The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a Christian denomination distinguished by their doctrinal beliefs that the literal, visible Second Coming of Christ is close at hand, and that the Sabbath of the Old Testament is still relevant today and is God's true biblical Sabbath. Seventh-day Adventist beliefs state they are based solely on scripture, "Scripture is a road map. The Bible is God's voice, speaking His love personally to you today." 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.
While its critics regard it as a sectarian movement, the Seventh-day Adventist church is closely aligned to Protestantism. Its theology is Protestant in character, albeit with a number of unique teachings. These include a belief in the unconscious state of the dead and the doctrine of an investigative judgment. While many of their beliefs are rooted in Hebrew and Christian prophetism, and messianism, Seventh-day Adventists also share many of the basic beliefs held by other Protestant Christians; such as the authority of the Old and New Testaments, human choice, Christ is the only way to gain salvation, communion, and baptism.
The world church is governed by a General Conference located in Silver Spring, Maryland. Smaller regions are administered by divisions, union conferences and local conferences. The Seventh-day Adventist church operates numerous schools, hospitals and publishing houses worldwide, as well as a prominent humanitarian aid organisation: the Adventist Development and Relief Agency.
Seventh-day Adventists are also known for their emphasis on diet and health, separation of church and state, and their advocacy of vegetarianism and their culturally conservative principles.
At the beginning of 2006, the Seventh-day Adventist church had a worldwide membership of over 14 million and its mission program had reached 202 countries
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the largest of several Adventist groups which arose from the Millerite movement of the 1840s. The Millerite movement was part of the wave of revivalism in the United States known as the Second Great Awakening, and originated with William Miller, a Baptist preacher from Low Hampton, New York. Miller predicted on the basis of Daniel 8:14 and the "day-year principle" that Jesus Christ would return to earth on October 22, 1844. When this failed to occur, most his followers disbanded and returned to their original churches.
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 experienced 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.
As the early Adventist movement consolidated, the question of the biblical day of rest and worship was raised. The foremost proponent of Sabbath-keeping among early Adventists was retired sea captain Joseph Bates. Bates was introduced to the Sabbath doctrine by a tract written by a Millerite preacher named Thomas M. Preble who in turn had been influenced by a young Seventh Day Baptist lady by the name of Rachel Oakes Preston.
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.
For about 20 years, the Adventist movement consisted of a loosely knit group of people who adhered to 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 James White, Ellen G. White and Joseph Bates. Ellen White came to occupy a particularly central role; her many visions and strong leadership convinced her fellow Adventists that she possessed the gift of prophecy.
After intense discussions a formally organized church called the Seventh-day Adventist Church was established in Battle Creek, Michigan, in May 23, 1863, with a membership of 3,500. Through the evangelistic efforts of its ministers and laity and the guidance of Ellen G. White, the church quickly grew and established a presence beyond North America during the late 1800s. In 1903, the denominational headquarters were moved from Battle Creek to temporary quarters in Washington D.C. and soon thereafter established in nearby Takoma Park, Maryland. (In 1989, the headquarters was moved again, this time to Silver Spring, Maryland.)
For much of the 1800s the Adventist church was dominated by Arianism. This, along with the movement's other unique theological views, led most Christian denominations to regard it as a cult. However, the Adventist church adopted Trinitarianism early in the 20th century and began to dialogue with other Protestant groups towards the middle of the century, eventually gaining recognition as an "orthodox" Christian church.
The core teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination are expressed in the church's 28 Fundamental Beliefs. This statement of beliefs was originally adopted by the church's General Conference in 1980, with an additional belief (number 11) being added in 2005.
Adventist doctrine resembles trinitarian Protestant theology, with premillennial and Arminian emphases. Seventh-day Adventists uphold evangelical teachings such as the infallibility of Scripture, the substitutionary atonement, the resurrection of the dead and justification by faith.
There are, in addition, some distinctive teachings that are unique to Seventh-day Adventism:
To help in keeping the Sabbath holy, Adventists abstain from secular work on Saturday.Seventh-day Adventists often spend much of Friday preparing meals and tidying their homes for the Sabbath. Gathering with other believers to welcome in the Sabbath hours is encouraged. A typical Seventh-day Adventist's Sabbath routine will often begin on Friday evening with sundown worship at home or in church, known as Vespers.
Saturday worship usually commences with Sabbath School, similar to Sunday school in other churches. Sabbath School is a structured time of study at church, consisting of an introduction to the day's study, discussion in classes and a conclusion by the Sabbath School's leader. The Church produces a "Sabbath School Lesson", which deals with a particular Biblical doctrine or teaching every quarter. The Lesson is the same worldwide. Different groups are formed in which biblical themes and practical questions can be freely discussed. Special meetings are provided for children and youth in different age groups during this time.
After a small break, the community joins together again for a church service that follows a typical evangelical format which may vary from church to church but which will always have a sermon as a central feature. Worship through music, Scripture readings, prayers and an offering in the form of money collection are other standard features.
In some churches, members and visitors will stay at the church for a fellowship (or "potluck") lunch, for which everyone contributes a dish.
Sabbath afternoon activities vary widely depending on the cultural, ethnic and social background. Some may have an Adventist Youth program which is focused on the younger members of the church, and some churches hold a scout-like program called Pathfinders that focuses on the study of the Bible and their relationship with God, often through physical activities such as hiking and nature viewing.
Seventh-day Adventists usually practice communion four times a year. The communion is an open service that is available to members and Christian non-members. It commences with a feet washing ceremony, known as the "Ordinance of Humility", based on the Gospel account of John 13. The Ordinance of Humility is meant to symbolize Christ's washing of his disciples' feet at the Last Supper. Participants segregate by gender to separate rooms to conduct this ritual, although some congregations allow married couples to perform the ordinance on each other. 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 (compare Christianity and alcohol). Most Seventh-day Adventist churches tend to follow a unique recipe when making unleavened bread.