It has been more than a decade since any article published in the
Adventist Review generated as many reader letters as James Nix’s March 23 cover feature, “Growing Up Adventist: No Apologies Needed.” By a margin of more than 40 to 1, readers expressed their appreciation for the clear, focused testimony of Nix’s own experience of maturing in the faith. Following is a selection of those letters, edited only for length and style. The text of the printed article can be found at www.adventistreview.org; the full text of Nix’s original presentation, on which the article was based, can be found at www.whiteestate.org.
he March 23 Adventist Review
arrived, and as usual I leafed through it, scanning and reading the articles. When I came to “Growing Up Adventist: No Apologies Needed,” by James R. Nix, I found an article that said it all. Thank you so much for this article in which the reasons I am so glad I grew up Adventist were so ably expressed. It is the heritage that has such an influence on those of us who experienced it. . . .
Thank you for the Adventist Review and the many fine uplifting articles you bring us each week.
The Adventist Review
will find it difficult to publish a better article than James R. Nix’s “Growing Up Adventist.” I thank God for a similar lifestyle learned from my mother, who learned it from the hospitality of Mrs. Ellen White in her Australian home, Sunnyside. We face a real danger of forgetting, or even deriding “the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”
Pastor Bert Cozens
I appreciate James Nix’s viewpoint in “Growing Up Adventist.” Although I grew up in a much different generation (I’m a young adult), my Sabbath school teachers awarded prizes for saying all of my memory verses for the quarter. I remember my mom doing last-minute rehearsals with me on the way to church. That was one of the best uses I ever made of my time. I’m thankful to Nix and all of the others who work to keep Adventist history alive for my generation. Some of us still sing “Lift Up the Trumpet.”
Regarding James R. Nix’s “Growing Up Adventist: No Apologies Needed,” I am thankful that I didn’t grow up an Adventist. Buried 47 paragraphs into his article, he finally got to the most important teaching—that Jesus not only forgives my sins but also empowers me to overcome them. Discussing this issue with my wife and friends, I learned that this most important teaching was buried for them as well as they grew up in the church. Let’s not go back to the “good old days.”
I was thrilled to read “Growing Up Adventist.” I could identify with everything in it. Even though my teen years were in the late 1940s and early 1950s, I remember that there were words we never heard, such as legalistic, conservative, or liberal. We were Adventist, and really enjoyed life. My parents never “preached” at me—just lived by example and taught me early on to appreciate the truly beautiful things in life, especially fine music and the beauties of nature. Growing up with high-quality music (beautiful choirs and majestic symphonies) was one of the things that really drew me closer to the Lord and made me feel closer to heaven. . . .
Life was never dull, and I never felt like I missed a thing by being Adventist. . . . I am a fourth-generation Adventist and love my church. Thank you, James Nix, for bringing back so many wonderful memories.
Pauline Nosworthy Pierson
I found myself in complete agreement with the article by James R. Nix (“Growing Up Adventist”). I would add one thing to what he said: While the church “clearly enunciated what it believed and stood for,” it did not always articulate well the principles underlying the rules. I have since come to understand the majority of those principles through my own study and experience, but many have not. To cite one example: Sometimes you can walk into an Adventist church today and not be able to tell the Adventists from those who aren’t. Forty years ago none of the Adventists were wearing jewelry. We were told not to wear jewelry, but the deep underlying principles (jewelry has only one purpose: self-glorification) were often not well stated. And unless we want to become like “the mainline Protestant churches,” we need to do a better job of familiarizing our new members and young people with the solid principles underlying our doctrines.
James Nix paints a warm, nostalgic picture of the Adventist Church during his childhood. My recollections from the fifties are equally pleasant, but I do remember older members then telling me how much better our church was in their good old days.
In some ways they were right. Blacks and women were more respected in the first third of our church history (while Ellen White was alive) than in the middle third. And they are treated better today than when James Nix and I were growing up Adventist. So it’s not all downhill.
Thank you, James Nix and the Review, for this article. It resonated deeper in me than anything I have ever read in this loved magazine. Every paragraph and every picture I remember too! I am a fifth-generation Adventist, born in 1951 into a godly Adventist farm family in Oklahoma. What a blessing and advantage it has been in my life to have been raised this way!
James Nix expresses concern for the rising generation. I too have been burdened about the mixed messages we seem to be giving them. Yet I know God will guide and teach.
When I hear “I am glad I joined the church as an adult because it means more to me that way,” or the other disparaging comments James Nix alludes to, protests rise in my heart. I too am glad and proud and grateful to have “grown up Adventist”!
I love the Adventist Review, and am thankful for its wonderful, gifted staff. The article “Growing Up Adventist” interested me greatly. I greatly admire James Nix as a person and appreciate his knowledge as an Adventist historian. His article, however, greatly disappointed me. To me, the greatest thing the church should teach is the doctrine that is the very center of Christianity: the doctrine that I am a great sinner, but that Jesus is a great and wonderful Savior. Nix hinted at that, but in my opinion it should have been number one on the list of the things the church taught him, if, indeed, it did teach him that truth. I fear that it really didn’t. From my own experience that fear is confirmed.
You see, I too grew up Adventist. I also learned all the things Nix mentioned in his article, including the message of the soon coming of Jesus. That doctrine put great fear into my heart as a youngster because I knew I could never be good enough to be ready to meet Him. Sadly, I had to go to the Baptist Church as a 16-year-old to find Jesus and the hope of eternal life. Once I became a Christian, my Adventism became really meaningful, and I gave my life fully to Him and to the ministry of the church. I recently retired after more than 44 years of ministry as a pastor, conference evangelist, missionary, college professor, ministerial secretary, and conference president. Throughout my ministry, because of my growing up Adventist and having to go to the Baptist Church to find Jesus, my emphasis always was, in the words of Paul, “to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Sun City, Arizona
I am a 26-year-old South African mother of one, and I am currently working in Cape Town as a developer.
I was touched and inspired by this article. Touched by the way that the writer expresses his joy at having been brought up as an Adventist, which is just exactly the way I feel about my own upbringing in the church. The lessons that my mother and all the leaders at church (especially Pathfinder leaders) taught me while I was growing up. Even the small things such as not placing anything on top of the Bible—I’m grateful for that.
Inspired in such a way that I am more determined to push forward and prepare for the second coming of our Lord and Savior. Lately, I have been feeling a bit fed up going to church every Sabbath. It felt more like a burden, and I wanted to do other things because I thought that I would feel better. Needless to say, it didn’t help.
I was just going around in circles, with no direction.
God has truly blessed me and has answered prayers that were sent up to heaven by concerned friends. He has used this simple yet thought-provoking article to make me understand all the “whys” that have been plaguing my spiritual life.
Thank you for letting God use you and your team in getting us all excited about the Adventist movement (and the responsibilities of sending out the three angels’ messages to all the world) and Christ’s second coming.
I usually thumb through the Adventist Review from cover to cover. Today I have been so blessed to have read James Nix’s article. I grew up Adventist just 10 years after the dreaded legalistic years, and have loved every bit of my Adventist lifestyle experience. Looking for good in what others saw as bad situations has often been easy for me; yet
I would hear folks talk of the damage done to them by the church. I knew somewhere there had to be someone who would tell that those times within the church couldn’t have left only
I also grew up Adventist and have often been tempted to think that I was “disadvantaged” as a result of it. This is especially true when those who grew up Adventist rebelled, went out in the world, and came back with the conversion experience of Paul. Sometimes we promote the returned prodigal at the expense of not affirming the virtues of remaining in the faith. Thanks for the reminders pointed out in this article.
I am encouraged.
I want to thank you for “Growing Up Adventist.”
My parents also banned bowling alleys, movie theaters, fiction books, and inappropriate music. They had very careful plans for Sabbath observance.
However, in their wisdom, where they banned something, they replaced it with something good and interesting. Sabbath was made a pure joy for all of us.
We spent countless hours in the woods and pastures finding the little wildflowers and learning the names of all the trees and birds. Mother and Dad were always with us—they did not sleep and leave us to find our own activities.
I also identified with the other issues that Nix touched on. As an older, retired adult, I still cling to the blessed hope that following Jesus’ example is the path to joy and peace in my life.
Berrien Springs, Michigan
I loved the graphics that illustrated the article “Growing Up Adventist” as much as I did the story. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve played “The Captain Calls for You,” I could retire a rich woman. My piano teacher taught me to play it “properly,” and it served me well over the years.
The school bus looks so familiar (just substitute the name “Rogue River Academy” on the side); the Ingathering can; flag raising at junior camp; Kata Ragaso (I forget how to spell it); H.M.S. Richards; Del Delker; Brad and Olive Braley. What great memories! I have been greatly blessed to grow up Adventist—not perfect, but Adventist (fourth-generation). Didn’t have perfect parents or teachers, but they were all Adventists. Don’t have perfect kids, but they’re Adventists. (So far, anyway!)
I was rather shocked to read that not everyone in the whole Adventist world knows “Lift Up the Trumpet.” Growing up on the VOP, I just assumed everyone knew that song. Yes, definitely, write some “praise” choruses that talk about the Second Coming. Or dust off the Singing Youth books and Chorus Melodies and teach the kids some new/old songs.
Central Point, Oregon
James Nix’s article warmed our hearts and revived our spirits. Many of us who were young in the 1950s and 1960s have wonderful memories of a strong church connection, and emphasis on the basics of our faith, as so clearly articulated in Nix’s article. We remember the godly men in our academy and college days who held up Christ as the only way of salvation. Righteousness by faith was a theme of many a Week of Prayer etched in our memory.
Granted, it took some of us awhile to “get it,” and perhaps some never did. But for many of us, the past several decades of attacks and stigma regarding the “terrible legalism” of that era have been painful and often frustrating. Unfortunately, it almost seems at times that to be loyal to the church and to uphold the principles it stands for has become equated with “legalism.”
The truth is that legalism is not “an Adventist problem,” but a “human heart” problem. Legalism comes in many shapes and sizes. Every faith, whatever its beliefs, has legalists. Some who are most ready to criticize Adventists for legalism because we keep the Sabbath may be legalistic about some other form or belief that they make a standard for salvation. And even within our own ranks, it is possible to make emphasis on a certain doctrine (including righteousness by faith) a form of works, rather than an experience with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Often those who are careful and conscientious about their faith, their lifestyle, or standards of conduct are accused of being legalistic. But no human being has either the ability or the right to declare another person a legalist. Doing what is right—obedience—is not legalism. Doing it for the wrong reasons is legalism! But since none of us has insight into another human heart, we cannot judge motives. It is often difficult enough for us to weigh and evaluate our own heart and motives, how much less those of others.
May God help us as individuals, and as a church, to never lose sight of the glorious truths of salvation that have made us “distinctly Adventist!”
Rosalie Haffner Zinke
Hendersonville, North Carolina
I was so glad to read the article “Growing Up Adventist.” I too grew up in a “conservative” Adventist home in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. I have wonderful memories of family worships, the whole family getting ready for the Sabbath, and a multitude of different Sabbath afternoon activities. I too learned that the Bible is a special book and never to put any other book on top of it. I taught my children the same thing.
Our church was a small one, and when we had an activity, everyone who was able showed up. We had camping weekends, sang to shut-ins, had exchange MV programs with sister churches, and, yes, went door-to-door passing out literature. It was just a given that we would participate in these activities. And of course, the Saturday night after Thanksgiving signaled the beginning of Ingathering, with the taped carols by Del Delker and the King’s Heralds in the background.
I knew that being a Seventh-day Adventist meant I was different. There were a lot of things that I did not participate in, but there were a lot of things I did get to do, and my friends respected my beliefs.
I think it was the love of my family and my church family that made the difference. I didn’t understand why people were saying such bad things about the church being legalistic. To me, following the standards was one way that I could show Jesus that I truly loved Him and appreciated the sacrifice He made for me.
I would not trade my “growing up Adventist” for anything in the world. It has given me an anchor, and a model for raising my own family. Praise God for the dedicated parents and churches that made “growing up Adventist” a privilege.
Pleasant Hill, Missouri
Thank you, thank you, thank you for James Nix’s article! I am only in my 30s, but I was raised the same way he describes. I too am very thankful for the blessings listed. After all, God does want us to have a full and abundant life! And living this way is the best path to a full and abundant life. I credit all my success in my secular work and, more important, my stable, grounded faith to the grace of God exhibited through the teachings of my parents and church family. I thank God for His instruction and grace in my life!
Berrien Springs, Michigan
I too “grew up Adventist” with parents who had both become Adventists as teenagers, along with their respective parents. Both families, in different states, “came into the truth,” as they put it in those days, as a result of colporteurs selling them The Great Controversy. My husband’s parents were baptized when he was about 12 as a result of neighbors witnessing and taking the children to Sabbath school.
We both grew up in families for which the church was the center of our lives. It was unthinkable to stay home from Sabbath school and church unless one was very seriously ill or traveling. Camp meeting was the high point of the summer for as far back as I can remember. Bible study and Christian reading materials were emphasized. (I can still vividly remember my dad reading aloud to us Treasure From the Haunted Pagoda, by Eric B. Hare, and other thrilling mission stories.) Tithe was sacred and came out first, usually with a second tithe also for other offerings. Church school was a necessity no matter how tight the finances were, and my mother went to summer school to become a teacher in order to put my brother and me through academy and college. They gave Bible studies and took us out to hand out literature. Church jobs of various kinds were taken seriously. My father worked all day as a carpenter, came home to eat a quick supper, and then went out to help build the new church or church school when such projects were underway. We were brought up knowing that Jesus was coming soon and that heaven was our goal.
Along with this, of course, was a conservative lifestyle and things we did or didn’t do. Yet I don’t recall that we were taught to do or not do certain things to “earn” our way to heaven. We were taught that this was what Jesus wanted us to do. If we loved Him, that was how we should live. There were things that brought us closer to Christ, and other “worldly” things to avoid that would take us farther away from Him.
Of course, there were some people of our acquaintance who became fanatical on one thing or another, judgmental, forgetting that love and kindness are also Christian virtues. But on the whole, I remember the Adventist society of my growing-up days to be loving and supportive. When all the emphasis began on “salvation by grace,” I had a hard time understanding what it was all about. That is what I had always been taught.
Sylvia M. Ellis
Long articles can sometimes be tiring—but not this one! This five-page piece should, in my judgment, be read in every Adventist church the world over!
I like a writer who has the courage to say, “I disagree with those who say that I was mistreated, misinformed, and outright misled by my church. I will forever be glad that I was raised at a time when my church clearly enumerated what it believed and stood for.” I, for one, believe we still do!
I liked Nix’s hard-hitting yet sensitive reference to church values, or “Christian standards.” Thank God we have some very real standards that should never be watered down.
I’m not a sixth-generation Adventist like Nix—maybe fourth-generation—but when my wife, Rose, and I entered the ministry on August 15, 1943, we had about three quarters of a million adherents the world over! Today we have well over a million in North America alone! Almost 2 million in southern Africa alone!
I told evangelistic audiences up and down the land, “Seventh-day Adventists don’t teach we have all the truth: we only claim everything we do teach is the truth!”