Written by, Michael W. Pursley
There is a hatred that is downright charity:
that is the hatred of erroneous doctrine.
–J. C. Ryle
There are some things in life that I wish I could write down in the third person.
By that I mean, I wish I could write it down as if I were looking through the dossier of the life of another person, but I can’t. It might even be easier, I think, if I could say that the person I will be thinking of and speaking about, was my unfortunate twin, or maybe even me, but perhaps in another lifetime, but I cannot do that either. No, this is my testimony. This is my life. These are my experiences. This is me. But not quite.
I say “not quite” because wrapped in my testimony and my thinking are also the lives and experiences of thousands of other people who altogether, God has used to help shape and bring me more into his likeness…and out of darkness; “though, they knew it not.”
It has long been maintained by Christian churchmen, when relating to that “body of Christ,” that on doctrinal essentials, we have to have unity. On non-essentials, we should permit diversity. But in all matters, we must maintain charity. And with this maxim in mind, I would like to take a reflective moment and look at a “dark-side of Christianity;” which, together with my experiences, I want to set forth with that charity which reflects my Master, Jesus Christ.
First, I think we would agree that when we speak about the “Pillars of the Christian Faith,” or “The Eternal Verities” as they are sometimes called, that we are speaking about the absolute “essentials” of Christianity; it doesn’t get any more important than this; these essentials are those substantive definitions of who we are and what we are.
And when we talk about the essentials of Christianity, we are talking about those things concerning the Gospel, about those things which the Apostle Paul took quite “personally” when he felt that they had become perverted. It is interesting that Paul didn’t call those differences in the Gospel an innocent compromise, or merely a slight difference of opinion, he calls it “another gospel.” And when he spoke about those people, those leaders, who taught what he described as this other gospel, he spoke quite darkly; he wished that those teachers of another gospel would “emasculate themselves.” (Galatians 5:12)
With the Apostle, I too wish and yearn for those who are yet in the darkness of “another Gospel.” While I wish that those leaders of this other gospel would find Christ; outside of that, I wish that they would only hurt themselves and leave their followers; their sheep, alone. “Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?” As Spurgeon once said, “We can none of us tell if we go down to hell how many we shall draw with us, for we are bound to thousands by invisible bands. Over the tomb of each sinner may be read this epitaph: “This man perished not alone in his iniquity.”
To be plain and straight forward, in this, my reflective testimony, I am speaking about the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. For on some level, and to some degree, most know that not all of what they are teaching is the truth… I have talked to them. But, like the Jewish Pharisees, they comfort themselves, that “they have the Sabbath,” and that they are part of God’s “Remnant Church.” Therefore, they can’t be too far wrong. They do not realize that someday Jesus will tell them, and by them I still do mean the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, just as he declared to those Jewish Pharisee leaders in his day; He will say, “I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:23)
What they may not see now is, that God will reject them and do so for the same four basic reasons that he rejected the Jewish leaders in Christ’s day:
They have distorted, twisted and added to God’s word, the Bible.
They have come up with a different plan of salvation.
They have added to the work of God in redemption.
More controversially, they believe that salvation, and the plan of salvation, especially during the eschaton, comes only for them; as a group—“the Remnant Church” which is doctrine predicated upon their extra-biblical sources. Let me demonstrate these points and what I mean, later on.
There are many of you, who know exactly what I mean when I say it is even more painful if you have been raised in the Seventh-day Adventist church, or cult… I say this even after thirty years of separation, which I believe adds perspective to my viewpoint, personal experience and solemn reflection; I say this, inasmuch as I was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist and trained for the ministry. Even after, all these years, this pain, for me, is very real, and very tangible, and it incurs adrenalin surges, surges that occur even to this very day, when I realize just what great darkness I have been delivered from –a darkness that has been transformed into light, by the certainty of the Gospel.
Like the Gospel dawn to the early Christian church and to the early Protestant church–of the news of our eternal battle won, I can now say, “How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, “Who announces peace And brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!“(Isaiah 52:7)
Now, in the light of the Gospel, I exclaim like the Reformers in the city of Geneva, Post Tennebras Lux, “After Darkness, Light.” I feel like those early Protestants who were so thankful to God for this deliverance, that in Geneva, they had those words inscribed onto their coinage, lest they forgot!
Admittedly, in the past, there have been a number of Christian scholars, looking in as outsiders, who were reluctant to include Seventh-day Adventists into that terrible mold of a cult. But I can testify that these charitable scholars have not done their homework. They have not looked deeper into the way Seventh-day Adventism has formulated its theology, or at the wide divergence between Seventh-day Adventism’s stated faith and actual practice; between Seventh-day Adventist’s orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Instead, these Christian scholars, these well-meaning people, have accepted the Seventh-day Adventist’s theological statements and Adventism’s comparisons to other Christian thought. And by that I mean, the Christian thinking which was to some extent, considered orthodox, at some point in Christian history. This will be much clearer when we later compare historical Adventist theology in their doctrine of Atonement to actual Biblical and orthodox Christian understanding of the Atonement; namely, that it was finished at the Cross.
The fact that Seventh-day Adventism has been able to maintain this Christian deception in so many quarters, is perhaps due to its great moralistic “Cloaking Device,” which is NOT the Gospel; it is their pietistic perspective and practice reflective of their roots from old Methodism. Even today, Seventh-day Adventism’s “statement-in-practice” is in many ways reflective of the old-time Pietism from which it came. Lest some Seventh-day Adventist tells you otherwise (inasmuch as they love to confuse laymen on this issue), please understand that personal piety is vastly different from theological Pietism, which places heavy emphasis on spiritual perfectionism, which in turn, has at its base, man’s work to maintain his spiritual acceptance with God.
Throughout the years, I have been often asked, “Do I believe that Seventh-day Adventists are going to hell?”
My answer to that is, that if they are trusting Christ alone as their Savior, and relying upon his finished work of atonement on the cross to cover their sins as the basis of their salvation, rather than “belonging to the church,” or “keeping the Sabbath,” then I would say that these believers have every right to embrace that they are completely accepted as children of God…!
It is AGAINST the teachings of Seventh-day Adventist theology to ever presume that the believer can ever have the assurance that they are part of God’s Elect, or that they are now and will always be his Children.
Unfortunately, most SDAs, if they were stood against the wall would state, that they ARE part of “God’s Remnant,” because they “belong to the Remnant church,” and “keep the Sabbath.” But they cannot hide their spiritual discomfiture if you are to ask them how well they keep the Sabbath; to this question they would answer somewhat negatively, or be at a loss as to how to answer at all. It is no wonder, that these poor people have no idea, unless from outside official church sources, as to whether or not they are God’s children, and whether or not God truly loves them and accepts them.
While I was in Seventh-day Adventism, I had a number of scholars and ministers implore me to remain. For them, like Erasmus, they much preferred a “quiet evolution” of truth to confrontation. Jobs were at stake, career investments had been made, bottom lines had to be considered, “and we didn’t want to frighten or disturb the simple faith of the faithful… did we?” But I could not subjugate what I saw as the truth for any reason; I had to leave.
That is not to say that I left for all the right reasons, I did not. My brokenness, my fallenness, my Adamic nature, my own personal foibles, I am sure were evident to many, many people. I know that many people were praying for me, on both sides of the fence, and to these people I owe a debt of gratitude. Only, a merciful Sovereign God could pluck me from that fire. I freely admit, that there was nothing about me then, and certainly nothing now, that would ever commend me to heaven, except his grace; “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”
I wish I could say, that in the years following my departure, that the joy of the Gospel filled my steps and my life, but that was not the case. Like Lot’s wife, I kept looking back. Why? Because I did not realize that my identity was not there… my identity was now in Christ. But, I had invested nearly every aspect of my person-hood into Adventism; it had been my life, it was my identity, it was my all-in-all, my identity was not yet in Christ. Perhaps, this is the worst aspect of Seventh-day Adventism, in that it becomes an Idol to the faithful. Ellen White also, becomes an idol. In fact, there are two different types of Ellen White idols –but I shall deal with that later.
I am sure some would say that it is natural that I would look back, and that I would carry such heavy baggage forward. But at the time, I naively believed that the Gospel would immediately correct all past personal mistakes, that somehow the gospel would immediately make everything right; things would fall into place; a full new life would immediately commence; and instead, it seemed that all I could see was inner desolation, spiritual oppression and depression. For those who are contemplating leaving or who have already left, my counsel to you is to be patient with yourself… For as God says through Isaiah, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16) “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
However, I still had to learn that God was in control despite my surroundings and personal fortunes; and so for a time (years actually), I spiritually threw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. What I did not realize during this period, was that God was still working in my life; I just couldn’t see it. What I also couldn’t see was that there were a lot of Idols in my life that had to be cleared away, pride, self-centeredness, spiritual self-complacency, to name a few, and yes, the list was very long. As Calvin said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” (idolorum fabricam)
But that is what the Gospel does, it clears away the darkness and replaces it with light.
For me, it has been and still is very frightening, to stop and to realize that what I had believed and taught others, was against the teachings Scripture and the Word of Almighty God. It is frightening, to think that the Gospel I was preaching, was that other gospel, spoken about by Paul. And that it was “a gospel from heaven, the very same heaven,” as Luther says, “where hellfire is ready for the devil and his angels.” For me, that thought was, and is, very frightening indeed!
[It is my intention, by the Grace of God, to release one part each week. Grace and peace –MWP]