.
Not surprisingly, we found ourselves at home again, without the resolve to keep searching. We came to believe church should be simple, without all the trappings of tradition and rigid forms. A Bible study began in our home with several other wayward, confused souls, some of whom had also left the SDA church. We continued with the study for a couple years. People took turns leading out, and we had great, informal discussion and fellowship. Eventually, nearly everyone found a church home. Everyone but us. We began visiting around again but found ourselves floundering. I began working part-time and between busy schedules, and non-Christian influences at work, my spiritual walk took a nose dive. I felt like we’d been hung out to dry. We were between a world we left, and a world we couldn’t quite accept completely.
After a few failed attempts which included more drama I won’t bother to describe, we found ourselves aimlessly driving one Sunday morning, hungry for Christian fellowship, but at a loss to know where to go. I suddenly remembered a church I’d seen driving one day. It just said, “Bible Church” and I thought that sounded uncomplicated enough. My husband agreed for lack of a better idea, and we went. And we continued going. They had no agenda, no wild antics, no personality cult, just our picture of quietly normal. It was quiet (okay, dead) and we could just assume a semi-sentient position in a pew.
The pastor of several years had just made a painful departure, and an elder was filling in on the preaching duties while they were seeking to hire a new one. While we encountered a rather somber atmosphere, and heard murmurings of bygone days of glory, we found some genuine people and opportunities to make ourselves useful. I wish the story ended here, with our content and diligence to keep serving the Body of Christ in humility and simplicity.
No, it doesn’t. Somewhere in the back of our minds, many things still rattled around, unsettled. While trying to blend into a Protestant church, we had a pet obsession. We were fascinated with anything pertaining to Israel and the Biblical feasts. Still not celebrating Christmas, we felt out of place around the holidays, didn’t want to argue with anyone about it, yet saw the feasts as a way to fill the void. Someone gave us a book to read on how they fulfilled prophecy and that primed the pump even more. There seemed to be such a depth of knowledge in it we had never tapped into, but still didn’t know how to mine it out on our own. We longed for a truly biblical lifestyle free from pagan influences. I began to feel that if I could study the Bible from a Jewish perspective, I could understand Jesus so much better.
While this can be a helpful pursuit in some ways, the problem was not in my desire for more knowledge, but my persistent discontent with the Christianity. I had come from a culture saturated in an attitude of superiority. I can now see how I carried that over, and needed to find some way to maintain my superior spiritual opinion of my beliefs. I could not consent to being a simple Christian. We never actually joined this church although we attended for nearly a year.
My husband also had a similar fault, driven by insecurities. Cults often attract insecure people seeking to put on an identity which will bolster their own shaky self-image. We noted later, in a very unscientific observation, that many in cult circles who are the most fanatical come from homes with no strong father figure, or an abusive one. We believe there is a connection. Cults put us in a wrong relationship with God, not truly trusting His word and what He has promised. We feel we need to add to it, make it better, more sure. We want to DO something to assure ourselves of our heavenly Father’s love, since we know it wasn’t free or easy to attain growing up from our earthly father. Most people don’t join cults because they have carefully thought out the theology and doctrine. I would dare say the emotional pull is much stronger than any other factor. Not that I have scientific data or the government funding to collect any.
In all our searching, all we wanted was a place that felt like home, both in fellowship and in belief. But just as a person walking in a blizzard can freeze to death only a few feet away from safety, thinking they are lost, we too lost our way so close to a safe haven. A new pastor had been hired and we loved him. We knew he and his family would make a difference there, but it was not enough to overcome our waywardness. We had managed to stay at this church longer than anywhere we’d landed, but six months into our relationship with them, we received an invitation.
Here’s Your Sign (7)
This part of the story is difficult for me to tell. I don’t know if you ever feel such a closeness to people as you do with those who share your illusion that you are special and all alone, together. While our close ties now seem to have been held together by the wrong things, I grieve the loss of the illusion nonetheless.
I also find it hard to face up to our ignorance and stupidity, (Some of you might recognize the comedic reference in the title of this page.) so you know this account is not being told for own glory. I tell it because so many people are falling into the same trap. I am amazed at the number of friends and family I am encountering of those who are diving off into the same waters we barely escaped from. I’m here to sound an alarm.
Did you ever turn down a wrong road, fully convinced you were on the right one? Did you pass many clues along the way that would have revealed you were off track if you had paid closer attention? Did you perhaps look straight at them and think, “Well, that is very strange, but I know this is the right road!” How far did you have to drive, and what did it finally take to make you realize you needed to turn around and find the road you thought you turned on to begin with?
I could probably list 25 reasons why people choose a lie over the truth – from lack of diligence to outright rebellion. Whatever the reason, we have to take ownership of it, and not blame anyone else for our decisions. We are not victims. The word says…
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 2 Peter 1:3
Recognition, confession, repentance, restoration… these are the steps back.
Blame prevents step one from ever taking place, and makes reaching step four very difficult.
Our Hebrew Roots adventure truly began when a good friend of ours from the days of our home Bible study group came in contact with us again. We started meeting with him and his new girlfriend once a week to study like we had done before. We even attempted to start another group, in an outreach type endeavor, which didn’t have much success. But as we rekindled our friendship, he began to tell us about a group he had been visiting in a nearby town. He said they were something called “Messianic”. He explained that they observed the Jewish customs, were very pro-Israel, and he had glowing testimonies of the man who organized the meetings at his small, semi-urban “ranch”. He assured us over and over that they believed in Jesus (Yeshua) but just preferred this way of life and perspective.
I balked immediately. While the feasts interested me, and I loved to study about Israel, both modern and ancient, the “group” concept scared me. I told my husband that I did not believe it was possible for a group of people to make this their focus without getting weird an legalistic. I could explore these things, and maybe even observe them, on my own. While I wasn’t completely comfortable in church, I was willing to make concessions in order to have fellowship.
But, my husband had other ideas. He wanted very badly to go, so I agreed to at least visit. They contradicted all my preconceived ideas of a law-keeping group the first night. The leader and his grown daughter, both masters of hospitality (and/or salesmanship) gave us the warmest welcome we had experienced in our entire lives. Their meeting format closely resembled our own style of home bible studies; informal, open discussion, intimate prayer time, and of course, a time to eat. We developed an almost instant connection with them – love at first sight you could say. I don’t know if it was the joy of simply finding others who had similar interests or the familiar house church setting which I missed, but I was hooked. I told my husband I had been wrong, these people were different.
I immediately developed in my mind a characteristic of what I wanted this group to be, and completely ignored all evidence to the contrary. On one of the first few meetings I attended, a heated discussion arose over something that began to sound familiarly legalistic to me. I firmly stated my position, referring to my background and all that entailed. I said I did not want to ever get back into a place of judging other people based on their level of obedience to my own understanding of God’s ways. I guess I figured since it was open discussion, and there was no doctrinal statement, I could just mark it down as the variations of opinion you will always find in any group of people. My comments were taken well, and seemed to change the direction of the conversation, so I didn’t think it was anything to be concerned over. Here’s your sign.
They had the same contradictions as all people who endeavor to keep the law. Some would find it not a problem to work at their jobs on Sabbath while at the same time making sure all the food products they purchased were certified as kosher. Here’s your sign.
They only met every other week on Saturday night, so doing this on the side while still going to church was no problem at all. No one urged us to leave our church, and one other family attended a Baptist church as well. We found the fellowship so enjoyable and stimulating we could not wait for our meetings with them. We were invited over for dinner to one home and they demonstrated the Friday night Shabbat family dinner, with the candles, challah bread, blessings, and songs. Sabbath was honored and relished, like a fine dessert at the end of six course meal. We also began again to try and set it aside as a special day again, not in the way we had as Adventists, but in the “Hebrew” way. We studied our Torah portion to be discussed later in the Saturday evening meeting, or had a family day.
We enjoyed our first celebrations of Rosh Hoshanna, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot with them, learning all we could about how to get the most out of these holidays. We had so many questions, trying to make sense of what came from scripture, and adding Jewish traditions as well. At times it seemed foreign and unnatural, as if we should be spectators and not participants. But we assured ourselves with our belief that as believers we were grafted into Israel which gave us the right to their customs as well.
Every Hebrew Roots group has its own flavor and areas of emphasis. Where some take Jewish traditions and seek to improve them to make them more correct, a different kind of anti-Semitism can develop, one that says, “I can be a better Jew than the Jew himself.” These groups take and adapt what they like from modern Judaism, and make up the rest. This particular group however elevated Israel and Jewish people to the point of dangerous obsession. During one evening’s service, the man leading the group revealed his own precarious position in regard to Rabbis and the word of God. We read the weekly passage, and he proceeded to teach exactly the opposite of the clear surface meaning of the text because some rabbis had decided it was completely against Jewish thought, and therefore incorrect. Later that evening he showed us several 3-ring binders he had full of rabbinic teachings he had printed off the internet, all organized to coincide with the weekly Torah portions. (The Torah reading schedule is fairly consistent throughout the year for all orthodox Jews). He later told my husband anything written by a gentile was not worth reading.
Somehow a non-believing Jew happened upon us one week. He was a gentle, dear soul from New York. He said he did not believe, but found the study of Yeshua interesting. He did not hear much of Him in our group. They were too busy fawning over him, and making sure not to say or do anything to offend him. You cannot bring a Jewish person to his Messiah if you are concerned about offense. Jesus is the rock of offense. I saw an amazing, giddy reaction to this man that I would see again a few years later.
Another man in our group of Jewish ethnicity was also discovering the roots of his own people, but had been raised in a Christian home. Based only in the fact that he was the sole Jewish person among us, the founder of the group decided to make him our teacher. We liked our Jewish friend very much, but he was not equipped to teach. During our first camp out for Sukkot, he confided in my husband that he knew of someone that was having doubts that Jesus was the Messiah. It later became clear he was speaking of himself.
At a women’s fellowship sleep over, one woman testified that she loved this movement because in church all they talked about was Jesus. She wanted to know about God the Father, and being in this group had helped her to learn about that. I gently brought up that Jesus said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” This unbelievable statement I heard again later from others.
We took issue with these problems in our own private conversations, but didn’t see them as reason enough to change course. We weren’t under anyone’s thumb to believe a certain way by an organization or a man, so we didn’t realize we were under the spell of a spiritually deceptive movement instead. We loved what we were doing, found meaning in celebrations centered on Biblical themes, and prophetic of end-times. We believed the promises of the Torah, that those who lived by it would be blessed. We insisted to ourselves and others from the beginning that we were only making a personal choice to live this lifestyle, and it had nothing to do with our standing with God as far as our salvation was concerned. We believed traditional Christians were just as saved, but we had a slightly higher opinion of our way of life over theirs.
Last Chance Billboard (8)
As if we had not seen enough evidence to turn around yet, the signs kept getting larger.
The leader of this group, who I will refer to here as Tex, had an incredibly magnetic personality. He could make anyone feel loved and welcomed in a matter of minutes. I also detected the heavy use of flattery as well, which proves to be an effective, manipulative tool. At times I refused to accept it, becoming very uncomfortable with his frequent exaggerated compliments. I have trouble accepting simple and genuine compliments, let alone lavish, concocted ones. But in spite of all the quirks, we couldn’t help but love him. He was a strong figure in our early acceptance of the movement.
We were drawn into attraction of the people first, then our objectivity was greatly clouded when it came to the what should have been obvious warnings to steer clear. People seeking love and acceptance are huge targets for any group that will treat them with love and concern. We found the close community we were seeking with people who had a common interest. Our objectivity disappeared. We WANTED to belong there, and we didn’t want to see anything that should have warned a Bible-believing, Christ-following believer to stay away.
We were soon greatly disappointed. As anyone who puts their trust in a human being faces a letdown, we soon discovered that our friend who appeared so loving on the exterior, could exhibit vicious social behavior. He set his sights on another man in the group with a strong personality who evidently had caused an offense by inviting people over to his own home for a Bible study on the alternate weeks that our group did not meet. Tex called my husband to meet with him under the pretense that he should look at some construction work he might want him to help out with. When he arrived, it became clear the purpose of the meeting was not business, but the venting of a personal vendetta and a political play for my husband’s support. After we talked it over, our biggest question was, “Why isn’t he taking this offense to the one he’s upset with? Why is he talking to us?” I could see where a misunderstanding could have occurred, but to handle it in this way brought back some bad memories of other situations I had failed to do the right thing.
My husband called Tex back and told him very honestly that he could not support his attempts to ostracize or vilify the accused party and encouraged him to to to the man personally. We repeatedly asked that Tex, and later other group members he had included in his campaign, to please go to the man and settle it as brothers. After nearly two months of underhanded moves to minimize the man’s influence, they had a final discussion, concluding that the man was not their “brother” and that they were not under any obligation to go to him as Jesus instructed in Matthew.
This was the last straw for us and we eventually told the “offender” ourselves what had been going on. He was our friend, and we felt he had a right to know. Maybe we should not have revealed the problem, but it was too difficult being caught in the middle. We could not stay in a group that handled an offense so untrue to principles of love and justice taught by Christ, so we left.
You’d think with all the warning shots that had been fired up to this point, this clear exhibition of the genuine fruit would have been a neon sign warning, “No love this direction. Turn around!” But we did not see the sign. We had been disappointed by individuals, but we were now committed to the philosophy and lifestyle. We believed people were human, made mistakes, and saw no connection at all between the teaching, focus, and the attitudes. We had no idea that years later, the same sickness would envelope our own hearts too.
A Fork in the Road (9)
Before we left our first Hebrew Roots group, we had already been invited to help out with another one further away. Our good friend who had been the source of derision in the previous group had asked my husband to play guitar for the other congregation meeting every Sabbath morning near his home. Up to this point we were still attending our church as well, and while we loved the people there too, we could not keep up with so much activity. We believed we had finally found a spiritual home in the Messianic movement so we told our church, which we had never joined, that we were leaving. Since we had not given our hearts to it fully, we made the transition easily. We honestly felt God was leading us in this new direction, and no one we talked to showed concern. We chose our words carefully when explaining our position to other Christians. We knew they would not really understand, so we didn’t tell them everything. No one understood enough about the movement to warn us away. Not that we would have listened.
We settled into the new group for about a year. They met in a rented building and conducted a more formal service patterned after a Messianic synagogue format. This included traditional blessings in Hebrew and English, Messianic worship songs, public reading of the weekly Torah portion and Parashah, (the prophets). After the formalities, we would gather for teaching which would sometimes include relevant scripture from the New Testament, but this part of scripture was never the main focus of learning. The teaching was also supplemented frequently with the rabbinic writings, especially those found in a Jewish reference called the Chumash. This book contained the Torah portions in Hebrew and English with rabbinical commentary on the bottom of each page. These rabbis spoke for Judaism throughout the ages, and were not teachers who have come to faith in Christ. While they were not presented as infallible authorities, and we often disagreed with them, the fact that we were seeking spiritual wisdom from these men at all should have been obviously dangerous. However, instead of looking at this cautiously, we reasoned that the Jewish people have had the scriptures much longer than we have, so they must have some insight. I now find it painful to realize we would have taken Rambam over a good Christian author in a heartbeat.
This congregation also invited a well-known HRM teacher in for a two day conference. We had read one of his books on the festivals quite some time before we came into contact with the movement itself. We were so excited to hear him speak. The experience was not unlike an alcoholic sitting down for a nice afternoon of gin and tonics. We were thirsty for more new knowledge, more insights into the deeper mysteries. Of course by this time, discernment was a friend that I’d abandoned long ago. Now nearly everything that came under the guise of my new belief system, I would accept.
During the conference, the teacher laid out a doctrine very similar to what my husband had picked up from Herbert W. Armstrong and British Israelism. I’d never accepted the teaching in the format presented by Armstrong, but this man laid it all out, scripture by scripture. He poured out volumes of information in a few short hours without using any notes. I was amazed at his intellect, and everything he said made sense to me. He showed me I was just as much an Israelite as Mr. Goldberg down the street. Where before I had felt out of place practicing Jewish customs, I soon became confident as he convinced us of our identity in Israel. I wanted so badly to belong to God’s people, the chosen nation. Just being in Christ wasn’t good enough in itself and did not seem to be enough justification for our lifestyle. Now we had a “covenant”, and I don’t mean the new one. A major shift took place in our thinking at this point.
Taking the perspective that we were a covenant people with promised blessings for our obedience, the Torah became even more vital for study and a source of instruction for our daily lives. We had begun with the attitude we were choosing an alternate expression of our faith in Jesus – not the only right one, just a different one. Now, a gradual slide took place that transferred our choices from optional to obligatory obedience. Never admitting this saved us in any way, and stressing over and over to friends and family that we believed Jesus was the Son of God who died for us, we then maintained that God’s law never changed and we desired to keep it out of our love for Him. We couldn’t understand why anyone would malign someone’s desire to simply obey God. We certainly criticized Christians (in private) for NOT obeying God’s commands. While we repeatedly claimed our obedience was motivated only by our love for God and His ways over man’s ways, we were blind to other strong, less admirable motivations. Only after we were delivered did we realize the fault in ourselves that drew us to a deviant belief system, over and over.
The covenant confusion was a natural step for me coming out of the Seventh-day Adventist teaching. We had always been taught that the New Covenant was the same as the old one, just with a change of address. Instead of being written on stone, God transferred it to the hearts of believers through the Holy Spirit. But when we looked at the law, we realized the ten commandments could not be axed from the rest of the covenant. A contract is a contract. You don’t get to pick and choose which parts you agree with and which parts don’t apply to you.
Although this is true, we were still under a delusion that we were actually keeping it. We faulted SDA’s for an illogical pick of the dietary laws while also saying only the “moral” law (the big ten) was now in effect. Yet we, who obliged ourselves to the whole law, also had to make concessions. We couldn’t stone people, take or free slaves, legally marry more than one person, pay our tithe in agricultural products, or get our family inheritance of land back every 50 years, even if we could actually figure out which lost tribe we belonged to. Our astute reasoning followed that 1: some commands were fulfilled in Christ such as sacrificing animals 2: some were not possible to obey unless you live in the land of Israel and have a standing temple 3: some were civil laws that required a theocratic government, and finally, 4: Everything you could figure out how to apply to your life, you would be blessed for observing.
The converse was also then true, although seldom mentioned, the dreaded curse that goes on for several chapters in Deuteronomy for those who choose to ignore God’s commands. Outright refusal to obey or observe something that was within your power to perform was seen as an open door for the destroyer to enter your gates and take his due. But you could still be saved, because of Jesus. You just wouldn’t be blessed. Some would even go so far to say that you would be lost. Everything was reduced to outward actions and physical elements, attempting to connect with God and “draw near” as the Israelites in the wilderness desired the Shekinah Presence in their portable tabernacle. How does one fall from having the Reality to walking in a shadow of uncertainty? When I saw the stark contrast between the two, my foundations were shaken to the core. I doubted I ever believed at all.
I know many HRM followers who read this will say, “That’s not what I believe!”
We had a very wide range of contact in this movement for over six years. We knew people from at least 8 congregations in our area alone. Through a home school group we met even more. At regional festival gatherings, still more. I am not presenting the odd beliefs of a fringe group off in a corner by themselves. These and other characteristics I am going to describe were widespread. While there are exceptions of course, and some people shine the love of Jesus in spite of their false beliefs, walls of denial are much more common than these happy exceptions.
Blazing a Trail (10)
After about a year of going through the same rituals every week, and getting frustrated with the dry atmosphere of the second congregation, we became restless again. Some people we knew from our own area became interested in what we were studying, so we had a strong desire to start another group of our own. We missed the relaxed, living-room style we had learned to love in our home Bible study. The formula consisted of music, prayer, reading the Word, discussing the Word, and eating. The only hitch seemed to be that we didn’t have a house of our own at the time. Living with friends in a mutually beneficial, but temporary arrangement, we put everything on hold until we could find our own place. Our friends then suggested we could start one in their home, as they had also become very interested in our ideas. We spent many late nights with our Bibles and coffee having lively discussions.
Not wanting to be in competition with our current congregation, my husband went to the leader and explained to him our plans up front. Our motive was not to take away from what they were doing, but to simply create a new congregation in our local area. We were driving an hour to attend the other one. He even asked the man to mentor him in leadership and teaching. He agreed, although the relationship did not continue for much longer after our initial start. Two families did move out to our rural area from the city however, which surprised us, and gave us a good start. For the next 4 years we averaged 8 to 10 families on a regular basis, with a large number of children.
From the beginning we wanted our group to be different. We’d seen the problems of unloving attitudes, and also of dead formality. We wanted real, down-to-earth fellowship, a loving community, and a relaxed atmosphere. We stressed in the beginning that while we were practicing a Torah observant lifestyle, it was not to be the main issue or point of our fellowship. We were going to simply read through the scriptures and explain our practices if asked. We truly wanted our group to be an inviting for anyone to feel welcome. Although we were becoming more “Israelite” ourselves in our thinking, at this stage we still wanted open doors to all believers, and to reach out to non-believers.
The early days of this group, which we named Yada Elohim (which means “know God”), were some of the best times of fellowship we have ever experienced. Everything we envisioned for a body of believers was becoming a reality. We loved to study (and debate of course) the scriptures, so discussions would often go into the wee hours of the morning. We began to learn Hebrew dance and laughed at our inability to coordinate our feet. Sometimes we would wake up in the morning and find people were still there, crashed out on a sofa or on the floor in the office. Our dear friends who so generously opened their home to us began to feel the stress of the weekly invasion. For them, it proved to be an overwhelming strain so we doubled our efforts to find a home, for ourselves and the congregation.
Yada Elohim found a home first. Ironically, the head elder of the newly established SDA church in our own town (an old acquaintance we still had contact with periodically) called my husband to ask where we were meeting. He offered us their new building at a very affordable price. It had a huge kitchen, a large area for fellowship and a comfortable smaller room for our study time. I felt I’d come full circle, back in an SDA church building, but this time with a more complete truth.
During this time we encountered other teachers in the HRM, both in our area, and those that came to speak for special conferences and feast gatherings. We never latched on to any one teacher as many do, nor would I care to name the ones we studied from. They don’t need my free publicity, nor do I want some HRM person assuring themselves they are fine because their favorite isn’t on my list. These teaching must be judged on principles of scripture, not on personalities.
Our group had two or three men that were willing to rotate the teaching duties, each with their own unique approach. Some just read it and added their own “educated” commentary while others spent a great deal of time digging in and presenting elaborate teachings derived from other commentators who mysteriously were never quoted or given credit. We followed the same synagogue reading schedule of the Torah which involved reading aloud 3 or 4 chapters, someone expounding and open discussion. Instead of any discussion about how the passage could directly lead us in our relationship with God, people seemed drawn into endless speculations of minutia that seldom had an answer. Seeking knowledge of the Word of God is honorable. But many began seeking a knowledge of scripture beyond the surface meanings and started to delve into gematria and deep allegories. While at first I was amazed so much could be extracted from the scripture, I soon became frustrated with this method of study. I felt some were freely spreading wild speculations as fact, and the information was of the nature that no one could test it for themselves to see if it was really true. Either way, very little of it had any direct application to my spiritual life.
Another unexpected development came when many people in our group began making issues out of things we felt were distracting and unimportant, such as what words to use in reference to God and Christ, as well as many other aspects of our faith. Disagreements arose over which calendar should be used to correctly determine when the holy days occurred. Later we began to hear disturbing ideas that some thought it would be okay to practice sacrificing a lamb at Passover, and that polygamy was still a valid practice, which was more kindly called, “patriarchal marriage”. We shrugged these things off as fanatical fringes of the movement, (no one in our group actually practiced these things – although we had occasionally had visitors that did). Looking back it was a bit like Hansel and Gretel, hungrily following a trail of bread crumbs, finding the gingerbread house, then being fattened up for the kill. A sick feeling would start to sweep over me from time to time, and I felt keenly trapped during those episodes.
Seeking true spiritual encouragement, I turned to reading books about missionaries and martyrs, and I began to hear disturbing questions in my mind. Why didn’t they have “the truth” when they were so obviously led by God, and if we did, why didn’t I know any HRM groups with any fruit resembling theirs? Those question would eventually demand an answer.
The Realization (11)
After more than four years of trying to make it all work on our own, my husband and I were sitting in a Mexican restaurant, enjoying fajitas in celebration of my birthday. I was also enjoying a very rare treat of a margarita, and I could feel all my heavy anxiety float away. (Alcohol consumption is common in the HRM. We do not see the Bible teaches it’s a sin to do so in moderation, however we now feel convicted not to be a stumbling block to others.) “I can definitely see why this substance is addictive! I feel very happy right now!” I told him. I had not felt so relaxed in many months. Life had become a heavy burden. I was consumed with personal conflicts, duties I could not perform adequately, and beneath it all, an overwhelming sense of spiritual decay. I told my husband that if I accomplished nothing else at all in the next year, I was going to renew my daily relationship with God through His word and prayer. This part of my life had become a distant memory.
I began simply, haltingly, as an old oxcart that has been sitting for a few years trying to overcome its rusted axles. As I pained my way through the dryness, little by little, life was coaxed back into my spirit as I reconnected and renewed my mind. The Holy Spirit began to show me uncomfortable pictures about my life. For a few months He hammered away at me about fruit. I read through the book of Matthew where Jesus spoke in many different terms about spiritual fruitfulness. He made no mistake about how he defined it, then also made it plain that this was not optional. An apple tree WILL produce apples, or else it be not an apple tree. If a tree does not produce fruit, it is given time, but then chopped down if it does not respond to “fertilization.” I realized the high calling of following Him, and that if I am truly His, specific things should be evident in my life as evidence of abiding in Him.
One of the passages that haunted me was:
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. John 7:38
This was not at all a description of my life. Jesus had a focus in his teachings that we did not have. We were straining out many gnats, but in the process, the camels were causing a great deal of spiritual indigestion. If you were to study the life cycle of group dynamics, I’m sure we would have fit some classic pattern with a fancy name, but it wasn’t the pattern of the Church shown in scripture, directed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The amazing stories I had read of missionaries and others doing great things for God kept running through my mind. Our attitude and focus would have never allowed us to experience God in this way, and that began to bother me more and more.
After the first year in our newly formed group I had begun to sense the spiritual rewards we had expected were missing. For all the teaching about commandments, simple morality seemed to elude many, which we found troubling. Drinking was accepted and even encouraged at some festivals, some individuals over indulging. Personal tensions began to run very high and the inevitable strife ensued. Of course, these all happen in Christianity as well, but we were supposed to be different through our observance of the commandments! This was not developing as expected. We also lacked any desire to outreach.
At first I reasoned to myself the the vivid contrast between our fruit and those of active Christians was caused by our lack of diligence, not our teaching. We had the truth! I prayed harder, for awhile. But even that eventually ceased as I became nearly spiritually paralyzed from despair. One day I realized that we had become true Israelites, but not in a good way. Just as they had stood at the mountain and begged Moses to speak to them rather than hear the voice of God for themselves, so we also had chosen to look to Moses and substituted his voice for the superior voice from Mt. Zion, the voice of Christ through the Holy Spirit. We didn’t want that kind of challenge, or the responsibility that came with it. We wanted to stay a safe distance away where we could formulate theological definitions and keep our religion in a box. I was disgusted with the movement, and with myself.
We had fruit all right, but it had no seeds to reproduce, and it had thorns all over it. We had planted a hybrid seed from a bad stalk. Hybrids are impressive agricultural wonders, created from mixing two breeds of a plant together to gain the best possible characteristics from both, and combine them into one “super” plant. The fruit of these are often either sterile or produce very inferior offspring. Just as hybrid plants cannot effectively reproduce, neither could we as spiritual hybrids. We had mixed two religions, attempting to get the best from both, thinking we had a new and improved method of practicing faith in God. When this artificial life had run its course in our own lives, we were spent, and realized we were not capable of passing on our contrived spiritual life to anyone else.
As this realization of our true spiritual condition sank deeper through my layers of denial, I became deeply grieved and concerned that I was possibly not a believer at all. I wondered if every motive I had for everything I did was for some selfish desire, or from fear, and not out of love for Christ. God was preparing my heart for what He was about to show my husband.
One Hundred and Eighty (12)
I’m so amazed how God draws, coaxes, allows us to pursue our own desires and learn from those mistakes. He is an amazing Father than knows exactly how much, when, and where for every individual. My husband and I had come to a place that we sensed a major change was on the horizon. We knew we needed one but had no idea what to change.
Shortly after my birthday resolution, the husband of one of our group members passed away after a long battle with cancer. After this emotionally draining time, Jeff was completely burned out. Our group had started to fall apart at the seams in many ways and relationships were strained. Everything we were doing started to feel pointless and took an enormous amount of energy just to show up for duty. Jeff made the decision to step down and pass on the teaching and decision-making duties to others. We still attended and he played the guitar for the worship service, but this was our only involvement. He decided to take days as he could to fast and pray, and seek God.
One day, while he was in this state of mind, he went back to the bedroom for some quiet time to study. He had become increasingly uncomfortable over a particular HRM issue and wanted to study on it. He didn’t really know where to begin to look for his answers, but God knew what he needed to see at that moment. His Bible fell open to Galatians, and for some reason he decided to read the entire book. I have heard plenty of crazy stories about people opening up to just the page they needed for an answer, and never quite knew if they were true. I don’t know about all the stories, but I do know a miracle happened that day.
Galatians is a book we never studied through in our whole time in the HRM up to this point, or any of Paul’s other writings for that matter. The New Testament got very little attention at all, unless it was to bolster some point in the Torah we wanted to prove. I had read through Galatians on my own once or twice in those years, trying to impress the meaning into it as I read, of what I thought Paul really meant to say even though it didn’t sound like it. For the most part, we shrugged off the entire book as being directed only to people who believed you must observe the law to be saved. That’s not what we taught, so we didn’t believe anything in this book applied to us. My view of Galatians in the HRM was essentially the same as it had been in the Adventist church. We just added more law, but we still maintained that obedience to God could not be argued against, so he couldn’t be talking to us. We were right about obedience, but wrong about the nature of our obligations. We had the same veil over our hearts and minds, blind to the reality of a NEW covenant.
2 Cor. 3:14-18 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
I can’t tell you how true this is. When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed and the Spirit of the Lord does bring freedom in so many ways. Simply reading the words on a page never changed anyone without the power of the Holy Spirit to impart the truth to the inward parts, where it can affect a real transformation. The covenant of Sinai is not freedom. Galatians makes this point crystal clear. Paul equates it with the bondwoman, Hagar, the son of works, not of the promise. On this day Jeff had a huge weight of 613 commands lift off of him, and he breathed a huge sigh of freedom. He came out of the bedroom declaring, “We are not under the law!!” I was a little bewildered, not realizing that was exactly where we’d placed ourselves, while the whole time claiming to believe in the work of Jesus on our behalf. We were attempting to live under two covenants at the same time, while Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews all explain is a spiritual impossibility. I don’t think our ignorance made the work of Christ void in our lives, but it certainly prevented fruit from growing because we were not abiding in Christ, but in Moses. We took assurance and comfort in our obedience, not in our Savior alone. We had not fallen off the cliff into total unbelief, but we were dancing on the ledge.
Jeff said he felt as if he was a 1st century Jew, reading the book of Galatians for the very first time, or like Paul, on the road to Damascus. So huge and final was his personal revelation with God that day, that there has not been a moment of doubt or confusion, or a twinge of condemnation for anything in relation to outward observances. This was a freedom we had never experienced before. Even in the years between Adventism and the HRM, we never experienced true freedom. When we worked on the Sabbath, or broke down and participated in Christmas with family, a subtle uneasiness always shadowed our every move. We knew God didn’t say we had to perform to be saved, but we still believed we were being disobedient children, and missing his blessing and approval. This time, it was all gone, nearly in an instant. We had never seen the true nature of the New Covenant before – but it began to emerge as we continued to study through the scriptures. We couldn’t believe we had never seen it. Waves of joy, then grief, relief, embarrassment, expectation, so many emotions all tangled together, waited to be processed.
The truth is so simple a school child could understand, yet when your eyes are blinded, you absolutely cannot see it. This is how God gets the glory, and not man. I am so thankful to have been humbled in this way because through this, I see the hand of God in our lives and that only He can save and make new. I don’t understand why he showed us, but I am so thankful He did. We can take absolutely no credit for being clever. We demonstrated ignorance upon ignorance. But glory to God who is faithful even in our wanderings away from Him.
Merging onto the Superhighway (13)
Very few people realize the needs and questions people have when coming out of cults. In addition to a raw emotional state from having to leave friends and family, and sometimes jobs, they often carry many unspoken doubts and fears about churches. They may have left the cult over one point of difference, yet have not processed other false beliefs they still hold. They were taught to see all other churches with suspicion so it’s very difficult for them to trust. If you place someone in this vulnerable state into an abusive or unbalanced church, the result is often a person who chooses to walk away from fellowship and give up. These unresolved issues may linger for years, even if they stay connected to a body.
After we experienced this about face, we didn’t immediately run out on our HRM group. At first, my husband went to the other elder and laid out, little by little, what we had seen. He did not receive the news with joy and gladness as we had hoped. Discussions turned to arguments, and arguments to brick walls. We wanted the other elder to see the need for a change in focus, primarily on the teaching of the covenants. We were not asking for a change in practice, because there is nothing essentially wrong with celebrating biblical festivals, or the weekly Sabbath. We didn’t necessarily want to give them up. We only wanted everyone to understand this was a choice, not an obligation. We wanted people to understand the Church was not wrong and evil as we often spoke of it. After a few weeks, we realized this compromise would not be possible. We began to feel a close friendship start to strain as well.
When the time came, my husband made a brave confession openly to the group, apologizing for leading them the wrong direction. They did not see this as good news, quickly making the connection between what he had taught, and what they dearly believed. He told them we would not stay and try to detract them from the direction they had committed to walk. However, we left them with 28 pages to chew on, attempting to make the contrast in the covenants clear. I hate revisiting this day in my memory, so I will leave the rest of the scene to your imagination. It could have been much worse, but for me, it was bad enough. Happy to be free, yet the tearing away brought much pain.
In the weeks that followed, we eagerly discussed where we should worship. We knew what we didn’t want; legalism, blind emotionalism, liberalism that compromised the Word, or a church that existed as the town social club. We wanted to focus our energy toward Christ, serving His Body, and nothing else. For the first time in our lives we had the sensation of belonging to Christ in a way we never had before. We saw with our spiritual eyes the reality of the Church as HIS body, just as the scriptures say. We realized that our outright rejection and derision of the Church had been at attack on Christ Himself and was an antichrist characteristic, not of the Holy Spirit. This, among many other convicting truths, led us through a season of repentance and grief over how we had unintentionally denied Him. I went through a deep valley of doubt for a time, wondering how God could love us, use us, or accept us. But He did reassure me in those days of His forgiveness and the fact of our deliverance alone kept reminding me that this new life was completely from Him, and therefore, must have a purpose. But still, the scary prospect, to find a place in mainstream evangelical Christianity. We didn’t know where to start.
The first place we loved right away; good Bible teaching, a passionate pastor, family focused, active in outreach, and in line with our doctrinal beliefs. However two things soon became obvious. First, they viewed us with suspicion because of our past and second, they viewed everyone with suspicion. Week after week sermons were focused toward all those in the church who thought they were saved, but really weren’t. I know it came from an earnest desire of the leadership to see people come to Christ, but the atmosphere was heavy with tension and many people trying to demonstrate they were indeed, saved. The membership requirements turned out to be more than we were willing to subject ourselves to, so we withdrew from this group. Their doctrine was sound, but in practice, the leader was extremely controlling of his flock and a heavy cloud of oppression filled the church. We were thankful to have seen this before we became attached and committed.
At this point, all I could see in Christianity were little pockets of people who all had a hobby horse. I didn’t want to be on any of them! The temptation to give up washed over me, and I was in tears one day, telling my husband I just didn’t know if I could go through it anymore. All I could see was more of the same disappointments we’d faced when leaving Adventism . As a believer, I was so excited and thankful to be free, yet had no church family that could appreciate the miracle we had just experienced. One day I realized I had become so dependent on the opinions of other people that I needed affirmation from others in order to feel validated. Fellowship is important, of course, but I knew I needed to be complete in Jesus alone and not be looking to others for my sense of worth. In every act of pruning, God has something to show us about ourselves if we are willing to listen.
One day a thought came flashing through my mind. I remembered the Bible church we’d left years ago. Yes, it was a 30 minute drive, and we’d been hoping to find a church close to home. I wondered if the same pastor was still there, and asked my husband what he thought of going back there. We both had one of those “duh” moments – like “Of course that’s where we should go!” We were so happy to find the pastor we remembered still there, and we sat down and talked to him and his wife one evening, laying it all out on the table. Much to our relief, they didn’t pick up rocks or shrug us off. Instead we found acceptance, and a chance to share our journey in a meaningful way. The youth pastor, and the pastor’s wife both had a brother tangled up in the HRM, so our story struck a chord with them. After several months we took the plunge and became members, of a real church, for the first time in married lives. This church has been a wonderful place to learn, and to heal.
I had a pretty idealistic list of things I wanted to find in a church. I realize that church may not exist. But there’s a short list of things I can’t compromise.
- An intact gospel and Bible-led teaching (as opposed to “bible-based” teaching with can mean any false teaching with a scripture reference attached.)
- An understanding of the purpose of the Law, and the superior nature of the New Covenant.
Loving fellowship – because church is a family, not a spectator sport.
Others may have a different list, but that’s my short list. In areas where you find a church disappoints you (given the foundation is strong), instead of making waves, try to make a difference. Serving is much more effective than complaining. How do I know this? I’ve done my share of complaining.
I don’t know where the path will lead tomorrow, but we are learning to trust one day at a time to Christ. We have many faults and failings, and are still being pruned, even as I write this. We have so much to learn. We are being called to count the cost, and take a step higher. With every step, more of our old selves have to fall away. Yes, it can hurt, but like taking a splinter out of your soul, it brings relief and peace in the end. Never be afraid to trust God for the truth because He IS the truth. He has has promised us He will never leave us or forsake us even to the end of the world. He said He would not leave us as orphans, and the Holy Spirit is GOD, given to teach, lead, comfort and convict. If we are willing, He will lead us into deeper truths of Jesus Christ every day. He promised.
To God be the Glory – forever!
You can reach the author of this testimony at email@example.com.