Seventh-day Adventists

A religious denomination that grew from the work of William Miller* (d.1849), who began to preach that the end of the world was at hand, that a fiery conflagration would usher in the new heaven and the new earth, and that the date for this would be sometime between 21 March 1843 and 21 March 1844. The movement weathered its first difficulty when the deadline passed; another date was set: 22 October 1844. A general apocalyptic fervor aided the growth of the group, and it soon had between 50,000 and 100,000 adherents. The new date passed, and the early Millerite fervor was largely diminished. A few, however, continued to believe that the end was near. One of these, Hiram Edson, saw a vision of Christ entering the second compartment of heaven. This proved to Edson that Miller's prophetic calculations were correct, though the event foretold was not the Second Advent, but the opening of an investigative judgment in heaven to determine who among the dead are worthy of resurrection.

Other adventists believed that the Second Coming* had been hindered by their failure to maintain the biblical law of keeping the seventh day as the Sabbath. Sabbath-keeping was also confirmed by visions, especially those of Ellen G. White* (d.1915), whose importance to the movement cannot be overstressed. Although possessing only a third grade education, she wrote 45 major books and over 4,000 articles. One of her works, Steps to Christ, sold more than 5 million copies and appeared in 85 languages. The early Adventists were found chiefly in the New England states, but by 1855 their westward expansion was marked by the establishment of a headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan. The denomination was organized in 1863, and by 1874 their first missionary, J.N. Andrews, was sent out.

Seventh-day Adventists today believe that the only prophetic texts awaiting fulfillment concern their church and its ministry. When the Gospel message has been proclaimed throughout the world and the church has grown to its predetermined size, then the end of the age will come. At that time the righteous dead will be raised and together with the righteous living will be taken to heaven, where they will spend the Millennium. While believers enjoy heavenly bliss, Satan will be left on earth for 1,000 years. At the end of this period, Christ will descend with His saints, destroy the wicked with fire, and create a new earth with the New Jerusalem as its center. Adventists also teach soul sleep, free will, the deity of Christ, and believer's baptism by immersion. Holy Communion is observed four times a year, preceded by a foot-washing service. The Sabbath, from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday, is scrupulously observed. Despite the relatively low economic status of its membership, insistence on tithing has led to the church's being among the leading American churches in per capita giving.

Adventists operate parochial schools from primary through university level. They also insist upon the proper care of the body, abstaining from foods forbidden in the OT such as pork, ham, and shellfish; do not smoke or drink; and conduct an extensive medical program with hospitals and clinics centering at Loma Linda University in California. The church also opposes secret societies, card playing, gambling, and the use of jewelry and cosmetics. “Worldly entertainments” such as motion pictures, television, the theater, and dancing are also avoided by them.

The church operates a sizable publishing industry. Their leading paper, Review and Herald, is one of the oldest continuously published religious periodicals in America. Adventists have a congregational government which is tied to a series of local and national conferences. The denomination's activities are centralized in the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists at Washington, D.C. Sessions of this group consisting of delegates elected from the local conferences meet every four years. Between sessions of the world conference, business is conducted by an executive committee. About four-fifths of the church's 2.5 million members live outside North America.

F.D. Nichol, The Midnight Cry (1944); L.E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (4 vols., 1946-54); A.W. Spalding, Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists (4 vols., 1961-62); A.A. Hoekema, The Four Major Cults (1963); D.F. Neufeld (ed.), Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (1966); B. Wilson, Religious Sects, A Sociological Study (1970); E.S. Gaustad (ed.), The Rise of Adventism (1974).