The Seventh-day Adventist (abbreviated "Adventist) Church is a Christian denomination which is distinguished mainly by its observance of Saturday, the original seventh day of the Judeo-Christian week, as the Sabbath. The denomination grew out of the Millerite movement in the United States during the middle part of the 19th century and was formally established in 1863. Among its founders was Ellen G. White, whose extensive writings are still held in high regard by the church today.
Much of the theology of the Seventh-day Adventist Church corresponds to evangelical teachings such as the Trinity and the infallibility of Scripture. Distinctive teachings include the unconscious state of the dead and the doctrine of an investigative judgment. The church is also known for its emphasis on diet and health, its holistic understanding of the person, its promotion of religious liberty, and its conservative principles and lifestyle.
The world church is governed by a General Conference, with smaller regions administered by divisions, union conferences and local conferences. It currently has a worldwide membership of over 15 million people, has a missionary presence in over 200 countries and territories and is ethnically and culturally diverse. The church operates numerous schools, hospitals and publishing houses worldwide, as well as a prominent humanitarian aid organization known as the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).
Following this "Great Disappointment" (as it came to be known), a small number of Millerites came to believe that Miller's calculations were correct, but that his interpretation of Daniel 8:14 was flawed. Beginning with a vision reported by Hiram Edson on October 23, these Adventists arrived at the conviction that Daniel 8:14 foretold Christ's entrance into the "Most Holy Place" of the heavenly sanctuary rather than his second coming. Over the next decade this understanding developed into the doctrine of the investigative judgment: an eschatological process commencing in 1844 in which Christians will be judged to verify their eligibility for salvation. The Adventists continued to believe that Christ's second coming would be imminent, although they refrained from setting further dates for the event.
Adventists often view themselves as heirs of earlier groups 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.
The church was formally established in Battle Creek, Michigan, on May 23, 1863, with a membership of 3,500. Through the evangelistic efforts of its ministers and laity, the church quickly grew and established a presence beyond North America during the late 1800s. The denominational headquarters were later moved from Battle Creek to Takoma Park, Maryland, where they remained until 1989.
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). 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 towards the middle of the century, eventually gaining wide recognition as a Christian church.
The official teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination are expressed in its 28 Fundamental Beliefs. This statement of beliefs was originally adopted by the General Conference in 1980, with an additional belief (number 11) being added in 2005. Acceptance of either of the church's two baptismal vows is a prerequisite for membership. The following statement of beliefs is not meant to be read or received as a "creed" that is set in theological concrete. Adventists have but one creed: “The Bible, and the Bible alone.”
Adventist doctrine resembles trinitarian Protestant theology, with premillennial and Arminian emphases. Adventists uphold teachings such as the infallibility of Scripture, the substitutionary atonement, the resurrection of the dead and justification by faith alone, and are therefore often considered evangelical. In common with certain other Christian churches, they believe in baptism by immersion and creation in six literal days.
In addition, there is a generally recognized set of "distinctive" doctrines which distinguish Adventism from the rest of the Christian world, although not all of these teachings are wholly unique to Adventism:
The conservative end of the theological spectrum is represented by "Historic Adventists", who are characterized by their opposition to theological trends within the denomination beginning in the 1950s. They tend to view modern Adventist theology as a compromise with evangelicalism, and seek to defend older teachings such as the fallen nature of Jesus Christ, an incomplete atonement, and character perfectionism. Historic Adventism is represented mainly at the "grassroots" level of the church and is often promoted through independent ministries, but has weaker support (if any) among Adventist scholarship.
The most "liberal" elements in the church are typically known as "Progressive Adventists" (it should be noted that progressive Adventists generally do not identify with liberal Christianity). They tend to hold a "modernized" perspective on such controversial issues as the inspiration of Ellen White, the doctrine of the "remnant" and the investigative judgment. The progressive movement is strongest amongst the scholarship of the denomination, where it finds expression in bodies such as the Association of Adventist Forums and in journals such as Spectrum and Adventist Today.
In order to keep the Sabbath holy, Adventists abstain from secular work and other non-essential business on Saturday. They will also usually refrain from purely secular forms of recreation, such as competitive sport and watching non-religious programs on television. However, nature walks, family-oriented activities, charitable work and other activities that are compassionate in nature are considered acceptable.
Much of Friday might be spent in preparation for the Sabbath; for example, preparing meals and tidying homes. Some Adventists gather for Friday evening worship to welcome in the Sabbath, a practice often known as Vespers.
Saturday afternoon activities vary widely depending on the cultural, ethnic and social background. In some churches, members and visitors will participate in a fellowship (or "potluck") lunch.
After a brief break, the community joins together again for a church service that follows a typical evangelical format, with a sermon as a central feature. Corporate singing, Scripture readings, prayers and an offering, including tithing (or money collection), are other standard features. The instruments and forms of worship music vary greatly throughout the worldwide church. Many youth-focused churches in the Western world have a contemporary Christian music style, whereas other churches enjoy more traditional hymns including those found in the Adventist Hymnal. Worship is known to be generally restrained, however in the early Adventist church it was very charismatic.
The pioneers of the Adventist Church had much to do with the common acceptance of breakfast cereals into the Western diet, with the "modern commercial concept of cereal food" originating with Adventists. John Harvey Kellogg was one of the early founders of the Adventist health work. His development of breakfast cereals as a health food led to the founding of Kellogg's by his brother William. In Australia, the church-owned Sanitarium Health Food Company is one of the country's leading manufacturers of health and vegetarian-related products.
Research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has shown that the average Adventist in California lives 4 to 10 years longer than the average Californian. The research, as cited by the cover story of the November 2005 issue of National Geographic, asserts that Adventists live longer because of not smoking or drinking, and their healthy, low-fat vegetarian diet, rich in nuts and beans. The cohesiveness of Adventists' social networks has also been put forward as an explanation of their extended lifespan.
According to official statements from the General Conference, heterosexual marriages are the only biblically ordained grounds for sexual intimacy. Adventists do not perform same-sex marriages and homosexual men cannot be ordained. An extramarital affair is one of the sanctioned grounds for a divorce, although reconciliation is encouraged whenever possible. Adventists believe in and encourage abstinence for both men and women before marriage.
The Adventist church has released official statements in relation to other ethical issues such as euthanasia (against active euthanasia but permissive of passive withdrawal of medical support to allow death to occur), birth control (in favor of it for married couples if used correctly, but against abortion as birth control and premarital sex in any case) and human cloning (against it while the technology is unsafe and would result in defective births or abortions).
Accordingly, many Western Adventists are opposed to practices such as body piercing and tattoos. More conservative Adventists refrain from the wearing of jewelry altogether, including such items as earrings and wedding bands. Traditionally Adventists dress semi-formally when attending church.
Conservative Adventists also avoid certain recreational activities which are considered to be a negative spiritual influence, including dancing, rock music and secular theatre. However, these sentiments are far less common among the more recent generations of Adventists. The Adventist church officially opposes the practice of gambling.
The Youth Department of the Adventist church runs an organization for 10- to 17-year-old boys and girls called Pathfinders, which is similar to the Boy Scouts of America, except that membership is open to both genders. Pathfinders exposes young people to such activities as camping, community service, personal mentorship, and skills-based education, and trains them for leadership. Yearly "Camporees" are held in individual Conferences, where Pathfinders from the region gather and participate in events similar to Boy Scouts' Jamborees.
"Adventurer" (ages 6-9), "Eager Beaver", and "Little Lambs" clubs are programs for younger children that feed into the Pathfinder program. Those above 16 are eligible to become "Master Guides" (similar to Scout Master) and will begin to take on leadership roles within the club.
The Seventh-day Adventist church is governed by a form of democratic representation which resembles the presbyterian system of church organization. Four levels of organization exist within the world church.
Each organization is governed by a general "session" which occurs at certain intervals. This is usually when administrative decisions are made. The president of the General Conference, for instance, is elected at the General Conference Session every five years. Delegates to a session are appointed by organizations at a lower level. For example, each local church appoints delegates to a conference session.
Tithes collected from church members are not used directly by the local churches, but are passed upwards to the local conferences/missions which then distribute the finances towards various ministry needs. Within a geographic region, ministers receive roughly equal pay irrespective of the size of their church.
The Church Manual gives provisions for each level of government to create educational, healthcare, publishing, and other institutions that are seen within the call of the Great Commission.
The ordained clergy of the Adventist church are known as ministers or pastors. Ministers are neither elected nor employed by the local churches, but instead are appointed by the local conferences, which assign them responsibility over a single church or group of churches.
The primary prerequisite for membership in the Adventist church is baptism by immersion. This, according to the church manual, should only occur after the candidate has undergone proper instruction on what the church believes.
As of October 2007, the church has 15,433,470 baptized members. Just over one million people joined the Adventist church in the 12-month period ending June 2006 (inclusive), through baptisms and professions of faith. The church is one of the world's fastest-growing organizations, primarily due to increases in membership in the developing nations. Today, less than 10% of the world membership reside in the United States, with large numbers in Africa as well as Central and South America. Depending on how the data was measured, it is reported that church membership reached 1 million between 1955 and 1961, and grew to five million in 1986. At the turn of the 21st century the church had over 10 million members which grew to over 14 million in 2005. It is believed that over 25 million worship weekly in churches. The church operates in 202 out of 230 countries and areas recognized by the United Nations, making it one of the most widespread Protestant denominations.
The Ellen G. White Estate was established in 1915 at the death of Ellen White, as specified in her legal will. Its purpose is to act as custodian of her writings, and as of 2006 has 15 board members. The Ellen G. White Estate also hosts the official Ellen White website whiteestate.org
Missionary outreach of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is aimed at both non-Christians and Christians from other denominations. Adventists believe that Christ has called His followers in the Great Commission to reach the whole world. Adventists are cautious, however, to ensure that evangelism does not impede or intrude on the basic rights of the individual. Religious liberty is a stance that the Adventist Church supports and promotes.
The Adventist Church operates 7,200 schools, colleges and universities, with a total enrollment of more than 1,400,000 students and approximately 75,000 teachers. It claims to operate "one of the largest church-supported educational systems in the world". In the United States it operates the largest Protestant educational system, and is second only to that of the Roman Catholic Church. The Adventist educational program is comprehensive, encompassing "mental, physical, social, and spiritual health" with "intellectual growth and service to humanity" its goal.
The church is committed to the protection and care of the environment as well as taking action to avoid the dangers of climate change::
"Seventh-day Adventism advocates a simple, wholesome lifestyle, where people do not step on the treadmill of unbridled over-consumption, accumulation of goods, and production of waste. A reformation of lifestyle is called for, based on respect for nature, restraint in the use of the world's resources, reevaluation of one's needs, and reaffirmation of the dignity of created life.
Adventists have long been proponents of media-based ministries. Traditional Adventist evangelistic efforts consisted of street missions and the distribution of tracts such as The Present Truth, which was published by James White as early as 1849. Until J. N. Andrews was sent to Switzerland in 1874, Adventist global efforts consisted entirely of the posting of tracts such as White's to various locations.
In the last century, these media based efforts have also made use of emerging media such as radio and television. The first of these was H. M. S. Richards' radio show Voice of Prophecy, which was initially broadcast in Los Angeles in 1929. Since then Adventists have been on the forefront of media evangelism, and one program, It Is Written, founded by George Vandeman, was the first religious program to air on colour television and was the first major Christian ministry to utilize satellite uplink technology. Today the Hope Channel, the official television network of the church, operates 6 international channels broadcasting 24 hours a day on both cable and satellite networks.
Recently, a number of satellite broadcasted live evangelistic events have been undertaken by evangelists such as Doug Batchelor, Mark Finley and Dwight Nelson, addressing audiences in up to 40 languages simultaneously. John Carter is another leading Adventist evangelist.
Additionally, there exists a range of privately owned media entities representing Adventist beliefs. These include the 3ABN and SafeTV stations. Amazing Facts and The Quiet Hour are two other radio and television programs.
The official church magazine is the Adventist Review, which has a North American focus. It has a sister magazine (Adventist World) which has an international perspective. Another major magazine published by the church is the bimonthly Liberty magazine, which addresses issues of religious freedom.
"Should Adventists cooperate ecumenically? Adventists should cooperate insofar as the authentic gospel is proclaimed and crying human needs are being met. The Seventh-day Adventist Church wants no entangling memberships and refuses any compromising relationships that might tend to water down her distinct witness. However, Adventists wish to be "conscientious cooperators." The ecumenical movement as an agency of cooperation has acceptable aspects; as an agency for organic unity of churches, it is much more suspect.
While not being a member church of the World Council of Churches, the Adventist Church has participated in its assemblies in an observer capacity.
The Adventist Church has received criticism along several lines, including its allegedly heterodox doctrines, in relation to Ellen G. White and her status within the church, and in relation to alleged exclusivist attitudes and behaviour. Many high profile critics of the church are former Adventists, such as D. M. Canright, Walter Rea and Dale Ratzlaff.
While some religion experts such as Anthony Hoekema have classified Adventism as a sectarian group on the basis of its atypical doctrines, it has been widely considered more mainstream to traditional-historical Christian churches since meetings and discussion with conservative Protestants in the 1950s. Notably, Billy Graham invited Adventists to be part of his crusades after Eternity, a conservative Christian magazine edited by Donald Barnhouse, asserted that Adventists are Christians in 1956. Walter Martin’s The Truth about Seventh-day Adventists (1960) marked a turning point in the way Adventism was viewed.
In addition to the ministries and institutions which are formally administered by the denomination, numerous para-church organizations and independent ministries exist. These include various health centers and hospitals, publishing and media ministries, and aid organizations.
A number of independent ministries have been established by groups within the Adventist church who hold a theologically distinct position or wish to promote a specific message. These include such organizations as Hope International and Good News Unlimited. Certain of these ministries solicit funding from members and have a strained relationship with the official church, which has expressed concerns that such ministries may threaten Adventist unity. Some groups such as Amazing Facts have been criticized for disseminating anti-Catholic material. In response, the church has acknowledged that some Adventists "have manifested prejudice and even bigotry" against Catholics, while insisting that such behavior is not condoned.
A well known but distant offshoot is the Branch Davidians, themselves a schism within the larger Davidian movement. The Davidians formed in 1929, after Victor Houteff's book "The Shepherd's Rod" was rejected as being heretical. A succession dispute after Houteff's death in 1955 led to the formation of the Branches. Later, another ex-Adventist, David Koresh, led the Branch Davidians until he died in the 1993 siege at the group's headquarters near Waco, Texas.
Following World War I, a group known as the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement was formed as a result of the actions of certain European church leaders during the war, who decided that it was acceptable for Adventists to take part in war. When attempts at reconciliation failed after the war, the group became organized as a separate church at a conference from July 14-20, 1925. The movement officially incorporated in 1949. In 2005, the mainstream church apologized for its failures during World War II.
Robert Brinsmead's group was the most "troublesome" in the history of the church up until its time.
The largest schism within Adventism was the Glacier View controversy of 1980. This crisis centered around the 900-page research paper by Dr. Desmond Ford entitled Daniel 8:14, the Investigative Judgment, and the Kingdom of God. The paper questioned the church's position on the investigative judgment. The meetings at Glacier View Ranch, near Estes Park, Colorado, rejected Ford's proposals. The schism caused by this rejection resulted in Ford being removed from teaching and having his ministerial credentials revoked. Many Adventists also left the church as a result. In the years since, Ford has worked through the independent ministry Good News Unlimited.
Since the 1970s, debate concerning the inspiration of Ellen White has been particularly heated. A number of Adventists such as former ministers Walter Rea and Dale Ratzlaff left the church and have become prominent critics of the church's teachings and particularly of Ellen White. In parallel with these events, many Adventist scholars have adopted more moderate views of her inspiration. The official position of the church related to the prophetic gift of Ellen G. White remains unchanged.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals who are or have been practicing Adventists, have formed a social network that is not officially associated with the church called SDA Kinship International, formed in 1976. The view of the Adventist church towards the Kinship organization can be understood from a 1987 lawsuit filed for trademark infringement against Kinship International - District Judge Mariana R. Pfaeizer ruled that Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International, Inc. did not infringe on the SDA Church's use of the name and therefore could continue to use the identifying name.