Friday, September 12, 2008

How It All Began




“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” Heb 10:1 (NIV)

Some time before Christmas, 2005, my mother gave me a card she got in the mail. It announced a website from a man named Herschel Hughes who felt that he had been given a message from God for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Hughes was not only a Seventh-day Adventist, but had been on the faculty at Pacific Union College and had designed the covers for the Conflict of the Ages series of Ellen White's books. I had been on my own journey of discovery regarding some of the foundational issues of the church I inherited as a right of birth. My grandfather used to tell me stories of seeing the tower room at Elmshaven radiating an other-worldly light late into the darkest recesses of night. His mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were also Adventists.


I was in medical school in Loma Linda in the 70s when Ron Numbers and Walter Rea had made their disturbing discoveries of Ellen White’s widespread plagiarism and gross inaccuracies. Ron Numbers was one of my prMy grandparents' mode of cross-country travelofessors when his book was
published. I watched with deep concern when their documented discoveries were labeled as disloyalty, and Ellen White was vigorously defended despite the findings. I mused over the assertion that plagiarism was a common practice in her time. In her case, the material she had "borrowed" was often presented as visions received directly from God. In my estimation, "borrowing" another's writing without attributing the source was not acceptable, but attributing the source to a supernatural "vision" from God was duplicitous. Prior to this I had always given White the benefit of the doubt, believing that she had a prophetic gift but was a mistake-prone human.

At the time these disturbing facts were unveiled, I didn’t feel any urgency to study into the allegations myself. I now wonder why I avoided doing so. I think it was probably too threatening to know the details of the claims against "our prophet." I believed the Adventist Church was the only - or at least the closest thing to - the right church on Earth and didn't see any point in dredging up dirt on it. "Tearing down instead of building up," I believe was the popular quote. Besides, I flattered myself that focusing on the "negative" was just a distraction from more important aspects of Christian life. The time of discovery passed without my seriously delving into the shaky aspects of my community of faith.

My interest and energy, during the late 80’s thru the early 2000's, took an unexpected and abrupt turn toward a quest for the Holy Spirit. I was captured by a passion that drew me like a moth to The Flame. How had I been swept into this river of beauty called the Renewal? All my life I had been trained to practice strong skepticism toward anything that would pass for direct manifestations of the Holy Spirit or the supernatural intruding into my world of the natural. But here He was. Magnificent, powerful, personal and undeniable. He came to me out of the blue, unexpected, loving, real. He opened the scriptures as if they were brand new and He enlivened my times of prayer so that there was nothing I would rather do than to be in conversation with Jesus. I had never felt this way before. I had never longed so deeply to be near to my Savior.

It was not until May of 2005 that I was drawn back to a subject I would rather have ignored. But inexorably, my eyes were turned back to my church of origin where I saw recurring themes of struggle. The dysfunctions within the church were patterned and predictable. There had to be identifiable reasons why so many people fought with the same issues of internal dissonance. It was thru Cleansing Stream (a program developed by Jack Hayford, then senior pastor of Church on the Way, Van Nuys, California. Their website can be visited at: http://www.cleansingstream.org/) that I learned about our ability as Christians to trace back and break the power of destructive patterns passed down to us from generation to generation. It has never been a secret that certain aspects of Adventist heritage are not spiritually healthy. Legalism has always been a bugaboo; uncertainty regarding salvation, and dread of the end of time are others. In 2005 I felt compelled to track down the sources of fear and discover the truths that could resolve the spiritual malaise they had evoked since the beginning of SDA church history.

The lethargy in pursuing spiritual health in these areas was disturbing. In fact, frank discussion of the knotty problems was actively suppressed, avoided.
As I studied, I began to see certain errors of teaching and belief in the formation of the church that spawned predictable spiritual angst. The lethargy in pursuing spiritual health in these areas, however, was disturbing. In fact, frank discussion of the knotty problems was actively suppressed, avoided. There was an aspect of fear associated with questioning the My mother and her parentscore belief system. I soon realized that I couldn't wait for others to do the work for me. I needed to understand for myself where the teachings had become canted. It was while I was in the process of this study, which resulted in a large compilation of material, that I first listened to Herschel Hughes' message.

The subjects of his message were areas I had already been contemplating. Soon I found others who were trying to find the way thru the maze of contradictions. It was helpful to add their findings to my own. It may be helpful to you, too, as you filter thru the information you have grappled with over the years, to read what others have concluded. Dr. Hughes’ message is included in Appendix 1 at the end of this study along with the website link to an audio presentation he gave in a local SDA church. I would encourage you to listen to the message itself. It gives a much clearer picture of the person giving the prophetic word and the circumstances of how he received it. My point in alluding to his presentation here is not really to endorse or refute it, but to use it as a stimulus for discussion and study. It summarizes areas of contention and theological uncertainty in Adventism that have been noted both from within the church and from Christian critics outside.

After a two year hiatus from a Southern California Seventh-day Adventist church, I felt that I needed to return in order to engage in dialogue regarding my areas of concern. I was reluctant to go since I was quite happy where I was, but I felt convicted to go back, so I did. This church was unique among most Adventist churches in that it acknowledged and moved in the gifts of the Spirit. The church went thru some internal trauma that provided a promising new pastor eager to pursue the Holy Spirit's presence. He instituted what he called a “prophetic council” that was patterned after the model of the early church mentored by Paul. “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” 1 Cor 14:26-29 (NIV) He encouraged people to practice those principles to gain experience in hearing God.
The consensus of the council was that the earthquake would be spiritual rather than literal. As I look back now at their conclusion, I believe they were being prepared for what was coming to the church.

Sometime in September 2005, one of the young women in the church felt that she had received a message from God predicting a powerful, destructive earthquake in Southern California in October (just one month away). She was invited to present what she felt she had heard to the prophetic council to evaluate its content. The consensus of the council was that the earthquake would be spiritual rather than literal. As I look back now at their conclusion, I believe they were being prepared for what was coming to the church.

It was in October, 2005, that I listened to Hughes’ message and felt that it contained the core subjects that needed attention. It was reassuring to me that we were both drawn to look at the same issues, and I immediately wrote him an email telling him of my own journey. Since he and his wife lived within an hour of my home, I suggested that we meet and talk. I got no reply. I sent the website link to my pastor and asked him to listen to the presentation. I’m not certain that he listened, but he did make a copy of the written transcript.

The pastor announced in church that he would read the written transcript to the prophetic council on January 17– since it had come to his attention. This was now January 14, 2006. The next day, Sunday, January 15, three months after I had written to Herschel Hughes, he called and said that the Lord had highlighted my email and impressed him to call me. He had received thousands of emails, understandably many of them rather unpleasant, and had not responded to any but mine. I explained to him what was happening at church in two days and asked if he would be willing to present his message in person to the prophetic council. He agreed to, and did.

While there was some antagonism and anger evident at the meeting, for the most part, people were respectful. After a question and answer period they asked him to leave so a response could be formulated with just the church members and leadership present. No one wanted to make decisions about whether the message was from God or how to respond to it, but, to their credit, they did come to a consensus to study further into the points of conflict identified in his talk. The task of presenting that study was given to me by the pastor. It was to be accomplished on one Friday night in March, 2006.

On that evening I decided to present an overview of the problem. It was an introduction to the subjects that needed further study. At the end of the presentation, the pastor asked me if I would teach a series of classes on these subjects. I agreed to do so, and a schedule was established. God had opened a way to explore Adventism's unique doctrines in an Adventist church. I was amazed. I had never seen that done before, nor have I heard of it since.

These classes have now been completed. They resulted in much controversy and discomfort in the church, but they also provided for discussion of problems that have been largely avoided and ignored. Church members know that the inconsistencies and contradictions exist. The practice of pretending that they don't has required psychological dissociation akin to schizophrenia between intellectual honesty and intentional denial, especially among Adventist academicians.

If you have ever felt torn between loyalty and honesty, or wondered why Adventist teaching and belief are in such contrast with the rest of Christianity, I hope that you will allow yourself the intellectual freedom to investigate the reasons for those differences. The responses from those who attended the classes were like showers of refreshing rain. Surprisingly, when we had removed the faulty foundations they had trusted before, they discovered a deeper appreciation and love for the person, Jesus.

It was painful to admit that I had to subject everything I held dear to the fire of truth and allow it to separate truth from fiction. All of it had to be surrendered to God, even my very identity.


Like most SDAs who have attended church schools, I was well indoctrinated into the key texts and scriptures used to support the fundamental beliefs of Seventh-day Adventism. It came as quite a shock to me, therefore, to discover many scriptures that are in direct opposition to what I had been taught regarding the Bible. Some of you have run across scriptures that have surprised you in the same way. For others it will be a new concept that there may be problems with consonance between Adventist doctrine and the Bible. I am still being broad-sided by scriptures that I never knew were there, scriptures that would make what I was taught impossible. Commendably, part of the heritage of Adventism includes love and respect for the scriptures. We were told to test all things by the word of God. We should not be afraid to put that advice into practice.

More than once I have experienced consternation as I have attempted to find teachings from Ellen White in the Bible, just to discover that they are not there. I was certain that my spiritual belief system had its foundations in the Bible. To find that much of what I had been taught from my earliest years had its source in the writings of Ellen White and not in the Bible felt like a betrayal. I had to overcome incredible inertia to push ahead into territory that felt like foreign soil. It was painful to even admit that I was going to have to subject everything I held dear up to the fire in order to separate truth from fiction. In that fire, I had to surrender it all to God and allow Him to burn away even my identity if that identity was not a part of His kingdom and truth.
Adventism, too, is being given the opportunity to confront errors that have had a grip on us for far too long. We don't have to live with them anymore.

We are standing in a kairos (prophetically significant) time in Adventist history. From many corners of the Christian church at large, God is calling people and groups to re-investigate their foundations and clean out the debris and falsehood that have been allowed to creep into the purity of the gospel. This is a time for truth. Just as Paul was constantly calling the church back to sound doctrine, so the Holy Spirit is calling the church to worship in truth and spirit. Adventism, too, is being given the opportunity to confront errors that have had a grip on us for far too long. We don’t have to live with them anymore. We don’t have to wait for the General Conference to take an official stand in order to investigate these subjects ourselves. In fact we are commanded to come under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Himself - into His classroom where He will lead us into truth. The mistakes of our spiritual parents don’t have to affect our freedom in Christ. Though it's not an easy process, the healing and freedom are worth the effort. We stand at a crossroads. God is beckoning us toward the "road less travelled" where our pride will be sacrificed so that Jesus can be glorified.


Being an Adventist is not like being a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or any other evangelical denomination. The others have never been listed as cults. Adventism has been, and is, listed with the cults by a number of experts. Walter Martin, a noted authority regarding cults, held interviews in the 1950s with four Adventist theologians, one of whom was a frequent house guest of ours in Reading, PA. There was much debate, some of it rather heated between Martin, Barnhouse and the representatives from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Those discussions resulted in the book Questions on Doctrine. It was published by Review and Herald Publishing Association in 1957, at Martin’s insistence, as a statement of orthodoxy to Christian belief. It was under the condition of the book's publication that Martin would, with provision, remove the Seventh-day Adventist Church from its cult status. Up to this time Martin had included Adventism with the cults in his well-known book The Kingdom of the Cults.

There was so much uproar from Adventist church members about Questions on Doctrine (which refuted much of what Adventists taught), that very shortly after its introduction it was removed from publication. However, Martin’s book, which gave Adventism a guarded nod as a Christian denomination, had already been published. In an interview with Doug Hackleman from Adventist Currents (Appendix 2) Walter Martin stated that he was very seriously considering reinstating the church’s cult status. He wrote a letter to the GC president asking three critical questions (Appendix 3). The decision to place the church back into cult status hinged on their answers to those three questions. The questions were never answered (Appendix 4) and shortly thereafter, in 1989, Walter Martin died. For a series of fascinating videos between Martin and William Johnsson, then editor of The Review, click here:
http://search.live.com/video/results.aspx?q=%22walter+martin%22+adventist&docid=2238764098647&FORM=VIVR7
There are other experts on cults, notably David W. Cloud and Anthony Hoekema, who strongly disagreed with Walter Martin’s conclusions and felt that he had created great confusion in the body of Christ, betraying the evangelical community (Appendix 4). They continue to consider Adventism a cult. Interestingly, it is the very doctrines mentioned in the message from Dr. Hughes and covered by these studies that are cited as the offending doctrines by those questioning Adventism’s claims to Christianity. It seems reasonable to investigate why evangelical Christians would consider Adventism to be a cult and not, say, the Baptists, Assemblies of God, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc. If there is validity to the charges, then the aberrant doctrines need to be corrected.

It feels threatening to question beliefs that have defined our lives. However, turning away from the challenge raises the haunting spectre of fear that the teachings won't stand if we look too closely. The group that heard Dr. Hughes present his message came to a unanimous decision to look at the problem areas thru the lens of the Bible. That decision led to the development of the studies which you are about to read. Hughes asserts that the message he delivered was given to him from God. The contents of that message will serve as a spur to look at problems we know we should have confronted long before this.




Ultimate Rest Table of Contents
The Next Chapter: Why Study?

Spending time delving into the doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church probably isn't your idea of a good time. If Adventism has become primarily a culture, a community to you, it may seem completely off topic to go back and see what composes the fabric of your church. If you are a "true believer" you may think you already know everything that could possibly be brought into discussion. If you have been turned off by Adventism, you may have just walked away from everything, including Jesus. To all of you I would say, there may be questions you have yet to ask, answers you've yet to find, a Person who is calling you to come deeper into His love.

7 comments:

Francisco A. de Azevedo said...

Curtis Forrester,

I am from Brazil.
I am reading your page,"Gently Brokem"

Your page was comforting to me.

I met the Adventist message in 1982, however with the advent of the Internet, I learned a lot about the organization and doctrines IASD and left in fiansi 2008.

Now I have only the Bible as my rule of faith.

The Peace of Christ

FRANCISCO ALBERTO DE AZEVEDO
E-MAIL chicobetu@gmail.com
http://www.cristaoslivres-francisco.blogspot.com/

Gently Broken said...

Francisco, Thank you so much for your comments. Praise God that you have chosen the Bible and the Bible only as your guide to faith. You are in line with all of faithful Christianity since the beginning.

I'd love to know how you found our site. Stay in touch.

May God give voice to your quest for truth and be glorified in your life.

Editor, Gently Broken

Francisco said...

Gently Broken,

I went to the site of former EX-Adventists, the link:
and found the following:

http://www.exadventista.com/content/view/8/5/,

Forrester Footnotes

Soy un expastor Adventista del Séptimo Día, que escribe sobre mis pensamientos, primeramente sobre la discusión de la teología del ASD.

Sabbath-rest in Jesus

El "reposo del sábado" es el reposo y la paz maravillosos que viene a nosotros en Jesús debido a su trabajo acabado para nosotros. Aquí compartiré un poco mi alegría mientras exploro su reposo y vivo en ello. Oro que te seas bendecido y encuentres paz en su amor.

I came to your page and was well.

Cordier,

In Christ Jesus

Francisco Alberto

Gently Broken said...

Muchas gracias, Francisco. Estoy contento de tener su sitio Web listan aquí. Es bueno llevar a estas discusiones a la luz todos en todo el mundo que nos unamos para claramente brillan la luz del Evangelio a cada nación, la lengua y la gente. Extiendo a usted las bendiciones mismas en el nombre de Jesús.

liz said...

Dear Gently broken,

My history is much like yours, fifth generation Adventist, pastor's daughter etc. Most of my family are still in the church. All my life I have been seeking a closer walk with Jesus. I could explain the cross with words but it meant nothing for me personally. I did not understand the New Covenant at all.
I became a very conservative SDA whist my husband left the church and lost his faith completely. Right from the start of our marriage our closeness went downhill.
After 20 years of wooing by God I finally got the message that I had been building on a wrong foundation because God knocked all he SDA doctrines from under my feet which was about five years ago. I then became a skeptic because the reading of the Bible made me feel almost physically sick since I then began to see nothing but contradictions. I nearly lost my faith. I could however not see any salvation outside of Christianity so eventually I decided to read myself back into the faith since I used to have a love for the Bible and for God and Jesus. I read a book by John Stott, Basic Christianity which helped to put Jesus back in His place as the Savour of the World and promised Messiah. Then I researched all the doctrines on ex SDA web sites. Some weeks ago I started attending an Evangelical church that is active and growing.
I am writing to you because of a certain bondage that is still with me. God seems to be still witholding Himself from me. As I am in Britain I cannot go to a healing streams seminar. I am therefore trying to affect healing by trying to understand my condition and by praying about it. There are a couple of charismatic churches I have not visited but I fear them because the early pioneers and Millerites acted in much the same way, speaking in tongues, shouting and crawling and falling over backwards. Read the “Atkinsons incident” and because except for one, the few charismatics or Pentecostals I have met in life were not nice at all. Nevertheless I feel that there must be somewhere where I can be set free completely. Perhaps the fear I have is in actual fact stopping me from going precisely where I can find healing. However I do not want to end up in the same bondage to Satan the lying spirit as I was before.

Thank you for your very informative web site,

May God bless you,

Elisabeth Williams

Gently Broken said...

Elisabeth, your story touched my heart. There are threads within it I have heard over and over again from people struggling with the residual damage from their Adventist pasts. You are not alone. I am delighted that you have found a solid foundation in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for you. He held onto you throughout your journey and will never let you go. You are His and He is yours. Fear has no place in your relationship with Him. From your position of safety He will lead you and teach you, touch you and comfort you. Everything from here on out is a process of getting to know Him better, growing deeper and closer in your relationship to Him. I rejoice in that for you.

Neither are you alone in your experience with respect to the Holy Spirit. It is a common theme among those who have left Adventism to fear being deceived by the prophetic again. Because they were so thoroughly bamboozled before by supposed gifts of the Spirit they take up a defensive position in an intellectual pursuit of understanding. Careful exegeses becomes the all and end all of information about God. While it is critically important to study and understand the word of God in its proper context that is not the only way in which God can communicate with His children. Because of being stung once before by one claiming to have special messages from God, many have rejected all avenues of relating to God except thru the scriptures. But that limits His personal interaction with us and our expectation of such intimacy. Consider these endearing words.

"From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you. They are created now, and not long ago; you have not heard of them before today." Isaiah 48:6-7

"He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back." Isaiah 50:4-5

What a joy to have the expectation of being awakened by the sweet voice of your Lover and Friend speaking new things to you Himself. What an intimate experience to have Him come and teach you Himself – and to not draw back. Unfortunately, fear of deception has become the deception. Do we truly have more confidence in Satan’s ability to deceive us than we have in the Holy Spirit’s faithfulness to keep us safe? That is the response of an abused child. Jesus wants to heal those wounds and set us free to embrace all of Him.

More to follow in next post...

Gently Broken said...

He told us that He was eager to go back to Heaven so that He could send us His Spirit. There is nothing bad or scary about that. He will not harm us. He told us Himself that we could trust Him to give us only the real thing. "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:11-13 (NIV)

So ask, and then trust that He will be true to His word. I am well aware of the excesses in some charismatic churches. But trust Him to help you find a group that is faithfully seeking only the truth of what Jesus promised to send. I would highly recommend a couple of books to you: Surprised by the Power of the Spirit and Surprised by the Voice of God both by Jack Deere. When you have read them, write back and discuss them with me. I can send many more suggestions after that.

One last encouragement: it is wonderful to find a group of people who know how to pray thru your difficulties with you. I have been so blessed by that. Allow God to help you find them. In addition, the Holy Spirit will come to you Himself and bring the healing of Jesus with or without another person. His healing comes even before you understand, before you have the knowledge. It is a gift won by Him for you on the cross. Trust that He is good and will do everything He has spoken in His word for you. Ask. He WILL answer.

With joyful anticipation of His plans in your life,

Cherry Brandstater
Moderator, Gently Broken