33 Years in the Seventh-day Adventist Church
By Dirk Anderson
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Born an SDA
I was born at the SDA-operated Florida Hospital in Orlando, Florida, USA. At that time, no one knew that 23 years later I would spend part of my adult career working at that same hospital. In the 1960s, Florida Hospital was relatively small. It was not the billion dollar organization it is today. The administrators were still paid a minister's salary. It was unusual to see a Porsche, Mercedes Benz, or BMW in the administrative parking lots. Most of the staff were Adventists. The hospital had not yet begun to invest its funds in the stock market. By the time my son was born in the same hospital in the 1990s, things had changed dramatically.
And so had changes come to the SDA church as a whole. Gradually the church was turning away from the teachings of its pioneers. The Spirit of Prophecy was talked about less often from the pulpit. Rock music was beginning to enter youth services, and jewelry was more frequently worn. Questioning of the validity of Ellen White, once reserved for scholars in the back rooms of SDA colleges, had moved to the Sabbath School rooms of the church. The winds of change were buffeting the SDA church.
My education in the SDA Church
I spent 16 years in SDA schools. From my earliest years I was taught the unique SDA doctrines. I learned about the National Sunday Law and how Catholics and Protestants were going to unite with Spiritualists in a three-fold union to persecute those who kept the Sabbath. I was taught that Ellen White was God's prophet and that she performed miraculous signs like not breathing and holding a heavy Bible with outstretched arm for hours. As I grew older I learned about the investigative judgment and the three angels' messages. I lived in a state of constant fear mingled with expectancy. I was afraid of the coming persecution and time of trouble but I looked forward to Christ's coming. Everyone kept telling me that Jesus was coming very soon, possibly within a year or two. A few times people would come along setting dates and I would get excited and worried, but then the date would pass and everything continued on as before.
Learning to be Perfect
Growing up I learned that SDA's are God's only true remnant. God is purifying and testing them, in order to prepare them to stand perfect without an intercessor before Him. As a child, this was a heavy burden to bear. I tried to be perfect, and I tried to keep the Sabbath perfectly, but I always seemed to come up short. I looked around me for perfect people but never found any. The SDA's I knew were generally good people, but I could detect little difference between them and other Christians. Most SDA's I knew would not drink coffee (at least not in front of others), and they did not wear jewelry (except for broaches and pins), but when it came to the characteristics of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and purity, I honestly could not see that SDA's had any superiority over any other Christians.
My College Experience
College was an eye-opening experience. Being away from the restrictive home environment seemed to bring out the worst in both me and other students. Walking up and down the halls of the dormitory was like being in a rock concert with a dozen different heavy metal bands. The only break in the rock music was on Saturdays when the students would turn the decibels down to avoid reprimand.
One young SDA man rented pornographic videos and charged admission for people to come to his room and watch them. It was amazing to see 25 young men piled into a dorm room to watch a video.
On Saturday evenings the dorm emptied out as the students departed for local bars and dance clubs. I would watch sometimes as students would walk (or stagger) back into the dorm with red eyes. Students would stash beer, pornography, and knives in their door rooms. Occasionally the dean would raid someone's room and confiscate the illegal material.
While in the dorm I had the opportunity of getting to know Ellen White's great-great-grandson, Steve White. His dorm room was across the isle from mine. He was a pleasant fellow and did not engage in some of the activity the other students were engaging in.
One student was expelled while I was at the dorm. He was a student living down the hall from me named Kevin. He was a friendly person, well liked, and very talented. He was booted out for homosexual activity. He transferred to an SDA college on the West Coast. Later, at the age of 19, he committed suicide. I don't know why he killed himself. I speculate that he could not deal with the pressure of being imperfect.
At the age of 21 I was converted. A few months before this experience I began to have a sense of my own sinfulness that I had never realized before. I began searching for answers and someone gave me a copy of one of SDA pastor Morris Venden's books. As I was reading I discovered something that was to change my life forever: "Salvation is by faith". It was a startling new concept to me. Until then I had the impression that I was saved by being obedient to God and keeping the Ten Commandments. I cannot explain why I thought I was saved by works. Nobody ever told me I was saved by works. It was just something I picked up from my experience and schooling. I began to see things in a whole new light. I surrendered myself to God and dedicated my life to him.
Ellen White enters my life
I was so excited about my new birth that I wanted to be the best SDA I possibly could. So I began a routine that was to last over ten years. I began daily reading the writings of Ellen White, sometimes for hours at a time. At great expense, I built up a library of over 50 Ellen White books. I purchased a CD-ROM with her writings and became immersed in them. In all, I read over 10,000 pages of her writings. I committed whole passages to memory. I began giving out Steps to Christ to co-workers and friends. On Sabbath afternoons I would go door-to-door passing out her books, giving out more than 1,000 copies of Steps to Christ.
The Great Controversy Project
In 1992 I became involved in the Great Controversy Project sponsored by an independent ministry called "Finish the Work Ministry." While I lived in Jacksonville, Florida (USA) I launched a project to pass out 110,000 cards to people offering them a free Great Controversy book. On the right is a picture of me delivering a Great Controversy to a non-Adventist that appeared in the Florida Conference's Florida Focus magazine (Vol. 9, #4, 1993).
I would later become the Chairman of the Board for that ministry. It was in this position that I first experienced some of the fighting that goes on so often between church members. There were disagreements over Ellen White's writings and other issues that eventually split the ministry. The Director left and joined the Holy Name movement and the board voted to end the ministry. I went on to hold various positions in the SDA church, such as treasurer, assistant youth leader, deacon, and personal ministries leader. I taught a Bible study class on Sabbath afternoons and hosted a small group in my home on Friday evenings.
Ellen White impacts my life
Ellen White's writings had a dramatic impact on my life. In my reading I began to discover many rules that I and most of the SDA's I knew were not following. I began making a list in order to obey them. My wife resisted this process, but I pushed forward. We were already vegetarians. Now we largely eliminated dairy products, vinegar, eggs, and sugar from our diet. You are probably thinking, what did we eat? Not much! My weight dropped below normal levels and I lost energy. The insufficient diet combined with the stress of trying to live a perfect life took a toll on my health from which I have never recovered.
In addition to dietary changes, I made other changes. I refused to even wear a wedding ring and insisted my wife do likewise. I avoided associating with non-SDA's except for the purpose of converting them to Adventism. I avoided going to doctors and avoided using drugs of any type, including aspirin. We took down all the photographs of children and family from our walls because Mrs. White said that was idolatry. I cancelled our life insurance because Mrs. White said SDA's do not need life insurance. I neglected buying stocks for retirement because Mrs. White said to avoid such investments. I even went so far as to ask my wife to find a female gynecologist because Mrs. White said it was improper for a woman to have a male gynecologist.
Joining the ranks of "Historic" Adventism
I soon found that my rigid beliefs in Ellen White placed me outside of mainstream Adventism. While most Adventists profess a belief in Ellen White, few of them actually follow the specifics of her teachings. Those who follow the traditional teachings of Ellen White and the SDA pioneers are called "Historic Adventists." I started associating more and more with independent organizations within the Adventist church, such as Hope International. I believed these groups were preaching what Ellen White described as the "Straight Testimony." I started to attend an independent church and went to independent camp-meetings. I met and talked with many of the leaders of the independent movement, including Ron Spear, Jan Marcussen, and Colin and Russell Standish. I soon discovered the same fighting and conflict going on in the corporate SDA church was going on in the independent ministries, only at a greater level. There were arguments over prophetic interpretations, Bible versions, how to observe the Sabbath, diet, and other issues. There was, however, one universal agreement: The SDA corporate structure was corrupt and needed to be reformed.
My attempts to defend Mrs. White
In 1996 I discovered material on the Internet attacking Mrs. White as a prophet. I was outraged! I was indignant that anyone would criticize God's prophet. For years I had been telling SDA's how they should obey Ellen White. I had become adept at identifying which of Ellen White's rules a person was not following, and I was eager to criticize them for being lax in not following her standards. Now I took on the new mission of defending her on the Internet. I set up a web page and concocted arguments to try and explain away some of her unusual statements, such as amalgamation. I forced myself to do all types of "mental gymnastics" in order to explain things, and I began to wonder if I was pushing the boundaries of honesty.
Cracks appear in Mrs. White's armor
My first doubt about Ellen White came a few months after I opened my web site defending her. Elder William Fagal, the director of the White Estate sent me an e-mail indicating that some of the material on my web site was incorrect. The material was written by J.N. Loughborough and dealt with the story of William Foy, the man who received visions before Ellen White. Fagal noted that later research had proven Loughborough to be wrong. I began to wonder what else Loughborough had written was also wrong. What about the big Bible story? What about the loss of breath in visions? I began to wonder why Loughborough would give faulty information, and what his purpose was in rewriting history. Nevertheless, I decided to put my doubts aside and trust that Ellen White was God's prophet.
My defense of Ellen White collapses
About a month later a former SDA pastor, Dale Ratzlaff, challenged me to read Canright's book about Ellen White. I decided to read the book with the intent of refuting it. I read it and found it very disturbing, but I was determined to prove it wrong. So I went over to the local SDA university library and began digging out all the old documents I could find on Ellen White and the pioneers. I spent many hours sifting through material. To my amazement, I could not find anything to refute Canright. In fact, everything I found seemed to support what Canright wrote. I was perplexed. I began digging into the shut door teaching and discovered that Ellen White had indeed seen the door of salvation shut to sinners in 1844 in at least one of her visions. I read the vision over and over again struggling to make sense of it. I wrestled with the vision, using my best mental gymnastics to try and change it so that I could make sense of it, but I failed. I could not get around it. Mrs. White had seen a falsehood in vision. I was confused and upset. I decided to study further before making a decision.
I began to study her medical condition. Her own SDA doctors had diagnosed her as being a victim of hysteria and catalepsy so I researched these conditions. I found that people with these conditions experience hallucinations and their bodies become rigid and their breathing nearly stops. I also discovered that these conditions could be triggered by an injury to the brain. I further discovered that these conditions usually manifest themselves in women and the symptoms often stop in mid-life, just as Mrs. White's visions slowed and eventually stopped in mid-life. I began to wonder, why would God give someone visions in a manner that so closely resembled the pattern of a known medical condition? It seemed to be an unlikely coincidence at best.
Overwhelmed by evidence
The final straw was the Day of Atonement. I sat down and read Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9 and 10. I read them over and over again. I pulled out the Greek lexicon and looked up words. Everything I read indicated Christ entered the Most Holy Place at his ascension. Without the visions of Ellen White, I could not place the Day of Atonement in 1844. The Bible clearly placed it in 31 A.D.
I was finally forced to admit, by the overwhelming weight of evidence that Mrs. White was not a prophet of God. It was devastating to me. I became physically ill and was sick in bed for six days. I became depressed and discouraged. It took me several months before I resigned my membership in the SDA church. I could no longer support an organization that I felt had not been fully honest about the ministry of Ellen White.
I discovered that I was not alone. Many current and former SDA's do not believe Ellen White was a prophet. Many church leaders are aware of the problems with Ellen White, but do not discuss those problems with church members. Church members are allowed to believe a White lie. There are theology professors, pastors, and students who do not believe in the White lie. However, they must profess some level of belief in her in order to maintain their position. I suppose they justify their lack of forthrightness by claiming that reading Ellen White is not going to cause anyone harm. I can attest to the fact that is a lie. Following all of the injunctions of Mrs. White may not only cause needless stress and discomfort in your life, it may actually end up costing your life. How? Following extremes in diet and avoiding doctors and drugs may cost you your life. I can also attest to the loss of spiritual life. The more I read the Testimonies, the more of a judgmental, critical, harsh spirit I developed. If you think my current web pages are harsh, have mercy on me. God is still working on getting that spirit out of me!
What I'm doing now...
I am thankful God revealed the truth about Ellen White to me. I still worship on the Sabbath, but I no longer believe the Sabbath is the Seal of God or the identifying mark of God's special people, nor do I believe in a National Sunday Law. I am a member of the Church of God (seventh day). I do not encourage people to leave the SDA church unless God is directing them to do so. Despite its failures, the SDA Church follows the Bible closer than some other churches. I encourage people to follow God's leading. For me it was the right decision. It may or may not be the right decision for you. I have never regretted leaving the SDA church. My only regret is that church leaders did not tell me the truth about Ellen White.
That is what this web site is all about. I started it in 1997 to make available to you the information about Ellen White that took me months and months of research to obtain. I wanted you to have the opportunity to examine all the evidence in order to enable you to make an educated decision regarding the inspiration of Ellen White. The SDA church has done a disservice to its people by only providing them with partial information about Ellen White. The day that the SDA church begins providing the full information about her is the day this web site will be ended.
May God bless you in your walk with Him,
© 2006 Liberty Chapel