Seventh-day Adventists

General Information

Adventists are members of various Christian groups who believe that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent. Their millennial hopes (Millenarianism) were aroused by the preaching of William Miller (1782 - 1849). On the basis of a detailed examination of the Bible, especially the books of Daniel and Revelation, Miller predicted that Mar. 21, 1844, and later that Oct. 22, 1844, would be the day when Christ would return in glory and the Earth would be cleansed by fire, ushering in the millennium - a 1,000 year reign of righteousness and peace before the Last Judgment. When the time passed without event, many believers drifted away.

The faithful remnant of Millerites coalesced into several religious bodies, the most important of which are the Seventh day Adventists and the Advent Christian Church. Leaders of the former group had been influenced by Sabbatarian Baptists; thus, in that denomination, Saturday rather than Sunday is kept as the Sabbath. Seventh day Adventists are noted for their millennialism and Sabbatarianism.

P G Damsteegt, Foundations of the Seventh day Adventists: Message and Mission (1977); E S Gaustad, ed., The Rise of Adventism (1975); A A Hoekema, Seventh-day Adventism (1974); G Land, ed., Adventism in America (1986); R L Numbers and J M Butler, eds., The Disappointed (1987); E Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800 - 1930 (1970).


Advanced Information

Adventism is the belief that Christ's personal second coming is imminent and will inaugurate his millennial kingdom and the end of the age. Chiliasm, apocalypticism, and millennialism are cognate theological terms. Adventism in this general sense has been espoused by many diverse groups throughout Christian history (e.g., Montanists, Anabaptists, Fifth Monarchy Men, Plymouth Brethren and other premillennialists, and Jehovah's Witnesses).

Adventism is most commonly used, however, to denote the movement which sprang up in the 1830s from the teachings of William Miller, a Baptist minister in New York. Miller confidently prophesied the imminent return of Christ and set 1843 - 44 as the time for the event. The Millerite movement spread rapidly among the churches of the Northeast. When the expected return did not occur as Miller originally had predicted, a reinterpretation of the Scripture set Oct. 22, 1844, as the correct date. The faithful met in their local gathering places on the appointed day worshipping and waiting. The "Great Disappointment" which followed the failure of the prophecy led many Millerites to forsake the movement and slip back into the churches from which they had never formally dissociated themselves. Miller himself acknowledged his error and dissociated himself from the movement and all further attempts to redeem it.

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A series of new signs, visions, and prophecies, however, fed the lagging spirits of those who refused to give up their adventist hopes. As early as the day following the Great Disappointment, Hiram Edson, an adventist leader, had a vision which confirmed the prophetic significance of the Oct. 22, 1844, date, but indicated that it marked a heavenly rather than an earthly event. On that day Christ had moved into the holy of holies of the heavenly sanctuary to begin a new phase of his ministry of redemption. That ministry was ultimately defined in the adventist doctrine of investigative judgment; Christ entered the sanctuary to review the deeds of professing Christians to determine whose names should be included in the Book of Life. Other revelations subsequent to the Great Disappointment came to Ellen G Harmon, a young disciple of Miller in Portland, Maine.

She was quickly accepted as a prophetess and her teachings were accepted as authoritative. The revived movement also adopted sabbatarianism and the belief that the acceptance of the seventh day sabbath was the mark of the true church. Seventh day observance and Christ's ministry of investigative judgment, confirmed by the prophetic revelation of Mrs. Ellen (Harmon) White, completed the foundations of contemporary adventism. Most adventist groups also adhere to belief in soul sleep and annihilation of the wicked. Their strong emphasis on OT teaching also led to a strong traditional concern for diet and health.

Two major adventist bodies represent the movement today, the Advent Christian Church and the numerically predominant Seventh-day Adventists. They vary somewhat in their adherence to the adventist doctrines outlined above. The Seventh-day Adventists traditionally have been identified as a cult among Christian churches. Such classification results from the contention by Christian theologians that the authority which the church grants to Mrs. White's prophecies compromises the finality of scriptural revelation. They further charge that the doctrine of investigative judgment compromises the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone and leads to an assurance of salvation based on perfect obedience rather than faith.

In recent years, however, Seventh day Adventist theologians have tended to regard Mrs. White's prophecies as subject to judgment by the canonical Scriptures and have put forth a more evangelical understanding of justification by faith. As a result some evangelical leaders, although by no means all, have begun to include the Seventh-day Adventists within the pale of orthodoxy. This division of opinion as to the theological stance of the movement is echoed within the group itself by the intense theological debate of these issues in recent years.

The Seventh day Adventist Church has experienced rapid growth in the post World War II period. This church, however, still tends to keep to itself among Christian denominations. It has consistently kept the education of its children under its own auspices. The Adventists have been especially well known for their health care ministries. Their traditional dietary concerns, including their proscription of coffee and tea and their advocacy of vegetarianism, predated by many decades other contemporary movements in these areas.

The centrality of the events surrounding the return of Christ in the premillennialism which became so critical in the development of the fundamentalist movement and the contemporary emphasis upon the imminent second coming of Christ in evangelical churches in general show the continuing significance of general adventism in the Christian tradition.

M E Dieter

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

P G Damsteegt, Foundations of the Seventh day Adventist Message and Mission; L E Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers; W Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults; F D Nichol, The Midnight Cry; G Paxton, The Shaking of Adventism; Seventh Day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine; A A Hoekema, The Four Major Cults.


Catholic Information

A group of six American Protestant sects which hold in common a belief in the near return of Christ in person, and differ from one another mainly in their understanding of several doctrines related to this common belief. They are, excepting the "Seventh Day Adventists" and the branch entitled "The Church of God" congregational in government.

The sects of Adventists are the outcome of a religious agitation begun by William Miller (1781-1849) in 1831, after a minute study of the prophecies of the Bible. Testing the mysterious pronouncements concerning the Messias by a method exclusively historical, he looked for the fulfillment of every prophecy in its obvious surface reading. Every prophecy which had not been literally accomplished in the first coming of Christ must needs be accomplished in His second coming. Christ, therefore, should return at the end of the world in the clouds of heaven to possess the land of Canaan, and to reign in an earthly triumph on the throne of David for a thousand years. Moreover, taking the 2,300 days of the Prophet Daniel for so many years, and computing from 457 B.C. -- that is, from the commencement of the seventy weeks before the first coming, Miller concluded that the world would come to an end, and Christ would return, in A.D. 1843. He gave wide circulation to his views and gained a considerable following in a few years. When the year 1843 had passed as any other, and the prediction had failed, Snow, one of his disciples, set himself to correct Miller's calculations, and in his turn announced the end of the world for 22 October, 1844. As the day drew near groups of Millerites here and there throughout the United States, putting aside all worldly occupations, awaited, in a fever of expectancy the promised coming of Christ, but were again doomed to disappointment. The faithful followers of Miller next met in conference at Albany, N.Y., in 1845, and professed their unshaken faith in the near personal coming of the Son of God. And this has remained the fundamental point of the Adventist creed. According to the official census of 1890, the Adventists had 60,491 communicants; at present they have about 100,000 adherents all told. The Adventist movement, inaugurated by Miller, has differentiated into the following independent bodies:--

1. Evangelical Adventists (the original stock)

They believe the dead are conscious after separation from the body, and will rise again; the just, first to reign with Christ on earth for the Millennium and, after the Judgment, in heaven for all eternity; the wicked to rise at the Day of Judgment to be condemned to hell forever. They may be said to have organized in 1845. They number 1,147 communicants.

2. Advent Christians

These believe that the dead lie in an unconscious state till Christ comes again, when all will arise; the just to receive everlasting life; the wicked to be annihilated; since immortality, once man's natural birthright, has been forfeited by sin and is now a supernatural gift had only through faith in Christ. The General Association was formed in 1881. The Advent Christians number 26,500.

3. Seventh Day Adventists

These hold to the observance of the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath. They believe that the dead remain unconscious until Judgment, when the wicked will be destroyed. They attempt, in addition, a detailed interpretation of certain biblical prophecies, and believe the prophetic gift is still communicated, and was possessed latterly by Mrs. E.G. White in particular. They were formed into a body in 1845. They number 76,102 members. [Note: As of 2005, this number stood at 12 million.]

4. The Church of God

An offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists. These dissidents refuse to accept the prophecies of Mrs. White, or the interpretation of the vision in Apocalypse 12:11-17, as applying to the United States. Otherwise they resemble the Seventh Day Adventists, They became an independent body in 1864-65. This church has 647 members.

5. Life and Advent Union

A movement which, begun in 1848 was compacted into an organized body in 1860. This church insists that the wicked will not rise again, but will remain in an endless sleep. It has a membership of 3,800.

6. Age-to-come Adventists

These believe, besides the common Adventist doctrines, that the wicked will ultimately be destroyed, and that eternal life is given through Christ alone. They originated in 1851; the General Conference was organized in 1885. They number 1,872 in the United States.

Publication information Written by F.P. Havey. Transcribed by Tony Camele. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


Taylor, The Reign of Christ (Boston, 1889); Wellcome, History of the Second Advent Message (Yarmouth. Maine, IB74); McKinstrey, The World's Great Empires (Haverhill, Mass., 1881); Andrews, History of the Seventh and First Day (Battle Creek, Mich., 1873); White, The Great Controversy (Battle Creek, 1870); Smith, Thoughts on Daniel and Revelation (1882); Long, Kingdom of Heaven Upon Earth (1882); The End of The Ungodly (1886); Pile, The Doctrine of Conditional Immortality (Springfield, Mass); Brown, The Divine Key of Redemption (Springfield, Mass).

Also, see:

Second Coming of Christ
Dispensation, Dispensationalism
Last Judgement
Rapture of the Church, Tribulation
Tribulation, Great Tribulation

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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