Sandy Seventh-day Adventist Church

Hope and Healing For All People

The Hollow Shell

Our teenage kids wanted to go to the same church as all their friends, which at the time was the Milwaukie SDA church. With an energetic pastor at the helm, a huge influx of kids needing activities, and a lively band, membership went through the roof. The decision was soon made that we needed much larger church facilities, so up went the for-sale sign, a large plot of land was purchased, and the whole congregation was moved to a rental, the big New Hope church off of Sunnyside Road. Sabbath services were like a “Hollywood” production. What followed was a call far and wide to all disheartened and disillusioned ex-Seventh-Day Adventists and backsliders to come on back “home,” so attendance exploded again into the thousands! The new Milwaukie motto and theme song we sang every Sabbath was titled: “We Will NOT Be Defeated.” There were so many teens in attendance that a facility across the street from New Hope church was procured, and our pastor’s son became its new youth ministries pastor. Our kids were elated.

Initially we saw all of this as a miraculous answer to everyone’s prayers and the leading of God’s spirit. However, there was also another spirit at work behind the scenes. The first sign of trouble was that many of us got lost in the new crowd, putting a serious strain on existing relationships and even friendships. Then there were subtle shifts in focus in some Sabbath school classes, where basic Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs were re-interpreted and even dismissed. Then came power and money struggles, where strong personalities and
chief contributors battled for supremacy. During all this, the new Milwaukie church facilities were being built, but not finished until it was too late: the “house of cards” simply crumbled. The pastor took a portion of the congregation with him into a Sunday-keeping belief system. Many moved on to other area churches or left the church altogether. The remaining core congregation managed to procure the Gladstone Campground cafeteria, but sadly that too eventually withered and disbursed. The miraculous Milwaukie SDA church had become a
hollow shell and ceased to exist.

A couple years later, my son told me that he saw our old Milwaukie church pastor loading money into a Wells Fargo ATM machine on Sabbath. I didn’t really want to believe that… until our old pastor literally walked into me at Target store entrance, and he confirmed that his job was indeed loading ATM machines for Wells Fargo. I then asked him what became of his group of followers after he left Milwaukie. He told me that his group wanted him to do all the work and do everything himself, so he finally let them go.

There were many critical lessons for everyone to learn from the tragic story of the Milwaukie SDA church and its leadership, but very little was ever shared publicly afterwards. The biggest lesson we learned from this tragedy was that seemingly insignificant deviations from core Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs and Bible doctrine can easily become a dangerous “Y” in the road that ends up shaking unprepared souls out of God’s true church and pushing them into spiritual bankruptcy. The devil knows and exploits all of our weaknesses, but he is no match for even the most timid true believer in Jesus Christ.

Do you truly cherish SDA core beliefs as a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian? Is your love for Jesus central to how you think and live your life? Do you read the Bible as a personal message and gift to you from God, or is it sitting quietly on a shelf somewhere (or a seldom-used App)? Do you ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit every day? Ask Jesus to give you His peace and strength in these chaotic end times; give Him permission to finish the good work in you that He started. Finally, don’t let your love become hardened or cold; Jesus risked everything because He first loved you and then died in your place so that He can offer you eternal life with Him and to all who earnestly believe and trust in Him.

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