History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church: Wikis


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Part of a series on
Seventh-day Adventism
James and Ellen White

Background and history
Christianity · Protestantism
Anabaptists · Restorationism
Pietism · Millerites
Great Disappointment
Fundamentalism · Evangelicalism

Ellen G. White
James White · Joseph Bates
J. N. Andrews · Uriah Smith
J. H. Kellogg · M. L. Andreasen
H. M. S. Richards · George Vandeman
F. D. Nichol · Le Roy Froom
Edward Heppenstall · Samuele Bacchiocchi
Desmond Ford · Richard Rice

Distinctive teachings
Sabbath · Conditional Immortality
Historicism · Premillennialism
Investigative judgment · Remnant
Three Angels' Messages
End times

Criticism of Ellen White

Other Adventists
Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement
Davidian SDA (Shepherd's Rod)
Advent Christian Church
Church of God General Conference
Branch Davidian

The Seventh-day Adventist Church had its roots in the Millerite movement of the 1830s and 1840s, and was officially founded in 1863. Prominent figures in the early church included Hiram Edson, James Springer White and his wife Ellen G. White, Joseph Bates, and J. N. Andrews. Over the ensuing decades the church expanded from its original base in New England to become an international organization. Significant developments in the 20th century led to its recognition as a Christian denomination.

One source defines periods of early "radicalism", followed by a fundamentalist "Golden Age" in the early twentieth century.[1]



The 19th Century provided ideal conditions for the Second Great Awakening a revival movement in the United States. Religious diversity was paramount and many minority movements were formed. Some of these movements held beliefs that would later be adopted by the Seventh-day Adventists.

An interest in prophecy was kindled among some Protestants groups following the arrest of Pope Pius VI in 1798 by the French General Louis Alexandre Berthier. Forerunners of the Adventist movement believed that this event marked the end of the 1260 day prophecy from the Book of Daniel.[2][3] Certain individuals began to look at the 2300 day prophecy found in Daniel 8:14. In 1768, Calvinist pastor Johann Petri used the year-day principle to calculate the end of this period as the year 1847. Hans Wood, an Irish layman reached the same conclusions as Petri; however, due to a different commencement date his calculations pointed to 1880.[2] Interest in prophecy also found its way into the Roman Catholic church when an exiled Jesuit priest by the name of Manuel de Lacunza published a manuscript calling for renewed interest in the Second Coming of Christ. His publication created a stirring but was later condemned by Pope Leo XII in 1824.[2]

As a result of a pursuit for religious freedom, many revivalists had set foot in the United States, aiming to avoid persecution.[citation needed] [4]

Early History

1843 prophetic chart illustrating numerous interpretations of prophecy yielding the year 1843

Millerite Roots

The Seventh-day Adventist Church formed out of the movement known today as the Millerites. In 1831, a Baptist convert, William Miller (until then a Deist), was asked by a Baptist to preach in their church and began to preach that the Second Advent of Jesus would occur somewhere between 1843 and 1844, based on his interpretation of Daniel 8:14. A following gathered around Miller that included many from the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Christian Connection churches. After a number of revisions, October 22 was considered the most probable date that the return would occur. By 1844, over 100,000 people were anticipating what Miller had dubbed as the "Blessed Hope". On October 22 many of the believers were up late into the night watching, waiting for Christ to return and found themselves bitterly disappointed when both sunset and midnight passed with their expectations unfulfilled. This event later became known as the Great Disappointment.

An alternate explanation of the "sanctuary"

After the upset of October 22 many of Miller's followers were left upset and disillusioned. One of the Adventists, Hiram Edson (1806-1882) wrote "Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. It seemed that the loss of all earthly friends could have been no comparison. We wept, and wept, till the day dawn."[5] However, a few remained in the church. These people gathered together and spent much time in devoted prayer and study of the Bible. On the morning of October 23, Edson, who lived in Port Gibson, New York was passing through his grain field with a friend where he claimed to have seen a vision. Edson later recounted:

"We started, and while passing through a large field I was stopped about midway of the field. Heaven seemed opened to my view, and I saw distinctly and clearly 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 2300 days [calculated to be October 22, 1844], 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 the earth."[6]

Edson shared what he believed he saw with many of the local Adventists who were greatly encouraged by his account. As a result Edson began studying the bible with two of the other believers in the area, O.R.L. Crosier and Franklin B. Hahn, who published their findings in a paper called Day-Dawn. This paper explored the biblical parable of the Ten Virgins and attempted to explain why the bridegroom had tarried. The article also explored the concept of the day of atonement and what the authors called "our chronology of events".[7][8]

The findings published by Crosier, Hahn and Edson led to a new understanding about the sanctuary in heaven. Their paper explained how there was a sanctuary in heaven, that Christ, the High Priest, was to cleanse. The believers understood this cleansing to be what the 2300 days in Daniel was referring to.[9]

George Knight wrote, "Although originally the smallest of the post-Millerite groups, it came to see itself as the true successor of the once-powerful Millerite movement."[10] This view was endorsed by Ellen White. However, Seeking a Sanctuary sees it more as an offshoot of the Millerite movement.

The "Sabbath and Shut Door" Adventists were disparate, but slowly emerged. Only Joseph Bates had had any prominence in the Millerite movement.[11]

Adventists viewed themselves as heirs of earlier outcast belivers such as the Waldenses, Protestant Reformers including the Anabaptists, English and Scottish Puritans, evangelicals of the 18th century including Methodists, Seventh Day Baptists, and others who rejected established church traditions.[12]

Sabbath observance

A young Seventh Day Baptist layperson named Rachel Oakes Preston living in New Hampshire was responsible for introducing Sabbath to the Millerite Adventists. Due to her influence Frederick Wheeler began keeping the seventh day as Sabbath, probably in the early spring of 1844. Several members of the Washington, New Hampshire church he occasionally ministered to also followed his decision. These included William and Cyrus Farnsworth. T. M. Preble soon accepted it either from Wheeler or directly from Oakes. These events were shortly followed by the Great Disappointment.

Preble promoted Sabbath through the February 28, 1845 issue of the Hope of Israel. In March he published his Sabbath views in tract form. Although he returned to observing Sunday in the next few years, his writing convinced Joseph Bates and J. N. Andrews. These men in turn convinced James and Ellen White, as well as Hiram Edson and hundreds of others.[13]

Bates proposed that a meeting should be organised between the believers in New Hampshire and Port Gibson. At this meeting, which occurred sometime in 1846 at Edson's farm, Edson and other Port Gibson believers readily accepted Sabbath and at the same time forged an alliance with Bates and two other folk from New Hampshire who later became very influential in the Adventist church, James and Ellen G. White. Between April, 1848, and December of 1850 twenty-two "Sabbath conferences" were held in New York and New England. These meetings were often seen as opportunities for leaders such as James White, Joseph Bates, Stephen Pierce and Hiram Edson to discuss and reach conclusions about doctrinal issues.[14]

While initially it was believed that Sabbath started at 6pm, by 1855 it was generally accepted that Sabbath begins at Friday sunset.[citation needed]

The Present Truth (see below) was largely devoted to Sabbath at first. J. N. Andrews was the first Adventist to write a book-length defense of Sabbath, first published in 1861.


For much of the 1800s, a majority of the Adventist leaders supported the doctrine of Arianism (although Ellen G. White was not one of them).[15] This, along with the movement's other theological views, led most Christian denominations to regard it as a cult. However, the Adventist Church adopted the Trinity early in the 20th century and began to dialogue with other Protestant groups toward the middle of the century, eventually gaining wide recognition as a Christian church.

The Present Truth

First edition of The Present Truth

On November 18, 1848, Ellen White had a vision in which God told her that her husband should start a paper. In 1849, James, determined to publish this paper, went to find work as a farm-hand to raise sufficient funds. After Ellen had another one of her visions, she told James that he was to not worry about funds but to set to work on producing the paper to be printed. James readily obeyed, writing from the aid "of a pocket Bible, Cruden's Condensed Concordance, and an abridged dictionary with one of its covers off." Thanks to a generous offer by the printer to delay charges, the group of Advent believers had 1000 copies of the first publication printed. They sent the publication, which was on the topic of Sabbath, to friends and colleagues they believe would find it of interest.[16][17] In total 11 issues were published, in 1849 and 1850.

Formal Organization

In 1860, the fledging movement finally settled on the name, Seventh-day Adventist, representative of the church's distinguishing beliefs. Three years later, on May 21, 1863, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was formed and the movement became an official organization.

Ellen G. White (1827-1915), while holding no official role, was the dominant personality and moved the denomination to a concentration on missionary and medical work. Beginning in the 1890s, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was impacted by the Holiness Movement. Borrowing from the holiness movement, Albion Fox Ballenger and Sarepta M. I. Henry sought to bring together law and gospel themes, and thereby fill a spiritual need not met by Adventist emphasis on moral behavior. Revival focused on being filled with the Holy Spirit and healing. Mission and medical work continues to play a central role in the 21th century.

Until 1870 the church had a "shut door" policy focused on veterans of the 1844 experience, seeing them as a saving remnant. The membership was only 5,400 and the door was shut to new members. Under White's guidance the denomination in the 1870s turned to missionary work and revivals, tripling its membership to 16,000 by 1880; rapid growth continued, with 75,000 members in 1901. By this time operated two colleges, a medical school, a dozen academies, 27 hospitals, and 13 publishing houses.

By 1945, the church reported 226,000 members in the US and Canada, and 380,000 elsewhere; the budget was $29 million and enrollment in church schools was 40,000.

Political views

The Adventists had closely followed American politics, matching current events to the predictions in the Bible. They were alienated and hostile, for the government tolerated slavery and seemed to have lost its pure republicanism. Their magazines showed the U.S. government as an ugly monster. Under White's guidance the alienation softened. Adventists by the 1890s believed that the government might become a dangerous beast (as depicted in Revelation chapter 13), but had not reached that stage yet. The graphic images of government now depicted a friendly looking American buffalo.

"Seventh-day" means the observance of the original Sabbath, Saturday, is still a sacred obligation. Adventists argued that just as the rest of the Ten Commandments had not been revised, so also the injunction to "remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" remained in full force. But this theological point turned the young group into a powerful force for religious liberty. Growing into its full stature in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these Adventists opposed Sunday laws on every side. Many were arrested for working on Sunday. In fighting against the real threat of a legally established National Day of worship, these Sabbatarians had to fight for their liberty on a daily basis. Soon, they were fighting for religious liberty on a broader, less parochial basis.

The fear that other Protestants would establish a Christian Sunday expanded into opposition to the establishment of a "Christian" identity for the nation, and opposition to school prayer. This led to alliances with secularists in the American political spectrum.

In the 20th century premillennial fundamentalism and political conservatism are often associated with each other. The premillennialism of Seventh-day Adventists, however, has not shared the outlook of that conservatism. The Adventists' views on race, prohibition, religious pluralism, the observance of the Sabbath (in the context of establishing Sunday as a national day of rest), and other matters exhibit similarities and differences when compared to the views of premillennial fundamentalists. Adventists have wanted to keep America Protestant, but they stressed liberty as the essence of Protestantism and thus helped to expand American religious pluralism.[18]

Worldwide Mission

In 1874 J. N. Andrews became the first official Adventist missionary to travel overseas. Working in Switzerland, he sought to organise the Sabbath-keeping companies under one umbrella.[19][20]

Regional Conferences in the United States

In the United States separate Conferences exist for white Americans and African-Americans. However, many of the so called "white" conferences are integrated with African Americans, Latino Americans and other ethnic groups. This integration is reflected in the church membership and leadership positions of the "white" conferences.[21]

Later History

Graph of church membership over time

1888 General Conference

In 1888, a General Conference Session occurred in Minneapolis. This session involved a discussion between the then General Conference president, G. I. Butler; editor of the review, Uriah Smith; and a group led by E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones about the meaning of "Righteousness by Faith" and the meaning of the law in Romans and Galatians. Ellen G. White also addressed the conference.

Early 20th century

The early 20th-century brought with it new challenges to Adventist faith and practice. The death of Adventist prophetess Ellen G. White in 1915 brought new questions about how the church would continue without a living prophet. Adventist leaders participated in a variety of Fundamentalist prophetic conferences during and soon after World War I. The 1919 Bible Conference was a pivotal theological event that looked at how Adventists interpreted Bible prophecy and the legacy of Ellen White's writings for the church. The 1919 Bible Conference also had a polarizing influence on Adventist theology with progressives such as A. G. Daniells and W. W. Prescott pitted against traditionalists like Benjamin G. Wilkinson, J. S. Washburn, and Claude Holmes.

Fundamentalism was dominant in the church in the early 20th century.[22] George Knight dates it from 1919 to 1950.

The edited transcripts of the 1952 Bible Conference were published as Our Firm FoundationDjVu.

Mid 20th century

The mid 20th century saw a series of conferences take place between Adventist leaders and evangelicals Walter Martin and Donald Barnhouse. These discussions led ultimately to the publication in 1957 of a doctrinal exposition called Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine. Questions on Doctrine together with the follow up book by Martin, The truth about Seventh-day Adventism (1960), convinced many Protestants that the Adventist church was not a cult but instead an orthodox Christian church. It also ignited a storm of controversy within Adventism, as M. L. Andreasen and others argued that the church leadership had seriously compromised historic Adventist theology.

According to Raymond Cottrell, the 1952 Bible Conference led to a 15 year theological climate of freedom and openness in the church, though not by the design of the conveners. Without this freedom of objectivity the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary could never have been written, according to its editor-in-chief Francis D. Nichol.[23]

During the 1960s, Australian Robert Brinsmead created a controversy with the promotion of his historic "Awakening" message. Desmond Ford and Edward Heppenstall were his chief opponents. Brinsmead would repeatedly change his views over the following decades.

Raymond Cottrell described the period 1969-1979 as "the decade of obscurantism" in which a "triumvirate" consisting of General Conference President Robert H. Pierson, Gordon M. Hyde and Gerhard Hasel attempted to gain control of Adventist biblical studies.[24]

In the 1970s Kenneth Wood and Herbert Douglass, editors of the Review and Herald, began to emphasize historic Adventist teachings such as sinless perfection of a final generation, which was opposed by many other Adventists.[25]

Internal disputes

The major doctrinal conflicts that troubled the movement throughout the last third of the twentieth century include disputes over the nature of Ellen White's inspiration and authority, challenges to orthodox Adventist interpretations of Daniel 8, and debates over the role of good works in salvation. As with many doctrinal crises among evangelical Protestant churches, these conflicts often arose in disputes between the church's academics, increasingly trained in secular academic traditions, and its more theologically conservative, even reactionary, clerical administrators. In each case these controversies revealed an ambivalence by Adventists toward other Christians and secular society. They asked, are we like them or different, and how much does it matter? It was a crisis of identity for the church.[26]

Role of women

Although the denomination was formed by a woman at a time women were not generally allowed in pulpits, the Adventists reversed policy at the same time most denominations became more accepting of women leaders. When Adventists wanted to emphasize their separation from the world, they denounced the gender roles of the larger society, and when they de-emphasized separatism and moved toward accommodation, they advocated gender norms, behaviors, and expectations similar to those of Fundamentalists.[27]

Late 20th century and beyond

Desmond Ford convinced Robert Brinsmead his perfectionism was incorrect in about 1970.[28] During the 1970s, what is now the Adventist Review carried articles by editor Kenneth Wood and associate editor Herbert Douglass rejecting Questions on Doctrine and arguing for a final perfect generation.[28]

The General Conference addressed this controversy over "righteousness by faith" by holding a conference in Palmdale, California in 1976.[28] Ford was the "center of attention", and the resulting document known as the "Palmdale statement"DjVu.[29][30]

The 1970s and 1980s saw Ellen G. White's writings come under attack by Walter Rea and others, who charged the Adventist prophetess with plagiarism. At the same time, Adventist scholars such as Arthur Patrick intensely studied White's writings and concluded that White was not inerrant (compare Biblical inerrancy).[31] This gradually changed the way that the church as a whole has used White's writings in matters of doctrine.

The 1980 General Conference session, held in Dallas, produced the church's first official declaration of beliefs voted by the world body, called the 27 Fundamental Beliefs. (This list of beliefs has since been expanded to the present 28 Fundamentals).

Firing of Desmond Ford

The year 1980 also saw the Adventist church become embroiled in a crisis over its investigative judgment teaching, known as the Glacier View controversy. This precipitated a major schism within the church, the effects of which have persisted well into the 21st century.[32]

Subsequent history

Dale Ratzlaff left the church in 1981, over doctrinal issues, mainly Sabbath and Covenant Theology.

The book Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream was first published in 1989, becoming the "best available study of American Seventh-day Adventism" according to Gary Land,[28] and updated and enlarged in 2007,[33] it "remains the foremost work on this denomination."[28]

In the 1990 Robert S. Folkenberg became president of the General Conference. He suggested four areas of emphasis for the church that were embraces by church leaders throughout the world-- 1. Assurance in Jesus 2. Global Missions 3. Organizational Restructuring 4. Involving Youth and Young Adults in all aspects of the church.

In 1990 the first "Valuegenesis" survey of students in North American Adventist schools was conducted, with a follow-up survey in 2000.

Proposals supporting the ordination of women were turned down at General Conference Sessions in 1990 in Indianapolis and 1996 in Utrecht. Western representatives generally supported women's ordination, while those from developing nations generally rejected it.

In 1999 Jan Paulsen was elected president of the General Conference. The Seventh-day Adventist Church added more than one million members a year during the early years of the 21st Century.

Video addresses from the then-president of the United States George W. Bush, and Hillary Clinton, were made to the church to celebrate its 150th anniversary.[34]

See also

Further reading

  • Damsteegt, Gerard. DamsteegtFoundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message & Mission Andrews University Press (publisher's page)
  • Edwards, Calvin W. and Gary Land. Seeker After Light: A F Ballenger, Adventism, and American Christianity. (2000). 240pp online review
  • Gary Land, ed. Historical Dictionary of Seventh-day Adventists
  • Gary Land, ed. Adventism in America: A History, 2nd edition. Andrews University Press (publisher's page)
  • Land, Gary. "At the Edges of Holiness: Seventh-Day Adventism Receives the Holy Ghost, 1892-1900." Fides et Historia 2001 33(2): 13-30
  • Morgan, Douglas. Adventism and the American Republic: The Public Involvement of a Major Apocalyptic Movement. (2001). 269 pp. publisher's page, about Adventists and religious freedom
  • Morgan, Douglas. "Adventism, Apocalyptic, and the Cause of Liberty," Church History, Vol. 63, No. 2 (Jun., 1994), pp. 235-249 in JSTOR
  • Neufield, Don F. ed. Seventh-Day Adventist Encyclopedia (10 vol 1976), official publication
  • Pearson, Michael. Millennial Dreams and Moral Dilemmas: Seventh-day Adventism and Contemporary Ethics. (1990, 1998) excerpt and text search, looks at issues of marriage, abortion, homosexuality
  • Schwarz, Richard. Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (3rd ed. 2000), official history
  • Vance, Laura L. Seventh-day Adventism Crisis: Gender and Sectarian Change in an Emerging Religion. (1999). 261 pp.

Primary sources


  1. ^ Seeking a Sanctuary
  2. ^ a b c Schwarz, Richard W.; Greenleaf, Floyd (2000) [1979]. "The Great Advent Awakening". Light Bearers (Revised ed.). Silver Spring, Maryland: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Department of Education. ISBN 081631795X. 
  3. ^ "Prophecy Chart". http://www.lightministries.com/id9.htm#12_. Retrieved 2006-06-08. 
  4. ^ This information comes from Light Bearers by Schwarz and Greenleaf.
  5. ^ Edson, Hiram. manuscript fragment on his "Life and Experience," n.d.. Ellen G. White Research Center, James White Library, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Mich.. pp. 4–5. 
  6. ^ F. D. Nichol. The Midnight Cry. p. 458. 
  7. ^ O. R. L. Crosier (February 7 1846). "The Law of Moses". Day-Star Extra. 
  8. ^ Howard Krug (2002). "October Morn - Adventism's Day of Insight". Adventist Review. 
  9. ^ P. Gerard Damsteegt (Fall 1992). "How Our Pioneers Discovered the Sanctuary Doctrine". Adventists Affirm. 
  10. ^ http://www.adventistreview.org/2001-1524/story5.html
  11. ^ Light Bearers, p55–56
  12. ^ Arthur Patrick, Adventist Studies: An Annotated Introduction for Higher Degree Students
  13. ^ material above summarised from Light Bearers to the Remnant
  14. ^ Neufield, D (1976). Sabbath Conferences. pp. 1255–1256. 
  15. ^ Jerry A. Moon (2003), "The Adventist Trinity Debate Part 1: Historical Overview", Andrews University Seminary Studies Vol 41. No. 1 (Andrews University Press), http://www.sdanet.org/atissue/trinity/moon/moon-trinity1.htm 
  16. ^ "White Estate on Present Truth". http://www.whiteestate.org/vault/pt.asp. Retrieved 2006-07-22. 
  17. ^ "Our Roots and Mission from AR". http://www.adventistreview.org/2005bulletin/history.html. Retrieved 2006-07-22. 
  18. ^ Morgan (1994)
  19. ^ See Stefan Hoschele, From the End of the World to the Ends of the Earth: The Development of Seventh-day Adventist Missiology (Nurnberg: Verlag fur Theologie und Religionswissenschaft, 2004)
  20. ^ "APL Gallery". http://www.aplib.org/Gallery.htm. Retrieved 2006-03-27. 
  21. ^ "The Beginning of Regional Conferences in the US" blogs by Jeff Crocombe – part one, August 7, 2006; Part two, August 26, 2006; part three, September 5, 2006
  22. ^ Historians such as George Knight, Arnold Reye, Lester Devine, Gilbert Valentine and Mark Pearce document its impact
  23. ^ "The Untold Story of the Bible Commentary" by Raymond Cottrell, in Spectrum 16:3 (August 1985), p. 35–51. (This reference p. 46–47). Nichol's viewpoint is represented by Cottrell
  24. ^ Raymond Cottrell, The "Sanctuary Doctrine" - Asset or Liability?
  25. ^ The Shaking of Adventism
  26. ^ See Vance (1999)
  27. ^ See Vance (1999)
  28. ^ a b c d e "Righteousness by Faith" entry in Historical Dictionary of Seventh-day Adventists by Gary Land
  29. ^ Adventists: Heirs of the Reformation, chapter 1 of The Shaking of Adventism by Geoffrey J. Paxton
  30. ^ "Christ Our Righteousness" (DjVu). Adventist Review (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald) 153 (22): 4–7. ISSN 0161-1119. http://www.adventistarchives.org/docs/RH/RH1976-22/index.djvu?djvuopts&page=4. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  31. ^ Arthur Patrick. "Re-visioning the Role of Ellen White, and other papers". http://www.sdanet.org/atissue/white/patrick/index.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-18. 
  32. ^ Dr. Milton_Hook (2006). "Sydney Australia Adventist Forum remembers Glacier View twenty-five years later". http://www.atoday.com/news/atnewsbreak/2006/01/16. Retrieved 2007-01-18. 
  33. ^ Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart. Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream, 2nd edn. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007
  34. ^ 150th anniversary addresses by George Bush and Hillary Clinton on YouTube

External links

Adventist history blogs:


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