Seventh-day Adventist Church
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a Protestant Christian denomination which is distinguished by its observance of Saturday, the seventh day of the week in Christian and Jewish calendars, as the Sabbath, and its emphasis on the imminent Second Coming (advent) of Jesus Christ. The denomination grew out of the Millerite movement in the United States during the mid-19th century and it was formally established in 1863. Among its founders was Ellen G. White, whose extensive writings are still held in high regard by the church.
Much of the theology of the Seventh-day Adventist Church corresponds to common Protestant Christian 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 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 of Seventh-day Adventists, with smaller regions administered by divisions, union conferences, and local conferences. It currently has a worldwide baptized membership of over 20 million people, and 25 million adherents. As of May 2007, it was the twelfth-largest religious body in the world, and the sixth-largest highly international religious body. It is ethnically and culturally diverse, and maintains a missionary presence in over 215 countries and territories. The church operates over 7,500 schools including over 100 post-secondary institutions, numerous hospitals, and publishing houses worldwide, as well as a humanitarian aid organization known as the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the largest of several Adventist groups which arose from the Millerite movement of the 1840s in upstate New York, a phase of the Second Great Awakening. William Miller predicted on the basis of Daniel 8:14–16 and the “day-year principle” that Jesus Christ would return to Earth between the spring of 1843 and the spring of 1844. In the summer of 1844, Millerites came to believe that Jesus would return on October 22, 1844, understood to be the biblical Day of Atonement for that year. Miller’s failed prediction became known as the “Great Disappointment”.
Hiram Edson and other Millerites came to believe that Miller’s calculations were correct, but that his interpretation of Daniel 8:14 was flawed as he assumed Christ would come to cleanse the world. These Adventists came to 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 few decades this understanding of a sanctuary in heaven developed into the doctrine of the investigative judgment, an eschatological process that commenced in 1844, in which every person would be judged to verify their eligibility for salvation and God’s justice will be confirmed before the universe. This group of Adventists continued to believe that Christ’s Second Coming would continue to be imminent, however they resisted setting further dates for the event, citing Revelation 10:6, “that there should be time no longer.”
Development of Sabbatarianism
As the early Adventist movement consolidated its beliefs, the question of the biblical day of rest and worship was raised. The foremost proponent of Sabbath-keeping among early Adventists was Joseph Bates. Bates was introduced to the Sabbath doctrine through a tract written by Millerite preacher Thomas M. Preble, who in turn had been influenced by Rachel Oakes Preston, a young Seventh Day Baptist. This message was gradually accepted and formed the topic of the first edition of the church publication The Present Truth (now the Adventist Review), which appeared in July 1849.
Organization and recognition
For about 20 years, the Adventist movement consisted of a small, loosely knit group of people who came from many churches and whose primary means of connection and interaction was through James White’s periodical The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. They embraced the doctrines of the Sabbath, the heavenly sanctuary interpretation of Daniel 8:14, conditional immortality, and the expectation of Christ’s premillennial return. Among its most prominent figures were Joseph Bates, James White, and Ellen G. White. Ellen White came to occupy a particularly central role; her many visions and spiritual leadership convinced her fellow Adventists that she possessed the gift of prophecy.
The denomination in the 1870s turned to missionary work and revivals, tripling its membership to 16,000 by 1880 and establishing a presence beyond North America during the late 19th century. Rapid growth continued, with 75,000 members in 1901. By this time the denomination operated two colleges, a medical school, a dozen academies, 27 hospitals, and 13 publishing houses. By 1945, the church reported 210,000 members in the US and Canada, and 360,000 elsewhere; the budget was $29 million and enrollment in church schools was 140,000.
The church’s beliefs and doctrines were first published in 1872 in Battle Creek Michigan as a brief statement called “A Synopsis of our Faith”. The church experienced challenges as it formed its core beliefs and doctrines especially as a number of the early Adventist leaders came from churches that held to some form of Arianism (Ellen G. White was not one of them). This, along with some of the movement’s other theological views, led to a consensus among conservative evangelical Protestants to regard it as a cult. According to Adventist scholars, the teachings and writings of White, ultimately proved influential in shifting the church from largely semi-Arian roots towards Trinitarianism. Adventists, for the most part, credit her with bringing the Seventh-day Adventist church into a more comprehensive awareness of the GodHead during the 1890s. The Adventist Church adopted Trinitarian theology 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 Protestant church. Christianity Today recognized the Seventh-day Adventist church as ” the fifth-largest Christian communion worldwide” in its January 22, 2015 issue.
Ellen White avoided using the word “Trinity”, “and her husband stated categorically that her visions did not support the Trinitarian creed.” Her theology did not include a doctrine of the Trinity. Through continued Bible study, and decades-long debate, the denomination eventually concluded that Scripture does explicitly teach the existence of a triune God and affirm that biblical view in the non-credal 28 Fundamental Beliefs.
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.
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 considered evangelical. They believe in baptism by immersion and creation in six literal days. The modern Creationist movement started with Adventist George McCready Price, who was inspired by a vision of Ellen White.
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:
- Law (fundamental belief 19): the Law of God is “embodied in the Ten Commandments”, which continue to be binding upon Christians.
- Sabbath (fundamental belief 20): the Sabbath should be observed on the seventh day of the week, specifically, from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.
- Second Coming and End times (fundamental beliefs 25–28): Jesus Christ will return visibly to earth after a “time of trouble”, during which the Sabbath will become a worldwide test. The Second Coming will be followed by a millennial reign of the saints in heaven. Adventist eschatology is based on the historicist method of prophetic interpretation.
- Holistic human nature (fundamental beliefs 7, 26): Humans are an indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit. They do not possess an immortal soul and there is no consciousness after death (commonly referred to as “soul sleep”). (See also: Christian anthropology)
- Conditional immortality (fundamental belief 27): The wicked will not suffer eternal torment in hell, but instead will be permanently destroyed. (See: Conditional immortality, Annihilationism)
- Great Controversy (fundamental belief 8): Humanity is involved in a “great controversy” between Jesus Christ and Satan. This is an elaboration on the common Christian belief that evil began in heaven when an angelic being (Lucifer) rebelled against the Law of God.
- Heavenly sanctuary (fundamental belief 24): At his ascension, Jesus Christ commenced an atoning ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. In 1844, he began to cleanse the heavenly sanctuary in fulfillment of the Day of Atonement.
- Investigative Judgment (fundamental belief 24): A judgment of professed Christians began in 1844, in which the books of record are examined for all the universe to see. The investigative judgment will affirm who will receive salvation, and vindicate God in the eyes of the universe as just in his dealings with mankind.
- Remnant (fundamental belief 13): There will be an end-time remnant who keep the commandments of God and have “the testimony of Jesus”. This remnant proclaims the “three angels’ messages” of Revelation 14:6–12 to the world.
- Spirit of Prophecy (fundamental belief 18): The ministry of Ellen G. White is commonly referred to as the “Spirit of Prophecy” and her writings “speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church.”, though ultimately subject to the Bible. (See: Inspiration of Ellen White.)
As with any religious movement, a theological spectrum exists within Adventism comparable to the fundamentalist-moderate-liberal spectrum in the wider Christian church as well as in other religions. A variety of groups, movements and subcultures within the church present differing views on beliefs and lifestyle.
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 object to theological compromises with Evangelicalism, and seek to defend traditional Adventist teachings such as the human post-fall nature of Jesus Christ, investigative judgment, and character perfectionism. Historic Adventism is represented by some scholars, is also seen at the grassroots level of the church and is often promoted through independent ministries.
The most liberal elements in the church are typically known as progressive Adventists (progressive Adventists generally do not identify with liberal Christianity). They tend to disagree with the traditional views concerning the inspiration of Ellen White, the Sabbath, a seven-day Creation, the doctrine of the remnant and the investigative judgment. The progressive movement is supported by some scholars and finds expression in bodies such as the Association of Adventist Forums and in journals such as Spectrum and Adventist Today.
The Biblical Research Institute is the official theological research center of the church. The church has two professional organizations for Adventist theologians who are affiliated with the denomination. The Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) was formed to foster a community among Adventist theologians who attend the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the American Academy of Religion. In 2006, ASRS voted to continue their meetings in the future in conjunction with SBL. During the 1980s, the Adventist Theological Society was formed to provide a forum for more conservative theologians to meet and is held in conjunction with the Evangelical Theological Society.
Culture and practices
Part of Friday might be spent in preparation for the Sabbath; for example, preparing meals and tidying homes. Adventists may gather for Friday evening worship to welcome in the Sabbath, a practice often known as Vespers.
Adventists abstain from secular work 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 encouraged. 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 and AYS (Adventist Youth Service).
The major weekly worship service occurs on Saturday, typically commencing with Sabbath School which is a structured time of small-group bible study at church. Adventists make use of an officially produced “Sabbath School Lesson”, which deals with a particular biblical text or doctrine every quarter. Special meetings are provided for children and youth in different age groups during this time (analogous to Sunday school in other churches).
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. Some churches in North America 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.
Adventist churches usually practice open communion four times a year. It commences with a foot washing ceremony, known as the “Ordinance of Humility”, based on the Gospel account of John 13. The Ordinance of Humility is meant to emulate Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper and to remind participants of the need to humbly serve one another. Participants segregate by gender to separate rooms to conduct this ritual, although some congregations allow married couples to perform the ordinance on each other and families are often encouraged to participate together. After its completion, participants return to the main sanctuary for consumption of the Lord’s Supper, which consists of unleavened bread and unfermented grape juice.
Health and diet
Since the 1860s when the church began, wholeness and health have been an emphasis of the Adventist church. Adventists are known for presenting a “health message” that advocates vegetarianism and expects adherence to the kosher laws, particularly the consumption of kosher foods described in Leviticus 11, meaning abstinence from pork, shellfish, and other animals proscribed as “unclean”.
The church discourages its members from consuming alcoholic beverages, tobacco or illegal drugs (compare Christianity and alcohol). In addition, some Adventists avoid coffee, tea, cola, and other beverages that contain caffeine.
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 they do not smoke or drink alcohol, have a day of rest every week, and maintain a healthy, low-fat vegetarian diet that is rich in nuts and beans. The cohesiveness of Adventists’ social networks has also been put forward as an explanation for their extended lifespan. Since Dan Buettner’s 2005 National Geographic story about Adventist longevity, his book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, named Loma Linda, California a “Blue Zone” because of the large concentration of Seventh-day Adventists. He cites the Adventist emphasis on health, diet, and Sabbath-keeping as primary factors for Adventist longevity.
An estimated 35% of Adventists practice vegetarianism or veganism, according to a 2002 worldwide survey of local church leaders.
Adventists’ clean lifestyles were recognized by the U.S. military in 1954 when 2,200 Adventists volunteered to serve as human test subjects in Operation Whitecoat, a biodefense medical research program whose stated purpose was to defend troops and civilians against biological weapons:
The first task of the scientists was to find people who were willing to be infected by pathogens that could make them very sick. They found them in the followers of the Seventh-day Adventist faith. Although willing to serve their country when drafted, the Adventists refused to bear arms. As a result many of them became medics. Now the U.S. was offering recruits an opportunity to help in a different manner: to volunteer for biological tests as a way of satisfying their military obligations. When contacted in late 1954, the Adventist hierarchy readily agreed to this plan. For Camp Detrick scientists, church members were a model test population, since most of them were in excellent health and they neither drank, smoked, nor used caffeine. From the perspective of the volunteers, the tests gave them a way to fulfill their patriotic duty while remaining true to their beliefs.
The Adventist understanding of marriage is a lawfully binding lifelong commitment of a man and a woman. The Church Manual refers to the origination of the marriage institution in Eden and points to the union between Adam and Eve as the pattern for all future marriages.
Adventists hold that marriage is a divine institution established by God Himself before the fall. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24). They hold that God celebrated the first marriage and the institution has as its origin the Creator of the universe and was one of the first gifts of God to man, and it is “one of the two institutions that, after the fall, Adam brought with him beyond the gates of Paradise.”
The Old and New Testament texts are interpreted by some Adventists to teach that wives should submit to their husbands in marriage.
Adventists hold that heterosexual marriages are the only biblically ordained grounds for sexual intimacy. Adventists do not perform same-sex marriages, and individuals who are openly homosexual cannot be ordained, but may hold church office and membership if they are not actively pursuing same-sex relationships. Current church policy states that openly homosexual (and “practicing”) persons are to be welcomed into the church services and treated with the love and kindness afforded any human being.
Ethics and sexuality
The Seventh-day Adventist Church considers abortion out of harmony with God’s plan for human life. It affects the unborn, the mother, the father, immediate and extended family members, the church family, and society with long-term consequences for all. In an official statement on the “Biblical View of Unborn Life”, the Church states that 1. God upholds the value and sacredness of human life, 2. God considers the unborn child as human life, 3. The will of God regarding human life is expressed in the Ten Commandments and explained by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, 4. God is the Owner of life, and human beings are His stewards, 5. The Bible teaches care for the weak and the vulnerable, and 6. God’s grace promotes life in a world marred by sin and death.
Adventists believe in and encourage abstinence for both men and women before marriage. The church disagrees with extra-marital cohabitation. Adventists believe that scripture makes no accommodation for homosexual activity or relationships and the official position is opposed to it.
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).
Dress and entertainment
Adventists have traditionally held socially conservative attitudes regarding dress and entertainment. These attitudes are reflected in one of the church’s fundamental beliefs:
For the Spirit to recreate in us the character of our Lord we involve ourselves only in those things which will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives. This means that our amusement and entertainment should meet the highest standards of Christian taste and beauty. While recognizing cultural differences, our dress is to be simple, modest, and neat, befitting those whose true beauty does not consist of outward adornment but in the imperishable ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit.
Accordingly, many Adventists are opposed to practices such as body piercing and tattoos and refrain from the wearing of jewelry, including such items as earrings and bracelets. Some also oppose the displaying of wedding bands, although banning wedding bands is not the position of the General Conference. Conservative Adventists avoid certain recreational activities which are considered to be a negative spiritual influence, including dancing, rock music and secular theatre. However, major studies conducted from 1989 onwards found that a majority of North American church youth reject some of these standards.
Though it seems unbelievable to some, I’m thankful that when I grew up in the church [in the 1950s and 1960s] I was taught not to go to the movie theater, dance, listen to popular music, read novels, wear jewelry, play cards, bowl, play pool, or even be fascinated by professional sports.— James R. Nix, “Growing Up Adventist: No Apologies Needed”
Adventists often cite the writings of Ellen White, especially her books, Counsels on Diet and Foods, Counsels to Parents, Teachers and Students, and Education as inspired sources for Christian deportment. The Adventist church officially opposes the practice of gambling.
Missionary work with youth
The Youth Department of the Adventist church runs age specific clubs for children and youth worldwide.
“Adventurer” (grades 1-4), “Eager Beaver” (Kindergarten), and “Little Lambs” (pre-K) clubs are programs for younger children that feed into the Pathfinder program.
Pathfinders is a club for 5th to 10th grade (up to 12th in Florida Conference) boys and girls. It is similar to and based partly on the Scouting movement. Pathfinders exposes young people to such activities as camping, community service, personal mentorship, and skills-based education, and trains them for leadership in the church. Yearly “Camporees” are held in individual Conferences, where Pathfinders from the region gather and participate in events similar to Boy Scouts’ Jamborees.
After a person enters 9th grade, he or she is eligible to join Teen Leadership Training within Pathfinders. In the 11th grade, typically after being a member of a club, they can become a Pathfinder or Adventurer staff member and begin the “Master Guide” program (similar to Scout Master) which develops leaders for both Adventurers and Pathfinders.
Structure and polity
The Seventh-day Adventist church is governed by a form of representation which resembles the presbyterian system of church organization. Four levels of organization exist within the world church.
- The local church is the foundation level of organizational structure and is the public face of the denomination. Every baptized Adventist is a member of a local church and has voting powers within that church.
- Directly above the local church is the “local conference” . The local conference is an organization of churches within a state, province or territory (or part thereof) which appoints ministers, owns church land and organizes the distribution of tithes and payments to ministers.
- Above the local conference is the “union conference” which embodies a number of local conferences within a larger territory.
- The highest level of governance within the church structure is the General Conference which consists of 13 “Divisions”, each assigned to various geographic locations. The General Conference is the church authority and has the final say in matters of conjecture and administrative issues. The General Conference is headed by the office of President. The General Conference head office is in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
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 which then distribute the finances toward various ministry needs. Employees are compensated “on the basis of the church remuneration policy and practice in effect in the location or country in which they reside.”
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.
Church officers and clergy
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. Ordination is a formal recognition bestowed upon pastors and elders after usually a number of years of service. In most parts of the world, women may not be given the title “ordained”, although some are employed in ministry, and may be “commissioned” or “ordained-commissioned”. However, beginning in 2012, some unions adopted policies of allowing member conferences to ordain without regard to gender.
A number of lay offices exist within the local church, including the ordained positions of elder and deacon. Elders and deacons are appointed by the vote of a local church business meeting or elected committees. Elders serve a mainly administrative and pastoral role, but must also be capable of providing religious leadership (particularly in the absence of an ordained minister). The role of deacons is to assist in the smooth functioning of a local church and to maintain church property.
Ordination of women
Although the church has no written policy forbidding the ordination of women, it has traditionally ordained only men. In recent years the ordination of women has been the subject of heated debate, especially in North America and Europe. In the Adventist church, candidates for ordination are chosen by local conferences (which usually administer about 50–150 local congregations) and approved by unions (which serve about 6–12 conferences). The General Conference, the church’s world headquarters, claims the right to declare the worldwide qualifications for ordination, including gender requirements. The General Conference has never stated that ordination of women contravenes the Bible, but the General Conference has requested that no local conference ordain women until all parts of the world church accept the practice.
The primary prerequisite for membership in the Adventist church is baptism by immersion. This, according to the church manual, should occur only after the candidate has undergone proper instruction on what the church believes.
As of December 31, 2016, the church has 20,008,779 baptized members. Between 2005 and 2015, around half a million people per year have joined the Adventist church, through baptisms and professions of faith. The church is one of the world’s fastest-growing organizations, primarily from membership increases in developing nations. Today, less than 7% 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, 16 million in 2009, and 19 million in 2015. It is reported that today over 25 million people worship weekly in Seventh-day Adventist churches worldwide. The church operates in 202 out of 230 countries and areas recognized by the United Nations, making it “probably the most widespread Protestant denomination”.
G. Jeffrey MacDonald, an award-winning religion reporter, and author of Thieves in the Temple, reports that the SDA church is the fastest-growing church in the United States. “Newly released data show Seventh-day Adventism growing by 2.5% in North America, a rapid clip for this part of the world, where Southern Baptists and mainline denominations, as well as other church groups, are declining.”
The church has been described as “something of an extended family”, enjoying close, “two-degrees-of-separation social networks”.
The Biblical Research Institute is the theological research center of the church.
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 it has 15 board members. The Ellen G. White Estate also hosts the official Ellen White website whiteestate.org.
The Geoscience Research Institute, based at Loma Linda University, was founded in 1958 to investigate the scientific evidence concerning origins.
Missionary outreach of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is aimed not only at non-Christians but also at 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.
Globally, the Adventist Church operates 7,598 schools, colleges and universities, with a total enrollment of more than 1,545,000 and a total teaching staff of approximately 80,000. 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, second overall only to that of the Roman Catholic Church. The Adventist educational program strives to be comprehensive, encompassing “mental, physical, social and above all, spiritual health” with “intellectual growth and service to humanity” as its goal.
The largest (in terms of population) Seventh-day Adventist university in the world is Northern Caribbean University, located in Mandeville, Jamaica.
Adventists run a large number of hospitals and health-related institutions. Their largest medical school and hospital in North America is Loma Linda University and its attached Medical Center. Throughout the world, the church runs a wide network of hospitals, clinics, lifestyle centers, and sanitariums. These play a role in the church’s health message and worldwide missions outreach.
Adventist Health System is the largest not-for-profit multi-institutional Protestant healthcare system in the United States. It is sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and cares for over 4 million patients yearly.
Humanitarian aid and the environment
For over 50 years, the church has been active in humanitarian aid through the work of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). ADRA works as a non-sectarian relief agency in 125 countries and areas of the world. ADRA has been granted General Consultative Status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Worldwide, ADRA employs over 4,000 people to help provide relief in crises as well as development in situations of poverty.
The church embraces an official commitment 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.”
For over 120 years, The Adventist church has actively promoted freedom of religion for all people regardless of faith. In 1893, its leaders founded the International Religious Liberty Association, which is universal and non-sectarian. The Seventh-day Adventist Church State Council serves, primarily through advocacy, to seek protection for religious groups from legislation that may affect their religious practices. In May 2011, for example, the organization fought to pass legislation that would protect Adventist employees who wish to keep the Sabbath. According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has, throughout its history, aggressively advocated for the separation of church and state.
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 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; It Is Written, founded by George Vandeman, was the first religious program to air on color television and the first major Christian ministry to utilize satellite uplink technology. Today the Hope Channel, the official television network of the church, operates 8+ international channels broadcasting 24 hours a day on cable, satellite, and the Web.
Adventist World Radio was founded in 1971 and is the “radio mission arm” of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It utilizes AM, FM, shortwave, satellite, podcasting, and the Internet, broadcasting in 77 major language groups of the world with a potential coverage of 80% of the world’s population. AWR’s headquarters is in Silver Spring, Maryland, with studios throughout the world. A large portion of the ministry’s income is derived from membership gifts.
SDA evangelists such as Doug Batchelor, Mark Finley and Dwight Nelson have undertaken a number of international satellite-broadcast live evangelistic events, addressing audiences in up to 40 languages simultaneously.
Additionally, there exists a range of privately owned media entities representing Adventist beliefs. These include the Three Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN) and SafeTV networks and organizations such as The Quiet Hour and Amazing Discoveries.
In 2016, the Church released the film Tell the World.
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 pertaining to religious freedom.
The Adventist Church generally opposes the ecumenical movement, although it supports some of the other goals of ecumenism. The General Conference has released an official statement concerning the Adventist position with respect to the ecumenical movement, which contains the following paragraph:
- “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 the organic unity of churches, it is much more suspect.”
While not being a member 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 what some claim are heterodox doctrines, and in relation to Ellen G. White and her status within the church, and in relation to alleged exclusivist issues.
Critics such as evangelical Anthony Hoekema (who felt that Adventists were more in agreement with Arminianism) argue that some Adventist doctrines are heterodox. Several teachings which have come under scrutiny are the annihilationist view of hell, the investigative judgment (and a related view of the atonement), and the Sabbath; in addition, Hoekema also claims that Adventist doctrine suffers from legalism.
While critics such as Hoekema have classified Adventism as a sectarian group on the basis of its atypical doctrines, it has been accepted as more mainstream by Protestant evangelicals since its meetings and discussions with evangelicals 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 in 1956 that Adventists are Christians, and also later stated, “They are sound on the great New Testament doctrines including grace and redemption through the vicarious offering of Jesus Christ ‘once for all'”. Walter Martin, who is considered by many to be the father of the counter-cult apologetics movement within evangelicalism, authored The Truth About Seventh-day Adventists (1960) which marked a turning point in the way Adventism was viewed.
… it is perfectly possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and be a true follower of Jesus Christ despite heterodox concepts …— Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults
Later on, Martin planned to write a new book on Seventh-day Adventism, with the assistance of Kenneth R. Samples. Samples subsequently authored “From Controversy to Crisis: An Updated Assessment of Seventh-day Adventism”, which upholds Martin’s view “for that segment of Adventism which holds to the position stated in QOD, and further expressed in the Evangelical Adventist movement of the last few decades.” However, Samples also claimed that “Traditional Adventism” appeared “to be moving further away from a number of positions taken in QOD”, and at least at Glacier View seemed to have “gained the support of many administrators and leaders”.
Ellen G. White and her status
Ellen G. White’s status as a modern-day prophet has also been criticized. In the Questions on Doctrine era, evangelicals expressed concern about Adventism’s understanding of the relationship of White’s writings to the inspired canon of Scripture. The Adventist fundamental beliefs maintain that “the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.”
A common criticism of Ellen White, widely popularized by Walter T. Rea, Ronald Numbers and others, is the claim of plagiarism from other authors. An independent lawyer specializing in plagiarism, Vincent L. Ramik, was engaged to undertake a study of Ellen G. White’s writings during the early 1980s, and concluded that they were “conclusively unplagiaristic”. When the plagiarism charge ignited a significant debate during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Adventist General Conference commissioned a major study by Dr. Fred Veltman. The ensuing project became known as the “‘Life of Christ’ Research Project”. The results are available at the General Conference Archives. Dr. Roger W. Coon, David J. Conklin, Dr. Denis Fortin, King and Morgan, and Morgan, among others, undertook the refutation of the accusations of plagiarism. At the conclusion of his report, Ramik states:
It is impossible to imagine that the intention of Ellen G. White, as reflected in her writings and the unquestionably prodigious efforts involved therein, was anything other than a sincerely motivated and unselfish effort to place the understandings of Biblical truths in a coherent form for all to see and comprehend. Most certainly, the nature and content of her writings had but one hope and intent, namely, the furthering of mankind’s understanding of the word of God. Considering all factors necessary in reaching a just conclusion on this issue, it is submitted that the writings of Ellen G. White were conclusively unplagiaristic.
Critics have alleged that certain Adventist beliefs and practices are exclusivist in nature and they point to the Adventist claim to be the “remnant church”, and the traditional Protestant association of Roman Catholicism with “Babylon”. These attitudes are said to legitimize the proselytising of Christians from other denominations. In response to such criticisms, Adventist theologians have stated that the doctrine of the remnant does not preclude the existence of genuine Christians in other denominations, but is concerned with institutions.
We fully recognize the heartening fact that a host of true followers of Christ are scattered all through the various churches of Christendom, including the Roman Catholic communion. These God clearly recognizes as His own. Such do not form a part of the “Babylon” portrayed in the Apocalypse.— Questions on Doctrine, p. 197.
Ellen White also presented it in a similar light:
God has children, many of them, in the Protestant churches, and a large number in the Catholic churches, who are more true to obey the light and to do [to] the very best of their knowledge than a large number among Sabbathkeeping Adventists who do not walk in the light.— Ellen White, Selected Messages, book 3, p.386.
Independent ministries, offshoots, and schisms
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. Present Truth Magazine is an independent online magazine for those claiming to be “evangelical” Adventists.
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, such as Hope International which have strained relationship with the official church, which has expressed concerns that such ministries may threaten Adventist unity. Some independent ministries, like many of the Protestant reformers have continued to emphasize the mainstream Adventist belief which identified the Roman Papacy as the Antichrist. The church has put out a statement clarifying the official position that it does not condone any behavior by members which may “have manifested prejudice and even bigotry” against Catholics.
Offshoots and schisms
Throughout the history of the denomination, there have been a number of groups which have left the church and formed their own movements.
Following World War I, a group known as the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement was formed as a result of the actions of L. R. Conradi and certain European church leaders during the war, who decided that it was acceptable for Adventists to take part in war. Those who were opposed to this stand and refused to participate in the war were declared “disfellowshipped” by their local Church leaders at the time. When the Church leaders from the General Conference came and admonished the local European leaders after the war to try to heal the damage, and bring the members together, it met with resistance from those who had suffered under those leaders. Their attempts at reconciliation failed after the war and the group became organized as a separate church at a conference that was held on July 14–20, 1925. The movement officially incorporated in 1949.
In 2005, in another attempt to examine and resolve what its German leaders had done, the mainstream church apologized for its failures during World War II, stating, we “‘deeply regret’ any participation in or support of Nazi activities during the war by the German and Austrian leadership of the church.”
In the Soviet Union the same issues produced the group known as the True and Free Seventh-day Adventists. This formed as the result of a schism within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Europe during World War I over the position its European church leaders took on having its members join the military or keep the Sabbath. The group remains active today (2010) in the former republics of the Soviet Union.
Well known but distant offshoots are the Davidian Seventh-day Adventist organization and the Branch Davidians, themselves a schism within the larger Davidian movement. The Davidians formed in 1929, following Victor Houteff after he came out with his book The Shepherd’s Rod which was rejected as heretical. A succession dispute after Houteff’s death in 1955 led to the formation of two groups, the original Davidians and 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.
A number of Adventists who apostatized, such as former ministers Walter Rea and Dale Ratzlaff, have become critics of the church’s teachings and they particularly criticize Ellen G. White.
In popular culture
Hacksaw Ridge depicts the life of Adventist conscientious objector and Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss. A Cry in the Dark, a film about the death of Azaria Chamberlain, features the prejudice her parents faced due to misconceptions about their religion, and the father’s loss of faith. On television, a main character on the show Gilmore Girls is depicted as a strict conservative Adventist, causing conflict with her daughter. Many other forms of media include mentions of Seventh-day Adventism.
Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump attacked his opponent Ben Carson’s Adventist faith during the 2016 GOP primaries. Trump told his supporters, “I’m Presbyterian; boy, that’s down the middle of the road…I mean, Seventh-day Adventist? I don’t know about that. I just don’t know about it.” Trump would later make Carson his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.