Seventh-day Adventist Church Overview

Who are the Seventh-day Adventists?

Seventh-day Adventist Church
Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church, Harlem, New York City.

BirgerNiss / Getty Images

Today's Seventh-day Adventist Church had its beginning in the mid-1800s, with William Miller (1782-1849), a farmer and Baptist preacher who lived in upstate New York. Best known for their Saturday Sabbath, Seventh-day Adventists affirm the same beliefs as most Protestant Christian denominations but also have several unique doctrines.

Seventh-day Adventist Church

  • Also Known As: Adventists
  • Known For: Protestant Christian denomination known for its observance of a Saturday Sabbath and belief that the second coming of Jesus Christ is imminent. 
  • Founding: May 1863.
  • Founders: William Miller, Ellen White, James White, Joseph Bates.
  • Headquarters: Silver Spring, Maryland
  • Worldwide Membership: More than 19 million members.
  • Leadership: Ted N. C. Wilson, President.
  • Notable Members: Little Richard, Jaci Velasquez, Clifton Davis, Joan Lunden, Paul Harvey, Magic Johnson, Art Buchwald, Dr. John Kellogg, and Sojourner Truth.
  • Belief Statement: “Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as the only source of our beliefs. We consider our movement to be the result of the Protestant conviction Sola Scriptura—the Bible as the only standard of faith and practice for Christians."

Seventh-day Adventist Church History

Originally a Deist, William Miller converted to Christianity and became a Baptist lay leader. After years of intensive Bible study, Miller concluded that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was near. He took a passage from Daniel 8:14, in which angels said it would take 2,300 days for the temple to be cleansed. Miller interpreted those "days" as years.

Starting with the year 457 BC, Miller added 2,300 years and came up with the period between March 1843 and March 1844. In 1836, he published a book titled Evidences from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ about the Year 1843.

But 1843 passed without incident, and so did 1844. The nonevent was called The Great Disappointment, and many disillusioned followers dropped out of the group. Miller withdrew from leadership, dying in 1849.

William Miller, American Baptist preacher.
William Miller, American Baptist preacher. Public Domain

Picking Up From Miller

Many of the Millerites, or Adventists, as they called themselves, banded together in Washington, New Hampshire. They included Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists.

Ellen White (1827-1915), her husband James, and Joseph Bates emerged as leaders of the movement, which was incorporated as the Seventh-day Adventist Church in May 1863.

Adventists thought Miller's date was correct but that the geography of his prediction was mistaken. Instead of Jesus Christ's Second Coming on earth, they believed Christ entered the tabernacle in heaven. Christ started a second phase of the salvation process in 1844, "Investigative Judgment 404," in which he judged the dead and the living still on earth. Christ's Second Coming would occur after he completed those judgments.

Eight years after the church was incorporated, the Seventh-day Adventists sent their first official missionary, J.N. Andrews, to Switzerland. Soon Adventist missionaries were reaching out to every part of the world.

Meanwhile, Ellen White and her family moved to Michigan and made trips to California to spread the Adventist faith. After her husband's death, she traveled to England, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Australia, encouraging missionaries.

Ellen White's Vision of the Church

Ellen White, continually active in the church, claimed to have visions from God and became a prolific writer. During her lifetime she produced more than 5,000 magazine articles and 40 books, and her 50,000 manuscript pages are still being collected and published. The Seventh-day Adventist Church accorded her prophet status and members continue to study her writings today.

James and Ellen White
James and Ellen White, co-founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Public Domain 

Because of White's interest in health and spirituality, the church began building hospitals and clinics. It also founded thousands of schools and colleges throughout the world. Higher education and healthy diets are greatly valued by Adventists.

In the latter part of the 20th century, technology came into play as Adventists looked for new ways to evangelize. The church now uses the latest technology to add new converts, including a satellite broadcast system with 14,000 downlink sites, a 24-hour global TV network, The Hope Channel, radio stations, printed matter, and the Internet,

From its meager beginnings 150 years ago, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has exploded in numbers, today claiming more than 19 million followers in over 200 countries. Less than ten percent of the church's members live in the United States.

Church Governing Body

Adventists have an elected representative government, with four ascending levels: the local church; the local conference, or field/mission, comprised of several local churches in a state, province, or territory; the union conference, or union field/mission, which includes conferences or fields within a larger territory, such as a grouping of states or an entire country; and the General Conference, or worldwide governing body. The church has divided the world into 13 regions.

As of November 2018, the current president of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is Ted N. C. Wilson.

Seventh-day Adventist Church Beliefs

The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes the Sabbath should be observed on Saturday since that was the seventh day of the week when God rested after creation. They hold that Jesus entered a phase of "Investigative Judgment" in 1844, in which he decides the future fate of all people.

Adventists believe that people enter a state of "soul sleep" after death and will be awakened for judgment at the Second Coming. The worthy will go to heaven while unbelievers will be annihilated. The church's name comes from their doctrine that Christ's Second Coming, or Advent, is imminent.

Adventists are especially concerned with health and education and have founded hundreds of hospitals and thousands of schools. Many of the church's members are vegetarians, and the church prohibits the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.