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Seventh-day Adventist Church

The Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA), colloquially referred to as the Adventists, is an evangelical Christian denomination that grew out of the prophetic Millerite movement in the United States during the middle part of the 19th century.


According to historians of the movement, this group gained its more recent name from the teaching that the expected return of Jesus on October 22, 1844 had been fulfilled in a way that had not previously been understood. This was termed "the Great Disappointment." Further Bible study led to the belief that Jesus in that year had entered into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary, and began an "investigative judgment" of the world: a process through which there is an examination of the heavenly records to "determine who, through repentance of sin and faith in Christ, are entitled to the benefits of His atonement"¹ after which Jesus will return to earth. According to the church's teaching, the return of Christ may occur very soon, though nobody knows the exact date of that event (Matthew 24:36).

Early Seventh-day Adventist leaders, including Ellen G. White, taught that those who did not accept the Adventist message prior to October 22, 1844, would not be saved. This was called the "shut-door" doctrine. The doctrine was later rejected by Seventh Day Adventists. Ellen G. White would later claim that she only believed this doctrine for a few months in 1844, until a "vision" told her to reject it. However, critics argue that she and other early SDA leaders continued to teach it as late as 1851. Among other things, they point to the Camden Vision , a document recounting a vision had by Ellen G. White which teaches the shut door doctrine and is dated to 1851. The SDA church leadership, however, insists the Camden Vision is fraudulent. See [1] for some discussions of the SDA leadership claims (from an anti-SDA perspective).

For about 20 years, the Adventist movement was a rather unorganized group of people who held to this message. Among its greatest supporters were James White, Ellen G. White and Joseph Bates.

Later, a formally organized church called the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was established in Battle Creek, Michigan, in May 1863, with a membership of 3,500. Through the evangelism and inspiration of Ellen G. White, the church quickly grew and established a presence beyond North America during the later part of the 1800s. In 1903, the denominational headquarters were moved from Battle Creek to Washington D.C. (and the immediately neighboring community of Takoma Park, Maryland). In 1989, the headquarters was moved again, this time to Silver Spring, Maryland.


Seventh-day Adventist doctrine is based on the Anabaptist protestant tradition. Adventist doctrine resembles mainstream orthodox trinitarian Protestant theology, with the exception of several areas.

  • Saturday as Sabbath. Seventh-day Adventists observe a 24-hour sunset to sunset Sabbath commencing Friday evening. Justification for this belief is garnered from the creation account in Genesis in which God rested on the seventh-day, an approach later immortalised in the Ten Commandments. Seventh-day Adventists maintain that there is no biblical mandate for the change from the "true Sabbath" to Sunday observance, which is to say that Sunday-keeping is merely a "tradition of men."
  • State of the Dead. Seventh-day Adventists believe that death is a sleep during which the "dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5). This view maintains that the person has no form of existence unitl the resurrection, either at the second coming of Jesus (in the case of the righteous) or after the millennium of Revelation 20 (in the case of the wicked). Because of this view, Seventh-day Adventists do not believe hell currently exists and believe further that the wicked will be destroyed in hell at the end of time.
  • Baptism. Seventh-day Adventists practise adult baptism by full immersion in a similar manner to the Baptists). Infants are dedicated rather than baptized, as it is argued that baptism requires knowing consent and moral responsibility.
  • Believe in an imminent, pre-millennial, second advent.
  • Teach that the "Spirit of Prophecy," an identifying mark of the remnant church, was manifested in the ministry of Ellen. G. White, whom Adventists recognize as the Lord's messenger. Her "writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction" (27 Fundamental Beliefs).

Seventh-day Adventists oppose the formulation of credal statements. Seventh-day Adventists prefer to view the fundamentall beliefs as descriptors rather that prescriptors. However divergence from the published position is frowned upon.

Number of members

  • 1961: 1 million
  • 1970: 2 million
  • 1980: 3.5 million
  • 1990: Almost 7 million
  • 2000: About 11 million
  • 2003: About 12 million
  • 2004: About 14 million

The Seventh-day Adventist Church one of the world's fastest-growing organizations, primarily due to increases in Third World membership.

The current head of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is General Conference President Jan Paulsen from Norway.

Media ministries

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has many affiliated broadcast ministries that are seen every day on radio and television.

The Voice Of Prophecy was founded in 1929 by H.M.S. Richards , Sr. on a single radio station in Los Angeles, but has since spread to stations throughout the nation and has recently begun television and video production. Richards' son, H.M.S. Richards, Jr., succeeded him in the late 1970s, and today is hosted by Pastor Lonnie Meleshenko and Connie Jeffery (daughter of It Is Written founder George Vandeman).

The Quiet Hour was founded in 1937 by J.L. Tucker as a radio program. Succeeding members of the Tucker family have run the ministry since then, and it too has expanded into television.

It Is Written was founded in 1956 by George Vandeman and was the first religious program to air in color, and the first to take advantage of satellite technology. Mark Finley succeeded Vandeman in 1992. He left the show in 2004 and was replaced by Shawn Boonstra.

Amazing Facts was founded in 1965 by Joe Crews in Baltimore, Maryland. Inspired by the success of the Voice Of Prophecy, Crews' original objective was to reach out to both Christian and non-Christian listeners via daily 15-minute programs by opening with a catchy historic fact, and how it applies to the overall Biblical messages. Later, the program offered accompanying home Bible study courses, as well as books written by Crews himself. In 1987, Amazing Facts initiated a television ministry. In 1993, after Joe Crews' passing, Doug Batchelor assumed the position as Director/Speaker, and has held that position ever since. Today, Amazing Facts broadcasts mainly out of Sacramento, California.

Breath Of Life is one of the most recent Adventist broadcast ministries to hit the airwaves. Although its main audience is African American, the message is similar to the other broadcast ministries.

The Three Angels Broadcasting Network was founded in 1984 by Danny Shelton. Troubled by bad thoughts, but inspired by his and his daughter's singing religious songs, Shelton had an idea to build a television station that would fulfill his own deepest needs. Eventually this would develop into a major 24-hour satellite service seen around the world. 3ABN (as it is often called) broadcasts all the major Adventist ministries, as well as its own in-house productions on the gospel, and mental and spiritual health. Additionally, there is a Three Angels Broadcasting Radio Network as well. This organization is a privately run non-profit that is not an official arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

All the main Adventist broadcast ministries have engaged in worldwide outreach via numerous crusades and rallies.


Seventh-day Adventists present a health message that recommends vegetarianism and requires abstinence from pork, shellfish, and other foods proscribed as "unclean" in Leviticus as well as from alcohol and tobacco.

The "health message" is considered to be the "right arm" of the church.

Seventh-day Adventists run a large number of hospitals.


Seventh-day Adventists have had a long interest in education. The Adventist church runs one of the largest education systems in the world. They operate some 5,700 pre-schools, primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges, universities, seminaries and medical schools in about 145 countries worldwide. The SDA educational program is comprehensive encompassing "mental, physical, social, and spiritual health" with "intellectual growth and service to humanity" its goal.


The Youth Department of the Seventh-day Adventist church runs an organisation for 10-16 year old boys and girls called Pathfinders. For younger children, Adventurer and Eager Beavers clubs are available that feed into the Pathfinder program.

Pathfinders is similar to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), except that membership is open to both boys and girls.


Structure and Polity

  • The global church is called the General Conference.
  • The General Conference is made up of divisions.
  • Divisions are comprised of union conferences.
  • Union conferences consist of local conferences.
  • Local conferences include local church districts. These are generally ministered to by one pastor each.
  • Local districts can contain one to many local churches (congregations). In the United States, these numbers tend to be smaller (2-4 churches per district, perhaps), while in most of the worldwide church, the numbers tend to be larger (5+ per district and per pastor, sometimes as many as 15 or more).

SDA Church polity (governance), is a curious mixture of hierarchical (or episcopal,) presbyterial and congregational elements. Each of these local churches has its own elected governing body and office. Almost everything is decided by either elected committees or through vote of members or representatives from the local churches. Each organization holds a general session at certain intervals. This is usually when general decisions get voted on. The president of the General Conference, for instance, is elected at the General Conference Session every five years. Churches are governed by a church board formed by members of that church, with the pastor of that congregation. Church property is owned by the conference corporation though, and so this differs from congregational polity. Ministers are ordained by ministers as are lay elders and lay deacons (This is presbyterial rather than congregational or episcopal.)

Off-shoots and Schismatics

Most notoriously, the Branch Davidians and David Koresh of the Waco, Texas conflagration are a schismatic off-shoot of the Seventh Day Adventist religious movement.

Outsider Criticisms of Seventh-day Adventism

There are disputes among Evangelical counter-cult authors over whether Seventh Day Adventism is a cult, in the sense in which they use this term to refer to groups which deviate from their own particular views on biblical orthodoxy. For example, in the late 1950s, Walter Martin and Donald Barnhouse classified SDA as non-cultic, although for Martin this was a reversal of his classification of SDA early in 1955 as a cult. Many evangelicals followed this advice, and continue to do so today, and accept SDA as an orthodox Christian denomination, even if it holds a few unusual doctrines. This can be viewed as an increasing acceptance of the SDA church into the Christian fold, since many of these other Christian groups were previously very much opposed to SDA teaching. Others, however, have rejected this view, including for example John Whitcomb Jr.

Critics of SDA doctrine argue that the SDA church, in accepting Ellen G. White as a prophet and her writings as inspired, is putting forward another source of authority in addition to the Bible. This they view as contrary to the traditional Protestant sola scriptura view of the Bible as the sole inspired source of authority, and the rejection of any claims to latter-day prophets.

They also criticise the Christology taught by Ellen G. White as inaccurate and heterodox. For example, White taught that "Christ took upon His sinless nature our sinful nature ... Christ took human nature and bore the infirmities and degeneracy of the race. He took our nature and its deteriorating condition" (Questions on Doctrine, pp. 654-656). By contrast, the traditional teaching of Christianity (both Protestant and Catholic) is that Christ's human nature was sinless.

Critics also view the SDA belief in annihilationism as unbiblical. They point to various biblical passages which contradict annihilationism, for example Luke 16:19-31, which they argue clearly indicates that the dead are presently conscious in Heaven or Hell, not in some kind of soul sleep.

Ellen G. White taught that belief in the doctrine of "investigative judgement " was necessary for salvation. For example, she writes in her book The Great Controversy (p. 488):

The subject of the sanctuary and the investigative judgement should be clearly understood by the people of God. All need a knowledge for themselves of the position and work of their great High Priest. Otherwise it will be impossible for them to exercise the faith which is essential at this time or to occupy the position which God designs for them to fill.

This is contrary to the traditional Christian view that faith in Christ is what is necessary to achieve salvation, not faith in some new doctrine that was unheard of until the 19th century.

It has been noted by several other Christian groups that in recent years the SDA leadership has de-emphasised several of the uniquely SDA doctrines, in favour of an emphasis on the basic Christian beliefs they share with other Christians, which renders the SDA church less problematic on the whole from the perspecitve of other Christians. Several traditionalist Seventh Day Adventists, however, are rather cross at the SDA Church leadership for doing this, and a few have left the SDA church to form splinter groups as a result.


  1. Ellen G. White. The Great Controversy (1911 edition) p.422 GC chapter 23

External links

Official Seventh-day Adventist Websites

Seventh-day Adventist Divergent Views

Sites opposed to Seventh-day Adventism

Sites opposed to sites opposed to Seventh-day Adventism

Neutral POV Reference

Last updated: 06-02-2005 12:36:31
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13