Testimony of Heidi Burks
I was born into an Adventist family and was raised fairly conservatively. I remember playing with Bible felts at home during Friday
night worship while my parents read Maxwell's Bible Stories to us. There were certain things we could do on Sabbath, but the rules could be manipulated a bit, which we quickly
learned. We could go on Sabbath walks and wade in the water but we weren't allowed to swim. An “accidental” fall into the water was ok, though, and we frequently joked about the logic
behind that growing up. In academy I remember a rumor going around that the Sunday law was just around the corner. I didn't expect to graduate from high school and contemplated dropping
out so I could help spread the gospel before it was too late.
I was a 4th generation SDA, so nearly all my relatives were Adventists, as well. I was home-schooled or attended Adventist schools all of my life. I had very little contact with non-Adventists and generally viewed other Christians with a slight feeling of superiority because I thought we had all the true beliefs and they were wrong.
About 9 years ago (when I was 19), I began studying the Bible with a non-SDA friend of mine. His sister had recently converted to Adventism and she encouraged our friendship because she thought he might listen to me. I honestly thought that anyone who took the time to read the Bible with an open heart would be convicted of the Sabbath and other Adventist “truths.” To me it was crystal clear. I was sure that my friend would "see the truth" in our studies and I would help convert him (he was Christian, mind you—just not an Adventist). I never imagined it would be the other way around!
He sent me a link to a Web site that had an intensive study on the Sabbath, the law, and the covenants. I was shocked that I had never even heard of the covenants before when they were clearly such a large theme throughout the Bible. I found the material so convincing that I shared it with someone close to me. Long story short, that person believed it too, but when they shared it with other people we were both pressured to give up our studies and just accept "the truth." So we both stopped. I remember clearly that people close to me sent me a "Sabbath package" with flowers and special dishes that week (I was away at college) because they were so happy I hadn't been led astray and given up the Sabbath.
I found it ironic and disturbing, even at the time, that people were concerned about my salvation when I was spending hours studying the Bible, but they didn't worry at all once I stopped studying. And yet the more I studied, the more I was led away from Adventism.
Life got it the way after that. All my friends/relatives were SDA, so I was comfortable with it. Shortly after I stopped studying, I ended up falling in love and eventually marrying a guy I had gone to academy with. Last year, after we had one baby and another on the way, the individual I had previously studied with mentioned to me that they had started studying again. It renewed my interest, so I joined this person.
I read a couple books by Dale Ratzlaff as well as SDA books. I read many online studies put out by both Adventists and former/non-Adventists. I wanted to be balanced in my studies, so I tried to read both sides on the issues. I re-read my previous notes, and read through my markings in my Bible on the law/covenants/Sabbath. It was as if I hadn't stopped studying. Everything came back to me, and it was crystal clear again.
I read Hebrews and learned that Jesus moved to the Most Holy Place at the time of His ascension—not in 1844 like Adventists claim. Paul talks about it in several passages, and a study into the Day of Atonement makes it clear as well that Jesus was already in the Most Holy Place long before the Adventist Church puts Him there. 1844 is such a huge date for Adventists—doctrines are based on it as well as the very birth of the SDA church. The 15 "proof methods" that William Miller used in coming up with 1844 are bizarre and Adventists reject 14 but keep 1. When God didn't return in 1844 like the Millerites believed, they came up with another explanation, which contradicts Hebrews.
I also studied extensively into Ellen White. Again, I looked at both sides of the issue and spent a lot of time verifying material on the official EGW Estate Web site. I was surprised to learn that a person I had believed to be speaking for God for so many years had blatantly copied huge portions of her material from previous books written around the same time. Even material she presented as being shown to her by God had been plagiarized. The church admits it, but doesn't have a problem with it. She had many predictions that failed to come true and made some bizarre and erroneous claims. The most alarming thing I found was that she contradicts the simple message of the gospel. To me that was the most dangerous thing of all. She presents a faith + works gospel and puts so much emphasis on our works as humans. Plus, she downright contradicts the Bible in some places.
I met with an Adventist pastor in the area and asked him some questions about Ellen White, the Investigative Judgment, the law/covenants, etc. I was surprised by some of the things he admitted—that only about 30% of SDA pastors in the United States believe Ellen White was God's messenger (and yet it's a church doctrine!), most SDA pastors believe Adventists are PART of the remnant but not THE remnant (another church doctrine), he doesn't believe the Sabbath will be the "final test," the 1844 message was just plain wrong, etc. I was disappointed when it came to the covenants, though. He told me that he doesn't really understand them and just gets lost by them. That surprised me, because to me they are very clear. I guess it's the SDA version of them that is so complicated and hard to understand!
I ended up removing my name from the SDA membership last year — about 8 years after my journey started. I didn't want to claim to be an Adventist when I clearly disagreed with many of their key doctrines (Ellen White, the Sabbath, the role of the 10 Commandments, 1844 & the Sanctuary, the Investigative Judgment, etc.). I actually still attend an SDA church, although they are far from traditional. They are more like Progressive Adventists, and our pastor rarely preaches the things unique to Adventism—he preaches the gospel and grace instead. He avoids quoting Ellen White from the pulpit, and I agree with most of what he teaches theologically. I don't know how long we'll continue going to an Adventist church. If we didn't like our pastor so much, it'd be easier to leave. Maybe someday!
It's been a hard journey at times. I openly wrote about my experience online and shared it with my family and friends. Some have responded positively, but most have avoided the subject or reacted defensively. I have had my motives and sanity questioned. At times different people have insinuated I'm not praying or being led by the Holy Spirit in my studies, I'm being “led astray,” I'm taking things out of context, I'm not thinking clearly because of hormones (I was pregnant during part of my study), and I'm risking my “eternal future” as well as that of my kids because of my studies. It's frustrating that most people won't even listen to my side of the story. They just see that I don't believe the same as they do anymore so they shut down.
Interestingly enough, I've received the most support and encouragement from a few of my atheist/agnostic friends. I suppose they could relate to me because of my studies and questioning, but in many ways they were more “Christian” toward me than some claiming to be Christian.
I understand the reactions of my friends and family toward me. I once believed the same way so I know what's going on in their minds. They believe I'm lost for rejecting “the truth” (Adventism, the Sabbath, Ellen White)—never mind that I am studying the Bible or following where I believe God is leading me. I know they are concerned about my salvation, and I appreciate that, but I wish they would try to understand where I'm coming from instead of making broad assumptions about anyone who leaves the SDA Church (they just don't want to follow God's laws, they want to live immoral lives, they must have had a bad experience in the church).
Anyway, that's my story so far. Praise God, He's not through with me yet! I'm excited to see what the future holds for me. It's so refreshing to read the Bible and not have to make passages “fit” a certain belief, or have someone else (EGW) interpreting it for me. I'm constantly amazed by the things I've been finding. I have been reading versions other than the KJV (in my experience, that's the translation of choice for most Adventists) and it has really made the Gospel come to life. Everything is so much clearer now! I completely relate to the line from "Amazing Grace"—“I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
Heidi Burks, May 2010
Update: November 2011
After leaving the local Adventist church which we had attended for years, we didn't know where to turn. Even though we had reached the conclusion through intensive Bible-study that the Sabbath was never a command for Christians, our Adventist upbringing was hard to shake. We were always warned about “Sunday-keeping” churches whose members would eventually receive the Mark of the Beast. We spent the next few months trying out local churches – going once or twice – before deciding it wasn't right for us. At that point, we had 2 small children which made it even harder to attend. After awhile, we stopped attending church completely.
It was during this time that I began to wonder if anything else I had believed was false. Some former-Adventists I'd met online were raising questions about Christianity in general and questioning the validity of the Bible. Also at this time, I was trying to show my Adventist friends and family what I had learned, and I was turned off by the so-called “Christian” behavior I was seeing. The combination of not attending church, being burned out by religious people, and seeing all of these questions regarding Christianity made me wonder if God even existed. I was too busy at this point with my kids to dive into another deep study, and I didn't even know where to begin, so I kept pushing the issue aside. During that time, I was miserable. I had constant feelings of unrest, unease, and fear.
Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and I decided that just like before, I had to resolve this issue even if I didn't like the end results. With trepidation, I put some documentaries on atheism in my Netflix queue. It was a little while before I mustered up the courage to watch them, but when I did I was relieved and surprised at the “evidence” presented. I guess I expected air-tight arguments and hard proof that God didn't exist. Instead, I found arguments based on what I believed to be faulty premises – many of which could be explained with a proper understanding of the covenants in the Bible.
I watched a few more documentaries on both sides of the issue (including Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ). I watched a Christian vs. atheist debate. I engaged in discussions with some of my agnostic friends. I knew that although I wanted Christianity to be right, I wanted to remain as objective as possible. To make a long story incredibly short, I concluded that both sides have questions and require “faith” (whether it be in God or the big bang and evolution). In the end, it was easier to believe in God than a multitude of random events and coincidences.
About a year after leaving Adventism officially, some friends of ours also studied their way out of Adventism. They invited us to attend a non-denominational church with them, so we all tried it out together. It's been a year, and we're still there. I was just baptized there – almost 2 years after leaving Adventism.
If I could sum up my journey out of Adventism with one phrase, it would be, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” When I learned that what the Bible teaches and what Adventism teaches are two different things, I had to follow God's word – no matter where it led me.
Heidi Burks, Novemeber 2011