What is Seventh-day Adventism?
The Seventh-day Adventist Church (abbreviated SDA) is a denomination that grew out of the prophetic Millerite movement in the United States during the middle part of the 19th century. It considers itself a branch of Protestant Christianity, though differences in doctrine and practice have led some mainstream Christians to dispute that designation.
The name of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination indicates its two main distinctive characteristics: Sabbath observance on the seventh day (i.e., Saturday) and an expectation that the end of the world is drawing near.
Other distinguishing characteristics include adherence to the teachings of Ellen G. White (who is regarded as a prophe), and various dietary observances rooted in Jewish law.
As of 2005, the Seventh-day Adventist Church had 12 million baptized members and about 25 million total members and adherents worldwide. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is one of the world's fastest-growing organizations, primarily due to increases in Third World membership. It now operates in 203 out of 228 countries recognized by the United Nations.
The Adventist movement has its roots in the 19th-century "Millerite movement," which centered on the belief that Jesus would return on October 22, 1844. William Miller (1782-1849) was a farmer who settled in upstate New York after the war of 1812. He was originally a Deist, but after much private Bible study, Miller converted to Christianity and became a Baptist. He was convinced that the Bible contained coded information about the end of the world and the Second Coming of Jesus. In 1836, he published the book Evidences from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ about the Year 1843.
The prediction of the year 1843 was based in large part on Daniel 8:14: "And he said onto me, unto 2,300 days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." Miller believed the "2,300 days" referred to 2,300 years and that the countdown began in 457 BC. He concluded that the "cleansing of the sanctuary" (interpreted as the Second Coming) would occur sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.
When these dates passed, Samuel Snow, a follower of Miller, interpreted the "tarrying time" referred to in Habakkuk 2:3 as equal to 7 months and 10 days, thus delaying the end time to October 22, 1844. When this date also passed uneventfully, many followers left the movement in what is now termed "The Great Disappointment." Miller himself gradually withdrew from the leadership of the group and died in 1849.
Miller's followers who remained in the movement called themselves Adventists, and taught that the expectation had been fulfilled in a way that had not previously been understood. Further Bible study led to the belief that Jesus in that year had entered into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary, and began an "investigative judgment" of the world: a process through which there is an examination of the heavenly records to "determine who, through repentance of sin and faith in Christ, are entitled to the benefits of His atonement" after which time Jesus will return to earth. According to the church's teaching, the return of Christ may occur very soon, though nobody knows the exact date of that event (Matthew 24:36).
For about 20 years, the Adventist movement was a rather unorganized group of people who held to this message. Among its greatest supporters were James White, Ellen G. White and Joseph Bates. Later, a formally organized church called the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was established in Battle Creek, Michigan, on May 21, 1863, with a membership of 3,500.
Primarily through the evangelism and inspiration of Ellen G. White, who was regarded as a prophet, the church quickly grew and established a presence beyond North America during the later part of the 1800s. In 1903, the denominational headquarters were moved from Battle Creek to Washington D.C. and the neighboring community of Takoma Park, Maryland.
In 1929, a new sect was formed by Victor Houteff, whose beliefs differed from mainline Adventist teachings. The sect was called the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. This group further subdivided into other groups that included the Students of the Seven Seals, popularly known as the Branch Davidians. This off-shoot of the Seventh-day Adventist movement, which became widely known due to David Koresh and 1993 Waco, Texas conflagration, held very little in common with the rest of Adventism.
In 1989, the headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was moved to Silver Spring, Maryland.
Seventh-day Adventist doctrine is rooted in the Anabaptist Protestant tradition. Adventist doctrine resembles mainstream orthodox trinitarian Protestant theology, with a few exceptions such as the following.
- Adventism. Belief in an imminent, pre-millennial, universally visible second advent, preceded by a time of trouble when the righteous will be persecuted and a false second coming where Satan impersonates the Messiah.
- Ellen G. White. Teaching that the "Spirit of Prophecy," an identifying mark of the remnant church, was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White, whom Adventists recognize as the Lord's messenger. Her "writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction."(28 Fundamental Beliefs) They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teachings and experience must be tested.
- State of the dead. Seventh-day Adventists believe that death is a sleep during which the "dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5). This view maintains that the person has no conscious form of existence until the resurrection, either at the second coming of Jesus (in the case of the righteous) or after the millennium of Revelation 20 (in the case of the wicked). Because of this view, Seventh-day Adventists do not believe hell currently exists and believe further that the wicked will be destroyed at the end of time.
Seventh-day Adventists oppose the formulation of credal statements and prefer to view the fundamental beliefs as descriptors rather than prescriptors. However, divergence from the published position is frowned upon.
Seventh-day Adventists observe a 24-hour sunset-to-sunset Sabbath commencing Friday evening. Justification for this belief is garnered from the creation account in Genesis in which God rested on the seventh day, an approach later immortalised in the Ten Commandments. Seventh-day Adventists maintain that there is no biblical mandate for the change from the "true Sabbath" to Sunday observance, which is to say that Sunday-keeping is merely a "tradition of men."
Church services follow an evangelical format, with emphasis placed on the sermon. During the week prayer meetings may be conducted and children often attend Adventist schools.
Seventh-day Adventists practice adult baptism by full immersion in a similar manner to the Baptists. Infants are dedicated rather than baptized, as it is argued that baptism requires consent and moral responsibility.
Seventh-day Adventists practice communion four times a year, reflecting their Methodist roots. The communion is an open service (available to members and non-members) and includes a foot-washing ceremony (commonly referred to as the Ordinance of Humility) and consumption of the Lord's Supper.
Seventh-day Adventists do not eat pork or other unclean meat as identified in the book of Leviticus and many avoid all meat for health reasons (see next section).
Missionary outreach of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is aimed at both unbelievers and other Christian churches.
Seventh-day Adventists present a health message that recommends vegetarianism and condones abstinence from pork, shellfish, and other foods proscribed as "unclean" in Leviticus. Alcohol and tobacco are also prohibited.
Dr. John Kellogg, founder of the Kellogg's company and a major supplier of breakfast cereals, was a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Sanitarium Health Food Company, owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is one of Australia's leading manufacturers of health and vegetarian-related products.
Seventh-day Adventists run a large number of hospitals. Their predominant school of medicine in North America is located in Loma Linda, California.
The official Seventh-day Adventist position on abortion is that it is permissable only in exceptional circumstances that present serious moral or medical dilemmas, such as significant threats to the pregnant woman's life, serious jeopardy to her health, severe congenital defects carefully diagnosed in the fetus, and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. While the general tone toward abortion is negative, the individual Adventist may take any position on the political spectrum. Abortions are performed in Adventist hospitals.
Seventh-day Adventists generally condemn homosexuality. The church does not perform gay marriages or holy unions, and gay men cannot be ordained. Homosexuality of a spouse is given as one of the rare acceptable reasons for divorce. The official statement on sexuality states that sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage are forbidden. However, individual Adventists may take a much more liberal position.
Seventh-day Adventists have three levels of ordination: deacons, elders, and pastors. In some Adventist churches only men are eligible for ordination but there are many examples of deaconesses and female elders and pastors. Male pastors are allowed to marry and have families.
Organization beyond the local church is as follows:
- The global church is called the General Conference.
- The General Conference is made up of divisions.
- Divisions are comprised of union conferences.
- Union conferences consist of local conferences.
- Local conferences include local church districts. These are generally ministered to by one pastor each.
- Local districts can contain one to many local churches (congregations). In the United States, these numbers tend to be smaller (2-4 churches per district, perhaps), while in most of the worldwide church, the numbers tend to be larger (5+ per district and per pastor, sometimes as many as 15 or more).
Adventist Church governance, is a mixture of episcopal and presbyterian elements. Each of these local churches has its own elected governing body and office. Almost everything is decided by either elected committees, through vote of members, or representatives from the local churches. Each organization holds a general session at certain intervals. This is usually when general decisions get voted on. The president of the General Conference, for instance, is elected at the General Conference Session every five years. The current head of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is General Conference President Jan Paulsen from Norway.
Churches are governed by a church board formed by members of that church, with the pastor of that congregation. Church property is owned by the conference corporation though, and so this differs from congregational polity. Ministers are ordained by ministers as are lay elders and lay deacons (which is presbyterian rather than congregational or episcopal).
Seventh-day Adventists have had a long interest in education. The Adventist church runs one of the largest education systems in the world. They operate some 5,700 pre-schools, primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges, universities, seminaries and medical schools in about 145 countries worldwide. This education system involves some 66,000 teachers and 1,257,000 students. The Adventist educational program is comprehensive encompassing "mental, physical, social, and spiritual health" with "intellectual growth and service to humanity" its goal.
The Youth Department of the Seventh-day Adventist church runs an organisation for 10-16 year old boys and girls called Pathfinders. For younger children, Adventurer, Eager Beaver, and Little Lambs clubs are available that feed into the Pathfinder program. Pathfinders is similar to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), except that membership is open to both boys and girls.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been active for over 100 years advocating for freedom of religion. In 1893 its leaders founded the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA). They also have been formally active in humanitarian aid for over 50 years (ADRA).
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals who are, or had been, practicing Seventh-day Adventists have formed a social network called SDA Kinship international. SDA Kinship was the subject of a lawsuit by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in an attempt to protect the term "SDA" from use by SDA Kinship. The outcome of the ruling allowed the continued use of the term "SDA Kinship".
- Based in part on "The Seventh-day Adventist Church" from Wikipedia as accessed in October 2005.
- What Adventists Believe - Official Website of Seventh-day Adventist Church