My name is Richard Maraccini. All my friends call me Rocky. I was born in Bakersfield, California. I have spent most of my life here. God by His grace and mercy called me into the glorious gospel of His Son back in 1976. This was at the tail end of the Vietnam Era. Vietnam was an explosive period in our nation’s history. There was a lot of social unrest and turmoil. Many individuals were dropping out of society and turning on to drugs. Others were turning on to Jesus. Some of my friends were self-proclaimed Jesus Freaks. I believe that one of the means God used in his providence was the Jesus People movement. Individuals from this movement were instrumental in sharing the gospel with me.
It was shortly after my conversion that I had my first real exposure to Seventh-day Adventism. Our next door neighbor was an Adventist. The church she attended had a fairly active youth group. I became friends with some of its members, who in turn, got me interested in the church. I enrolled in a Voice of Prophecy Bible study course. What solidified my decision to join the church was an evangelistic series. At this series I became convinced that Adventists had the “truth” concerning the Sabbath, the nature of man, the state of the dead, and all the other doctrinal distinctives that are part of Adventism’s 27 fundamental beliefs. In particular, I was attracted to Adventism’s approach to end-times prophecy. I was convinced that the historicist interpretation taken by Adventists to the books of Daniel and the Revelation was the correct one in terms of understanding Bible prophecy. Moreover, Adventists were the only church around that not only kept all ten of the commandments but had a modern seer-Ellen G. White. On the basis of Rev. 12:17 and 19:10, I was certain that Seventh-day Adventists were the remnant church spoken of in Bible prophecy.
Keep in mind that I was obsessed back then with the idea that Jesus would be returning soon. There is no way you could have convinced me that I would live to see the 21st century. One of Adventism’s chief attractions for me was that it had a very detailed map concerning the end-times.
I was baptized sometime in late 1976. I was required to first study all twenty-seven of the fundamental beliefs of the church, as well as affirm certain Baptismal Vows before undergoing baptism through immersion. After all, I wasn’t just getting baptized. I was getting baptized into God’s remnant church. This meant that there were certain behavioral as well as doctrinal standards that I had to agree to abide by. Among the more crucial: keeping the Saturday Sabbath from sundown to sundown, mandatory tithing, and acceptance of Mrs. White as a prophetess whose inspiration and authority was equal to that of the Bible prophets. Part of my vows also included total abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and unclean foods. It also meant no more movies (at least none without a G rating), fictional books, card games, or competitive sports. Television and anything not kosher Adventist in terms of music or literature was also frowned upon.
Adventism is a high intensity form of Christianity. To a perfectionist like myself, it suited my personality well. At least initially. I got heavily involved in my church’s youth group, as well as in its prison ministry. I could always be counted on to volunteer and help out in any major church function such as ingathering. There were some Sabbath afternoons when I would go out door-to-door passing out Mrs. White’s book Steps to Christ. Much of my free time was spent giving Bible studies to non-Adventist friends in an effort to win them over to the “truth.” One of the songs we use to sing at church Sabbath mornings was “Will there be any stars in my crown?” I was told by my fellow Adventists that those who brought souls into the fold would receive stars in their crowns. Such stars would serve as a badge of distinction throughout eternity. You can imagine the appeal such a belief would have to a perfectionist.
Sometime in 1977 I became convinced that God was calling me into the ministry. It was during this period that two providential events happened in my life. First, I got hold of Walter Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults. I initially bought it as a tool to help me combat the theology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons (I considered these two groups Adventism’s main competitors). Martin’s appendix “The Puzzle of Seventh-day Adventism” caught my attention. It planted several seeds. After reading it, I was forced to acknowledge that not all non-Adventists were benighted “Babylonians” who accepted human tradition over God’s Word. Granted, I disagreed with the scriptural arguments Martin put forth in favor of the immortality of the soul, eternal hellfire, as well as Sunday worship. But I came to see that some of the scriptural arguments used by Adventists in support of certain of our doctrinal distinctives were not always based on sound methods of biblical interpretation.
One result of Martin’s book was that I abandoned the remnant church concept. I realized that God had his true followers in all denominations. Once I stopped believing that the rest of Christendom would someday persecute me for worshipping on the Sabbath, I found it easier to have fellowship with non-Adventists. Out of this fellowship came the realization that while Adventists might have the “truth,” most lacked any assurance. Many lived in dread of their names coming up in the investigative judgment because of their belief that they had to overcome all known sin. I came to see that many Adventists (myself included) had embraced a works-righteousness permeated with legalism and perfectionism. I can’t begin to count the number of times I heard fellow Adventists warn that we couldn’t expect to get into heaven on the coattails of Jesus’ righteousness. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, it was necessary to eradicate the sin nature here and now.
Is it any wonder that many Adventists lack any assurance?
The second catalyst was Anthony Hoekema’s The Four Major Cults. I got it largely because I knew that there were those evangelicals who considered Adventism a cult. I wanted to be able to refute their arguments. The best way to do this was to be able to anticipate their arguments ahead of time. As with Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults, I was unswayed by most of Hoekema’s arguments (the margins are filled with my rejoinders). However, his section on the investigative judgment really troubled me. I knew that this was Adventism’s one unique contribution to Christian theology. For me, the rationale for Adventism’s existence centered around an event of salvific importance taking place in 1844 in fulfillment of Dan. 8:14. The problem was, even though I had memorized most of the major prooftexts used by Adventists in support of this doctrine, I had never been successful in convincing any of my non-Adventist friends of its veracity. Funny thing. I could make some plausible biblical arguments in support of Sabbatarianism or the state of the dead. But when it came to the investigative judgment, most of my arguments sounded unconvincing even to myself.
I enrolled at Pacific Union College (PUC) in the Fall of 1978. My theology was definitely in transition. I had spent the summer reading the book Questions on Doctrine. I came to embrace the doctrine of the sinless human nature of Christ at the incarnation, as well as the completion of the atonement at the cross. I no longer believed in the possibility of sinless perfection this side of glorification. Inwardly, I was in turmoil. I had abandoned many of the things I had been taught early on as an Adventist such as the sinful human nature of Christ at the incarnation, the incomplete atonement, and sinless perfection. Moreover, two years of performance oriented Christianity left me with feelings of frustration and despair.
God was now ready to show me a more excellent way.
The theology department at PUC was a hotbed of controversy. There was some pretty heated discussions taking place over the age of the earth, the nature of the days in Genesis chapter 1, and the extent of Noah’s flood (global or local). But all of these paled in comparison to the debate taking place over the meaning of righteousness by faith, particularly the article of justification by faith alone. My views on the nature of Christ and the atonement ensured that I would side with the evangelical Adventists. Geoffrey Paxton’s The Shaking of Adventism was a definite Godsend. Once I started reading the book I couldn’t put it down! I came to see that justification dealt with our legal standing before God rather than our changed nature. I also came to see that the gospel dealt with an objective act that took place outside the believer. The gospel was not the good news of the sinner’s changed life, but of what Christ accomplished on the sinner’s behalf at Calvary (I Cor. 15:1-8).
Present Truth Magazine (later changed to Verdict) completed my theological transition. Its editor in chief, former Adventist Robert Brinsmead, was committed to the three sola’s of the Reformation platform-sola fide (faith alone), sola Christo (Christ alone), and sola scriptura (scripture alone). I developed a very high regard for Luther, Calvin, Melancthon, Zwingli, and all the great Protestant Reformers. Once I understood the atlas nature of justification, it revolutionized my understanding of ecclesiology, soteriology, and eschatology. There was not a single aspect of my theology that wasn’t affected by my newfound understanding of the centrality of justification. What I didn’t fully grasp at the time was that I was no longer an Adventist. I had crossed that line of demarcation that separated the Adventist from the non-Adventist. For the next couple of years I tried to convince myself that I could help reform the denomination from within. I believed that evangelical Adventism represented Seventh-day Adventism as God intended it.
My newfound understanding of justification gave me a zeal for evangelism. Consequently, from 1979-1980 I spent a year overseas as a student missionary to Japan. This was then followed by a six-month stint over in Thailand. October of 1979 proved to be a watershed date. Desmond Ford gave his fateful presentation at a Forum meeting at PUC entitled The Investigative Judgement-Theological Milestone or Historical Necessity? Ford dropped a bombshell by telling those in attendance that the investigative judgment was unscriptural. The New Testament taught that the antitypical day atonement had already been made on the cross. Moreover, the Book of Hebrews taught that Christ entered into the most holy of holies of the heavenly sanctuary at his ascension in 31 A.D. rather than in 1844 as historically taught by Seventh-day Adventists. Ford was forced to take an administrative leave of absence in order to prepare a defense of his position. At the Glacierview conclave held in August of 1980 at Boulder, Colorado, the Prexad Committee formed at then General Conference President Neal Wilson’s request recommended the lifting of Ford’s credentials. Ford made it easier for all concerned by submitting his resignation. That put an effective end to Ford’s career as an ordained Adventist minister. For many evangelical Adventists such as myself, Ford’s dismissal was a catalyst. It increased our disillusionment with the leadership.
For the next couple of years I struggled with the issue of maintaining my membership within the Adventist fold. I helped start a gospel fellowship along with other disaffected members from the church. But nothing came of it. I believe that part of reason for the fellowship’s failure was that we spent most of our time trying to compromise the gospel. As evangelical Adventists, we sought to reconcile justification by faith alone with Sabbatarianism, the Mosaic dietary restrictions, and our commitment to Mrs. White as a prophetess of God. Talk about trying to pour new wine into old wineskins!
After Glacierview, it seemed that the denomination was rocked by one controversy after another. Then Adventist Pastor Walter Rea disclosed in the course of his research that Mrs. White “borrowed” (i.e. plagiarized) much more extensively than was previously thought. This was acknowledged by none other than General Conference President Neal Wilson himself. Rea’s findings came out in a book called The White Lie. Rea’s research was devastating for many Adventists. It dispelled many of the popular myths Adventists had been told over the decades about Mrs. White, such as her getting all her information directly from heaven. The so-called heavenly pipeline was far more earthly in origin it seems. Many of her visions were taken from uninspired sources. The bulk of these sources came from authors out of “Babylon.” Worse still, it appears that her ability to expose the hidden sins of others came from gossip or other mundane sources.
The Rea findings were disturbing insofar as many evangelical Adventists viewed Mrs. White as their mother in the faith. The fact that she plagiarized and even lied about the true source of her inspiration served to erode their confidence not only in her but also in the denomination as a whole. This was especially true in terms of the leadership. I know that I had a hard time believing that the leadership was unaware of these problems. My confidence in the leadership was further undermined by the Davenport scandal. It was revealed that certain church leaders had misappropriated church funds. This only reinforced the growing perception that the Adventist ministry, especially its leadership, was not only dishonest but also unaccountable. At this juncture I no longer held any regrets about not being able to pursue a career in the Adventist ministry. Why should I want to be part of a profession that had a growing reputation for dishonesty?
In terms of my official church membership, the final catalyst was a couple of articles put out in 1980 by Verdict magazine. The first was entitled “Sabbatarianism Re-Examined,” followed by “Jesus and the Sabbath.” For some time I had been having doubts about Sabbatarianism. These two articles forced me to accept at face value what the apostle Paul said about the matter in Rom. 14:5-6, Gal. 4:10, and Col. 2:16. If we were justified by faith apart from any works of the Law (Rom. 3:20, 28; Gal. 2:21), and if the Sabbath was one of the shadows fulfilled by Christ, then under the liberty of the gospel Christians were free to assemble and worship on any day of the week they chose. I was likewise forced to jettison the dietary restrictions of the Old Testament. Up until then, I still subscribed to them on the grounds that clean and unclean distinctions were in force prior to the giving of the Law. Once again, the gospel forced me to rethink my views on the matter of diet. Christians were free to eat any foods they desired so long as they gave God thanks (I Tim. 4:3-5; c.f. I Cor. 10:31). Once I let the gospel determine my view of things, it all became so simple. And to think that for the past couple of years I had put myself under bondage when the whole time God wanted me to enjoy the liberty of being His child!
The issue of the Sabbath and health reform were the last two things that kept me tied to the Adventist system. Once those two things were jettisoned, my official membership in the church effectively came to an end. I now realized that I needed to find a church that not only proclaimed the gospel, but rejoiced in its liberty.
1981 was the year I stopped attending the Adventist church. Here we are in 2001. Looking back, I have no regrets. God has been able to use this experience to His glory. After leaving the Seventh-day Adventist denomination I went on to earn a Bachelor of Art degree in both Political Science and Sociology. From there, I went on to obtain a Masters of Art in Behavioral Science. I am presently employed fulltime at the School Relations Department at California State University Bakersfield (incidentally, this is where I obtained both my degrees). On the side, I teach Sociology and Anthropology courses at the local community college district as an adjunct professor of Behavioral Science. In 1999 I joined my wife Suzanne in holy matrimony. She is a Messianic Jewish believer. Suzanne is my perfect helpmeet! Being both animal lovers, we have three cats, and two dogs (a dachshund and a rotweilier).
Concerning my present stance towards Seventh-day Adventism, I consider it to be a Christian denomination howbeit one that is in error. While it holds to certain orthodox teachings such as the Trinity and salvation by grace, it compromises its orthodoxy by introducing certain aberrant or heterodox elements such as the investigative judgment, the three angels message, and the quasi-canonical status of Mrs. White. Traditional Seventh-day Adventism in particular is cultic. At the same time, I rejoice to find that within the ranks of Adventism’s ten million or so members are many true evangelicals. While I could in good conscience no longer remain in the denomination, my prayers go out to those evangelical Adventists who have opted to stay in an effort to reform Adventism from within.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Richard “Rocky” Maraccini
November 28, 2001