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).

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

Baptized May 17, 1986. Deconverted 2012.
I was baptized on May 17, 1986, in a little country church in southern Michigan: 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 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. Why share with modern New Yorkers a 19th Century book instead of many more relevant options? Because she directed her followers to cherish her writings above all others, and her followers still obey her instructions. It’s Ellen White’s writings, more than any other SDA author, that they continue to translate 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 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 pastoror 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.

Ellen White
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.

only catholics go to heaven
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.

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.

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.

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.

Mission Pilipino.

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.

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.

Mission nicaragua
On a mission trip to Nicaragua.

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. Source: Jim Miles

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 translationsof 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 Churchand 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.

Selected Resources on Adventism

  • Leaving Adventism Well-designed website devoted to assisting the SDA member contemplating their break with the church, but intimidated by the idea of a non-SDA life.
  • The Desirer of Wages The SDA church and its institutions have been ensnared by members and leaders in one financial scandal after another. This is not surprising, given that founders Ellen White and her husband were caught up in numerous money making schemes.
  • Ellen G. White: Prophet or Profit? Adventists like to think of Ellen White as above reproach in all matters, including her writing career. Unfortunately, her integrity as a writer is the most criticized aspect of her ministry, and the wealth she enjoyed from it adds insult to injury.
  • The Truth about the Seventh-day Adventist Church Adventist Truth isn’t Bible Truth.
  • Field Guide: Seventh-day Adventism Authored by a Christian, and very thorough.

HubPages Comment Collection

The following are the comments which had accumulated on this essay when it was on a previous website,, as of November 2013. It was first published there (and was called a “Hub” as is the custom on that site) on October 31, 2011. Feel free to continue commenting here after this section.

d.william: Another great article on gaining a greater logical and informed introspective look at one’s self. It is difficult for anyone who has been indoctrinated into their respective religions to go against the grain of such intensive brainwashing from early childhood. And the process of ‘self-deprogramming” is almost impossible for anyone to complete on their own. But in spite of what each cult teaches, there is no shame, crime, or ‘sin’, in questioning those things which we have been taught that seem nonsensical and expecting logical answers to those questions, but getting just more nonsensical explanations. It is refreshing to see more and more people questioning those beliefs that were forced on us as children, and adjust them to fit into the realities of life. Organized religions today are losing their control over people. They are all in the business of control over others for profit. The greatest enemy of organized religions, is the knowledge one gains from being able to use deductive reasoning, instead of simply following blindly. Once one realizes that spirituality, morality, and common decency are not solely attached to any cult, or ‘religion’, we can move forward with a certainty that intellectual growth plays more of a part in the evolutionary process of humanity than clinging to the fallacious supernatural beliefs of the past. The world is moving in the right direction, just not fast enough to suit me.

Jim Miles: Thank you, d.william, for the thoughtful comment and insights.

Rodric29: One of the things that I was looking for in this article was a time when you sincerely approached God about what you experienced to see what His will was concerning you. I did not find it. I did find that because you disagree with the tenets of the church that you know think it okay for you to call it a cult. I know some Adventists and it does seem that they are kept on a tight leash when it comes to discussion and doctrine. I thought I was having a religious discussion with someone who I thought was my friend until I told him that I had no intention to change my faith or accept the things he told me about Sabbath worship. I was hurt by his cold behavior later, but I understood it. Ultimately I think that this article is very subjective and not a good source of information to find out about Adventists. I do find the information presented insightful into your walk with the movement however and adds perspective to a sociological investigation of Adventism. I would recommend those looking for hope in the Adventist faith to avoid this article though. I voted it up as a personal experience shared. I am a Mormon by the way.

Jim Miles: Rodric29, thank you for your comments. You have inspired me to make some additions to my Hub in response to your ideas. But before I do, a brief response here: Just because I didn’t write about my personal devotional life while I was a Christian doesn’t mean I didn’t have one. You said you didn’t find “a time when you sincerely approached God about what you experienced to see what His will was concerning you”, and then made an assumption. (You know what happens when you assume, right? If not, let me know). Your implication was that I had not given God enough chances to guide and direct me by seeking Him directly in sincere prayer. Just so that my readers will know, I want to assure you how wrong it would be for anyone to have the impression that I did not fully exhaust all avenues of prayer. I certainly did pray. Prayer had become, in fact, such a habit, that it was the last thing I stopped consciously doing in the service of a “connection with God”.You are entitled to your opinion of why I think it is “okay for [me] to call [the SDA Church] a cult,” but I think I have sufficient facts in my Hub to make my conclusion a valid one. You, however, offered no facts which disputed that conclusion, and in fact related an experience which would seem to vaguely bolster it (the “cold behavior” who abandoned your friendship when he found you would not join the cult). Yet, you claim that you “understood” that behavior. I cannot avoid pointing out to readers Rodric’s final seven words at this point as a possible insight into why he would give his former Adventist friend a pass on his cult-like behavior.

Rodric29: You are correct when you say that my words support your supposition that the SDA movement is a cult about my former friend. I intended that just to show that I do not disagree with you in that instance, but I have other friends who I met who could care less what my faith is and they are Adventists–liberal ones I might add. I even met Adventists while I served a mission in South Africa for my church who welcomed my companion and I into their homes. I enjoyed the article, but I could tell from the wording that you used that you have no impartiality towards the movement, which is understandable. You were in the faith for years and now you are free of it so to speak. I think you are still influenced by it because of how negatively you view the faith. It seems to be more progressive than your article suggests but I am on the outside looking in. I have befriended someone just because he was interested in my faith. After he joined the church we drifted apart, though we are still in contact with each other. I served a purpose for him. When I was no longer needed, we became close acquaintances–well, maybe we were close acquaintances the entire time actually. Okay, maybe you are right about that cult-like-behavior. I became friends with my best friend because I wanted him to listen to missionaries but he categorically rejected all attempts and we are still friends six years later.

C-dat: You have laid it out very clearly. As the Borg famously stated in Star Trek, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” There is no hope in reforming the SDA Church if your essay is true.

Jim Miles: C-dat, no hope, indeed.

C-dat: Would you say that SDA’ism is actually a family business? Run like a business for the benefit of the family(s) in charge?

Jim Miles: Not an analogy that perfectly fits, IMHO. Perhaps I’m not connecting with your sense of it. The SDA Church cult is run like a global multinational corporation. Being accepted as a “church” allows it deep cover within the larger umbrella of “Christianity” (an amorphous entity, and not an accurate description of reality). This cover allows the masquerade to serve a dual purpose: 1) It fools the religious world outside into passing over SDAs as if they are ‘just another denomination.’ And 2), inside it allows leaders and members to fool themselves. This second is, of course, the more dangerous and insidious aspect of the charade. Family business didn’t communicate that sense to me. Or did I misunderstand you?

C-dat: I was referring to the way in which many of the people in higher positions seem to be related to one another, or have gone to school together (one huge skull and bones society), or as in the case of the GC President, the son of a former GC president.

Jim Miles: I see your point now. It truly fits the labels of “Old Boy’s Club” and even if the leadership ranges far beyond family connections, they refer to each other as brothers and sisters. By the time anyone reaches GC level, they have been thoroughly sifted. No one who would do anything but maintain the status quo could ever reach high office in that denomination.

graceinus : You must have noted conflicts between EGW teachings and the bible in your earlier years with the SDA. What I don’t understand is why did you wait so long to leave? You must have had a number of doubts about their doctrine for some time way before you left. So why did you wait so long to leave? The way you describe many things in your Hub you must have known something was very wrong for many years before you left. I realized in the first three years within the SDA that something was very wrong with the doctrine. When I confronted the Deacon about my concerns they twisted everything I had said. As far as SDA is concern doctrine about christians Sabbath Keeping, who is the Anti-Christ, pay tithings, the 144,000 (and a number of other issues) can not and will not be changed even for the sake of finding and learning the truth. They were real slick in their methods of teaching. They would ask the question for you. And then answer their own question? And when you did have your own question they would give the typical Ellen White answer or quote you a verse or two from the bible but out of context. What I realized was that the SDA (like so many others churches) do not like someone questioning and point out errors in their doctrine (that came from Ellen White). To them, that is a big fat no-no. Once I realize this I had NO problem walking away from the SDA. That was 35 years ago. Best move I ever made. The best part is I still have and will continue to have a strong relationship with our Father in heaven and our Lord Jesus Christ and I continue to study God’s word daily. The lesson I learned from the SDA is never trusting ANY man-made church. NEVER.

Jim Miles: Thank you gracinus for your comment. You seem to assume some things as another commenter above has done. (Assuming is dangerous). You assume that I stayed in the church after seeing doctrinal problems within it. That is not the case. I did not actually study to discover errors within the doctrine until long after I had quit attending and had quit teaching for them. Perhaps your personality is different from mine, in that you resisted their suppression of questioning with their slick methods of teaching (as you put it– good phrase). I, unfortunately, did not question until bad experiences with the people of the church had kept me away for some time. Also, I would question the value you place on the study of “God’s word”, but we’ll agree to disagree on that one.

4 thoughts on “Twenty-five Years in the Adventist Church”

  1. Hi JamesI'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

  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.

  3. 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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