by Rolaant L. McKenzie
My Story | Resignation Letter and Response | Departure from SDAnet
From Ellen White to the True Light
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the World. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)
I was born and raised in a Seventh-day Adventist home. My father was an educator who served as principal of an Adventist academy in California and as president of Adventist colleges and universities in several countries in Africa. My mother served as a nurse for many years at an Adventist hospital in Los Angeles. Because my grandmother on my father's side had converted, I could claim that I was a third generation Adventist.
I was baptized into the
Adventist Church when I was 11. I remember standing before the congregation
with another man in baptismal robes expressing agreement with a list
of vows presented by the pastor. Among them were the following:
At the time I did not perceive anything wrong with this list of vows, including the five in particular quoted above. I knew nothing but Adventism and was really unaware of anything else with which to compare it. I was taught that what we had—the Sabbath, our distinctive teaching on the Sanctuary, Ellen White's "inspired" writings, and so forth—was "the truth". It certainly did not occur to me for some years that I should test those teachings by the Bible alone without help from the "little red books" by Ellen White.
I attended Adventist schools exclusively from kindergarten through college. I attended Loma Linda University (La Sierra Campus) in Riverside, California, where I graduated with a theology degree. After that, I served a term in South Korea as an English teacher at one of the many Adventist English language schools in that country.
I was quite immersed in the beliefs and culture of Seventh-day Adventism. In fact, it was my whole life, and in some ways it was easy to be comfortable in there, and all my immediate family and friends were a part of it.
Yet concurrently, there was an underlying uneasiness deep within that was with me much of my life. As an Adventist I was never sure I would make it to heaven. In fact, I never felt good or worthy enough to be allowed into God's kingdom. I knew myself well enough to know that there was more than ample sin in my life to sink me. If, as I had been taught, I forgot to confess a sin I had committed, I was doomed. Furthermore, if I were to be alive during the time of trouble described in Ellen White's book The Great Controversy, I had no hope that I would be able to stand sinless before a holy God without the benefit of Jesus being my Mediator (The Great Controversy, p. 425). I did not understand at the time that the Bible taught something completely different and better. Hebrews 7:23-25 says:
If someone were to ask me if I believed I was going to heaven, I would have said that I hoped I would make it, but I really had my doubts. I used to pray to God asking Him to burn me quickly if I didn't make it! The reason I thought this way is that Seventh-day Adventism teaches that the unsaved are eventually annihilated in the lake of fire and will cease to exist, rather than believing the Biblical teaching that the lost suffer eternal punishment (Matthew 25:41-46; Mark 9:43-48; Revelation 14:9-11). I lived under the assumption that I would likely be lost because I would never reach a state where I would be able to keep all the commandments of God or the rules of Ellen White perfectly. I knew my frailties all too well.
Discoveries in Special Collections
While I was attending Loma Linda University (LLU) pursuing a theology degree, I worked at the university library in the Special Collections department (or the "Ellen White Room"). It was the mid-1980s, and the controversies surrounding Desmond Ford and Walter Rea were creating waves throughout Adventism.
Ford, while expressing his admiration of Ellen White and her ministry, nevertheless disagreed with the investigative judgment doctrine that she endorsed. He wrote a nearly one-thousand-page treatise presenting his Biblical presentation of Jesus' atonement and judgment versus the investigative judgment. Also during that time, Rea, an Adventist pastor for several decades and a devotee of Ellen White, discovered in his research that she copied (or plagiarized) much of her writing from other authors, some of whom were her contemporaries while others pre-dated her. All the while, she claimed her words were inspired by God, and she denied copying from others. Both men in time were relieved of their employment and of their ministerial credentials in the Adventist organization.
These events had a significant impact on me in that they encouraged me to do my own research into these matters. In retrospect, it was God's providence that these historic upheavals happened while I was working in the "Ellen White Room", particularly in the room at the LLU library on the La Sierra campus. To my knowledge, no other "Ellen White Rooms" at Adventist colleges or universities contained the breadth of material found at LLU. There I had access to the latest editions of Ellen White's writings and to earlier editions of those same writings, to apologetics by those who defended her prophetic role as well as to critiques by those who did not believe in it, and to the writings of those from whom she copied. This unique situation provided an excellent opportunity for me to discover the truth.
I was stunned at what I discovered. For example, I found in an earlier edition of Spiritual Gifts dated 1864 that Ellen White stated the Tower of Babel was built before the flood rather than after it, as the Bible says:
This mistake was later expunged from the 1870 edition of Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, p. 266.
I also found an example of a false prophecy in Early Writings, pp.75-76:
Another example of a false prophecy occurred just over 158 years ago. Mrs. White declared, during an 1856 meeting in Battle Creek, Michigan—purportedly based on a vision from an angel from God—that some of those present at the meeting would die, some of them would live to experience the seven last plagues, while still others would be alive at Jesus' return:
One can travel to Jerusalem today and see a large, very built-up city of nearly 1 million people. Furthermore, there are no Adventists today that can be found who were at the 1856 conference meeting. These were only a few of a number of examples I found that certainly qualify as false prophecies subject to the condemnation of Deuteronomy 18:20-22.
The investigative judgment is a key distinctive doctrine of Seventh-day Adventism largely because it was endorsed by Ellen White's claimed revelation. According to this doctrine, beginning on October 22, 1844 (not at His ascension), Christ entered the Holy of Holies in heaven (The Great Controversy, pp.362-373). It maintains that Christ transferred the record of believer's sins to the heavenly sanctuary where sins that have been specifically confessed will be cleansed at the conclusion of the investigative judgment, Adventism's day of atonement. On that day, unconfessed sins are not cleansed and remain to condemn the believer.
Ellen White said:
For the Adventist who holds to this "central pillar" of Seventh-day Adventism, sins are not cancelled or forgiven yet; moreover, those sins forgotten and remaining unconfessed stand against the believer. It is little wonder so many Adventists have no genuine assurance of salvation until this supposed investigative judgment is finished. This doctrine certainly played a key role in my own lack of salvation assurance.
Apart from a gracious miracle of God, the Adventist Church cannot abandon this doctrine on Biblical grounds because it would mean destroying Ellen White's prophetic status. Moreover, it would mean that her writings could no longer be used as an inspired, infallible interpreter of Scripture. The theological foundation of Seventh-day Adventism and its exclusive claims would collapse.
Thank God, His word provides a different and greater testimony:
Jesus, through His own blood, entered in (past tense) once for all (not in 1844) into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for those who trust in Him. Other passages of Scripture that caused me to reject the investigative judgment include:
Christ's atonement was final and complete. The word translated "finished" in the text is the Greek word tetelestai—a word that means "paid in full." On the cross Christ paid the full penalty for our sins. It was not a partial payment needing 1844 to come along to continue it.
If the Lord already knew His own when these passages were written in the first century A.D., why was there a need to investigate believers starting in 1844? To vindicate God in the eyes of His creation? Not likely, since God's thoughts are higher than His creation. He does as He pleases and is not answerable to His creation (Isaiah 55:8; Psalm 115:3; Job 38-42).
The cleansing of sins was done at the cross, and Jesus ascended to the holiest place in the universe—the right hand of His Father in heaven. He sat down, indicating the atonement was done, not something to be continued centuries later when 1844 arrived.
Hebrews 4:13, moreover, exposes the Adventist limitation on Christ's omniscience—a limitation which allows Adventists to be untroubled by the idea that God has to investigate His people:
Since Jesus knows all cases already, why must He investigate?
A related Adventist doctrine is that Satan, not Jesus, is the scapegoat for sinners who will be saved. Ellen White says in The Great Controversy, p. 422:
Satan, according to Adventists, becomes the scapegoat of Leviticus 16. This lack of clear distinction between the forgiveness of sins at salvation and the blotting out of sins at some time in the future makes it impossible for anyone to know, even at death, whether he is saved or not. (Isaiah 44:22). This convoluted doctrine destroys true assurance of salvation for Adventists who hold to this teaching of Satan-as-scapegoat and to the investigative judgment. Having the sins of the saved laid on Satan assigns to Satan an indispensable role in the blotting out of sins. This teaching nullifies the all-sufficiency of the finished work of Christ.
As my study progressed, I found numerous examples where Ellen White made false predictions, contradicted the Bible, added to the Scriptures, and contradicted herself. I was compelled to come to the conclusion that Ellen White was a false prophetess whose writings were not truly a "continuing and authoritative source of truth."
This realization had some significant ramifications for me. I was pursuing a theological degree with the prospect of entering ministry work in the Adventist Church. I could have continued on in that work and simply ignored what I discovered, promoting Adventist teachings I knew were not Biblical. But I could not live such a dishonest life. I could have tried to work within the system, but eventually I knew that I would be compelled to leave and lose my livelihood.
What I decided to do was to complete my degree program and go into another field of work; I chose to pursue a career in information science. My "compromise" was never to use Ellen White's writings as a support for anything, but just the Bible. I did not yet understand the Biblical gospel, so I remained an Adventist.
After serving the Adventist Church as an English teacher in South Korea for a year, I returned home to attend the University of Michigan to pursue a graduate degree in information science. At that time the Internet was just becoming a popular tool for communication and sharing information with people virtually anywhere in the world. I joined a few Adventist online discussion forums since theological discussion, and most importantly Biblical truth, was still of great interest to me.
I asked a lot of questions and participated in many discussions. It was beneficial to me also to be in discussion with non-Adventists in the online forums. Their understanding of Scripture encouraged me to be a Berean and to search the Bible for myself apart from the filter of Ellen White's writings. Though I still did not yet understand the Biblical gospel, I nevertheless sought to reconcile what I read online with what Scripture taught. To my growing dismay, I was finding that, more and more, I could not reconcile Adventist teachings such as the Sabbath being the seal of God, the investigative judgment, or the incomplete atonement with what I was reading in Scripture.
Around this time, I became familiar with someone in one of the Adventist forums in which I participated. Her name was Janet, and she was as ardent an apologist for Ellen White and Adventism as I had ever seen or heard. Often, I would see her postings online in both Adventist and Christian forums zealously promoting Adventist teachings. I considered her like a Saul of Tarsus for Adventism (without the persecution). After some time had gone by, however, I noticed her online messages were beginning to change. They were becoming more questioning of certain "pillar" Adventist doctrines such as obligatory Sabbath day observance for salvation at the end times and the investigative judgment. I was taken aback. I certainly had some questions of my own, but I did not expect someone like Janet to question those doctrines. I decided, therefore, to contact her privately online to ask what had happened to cause her to question what she had been so certain in promoting before. The conversation that began there would eventually have a profound effect on my life and would lead me, eventually, to understand and believe the Biblical gospel unto salvation.
Janet shared with me her attempts to find support from the Bible alone for doctrines including the investigative judgment and obligatory Sabbath day observance. To her surprise she could not. As she dug deeper, she also discovered that Ellen White could not pass the Biblical tests for a true prophet. At the time I was corresponding with Janet, I already realized the problems with the investigative judgment doctrine and Ellen White's prophetic role, but obligatory Sabbath day observance was still a stumbling block to me. It was preventing me from seeing and understanding the gospel.
Pastor Mark Martin, a former Adventist pastor had (and still has) a ministry to current and former Adventists. He had produced a study called The Gospel and the Covenants. Janet sent me a copy of this study, and I examined it closely with my Bible. Pastor Martin showed from the Scriptures that from Adam until the present day, God's covenants with His people followed a specific pattern. Particularly interesting to me was learning how the Mosaic covenant was different from the other covenants God made.
I had not learned how specific Scripture is about when, why, or for whom God made this covenant, nor did I understand what a covenant sign was.
What is the Old Covenant according to Scripture?
Also read Deuteronomy 5:1-22; 9:9-12, 15; 10:4; and 1 Kings 8:9, 21.
What was the sign of the Old Covenant? Exodus 31:12-13 says:
Moreover, the Ten Commandment law was not given before Sinai. Deuteronomy 5:2-3 says:
Then He gives the Ten Commandments in verses 6-22. Thus, the Old Covenant including the Ten Commandments had a definite beginning -- and it was not at creation. Moreover, Paul clarifies further that the old covenant had a specific ending:
This passage clearly states the law was added until the seed should come. Another passage in the same chapter gives even more understanding as it describes the function of the law of the old covenant:
Even more, a new covenant has come to replace the old:
You may ask, what happened to the Old Covenant?
It never ceases to amaze me how many of us believe something because it is a part of a tradition with which we grew up or that we adopted, only to find out later in life that the belief was not true. For example, I was challenged to find a passage in the Bible that required Gentile Christians to observe the Sabbath day. I thought that such a passage would be easy to find, but to my surprise, I found none. I did, however, find a couple of passages I had not really noticed before:
These passages helped me to understand for the first time that Sabbath-day observance was not required for Christians, and the Lord used this insight to help me to understand the Biblical gospel.
I finally understood that the law of Moses was a covenant made with the people of Israel who came out of slavery in Egypt. The initiating sign for this covenant was circumcision, and the ongoing sign was weekly Sabbath observance. This covenant was not made with the Gentiles. Those who come to faith in Christ as the passage above teaches are no longer under old covenant law.
Under the new covenant, the initiating sign is water baptism while the ongoing sign is the Lord's Supper. The obligatory observance of the Sabbath day or any other day is not a part of this covenant. That cessation of obligatory day-keeping is the reason the Gentile believers coming into the church were under no obligation to observe the Sabbath, or any other of the other days set apart by the Lord in Leviticus 23. The observance of days or their non-observance is left up to the individual believer (Romans 14:1-5; Colossians 2:16-17).
But, I wondered, if the Ten Commandments were a covenant no longer in effect for those believers entering the new covenant, then what about lying, stealing, adultery or the other commandments? I discovered in the New Testament that all of these commands were repeated in the instructions for new covenant living. The only things not repeated as a command were circumcision and Sabbath-day observance.
From my study I learned that the Sabbath was a sign of an old covenant no longer in effect. It was a shadow of things to come. It was a symbol pointing to Christ and to the rest He provides to lost humanity, the rest of perfect union with God that was lost in Eden. I realized that it is not the day that is important anymore, but my relationship with Christ. Anyone who accepts Christ enters into His true Sabbath rest because he is reconciled to God.
Under the new covenant brought into effect by Christ's blood (Luke 22:20), there is no longer a holy or sacred day of observance as in the Old Covenant. After all, if the Old Covenant was destined to pass away (2 Corinthians 3:11; Galatians 4:30; Hebrews 8:13), so too were the old covenant signs (Galatians 4:10-11; Romans 14:4-5; Colossians 2:16-17). If someone emigrates from England to the United States and becomes a citizen, that person would no longer live under the laws of England, though many of the laws would be the same (i.e., laws regarding murder, fraud, property rights, etc.). That person would live under United States law.
A flag typically acts as a symbol for a particular country. It is a representation of the principles and culture it embodies. A person who emigrates from England to the United States would no longer live under the Union Jack but under the Stars and Stripes. That person would no longer live under the rule of the Monarch, Prime Minister, and Parliament of England, but under the rule of the President and Congress of the United States. It is the same for one who becomes a Christian. Such a person is not under the Ten Commandments of Old Covenant law (along with the other 603 commandments) and its signs, or flag -- circumcision and the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-18); instead, he or she observes the Law of Christ, which is the Gospel, along with its signs, or flag, water baptism and the Lord's Supper (Acts 19:3-4; Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:11-12; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Galatians 5:22-25; Ephesians 4:30; Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:25).
When Jesus was on the mountain where He was transfigured, the Father's voice was heard by Peter, James and John. His voice continues to echo to this day:
Jesus makes this invitation to all who listen to Him:
When I ceased from my efforts to gain God's favor by trying to be "good" and simply trusted in the merits of Jesus alone, I began to experience the rest given by Jesus as a gracious gift. The gift of eternal life began the moment I entered that rest. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the
sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view
of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I
have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so
that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness
of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ,
the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I
may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of
His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain
to the resurrection from the dead."
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