As we study this week’s Sabbath School lesson, about turning hearts in the end of time, I know many of us are praying for loved ones who have turned away. Sadly, many have been brought up in the Adventist church under legalistic and even abusive home and church situations. Because of this they have a hard time separating the message of the church from the people who abused them. I have talked with not just a few people who were raised in the church, who told me they left because of abuse and emotional reasons. Later though, while discussing doctrine they tell me the exact opposite of what they told me previously. They will say emotional reasons had nothing to do with it. They left solely because of doctrinal reasons. I tend to believe what they first told me. Our emotions are tied closely to our theology, which is why all our doctrines need to present God’s love in the light of the cross. This is why we must stay focused on the love of God while talking about every Bible doctrine.
At a funeral service a few years ago, I was talking to a lady who was raised in an Adventist home. She explained to me that she was no longer Adventist because the Adventist church talked about the law instead of love. She since has joined a church that she considers more loving. However, her new church believes in an eternally burning hell. I am not sure why she thought a church that teaches an eternally burning hell was a more loving church. I also wonder why she felt the law was against love, while it actually promotes love by helping us put people and relationships first. It makes me wonder if she was wanting to get away from the message of the church or just the people who did not show her real love?
We need to pray for and love people who have been hurt by legalistic and abusive Adventists, instead of just preaching to them. Jesus met many in His day who were hurt by legalistic leaders. He ministered to those who were hurt by legalistic and abusive Pharisees, instead of just preaching at them. Sometimes He did not need to preach at all. The woman taken to Jesus in John 8:1–11 had been abused by the very church leaders who dragged her to Jesus. She may have made some mistakes on her own, but Jesus did not preach to her. He did not tell her, “If you stop sinning, then I will stop condemning you.” No! He never condemned her in the first place! His message was “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The “go and sin no more” was not just a command as much as it was a declaration of her freedom from the abusive lifestyle she had endured by abusive church leaders. Jesus healed her emotions and theology by ministering instead of preaching.
Understandably, many like the woman in John 8, who have been hurt by the church are angry. Anger often gets misdirected. Ty Gibson1talks about himself being an atheist, because he does not believe in the God most of the world does not believe in either. His point is that the God so many people hate and don’t believe in does not even exist. God has been so misrepresented that the God they reject is not the real God. So many are angry at God when the God they are angry with does not exist. That is misdirected anger. Likewise in Adventism, many former Adventists are angry at an Ellen White who does not even exist. Her writings have been taken out of context literally and blatantly in many compilation books. Her writings have been used to beat people over the head. Thank God my family never beat me over the head with or crammed Ellen White down my throat. I grew up reading her writings for myself, and I read how she always talked about love and grace. I would dare say that Ellen White herself would not appreciate the “Ellen White” that many have to come to know through abusive parents and teachers who used her writings in ways that were never intended, which was more like weapons instead of the testimony of Jesus.
A while back I was talking to a woman who told me Ellen White was legalistic and only taught we are saved by works. Of course this is totally untrue. Later in the same conversation, she told me she knew Ellen White was a false prophet because she says Martin Luther will be in heaven, while we all know he drank and ate pork. I suggested that maybe Ellen White believes Martin Luther and everyone else will be saved by grace alone. This woman was so angry at an “Ellen White” that did not even exist, that she rejected the real Ellen White who believed salvation was by grace and not by works.
In ministering to many hurt former Adventists, we must realize their issues are not only doctrinal if at all. They are emotional. Instead of defending Ellen White, we need to realize the “Ellen White” they reject may not even exist. Do not attempt to win them to Ellen White. Win them to Jesus, He is the One who saves. Show them the God of love in the Bible, and show them the love in all of the Bible teachings.
Seeing how our emotions and personal experiences are so closely tied to our theology, it is important to refrain from emotional mind games, while studying (debating?) with and ministering to former Adventists who are hurting. I have talked with and tried to reason with many former Adventists who tell me they are totally healed emotionally, while they continue attacking the church and Ellen White. Hurting people hurt people. As long as they are on the attack I know they still need love and healing. Emotionally healthy people don’t make a religion out of attacking others.
These mind games work both ways. It’s human nature to try some of these tactics, so we need to watch ourselves that we don’t use these tactics and don’t allow others to use them on us. Of course this applies to general Bible studies even within the church as well as outside. Here are four suggestions of what not to say while studying the Bible with others.
- When you get closer to Jesus you will understand.
It’s been a while since I heard this one, but I have heard it. Just a few years ago a lady in the church was disagreeing with me about Jesus dying the second death. She was getting frustrated that I was not seeing things her way, so she finally rested her case by smiling and assuring me, ‘When you get closer to Jesus you will understand.” In my frustrated humanity, I wanted to assure her, that while there are 9 billion people on the face of the planet now, probably a good 8 billion of them could teach me what its like to get closer to Jesus, but she was not one of them! Now that would not have been nice of me either.
Maybe when we see we are not “winning our case” it would be better to just agree to disagree and leave it at that, rather than to say something silly we will later regret. We all know the Holy Spirit will give us the right words to say, but there were times when even Jesus was silent in the judgment hall. If Jesus did not feel the need to answer every question, neither should we. Being silent is better than saying something foolish. By the way, I was talking with this lady again recently, and she was agreeing with everything I said years earlier about the cross, as if she did not even remember ever disagreeing with me.
2. You only believe that way because you were raised that way
I have had several former Adventists tell me I am only an Adventist because I was raised Adventist. Of course they themselves are evidence this is not true! If they can leave, so can I. This also is not true when you consider the millions who have joined the Adventist Church with no previous family ties to the church. Ironically the people who use this argument on me are complaining about how judgmental the church is. Then they turn around and judge me. That’s human nature. Even as Adventists it is tempting to tell Sunday keepers they are keeping Sunday only because they were raised that way. When we do that we are judging their motives, which we really know nothing about. It’s best to just stick to Scripture. What happened generations before really doesn’t have anything to do with what Scripture is telling us.
3. Sounds like an idea from someone who was hit in the head with a rock when she was little!
It’s ironic that people who feel they were abused and mistreated in the church would turn around and make fun of a little girl getting hit in the head with a rock, but that is what many do. I have read it online and heard it in person. An idea from the Spirit of Prophecy is introduced and the person who doesn’t like it exclaims, “Sounds like something someone would say who was hit in the head with a rock!” A former Adventist with his doctorate explained to me that when Ellen White was hit in the head with a rock that it gave her a mental disorder which caused her to become a prolific writer. Of course when I asked non-Adventist medical doctors what he was talking about, they all said no such condition exists. Such comments are not only disrespectful; they are also irrelevant. When people make such comments, it shows they are still hurting. Remember, hurting people hurt people. There are those who do not accept Ellen White as a prophet, but would also never make fun of her getting hit in the head with a rock, because they are emotionally healthy and have no reason to hurt others. To these emotionally healthy people, the fact that she was hit in the head with a rock is irrelevant to her doctrine. Other comments that are irrelevant are, “So and So was a Jesuit.,” or “So and So was influenced by the Masons.” Such accusations are all hearsay. Furthermore it does not matter if the person making a statement was hit in the head with a rock, or had ties to the Jesuits or masons. I have heard people say that the Secret Rapture teaching is wrong because it is a relatively new idea. No. It is wrong because it is not Biblical. I am sure when Rachael Oakes introduced the Sabbath to a group of Advent believers in the mid 1800’s several of them could have said, “That is a new teaching we have never heard before.” Or even, “Rachael Oakes in just a woman.” Or “Rachael Oakes is a Seventh-day Baptist. Baptists teach some things that are not right.” Fact is it did not matter if the Sabbath was a new idea or if it was introduced by a woman with a Baptist background. The only valid question is whether or not the seventh-day Sabbath is Biblical. Once again we need to stick to Scripture instead of discussing and judging people and their possible motives.
4. The Bible translation you are using is a bad translation
I covered this idea more thoroughly in a previous post. I have heard people call the NIV the Non-Inspired Version. They tell me you can’t preach the sanctuary message from the NIV. Well, sorry, but I have taught the sanctuary message from the NIV! No translation is perfect, including the KJV, but God has protected His Word through the ages so that everything that pertains to our salvation will be understood. If you can only prove your beliefs from the KJV, then you may want to question your own beliefs. Valid beliefs can be proven from all the translations. I find that various translations actually complement each other and help us get the big picture. For example in the KJV Job 27:3 mentions “spirit.” In the NLT Job 27:3 mentions “breath.” The big picture is that the spirit that returns to God when we die (see Ecclesiastes 12:7) is simply our breath. Having said this, do not discourage someone from reading a version you may not like. The important thing is they are reading the Bible! When I became a Bible Worker over 26 years ago, I was surprised how many adults had trouble reading anything, let alone 17th century English. What good does it do for someone to stumble over all the words in the KJV if by the time they finish a sentence they have no idea what they just read? When people ask me what the best Bible translation is, I tell them, “the one you are reading.” When people open their Bibles in any version it gives the Holy Spirit opportunity to work on their hearts. Please do not discourage a Bible student by telling them they have a poor translation. Instead encourage them to read whatever version they are reading.
In turning people’s hearts to their heavenly Father in the end times, it is futile to argue about motives for believing, or if a belief is new or where it came from. The only thing that matters is, is it biblical and does it represent biblical teaching correctly?