Just this past Spring, Pastor Kurtley Knight resigned his pastoral position for doctrinal reasons. We pray that Adventist pastors at the crossroads are encouraged by his story of stepping out on faith to follow Christ and share the Gospel. This is Part 1. Read Part 2 here and Part 3 here.
Tell us about your background in Adventism.
I was born and raised in the [Adventist] church. While my upbringing wasn’t the strictest Adventist upbringing, it was still fairly disciplined (as my parents came from a Caribbean background) in regards to church. Growing up I hardly ever missed going to church on Sabbath. If we didn’t, we “observed” it at home with no TV, games, or anything like that. We had family worship most evenings.
After my parents divorced in 1989, my mother moved my two brothers and I down to Huntsville, AL. She wanted us to get a good Adventist upbringing at Oakwood University (then College). I attended Oakwood Academy in high school and the university for my collegiate years. It was during those 15+ years that I truly got sucked into the Adventist bubble where everything revolved around being Adventists (friendships, activities, education, etc.).
When did you start to question the doctrines? What were some of your first questions?
Interestingly enough, my first questions arose in my theology classes at Oakwood. Two professors in particular were notorious for their “Christ-centered” approach to the Scriptures. In taking their classes, I discovered their reputations were well-deserved. In class they emphasized Jesus like I had never heard before or since from an Adventist pastor/teacher.
Their perspective on the centrality of Jesus was refreshing. Their hatred for Adventist proof-texting was enlightening. To their credit, they really opened my eyes to the centrality of Jesus.
Still, in my mind there remained a sort of disconnect. If I’m truly saved by grace through faith why then must I keep the Law to be saved? Specifically, why is the Sabbath so important if salvation is found in Jesus alone? Furthermore, if salvation is by grace through faith then why is the ethos of our culture driven by works?
This last question really bothered me for some time. I correctly reasoned that if Adventist doctrines were centered in Jesus and grace then the latter should be evident in Adventist culture. By that I mean, the ethos of the culture should be one of grace. Looking around however that’s not what I saw or heard. All I saw were people desperately “trying harder” but to no avail. I witnessed and experienced the burden of guilt. The emphasis was always on what one has to do and the precious Sabbath that must be hallowed. How can we be about grace if our repeated focus is always on works? Calling this a contradiction is being kind.
So for me it started as a theological or doctrinal question about law and grace but went much deeper. The “smoke” for me was the ethos of the culture. The smoke of legalism betrayed that indeed there was fire. God used this emphasis to propel me on my 8-9 year journey out of Adventism.
Did you ever browse any of the ex-SDA websites?
I remember seeing some of the websites back in the late 2000’s (perhaps as late as 2008). The only one I vividly remember visiting was Ex-Adventist outreach. By that time, I had placed my theological questions on a shelf and had accessed the site by accident. I just didn’t understand why a site was necessary in the first place. It just seemed strange. Ex-Adventist Outreach? For what?
Although I was not a conservative hardliner I still believed in the Sabbath. Who would leave that?
I don’t remember the other sites I visited back then but there were a few. In reading former Adventist comments I thought the people were angry, bitter, and vengeful. Not really because they wrote angry things but because that was the presupposition I had in my head. People that leave Adventism only left because they were hurt not because of doctrine, I thought. Therefore, they are angry, bitter, and vengeful people. This was what I was told. Now that I’m on the other side I see this for what it truly is—another lie.
What was the catalyst that compelled you to quit your pastoral job?
For the answer to this and other questions read Part 2.
What questions do you have for Kurtley? Ask him in the comments.