There are some pastors at the crossroads who have declared that they are not preaching Ellen G. White or any distinct teachings of Seventh-day Adventism.
Some pastors make their churches appear less like traditional Adventist churches by dimming the lights, having a band, changing worship times, and even preaching sermons focusing on Jesus and the gospel. While their communication is Christ-centered and gospel-focused, members are being bombarded by other forms of contradictory communication in your church. From Cradle Roll, Adult Sabbath School lesson, Adventist Youth Society, Pathfinders and guest speakers, your members receive the Adventist perspective of Scripture. When it’s time for someone to be baptized, they still must first go through the traditional teachings and agree with SDA doctrine. The tithes that their churches collect are still used to spread the Adventist gospel worldwide.
As you contemplate issues at the crossroad, take a step back. Look at the big picture.
The issue is not methodological. The issue is Seventh-day Adventist teachings don’t jibe with the Bible. This video provides some food for thought.
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.
What was the catalyst that compelled you to quit your pastoral job?
The only God-induced response when one receives the gospel is faith. Simply put, God prompted me to leave my job to follow Him alone as my Savior and provision in faith. It was scary but the question I had to answer was whether I was going to trust Him or myself for all of my needs. This is the kind of faith that brings glory to God.
The other part of it though was to retain my integrity. I didn’t have huge savings and a mapped-out plan for my future. In practical terms this was not a smart move but, I believe, it is required for those who value their character. What kind of integrity would I demonstrate to my wife and future children (Lord willing) if I had stayed in a pulpit within a religion I believed was fundamentally in error? What kind of person would that make me? What kind of leader would that make me? I would never again be able to stand on my ethical two legs knowing that I was intentionally living outside of Christian orthodoxy (the gospel) and my convictions. Furthermore, not only would I be living a lie but I would be living in sin. Paul says, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Rom 14:23).
Trust me when I say, I know many SDA pastors who have fundamental theological differences with the Pillars of Adventism (Sabbath, Sanctuary-Investigative Judgment, Spirit of Prophecy, and State of the Dead). My counsel would be for them to value their character above all else. To do so honors God and prioritizes personal integrity over any perceived or real benefit of staying in the system.
Why didn’t you stay and try to make a difference?
Staying would have been impossible for several reasons. First of all, the problems with Seventh-day Adventism are theological at the root. It is my conviction that as long as Ellen White’s writings remain “a continuing and authoritative source of truth” (Fundamental Belief No. 18), the Seventh-day Adventist Church will never fundamentally change. Nevermind the fact that I wasn’t a staunch EGW believer. The fact remains that she is the interpretive lens by which the Seventh-day Adventist Church interprets Scripture. Practically, this means that she is either equal to Scripture, at best, or above it, at worst.
I also came to the conviction that I couldn’t be in fellowship with a religion that was outside of Christian orthodoxy. That is to say, I couldn’t be outside of the gospel of grace through faith in Jesus alone. How could I “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18) while being not under grace, but law? I firmly believed that in order to accept the gospel of Jesus, I had to leave.
Lastly, I believe God gets the most glory out of my life when I allow Him to form me into the person He created me to be. This is the transformational nature of the gospel which cannot be duplicated within the environment of “another” gospel. I had to follow God’s call out of Adventism.
Describe what it was like, emotionally, to leave?
There are no words to express how I felt in taking this journey. Leaving Adventism was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life. I cannot stress enough the emotional turmoil I went through making this decision. For me, I wasn’t primarily stressed over where we would go or how we would survive financially. I was more concerned with the disappointment it would cause my family and friends. In truth, it required me to face my greatest fear. Emotionally this was all-straining.
As God revealed to me the gospel and the unbiblical nature of Adventist theology, I soon realized I wasn’t just leaving a theological system but an entire culture. It’s not like leaving a Lutheran church for a Presbyterian one. Leaving Adventism is major, like death or divorce. It was jarring when I realized that the thing that once made up so much of my identity was now dead to me.
Adventism is an entire worldview. Only when I experienced the gospel of grace did I get a true sense of where I was in relation to it. This was all very emotionally taxing.
Leaving my congregation was also emotionally difficult. I had pastored these people for almost four years. I had built relationships, married couples, and performed the funerals of their loved ones. I loved them deeply and to leave them was heart-wrenching. Words cannot express how difficult all of this was.
How did your friends and family react when you shared that you were leaving your job and leaving Adventism?
As I mentioned above, I was very much afraid of these conversations. I had heard many terrible stories from others about their discussions with family. Surprisingly however, most of my loved ones were very supportive. They didn’t understand, of course, but they were still very supportive of me as a person. I appreciated that. I had those few people that thought I was going to hell or that God was taking me on my own journey only to bring me back to Adventism. Still, it was cool. I answered all the questions I was asked and left a standing invitation for continued dialogue. I’ve had some “interesting” conversations, but most of conversations have been out of love. God really graced me with this part of it.
So, here’s the question that everyone who leaves gets asked, over and over again… what about the Sabbath?
Stay tuned for the answer to this and other questions in our final installment. Click here to receive updates in your email box.
Just this past Spring, Pastor Kurtley Knight resigned his pastoral position for doctrinal reasons. We pray that Adventist pastors at the crossroads are encouraged by his story of stepping out on faith to follow Christ and share the Gospel. This is Part 1. Read Part 2 here and Part 3 here.
Tell us about your background in Adventism.
I was born and raised in the [Adventist] church. While my upbringing wasn’t the strictest Adventist upbringing, it was still fairly disciplined (as my parents came from a Caribbean background) in regards to church. Growing up I hardly ever missed going to church on Sabbath. If we didn’t, we “observed” it at home with no TV, games, or anything like that. We had family worship most evenings.
After my parents divorced in 1989, my mother moved my two brothers and I down to Huntsville, AL. She wanted us to get a good Adventist upbringing at Oakwood University (then College). I attended Oakwood Academy in high school and the university for my collegiate years. It was during those 15+ years that I truly got sucked into the Adventist bubble where everything revolved around being Adventists (friendships, activities, education, etc.).
When did you start to question the doctrines? What were some of your first questions?
Interestingly enough, my first questions arose in my theology classes at Oakwood. Two professors in particular were notorious for their “Christ-centered” approach to the Scriptures. In taking their classes, I discovered their reputations were well-deserved. In class they emphasized Jesus like I had never heard before or since from an Adventist pastor/teacher.
Their perspective on the centrality of Jesus was refreshing. Their hatred for Adventist proof-texting was enlightening. To their credit, they really opened my eyes to the centrality of Jesus.
Still, in my mind there remained a sort of disconnect. If I’m truly saved by grace through faith why then must I keep the Law to be saved? Specifically, why is the Sabbath so important if salvation is found in Jesus alone? Furthermore, if salvation is by grace through faith then why is the ethos of our culture driven by works?
This last question really bothered me for some time. I correctly reasoned that if Adventist doctrines were centered in Jesus and grace then the latter should be evident in Adventist culture. By that I mean, the ethos of the culture should be one of grace. Looking around however that’s not what I saw or heard. All I saw were people desperately “trying harder” but to no avail. I witnessed and experienced the burden of guilt. The emphasis was always on what one has to do and the precious Sabbath that must be hallowed. How can we be about grace if our repeated focus is always on works? Calling this a contradiction is being kind.
So for me it started as a theological or doctrinal question about law and grace but went much deeper. The “smoke” for me was the ethos of the culture. The smoke of legalism betrayed that indeed there was fire. God used this emphasis to propel me on my 8-9 year journey out of Adventism.
Did you ever browse any of the ex-SDA websites?
I remember seeing some of the websites back in the late 2000’s (perhaps as late as 2008). The only one I vividly remember visiting was Ex-Adventist outreach. By that time, I had placed my theological questions on a shelf and had accessed the site by accident. I just didn’t understand why a site was necessary in the first place. It just seemed strange. Ex-Adventist Outreach? For what?
Although I was not a conservative hardliner I still believed in the Sabbath. Who would leave that?
I don’t remember the other sites I visited back then but there were a few. In reading former Adventist comments I thought the people were angry, bitter, and vengeful. Not really because they wrote angry things but because that was the presupposition I had in my head. People that leave Adventism only left because they were hurt not because of doctrine, I thought. Therefore, they are angry, bitter, and vengeful people. This was what I was told. Now that I’m on the other side I see this for what it truly is—another lie.
What was the catalyst that compelled you to quit your pastoral job?
For the answer to this and other questions read Part 2.
What questions do you have for Kurtley? Ask him in the comments.
I had the AWESOME privilege of hanging with James Walker and his class at Criswell College tonight.
I was blessed to be with you tonight. If I can be a resource or help, please let me know. Thank you to my friend Pastor Jon Bilima
Here are the links I shared in the class.
Images of Judgement: http://blog.lifeassuranceministries.org/2011/12/03/imagesofjudgement/
Comparing SDA with Historic Christianity – http://lifeassuranceministries.org/studies/comparison.pdf
Dr. Louis Talbot article, Why Seventh-day Adventism Is not Evangelical http://lifeassuranceministries.org/studies/talbot1_reprint.pdf
Life Assurance Ministries – http://lifeassuranceministries.org/
Other websites – http://lifeassuranceministries.org/related.html
Dr. John Piper gives a clear definition of the Gospel.
What is the Gospel? Click here