Seventh-Day Adventism

views updated May 29 2018


SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISM . The origins of Seventh-day Adventism run back to the interdenominational Millerite movement in the United States in the early 1840s, when William Miller, a Baptist lay minister and farmer, sought to rekindle a "second awakening" by predicting that Christ would soon return to earth. On the basis of Daniel 8:14 ("Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed"), he calculated that the end would come "about the year 1843"2,300 years after Artaxerxes of Persia issued a decree to rebuild Jerusalem. Following a series of failed time-settings, Millerites fixed their hopes for the second advent of Christ on October 22, 1844, the Day of Atonement, which, according to the Jewish calendar, fell on the tenth day of the seventh month. The "great disappointment" that resulted from this miscalculation splintered the movement into several factions. The majority, including Miller, admitted their exegetical error but continued to expect Christ's imminent return; eventually they coalesced into the Evangelical Adventist and Advent Christian churches. A much smaller number embraced the suggestion of Hiram Edson, an upstate New York farmer, that only the event, not the date, had been wrong: "that instead of our High Priest coming out of the Most Holy of the heavenly sanctuary to come to this earth on the tenth day of the seventh month, at the end of the 2,300 days, he for the first time entered on that day the second apartment of that sanctuary and that he had a work to perform in the Most Holy before coming to this earth." Millerites of this persuasion formed the nucleus of what, in the early 1860s, evolved into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The Formative Years: 18441863

Edson's sanctuary doctrine, which held that Christ in 1844 inaugurated a new era in the history of salvation, became one of the most distinctive and central tenets of Adventist theology. However, other beliefsfor example, belief in the "shut door," the seventh-day Sabbath, and the gift of prophecybrought them their greatest notoriety and earned them the name "sabbatarian and shut-door" Adventists.

Early beliefs that October 22 marked the date when God shut the "door of mercy" on all who had rejected the Millerite message gradually gave rise to an open-door theology and to evangelization. The observance of Saturday as the Sabbath, as required by the Ten Commandments and practiced by the Seventh Day Baptists, became the most obvious symbol of Seventh-day Adventist distinctiveness and served as a means by which legalistic members sought to attain the higher morality expected of God's people at the close of history.

Shortly after the "great disappointment," Ellen Gould Harmon, a sickly, introverted adolescent ecstatic from Portland, Maine, began having visionary experiences that validated the sanctuary, shut-door, and Sabbath doctrines. The Millerite movement produced numerous mystics and trance mediums, and the believers in Portland were especially infamous for what Millerite publicist Joshua V. Himes called their "continual introduction of visionary nonsense." Thus, Ellen Harmon would probably have been lost in the crowd of enthusiasts had she not been discovered by James White, a young Adventist preacher and teacher, who became her protector, her promoter, and, in 1846, her husband. Together, James and Ellen White built the Seventh-day Adventist church, James serving as organizer and entrepreneur, Ellen as exhorter and visionary. The Adventist brethren, under James's leadership, functioned as the sect's theologians and biblical exegetes, frequently relying on Ellen's "gift of prophecy" to support their doctrinal positions. Committed to sola scriptura biblicism, Adventists regarded Ellen White's charismatic role as confirmatory rather than initiatory; her testimonies related to the Bible as a "lesser light to the greater light." Despite sporadic questioning of her authority, even by her husband, her visions helped to identify Adventists as God's end-time people and thus assured her of a singularly precious place in Adventist history.

In many respects, Seventh-day Adventism developed as a typical nineteenth-century American sect, characterized by millenarianism, biblicism, restorationism, and legalism. Its Old Testament orientation, its self-image as the chosen people, its sabbatarianism, and its sense of cosmic destiny all betrayed the influence of eighteenth-century American Puritanism, while its Arminianism (which rejected Calvinist predestinarianism in favor of free choice of salvation), its doctrine of soul-sleep (asserting that human beings have no separate "spirit" and therefore the dead have no consciousness until the resurrection), its concern for religious liberty, and its adoption of medical and educational reforms also revealed it to be a product of antebellum evangelicalism. Adventists, however, especially during their early years, stressed their distinctiveness and separateness rather than their many points of similarity with the religious landscape of nineteenth-century America.

By 1850, sabbatarian Adventists, still looking for the imminent appearance of Christ, composed a "scattered flock" of about two hundred loosely structured sectarians who sought to restore such primitive Christian practices as foot-washing, greeting with the "holy kiss," and calling each other "brother" and "sister." As time passed uneventfully, their radical millenarianism, which had led some to predict the end in 1845, 1847, and 1851, gave way to a more realistic attitude. As early as 1848 Ellen White had had a vision in which she saw Adventism spreading "like streams of lightclear round the world," a scene that implied long-range involvement in earthly affairs. In 1850 her husband began editing The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, which became the official Adventist organ. In 1855 the Whites moved on to the fresher evangelistic pastures of southern Michigan, where the church eventually enjoyed enough material prosperity to elicit, in 1857, a notable jeremiad from the prophetess on its "Laodicean condition," a phrase referring to the "lukewarm" church described in Revelation 3:1418.

By the late 1850s the institutionalization of Seventh-day Adventism was well under way. In 1859 the Adventists adopted a plan of "systematic benevolence" to support a clergy; the next year they selected the name Seventh-day Adventist; by 1863 there were 125 churches with about 3,500 members. That year they organized a General Conference and invited James White to serve as their first president, an honor he temporarily declined. In 1866, in the wake of an epidemic of sickness among church leaders and Ellen White's discovery of the virtues of the "water cure" and vegetarianism, the Adventists established a sanatorium at Battle Creek, Michiganthe Western Health Reform Instituteand began publishing the Health Reformer, a monthly magazine. John Harvey Kellogg, who became the leading force in Adventist health reform, developed several new food products, among them ready-to-eat dry cereals. His brother, Will Kellogg, established the company that created a mass market for this new way of eating breakfast.

Years of Transition: 18631915

The years following the formal organization of the Adventist Church and its emergence as an established sect saw American Protestantism split into modernist and fundamentalist parties, divided by such issues as evolution and higher criticism. Not surprisingly, Adventists in this period generally, but idiosyncratically, followed the fundamentalists. Because the Adventists observed the seventh-day Sabbath as a memorial of creation, and because Ellen White insisted on a recent six-day creation, they rejected all compromises with evolutionary biology and geology. They also rejected higher criticism in favor of biblical inerrancy, but they displayed less concern about the integrity of the scriptures than about the writings of Ellen White, whose apotheosis occurred during this period. For years Ellen White had lived in the shadow of her husband, providing visionary endorsement for the opinions of the founding fathers of Adventism. But after James's death in 1881 she assumed a more assertive role, directing the activities of a younger generation of male leaders, who quickly learned to clear matters of doctrine, development, and policy with the prophetess. By the time of her death in 1915 she had, despite disclaimers to the contrary, become the real authority for Adventists in matters of behavior as well as belief.

Acceptance of Ellen White's prophetic role set Adventists apart from other fundamentalists, as did their peculiar doctrines regarding the sanctuary and the Sabbath. In fact, nothing distinguished Adventists as a separate religious community as much as their Sabbath-keeping, which led them to distrust not only evolutionists (who undermined belief in a literal Sabbath) but Catholics (whom they blamed for changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday), labor unionists (who, they feared, would force them to work on Saturday), and blue-law-minded evangelical Christians (who, the prophetess said, would pass a national law requiring Sunday observance). Efforts to enact such legislation in the 1880s, coinciding as they did with hard-labor sentences for up to fifty church members who violated blue laws in the South, proved to the Adventists that they were indeed living in the "last days."

Adventist theology shifted in the 1880s, when two West Coast editors, Ellet J. Waggoner and Alonzo T. Jones, both still in their thirties, challenged the legalistic emphasis that had come to characterize the sect. In opposition to General Conference leaders, who maintained that salvation depended upon observing the Ten Commandments (especially the fourth), Waggoner and Jones followed evangelical Christians in arguing that righteousness came by accepting Christ, not by keeping the law. At a pivotal general conference in 1888, Ellen White broke with the Battle Creek administratorsand the view of her late husbandto endorse this controversial "new light," a move that symbolized her "coming out" as the Adventists' matriarch. But despite her pronouncements in favor of "righteousness by faith," the issue of grace versus law remained a sensitive one within Adventism.

For decades Adventists confined their evangelistic efforts almost exclusively to North America. In the early 1870s, however, church leaders became convinced that they had an obligation to carry their message "into all the world" (Mk. 16:15), and in 1874 they sent J. N. Andrews, a former General Conference president, to Switzerland as the first Adventist missionary. Other appointments followed in quick succession, first to the large white, Christian populations of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and, later, to the nonwhite peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. By 1900 the Adventists were supporting nearly five hundred foreign missionaries, and over 15 percent of the more than seventy-five thousand Adventists lived outside North America. In part to provide for the growing needs of its foreign missions, as well as to shield its youth from worldly influences, the church developed an extensive educational system. By the second half of the twentieth century, Adventists were operating one of the largest Protestant school systems in the world.

In 1895, in order to train medical personnel for service at home and abroad, Adventists opened the American Medical Missionary College, with campuses in Battle Creek and Chicago. The school's dominant force was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a former protégé of the Whites. In his mid-twenties Kellogg became superintendent of the Western Health Reform Institute (later the Battle Creek Sanitarium) and after 1893 headed the Medical Missionary and Benevolent Association, the Adventist body responsible for operating medical institutions around the world. By the early twentieth century the association's two thousand workers considerably outnumbered General Conference employees, an imbalance that aggravated the friction between the imperious and imperialistic Dr. Kellogg and the equally ambitious ministers who ran the General Conference. In 1906 the latter arranged for the doctor and his cohorts to be disfellowshipped for questioning the authority of Ellen White; thus, for the first time, making the acceptance of her testimonies a "test of fellowship." When Kellogg, the most prominent Adventist in the world, left the church, he took the medical college and Battle Creek Sanitarium with him, forcing loyalists in 1909 to open an orthodox medical school, the College of Medical Evangelists (which developed into Loma Linda University), in southern California.

In the years since the Whites moved their fledgling church to Michigan, Battle Creek had grown into the administrative, publishing, medical, and educational center of Adventism. Such centralization and concentration of power concerned Ellen White, who recommended dismantling the Battle Creek colony. As a result, Battle Creek College (now Andrews University) was moved in 1902 to rural southwestern Michigan, and administrative and publishing activities were moved to the outskirts of Washington, D.C., which became the international headquarters.

Contemporary Adventism

Ellen White died in 1915, leaving a church of more than 136,000 members. By 2001 membership had swelled to over twelve million, roughly 92 percent of whom lived outside of North America. Despite the preponderance of third-world believers, and the fact that recent growth in North America had come to a great extent from Hispanics and blacks, the administrative and economic power of the church remained largely in the hands of white, male leaders. In the mid-1940s the General Conference created segregated black conferences in North America, but it later rejected demands for separate unions that accompanied the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Similarly, as the feminist movement gathered momentum in the 1970s, Adventist women, long relied upon for cheap labor, began demanding equal pay for equal workbut they won their case only after resorting to the courts.

As their church grew and prospered, Adventists felt increasingly uncomfortable with their sectarian identity. Thus, they were greatly cheered in the 1950s when such prominent evangelicals as Donald G. Barnhouse and Walter R. Martin, after studying Adventist beliefs, certified them to be Christians rather than cultists. Many Adventists, nevertheless, continued to live in tension with the church's teachings on the sanctuary and the authority of Ellen White. Dissident voices became increasingly audible in the 1960s, especially after a group of Adventist academics and professionals created the independent Association of Adventist Forums (AAF) in 1967 and began publishing a lively journal, Spectrum. During the 1970s and early 1980s, Adventism was torn by claims of Adventist scholars that they had uncovered evidence that the writings of the prophetess not only contained historical and scientific errors but, in many instances, paralleled the prose of other authorsdiscoveries that forced a rethinking of White's role in the community. During the same period an Australian biblical scholar, Desmond Ford, announced to an AAF group that the church's distinctive view of the sanctuary derived more from White than from the Bible and that it infected Adventism with an unhealthful and unbiblical legalism. Although Ford and a number of his ministerial colleagues were promptly defrocked for their heresy, they still effected a subtle recasting of the sanctuary doctrine, orienting it more toward the atonement than toward last-day events and bringing it more into conformity with evangelical Protestantism. Some sectors of the church, often called "historic Adventists," opposed these developments, but Seventh-day Adventism generally continued to move haltingly along the path from radical millenarian sect to conventional denomination as it entered the twenty-first century.

See Also

White, Ellen Gould.


There is no standard history of Seventh-day Adventism. Until recently, non-Adventist scholars had tended to ignore Adventists, and Adventist historians have been reticent to examine their heritage critically. Among the several comprehensive histories, the best of the old is M. Ellsworth Olsen's History of the Origin and Progress of Seventh-day Adventists (Washington, D.C., 1925), and the best of the new is Richard W. Schwarz and Floyd Greenleaf's Light Bearers, rev. ed. (Nampa, Id., 2000), a well-documented survey designed to serve as a college text. Adventism in America: A History, edited by Gary Land, rev. ed. (Berrien Springs, Mich., 1998), offers a readable chronological overview written by six Adventist historians. A valuable reference work, filled with historical data, is the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2 vols., 2d rev. ed. (Hagerstown, Md., 1996).

The Rise of Adventism: Religion and Society in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America, edited by Edwin S. Gaustad (New York, 1974), though misleadingly titled (most of the essays say nothing about Adventism), does contain a marvelous 111-page bibliography of Millerite and early Adventist publications and an important interpretive essay, "Adventism and the American Experience," by Jonathan M. Butler. The Millerite movement has become the subject of a considerable body of scholarly literature, which Gary Land analyzes in his historiographical introduction to Everett N. Dick's, William Miller and the Advent Crisis, 18311844 (Berrien Springs, Mich., 1994). The best survey of the movement is George R. Knight's popularly written Millennial Fever and the End of the World (Boise, Id., 1993). P. Gerard Damsteegt's Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1977) uncritically but microscopically traces the development of Adventist theology to 1874. Ingemar Linden's iconoclastic and unpolished The Last Trump: An Historico-Genetical Study of Some Important Chapters in the Making and Development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1978) covers roughly the same period in a different style. Douglas Morgan's Adventism and the American Republic: The Public Involvement of a Major Apocalyptic Movement (Knoxville, Tenn., 2001) examines the interplay of the denomination's theology with society.

Despite an abundance of inspirational biographies of Adventist leaders, few scholarly studies of individual Adventists have appeared. Notable exceptions include Richard W. Schwarz's John Harvey Kellogg, M. D. (Nashville, Tenn., 1970), which unfortunately lacks the documentation found in the doctoral dissertation upon which it is based; Ronald L. Numbers's Prophetess of Health: Ellen G. White and the Origins of Seventh-day Adventist Health Reform, rev. ed. (Knoxville, Tenn., 1992), a critical analysis of White's health-related activities; Gilbert M. Valentine's The Shaping of Adventism: The Case of W. W. Prescott (Berrien Springs, Mich., 1992), a study of a frequently controversial editor and educator; and Calvin W. Edwards and Gary Land, Seeker After Light: A. F. Ballenger, Adventism, and American Christianity (Berrien Springs, Mich., 2000), an examination of a minister who was dismissed from the denomination because of his criticisms of the sanctuary doctrine.

Jonathan M. Butler (1987)

Ronald L. Numbers (1987)

Gary G. Land (2005)

Seventh-Day Adventism

views updated May 18 2018

Seventh-Day Adventism

Seventh-Day Adventism emerged out of the Millerite apocalyptic excitement during the latter stages of the Second Great Awakening to become one of the nation's largest indigenous churches. By the end of the twentieth century there were close to nine hundred thousand Adventists in North America and more than ten million worldwide. In their mission of proclaiming the second advent of Christ and a new world to come, Adventists have made a significant impact on the present world through a vast array of health-care, educational, and publishing institutions. Though less well known than fellow nineteenth-century prophets Mary Baker Eddy and Joseph Smith, the church's cofounder, Ellen G. White, exerted an influence that not only inspired the entire Adventist achievement but that also indirectly extends to all Americans who consume breakfast cereal or who believe in "scientific creationism."

William Miller, a New York farmer turned Baptist revivalist, came to prominence in the Northeast by the late 1830s, proclaiming the imminent, premillennial return of Jesus Christ. Rejecting the widespread millennialist gradualism about revival and reform transforming America, the Millerites envisioned total reform through one cataclysmic act of divine intervention—fiery destruction of the present order followed by re-creation at Christ's return. Moreover, Miller believed that apocalyptic prophecy revealed the time of the event—initially estimated at about 1843 and eventually more precisely predicted as October 22, 1844. While belief that the twenty-three-hundred-day prophecy of Daniel 8:14 would somehow be fulfilled in the 1840s was widespread, Miller was distinctive in associating the "cleansing of the sanctuary" referred to in that passage with the literal return of Christ.

After the prophecy failed, the disappointed Adventists split into numerous factions. One of the smaller of these gradually coalesced around the conviction that the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 had indeed been fulfilled in 1844 in a transcendent sense. The "cleansing of the sanctuary," they maintained, referred to a cosmic "Day of Atonement" marked by Christ's final work of mediation and judgment in the "heavenly" sanctuary referred to in the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews. These future Seventh-Day Adventists were led by Joseph Bates, a veteran social reformer and Millerite leader; James White, a young schoolteacher with a background in the Christian Connection; and Ellen Harmon, a teenage former Methodist from Portland, Maine, who received divine guidance and encouragement for the movement through dramatic visions experienced in a trancelike state. White and Harmon married in 1846.

This group found its mission and identity under the apocalyptic rubric of the "three angels' messages" of Revelation 14:6–12. The first two had already gone forth, they believed, but it was their duty to proclaim the third and final message before Christ's return, which called out a people who "keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." The "commandments of God" included the Sabbath commandment, and they insisted that the Bible mandates observance of the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week—Saturday, not Sunday.

By the early 1850s these Sabbatarian Adventists saw it as their mission to gather a "remnant" in the last days, marked by fidelity to the law of God and Sabbath observance, and the "spirit of prophecy" manifested in the ministry of Ellen White. Other distinctive beliefs included the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary begun in 1844, conditional immortality, and "annihilationism"—the destruction of sinners in the end, rather than their unending torment in an eternal hell. While focused on preparation for the Second Coming, the Sabbatarian Adventists were very much engaged with the national dilemma over slavery. Passionately antislavery for the most part, they viewed slavery as evidence that the American republic is the "second beast" of Revelation 13, which has a benign, lamblike aspect but "speaks like a dragon."

An era of organization- and institution-building began in the 1860s under James White's leadership. The Seventh-Day Adventist church was officially organized in 1863 with headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan, and a membership of about thirty-five hundred. Prompted by Ellen White's visions, the church quickly turned its attention to health reform. Adventists came to view physical health as intrinsic to Christian sanctification and preparation for Christ's return, and health care as a leading dimension of their mission to the world. Though generally leery of politics, their interest in health in part motivated them to intensive involvement in the Prohibition movement. Educational institutions and overseas missions were both launched in the 1870s. In calling America's "Protestant empire" to what they regarded as true Protestantism, Adventists stressed not only a biblicism marked by seventh-day Sabbath observance but also individual freedom from coercion in religion. They began publishing the American Sentinel in 1886 (changed to the current title, Liberty, in 1906) and formed the National Religious Liberty Association to advocate religious freedom and separation of church and state.

The years between the late 1880s and World War I were among the most dynamic in the church's history but also saw major crises that did much to determine the direction of the twentieth-century church. A revival uplifting the theme of salvation through faith in Christ alone brought with it a severe controversy between the advocates of the new emphasis (primarily Alonzo T. Jones and Ellet J. Waggoner) and the older leadership worried that the Adventist emphasis on the necessity of observing the law of God was being undermined. Ellen White sided with the "righteousness by faith" advocates—a decisive moment in Adventism's complex relationship to evangelical Protestantism. Adventists, though not unambiguously or without subsequent controversy, would adhere to the Protestant principles of justification by faith and the final authority of Scripture.

Meanwhile, John Harvey Kellogg, director of the church's Battle Creek sanitarium, was earning a reputation as one of the nation's foremost authorities on health matters. Though it was his brother Will who eventually turned breakfast cereal into a financial empire, it was John Harvey who invented the concept with cornflakes and granola. Kellogg saw humanitarianism as the essence of Adventism. In addition to medical work, he promoted a comprehensive outreach to the poor of the nation's cities in the 1890s, particularly in Chicago. Disputes with the clerical leadership over control of the church's thriving "medical missionary" work and his unconventional theology led to Kellogg's removal from the church in 1907 and the church's loss of the Battle Creek sanitarium and program of humanitarian activism in the cities, though the emphasis on health and medicine would remain as a legacy of both Kellogg and Ellen White. In the decades surrounding her death in 1915, the authority of Ellen White's voluminous writings was another hotly debated issue. Though White explicitly denied claiming "infallibility," a large segment of the church held that her writings virtually were just that; at the very least they were regarded as unerring commentary on Scripture. A. G. Daniells, a close ally of White's and president of the church from 1901 to 1922, took a more moderate position, affirming the authenticity of White's spiritual gift but recognizing her fallibility. His ouster from the presidency, in part because of this "soft" view of Ellen White's authority, signaled the victory of the near-inerrantist view, which prevailed until a new round of controversies in the 1970s.

The Adventists of the 1920s identified themselves with fundamentalism and had something of an impact on the fundamentalist movement. Historian Ronald Numbers has shown that Adventist scholar George McCready Price was a major influence behind eventual widespread acceptance in fundamentalist circles of "flood geology"—a cornerstone of "scientific creationism." Price's views on creation and flood in turn were shaped by Ellen White's writings.

In the twentieth century, Adventism has exhibited dynamic growth in membership and expansion of institutions, particularly outside the United States. By 1995 the church was operating more than 5,000 schools and nearly 600 health-care institutions, with assets totaling about $5 billion. Through the Adventist Development and Relief Agency the church had established humanitarian work in 120 countries.

At the same time, the church faces tensions that have become increasingly apparent since the 1960s, all revolving around the question of how to remain unified as one world church amid rapidly increasing diversity—ethnic, national, and theological. By 1990, African Americans constituted 25 percent of the church's North American membership and Latinos 8 percent. Achieving racial justice and harmony in the church remains a challenge, as Adventists struggle to overcome a racism that became deeply entrenched during the early and middle decades of the twentieth century.

With the world church's membership becoming overwhelmingly non-American and nonwhite while North America retains disproportionate financial clout and representation in world leadership, deepening fissures between the United States and the rest of the world church have become increasingly apparent in recent decades. Debate over the role of women has been the most striking issue along this line of conflict. While sentiment in favor of the ordination of women is strong if not overwhelming in North America, opposition from overseas divisions was a major factor in blocking initiatives for women's equality in the ministry at the General Conference sessions of 1990 and 1995.

Increasing diversity in theological outlook also strained the unity of the church in the second half of the twentieth century. The church's decision in 1909 to, at Ellen White's direction, develop a fully accredited medical school in Loma Linda, California, led in turn to gradual accreditation for the church's undergraduate colleges. The church's system of higher education not only became an engine of Adventist upward mobility in society and professionalization of ministry but also required faculty with the requisite graduate degrees from public universities. The result was a liberal stream of Adventism more open to change and progressive development in doctrine and more interested in engaging the wider society. The Association of Adventist Forums and its publication, Spectrum, established in the late 1960s, have given voice to liberal Adventism.

Scholarly study of Ellen White has probably been the most controversial legacy of liberal Adventism. Prophetess of Health (1976) by Ronald Numbers challenged the widespread view of White's writings as virtually infallible divine revelation by showing her usage of the works of other health reformers and that she changed her views on some topics over time. The work of Numbers and others eventually prompted even the denominational leadership to acknowledge that White's writings were far more dependent on literary sources than previously recognized.

At the same time as the church was being shaken by controversy over Ellen White, an increasingly identifiable "evangelical" movement was taking shape within its ranks. The evangelical Adventists stressed justification by faith alone; affirmed the authority of Scripture over that of Ellen White's writings; and rejected a view deeply cherished in some Adventist circles that the church's mission was to develop a "final generation" of perfectly sanctified believers, which would lead to the Second Coming. Evangelical Adventism became particularly controversial when its foremost advocate, the Australian Desmond Ford, publicly challenged the church's teachings concerning 1844 as lacking a biblical basis and as contrary to justification by faith. Ford was defrocked and scores of ministers and teachers also left denominational employment, but the issues have not gone away.

The American Seventh-Day Adventism of 2000 is, overall, arguably more "evangelical" than it was in the 1960s. Teaching in its schools and congregations tends to be more Christ-centered and more focused on basic Protestant doctrine. Evangelical books and CDs accompany Adventist-produced material on the shelves of church-operated bookstores. It is also more "liberal" in that critical scholarship has become a lasting if embattled presence, relations with other denominations are more congenial, there is greater participation in public affairs, and behavioral standards on such matters as entertainment and wearing of jewelry are less rigid and uniform.

Yet the final quarter of the twentieth century has also seen a reinvigoration of traditional Adventism and its unique identity as a "remnant" of exclusive significance in the culmination of the "great controversy." Thus American Adventism enters the twenty-first century with unresolved questions: Will it be a sect, focusing on its singular importance as the agency for God's truth in the last days, a stance favored by the traditionalists? Or will it, under evangelical and liberal influences, be more like a denomination with, to be sure, distinctive emphases, but at home among the larger family of Christian denominations?

See alsoAdventism; Apocalypse; Church and State; Creationism; Doctrine; Eschatology; Evangelical Christianity; Food; Freedom of Religion; Fundamentalist Christianity; Health; Practice; Premillennialism; Publishing, Religious.


Bull, Malcolm, and Keith Lockhart. Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-Day Adventism and the American Dream. 1989.

Knight, George R. Millennial Fever and the End of theWorld. 1993.

Land, Gary, ed. Adventism in America. 1986.

Numbers, Ronald, and Jonathan Butler, eds. The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century. 1987.

Vance, Laura L. Seventh-Day Adventism in Crisis: Genderand Sectarian Change in an Emerging Religion. 1999.

Douglas Morgan

Seventh-Day Adventism

views updated May 23 2018

Seventh-Day Adventism

Heterodox Christian cult stemming from the teachings of William Miller (1782-1849), formerly a Baptist convert, whose simplistic interpretation of scripture led him to asssert that Christ would return to earth March 21, 1843. He built up a considerable following, but lost support when the return did not take place, even for a revised calculation of October 22, 1844.

His teachings were later modified by the Millerite Hiram Edson in New York State, who claimed that he had a vision which confirmed that Miller was right about the time of redemption but wrong about the place, which should have been the "heavenly sanctuary" and not the earth. Edson's doctrine was further developed by "Father Bates" (former sea captain), Elder James White of the S.D.A. church which had been organized in 1860 and his wife Ellen G. White.

Since then, S.D.A. has built up a membership claimed at over two million in the United States and abroad. Two of its doctrinal points influenced Charles Taze Russell (1870-1916) in the formation of his evangelical cult of 'Russellites' which became known as Jehovah's Witnesses under Joseph Rutherford (1916-1942). These doctrines were those of a "soul-sleep" after death, and of annihilation of the wicked. Other specifically S.D.A. doctrines include the concept of a completion of Christ's atonement which had remained unfinished and the need to observe the Sabbath on Saturday.


Land, Gary, ed. Adventism in America. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986.

Nichol, Francis D. The Midnight Cry. Tacoma Park, Md.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1944.

seventh-day adventists

views updated May 29 2018

seventh-day adventists. Largest of a group of sects focusing on the Second Coming—the return of Christ in glory to judge the living and the dead. They originated in the USA in 1831 when William Miller, a baptist farmer, announced the Coming for 1843, recalculated to 1844. When that failed to happen Miller recanted, but Ellen (Harmon) White held that Christ had in fact come to cleanse the sanctuary of heaven, thus commencing the Final Judgement. This would take place quietly, with evildoers annihilated rather than eternally damned. Her followers observed the sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, hence their name, adopted in 1861. They practised believer's baptism. Other distinctive beliefs included the sleep of the soul after death. Originally vegetarian and opposed to political activity and state education, they have become widely regarded for the medical and educational emphasis of their missionary work. They reached England in 1878 with a mission to Southampton.

Clyde Binfield

Seventh-day Adventists

views updated May 17 2018

Seventh-day Adventists Christian denomination whose members expect Jesus Christ to return to Earth in person. They hold the Sabbath on Saturday, and accept the Bible literally as their guide for living. The sect was formally organized in the USA in 1863, and today it is the largest Adventist denomination, with followers in many countries.

About this article

Seventh-Day Adventists

All Sources -
Updated Aug 18 2018 About content Print Topic