Last year I became aware that a sweet friend of mine, and very popular blogger engaging women, actually believed in a heretical doctrine – one that rooted her success as a Christian on her good works and following extra-biblical “wisdom”. I was so burdened for her that I engaged in deeper conversation, wanting to completely understand what exactly she believed and how she thought that lined up with Scripture, of which we both agreed is the source of ultimate authority.
When I engaged her on the discrepancies of her denomination’s statement of faith and the heretical teachings of this “prophetess”, it lead to a severed friendship. That situation gave birth to my very popular (it went viral) post last year called, When Defending Biblical Truth Loses Friends. The situation truly broke my heart and I learned a hard lesson in standing for truth and guarding the deposit entrusted to us.
Recently I read a wonderful article about being critical of who you follow and how to engage in conversation about false teachers that is chock full of Scripture reinforcement. I realized that as a Christian, desperate for others to get a true glimpse of Jesus and the way of salvation, I needed to confront my friend. We must know the teachings of those we look to for spiritual wisdom and guidance, whether it be for leading others to faith, helping them walk their faith out, or confronting false doctrines.We are to be Bereans, we are to test everything and expose falseness in others’ teachings.
My friend Brandon was eager to share his story with me and to share about the Seventh-Day Adventist faith as a former insider. He graciously and courageously shares, in his own words, why that denomination in particular is leading people astray. I applaud his bravery & I’m thankful for his gentlenss.
Raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist, Brandon Miller had aspirations of attending college and becoming an Adventist pastor. Here is his honest reflection on the religious organization that once captivated his imagination as a teen but gradually became a source of deep angst and spiritual concern.
Could you describe your involvement with the Seventh-Day Adventist church?
My parents were raised as Seventh-day Adventists (SDA), and our family began attending our small church in rural Colorado when I was 2 years old. I was quite active in a variety of capacities throughout my growing up years. As a teen, I attended the regional SDA summer and winter camps on multiple occasions. I would accompany our pastor on ministerial visits in and out of town. For two summers I did door-to-door evangelistic work, and I even had opportunities to preach in our small congregation several times before leaving for college. It wasn’t until I graduated high school, though, that I made a distinct break from the SDA church.
When and why did you leave the SDA church?
My official break from the SDA church was early in my freshman year of college. During my 8th grade and 11th grade summers, I traveled on a team of other teens and young adults, doing evangelistic work disguised as book sales. As a team, we would have chapel and daily devotionals together. One significant part of Seventh-Day Adventism is the foundation they’ve built on their 19th Century prophetess, Ellen G. White. It was during these two separate summers of selling books that I started becoming increasingly uncomfortable with White’s teachings and the church’s heavy dependence on her written material. Once I left for college, I felt that I needed to break away from an organization that relied so much more on an untrustworthy woman’s words rather than the Bible, which I came to trust as the living Word of God. I marked my official walk-away point when I drove to the local Adventist church (out of state, where I was attending community college) and anonymously deposited a HUGE box of my SDA book collection on their front steps.
What was different about the gospel you accepted (turned to) and the belief or practices of the SDA church?
The Gospel that I’ve since turned to is a Jesus-plus-nothing proposition. Scripture is pretty clear that I can’t be saved by doing good things; it’s simply the grace of God that saves me, not my religious activity. The Bible also shares that the law’s primary purpose is to be a mirror of sorts, to show us our absolute need for a Savior. As I was growing up, the picture I got from the SDA church was one of extreme legalism. The laws and precepts of the Bible and, even more so, of Ellen White’s writings were our guidelines for living and means of becoming acceptable to God. Don’t do anything worldly on the Sabbath (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday), don’t eat meat (especially ham!), don’t drink coffee, tea, or soda. By the time I was 13, I had this concept of a God who was barely tolerant of me and was ready to zap me with a lightning bolt at any misstep I might make. I had no idea what “grace” was. A potential relationship with God was not only undesirable, it was downright frightening.
Did any evangelical Christians challenge you on the belief of the SDA Church? If so, how did they do it and how did you respond?
Two evangelical Christians come to mind. The first was a woman who was a dear family friend. She and her husband felt like an extra set of parents to me. On a few different occasions in junior high I had the privilege of visiting them on the other side of Colorado. During one of these visits my friend asked me, “So, Brandon, how do you know you’ll be saved?” At the moment I was reading an Ellen White book. I thought about her question, and I tapped on the book I was reading, and I responded, “If I follow the stuff in here and live a good life, I’m pretty sure I’ll be saved.” My friend, in a very loving yet concerned manner, shared with me that good works cannot save someone, but it’s by the grace of God only. I politely nodded my head, but it wasn’t until a few years later that her words actually sank in and got me thinking about what I believed.
On the very first day of college I met the director of a campus ministry in Wyoming. He offered to study the Bible with me, and, in my holier-than-thou, goody-two-shoes mindset, I agreed. After studying the Bible with my new friend for about two years, my legalistic façade began to crumble, revealing my absolute need for a Savior. I began following Jesus when I was 20, after I hit rock bottom and recognized the power of grace in my life. I thank these two friends for speaking truth into my life!
How did family and friends respond to you when you told them of your change in belief?
None of my SDA friends found out about my change of heart until well after the fact, and my family was still reeling from the loss of my mom (the day before I turned 19) to a massive stroke. I walked away from the Adventist church under everyone’s radar, and I think that was a good thing because it gave me time to prepare how I’d eventually respond to those who were surprised or offended by my departure from the religious organization I grew up with. When these conversations with friends and family eventually took place, I was met with a mixed cocktail of disappointment, concern, anger, support, surprise, and confusion.
After coming to the saving knowledge of Jesus, how did you change?
In many ways, one of the biggest things was the lifting of fear that comes with a legalistic life. You always live in fear of not being good enough, not being holy enough, not doing the right thing. Fear of missing the cut, so to speak. Once the Lord Jesus began stripping this fear away, there was a crazy peace that blew me away. The knowledge that God accepts, loves, and pursues His people fills my heart with deep pools of thanksgiving. When you live life with this peace (instead of fear), every area of life is impacted, including how you share Jesus with people and minister in any setting. You are given an intense level of freedom when you walk in this peace that comes from living under grace.
What would you say is the most important thing for someone involved in similar church background to think about?
Drill down to the very core of your current belief system. Why do you believe what you believe? What is it based on? Can that source stand up under scrutiny? Is it trustworthy? Always ask the tough questions, don’t take things at face value, and don’t settle for secondhand beliefs. For me, I recognized that the foundation that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was built on (the precepts of Ellen G. White) was, at best, legalistic and unbiblical, and, worst-case scenario, was downright heretical. Examine your church’s foundation. Look for cracks. Be willing to leave the basement if you find them. Oh, and please take an open-minded look at Galatians.
Since the change, how has God increased your knowledge of Him and how has He confirmed your convictions about the SDA church?
My knowledge about God comes from spending time with Him and living life in the Spirit. He reveals Himself to those who seek Him. Over the last couple of decades, I keep learning more and more about the loving, holy nature of God, and the power of God to change a life. This knowledge hasn’t come in treating Christianity merely as a cerebral exercise. Rather, it comes in seeing Jesus live through me (and work in me) in every aspect of life, showing His character consistently in Scripture back then and in my life now.
I recently spent about 2 ½ years studying the book of Galatians, which tackles head-on the legalism of Paul’s day. Almost with each passage, I see the glaring antithesis of Adventism.
What are some reflections that you have on your time in the SDA church and your conversion that you’d like to share?
I want to make it clear that I strongly believe that there are Jesus followers who attend Adventist churches. I have no doubt there. But at this point in my life, I have to offer a loving warning to those who do love Jesus but find themselves a part of the Adventist church: Please do your homework, and prayerfully. Look at the life and character of your prophetess, Ellen G. White. Just like other prophets from the 19th century (Joseph Smith), this woman spoke false prophecies (Who did you say lives on Jupiter, Ellen? And when did an additional war between the US and Britain take place? Seems as though I’ve missed it). Bottom line is, not all is as it seems when it comes to Mrs. White. She is your foundation and she is not safe. The only True Foundation is firm. Jesus Christ and He alone is your Cornerstone. Center your life on Him, and you will experience something so incredibly precious and life-giving!
Brandon Miller is a follower of Jesus, husband to Kara, and daddy to Zander and Alastair. They live in Champaign, Illinois where Brandon works as an educator as well as an associate pastor at a local church. Brandon enjoys blogging, drinking coffee, singing, making videos, and playing football. You can follow Brandon on his blog, https://hokeypete.wordpress.com as well as Twitter and YouTube.