Recently, I was very excited to see a whole long pew full of new college-age young adults at my church. Afterward, I found out they were a group of students doing a group assignment on researching what it meant to be a Seventh-day Adventist. They inquired of the primary differences between Seventh-day Adventist and other Christians. What follows below is my attempt to explain to a group of college students of varying levels of understanding of religion what a Seventh-day Adventist is. My goal was, twofold, to give them a level of historical and Biblical knowledge that would:
1) Be easily understood by those of varying backgrounds
2) Be worthy academically as a part of their college experience.
The first section is just a basic history and introduction which is then followed by three more sections of deeper focus:
Re-marriage and Homosexuality
Baptism and its meaning.
[Please understand, I did not choose these three areas of focus; the students, themselves, requested I aid them in an in-depth explanation of these areas of belief, which they would share, along with their own research, to their whole class.]
Basic Background and Facts about Seventh-day Adventism
Seventh-day Adventism is a Protestant Evangelical Christian religion that grew out of what American historians call the Second Great (religious) Awakening. It was a time span of great religious renewal between the 1790’s and 1840’s. The Second Great Awakening was seen as a reaction to the Age of Reason and Deism which had become extremely popular forms of secularism during that time. Adventism has its roots not only in the Second Great Awakening (which spawned many religions) but in a particular subsection of it called “Millerism”.
The Millerites were a group of sincere believers who became deeply convicted Jesus was about to return. The thrust of the movement centered around the teachings of a Baptist lay preacher by the name of William Miller. William Miller had been a deist who originally believed God had created the world but no longer took an interest in it (basic Deist teaching). However, in battle, as a commander in the war of 1812, knowing his troops to be doomed he prayed and saw God’s hands deliver his troops in impossible odds. With renewed faith, he became a devout Baptist and student of the Bible. After some time he became convinced that Jesus would return at some point in the 1840’s. He based this on a misunderstanding of Daniel 8:14 and 2,300 (day) year prophecy. Despite his well-meaning error, he had raised up a huge national following. Conservative estimates indicate Miller and his associates presented his theories ultimately to hundreds of thousands of people in America (Miller himself claimed to have spoken to over 500,000 people, in over 4,500 meetings), along with large numbers overseas; and printed articles in over 41 printing outlets nationally. When in October of 1844 (the time Millerites predicted Jesus was coming) Jesus did not return, the Millerite group shattered into pieces with various factions looking to find answers.
Daniel 8:14 and the 2300 day prophecy pointing to 1844
One of those factions was led by a group of second-tier Millerites; Joseph Bates, James White, and Ellen Harmon (later to marry James and become Ellen White). They became convinced Miller was wrong about the exact event of the 2,300-year prophecy but that the prophecy still had deep meaning and that Jesus would still return one day soon, but they did not know when. Unlike the other factions, they vowed to never again to set a date for the return of Christ but rather to keep studying the scriptures and ensure from this point forward all they believed was founded in the Bible alone; this is the group that eventually became known as Seventh-day Adventist.
Today the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a truly a global movement with approximately 21 million followers in over 200 nations. It has the second largest non-state-run education system in the world and has one of the biggest networks of hospitals in the world. The church also operates ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) which is a global disaster relief agency that works in conjunction with the United Nations to dispatch hundreds of workers and supplies to help fight poverty and disasters currently in over 125 countries. The Church also runs The Hope Channel, their official TV station found on many US TV cable networks. The focus of the Seventh-day Adventist church remains the commitment to Biblical scholarship, seeking to understand Prophecy in how it relates to the time we live in and the spreading of the Good News of the Gospel to the entire world.
Jesus Christ and His atonement for sinners are the core of all official Seventh-day Adventist teaching. The church believes, as the Bible states, that Salvation is by grace alone through faith and not of any human works. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
We believe Jesus loves all people and seeks to redeem, reconcile and restore them from the curse of sin.
Barry Black, 62nd Chaplain of the United States Senate. He assumed office July 7, 2003, and as of 2017 still holds this position.
Our name, also, identifies further key articles of faith. The Seventh-day is in reference to the Sabbath day which according to the ten commandments is the seventh-day of the creation cycle commonly known as Saturday (See Exodus 20:4-8) and the word Adventist is in reference to the hope of the Second Advent (coming) of Christ, when he will return, once and for all, for His people.
Well known Seventh-day Adventists include Barry Black (current Chaplain to the United States Senate), DeVon Franklin (Vice President for production at Columbia Pictures), Angus T. Jones (Actor from Two And A Half Men), Phil McDonald, M.D (Medical Analyst for the NBA), Wintley Phipps (world-renowned singer and friend to many Presidents of the United States), Little Richard (who was estranged from the church for most of his career but has since returned), Will and Harvey Kellogg (co-founders of Kellogg cereal), Edwin Correa (former major league pitcher), Desmond Doss (first conscientious objector to receive the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor), and Dr. Ben Carson (world-famous surgeon turned politician: PLEASE NOTE –the Church does not take political sides nor endorse his personal political views).
Three requested areas of focus from the inquiring students
1. Dietary Practices
From early in the movement dietary practices have been a significant element of the church. Often inside the church, our various health principles which include, but are not limited to, diet is often referred to as “The Health Message.” Early Adventists (short for Seventh-day Adventist) had a strong emphasis on medical missionary work and improved general health.
Key Biblical reasons for this focus include;
3 John 1:2 “Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.”
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
1 Corinthians 3:17 “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
Deuteronomy 7:15 “And the LORD will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt…”
In keeping with this philosophy, Seventh-day Adventist practices include the abstaining from Alcohol (Ephesians 5:18, Proverbs 18:1, 1 Corinthians 5:11) abstaining from the use of tobacco, or illicit or recreational drugs (the church is, of course, fine with medically prescribed medications). The Church also teaches that we should eat meat selections deemed clean in the Bible and avoid those deemed unclean (See Leviticus 11 for the full list). This practice is the same practice that conservative Jews practice and very similar to Islamic dietary teaching in eating of meats. The Church mostly sees this as a health practice. Plus, the following of the Leviticus health guidelines is very much in step with current, modern medical findings on avoiding too much red meat and high cholesterol food. Additionally, some Adventist (maybe as high as 40% or more in America) have opted for a vegetarian diet, again not as an act of spirituality as much as it is a health practice. Such church members would likely point out that according to Genesis 1:29 the original diet (before sin, and therefore before death enter the world) given by God was vegetarian “And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” It is worth stressing that vegetarianism is NOT a required practice of the church, but it is normally practiced at public eating (potlucks and such). Since it is not something that is required of a convert but, is seen as a matter of a person’s own conviction. It is widely practiced at church gatherings merely as a matter of pragmatic ease for varying diet convictions.
Interestingly, several academic studies have been done on Seventh-day Adventist that have determined the average Seventh-day Adventist lives approximately 8-11 years longer than the general U.S. population largely due to their health-conscious lifestyle. National Geographic made these findings it leading article in November of 2005. And documentary filmmaker, Martin Doblmeier, made the Adventist church and their health practices the focus of a very popular PBS documentary entitled, “The Adventist” (now available on DVD along with its follow-up documentary http://www.amazon.com/The-ADVENTISTS-MartinDoblmeier/dp/0578047861/ref=cm_rdp_product).
2. Marriage, Re-marriage, and Homosexuality
I have lumped these together because they are all part of the larger topic of marriage and family. The official teaching of the church states, “Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship.” (Source: The 28 Fundamentals) The core of this teaching is found in Genesis chapter 2:18-25 which describes the first wedding between man and women.
When we talk of Re-marriage and Homosexuality, these are topics that should be handled with the utmost sensitivity and compassion. The Bible states, “For I desire mercy, and not just sacrifice” (Hosea, 6:6, Matt 9:13). Principal founder and most influential visionary theologian, Ellen White, penned in her classic book, Desire of Ages, on the life of Jesus:
“… Men hate the sinner, while they love the sin. Christ hates the sin but loves the sinner. This will be the spirit of all who follow Him. Christian love is slow to censure, quick to discern penitence, ready to forgive, to encourage, to set the wanderer in the path of holiness, and to stay his feet therein.” (Desire of Ages, p.462p.462).
It is in this context that Adventists wrestle to be loving and merciful and yet not to ignore clear traditional teaching in Scripture on difficult subjects like this.
The issue of re-marriage is a difficult one because Seventh-day Adventists hold marriage in extremely high regard as being an institution that dates back to the beginning of time. We do not see the dissolving of marriage as a light subject. For us, rather than look at if a person can remarry, we tend to determine if the previous marriage had grounds to be ended in the first place. This approach is based on the teaching of Jesus in Mark 10 and Matthew 19. Accepted legitimate reasons for divorce include:
1) Adultery and Sexual Sin (Matt 19:10 & Matt 5:31-32)
2) Abuse (Exodus 20:13, Col 3:19, 1 Peter 3:7, Prov 10:11)
3) Abandonment (1 Cor 7:15, Mark 10:12).
Divorce and remarriage are not always a “one size fit all” thing for us because these issues are usually settled on a case by case basis at the local church level and some latitude may be granted by the Pastor and his leaders who know the case in very close detail and understanding.
When it comes to homosexuality Adventist firmly believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and that this is God’s desire and design for His followers and their sexuality (1 Cor 6:9-11, Romans 1:26-28, Leviticus 18:22, 1 Timothy 1:10, Mark 10:6-9). However, this does not give us the right to disrespect people who disagree with us or live at odds with our convictions. Most Adventists would agree that it is not our role, as a church, to go out and impose our convictions on others in a forceful manner, nor to seek to make people who have not accepted our faith follow convictions they don’t share. We firmly believe everyone has intrinsic value in the sight of God. We would, furthermore, agree that negative and destructive hateful speech and behaviors towards any people group that is different from us is against the will of God (Romans 12:18, Jude 23). A distinction most would make would be that we don’t see homosexuality as a state of being as sin, but rather the act of homosexuality as a sin. A person could be born homosexual and choose to practice abstinence and that would not be a problem. In most congregations even a practicing homosexual would not be excluded from attending and would be well-respected (hopefully in most settings) and welcomed gladly even though membership would not be extended to them while living an active homosexual lifestyle (however, the same would be true of heterosexuals who were living a heterosexual lifestyle that was contrary to the Biblical principles, i.e. those living in adultery and fornication). I have personally attended both churches and Adventist universities where homosexuals attended and were treated lovingly and respectfully for the most part even though we disagreed with their lifestyle.
Baptism in the Adventist church is a pretty similar practice as in most Baptist and Evangelical churches. The Adventist church practices baptism by immersion because that is that way it is depicted in scripture (Matthew 3:6, John 3:23, Acts 8:38). Furthermore, the Greek word used in the New Testament is “Baptizo” which in Greek literally means to submerge or dip under. Adventists only baptize those who are old enough to make their own willful decision to become a follower of Christ. The age for this rite of passage may vary from child to child and is dependent on their level of maturity and understanding. While twelve is a common age for many children, it is not at all a set rule. It is important to us that anyone entering the faith are doing so with understanding and that this is their personal decision and not that of a loved one or parent. Since we do not practice infant baptism we often will have a Baby Dedication service instead of a christening. At a Baby Dedication service, parents will pledge, in front to the congregation, to raise their child to the best of their ability as a happy Christian and the congregation will, likewise, pledge to assist the family if they have need in their journey of raising their child to follow Christ. Finally, at a Baby Dedication service, a special prayer or blessing will be said usually by the Pastor and elders of the church over the baby. Scripture gives us several occurrences of babies being dedicated shortly after birth including, even, the baby Jesus (1 Samuel 1:26-28, Luke 2:2, Mark 10:13-16).
When a person (child or adult) does decide to get baptized it is in response to their experience of Salvation in Jesus and is done after they have completed a study of the church’s core teachings. Jesus said,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20.)
Baptism is most often done in front of the congregation in a baptismal tank that usually will be part of the building. However, it can also be done in a lake, river, ocean, or even a swimming pool, as long as it has enough water. The Pastor usually officiates baptism but in his absence, an elder may stand in.
In terms of a theology of baptism, we don’t see baptism as a work that saves you. We wholeheartedly are convicted that salvation comes by grace alone and not of any works (Ephesians 2:8-9) but rather we see baptism as being an outward expression of the new birth experience in Christ; a time of starting our lives anew and living the born-again experience of a believer. The Bible says,
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried, therefore, with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)
Lastly, it is at the time of baptism a person is voted into membership. This tradition is taken from the Bible in Acts 2:42-47. Membership in the Adventist church is held on the local church level but is recognized globally in the church. Therefore, you become both a member of the local church and global church at the same time. If a person has already been baptized by immersion, in the past, in another Christian faith but now after studying with our faith wants to join we will honor their previous baptism because we recognize their previous walk with Christ as valid and faithful and will then vote them into membership by at practice known as “profession of faith” which basically means they profess to believe what they have continued to learn from us and would, now, like to join us officially.
For more information on what Seventh-day Adventist believe please follow this link to our official statements.