Testimony of Leigh Ann Lapinski
Uncovering My Heart
Before I begin, I would like to say that this is not an attack on the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The SDA Church is filled with many precious people whom I love and respect greatly. They are people who love God and want only to please Him. This is my testimony of how God led me, through Bible study, out of the SDA Church and into the loving arms of Jesus.
My Seventh-day Adventist exodus is different than most former Adventists. In a sense, I've left the church
in 2 parts. It has been 20 years since I physically attended an Adventist church as a member. But it was only recently that my heart and mind were able to finally let go and leave the SDA
I am fifth-generation SDA, with deep roots going back to my great-great-grandparents on my mother's side. I was born in an Adventist hospital and attended an Adventist church, grade school and academy. We lived in a predominantly Adventist community and my mother worked at an Adventist hospital. Most of my childhood activities were SDA Church or school related.
I did not grow up in a strict Adventist home. We did eat the "clean meats" and went to the movies. But jewelry, dancing and rock music were not allowed. The Sabbath was, of course, strictly kept with no secular influences (radio, television) from sundown Friday evening until sundown Saturday evening.
I was taught that Jesus died for us, but that he was in heaven still judging us. We had to try to live perfect and sinless lives because one day, we might have to stand before God without a mediator. I was taught that Jesus had come to earth as our example to prove that it could be done. According to the SDA prophetess, Ellen White, if we did sin, we had to confess all our sins and ask to be forgiven daily. If Jesus came or we died while there were unconfessed/unforgiven sins, we would not make it to heaven.
I was taught that we were God's last day "remnant church" because we had the “Spirit of Prophecy” through Ellen White and we were the only church who kept all of God's 10 Commandments (especially the fourth commandment), and who accepted Jesus (Revelation 12:17).
Ellen White told us that there would come a time when something called the "Sunday Laws" would come into effect. It would make it illegal to worship on Saturday. When that happened, we as Sabbath keepers would be persecuted and would have to go into hiding. Whether we continued to keep the Sabbath, or gave in to Sunday worship, would be the final test of loyalty to God. It would determine whether we would receive the seal of God or the mark of the beast. We were also told that family members would turn against us for keeping the Sabbath and turn us into authorities, but that God would reward us for remaining loyal to him and keeping all of his commandments, especially the forth commandment. As a child, this terrified me.
At age nine, after taking baptismal classes and agreeing to thirteen baptismal vows and twenty-seven (at that time, there are 28 now) fundamental beliefs of the SDA Church, I was baptized into the church. Even though I had been baptized, and accepted Jesus as my savior, I was instructed that I was never to believe, or say, that I was saved.
"Those who accept the Savior, however sincere their conversion should never be taught to say or feel that they are saved. Those who
accept Christ, and in their first confidence say, I am saved, are in danger of trusting to themselves." (Ellen White, Christ's
Object Lessons, p. 155).
As a child, every birthday wish was always "to go to heaven" because I was terrified that I was not going to make it. I was scared that I would die or that God would come back at a time in my life where there were sins that had not been confessed or forgiven. I had accepted Jesus as my savior, but I had no assurance of my salvation. It was a confusing concept to me, but it was all I knew, so it had to be right.
During my teen years, I had a very difficult time following all the rules. I was definitely a rebellious teen. I was 16 when my parents divorced. My father told me one of the reasons was because he no longer wanted to be an Adventist (he had converted as an adult, when he married my mother). Shortly thereafter, my mother moved to Florida, and nobody was there pressuring me to go to church. I was about seventeen the last time I attended the Adventist church as a member.
In my heart, I still believed that the SDA church was the true church and I held on to all their beliefs even if I didn't practice them. I was just not strong enough to follow Ellen White's instructions to strive for a spotless and sinless life. To be honest, I had no desire to continue being an Adventist. Instead, I ran away from God during my twenties and early thirties. I drank, I smoked. I did so many other things that I am not proud of. I lived a very worldly life as far away from Adventism as I could possibly get. In the back of my mind, though, I hoped I would live long enough to eventually come back to God and to the Adventist Church. But for many years, I wandered around aimlessly, lost and confused in the worldly wilderness I had created for myself.
About 5 years ago, God tapped me on the shoulder and told me to wake up and look at the person I had become. I was not proud of the person I saw in the mirror. I knew it was time to come back to Him. I cleaned up many areas in my life and made some major lifestyle changes.
The next logical step was to find a church home. But I didn't know what kind of church I wanted to attend. My husband, who was not raised in church and had never known God, told me that he had no problem with me going to church, but to please not ever invite or pressure him to go with me. I respected his wishes and decided not to push him, but to pray for him instead.
That left the decision of finding a church home entirely up to me. None of my friends attended church regularly and I had no family here in Georgia. I did, however, have one friend who also wanted to find a church home. She and I agreed to try to find one together. She was raised Catholic. So, we had very different views. But we wanted to support each other anyway. We decided we would alternate picking new churches each week.
On the first week, she went with me to a local Adventist Church and it was a horrible experience. The entire sermon was nothing more
than a Catholic-bashing session. It was brutal, awkward and very uncomfortable. She was gracious and kind about it. But I was very embarrassed—and disappointed in the church. I told her I honestly did not remember the church I grew up in being so hateful towards other
denominations. Maybe I just did not pick up on it because I attended as a child and left the church as a teenager? Or maybe it was just that one church, that one preacher, and that one
particular sermon? Either way, it raised serious questions in my mind about exactly what kind of church I was raised in. The church I grew up in and my Adventist family were very loving
people. I decided it must have just been that particular church with such hateful views of other denominations.
After that bad experience, I certainly did not want to go back there. So, I went with her to the Saturday service at a Catholic church for a few months. She was happy and had found her church home. But I did not feel like that was where God was calling me to be. I was at a crossroads. I did not like the Adventist church I had visited but was afraid of being misled by any other denomination. So for a while, I gave up on finding a church home. Instead, I prayed and studied at home on my own.
It was a very isolating and confusing time for me. I had so many questions and did not feel like I had anyone I could go to that would understand what I was struggling with. I prayed a lot and developed a very close relationship with God. I was trying to do the right thing, but honestly did not know what the right thing was anymore. I was so confused; I didn't even know what I believed in anymore.
I had let go of most of the Adventist doctrines over the years. But they had not let go of me. I defended soul sleep (which, at that time, I did not know was an exclusive SDA belief), thinking that I was doing the right thing by standing up for what I believed in. I felt the need to tithe, but did not have a church home to tithe to. So, for several years, I mailed my tithe to the SDA church I was raised in. But I ate pork, wore jewelry and could not remember the last time I kept a Sabbath. I was beyond confused. I was internally conflicted.
It was during that time that I became a mother. It was extremely important to me that I raise my son in church and teach him about God. I knew I would need to figure things out soon. In my opinion, teaching him about God was the most important thing I could ever do for him. In fact, I felt that it was my number one duty as a parent. When he turned a year old, I decided I had put off finding a church home long enough. I visited a couple more Adventist churches that were in the surrounding area but still did not feel the love of God that I was looking for in a church home. I started praying about looking into other denominations.
One day, out of the blue, a long-time prayer of mine was answered. My husband told me that, if I found a church I liked, he would try it out with me . . . as long as it was not an Adventist church. He did not want to go to church on Saturday. I was excited and heartbroken at the same time. I never expected my un-churched husband who I had met in my wild, partying, wilderness days, to show any interest in God at all! I had a choice to make. Should I leave my husband at home to go to the church that I felt in my heart was the one, true church and risk him never knowing God? Or, should I sacrifice my Sabbath belief and find a Christian church that worships on Sunday, giving me a better chance of my whole family knowing God and worshiping together?
I thought about everything that my husband would have to learn and agree to if he ever were to become an Adventist. It just did not feel right in my heart that in order for a person to follow God and go to heaven they would have to agree to the list of 40 vows and beliefs that I did when I was baptized into the Adventist Church. I was more confused than I had ever been. I hit my knees. I prayed and prayed and prayed that God would guide me to the church he wanted me to be in, whatever denomination it was.
An Adventist family member told me to stay true to what I knew to be right and not to take the wide, easy path and go to church on Sunday just because it would be easier to get my husband into church. That brought more confusion and lots more praying!
One day I was driving to work and noticed a big sign in front of a Christian church advertising two services. I'd driven by that church every day for several years but had never really noticed it. All of the sudden it was like a neon sign flashing at me every day on my way to and from work. I decided the only way to know what other churches were like would be to try one. After all, I had tried the SDA churches and I thought it would only be fair to give the Christian churches a try, as well.
So, I decided to start Christian church shopping. I had tried 3 different SDA churches and I expected to visit, at the very least, 3
different Christian churches. I knew it would be a long process, but I felt sure that God would eventually guide me to the church he wanted me to be in, SDA or not. One Sunday morning, I
got up and set out on my quest to find a church home for my family. I was following where ever God wanted to lead. First stop, the church with the big sign out front—First Christian Church of Jonesboro.
I walked in the door and although it felt very strange to be in church on a Sunday morning, I could feel God's love and presence as soon as I stepped inside the building. I was greeted by what it seemed like every person who walked by me. I had never been to such a friendly church in my life!
I slipped into a back pew and the lady I sat beside immediately introduced herself to me as Linda. I told her my name and that I was visiting churches, looking for a church home for my family to attend. She took me under her wing and explained throughout the service the way they did things. After the service, she took me out front to give me a gift bag and introduced me to the pastor. Then she asked me if I would like to go get some lunch with her. I had plans and declined. But I was overwhelmed by the friendliness and kindness I was shown by a complete stranger! I had never been to a church where I was greeted by everyone, taken in like I was family, given a bag of goodies and then invited out to lunch! If that was not a "welcome to your new church home," I don't know what is.
I went home and told my husband about it and he said he wanted to go back with me. I thought, surely to goodness, God had not led me directly to the church he intended for us to be in? I was prepared to go on a long drawn out hunt for the perfect church before I took my husband and child with me. But the next thing I knew, there I was week after week, sitting in church beside my husband. It was something that I had always, silently longed for, but had long ago accepted would never happen. I couldn't help but think, So, this must be what it is like when you completely submit to follow God wherever he leads? He works miracles! We kept visiting for about two months and then God answered another prayer. My husband told me that he wanted to talk to the pastor about being baptized.
Now I felt strongly that God had indeed led us right where he wanted us to be. I arranged for the pastor to come meet with us so that we could both discuss being baptized. One of the things he discussed with us was that none of us are righteous (Romans 3:10). We all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). For the term “fall short” he used an archery example of an arrow not making it all the way to the target. He explained that we can take aim at the bulls eye (heaven), but none of us can make it on our own. When he used the archery analogy, everything clicked for me. I realized that even though I want to hit that target, I will always fall short. It is impossible for me to do it on my own. This is where Jesus comes in for me, picks up the fallen arrow and sticks it in the bulls eye! I do not have to live in fear and guilt of not being able to live the life of sinless perfection that Ellen White instructed.
The pastor then asked if we accepted Jesus as our savior, and when did we want to be baptized? What? No classes? No
vows? No 28 fundamental beliefs to agree to uphold? Was it really that simple? It was slowly sinking in to me that, yes, it really is that simple.
The only sticking point left for me was the Sabbath. I asked the pastor about it and he read me some scriptures about the early church meeting on Sundays. I had never heard that before! I was satisfied with what he said and was ready to move forward with a fresh start as a new Christian. We were baptized that following Sunday on August 2, 2009.
I was so proud of my husband and the decision he made that I told everyone about our baptisms. But I could not bring myself to actually tell some members of my Adventist family about my re-baptism. I wasn't hiding it, but I wasn't broadcasting it to them either. I knew that they would be disappointed in me and would see it as a sign that I had been deceived, and had "taken the easy road" by joining a Sunday worshiping church. The SDA veil was still covering my heart, as hard as I tried to shake it off.
For the next year we attended church every week. God kept blessing us. He even sent me the most wonderful group of girls to study the bible with each week. I felt like I was really growing as a Christian for the first time in my life. Bible study was now a joy to me, instead of the chore it used to be. My walk with Christ was getting closer and stronger.
But the Sabbath still haunted me. The SDA "proof texts" that I had been indoctrinated with continued to replay over and over in my mind. "And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, Gen 2:3... Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, Ex. 20:8…If you love me, keep my commandments, John 14:15.”
Had I made the right decision? Was I in the right church, or had I taken the "easy road"? I was prayerfully following God's lead
and found myself in a wonderful church full of people whose hearts were overflowing with God's love. I finally had the Christian family life at home that I had always wanted. God was
blessing us in ways that were too numerous to list. Surely, since I was following God's lead, I was where He wanted me to be. I pushed the Sabbath question further back in my
In May 2010, an Adventist family member asked me if I was really alright with going to church on Sunday, "even after everything you know?" I told her I was. But on the inside, I really was not sure. She said that she felt that it would be better to not attend church at all than to attend a church on Sunday and that she would be moving me to the top of her prayer list. The Sabbath guilt just would not let go of me.
After that, I decided to find the truth about the Sabbath once and for all. I was going to deal with it and be done with it one way or
another. Either I would prove it to be right or prove it to be wrong. I would follow God in whatever truth I found. Of course, I knew the Adventist side of it, but what about the
I had always been afraid to look at any of the former-Adventist websites. Weren't they just a bunch of angry, bitter, Ellen White haters? I figured if they were, I would easily be able to see through them. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide me to find the truth about the Sabbath, wherever it was and that I would not be deceived.
I started with a simple Internet search for "Adventist Sabbath." Somehow, I found my way to the testimony of Greg Taylor, a former-Adventist pastor. I started reading it and could not put it down. After reading his letter to family and friends, I sat down with my Bible and followed his Bible study section. I had never read the Bible like that in my life! It was like reading the Bible for the very first time.
The study took me through the book of Galatians, which was extremely enlightening to me. It was as if Paul was speaking directly to Adventists who insist on following the old covenant laws (including the Sabbath) that were not meant for new covenant Christians to follow. I will never forget sitting on the couch going through Pastor Greg's study scripture by scripture, shouting out to my husband, "Listen to this....and this...wow!" It was a very eye-opening Bible study for me!
After reading Pastor Greg's testimony, I read Tom and Judy Shewmake's testimony. It was especially enlightening and helped me to remove my "SDA sunglasses." Once I was able to remove the SDA filter over my eyes, I felt
like I could finally, clearly read the truths written in the Bible. And I found that I could not get enough of it!
That led me to do some research on Ellen White (EW). I was very careful in this part of my search. I looked up each questionable EW quote in the SDA-endorsed online library of her writings to verify that the claims being made against her were things she had actually written. Besides her false predictions and plagiarism, I could not believe how many contradictions she made against the Bible and herself. I deduced that even one contradiction against the Bible is enough to prove to me that she is, indeed, a false prophet. God would not use a prophet who plagiarized, or who would contradict anything written in the Bible—which, clearly and repeatedly, she did. With EW completely out of the picture, I was able to clear my head of false teachings and focus on the Bible alone. Now I could clearly search the scriptures for the Sabbath truth.
My Sabbath questions answered
Adventists like to teach that Jesus and the apostles kept the Sabbath. Therefore, so should we. But Paul preaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath does not mean that he was observing a Sabbath himself. He went to the synagogues because that was where the people, to whom he wanted to preach his message, were gathered.
I learned that Jesus did keep the Sabbath, but it was because he was born under the old covenant Jewish law, which is no longer in effect after his death. The law (including the Sabbath) was in fact, fulfilled by Jesus dying on the cross (Matt 5:17). Meaning that Jesus became our Sabbath rest when he died on the cross! The written law (containing the Sabbath command) was then nailed to the cross with Jesus (Col 2:14).
I believe that we do still have a Sabbath rest, but it is no longer one day of the week. The observance of a Sabbath day was a shadow that pointed forward to the real Sabbath still to come, which is Jesus himself (Colossians 2:16, 17). Adventists cling to the shadow, but I prefer to find my rest in the real thing! To put it simply, I can now find rest in Jesus Today and everyday!
After ruling out the Sabbath command, I moved on to studying other SDA beliefs such as the Investigative Judgment, required tithing, food
restrictions, and soul sleep. Soul sleep and the Investigative Judgment were things I had no idea only Adventists believed. One by one, my studies crossed out the Adventist beliefs that
had been indoctrinated in me since childhood.
The Adventist proof texts soon began to fade from my mind. They were replaced with Chris Tomlin's "Amazing Grace" playing over and over in my mind..."My chains are gone. I've been set free. My God, my Savior has ransomed me. And like a flood His mercy rains. Unending love, Amazing grace...."
The cross suddenly had a whole new meaning for me. I finally "got it!" I finally realized that salvation is a gift that cannot ever be earned by our own works. I cannot abstain from meat, or Sabbath-keep my way into heaven. And the Sabbath will not be the final test of loyalty to God. I already have the seal of God. I was sealed with the Holy Spirit when I accepted Jesus as my savior and was baptized (Acts 2:38, Eph. 4:30). Nothing can take that away from me. I can now say that I am saved and I now have total assurance in my salvation. Since there is nothing I can do to earn it, there is nothing I can do to lose it, so long as I choose to accept it for the gift that it is.
All summer long, I continued to study the Bible and read testimony after testimony of former Adventists just like myself who have studied their way out of the Adventist church. I found a wealth of helpful information on Web sites such as exadventist.com, sabbatismos.com and formeradventist.com. I downloaded Pastor Mark Martin's sermons and listened on my iPod every spare second I had. While I worked, while I was driving, at night in bed, I listened. I was hungry for the truth and I devoured every crumb I could get. I made friends with other former Adventists on Facebook and on the Former Adventist Fellowship Forum. The support former Adventists have for each other is amazing, and I am so thankful for each one of them. I've heard it said that former Adventists are bitter, angry, and have axes to grind with the church. What I found, in fact, was quite the opposite. Just like me, leaving the Adventist Church actually led them to straight to Jesus.
The deeper I studied, the easier it was to see how deceptive the Adventist Church is. Especially when I dug into how the Church was formed and what it was founded on. I realized that I, and my entire family for five generations, had indeed been deceived by a false prophet. I went through a short period of mourning. I wanted to be angry. But there was no one to be angry with but the devil himself. I was the product of five generations who had been lied to. Each generation unknowingly passing down lies to the next. My family is full of good-hearted, God-loving people who raised me to believe in the only thing they knew to be true. I place no blame on them whatsoever. But I was sad. Sad for the things I missed out on in my childhood. Sad that past-generation family members never knew the true gospel of Jesus Christ. I was especially sad that they died trying to keep a law that was never meant for them to keep and is described as a "ministry of death and condemnation" (2 Cor 3:7). But most of all, I am sad for my dear, precious loved ones who are still living under that heavy yoke of bondage and who live with veils over their hearts (2 Corinthians 3:14-17).
I am now sifting through the ashes of what I used to believe in. I feel like a brand new Christian who has to learn everything from scratch, because I don't know what came from the Bible and what came from Ellen White. I don't mind, though. It just makes me dig deeper in the Bible and cling tighter to God in order to find the truth.
II Corinthians 3:14-17 tells us: "But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is
read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the
veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
The veil of Adventism is thick like armor. It is heavy and cumbersome. It binds and restricts. But my Savior is careful to tenderly remove the veil from my heart, one layer at a time, until I am finally free. Thank you, Jesus.
Leigh Ann Lapinski, 2010