If you missed it, here is Part 1 and Part 2. Thank you to the thousands of people from all over the world who have read this interview with Pastor Kurtley. We pray that you have been challenged and encouraged. Thank you, Kurtley, for courageously sharing your testimony. If you’re a questioning SDA pastor who would like to be notified by email when this site is updated, click here.
So, here’s the question that everyone who leaves gets asked, over and over again… “what about the Sabbath”?
Yes! This is the biggest stumbling block for anybody coming out of Adventism. The very question illustrates the importance of the Sabbath, even in the more liberal Adventist circles. It’s interesting to be asked this question after I’ve stated that I’m putting my full-weight on Jesus for my salvation.
So, here’s my answer and fair warning, it’s long because this is such a huge topic in Adventism.
Growing up I believed that Sabbath was God’s special day for all humanity and that Adventists were to herald people back to keeping it. I thought that while other churches had other truths, Adventists had the most complete picture because of the “Sabbath truth.” Furthermore, I was taught that it was a “testing truth” and that eventually all would have to make a decision about whether or not they were going to keep the Sabbath. After all, if we love Jesus we should keep his commandments.
As I got older, I started to think, if salvation is by grace through faith then why does it all hinge on a day? Moreover, if the Sabbath is so serious, why doesn’t anybody know how to keep it? Why is it kept differently in Alabama than in California, in Maryland than in Florida, in Kingston than it is in Sydney? If I’m going to be judged by it, I thought, shouldn’t I know exactly what I needed to do?
Once I finished college, however, my theology had expanded to see the Sabbath as a sign of both creation and redemption. I thought this was a balanced view because it embraced both the Law and Jesus. So I “kept the Sabbath” out of my respect for God’s Law and my love for Jesus. But the more I came to understand Sabbath as a sign of redemption, the more I became convinced that the sign is not necessary once you get to the destination. As the seeds of the gospel were being sown in my heart, I couldn’t understand why I still needed a sign to tell me which way to Seattle when I was standing on Main Street downtown. Christ, therefore (like Seattle), is more important than the sign that points to Him. I don’t see this reflected in the Seventh-day Adventist church’s doctrines or practices.
Still, I didn’t want to see this because I was comfortable in what I knew. God’s Spirit, over a long period, had to soften my heart to want to accept the truth of Jesus and His gospel. Simultaneously, He erased my fear of “falling away” from Him if I gave up the Sabbath. I had an experience with Jesus and the gospel. I fully embraced that salvation is in Jesus alone. It was amazing! All I know is that after accepting the gospel it was like scales fell from my eyes. God allowed me see things I never saw before in the Scriptures.
I say this to say that I think it’s more beneficial for a pastor at the crossroads to accept the gospel first and allow the gospel to address the Sabbath.
To be clear, the gospel is God’s free gift of forgiveness and reconciliation (salvation) as offered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:1-8, Col 1:19-23, Col 2:13-15, Heb 9:2, 10:12, Rom 1:16, etc.). God’s only requirement is faith and love (John 3:16, 6:28-29, 1 John 3:23-24). Yet, even that is God’s initiative (John 1:11-13, 6:61-65) thus making salvation totally an act of God’s unmerited grace to the glory of God alone (Rom 9, Eph 2:8-9).
To biblically deal with the Sabbath, one first has to understand covenants in Scripture. The Old Covenant is embodied in the Ten Commandments which was given to the Israelites (Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 4:13, Deuteronomy 5:2-3—Note in this last text that the covenant/10 Commandments including the Sabbath, were not given to “our forefathers” i.e. the Patriarchs in Genesis). The purpose of the covenant was to show sin and to be a guardian until Christ (the Seed) came (Romans 7:7, Gal 3:17-20). But in Christ, the Old has been replaced by the New Covenant and the New Covenant is a ministry of the Spirit and not of laws etched stones (2 Corinthians 3:1-18, Hebrews 8:13). Moreover, Galatians 5 tells us that if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. In that same chapter in Galatians, we see that not being under the law does NOT mean people can just do whatever they want (see Rom 6:15-23 also). Although this is precisely what I was taught to believe would happen if the law was indeed inoperative (Ephesians 2:15).
This gospel-centered perspective takes us back to the eternal Abrahamic covenant which, in short, is about righteousness by faith (Gal 3:1-18). The New Covenant then connects those who have placed their faith in Jesus with Abraham’s line (John 8:40). So, the Sons and daughters of God are those who respond to God’s grace in faith (John 1:12-13).
Like I said earlier, I once believed that I was keeping the Sabbath out of love (“if you love me keep my commandments”). But then I read John 14:15 in context and I realized that Jesus is not referencing the 10 Commandments. Jesus is simply saying that if we love Him, we will obey HIM. To suggest that Jesus here is commanding us to keep the law is reading into the text something that is not there.
But I stress again, the natural does not want full grace. The natural man wants to do his part. Although it is not better, for some reason, being a co-laborer in our salvation is easier to accept than salvation by grace alone. Salvation can only come as a result of spiritual rebirth (John 3:6) and acceptance of the gospel (John 3:16, 14:6-14). The Holy Spirit must be the guide because spiritual things are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).
In short, it is my conviction that a biblical understanding of Sabbath must fit with what the Bible teaches about the gospel and the New Covenant. This will sound strong, but I must say it…and I say it in love: the Adventist perspective of Sabbath is a denial of the gospel because, in essence, it says Jesus is not enough. According to the SDA view of the Sabbath, after accepting Jesus as our personal Savior, there is still something for us to prove — some other test we must meet — before we can have eternal life.
When a person understands how the Adventist doctrine of salvation (particularly the Heavenly Sanctuary/Investigative Judgment) works together with the Sabbath doctrine, it becomes a pivotal moment in his or her spiritual life.
There are so many questions that I just don’t have time to address here (Sabbath in Genesis, Sabbath as seal of God, the nature of the Law, Jesus as Sabbath rest, the Sabbath in the life of Jesus, The Sabbath and the NT Church, etc.), however, I hope the few nuggets I’ve shared will serve as a framework for a pastor at the crossroads. I would highly encourage a journeying pastor to make use of former Adventist links on this website. I would suggest contacting the pastors listed here in order to have a trusted sounding board. They understand how crucial confidentiality is at this stage. Most of all, I would encourage a pastor at the crossroads to ask God’s Spirit to be his/her teacher.
Why are you speaking out publicly and not just fading out into the sunset?
First and foremost, I share my story so that God will be glorified. What He has done in my life is a miracle and I’m not ashamed of His gospel.
Since leaving, I’ve spoken to numerous SDA pastors who are at or journeying to the crossroads. Still, it’s impossible to speak to all of them and I know they’re out there. This article is for nobody else but them. They need to know they are not alone. I and others have journeyed down that lonely road. My hope is that something I share will encourage them. My earnest prayer is that God will be glorified in their lives.
When I speak about the errors of Adventism, I am speaking about a system of belief. I am not against Adventists as individuals. Because Adventism is so much a part of a person’s identity, that distinction is sometimes hard to understand. But I pray that the Adventists who read this will be able to sense that I am speaking out in love.
What are your plans now?
For now I’m just trying to take care of my family, seek God, and discern where He wants me to go. You could say that I’m on a ministry Sabbatical of sorts. Yet, I’m presently pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, OR. When it’s time for me to move back into pastoral ministry in an official capacity, God will do it. I’m trusting that He is sovereign.
What is your message to Adventist pastors who are at the crossroads?
I know exactly where you are. I’ve experienced your confusion, disbelief, and even fear. I want you to know, however, that if you are at the crossroads it’s because God is calling you. He’s calling you to trust in Him alone and accept the gospel. Make no mistake, it’s not going to be easy. You will lose a great deal, initially. You will lose some friends, financial security, and social status. Don’t be fooled, you are, in fact, starting your entire life over. I know how terribly frightening all of that sounds but you should know the truth.
Trust me, however, when I say that God will provide in ways you have yet to imagine. Trust me when I say that He will give you courage to have those difficult conversations and journey into the great unknown. If you don’t trust me, then trust Jesus when He says:
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–along with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life.’ (Mark 10:29-30).*
So, ultimately the question boils down to: Are you going to trust God with your life? Do you have faith in Jesus alone? In the end, that’s what God requires. Jesus asks “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) I think you’ve got it. Godspeed.
*Scripture quoted from NIV.