Cherie Stark Testimonial
I was born to good SDA parents. All my family were SDA's. All of them for generations back. I became SDA generation number 6. Every Sabbath I was taken to church. I loved my Sabbath School teachers, the memory verses and Jesus songs.
When I was old enough off I went to Kindergarten in an SDA school. I attended the same school from Kindergarten through 12th grade. I loved my teachers, especially my first grade teacher and my high school Bible teacher who made God real to me and taught me the art of true Bible study. In a very real way I owe my relationship with my Savior to my Bible teacher. He taught me to think out of the box.
I am glad for my SDA education and the influence of my family and friends. I appreciate so much the sacrifices and efforts my parents made to raise me to love God. They often went without things for themselves, and my father worked two jobs for years, so my brother and I could attend church school. They were very dedicated people and I love them for it.
I was not raised in an overly strict family. Just a normal one. We ate ketchup and sugar, eggs, milk and cheese and we watched too much TV. We didn't spend a lot of time reading Mrs. White. In fact I often wondered as a child why, if she were a prophet, we did NOT read her writings.
All of my family were SDA's. All my friends were SDA's. I had no problems with God or my church to speak of growing up. In fact as I look back I only have love and fondness for it and everyone in it. I have no ax to grind.
I was baptized when I was 12 after an evangelistic meeting. I wanted to follow Jesus and do whatever He wanted me to do. I agreed to all the church beliefs. I agreed to never drink alcohol, smoke, do drugs, drink coffee, tea or anything with caffeine, never to wear jewelry, never to attend a movie at a movie theater and never to eat ‘unclean’ meat according to the directions given by God in the Old Testament. I agreed to worship on Sabbath and to believe in Mrs. White. That was fine. I knew no different. I had been taught these things since I was knee high to a grasshopper and I thought by doing all these things I was following Jesus. It was what I wanted to do.
But by the time I was 16 I had begun to rebel. It was a funny thing though. My rebellion was really not religion based. It was due to completely different issues. At that time I felt very unloved and the way I relieved my pain was to disregard what the people who were hurting me had taught me. It started out by simple things - caffeine, nail polish and movies and by the time it ended I was eating pork, drinking and not attending church and worse. But, like I said, this rebellion was not against God Himself and I never let go of Him. I always knew He was with me. That is what is so cool about God. He does not judge us by our actions but by our hearts. He knew my rebellion was really a cry for help. This rebellion lasted until I was about 26. During this time I married my husband who was also raised SDA. He had his own issues and at that time he would not have anything to do with God. Also during this time our son was born.
When our son was two years old my grandfather died. He was a sincere and godly man and I loved him. As I sat in his funeral I realized that if I did not stop my rebellion I would not ever see him again because he would be in heaven and I would not be. I realized also that my son was two and if I did not start to train him in the ‘way of the Lord’ he would not be saved either and it would be my fault. I determined right then and there that I would study and find out what the Lord required of me in order to be saved.
And so I started to study. I studied the Bible. I started to go to church again on a regular basis. I started to study the Prophet. After all, if Mrs. White was a prophet then she must have special instruction to me from God. I was frustrated because my parents had not put into practice the 'instructions of God' that she taught. I wanted to do better. I wanted to be a good Christian, a good mom, and a good wife. I read and prayed and searched and studied.
It is hard to describe the journey of the next five years. I found many things I was doing or not doing that were ‘wrong’. One by one I began to change those things. I felt if I did not do the things the prophet said I would ‘stand condemned before a Holy God’ and I didn’t want that. I wanted to please God. I wanted to be saved. But the more I did the more I found that I had to do. Every time I got one thing ‘conquered’ I discovered another thing I had to ‘conquer’. I became very strict with myself in everything I said and did because I did not want to ‘disobey’ God. I became very strict with my son because I wanted him to be ‘good’ so he could go to heaven. I became very exacting with my husband because I wanted him to be saved also. As you can imagine this was very hard on our marriage but I knew I was ‘following the Lord’. God must come first. My first loyalty must be to Him. Loyalty to God was shown by keeping all the rules. And so I continued.
I began to eat like Mrs. White told us to. I ate no ‘unclean’ meat - in fact I became entirely vegan. I drank no caffeine, ate no chocolate, eggs or cheese, drank soy milk instead of real milk, ate no sugar - only honey, ate only things made from whole grains and ate no processed food if it could possibly be avoided. No black pepper was allowed, no spices, only flavorings from herbs. Vinegar was also out along with anything with vinegar in it like ketchup, mayonnaise or pickles. I made almost everything from scratch. After all, there was sugar or casein or some other dreadful thing in almost everything you could buy! The only solution was to do it yourself. We even started eating only 2 meals a day.
I began to change the way I dressed. I wore no jewelry or make-up. I got rid of a lot of very nice clothes because they did not meet the approval of the prophet.
I discarded every book, movie or music that was not about nature or God (including Winnie the Pooh). Even ones that had sentimental value. After all, was the book or movie more important or was God more important? Of course God was and He wanted me to get rid of them, didn't He? Those movies and books didn't meet with the prophet’s standards, after all.
I even got rid of all the competitive games we owned. After all, if one couldn't play chess, checkers or sports because of the effect competition had on a person’s character, then other competitive games would certainly have the same detrimental effect, would they not?
I became very judgmental of anyone who was not making the same ‘effort’ to ‘follow God’ that I was. I felt they were weak and did not have the devotion to God that I did. I felt that if I associated with them some of their 'bad habits' might rub off on me or my family. And so I began to be very selective of my friends (they had to be like me) and taught my son to do the same. I became so judgmental that I even felt at times that I had to 'shelter' my son from family members because they did not see things the way I did and they might 'allow' my son to do something of which I did not approve.
I did many other things also. I did these things because I thought that this is what God wanted from me. I thought that to do these things made me acceptable in God’s sight and that if I did not do them I would ‘stand condemned’. I believed I had to be perfect to be saved.
But God gave me a most wonderful husband. Despite the terrible HELL I put him through he stuck with me (which I consider no less than a miracle) and he was there the day I collapsed in a sobbing heap on the bed from spiritual exhaustion. He held me as I cried and cried because I realized that I couldn’t do it all. I couldn’t do all the things I thought that God required of me. He listened patiently as I cried that I wasn’t good enough to go to heaven, that God couldn’t save me and that I knew I was going to hell anyway so I might as well give up now and have fun on the way. I would have given up on God entirely right then and there but my husband, with tears in his eyes, told me that none of us are good enough. That there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. That God’s grace is what saves us. That was my first glimpse of the grace of God and I hung onto it with the desperation of a drowning man.
Over the next four years many things happened. It was a rocky road but our marriage healed and I made many necessary adjustments in my parenting. The church rules were still there but I did not adhere to them as strictly as I had. I began to trust Jesus to make up for my lack.
We both became very involved in church. My husband became a deacon and later on an elder. I was a deaconess, leader of one of the children’s divisions and Personal Ministries Secretary. I also had many other jobs and leadership positions. We both sat on the church board. We were both highly respected and loved by our church family. I finally began to feel that I had found spiritual peace.
Then one night last November that façade of peace was shattered. My husband, unbeknown to me, had been struggling spiritually. There were some things that persistently haunted him. If Mrs. White was a prophet, and if what she said was sent directly from God, then if you did not obey her in every detail weren’t you in reality disobeying God? Why and how could a person just 'choose' which of her commands were important and must be followed and which ones were not important and could be disregarded or explained away? What about statements like that when we vote we become 'partakers with them of the sins which they commit while in office.' Christian Education page 475; and 'I saw the stewards of the Lord have no duty to help those persons who persist in using tobacco, tea, coffee.' Testimonies Vol 1, p. 20-24 (when did Jesus ever say 'I will help you if'?); and 'All true followers of Jesus will have sacrifices to make. God will prove them and test the genuineness of their faith. I have been shown that the true followers of Jesus will discard picnics, donations, shows, and other gatherings for pleasure. They can find no Jesus there, and no influence which will make them heavenly minded and increase their growth in grace.' Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 288; and 'Am I practicing true temperance in all things? Is my diet such as will bring me in a position where I can accomplish the greatest amount of good?' If we cannot answer these questions in the affirmative we stand condemned before a holy God'. Counsels on Diet and Foods, pp. 10, 20; and especially 'Those who accept the Savior, however sincere their conversion, should never be taught to say or feel that they are saved.' Christ's Object Lessons, p.155.
My husband was struggling with this. He had no assurance of salvation. There is no assurance of salvation in fear. There is only fear where there is condemnation. He was ready to throw his hands up in despair and give up on God entirely because he knew he would never be ‘good enough’ to be saved. For two weeks he pleaded with God to give him something, anything, some assurance that he would be saved. As he pored over his Bible verses kept jumping out at him. Verses he had read a million times, verses he had memorized, verses the meaning of which had not ever really registered. Verses like “. . . whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” and “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him,” and “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I was totally unaware of his struggle.
But that night last November my husband came home, opened his Bible and asked me what all these verses meant about believing in Christ and being saved. He showed me other verses which spoke of Christ being the ‘end of the law to all who believe’ and verses about the ‘kingdom of heaven not being a matter of food and drink but of love, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’. I gave him all the answers I had been taught. “Yes, we believe Jesus saves us but . . . “ and “The only laws that Christ fulfilled were the sacrificial laws . . . “. He simply said, “That’s not what it says. Show me where in the Bible it says that the only laws Christ fulfilled were the sacrificial ones and that more than believing is required for salvation”. He made me promise to use the Bible and the Bible only for my answers. No prophet. I thought ‘No problem’. So I began my search with confidence. I had been taught the answers to these questions all my life and had been taught that they had Biblical backing. I knew the answers I was looking for were there . . . somewhere.
For weeks I pored over my Bible armed with nothing but a concordance. I studied every verse I could find about laws and salvation, believing and faith. I cross-referenced every verse. The more I studied the more confused I got. I began to see a lot of inconsistencies between what I had been taught all my life and what the Bible actually said. Then I came, quite by accident, across the covenants. I began to realize that there was a New Covenant and an Old Covenant. This was something new to me and I didn’t know what to make of it. What was this covenant thing anyway? It was something I had never heard spoken much of and I knew nothing about it.
I looked up every verse I could find that spoke of covenants. A picture began to emerge for me and it terrified me. I realized that the Old Covenant with all it’s regulations, including the 10 Commandments, pointed forward to Christ and that at the cross Christ fulfilled that Old Covenant in it’s entirety ending all it’s requirements. He then established a New Covenant replacing the Old. The New Covenant requires faith in Him. When we believe we receive the Holy Spirit. I began to realize that it is not what we do or don’t do, it’s not what we eat or don’t eat, that makes us right with God but only that we believe in His Son, Jesus. I began to realize that my ‘being good’ or ‘doing good things’ is only what naturally happens because the Holy Spirit is living in me. Loving my neighbor is only a natural reflection of God’s love to me. I realized that my salvation, instead of being ‘faith plus works’ was ‘faith alone’ from beginning to end. For the first time, I began to see the magnitude of what Christ did for me on the cross. I realized that He took not only my sins on Himself but also the very thing that condemns me as a sinner – the law! I saw for the first time in my life the true gospel!
I brought the subject up to my parents. I asked them about the covenants. They didn't know anything about them. I told them what I was discovering and they got very upset. They thought that I was being deceived and led away by Satan. I was hoping they would study with me and help me find the answers to my questions. I was disappointed.
I showed one trusted friend what I was finding. She said, 'You're wrong. I don't know why you're wrong, I just know you're wrong.' I was hoping that she would study with me and help me find the answers to my questions. I was hoping she would help me figure it all out. She wouldn't.
I was on my own again. I continued to study asking myself every conceivable question I could think of to find my mistake. I knew all the common explanations and theories of the SDA church and quite a few uncommon ones to support our beliefs. I'd studied all our doctrines out before - thoroughly. I was a good SDA. I thought for sure that I must just be missing something. I thought that there must be some Bible passage that I hadn’t found yet that would be the missing link. Something that would bring all the verses together so that everything would make sense again. Something that would make me say, ‘Oh! I get it! This is why we do what we do and believe we believe.’ I studied every verse I could think of that we used to support our SDA theories and beliefs that contradicted what I was understanding the Bible to say, and every verse I looked at I found to be used out of context. This really bothered me!
It wasn't long before I realized that, like it or not, I had to test the prophet. I was seeing a lot of major contradictions between Mrs. White and the Bible. Either I was majorly misunderstanding what the Bible was saying or she was not a prophet! I didn't want to be misled. It's a big issue to reject any true prophet of God. It's also a big issue to accept as a prophet someone who is not one - a false prophet. So I tested her carefully and prayerfully by the tests given in the Bible for true and false prophets. She failed every one.
The realization that so many things that I had been taught all my life were false made me sick. There were times when I felt so physically ill that if I had had food in my stomach I would have lost it. There were times I would have panic attacks and would feel as if I could hardly breathe. I couldn't get a full night's sleep for months because I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning crying out to God to hold me tight. There were days I could hardly eat anything at all. I cried almost every day. I became very depressed. How could the very things I had been taught be wrong? How could the things I had spent so much time carefully teaching my son be wrong? How could the things that I had governed my life by be wrong? How could the church I loved so much be wrong?
I was terrified! I knew well what SDA doctrine taught. And it wasn’t what I was finding in the Bible. I knew that what I was finding went against Mrs. White. I knew that to be an SDA and not believe in Mrs. White was unacceptable. I knew that what I was finding in the Bible hit at the base of many of our church doctrines - ie belief in Mrs. White as a prophet, Sabbath being the seal of God's end time people, Sabbath observance being a salvational requirement, clean and unclean foods being a salvational requirement, the investigative judgment, the sanctuary doctrine and 1844, the purpose of the law in our lives, the purpose of Christ's mission on earth and what He accomplished, and the basic gospel. I knew that what I was finding went against almost everything that I had been spiritually taught. And I knew what it would cost me if I said anything. Everything. I knew I had two choices. Stand on Christ and the Bible alone, or stand on the teachings of Mrs. White and let her interpret the Bible for me. I couldn't do both.
My husband and I had a lot of questions! We showed our findings to my husband's sister and her husband to see what they thought. It freaked them out and they started to study these things out also. (They have a powerful testimony.)
After some weeks my husband, myself, my husband's sister and her husband took our findings to my husband's parents to see if they could set us straight and everything could get back to 'normal'. They tried hard to be understanding but it really just upset them. They felt we were going against the church and we were being deceived by Satan.
It got to be February. My husband decided to do some exploring to see if there were any other churches anywhere who believed and taught the covenants the way we were understanding them. Anyone who has ever been an SDA knows what a big issue it is to explore another denomination. The teaching is that when God comes whoever has not accepted the 'truth' as they see it will be lost. Their special mission from God is to 'save' other Christians by bringing them into their denomination. Thus there is salvation only in the SDA church. So for a SDA to go somewhere else to church is to be ‘walking in Satan's territory’, putting themselves 'at his mercy and under his influence' and thereby they set themselves up to be 'deceived'. For him to go searching shows how unsettled we were at this point. So one Sunday morning my husband set off to visit a church. He didn’t know which one he was headed to but he ended up at a nondenominational church. I believe to this day that God led him to that church because as he sat in his first service he noticed that some classes were starting on that very day. And one of them was on the Covenants, the very thing we were studying!
He attended the class. He was so excited when he came home! The next week I went with him and as we attended the classes over the next few weeks we started to think that maybe we weren’t crazy after all! That there were other people who understood the covenants and the Bible the way we were understanding them! It was such an encouragement to us to have found someone who understood things as we did! And the regular services were so Spirit-filled! It was like cool water washing over my parched soul! Every service we attended seemed tailor made for us. There was none of the formalism, none of the traditional pomp, no judging or haughtiness, just simple Christian worship to a Awesome, Powerful Jesus who loved me UNCONDITIONALLY! UNCONDITIONALLY! I had not felt God loved me unconditionally until then! Suddenly I saw Jesus as HUGE! BIGGER than laws and rules, BIGGER that my screw-ups, BIGGER than my fears, BIGGER than my sin! I knew He saw the depths of my soul and He LOVED ME THE SAME!
I now realized that I had no business holding leadership positions at the SDA church. I had too many unanswered questions. I resigned from my position as Personal Ministries Secretary, resigned from church board and requested that they find a replacement for me in the Kindergarten class by the end of May. I also planned to drop my name from the school board at the end of the school year. My husband also felt he needed to drop his position of being elder. But we told no one why.
We had been attending the SDA church on Saturday and the non-denominational church on Sunday for about two months. The contrasts between the two churches in worship and beliefs were staggering. It became increasingly hard to go to SDA church on Saturday and hear verses used out of context. On Sunday they read the Bible and took it for exactly what it said. Saturday we went to church with people who felt they knew all the right answers and anything that deviated from those answers was certainly false. Sunday we went to church with people who didn't claim to know it all, who studied to learn something new and were eager to hear another person's view even if that view happened to be different from their own. Saturday we went to church with people who put on their plastic smiles and plastic faces and pretended they were perfect inside and had it all together. Sunday we went to church with people who openly admitted and shared their personal issues and struggles, were unconditionally loved and accepted in spite of them, and were supported, prayed for and encouraged by others who openly admitted to their own struggles. On Saturday we went to church with properness and formalism. Sunday we went casual-come-as-you-are-the-way-God-made-you, and praise-Him-because-He-made-you-that-way. Saturday we went to church to hear about all the rules that you had to do to be right with God and receive God's blessing and favor. Sunday we went to hear that we are saved by grace in spite of our failures and that God's love and grace to us is unconditional.
I knew my studies had brought me to the point where I had to take a stand one way or the other. I knew I couldn’t continue to do things both ways. They were too vastly different. But I didn't want to be wrong. I wanted to do whatever the Bible taught. I only wanted to follow Jesus wherever He was leading me. So I gathered my study notes together and my husband and I shared our questions with the pastor, three other SDA pastors we knew, the elders of our church and our families. I still desperately wanted one of them to show me what I had missed so everything could get back to normal. I still couldn't quite fully accept the idea that almost everything I had been taught and that I believed in could possibly be false! But as we presented our questions and the verses to support them, instead of being showed our error from the Bible, we were accused of building a theory on one or two verses, making excuses and rebelling, and we were told by our pastor that NO one believed the covenants the way we were seeing them and that if we believed like that that we would have to start our own church. Our friends were told by the pastor not to talk to or associate with us. The pastor met with us one time. It was more like a trial than a Bible study. We were allowed ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers and were not given time for explanations or discussion. The second time he met with us he tried to force us to resign our names from church membership by telling us we could either resign voluntarily or everything would be taken to the church in business session in detail and we would be voted out. We were basically told we were going to hell and taking our son with us. None of the elders tried to study our questions through with us. We did not receive sound Biblical answers to any of our questions. Only accusations, twisted texts, threats and excuses.
One pastor, from another town, actually sat down with a Bible and tried to study through our questions with us. He actually agreed with us on many points and tried to encourage us in our studies but even he had to rely on Mrs. White for some of his answers. But he did actually try and made an honest effort to address our issues and questions and I love him for it.
We suddenly found ourselves being treated as if we had some terrible disease. Of all our friends ONLY ONE and his wife came to us and asked what was going on. They asked to study with us (to set us straight). They told us they loved us and assured us that we would ALWAYS be friends NO MATTER WHAT. No one will ever know what that meant to us at that time!
After almost a year of intense study and over five months of debate with our church leaders my husband and I have taken a final stand. In August my husband and I asked that our names be removed from SDA church membership. I have found true freedom in Christ! I am free to read the Bible and take it for what it says instead of having a church or a prophet interpret it for me and tell me what God's will is for my life. I am free to put my faith in my Savior not in a checklist of rules. I am free from the nagging worry if I have been good enough and from the fear of some long ago forgotten sin that I have not confessed. Some sin that will condemn me in the judgment. My righteousness now comes from Christ, it is not a righteousness of my own doing, and I know I am COMPLETELY covered. I can rest assured that Jesus will get me to heaven, not because I am worthy, but because He loves me and has paid the ransom price for my soul. I will be saved because He promised that if I believed in Him I would be saved. I am free to take Him at His word. I now consider myself as belonging to Christ and Christ alone.
On October 23, 2005 I was baptized into Christ. My baptismal vows say that I am a sinner, that I believe that Christ is my Savior, and I believe that there is nothing I can do to earn my salvation. That I am saved by grace, not works. I was baptized into Christ, not a church denomination, not a list of rules and regulations, not allegiance to a prophet. I was baptized into the true gospel, not a false gospel. I am standing on Christ and the Bible alone and will not have a person, organization or prophet interpret the Bible for me or tell me what God's will is for my life. My husband also was baptized along with my husband's sister, her husband and her daughter. My son is also considering it.
It has been a very difficult journey. I have taken a stand for Christ against a false gospel of ‘faith plus works’, against an entire church denomination and against 37 years of false religious indoctrination. I have lost almost all my friends, my reputation and my dignity. I have lost a lifetime of church family and relationships. I have had to deny the faith of my childhood and hurt extended family ties. I have removed my name from the membership of the church in which I was raised and which I dearly loved. But it is like Paul says. “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – this righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
It has been an interesting journey. It has been painful but it is worth it all to gain the peace and rest I have found in Christ. I know the journey is not over. It has only begun. I have met a God, a Jesus, a wonderful Savior that I never knew. I've so much to learn. I've barley scratched the surface. I don't care where this journey takes me or what happens along the way as long as my Jesus is with me. And I know He is with me because He promised he would be. "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Update: The friends who wanted to study with us have done so. They are now discovering the same things in God's word that we have discovered. They are now asking their own questions. They have reached out in turn to others of our friends who were previously afraid to talk to us because of what our pastor had told them. Our study group is growing. Pray that they too will find freedom in Christ.
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