Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Twenty-five Years in the Adventist Church


"Every [Christian] sect is a certificate
that God has not plainly revealed
His will to man. To each reader
the Bible conveys
a different meaning."

-Robert G. Ingersoll quoted in The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (p. 182).

There are six sections here. If you would like to skip to one, use these links:

  1. Those Jokes About it Being a Cult Aren't Funny: It Is A Cult.
  2. Adventism is a Strong, Self-Reinforcing Delusion
  3. SDA Theology is Fundamentalist and Extremely Conservative.
  4. No Private Interpretation vs Present Truth
  5. Selected Resources on Adventism
  6. HubPages Comment Collection

1. Those Jokes About it Being a Cult Aren't Funny: It Is A Cult.

I was baptized on May 17, 1986
in a little country church in southern Michigan
(the Urbandale SDA Church). As of the end of my
SDA career in June of 2011, I have moved
quickly through the "former SDA" phase to "post-Christian."
In at least three ways it fulfills standard cult definitions.

First: Despite official denials, one person dominated the founding years, in the same way Joseph Smith dominated the formation of the Mormon church. Ellen G. White's career as the SDA (Seventh-day Adventist) prophet from her teen years in the 1840s to her death in 1915 shaped a major portion of early SDA history. She and her husband (and in later years, her large entourage of secretaries and servants) crisscrossed the territory of the growing church, molding the thinking of every willing follower after her own.

Her voluminous writings heavily influence church policy and practice today. For a current example, her major work on end-time doctrine, The Great Controversy, was the church's choice as the cornerstone of the 2013 SDA evangelistic outreach to New York City. The reason her book was valued over more recently and relevantly written material is because she directed her followers to value her writings above all others, and her followers still obey her instructions. It is her writings more than other SDA authors which continue to be translated into all the languages of the world. Her books, exclusively, are condensed into versions for younger and more contemporary audiences, as with modern translations of the Bible for younger readers.

Many other examples can be found when one becomes as familiar with her writings as she (and her hoards of acolytes) prescribed. I personally took that prescription very seriously, and soon after I joined the church I became well acquainted with her writings. The observant EGW (Ellen G. White) devotee notices the indebtedness to her teachings in virtually every church publication, in the curricular decisions made throughout their K-12 and college educational systems, and all official church newspapers. Church publications constantly include excerpts of her writings, continually reinforcing her heavy influence on every church member's thinking.

There is scarcely a topic related to how the church should run its congregational life, its educational and health institutions, its church ministries, and its evangelistic efforts upon which Ellen White did not write in extreme and repetitive detail. The true acolyte does not have to wonder about how to behave. For every stage and station in life, Ellen White wrote what she claimed were inspired messages. As a child in school, as a youth in courtship, as husband or wife, as a parent or pastor or teacher or evangelist or conference officer or Sabbath School teacher-- every possible aspect of private and congregational life was described by her in terms that are very easy to summarize: you must live as she describes, or you cannot please God.

Beyond the grave, she remains the cult leader. Only the dishonest or embarrassed Adventist denies that fact. But even knowing all the facts listed above, devoted EGW followers do deny it. I was a faithful denier myself, especially in my role as a high school "Bible Teacher," passing the torch of delusion on to many generations of trusting and malleable SDA youth. I regret that part of my past.


Detail of Ellen White from wall mural
inside the Ellen G. White Estate, Washington, D.C.

Secondly, like many cults, they refuse to open to the world in a transparent manner their exact interpretation of Bible doctrine. Contrasting with the boastful official claim about their SDA teachings being the only true-to-the-Bible source of world-saving truth for the present, they maintain a reluctance to be openly associated with their own most important and unique teachings, and with their trademarked name. In their evangelism, they cloak their name and identity with bait & switch techniques.

In the "crusade" (their name for it) series which caught me up into it in 1986, only generically Christian teachings were used in the first several meetings. Even if uniquely SDA doctrine was presented, it was not presented as uniquely SDA, especially because the fact that it was a meeting designed by and for the evangelists of the SDA Church was scrupulously covered up. The connection of those meetings to the SDA church was a well-guarded secret until much later. As relationships were established, more controversial topics were introduced, and eventually I learned why the meetings were taking place in what the initial advertisement had called a "local Seventh-day Adventist auditorium." (which to me didn't sound like "church" when I first read the ad copy). 
Later, as my short-lived career as a literature evangelist for them progressed, I learned how to hide the fact that I was selling SDA books. I was to participate in this deception by assuring customers that I worked for their front company, with the blandly safe name, "Home Health Education Service," even if I was asked by prospective customers if this was connected to any particular church. Next time you visit your local dentist or family doctor, be sure to look around the children's reading material for big blue books called "The Bible Story." You might be surprised to know that those books teach most of the SDA doctrines at a child's reading level, even though you won't find any hint inside or outside the books that they are powerful propaganda tools of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. When the occasional convert is secured through such surreptitious channels, the members applaud it as a miracle of providence, and tell each other that the new converts "read themselves into the church."

Later still, in another attempt to support their door-to-door efforts ("always ignore the No Soliciting signs," we were taught), I learned a new way to get past old anti-SDA prejudices: tell them you're in their neighborhood giving free blood pressure checks. After gaining their trust in this very unethical manner, we were told to offer them invitations to the many health-related evangelistic meetings (cooking "schools," stop-smoking "clinics," parenting "seminars."). These all were supposed to sound so benevolently educational, but we also offered to pray with them to conclude each visit, and back amongst our fellow evangelists we certainly prayed for these efforts to result in baptisms for local SDA churches.

By the early part of the Twentieth Century, their fellow Protestants had figured out the cultic nature of the SDA Church, and had succeeded in getting the "cult" label to stick. As of the 1950s, they've been earnestly coveting the approval of the evangelical wing of Christianity, to the extent of publicly downplaying the importance of their most controversial teachings in a book called Questions on Doctrine (QOD). The downplayed doctrines include the primacy of EGW's writings, the atonement as incomplete even after Christ's death on the cross, the Investigative Judgment, and their long-standing practice of criticizing Protestantism as apostate and fallen.

They may present themselves to their Protestant peers as just another church, but among themselves, the same teachings that QOD downplays for evangelical consumption are preached loudly and clearly from SDA pulpits worldwide. They may proclaim and pretend that they are not a cult, but such claims upset lifelong church members who never minded the label, and proudly used it as proof that their unique teachings were getting attention in the world.

Some of the more liberal North American Adventists like to call themselves progressive and their congregations experiment with all the newest and latest ministry and music fads always blowing through modern metropolitan Christianity. But such a tiny minority is far outnumbered by their brethren worldwide, who constitute an overwhelming majority voting bloc controlling the policies of the global organization. The recent church presidential election put into office a man much more conservative than the progressive Adventists, and who promises reformation along the lines of what Ellen White's writings demand of her followers.

Me, caught in the act of teaching
an academy high school class
at Armona Union Academy,
September 19, 2007, at 12:36 pm PST

Thirdly, as my twenty-year teaching career wound down to a close, local church politics demonstrated how the church operates as a cult of personality, all the way up to the top leadership offices worldwide. It became interesting and utterly ironic, given SDA eschatology, to observe how many are the similarities between two competing and seemingly opposite Christianity cults, the SDAs and the Roman Catholic Church. For some reason, when SDAs change leadership in their churches and institutions, they euphemistically use the terminology of a democratically elected organization, when in fact the nomination process is just as tightly controlled from the top down as the Roman Catholic Church. Churches get a small (and largely ignored) comment on how long a pastor may remain as their leader, and in who replaces him, but the leadership strongly encourages the illusion within congregations that it is the church members who choose their pastor. A similar play-acting is done with school boards and the hiring and moving and firing of their principals and teachers, the conference educational leaders pretending that their school boards have the same kind of authority as public school boards.

There are many levels to the SDA Church hierarchy, and while it is expedient for the men at the very top (and only men have ever been allowed in top positions) to act as if they are servants of the world church membership, they behave much more like the professional politicians they are: they protect each other once they are safe inside the "old boy's club" of top church officialdom, and act as gatekeepers and power brokers, only letting in new members who will maintain the status quo. It functions as a cult of personality more than a group of leaders chosen because of spiritual gifts or divine calling or professional abilities. It's not whether you know God or know how to lead; it's who you know, and who knows you that determines your ascent up the ladder of church office.

Christmas in New York City, December 2006.
Delusion comes in many shapes and sizes,
and yet, we can all still be friendly with each other!
This nice lady agreed to pose with me, holding up her 'truth'-filled sign.


2. Adventism is a Strong, Self-Reinforcing Delusion


The biggest delusion which the SDA cult propagates among its members is this: The SDA Church is the only source for reliable and accurate interpretation of Bible prophecy. This is the same as saying, "The SDA Church is The True Church," because they play up that idea constantly: there must only be one true church, to the exclusion of all others. Wrapped tightly into that teaching is another delusion: Ellen White is the True Church's True Prophet.

They claim that the book of Revelation mentions EGW specifically, in symbols and signs which supposedly predicted her prophetic ministry. They refer to the things she taught in her many books and writings as the Spirit of Prophecy, lifting that phrase straight from the King James version of Revelation. An important part of Adventist identity is grounded in their belief that a real live modern day prophet veritably leaped off the pages of the Bible, and landed in 19th Century New England.

Moreover, the sum total of her comments on the Bible and all things Adventist represent far more reading material than the Bible itself. The new member is not only talked into believing that Ellen White's ministry to Seventh-day Adventists proves that they are The One True Church, but also to believe that they are obligated to read what she wrote. Her writings supersede the Bible to true SDA believers because they are treated as the only divinely inspired (and thus inerrant) commentary upon Scripture. "If you lessen the confidence of God’s people in the testimonies He has sent them, you are rebelling against God," she wrote, and this warning is repeating constantly in many different ways by her devotees.

Practically speaking, since it takes so much of the new convert's time getting up to speed on what she wrote about the Bible, study of the Bible for its own sake is commonly neglected. SDAs tend to read everything in the Bible through Ellen White lenses, hearing her extensive commentary on each passage, convinced that they are hearing the Holy Spirit's inspired guidance instead of the cult leader's voice. A popular SDA paraphrase of the Bible written by one of my college professors, called The Clear Word, reads more like a version in which Ellen White's commentary is substituted for much of the original phrasing.

Of course they insist that SDAs accept as their highest authority the Bible and the Bible only. But from the time they are infant pupils in their "Cradle Roll" Sabbath Schools they are taught that Sister White says this, and Sister White says that, and we do this, that, and the other because Sister White said we should. The "hidden curriculum" which is caught (more than taught) is: Sure, it's important to confess Sola Scriptura, especially if non-SDA Christians may be listening, but Ellen White said many times "I was shown..." and "I saw..." and "the angel said to me...", and whenever what follows those famous EGW phrases does not line up with your interpretation of the Bible, you are supposed to give up your interpretation and adopt hers.

Interestingly, she said of her own writings that they are either all of God or all a deception of Satan-- it's all or nothing, take or leave the teachings of Ellen White as a whole. One cannot help but commend her for her willingness to concede the possibility of having been duped herself, even if the one deluding her was probably, if fact, herself. But if you leave her out of your faith and practice, you can hardly remain a Seventh-day Adventist.

The SDA believer feels as though they could more easily tear out of their Bibles the book of Revelation than ignore the writings of Ellen White. Logically, that is the correct conclusion-- if you accept that she is the prophet she claims to be. To reject her writings on any topic is to reject a part of the Bible itself, since the Bible itself specifically proclaimed her ministry to (supposedly) be one of the identifying marks of the "true remnant" church.

Obviously no one who thinks of themselves as a Bible-believing Christian would reject any part of the Bible, especially because the Bible itself includes dire warnings for those who dare to do such a thing. So the Adventist Christian, once they assent to SDA doctrine, is forced to accept both the Bible and Ellen White's writings as authoritative in their lives. The terrible warnings of God's wrath upon those who tamper with Scripture prevent Adventists from even considering Ellen White's writings to be in a separate category from the Bible. Keep in mind how many topics on which she gave instruction (see #1 above), and you begin to see the circular logic of it which makes the delusion so powerfully self-reinforcing.

There's even further reinforcement in the prominent SDA/EGW teachings about persecution and martyrdom, which function as the ultimate seal on the circular reasoning: if you break from the church by rejecting her writings, you fulfill some of her own predictions about "many bright lights from among us" going out, about the devil confusing and deluding some even within the church about what's true and false. In the end it's much easier just to dismiss any questions which arise in yourself or your fellow Adventists if they sound too much like her prophecies of those who leave turning around and persecuting and ridiculing the One True Church. The Devil is angry with us, they say to themselves, Satan himself is at war with us, and see what good martyrs we make when EGW-deniers turn on us and thereby fulfill Revelation's prophecies!

Psychology says that kind of delusion is a "self-fulfilling prophecy." Predictably, EGW warned her followers to stay away from psychology.

3. SDA Theology is Fundamentalist and Extremely Conservative.


During my early, ultra-conservative SDA years. Taken at Hartland College in Rapidan, Virginia. I was fresh off a year as a missionary in Truk (now Chuuk). I met my fiance at Hartland, but we had to leave, because dating was against the college rules.

On a mission trip to the Philippines.
On a mission trip to the Philippines.
My own personal philosophy, values, and theology changed quite a bit during my time as a member. It's not hard to describe that change: I went from the far right to the left end of the spectrum, by almost every measure-- lifestyle, politics, Sabbath observance, musical tastes, attitude toward church leadership and to the church as a whole.

The earliest years are embarrassing for me to remember, but I think they are instructive, since I saw that early fundamentalist in many other young people who came up after me. If you had the misfortune to meet me within the first five years or so after my baptism, it's likely that you were a victim of my harsh judgmental attitudes. Even strangers who happened to sit with me for a meal at the Andrews University cafeteria were often subjected to my lecturing on Counsels on Diet and Foods (a classic EGW weapon in the fundamentalist SDA's arsenal). A few were good enough to attempt a warning about the counterproductive nature of my posturing and pontificating, but I didn't take the hints to heart. EGW's writings were so harsh and self-confident, it was hard not to feel that Jesus was happy with me for imitating so perfectly his latter day prophetess.
On a mission trip to Nicaragua.
On a mission trip to Nicaragua.
I eventually changed into a more harmless believer than that early version. But not before being a terrible example for many who remained strident fundamentalist SDAs, just like I used to be, and some who got worse.

Since they were the last segment of my church family with whom I ultimately bonded, I continue to track the tireless efforts of liberal SDAs to remain in the church, and remain liberal in character, and to bring progressive change to the church. I feel a bit like the patron saint of lost causes, because theirs is the most lost cause I know.

My portal into their lost cause is the online website of their most important publication, called Spectrum. The magazine's website hosts blogs, columns, and forum-like discussions among its readers after each post. I used to regularly comment there, perhaps because it helped me formulate some of my reasons for leaving. Many who frequent those discussions are ex-SDA, and a few are no longer Christians at all. The honesty encouraged by the moderators there was refreshing but sadly unique among many other, more repressive online Adventist communities.

Now, I only read, and that less and less. The other day I removed the bookmark from my web browser, so I won't keep reflexively clicking on it, and dragging myself through the discussion threads. They're the same no matter the issue being discussed; it always devolves into the same dance between the 'spectrumites' upholding their confusing mash of progressive views against the strident and earnest balking of the few faithful conservatives, round and round they go, repeating the same thoughts to each other, never convincing anyone, only themselves. Much like any other Internet-based discussion, I suppose. Having left the Adventist community entirely, I have lost all motivation to participate in it.

The reason I believe that conservative Adventists will always have reason to cheer (without clapping or actually cheering, mind you!) and liberal Adventists will be fighting losing battles till the bitter end is that conservatives have the only legitimate claim to the coveted "true SDA" status. Some call it "historic Adventist." The liberal Adventists would argue this, and attempt to prove that the SDA tent is big enough for all kinds of Adventists. They point to the wide variety of lifestyle practices and worship styles amongst themselves. However, the power to change or modify policy is never entrusted to anyone but conservative members of the SDA leadership class. The toleration of variety in lifestyle and worship is due to lax enforcement of principles that Ellen White codified long ago; at any time, the conservative leadership could decide it's time for revival and reformation, and soon liberals would face the ultimatum "shape up or ship out."

From my observations as an insider over two and a half decades, status is everything to the devoted SDA, and their first formulation of identity is anchored in two key ideas:
  1. There certainly IS one true Church set apart from all other false counterfeits and, 
  2. that the most important duty of every SDA is to maintain the unique and true (ie., aligned with EGW's doctrines) character of the church.
This is accomplished by adapting the life to reflect perfectly the image that EGW paints of Jesus Christ. Remember, her version of Christianity was molded by her association with the extremes of the Millerite movement of 1844. These were people who sincerely believed they were preparing for the immanent, literal Second Coming of Jesus.  It's not surprising that they swung to the very conservative end of the spectrum, preparing (as they mistakenly believed) to meet their maker. She often claimed to have gazed (in prophetic visions and dreams) upon 'the Savior' himself. She believed herself to have been personally chosen and instructed by him as to what he likes to see in the members of His True Church (the SDA Church, of course!). The higher up the hierarchy you go, the less liberal you tend to be, until you get someone like the current president, Ted N. C. Wilson, at the top position. Wilson is as conservative a person as you can find in the mainstream church.

Liberal SDAs' first mistake is their rejection of EGW's writings, in whole or in part (remember, her own rule for accepting the authority of her teachings was all or nothing). This first mistake leads to all the others they commonly make, such as questioning the authority of their leaders (EGW even obeyed them, to the detriment of her ministry, even when she had inspired counsel disagreeing with their decisions); or rejecting some of the uniquely SDA teachings, such as the prophetic significance of the date October 22, 1844, or the Investigative Judgment initiated on that date, or the connections Adventists make between the Bible books of Daniel and Revelation and the sanctuary rituals found throughout the Scriptures.
If you question "present truth" as an SDA, you risk falling off the path to heaven, according to EG White's first vision, which is the subject of a mural at the EGW Estate. This detail from that painting depicts the fate of me, and all former SDAs.
If you question 'present truth' as an SDA, 
you risk falling off the path to heaven, 
according to EG White's first vision, 
which is the subject of a mural at the EGW Estate. 
This detail from that painting depicts the fate of me, 
and all former SDAs.
Source: Jim Miles

4. No Private Interpretation vs Present Truth


A key text in SDA Theology comes from Peter's writings, where he teaches about the nature of inspiration. He states that scripture came about in a manner different than the normal process of writing and publishing. He says that "no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation," but rather that the Holy Spirit moved on men and entered into the writing process in a supernatural way (2 Peter 1:20).

This text specifically mentions prophecy. This makes it particularly relevant to a church owing its existence to one man's misinterpretation of prophecy. William Miller, a Nineteenth Century New England farmer, famously stuck with his own private interpretation of Daniel 8:14 so firmly that a whole religious movement sprouted around him. The Millerites believed their leader when he preached that Jesus' return to earth (or advent as it was known) would occur on October 22, 1844. When this did not occur, and their un-harvested crops mocked them as painfully as did their fellow New Englanders, they were understandably devastated.

A few of the true Adventist believers shook off their great disappointment and, a little too conveniently, insisted that Miller's error in interpretation was predicted in Bible prophecy, and was part of God's plan all along. The more they committed to that bit of face-saving revisionist interpretation, the more brazen they became in finding each new stage of development of their new version of Christianity somehow predicted in Bible prophecy. Daniel and Revelation, the two Bible books EGW recommended her followers read more carefully and often than any others, happen to be the parts of the the Bible most open to a wide variety of interpretations, because of their highly symbolic nature. These are the same books the infamous David Koresh used to gain his ill-fated following.

And soon after their disappointment, Ellen White began reassuring them that God meant for Miller to make his terribly mistaken private interpretation. And not only are the symbols of Daniel and Revelation supposedly identifying the One True Church, they point to the SDAs as that true church. The Remnant church, they call themselves, using a word found only in the earliest English translations of Revelation 12:17 (such as the King James version). God favors the English language, it seems, particularly that of a certain vintage.

The early formulation of SDA doctrine appears to be exactly what the Apostle Peter said is NOT true inspiration: private interpretation. And when other Christians call them out for such subjective, make-it-up-as-you-go theology and the errors it produces, they cry "persecution," and turn to Bible prophecy and EGW's predictions and Behold! this, too, is a fulfillment of prophecy.

This is another example of how circular reasoning and private interpretation feeds the SDA delusion, this time entering into the very reason for their existence. It's equivalent to me proclaiming that I am Christ because the highly abstract coded symbols in Revelation identify me as such, and when persecuted for being loony, finding that very persecution predicted in prophecy, and becoming even more convinced of my own delusion.

Such delusion soon becomes impenetrable because it so easily adapts itself to whatever arguments can be brought against it. It relies on three assumptions:
  1. that the only group of Christians on earth who correctly interpret Daniel, Revelation, and the rest of the Bible are those whose founding fathers and prophetess believed William Miller's mistaken private interpretation;
  2. if you believe that then you are one of God's chosen Remnant people (currently identified with the Seventh-day Adventist denomination); and
  3. if you reject that, then you are identified with the many counterfeits and distractions the Devil is using in his war against the Remnant (in other words, you're either on God's side--with the SDAs--or you're a tool of Satan; in SDA theology, there is no middle ground).
From what I observed while a part of the SDA cult, no one is allowed to question any of those assumptions. If one questions them, he or she endangers any hopes they may have had in holding leadership positions or performing ministry on behalf of the church. If they press such questions, they risk being marginalized and labeled as a trouble-maker. Being a tightly integrated and insular community, this threat effectively silences questions in the church, since once you are established in the church, you soon feel as if your whole life, including your eternal life, is wrapped up with this particular group of people.

Like many cults, it's not easy to leave it. It involves not only re-thinking your worldview, but also often breaks the questioner off from friends and family. It's much, much easier to bury doubts and questions, deny yourself the privilege of thinking freely with an open mind about your church and its teachings.

If you asked most Adventists if they have an open mind and are allowed to question their beliefs freely, they would insist that they do. They might point to their free-wheeling discussions in Sabbath School classes, or in academy Bible classes. As a Bible teacher myself, I often heard this famous phrase from the EGW book, Education, encouraging both students and teachers "to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men's thought" (Education, p. 17).

That quotation was often used to settle the matter of whether we Adventists do in fact welcome serious and original thinking and questioning from each other. (Nevermind the irony, since this is a quote from EGW, and not an original thought). I believed that I was a truly open minded Adventist teacher, participating in an important movement at a significant moment in history. SDAs believe that Bible prophecy puts them and their teachings on the front lines of a great End Times battle between good and evil, truth vs deception, Christ vs Satan. SDAs (at least before the QOD generation) consistently challenge the legitimacy of all other churches, especially the Roman Catholic Church and her Protestant "daughter" churches.

"Present Truth," they call it, and by that they mean the Truth most needed by the current generation of human beings. They are proud of their heritage stretching back all the way to William Miller, who discovered 'Truth' in a way open to anyone who can read, and use their imagination to interpret what they find. He sat down with Bible, dictionary, and concordance, prayed for light, and received it (well, he 'received' something). By that elegantly simple method he stumbled onto Bible doctrines which had been deliberately obscured by a corrupt and increasingly irrelevant Christian Church, both Catholics and Protestants. Following in his steps, EGW and her many generations of devotees have continued peeling back Dark Ages errors, they believe, revealing the Truth, Sola Scriptura, supposedly cleansed from private interpretations and corrupt churchmen's deceitful teachings. They are, they think, the current incarnation of the Reformation.

But Adventism turns out to be the religion of Make-It-Up-As-You-Go. It may be more comforting to think of it as a movement of destiny and prophetic importance. But it's just the natural progression of a series of delusions adopted first by a devastated, grief-stricken bunch of New England Millerites, then by those who found solace in circular reasoning, and found meaning in being part of something new and different and vaguely legitimate-sounding. If they were willing to give up their freedom to question everything with open minds, and clamp their minds shut around the tightly-woven self-reinforcing delusions of Adventist doctrine, then they would receive a ready-made self-sustaining society to call their own. As long as they behaved themselves, they would find that it's a small Adventist world after all, and everywhere they traveled they could find believers just like them, soldiering on, fighting the good fight, waiting eagerly for the real second advent of their savior.

Now that I'm on the outside of it, it seems that the Adventist world is smaller than it appears from the inside. Now that I'm outside it, I can't believe so many good-hearted, generous, loving friends and families fit inside such a guilt-driven, close-minded, cult-like denomination. There are good people caught up in every delusion, including religion. There are certainly many good people I left behind in the SDA Church, including beloved family members. But I have realized that it is very important to distinguish between people, and ideas. People, I think, are all basically good, if they are of sound mind; but ideas can be good or bad, and sometimes very bad.

I have criticized the ideas of the SDA church, and in labeling it a 'cult' I'm sure I've hurt some feelings. But I think that exposing bad ideas and all their dangers is more important than remaining silent just to preserve the status quo. I was silent for far too long. If you, reader, are an SDA and perceive me as criticizing you, personally, please forgive me (Jesus said you have to, in order to get to heaven, remember). I'm only trying to clearly express my current conclusions and positions regarding SDA ideas and theology, not attack the human beings who hold to those SDA teachings. Since I taught and proselytized for the SDA Church for more than two decades, I don't want any who may have previously associated me with that denomination to have any doubts about what I currently think.

For more on this topic, see Mr. Miles' Bible Class.

29 comments:

  1. Very good discussion. One of the primary attributes of any cult is whether they accept the full divinity of Christ. Questions on Doctrine basically papered over that issue, to the great surprise of many of its conservative members. For about the first 60 years of its existence, SDA leadership was strongly Arian in its beliefs. Apparently after EGW hit menopause, her harsh Arianism softened and she eventually accepted the Trinity. She never actually repudiated the widespread Aryan beliefs, but at the 1888 conference, she, Jones and Waggoner presented a pretty much "orthodox" belief in the trinity. It really was an abrupt about face, which is doubly shocking given her prophetic claims. To have allowed such a severe doctrinal error to go on for 60 years is amazing. Most cults do posit an aryan belief in Christ.

    Second, no later than 1888, with the defection of DM Canright, the Church leaders knew their Sabbath doctrine was in hopeless trouble. Ironically, that was fixed by Andrews theology professor Samuelle Bachiochi in his 70's book on the Sabbath, wherein he completely knocked out the underpinnings of the EGW teaching on the Sabbath. He had to destroy it in order to save it. Ironically, the World Wide Church of God heeded the unfixable contradictions in Bachioche's work, along with the anti-sabbatarian followups by former SDAs Robert Brimsmead and Dave Ratzliff, and corporately abandoned all of their distinctive doctrines in the 1990's, including their Sabbath doctrine.

    I always picture mentally the SDA leadership frantically scurrying around, sticking their fingers in the dike as each of their most distinctive doctrines are relentlessly savaged by their own theology professors. Like Bill Clinton and his "Bimbo eruptions."

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  2. Jim,
    I can totally relate to your SDA experience. I joined when I was 24, with practically no knowledge of the Bible. I had never heard of a cult, and I didn't know that there were churches that were so off. This was in 1976, so no internet!

    I didn't go down the more fundamental road that you did, but my new found beliefs made me feel torn between my parents (who were wonderful), and keeping the rules of Adventism. When I think about all the wasted years in this nonsense (27 years) it makes me angry and sad.

    I've been out of it for about 10 years, but even my last few years there, I didn't believe it anymore. So glad my husband, daughter and I left at the same time.

    Once again, I find your description of Adventism, very right on.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your input, and kind feedback. Good luck to you.

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  3. Hi James

    I've had a very parallel experience to yours. It started and ended a half dozen years earlier than yours did.

    Early on, the contrast between what was professed and reality quickly became apparent. Something was very wrong. But what?

    Without the internet back then, getting information and putting it together in a right perspective wasn't fast or easy. But it was possible.

    As a gullible and naive young Christian, I read my way in. When older and wiser I read myself out. Not an easy task with a 4th generation SDA wife.

    At that time, I decided to not waste any more energy on the matter. But almost 20 years later, a quick look on net revealed that others, like you had the same kind of experience. And had reached the same conclusions.

    Today, with blogs and websites like yours, there's no need for any young gullible and naive person to fall into the same kind of SDA trap that you and I did.

    Thanks.

    -dm



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  4. You don't have any biblical back up for what you are saying so please keep quiet.

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    Replies
    1. Ikechukwu, I will not keep quiet. I wasn't making a biblical argument, and therefore I don't require any biblical backup, do I? But if you disagree with any of the facts or conclusions I present, please be specific.

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  5. Hi i enjoyed your story and i know this is a few years old but i found your description very helpful.I went searching on the net about SDAs because i have recently lost a friend to this ridiculous religion.I watched her become a member 12 years ago in NZ and 7 years ago she became baptised and now after 12 years of frienship we no longer talk and i think its because she is so involved and brainwashed by this religion.I think she is closing off from the outside world and is now losing friends because she is judging them.She is 59 and a wanderer who has never settled down and is quite gullible and needy,so i think she would have been a perfect candidate for all this mind numbing nonsense.Shes become a very boring person who used to be so much fun...but with strict vegetarian/vegan rules and only going to church now thats all she is and who she knows.I wanted to know if these people were encouraged to move away from non rigious friends?...looks like they do?.

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  6. You aren't encouraged to separate from what they call "worldly people" directly, in so many words. However, that is the de facto result of the constant droning on about keeping separate from the World, being "in the world but not OF the world," and many other memes planted in the mind and constantly reinforced.
    Sorry you lost your friend. We can always hope that she'll do what I did, and come back.

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  7. Hi Jimmy,

    I would like to know just how do Adventists view other people who are either Atheists or are non religious?.Do they keep friends who are not Adventists in the same religion as them?, do they respect other people's choices?. Or do they judge others constantly for not being as good as they are?. Do they secretly think you are less than them while being nice to your face?. I know some Adventists and they seem to keep to their own group and spend most of their life at church. Their church is quite conservative. Are they really that judgemental towards other people who dont hold the same beliefs as them?. Are they really that intolerable of others who are not SDA?.I would love to know exactly what they think of non SDAs?.

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  8. There's a lot of different kinds of people in every church, all over the conservative-to-liberal spectrum. With that understood, there is a conservative bias in the leadership and the oldest generations of membership. Not surprisingly, this orientation puts off the younger generations, and so as a whole, the most active members and certainly their official spokesmen (only men; ordaining women is not done) are majority conservative. These are the ones who read the writings of Ellen White and the Bible very literally. This kind of interpretation, along with the communal group-think reinforcing it, creates a judgmental one-ups-manship. All this by way of explaining that yes, the SDAs, as a general rule, are judgmental in the extreme. A central doctrine, one of the so-called "Pillars of Adventism," concerns an investigative judgment conducted by God for the benefit of the future inhabitants of heaven. This decides who is saved and lost, as we all know, but it does involve results that the saved will later be privy to. This doctrine can make studious SDAs a little obsessed with judgment, and all the behaviors good and bad associated with it.

    Even worse, it can make one obsessed about one's own behavior and salvation. This causes a lot of anxiety, shame, guilt, and depression.

    It's not a healthy state of mind, this potentially toxic mix enabled by conservative Adventism. This makes many Adventists so unpleasant to hang out with, that they end up sticking close to their own kind.

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  9. I am wondering how anyone can actually believe that Ellen White was even a prophet?.From the view of an atheist I think it is pretty obvious this woman and her husband William were elaborate scammers of their time?.People argue that people having visions was quite common back then, but she was also rumoured to have a head injury as a result of the rock hitting her head as a child,and also possibly had mental illness too?.Add in the fact that at the time in the 1840s people were quite religious and conservative anyway,so it would have been easy to peddle their product of Adventism I think. Why is it the church chooses to deny the proof that Ellen stole about 80% of her material from other authors?,when we live in an age of internet technology where its quite easy to cross reference stuff?.I have seen believers argue it was the norm to borrow from other authors at the time,but I think is just an excuse. I just dont understand how anyone can believe any of this religion,it really does seem very cultlike and controlling.I imagine it must be quite brainwashing over time.I think that SDAs must not have the power to think rationally or for themselves to buy it?.Its also intiguing how this religion is masked by a strong health message when its an archaic religion behind all that....are born agains far worse than others,they seen to be so fanatical and judgemental?.

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    1. When you BEGIN with answers, then concoct questions and confirmations to justify them, you can lead yourself (and others) into all manner of cognitive dissonance. Delusion is the word I keep coming back to. Ask yourself, What is it that allows the human mind to delude itself?

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  10. These SDA people are quite strange in the way that they seem to be totally the opposite of what they portray or think they are?. They portray themselves as loving,caring people reaching out with all their charity work and helping others,when really its just a ploy to get people to come around to their thinking by trying to recruit them and join their little cultic club.It seems recuitment is what they are taught.They are actually quite damning of others. When they dont get what they want,they dump you.Its amazing how nasty they can be when they learn you are not of the same religion as them and they think they are the elite few that will be saved in this world above all others?.They think they are better than others.They seem to secretly assume you are the enemy or the devil if you are not SDA or you are just not religious.In this way they have no respect for other peoples beliefs or choices.It seems they can be nice to your face and be snarking behind your back at you?.It actually makes them very bitter and judgemental of other people I think.It totally goes against what religious people are supposed to be like which is warm and welcoming and accepting. Ironically they go on about being scared of the world being led by corrupt leaders, yet they lead their own religion by damming all others, while their highest elders are some of the most corrupt around?.They make themselves into evil beings with hunch backs walking around waggling their fingers at others,with threats of end times trying to invoke fear into anyone else who doesn't agree with them.They seem to be one of the most self righteous, self loving and vain religions on this planet?. Is it true that many are leaving the churches these days?.I was reading that this religion is slowly diminishing in popularity due to the younger people waking up to reality and having the brains to read between the lines,and having the strength and knowledge to look around at what else is out there outside of Adventism?.

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    1. It sounds like you have a pretty good understanding of the SDAs. May I ask in which country or countries you've encountered them? I've been to several different countries and found each one to have some unique characteristics with regard to how strict their SDAs are.

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    2. I am in NZ, there are only 20,000 SDAs here in my country out of a total population of approx 5 million.,which is only 11.2%. Here is a link to our last census religion stats in 2013......we have almost 50% of people who are of no religion....we were once a predominantly Catholic country in the 1940s 50s.The SDA church I have visited here is very very American.
      http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/profile-and-summary-reports/quickstats-culture-identity/religion.aspx

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  11. Hi Jimmy,

    I found a page that is linked to the church where my friend attends,it does not state the church name or anything but it is part of a another linked page about their fundamental beliefs in my country NZ. I found this rather funny to read,it was like an excuse page for what Ellen White had written all those years and basically how to take her?....it says to me that although this conservative church follows the writings of EW, they are warning people she is very out of date and redundant lol. It seems funny to say their churches are based on her writings etc,yet they make a lot of excuses for them?....if indeed she is totally out of context on most things,as really her writings dont apply to our lifestyle now,whats the point in reading anything she wrote?.Whats the point in making excuses for her at all?. If this woman and her husband started SDA church, why on earth warn people about reading her material?,wouldn't that make everything the church about pretty much void?.....have a read its quite amusing.

    http://www.adventist.org/en/beliefs/church/the-gift-of-prophecy/article/go/-/reading-ellen-white-in-the-21st-century/

    What do you think Jimmy?...I think its a bit of a hoot!!.

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  12. That was written by George Knight. When I was still inside the church, I really respected his writing style, and his moderate voice. But reading this summary of his later life's work--EGW apologetics--I agree with you that it just goes too far, trying to explain away all the difficulties and irrelevance of the writings of the Prophet of Adventism. It seems the church has outgrown its prophet and her prophecies! Pitiful.

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    1. Hi Jimmy,
      Thanks for reading my link. I have been doing a bit of reading about this church here,where my now ex friend attends and it really does seem like they are a cult church, even though the doors are not locked and you can come and go. They are so very end time focused. Here in NZ it is all travelling American pastors visiting the churches. I have watched sermons online from my friend's church website and some of the content is amazing.One pastor even endorses his colleague who claims to be involved in excavating the Ark?. I then read how his is all a big hoax and that there are warnings about these false claims on the net about these people on cult watch websites,yet its all part of a service/sermon by one of the travelling pastors who is now based here in NZ?.Amazing these people get away with this stuff?. Some of the sermons are a hoot,and I have watched out of curiosity to see what my friend was involved in and find them really old fashioned and really funny to be honest.I wanted to see how convincing and brainwashing it really was?. I can't believe there are people who eat this stuff up??, but then there is no short supply of gullible and needy people.Its amazing what comes out of these pastors mouths?.They certainly are clever convincing people on stage,very good public speakers with how they word their product to captivate the audience and make it relevant in today's context.Here followers are required to tithe 10% of their weekly income on top of offerings and one offering is a weeks wages given up in full for one week once a year in Sept?....do the churches in the USA do the same thing?.Its also very vague about where the money is spent within the church website,they say you don't actually get a say as to where your money goes as its distributed at their discretion.The way I see it is is that this money here funds the lifestyles of the high ranking elders / leaders and pastors who travel the world pedaling this nonsense religion,they are the only ones who win enjoying a nice holiday all the time in different places.It's a shame the naive followers keep paying for them?. Yes the church may help with a bit of charity work and they have many schools here, but I feel this is about keeping followers and recruitment of them.Here there is also a multi million dollar breakfast cereal business that is also able to claim tax free status because it's an SDA church owned business.Here churches are tax free because they provide charity help or so our silly govt thinks. In NZ many people due to NZ being mostly secular are angry at churches claiming the tax free status while the rest of us must pay tax which isn't fair.To me church is a club and if they want to do charity work that's fine,but they should have to produce records of earnings and pay tax like other people do here its only fair. I'm sure its a way to dodge producing records of earnings here to keep the followers in the dark about where the money really goes. The gullible just hand over their $$ without question.

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  13. Sabrina,
    You are much wiser than I was at the time I first encountered the SDA cult. I was one of the vulnerable you mentioned, and, I'll admit, gullible. I was 20 yrs old, just getting started figuring out what I was, who I was. I was in a little garage band with a few high school buddies. We had rented a house to live and practice in, working odd jobs to survive while we worked on our skills. So, I was essentially drifting, poor, and going nowhere fast (we were not that good...). I had a lot of anger, loneliness, and hate inside me, not sure why even now. Youth, I guess. Into that situation dropped an invitation to attend some interesting prophecy "lectures" held at the local SDA "meeting hall". This was the bait; the switch came upon arrival, finding out that this was a church, and they were issuing me a Bible to use during the meeting, which I could receive for free just by attending x-number of meetings. The draw to return was the outflow of love, acceptance, and friendship offered to me by the members in attendance, who I at first didn't realize were anyone other than fellow people from the community who happened to be fans of the speaker. Long story short: I fell hook, line, and sinker for these very old-fashioned, tried-and-true evangelistic methods that many churches utilize. As a Catholic, and later a lapsed Catholic, and an introvert all through my schooling, I had had no exposure to this world. I was ripe for the picking. And I was harvested.

    If I had a time machine, and could just go back and warn myself...

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  14. Jimmy,
    I can definately see why people who are say a bit naive or introverted can get sucked into this religion. My ex friend who I have spoken about went to this SDA church for about 13 years all toll and only got baptised into it 7 years ago after her long term relationship with a boyfriend ended when he told her he was leaving for Australia permenantly. It was a strange situation where I could see he was intending to break up with her this way,but she still thought there was hope somehow?.She knew 2 months before he left.The two of them never even discussed it,although I told her to and she said goodbye to him at the airport and away he went not saying a word about their future.She talked to him after that later on when she phoned him a few weeks later but he had another woman anyway over there which she was upset about.Anyway comes the bit where she said she had now decided to become officially baptised into the SDA church and said she had prayed to God for an answer about it?.She said that her boyfriend leaving was the sign for her to go ahead.But really the truth is there must have been a big void there and a rejection feeling along with sadness.Their relationship wasn't even that great either but anyway.They were together 6 years dating.I felt like she got married to God and he was the only one she could see now.I went to her bapitism which was very weird and like something out of an old movie with the creepy pastor and his beige suit lol. She has been a wanderer all her life up till late 50s now and so is her sister,with no life plan or direction,they both attend that church and are right into doing everything all the time there.I get how they need to belong and need some guidance as they cant do it themselves,so I understand why she joined. Church probably gives them a sense of belonging.Since then she has been single for the last 7 years since the boyfriend left,she said if God gave her someone and said this is the one she would give it a go with another relationship??.So looks like God hasnt told her to go with anyone else now lol?.Shes one of those ones who found religion late in life in her 50s,which I find strange. But its funny to hear people say God spoke to them or told them what to do,when its really them making the decisions they want to make anyway.God is just a justification for their actions.When atheists say they hear voices we are given medication and called schizophrenic and taken away to hospital,when religious people say they hear voices they are given a bible and go along telling everyone and they wonder why we think they are a bit loopy doing so??.LOL!!.

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  15. Hi Jimmy,

    I forgot to ask you about all the life coaching classes and courses some SDA churches do?. I never actually heard back from that friend I have written about,so I'm pretty sure she cast me aside. I did write her a letter before Xmas telling her I basically think she is brainwashed into a ridiculous judgemental religion that is dangerous,and that I hoped she would leave it one day. I'm not expecting anything back but at least 1 person has tried to tell her.But I wanted to know why do these churches do these seminars with guest speakers that tell some dramatic story about how they came from poverty and how their lives have been changed?. I noticed its always about being once a poor person or an alcoholic,and even more extreme than that too?.I know its all about religion and being a believer too?.My friend always used to tell me she was doing some life coaching course almost every week that took a matter of weeks to complete and seeing some new travelling guest speaker?. Do all the churches do this?,this church is what I would describe as something between a "Traditional Adventist" and "Extreme Adventist" church. To be honest my friends life is exactly the same in the whole 12 years I knew her,nothing has changed.She still lives a life of drifting, and non commitment.I wanted to ask her what was the purpose in going to any of that stuff if you never change what you do?.The only difference was that she did get baptised at 50 finally and is more involved in the church doing everything she is asked etc,it takes up all of her time.She has had no male partner for the last 7 years either,sighting God had not come up with one yet.Are these classes part of the brainwashing and recruitment of people, they seem quite dramatic I heard.Id love to know?.

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    1. Every time they can get church members off their couches and into the pews, they accomplish several things: they get one more opportunity to pitch them for offerings; they solidify their commitment to the church in general; they support this class of itinerant revivalists and other kinds of speakers, who churn out "books" (really just over-sized pamphlets, usually, published by themselves or if they're lucky by the church's publishing house, ALWAYS regurgitating the same damn messages year after year, slightly rephrased and repackaged); and they can tell themselves that they are "active" as a church, even though all they really did was sit in a room and talk to each other. Yeah, fairly common practice worldwide in the SDA Church, anyway; probably across many denominations.

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  16. Hi Jimmy,

    Here are a couple of sermons that have happened at my now ex friends church in the last couple of weeks. I occasionally watch them for purely entertainment value. I guess I wanted to know what is that convinces her so to be there?.These two links are from their current evangelistic series going on at the moment.Some of their pastors are very good speakers and cleaver people captivating the audience,and selling the product I think.

    Here is the first one,this guy is quite good I think.
    http://www.rocsda.co.nz/?page_id=1688

    Here is the second one,hes quite funny and interesting too.The guy called William who comes in,is currently the lead pastor there at present.
    http://www.rocsda.co.nz/?page_id=1688

    Interesting to note that the first pastor in the first clip states that from recent church figures that for every 10 people that come through the doors, they lose 6.5 of them and only 3.5 end up staying?. I'm not sure if he means that specific church or all the SDA churches as a collective in NZ?. But still its interesting to discover they are losing members and are in decline?. They seem to be very desperate about recruiting people. Just to note this church is in an area of mixed income people.There is a mix of govt housing and then there is also the wealthy living amongst them.

    Take a look if you have time,I would love to know what you think of the content,and if its typical of stuff you have seen where you are in churches?. I think its interesting about the marketing ploy they seem to have and the convincing of church members to serve the church and to go out and recruit non believers.

    Thanks for viewing of you do.

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  17. I know someone involved in this religion and it is their revival and evangelical month where they go to night after night of sermons on the "end is coming" and that they should be bringing as many people as they can to this thing called the "Ancient mysteries" summit.It seems to start out as something like a discovery of historical civilisations but then leads onto evangelising and visiting pastors like Gary Webster trying to hook people into joining the church.The sermons go on and on about the outside world being evil and the importance of getting ready for the supposed end.Its all very dramatic by the looks?.It sounds all very cult like and designed to wear people down into feeling guilty about themselves and having to do more to please the church.

    Jimmy have you heard of or seen this guy Gary Webster and his Ancient Mysteries tour?....whats that all about?...it seems very cult like?.

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    1. As far as I can tell, it's a normal SDA evangelistic campaign. They always come up with ultra-dramatic bait to use for drawing in unsuspecting people. It's a bait and switch, because after a while, it's just another SDA attempt to proselytize. Gary Webster is the leader of the SDA Church in Tasmania, and looks like just a typical SDA evangelist and life-long minister for this church.

      There's a podcast which recently finished a multi-part series on SDA evangelism, the kind called "Amazing Facts". It's a fun listen, and I encourage anyone to check out all five parts. Here's the link to part one:
      http://ohnopodcast.com/investigations/2017/2/3/ross-and-carrie-await-the-end-times-part-1-amazing-facts-edition

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    2. Hi again, thank you for responding. I have been to my friends SDA church just on invite, but I didn't know it was really a night/ week for evangelism.I was told it was an event where you take a look at Ancient Mysteries and world discoveries. It was only when the pastor really started going on about other faiths being the enemy such as the Catholic church and about the pope etc that I worked it out.they showed slides of pictures of beasts coming out of the sea with horns,saying it was the Roman empire/church.It was all very dark stuff.I picked up that they subtly inject Ellen Whites quotes as if they are in the bible,when I know those quotes are not in the regular bible.Although they never really talk about her?. I found the whole thing really taxing and tiring actually and really quite negative as they went on and on about other people being wrong and not being saved when end times come etc,and how you will suffer if you are not one of them?. I have been to many different churches and SDAs seem very anti the Catholic church and non believers even?. I must say,I don't recall Catholics doing the same about other people honestly,and not to SDAs either?.The whole sermon was very dramatic and it was almost like a play with the pastor raising his voice and being quite theatrical about each thing he said throwing his hands up in the air about stuff.It was also very negative about the end times stuff. I can say I wont ever be going again. Its too dismal and negative for me.I don't like the way they put down other religions either and non believers. On the outset they are nice and welcoming,but It seems its their way or nothing. They don't seem very accommodating to different people coming in?.It's all about getting you to join up by the looks?. It kind of scared me a bit to be honest.It felt like once you are there they have got you and I don't like that feeling. I felt like I was in a place that was very closed in. Not good. I will take a look at the link you posted soon too.

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  18. Hi, I came across your page and found it great to read. I too know someone who is involved in the SDA church and I wondered if it's true that if the lives of the lead pastors of these churches are all funded by the church.Are they paid a salary, a subsidised home, transport etc?. It seems the ones who become ordained can travel with their spouse and children around so are they subsidised by the tithes paid by these churches?. How does that work?.It would be a great way to travel around without having to pay for anything?.

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  19. Hi, Janine
    Thanks for the kind words.

    Yes, you are exactly right. Fully subsidized work and travel (as long as it's for work). Travel costs are usually reimbursed, so it can come out of pocket initially (such as driving to conferences).

    The way it works is that members (including themselves!) pay ten percent of their paychecks into the church treasury. All that locally collected tithe is sent up the hierarchy to the headquarters, where it is pooled, divided equally, and dispersed as salaries of pastors, Bible teachers (my career, for a couple decades), and the hierarchy officials. They also receive significant discounts on tuition for themselves and their children, all the way through university.

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  20. Hi again James, thanks for the answers,I would also just like to know is it possible to be friends with an Adventist when I am an Atheist?. I am of no religion and I don't mind if other people are, as long as they don't try to force religion on me. I don't discuss religion if I can help it.My friend is an Adventist who goes to a very conservative church and is a strict vegetarian etc. How do Adventists see other people?.Are we a project for them?, are we on borrowed time concerning friendship if we don't believe the same as them?.How does an Adventist view someone they know that is a non believer?.I have told this person nicely I'm not into religion generally,but I still get the odd invitation and hint now and then.Is it possible to remain friends or do they eventually go off you in the end if you don't come round?.This person is quite religious and talks about God all the time,and how God is telling them what to do in their everyday life.Just to give you an idea.

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Catching Up

It's been the better part of a year since the last post, although my Twenty-five Years in the Seventh-day Adventist Church post continu...