14601 Albemarle Rd., PO Box 690848, Charlotte, NC 28227
The story of Advent Christian beginnings is centered on William Miller (1782–1849). He, and the movement associated with his name (Millerism), stirred America spiritually as few others have, before or since. For years newspapers recorded his every move and message. In the press, the pulpit, and even the political arena, he was praised and condemned, but never ignored. His following was never great—perhaps peaking at 50,000 at the height of his ministry. Few persons of prominence or wealth followed him, but thousands of dedicated Christians gave him a respectful hearing. His career ended anticlimactically in what is often called the “Great Disappointment,” but from his ministry came a great spiritual awakening and the renaissance of long-buried truths.
Miller was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1782. Although Miller’s schooling was limited to three months each winter, he learned to excel in both reading and writing. His parents’home served as a church in the community with his uncle as lay pastor. Early in his youth Miller displayed interest in religion, but in the limited number of books at his disposal were several with an atheistic or deistic approach. The two revolutions, American (1775–1783) and French (1789–1799), had given strong impetus to anticlericalism and anti-Christianity, and in every community rationalists shaped the frontier philosophy, usually at the expense of the church. Probably the best-read book of the period was The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1737–1809), influential philosopher and avowed foe of Christianity. Miller adopted the midway position of deism, which conceded the probable existence of God, but rejected Christ’s claim to sonship or divinity. Still, the influence of a Christian mother and a praying wife began to penetrate the shell of his skepticism. He started to read the Bible and in 1818 returned to a living Christian faith. Thereafter the Word was the center of his life. With his characteristic candor and vigor, he began to proclaim the Gospel as fervently as he had ridiculed it. This activity led him to conflict with his old deistic associates. Their attacks drove him more deeply into Bible study. As he studied the Word, he was impressed by the prominence given to the return of Christ. Almost totally neglected in the pulpit and in Christian thought of the time, it was literally a “buried truth.”
As he traced scriptural development of the hope of Christ’s return, he found himself intrigued by the Old Testament evidence and the trail of fulfilled prophecy that marked the unfolding of history. In the book of Daniel he discovered a series of mathematical symbols that fascinated him. The most striking of these is in Daniel 12:9–13:
And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.
Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.
And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.
Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days.
But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.
A similar statement, found in Daniel 8:14 became the key in his findings: “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” Transforming these “days” into calendar years by the “year-day” theory, which was the accepted pattern of interpretation of the period, and finding certain anchor dates in known historical events, Miller became convinced that the return of Christ would take place between 1843 and 1844. He presented his case in his own and neighboring communities and gained many followers.
Again, Miller followed an accepted plan of interpretation, by which days, even when massed in months and years, each represented a year. Many others lost courage at the point of application. Miller dared to stand upon his findings. He put it thus:
The first proof we have as it respects Christ’s Second Coming, as to the time is in Daniel 8:14: “Unto two thousand three hundred days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” By “days” we are to understand years; “sanctuary” we understand as the church; “cleansed” we may reasonably suppose means that complete redemption from sin, soul and body, after the resurrection, when Christ comes the second time, without sin, unto salvation.
Following his return to the church and his studies in Scripture, Miller was ordained a local preacher by the Baptist circuit of Hampton and Whitehall. In 1831, he began to proclaim the coming of the Lord. It seems to have been about two years later that he made time-setting a major point of emphasis.
However, this was never a monomania with him. The main theme of his preaching throughout his life was evangelistic, a plea for repentance and reception of Christ as the savior of humankind. His proudest boast was that through his ministry, 500 infidels had been converted.
As the impending end of the world found a larger place in his preaching, he found himself in greater demand through the border communities and the Lake George area in northern New York. In 1843, he wrote to a friend that he was devoting all of his time to lecturing. By this time, disciples were beginning to carry the message in a widening perimeter.
Miller’s fame spread and invitations came from more distant places. One of the first of these was from Lowell, Massachusetts. This trip brought him one of his most illustrious converts and his biographer, Sylvester Bliss (1814–1863). Then came a confrontation with Joshua V. Himes (1805–1895) in 1839 that transformed the course of the crusade. Up until this meeting, Miller had conducted a one-man ministry, answering invitations and traveling at his own expense in obedience to what he believed firmly to be a mandate from God.
Himes, pastor of the Chardon Chapel Church in Boston, Massachusetts, was impressed with Miller and invited him to a series of meetings in his church. Himes was a promotional genius and peer of showman P. T. Barnum (1810–1891). Under the spell of the Himes genius, he became a national figure almost overnight, although a highly controversial one. Campaigns were mapped covering all major American cities. Interest deepened, pro and con, but opposed to thousands of scorners were other thousands who accepted the plea to “flee from the wrath to come.”
Throughout New England, a series of camp meetings drew thousands of the faithful for a week or more of sermons, most of them based on the book of Daniel and illustrated by beast-bestrewn charts, which established that Christ would come in the Jewish calendar year beginning March 21, 1843. The movement would eventually spread west, with workers traveling as far from the Boston base as Minnesota and Wisconsin. Work in the South met more resistance because many of the Millerite preachers (as they were collectively referred) were well-known abolitionists. Still, an impact was made. A camp meeting convert took the message to England and produced a sensation there.
During much of this period, Miller was critically ill at his home, but this did not dampen the ardor of his associates. By the spring of 1844 when the days of “time” were running out, there were more than 1,000 congregations with more than 50,000 believers by Miller’s estimate. But March passed, and the Lord did not come. Miller and Himes apparently were willing to acknowledge their mistake and revert to a “no-man-knoweth-the day-nor-the-hour” position, which had been held throughout the movement by several of Miller’s associates.
While Miller and his close associates were ready to drop time-setting, other leaders were busy with their pencils looking for mathematical errors in the calculation. In August, one of these leaders, Samuel S. Snow (1806–1870), launched the “seventh month” thesis, which proclaimed that the return of the Lord could be expected on October 22, 1844. Miller and Himes were in the West when this declaration was made, and evidence shows that Miller never participated actively in the movement. Himes eventually gave in and supported the October 22 date-fixing.
Tensions reached a fever pitch during the 80 days between the Snow proclamation and the anticipated Last Judgement. Eventually the day came and Christ did not. While the disappointment was crushing, withdrawals were surprisingly few among the thousands who looked for their Lord and pinned their faith on his return. Their faith naturally turned from awaiting the day to the hope itself.
Miller confessed his disappointment and faded from active leadership in the movement, which continued to be called popularly by his name. He remained a respected elder statesman, but withdrew to his home in Low Hampton, New York, where he died in 1849. And so Millerism bowed out. But out of it came the Advent Christian Church.
Doctrinally, the Advent Christian Church continues Miller’s views about the imminent coming of Jesus, with the exception of the date-setting aspects. It recognizes baptism by immersion for believers and has recently tended toward a more reformed theological perspective (while allowing for diversity on this issue). Members of the Advent Christian Church worship on Sunday. They are opposed to setting new dates, but believe that Christ’s return is imminent, a belief based on Bible declarations such as “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”(Matthew 24:36) and “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him”(Luke 12:40).
Organizationally, a congregational government is most prominent. The general conference meets triennially and has charge of the mission and education program. Missions are currently under way in Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Japan, the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Mexico, Honduras, Croatia, Romania, New Zealand, and India. Two retirement centers—the Vernon Advent Christian Home, in Vernon, Vermont, and the Advent Christian Village in Dowling Park, Florida—are supported by the denomination. In 1987 the church joined the National Association of Evangelicals.
In 1999 the church reported 25,702 members, 302 churches, and 409 ministers in the United States; and 240 members, seven churches, and seven ministers in Canada. There were an additional 35,306 members worldwide.
Aurora University, Aurora, Illinois.
Berkshire Christian College, Haverhill, Massachusetts.
The Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies, Lenox, Massachusetts.
Advent Christian Witness. • Maranatha Devotions. • Advent Christian E-Newsletter • Henceforth.
Advent Christian General Conference. www.adventchristian.org/Home/tabid/36/Default.aspx
The Advent Christian Manual. Charlotte, NC: Venture Books, 1987.
Dean, David A. Resurrection: His and Ours. Charlotte, NC: Venture Books, 1976.
Hewitt, Clarence H. The Conditional Principle in Theology. Boston, MA: Clyde and Robert Hewitt, 1954.
Hewitt, Clyde E. Midnight and Morning. Charlotte, NC: Venture Books, 1983.
Kearney, Clarence J. The Advent Christian Story. Author, 1968.
5823 Trammel Rd., PO Box 100,000, Morrow, GA 30260
The Church of God developed in the United States from several independent congregations, including some that had been associated with the Christian Connection, some that had followed William Miller (1782–1849), and some of other persuasions. As early as 1816 Elias Smith (1769–1846) proclaimed the message of the age to come, which the Church of God holds central to its eschatological teachings. Joseph Marsh, an editor for the Christian Connection, and later for William Miller, promoted this teaching following his break with Miller in 1844. Marsh advanced the name Church of God as the only scriptural name of God’s people. Many early Church of God leaders in the east looked to Marsh for direction as he published several highly regarded religious journals and books. A conference was organized in 1856 but it did not last long: There were controversies over organizational structure and how to disperse funds. Through the exchange of journals with other editors preaching doctrines similar to the age to come, congregations in the South and Midwest also became part of the Church of God movement.
After Marsh died in 1863, church leaders looked to the writings of Benjamin Wilson of Geneva, Illinois, who published a religious journal, the Gospel Banner, and the famous Emphatic Diaglott, a unique translation that printed the Greek on one line with the English translation immediately below it. Believers from the Church of God often worshiped together with others, some of whom were Advent Christians, and some who followed the teachings of Dr. John Thomas (1805–1871) and became Christadelphians. This joining of believers from various like-minded congregations was especially prominent in rural congregations on the frontier.
The Church of God reorganized as a general conference in Chicago in 1869. This effort was followed by several conferences in the Midwest, with each state having its own conference. These conferences were somewhat informal, very loosely constituted, and soon ceased for lack of a strong central organization and want of funds. Another call of organization was issued by believers in 1888. Meeting in Philadelphia, the conferees established the General Conference of the Churches of God in Christ Jesus in the United States and Canada. At a conference the following year in Chicago, a disagreement over the rights of the congregations versus the rights of the national conference led the delegates to abandon the new work. The executive board continued to function until 1892, but disbanded due to a lack of mandate from the delegates. Another attempt to reorganize, in Waterloo, Iowa, in 1910, also failed, over a dispute concerning the exact form of the statement of faith. As a people they did not accept standard creeds, but yet could not agree on the articles of faith.
Finally, in 1921 in Waterloo, after a year of prayer and planning, a successful organization was created, and it exists to this day. The new organization was named National Bible Institute. To handle the publishing arm of the new corporation the corporate headquarters was located in Oregon, Illinois, where the Restitution Herald was being published. The organization today calls itself by the old nomenclature popular with the delegates, the Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith. In 1968 the larger Church of God voted to change the name to Church of God General Conference. In 1991 the headquarters of the conference and the Bible College were moved to Morrow, Georgia, near Atlanta.
The Church of God differs from other Adventist churches in its views on Christology and eschatology. As had become increasing common among Adventists, the church emphasizes the one God, denies the Trinity, and sees Jesus as the Son of God, distinct from the Father. The church believes Jesus came into existence when born to the Virgin Mary. Members believe that when Jesus returns he will set up his reign as king in Jerusalem, and the church will be his joint heir. Israel will be established in Palestine as the head of nations. The Christian, through repentance, faith, and baptism for the remission of sins, enters into a covenant with God. Members believe in pursuing a life of Christian living and service. They look forward to the return of Jesus to earth to inaugurate his millennial reign in the age to come, and to usher in the eternal Kingdom of God, which will be the believer’s reward.
A congregational government is the accepted polity. A general conference meets annually.
In 2001 the church reported 5,248 members, 80 ministers, and 89 congregations, and it operated missions in Malawi, Russia, the Philippines, India, Mexico, and Peru.
Atlanta Bible College, Morrow, Georgia.
The Restitution Herald. • Progress Journal. • A Journal from the Radical Reformation.
Affiliated with the Church if God is the Restoration Fellowship, an organization founded in England in 1981 by Anthony Buzzard. In 1982 Buzzard moved to the United States and joined the faculty of the Oregon Bible College (now Atlanta Bible College). In the United States the fellowship works with the Church of God as an educational ministry supplying written material in support of the church’s doctrinal position. In England, a small group remains in existence as a single fellowship.
Church of God General Conference (Abrahamic Faith). www.abccoggc.org/index.html.
Buzzard, Anthony. The Kingdom of God—When & Whence? Oregon, IL: Restoration Fellowship, 1980.
———. What Happens When We Die?: A Biblical View of Death and Resurrection. Oregon, IL: Restoration Fellowship, 1986.
———. Who Is Jesus?: A Plea for a Return to Belief in Jesus, the Messiah. Oregon, IL: Restoration Fellowship, n.d.
Historical Waymarks of the Church of God. Oregon, IL: Church of God General Conference, 1976.
Huffer, Alva C. Systematic Theology. Oregon, IL: Church of God General Conference, 1961.
Mattison, James. The Abrahamic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant. Oregon, IL: Restitution Herald, 1964.
7450 Wilson Mills Rd., Chesterland, OH 44026
The Church of the Blessed Hope, now somewhat aligned with the Christadelphian movement, began with missionary efforts of the Church of God movement (now organized in the Church of God General Conference [Abrahamic Faith]) in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1863, 14 believers in Cleveland formed a Church of God congregation. At the time, the Church of God was a pacifist group and in 1865 the church affirmed its adherence to that belief. In the following decades, the Cleveland congregation had been responsible for the establishment of similar congregations in Unionville and Salem, Ohio. In 1888, the same year the Church of God formed a general conference, these three churches incorporated independently as the Church of the Blessed Hope, though they continued to receive ministers from the Church of God into the 1920s. In 1922 the churches received a pastor from the Christadelphians and from that time forward adopted Christadelphian beliefs and practices and began to use a Christadelphian hymnal.
The church is non-Trinitarian and asserts that there is one God, and that Jesus is his son and advocate. All who accept Christ will be resurrected to live with Christ, according to the church, whereas the unsaved will remain in the grave. The church practices baptism by immersion and observes the memorial meal of breaking bread and drinking wine weekly. The church prohibits participation in war, though some congregations allow members to accept noncombatant service in the armed forces.
The church has articulated its own understanding of the kingdom of God, which it sees as a political entity that will be established by Christ in the future. Its initial members will be a small number of those who are alive when Christ returns (primarily infants, children, a few well-disposed individuals, and the saved believers) and who survive God’s judgment. They will be joined by the resurrected saints. According to the church, Christ will destroy all human government and all competing religions. War and premature death will be abolished. The kingdom will last for 1,000 years, after which the righteous will be granted immortality and God’s direct authority will supersede that of Christ.
Through the twentieth century, other congregations, some Christadelphian in background, affiliated with the Church of the Blessed Hope. The church has tried to establish cordial relationships with the Christadelphians and opens their communion service to them, though that openness has not been reciprocated.
Piepkorn, Arthur C. Profiles in Belief: The Religious Bodies of the United States and Canada. 4 vols. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1977–1979.
c/o Donald Young, 1640 Clay Ave., South Charleston, WV 25312
The Primitive Advent Christian Church developed out of a controversy centering on the preaching of a Rev. Whitman, a minister of the Advent Christian Church in Charleston, West Virginia. The Rev. Whitman opposed both foot washing and rebaptizing reclaimed backsliders. (Backslider means to lapse morally or in the practice of religion.) Proponents of these two practices organized the Primitive Advent Christian Church. On these two points alone, they differ doctrinally from the parent body.
An annual delegated conference meets to carry on the business of the church. It ordains ministers and elects officers. The pastor is the presiding officer in the local church. There are also deacons and elders. The church is small, and all the congregations are in central West Virginia.
In 2002 the church reported 10 congregations, 546 members, and 11 ministers.