A Brief History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
“Organized in 1863, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has its doctrinal roots in the “Advent Awakening” movement of the 1840s. Hundreds of thousands of Christians became convinced from their study of Bible prophecy that Christ would soon return. This re-awakening of a neglected biblical belief occurred in many countries, with a major focus in North America.
After the “great disappointment” of their hopes in 1844, these “advent believers” broke up into a number of different groups. One group, studying their Bibles for increased understanding, recognized the seventh day Sabbath (Saturday) as the day of worship. This group, which included Ellen and James White and Joseph Bates, became the nucleus of the church congregations that chose the name “Seventh-day Adventist Church” and organized in Battle Creek, Michigan, with 125 churches and 3,500 members.
A small nucleus of “Adventists” began to grow ― mainly in the New England states of America, where William Miller’s Advent movement had begun. Ellen G. White, a mere teenager at the time of the “Great Disappointment,” of 1844 grew into a gifted author, speaker, and administrator, who would become and remain the trusted spiritual counselor of the Adventist family for more than seventy years until her death in 1915. Her counsels and messages to believers and church leaders shaped the form and progress of the church, while its beliefs have remained totally Bible-based.
In 1860 at Battle Creek Michigan, the loosely knit congregations of Adventists chose the name Seventhday Adventist and in 1863 formally organized a church body with a membership of 3,500. At first work was largely confined to North America until 1874 when the Church’s first missionary, J. N. Andrews, was sent to Switzerland. Africa was penetrated briefly in 1879 when Dr. H. P. Ribton, an early convert in Italy, moved to Egypt and opened a school, but the project ended when riots broke out in the vicinity.
The first non-Protestant Christian country entered was Russia, where an Adventist minister went in 1886. On October 20, 1890, the schooner Pitcairn was launched at San Francisco and was soon engaged in carrying missionaries to the Pacific Islands. Seventh-day Adventist workers first entered non-Christian countries in 1894 ― Gold Coast (Ghana), West Africa, and Matabeleland, South Africa. The same year saw missionaries entering South America, and in 1896 there were representatives in Japan.
The Health Reform Institute, later known as the Battle Creek Sanitarium, opened its doors in 1866, and missionary society work was organized on a statewide basis in 1870. The first of the Church’s worldwide network of schools was established in 1872, and 1877 saw the formation of statewide Sabbath school associations. In 1903, the denominational headquarters was moved from Battle Creek, Michigan, to Washington, D.C., and in 1989 to Silver Spring, Maryland, where it continues to form the nerve center of ever-expanding work.
Other early Adventists of note include John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of the “cornflake” developed by his brother Will and pioneer of the Battle Creek Sanitarium; Joseph Bates, retired sea captain and first leader of an Adventist administration; Uriah Smith, prolific author and inventor, and editor of the church’s paper for almost 50 years.
Adventist missionaries began work outside of North America in 1864, and ten years later J. N. Andrews was sent to Switzerland as the denomination’s first official missionary. In 1894 church operations commenced in Africa (Ghana and South Africa). Missionaries also arrived in South America in 1894, and in Japan in 1896. The church now operates in 205 countries worldwide.
The publication and distribution of literature were also major factors in the growth of the Advent movement. The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (now the Adventist Review), general church paper, was launched in Paris, Maine, in 1850; the Youth’s Instructor in Rochester, New York, in 1852; and the Signs of the Times in Oakland, California, in 1874. The first denominational publishing house at Battle Creek, Michigan, began operating in 1855 and was duly incorporated in 1861 under the name of Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association.
Adventists have a desire to reach people for Christ. One result of this desire to touch lives for God is that Adventists have built thousands of schools around the world. It also means that Seventh-day Adventist physicians and medical institutions serve individual needs in more than 98 countries, giving the highest possible quality of personal care whenever people hurt. These physicians, nurses, therapists, and other medical workers have dedicated their lives to providing physical healing so that each person can live the best possible life. Using modern medical knowledge and carefully developed skills, these workers touch thousands of lives each day, bringing healing and hope into families around the world.
Schools, hospitals, clinics, and health food factories are just one small corner of the Seventh-day Adventist commitment to improving lives. There is much more:
- Wherever disaster strikes, ADRA, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, joins hands with other organizations to provide clean water, food, clothing, housing, and care.
- Adventist publishing houses produce inspirational books, textbooks, Bible commentaries, health books, and dozens of specialized magazines in scores of languages each month. These are then delivered to millions of homes around the world, providing quality reading and information that improves lives.
3. Local Adventist churches serve their communities by providing recreational and social activities for children and teenagers, vocational and evening education programs for adults, and spiritual programming and health clinics for all.
4. On a worldwide scale, the church’s mission activities are exemplified in the Global Mission Initiative―to reach the unreached peoples of the world for Christ.
5. Summer camps offer all sorts of activities, from horseback riding and water skiing to crafts and dozens of other youth activities in country environments in which children feel safe and loved. These activities are combined with a witness for God’s message to make people whole―physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually.
6. Use of modern technology also describes Adventist commitment to mission and presence in the society with messages of “Good News.” Numerous radio studios dot the Adventist broadcasting map around the globe. The same goes for production of television and other media programs. The church’s interest is best exemplified in a satellite broadcast system with more than 14,000 down-link sites, and the television 24/7 global broadcasting network for homes, the Hope Channel.
Too often it’s easy to see all of this as just activities of the institutions and organizations of the church. But the Seventh-day Adventist Church is far more than its organizational structure and institutions. The Adventist Church is people, individual members who have caught a vision and who have chosen to live out that vision for Christ, as His hands of hope.
Growth from the early days has been dramatic. From the small group meeting in 1846 and the organization of the church with 3,500 believers, Seventh-day Adventists now number approximately 17 million worldwide.
(this article is from the March–April 2013 edition of the Sabbath Sentinel, pages 19-20)
To read the rest of this magazine, click this link: https://biblesabbath.org/media/TSS_2013_Mar-Apr–560.pdf