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The Watchman Expositor: Seventh-day Adventism Profile

Historically, evangelicals have had difficulty defining and categorizing SDA. Much SDA doctrine is biblically orthodox. Within its ranks are many true Christians, some even in positions of prominence. At various points in its history, most notably in the 1888 General Conference, the SDA church has been shaken by the biblical gospel.   NEW!

ADVENTISTS, members of a number of related Protestant denominations that stress the doctrine of the imminent second coming of Christ. Adventism received its clearest definition and most earnest support under the leadership of an American Baptist preacher, William Miller. Miller and his followers, known initially as Millerites, proclaimed that the second coming would occur between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. The failure of this prediction was called the First Disappointment, and many left the movement. Following this, a second date—Oct. 22, 1844—was set, and many Adventists disposed of their property in anticipation of the event. The movement was widely ridiculed after the day passed uneventfully. Thereafter many Adventists lost faith and returned to their former churches. Those remaining split into four main bodies, which still continue to flourish.

Seventh-day Adventists

By far the largest group is the Seventh-day Adventists, with more than 3.3 million members worldwide in 1980. The church originated between 1844 and 1855 under the leadership of three American Millerites, Joseph Bates (1792–1872) and James (1821–81) and Ellen White (1827–1915), but was not formally organised until 1863. Two tenets are prominent in the church’s theology: belief in the visible, personal second coming of Christ at an early but indefinite date and the observance of Saturday as the Sabbath. Members accept the Bible as their sole religious authority, placing special trust in the literal interpretation of prophetic passages. They hold that grace alone is sufficient for salvation; they administer baptism by immersion and practice foot washing in connection with observance of the Lord’s Supper.

Seventh-day Adventists expect the eventual destruction of the wicked and everlasting life for the just, including the living and the resurrected dead, at the second coming of Christ. In their social life, approved recreation replaces entertainments such as dancing and theatergoing. The denomination has a comprehensive program for youth. Holding that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, Seventh-day Adventists put great stress on health and avoid eating meat and using narcotics and stimulants. They maintain more than 360 hospitals and clinics around the world. The denomination also conducts missionary, educational, and philanthropic programs supported by a voluntary system of tithing (contributing a tenth of one’s income) and by freewill offerings. Church activists are maintained in all parts of the world, and denominational publications are printed in 197 languages and dialects. The church conducts one of the largest school systems of any Protestant denomination.

Other Adventist Churches

The Advent Christian Church, first known as the Advent Christian Association and then the Advent Christian Conference, began in 1854 to withdraw gradually from the American Millenial Association, primarily because of a growing dispute over the question of immortality. First organized in 1860 in Salem, Mass., the Advent Christian Church preached a doctrine of "conditional immortality," according to which the dead remain in an unconscious state until the resurrection, which would take place at the second coming after the millennium. The church observes the sacraments of baptism by immersion and the Lord’s Supper. Although organised into regional and central groups (the central group is the Advent Christian General Conference of America), each church governs itself independently. According to recent statistics, membership in the U.S. and Canada neared 30,000. The church supports missionary work in Mexico, Malaysia, Japan, India, and the Philippines; it founded Aurora College in Aurora, Ill., the Berkshire Christian College in Lenox, Mass., and two publishing houses. In 1964 the Life and Advent Union, founded in 1848, merged with the Advent Christian Church.

The Church of God (Abrahamic Faith) developed from several smaller groups of similar faith (some dating from 1800); some of them had organized in 1888 under the name Church of God in Christ Jesus. The churches, however, did not function as a unit until 1921, when a national conference was established and the name Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith was adopted. The corporate name is Church of God General Conference (Oregon, Ill.). Acceptance of the Bible as the supreme standard of the faith results in a literal interpretation of the biblical references to the kingdom of God; the premillennial coming of Christ, the belief that the return of Christ will precede the millennial kingdom of God predicted in Rev. 20:1–6, is central. The members maintain that the dead are merely asleep; at the time of the second coming the righteous will be resurrected on earth and the wicked will be finally destroyed. Acceptance of these doctrines, repentance, and purification through baptism by immersion are requirements for admission to the church. The individual churches are autonomous; recent figures indicate 9500 members. Missionary work is carried on in India, Mexico, and the Philippines.

The Primitive Advent Church is a recent offshoot of the Advent Christian Church; it has about 600 members, all in West Virginia, and its aim is to recover the principles and thought of early Adventism.

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