SEVENTH DAY ADVENTISM

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Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a North Texas Presidential Forum hosted by Faith & Freedom Coalition and Prestonwood Baptist Church last weekend.
Brandon Wade/AP

All Your Questions About Seventh-Day Adventism And Ben Carson Answered

October 27, 2015 5:51 PM ET

Ben Carson has surged into a lead in Iowa and is climbing nationally thanks to his appeal to evangelicals. But could his own beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist make him anathema to many of those same voters?

Donald Trump seemed to question the Republican neurosurgeon’s faith over the weekend.

“I’m Presbyterian,” Trump said at a Saturday rally in Florida. “Boy, that’s down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about. I just don’t know about.”

Trump later denied he was trying to send up a “dog whistle” questioning Carson’s faith, but he seemed to be trying to exploit the fact that the faith largely remains a mystery to many Americans.

Just look at the top Google trends for Seventh-day Adventists. Questions people are Googling: Are they a cult? Are they Mormon? Are they anti-Catholic? Are they Protestant? Are they vegetarian?

Here are some background and some answers to those questions and others. First, the background:

When did the Seventh-day Adventist Church begin?

The Adventist movement can trace its influences back to William Miller, a farmer turned Bible teacher who predicted that Jesus would return to Earth sometime between March 1843 and March 1844, based on his interpretation of Old Testament passages and other Scriptures. His followers began selling their possessions, anticipating the rapture. When that didn’t happen, Miller said it would happen on a new date: Oct. 22, 1844. That prediction didn’t come true either, of course.

The church still considers his original prophecy (though wrong on its dates) one of the central tenets of its faith — that Jesus will soon return. “He was wrong in his prediction, because he predicted the date of when Christ would come,” says G. Alexander Bryant, the executive secretary for Seventh-day Adventists of North America “What we learned from William Miller is that no man knows the date or the hour when Jesus will return.”

What happened next?

After Miller’s prophecy didn’t come true, there was a period the church refers to as the “great disappointment” that led to much soul-searching — but the ensuing reflection eventually led to the church’s official founding. Its name, the Adventists, reflects that its adherents are awaiting the Second Advent of Christ.

“Many were quite disappointed and disenchanted with the beliefs,” Bryant says. “Others began to think more diligently, ‘Where did we go wrong?’ and continued studying and searching.”

One of those people was Ellen G. White, who along with others officially founded the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1863. A prolific writer on faith and health, she is seen by the church as a prophetess who was instrumental in cementing many of the church’s early beliefs. Overall, she wrote more than 40 books and over 50,000 articles.

While the influence of White’s writings has drawn scrutiny, Bryant emphasizes that her writings are not seen as divine or meant to supersede the Bible.

“She was a complement to the Bible and a prophetic writer in her own right,” he says. “She is viewed as a co-founder of a mission.”

How many Seventh-day Adventists are there?

The Adventist Church boasts 1.2 million members in North America; with more than 18.7 million members worldwide it is among the fastest-growing denominations. The Pew Research Center found it to be the most racially diverse religious group in the U.S. earlier this year.

What makes Adventists unique?

Unlike most other Christian denominations, Seventh-day Adventists attend church on Saturdays, which they believe to be the Sabbath instead of Sunday, according to their interpretation of the Bible.

“It’s not just that we worship on the Sabbath; we honor that day as a day of rest,” Bryant says. “We don’t engage in secular activities, we don’t work during that time, and we look at that time to be rejuvenated.”

There is also an emphasis placed on health and wholeness, partly drawn from White’s writings. That includes abstention from alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs and even meat. The church has an approach it abbreviates as “NEWSTART” — nutrition, exercise, water, sunlight, temperance, air, rest and trust in divine power.

So, are all Seventh-day Adventists forbidden to do anything on Saturdays and to eat any meat?

Not really. Bryant emphasizes that the church takes very seriously setting aside and respecting the Sabbath, but that it also recognizes that some work must take place, such as in the medical field. (The church also has a vast network of hospitals.)

Carson has said he tries to respect the Sabbath, but he has campaigned and made stops on his book tour on Saturdays. “Sabbath is still a precious day for us. We go to church as often as we can. Even if we’re on the road we treat it as a different day than all the others,” he told an Adventist news network in 2013.

“We do not believe that the only way you can be saved is to keep the Sabbath,” says Bryant, noting that the Bible is their only source for their doctrine and that Adventists don’t believe other churches to be heretical if they worship on Sundays instead of Saturdays.

As for some of the dietary guidelines, they’re just that — guidelines. Not eating meat also isn’t a requirement to be a Seventh-day Adventist, though it is encouraged.

“We don’t beat people up if they don’t choose it, because we still believe it is a personal choice,” Bryant says. “But we believe [vegetarianism or veganism] is the healthier choice.”

Do their beliefs differ from traditional evangelicals?

Not much. Aside from different days of worship and an outsize emphasis on health and nutrition, doctrinally the two are about the same. Evangelicals and Adventists believe in salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone, and many of their original members came from other related denominations, like Methodism, or even some from Roman Catholic traditions. The current Seventh-day Adventist Church considers itself to be Protestant.

“If you know our faith, you can’t say we don’t have the same beliefs as other Protestants,” Bryant says.

Randall Balmer, a professor of religion at Dartmouth College, concurred that there weren’t many differences in beliefs or theology. But some of the notable stylistic differences may be why Adventists can be viewed very skeptically by some evangelicals.

“I think there’s kind of a cultural difference and a residual suspicion because they worship on Saturday rather than Sunday,” Balmer said. “My observation is that Seventh-day Adventists are looked askance [at] to some degree. It’s not because of anything heretical in what they believe, but it’s just kind of a cultural difference.”

Do some evangelicals believe Adventists are a cult or are not Christian?

Some may, and there is still some residual skepticism. Earlier this year, Carson was disinvited from speaking at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors’ Conference because of theological concerns.

On the website of the SBC’s North American Mission Board, the church classifies Adventists as a “sect” of Christianity, not a cult, “because it has a number of distinctive doctrines not in accord with the mainstream of historic Christian faith.”

Could Carson’s faith impact his standing in the GOP primary?

Probably not. Evangelical voters are far more skeptical of Mormonism, which deviates more from their brand of Christianity than do Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. So if Republicans could nominate Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon, Carson’s own religion shouldn’t be a stumbling block either.

And if Trump is trying to throw doubt on Carson’s own faith, there remain plenty of questions about his own — including the fact that the church he says he attends says he isn’t an active member.

Carson has drawn scrutiny for some of his comments on abortion and other social issues. Where does the church stand on those?

The church says it does not condone abortion except in cases to save the life of the mother, and abortions are not performed in any of its hospitals.

It also recognizes marriage as solely between a man and a woman. But Bryant says that Adventists “also have a compassionate heart in terms of fellowship and acceptance for all those who come in fellowship and worship in our churches [and] do not condone singling out any group for scorn or derision, let alone abuse.”

But while a same-sex couple would be welcome to fellowship with their church, they would not be allowed to join as members or be baptized.

Are Seventh-day Adventists endorsing Carson?

Definitely not. When he announced in May, the church released a statement reiterating its neutrality and reaffirming its belief in separation of church and state.

“We have a very strict and very strong focus on religious liberty,” Bryant says. “We advocate and we believe deeply that church and state should be separated.”

These beliefs would seem counter to Carson’s assertion last month that a Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to be president.

Are there other notable Seventh-day Adventists in politics?

Senate Chaplain Barry Black, who gained notoriety for his pointed prayers during the government shutdown two years ago, is the first Seventh-day Adventist chaplain in Congress. Two House members also hail from the church: Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas; and Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., who like Carson is a doctor. Former Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., was also a Seventh-day Adventist.

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Seventh-day Adventist Church

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Seventh-day Adventist Church
Seventh-Day Adventist Church logo.svg
Classification Protestant
Orientation Adventist
Polity Modified Presbyterian Polity
Leader Ted N. C. Wilson
Region Worldwide
Founder Joseph Bates
James White
Ellen G. White
J. N. Andrews
Origin May 21, 1863
Battle Creek, Michigan
Branched from Millerites
Separations Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement (separated 1925);
Shepherds Rod – Davidian SDAs (separated 1929)
Congregations 74,299 churches,
67,669 companies
Members 18,143,745[1]
Ministers 17,272[2]
Hospitals 175[2]
Nursing homes 136[2]
Aid organization Adventist Development and Relief Agency
Primary schools 5,714[2]
Secondary schools 1,969[2]
Tertiary institutions 113[2]
Other name(s) Adventist church, SDA (informal)
Official website www.adventist.org

The Seventh-day Adventist Churcha[›] is a Protestant Christian denomination[3] distinguished by its observance of Saturday,[4] the original seventh day of the Judeo-Christian week, as the Sabbath, and by its emphasis on the imminent Second Coming (advent) of Jesus Christ. The denomination grew out of the Millerite movement in the United States during the mid-19th century and was formally established in 1863.[5] Among its founders was Ellen G. White, whose extensive writings are still held in high regard by the church.[6]

Much of the theology of the Seventh-day Adventist Church corresponds to common Evangelical Protestant Christian teachings, such as the Trinity and the infallibility of Scripture. Distinctive teachings include the unconscious state of the dead and the doctrine of an investigative judgment. The church is also known for its emphasis on diet and health, its “holistic” understanding of the person,[7] its promotion of religious liberty, and its conservative principles and lifestyle.[8]

The world church is governed by a General Conference, with smaller regions administered by divisions, union conferences, and local conferences. It currently has a worldwide baptized membership of about 18.1 million people.[9] As of May 2007, it was the twelfth-largest religious body in the world,[10] and the sixth-largest highly international religious body.[11] It is ethnically and culturally diverse, and maintains a missionary presence in over 200 countries and territories.[2][12] The church operates numerous schools, hospitals and publishing houses worldwide, as well as a humanitarian aid organization known as the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

Contents

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the largest of several Adventist groups which arose from the Millerite movement of the 1840s in upstate New York, a phase of the Second Great Awakening. William Miller predicted on the basis of Daniel 8:14–16 and the “day-year principle” that Jesus Christ would return to Earth between the spring of 1843 and the spring of 1844. In the summer of 1844, Millerites came to believe that Jesus would return on October 22, 1844, understood to be the biblical Day of Atonement for that year. When this did not happen (an event known as the “Great Disappointment“), most of his followers disbanded and returned to their original churches.

Some Millerites came to believe that Miller’s calculations were correct but that his interpretation of Daniel 8:14 was flawed as he assumed it was the “earth that was to be cleansed” or Christ would come to cleanse the world. 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. This new awareness of a sanctuary in heaven became an important part of their thinking. Over the next few decades this understanding developed into the doctrine of the investigative judgment, an eschatological process commenced in 1844 in which Christians will be judged to verify their eligibility for salvation and God’s justice will be confirmed before the universe. This group of Adventists continued to believe that Christ’s Second Coming would be imminent. They resisted setting further dates for the event, citing Revelation 10:6, “that there should be time no longer.”[13]

Development of Sabbatarianism

As the early Adventist movement consolidated its beliefs, the question of the biblical day of rest and worship was raised. The foremost proponent of Sabbath-keeping among early Adventists was Joseph Bates. Bates was introduced to the Sabbath doctrine through a tract written by Millerite preacher Thomas M. Preble, who in turn had been influenced by Rachel Oakes Preston, a young Seventh Day Baptist. 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.

Organization and recognition

For about 20 years, the Adventist movement consisted of a small, loosely knit group of people who came from many churches and whose primary means of connection and interaction was through James White’s periodical The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. They embraced the doctrines of 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 Joseph Bates, James White, and Ellen G. White. Ellen White came to occupy a particularly central role; her many visions and spiritual leadership convinced her fellow Adventists that she possessed the gift of prophecy.

The church was formally established in Battle Creek, Michigan, on May 21, 1863, with a membership of 3,500.[5] The denominational headquarters were later moved from Battle Creek to Takoma Park, Maryland, where they remained until 1989. The General Conference headquarters then moved to its current location in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The denomination in the 1870s turned to missionary work and revivals, tripling its membership to 16,000 by 1880 and establishing a presence beyond North America during the late 19th century. Rapid growth continued, with 75,000 members in 1901. By this time the denomination operated two colleges, a medical school, a dozen academies, 27 hospitals, and 13 publishing houses. By 1945, the church reported 210,000 members in the US and Canada, and 360,000 elsewhere; the budget was $29 million and enrollment in church schools was 140,000.[14]

The church’s beliefs and doctrines were first published in 1872 in Battle Creek Michigan as a brief statement called “A Synopsis of our Faith”.[15] The church experienced challenges as it formed its core beliefs and doctrines especially as a number of the early Adventist leaders came from churches that held to some form of Arianism (Ellen G. White was not one of them).[16] This, along with some of the movement’s other theological views, led to a consensus among conservative evangelical Protestants to regard it as a cult.[17][18][19][20] However, the Adventist Church adopted Trinitarian theology early in the 20th century and began to dialogue with other Protestant groups toward the middle of the century, eventually gaining wide recognition as a Protestant church. Christianity Today recognized the Seventh-day Adventist church as ” the fifth-largest Christian communion worldwide” in its January 22, 2015 issue.[21]

Beliefs

The official teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination are expressed in its 28 Fundamental Beliefs. This statement of beliefs was originally adopted by the General Conference in 1980, with an additional belief (number 11) being added in 2005. Acceptance of either of the church’s two baptismal vows is a prerequisite for membership. The following statement of beliefs is not meant to be read or received as a “creed” that is set in theological concrete. Adventists claim but one creed: “The Bible, and the Bible alone.”

Adventist doctrine resembles trinitarian Protestant theology, with premillennial and Arminian emphases. Adventists uphold teachings such as the infallibility of Scripture, the substitutionary atonement, the resurrection of the dead and justification by faith alone, and are therefore often considered evangelical.[22] They believe in baptism by immersion and creation in six literal days. The modern Creationist movement started with Adventist George McCready Price, who was inspired by a vision of Ellen White.[23]

There is a generally recognized set of “distinctive” doctrines which distinguish Adventism from the rest of the Christian world, although not all of these teachings are wholly unique to Adventism:

  • Law (fundamental belief 19)—the Law of God is “embodied in the Ten Commandments“, which continue to be binding upon Christians.
  • Sabbath (fundamental belief 20)—the Sabbath should be observed on the seventh day of the week, specifically, from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.
  • Second Coming and End times (fundamental beliefs 25–28)—Jesus Christ will return visibly to earth after a “time of trouble”, during which the Sabbath will become a worldwide test. The Second Coming will be followed by a millennial reign of the saints in heaven. Adventist eschatology is based on the historicist method of prophetic interpretation.
  • Wholistic human nature (fundamental beliefs 7, 26)—Humans are an indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit. They do not possess an immortal soul and there is no consciousness after death (commonly referred to as “soul sleep“). (See also: Christian anthropology)
  • Conditional immortality (fundamental belief 27)—The wicked will not suffer eternal torment in hell, but instead will be permanently destroyed. (See: Conditional immortality, Annihilationism)
  • Great Controversy (fundamental belief 8)—Humanity is involved in a “great controversy” between Jesus Christ and Satan. This is an elaboration on the common Christian belief that evil began in heaven when an angelic being (Lucifer) rebelled against the Law of God.
  • Heavenly sanctuary (fundamental belief 24)—At his ascension, Jesus Christ commenced an atoning ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. In 1844, he began to cleanse the heavenly sanctuary in fulfillment of the Day of Atonement.
  • Investigative Judgment (fundamental belief 24)—A judgment of professed Christians began in 1844, in which the books of record are examined for all the universe to see. The investigative judgment will affirm who will receive salvation, and vindicate God in the eyes of the universe as just in his dealings with mankind.
  • Remnant (fundamental belief 13)—There will be an end-time remnant who keep the commandments of God and have “the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 12:17). This remnant proclaims the “three angels’ messages” of Revelation 14:6–12 to the world.
  • Spirit of Prophecy (fundamental belief 18)—The ministry of Ellen G. White is commonly referred to as the “Spirit of Prophecy” and her writings are considered “a continuing and authoritative source of truth”,[24] though ultimately subject to the Bible. (See: Inspiration of Ellen White)

Theological spectrum

As with any religious movement, a theological spectrum exists within Adventism comparable to the fundamentalist-moderate-liberal spectrum in the wider Christian church and in other religions. A variety of groups, movements or subcultures within the church present differing views on beliefs and lifestyle.

The conservative end of the theological spectrum is represented by historic Adventists, who are characterized by their opposition to theological trends within the denomination, beginning in the 1950s.[25] They object to theological compromises with evangelicalism, and seek to defend traditional Adventist teachings such as the human post-fall nature of Jesus Christ, investigative judgment, and character perfectionism.[26] Historic Adventism is represented by some scholars,[27] is also seen at the grassroots level of the church[28] and is often promoted through independent ministries.

The most liberal elements in the church are typically known as progressive Adventists (progressive Adventists generally do not identify with liberal Christianity). They tend to disagree with more traditional views concerning the inspiration of Ellen White, the Sabbath, a seven-day Creation, the doctrine of the remnant and the investigative judgment.[26][29] The progressive movement is supported by some scholars[30] and finds expression in bodies such as the Association of Adventist Forums and in journals such as Spectrum and Adventist Today.

Theological organizations

The Biblical Research Institute is the official theological research center of the church. The church has two professional organizations for Adventist theologians who are affiliated with the denomination. The Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) was formed to foster a community among Adventist theologians who attend the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the American Academy of Religion. In 2006 ASRS voted to continue their meetings in the future in conjunction with SBL. During the 1980s the Adventist Theological Society was formed to provide a forum for more conservative theologians to meet and is held in conjunction with the Evangelical Theological Society.

Culture and practices

Sabbath activities

Part of Friday might be spent in preparation for the Sabbath; for example, preparing meals and tidying homes. Adventists may gather for Friday evening worship to welcome in the Sabbath, a practice often known as Vespers.

Adventists abstain from secular work on Saturday. They will also usually refrain from purely secular forms of recreation, such as competitive sport and watching non-religious programs on television. However, nature walks, family-oriented activities, charitable work and other activities that are compassionate in nature are encouraged. Saturday afternoon activities vary widely depending on the cultural, ethnic and social background. In some churches, members and visitors will participate in a fellowship (or “potluck“) lunch and AYS (Adventist Youth Service).

Worship service

The major weekly worship service occurs on Saturday, typically commencing with Sabbath School which is a structured time of small-group study at church. Adventists make use of an officially produced “Sabbath School Lesson”, which deals with a particular biblical text or doctrine every quarter. Special meetings are provided for children and youth in different age groups during this time (analogous to Sunday school in other churches).

After a brief break, the community joins together again for a church service that follows a typical evangelical format, with a sermon as a central feature. Corporate singing, Scripture readings, prayers and an offering, including tithing (or money collection), are other standard features. The instruments and forms of worship music vary greatly throughout the worldwide church.[31] Some churches in North America have a contemporary Christian music style, whereas other churches enjoy more traditional hymns including those found in the Adventist Hymnal. Worship is known to be generally restrained.

Holy Communion

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 foot 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 and to remind participants of the need to humbly serve one another. Participants segregate by gender to separate rooms to conduct this ritual, although some congregations allow married couples to perform the ordinance on each other and families are often encouraged to participate together. 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.

Health and diet

Since the 1860s when the church began, wholeness and health have been an emphasis of the Adventist church.[32] Adventists are known for presenting a “health message” that recommends vegetarianism and expects adherence to the kosher laws in Leviticus 11. Obedience to these laws means abstinence from pork, shellfish, and other animals proscribed as “unclean“. The church discourages its members from consuming alcoholic beverages, tobacco or illegal drugs (compare Christianity and alcohol). In addition, some Adventists avoid coffee, tea, cola, and other beverages containing caffeine.

Sanitarium products for sale

The pioneers of the Adventist Church had much to do with the common acceptance of breakfast cereals into the Western diet, and the “modern commercial concept of cereal food” originated among Adventists.[33] John Harvey Kellogg was one of the early founders of Adventist health work. His development of breakfast cereals as a health food led to the founding of Kellogg’s by his brother William. In both Australia and New Zealand, the church-owned Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing Company is a leading manufacturer of health and vegetarian-related products, most prominently Weet-Bix.

Research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has shown that the average Adventist in California lives 4 to 10 years longer than the average Californian. The research, as cited by the cover story of the November 2005 issue of National Geographic, asserts that Adventists live longer because they do not smoke or drink alcohol, have a day of rest every week, and maintain a healthy, low-fat vegetarian diet that is rich in nuts and beans.[34][35] The cohesiveness of Adventists’ social networks has also been put forward as an explanation for their extended lifespan.[36] Since Dan Buettner‘s 2005 National Geographic story about Adventist longevity, his book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, named Loma Linda, California a “blue zone” because of the large concentration of Seventh-day Adventists. He cites the Adventist emphasis on health, diet, and Sabbath-keeping as primary factors for Adventist longevity.[37][38]

An estimated 35% of Adventists practice vegetarianism or veganism, according to a 2002 worldwide survey of local church leaders.[39][40]

Adventists’ clean lifestyles were recognized by the U.S. military in 1954 when 2,200 Adventists volunteered for Operation Whitecoat to be human test subjects for a range of diseases the effects of which were still unknown:

The first task for the scientists was to find people willing to be infected by pathogens that could make them very sick. They found them in the followers of the Seventh-day Adventist faith. Although willing to serve their country when drafted, the Adventists refused to bear arms. As a result many of them became medics. Now the U.S. was offering recruits an opportunity to help in a different manner: to volunteer for biological tests as a way of satisfying their military obligations. When contacted in late 1954, the Adventist hierarchy readily agreed to this plan. For Camp Detrick scientists, church members were a model test population, since most of them were in excellent health and they neither drank, smoked, nor used caffeine. From the perspective of the volunteers, the tests gave them a way to fulfill their patriotic duty while remaining true to their beliefs.[41]

Marriage

The Adventist understanding of marriage is a lawfully binding lifelong commitment of a man and a woman. The Church Manual refers to the origination of the marriage institution in Eden and points to the union between Adam and Eve as the pattern for all future marriages.[42]

Adventists hold that marriage is a divine institution established by God Himself before the fall. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). God celebrated the first marriage and the institution has for its originator the Creator of the universe and was one of the first gifts of God to man, and it is “one of the two institutions that, after the fall, Adam brought with him beyond the gates of Paradise.”[43]

The Old and New Testament texts are interpreted by some Adventists to teach that wives should submit to their husbands in marriage.[44]

Heterosexual marriages are the only biblically ordained grounds for sexual intimacy. Adventists do not perform same-sex marriages, and individuals who are openly homosexual cannot be ordained and may be disfellowshipped from the church membership.[45][46]

Ethics and sexuality

The official Adventist position on abortion is that “abortions for reasons of birth control, gender selection, or convenience are not condoned.” At times, however, women may face exceptional circumstances that present serious moral or medical dilemmas, such as significant threats to the pregnant woman’s life or health, severe congenital defects in the fetus, and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest; in these cases individuals are counseled to make their own decisions.[47]

Adventists believe in and encourage abstinence for both men and women before marriage. The church disagrees with extra-marital cohabitation.[48]

The Adventist church has released official statements in relation to other ethical issues such as euthanasia (against active euthanasia but permissive of passive withdrawal of medical support to allow death to occur),[49] birth control (in favor of it for married couples if used correctly, but against abortion as birth control and premarital sex in any case)[50] and human cloning (against it while the technology is unsafe and would result in defective births or abortions).[51]

Dress and entertainment

Adventists have traditionally held socially conservative attitudes regarding dress and entertainment. These attitudes are reflected in one of the church’s fundamental beliefs:

For the Spirit to recreate in us the character of our Lord we involve ourselves only in those things which will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives. This means that our amusement and entertainment should meet the highest standards of Christian taste and beauty. While recognizing cultural differences, our dress is to be simple, modest, and neat, befitting those whose true beauty does not consist of outward adornment but in the imperishable ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit.[24]

Accordingly, many Adventists are opposed to practices such as body piercing and tattoos and refrain from the wearing of jewelry, including such items as earrings and bracelets. Some also oppose the displaying of wedding bands, although banning wedding bands is not the position of the General Conference.[52] Conservative Adventists avoid certain recreational activities which are considered to be a negative spiritual influence, including dancing, rock music and secular theatre.[53][54] However, major studies conducted from 1989 onwards found that a majority of North American church youth reject some of these standards.[55]

Though it seems unbelievable to some, I’m thankful that when I grew up in the church [in the 1950s and 1960s] I was taught not to go to the movie theater, dance, listen to popular music, read novels, wear jewelry, play cards, bowl, play pool, or even be fascinated by professional sports.

— James R. Nix, “Growing Up Adventist: No Apologies Needed”[56]

Adventists often cite the writings of Ellen White, especially her books, Counsels on Diet and Foods, Counsels to Parents, Teachers and Students, and Education as inspired sources for Christian deportment. The Adventist church officially opposes the practice of gambling.[57]

Pathfinders

The Youth Department of the Adventist church runs age specific clubs for children and youth worldwide.

Adventurer” (ages 6–9), “Eager Beaver” (ages 4–5), and “Little Lambs” (ages 3–4) clubs are programs for younger children that feed into the Pathfinder program.

Pathfinders is a club for 10- to 15-year-old boys and girls. It is similar to and based partly on the Scouting movement. Pathfinders exposes young people to such activities as camping, community service, personal mentorship, and skills-based education, and trains them for leadership in the church. Yearly “Camporees” are held in individual Conferences, where Pathfinders from the region gather and participate in events similar to Boy Scouts’ Jamborees.

After a person turns 16 he or she is eligible to join Teen Leadership Training within Pathfinders, become Pathfinder or Adventurer staff and to complete the “Master Guide” program (similar to Scout Master) which develops leaders for both Adventurers and Pathfinders.[58]

Youth camps

View from Lake Whitney Seventh-day Adventist camp

The Seventh-day Adventist Church operates youth camps all over North America and many other parts of the world. Each camp varies in the activities they offer but most have archery, swimming, horses, arts and crafts, nature, high ropes challenge course, and many other common camp activities. In addition to regular camps some have specialty camps, or RAD camps, which vary in their activities such as a week of surfing, waterskiing/wakeboarding, rock climbing, golf, skateboarding, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, cycling, basketball, and many others.

Organization

Loma Linda University Seventh-day Adventist Church, which has over 7000 members.

Structure and polity

The Seventh-day Adventist church is governed by a form of representation which resembles the presbyterian system of church organization. Four levels of organization exist within the world church.[59][60]

  1. The local church is the foundation level of organizational structure and is the public face of the denomination. Every baptized Adventist is a member of a local church and has voting powers within that church.
  2. Directly above the local church is the “local conference” or “local mission”. The local conference/mission is an organization of churches within a state, province or territory (or part thereof) which appoints ministers, owns church land and organizes the distribution of tithes and payments to ministers.
  3. Above the local conference is the “union conference” or “union mission” which embodies a number of local conferences/missions within a larger territory.
  4. The highest level of governance within the church structure is the General Conference which consists of 13 “Divisions”, each assigned to various geographic locations. The General Conference is the church authority and has the final say in matters of conjecture and administrative issues. The General Conference is headed by the office of President. The General Conference head office is in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Each organization is governed by a general “session” which occurs at certain intervals. This is usually when administrative decisions are made. The president of the General Conference, for instance, is elected at the General Conference Session every five years. Delegates to a session are appointed by organizations at a lower level. For example, each local church appoints delegates to a conference session.

The gathering together of local or regional church members along with experienced leaders has been valued as a source of unity. When these “sessions” take place, often presentations are scheduled to benefit the spiritual development of those in attendance.

Tithes collected from church members are not used directly by the local churches, but are passed upwards to the local conferences/missions which then distribute the finances toward various ministry needs. Within a geographic region, ministers receive roughly equal pay irrespective of the size of their church.[citation needed]

The Church Manual[59] gives provisions for each level of government to create educational, healthcare, publishing, and other institutions that are seen within the call of the Great Commission.

Campion Academy Adventist Church in Loveland, Colorado

Church officers and clergy

The ordained clergy of the Adventist church are known as ministers or pastors. Ministers are neither elected nor employed by the local churches, but instead are appointed by the local Conferences, which assign them responsibility over a single church or group of churches. Ordination is a formal recognition bestowed upon pastors and elders after usually a number of years of service. In most parts of the world, women may not be given the title “ordained”, although some are employed in ministry, and may be “commissioned” or “ordained-commissioned”.[61] However, beginning in 2012, some unions adopted policies of allowing member conferences to ordain without regard to gender.

A number of lay offices exist within the local church, including the ordained positions of elder and deacon.[59] Elders and deacons are appointed by the vote of a local church business meeting or elected committees. Elders serve a mainly administrative and pastoral role, but must also be capable of providing religious leadership (particularly in the absence of an ordained minister). The role of deacons is to assist in the smooth functioning of a local church and to maintain church property.

Ordination of women

For more details on this topic, see Seventh-day Adventist theology § Ordination of women.

Although the church has no written policy forbidding the ordination of women, it has traditionally ordained only men. In recent years the ordination of women has been the subject of heated debate, especially in North America and Europe. In the Adventist church, candidates for ordination are chosen by local conferences (which usually administer about 50–150 local congregations) and approved by unions (which serve about 6–12 conferences). The world headquarters—the General Conference—says that the GC has the right to set the worldwide qualifications for ordination, including gender requirements. GC leaders have never taken the position that ordination of women is contrary to the Bible, but they have insisted that no one ordain women until it is acceptable to all parts of the world church.[62]

Membership

Change in Adventist membership as a fraction of world population

The primary prerequisite for membership in the Adventist church is baptism by immersion. This, according to the church manual, should occur only after the candidate has undergone proper instruction on what the church believes.[59]

As of October 12, 2014, the church has 18,143,745 baptized members.[2] In the last decade, around one million people per year have joined the Adventist church, through baptisms and professions of faith.[2][63] The church is one of the world’s fastest-growing organizations, primarily from membership increases in developing nations. Today, less than 7% of the world membership reside in the United States, with large numbers in Africa as well as Central and South America. Depending on how the data was measured, it is reported that church membership reached 1 million between 1955 and 1961, and grew to five million in 1986. At the turn of the 21st century the church had over 10 million members, which grew to over 14 million in 2005, and 16 million in 2009.[2] It is reported that today over 25 million people worship weekly in Seventh-day Adventist churches worldwide.[64] The church operates in 202 out of 230 countries and areas recognized by the United Nations,[2] making it “probably the most widespread Protestant denomination”.[65]

G. Jeffrey MacDonald, an award-winning religion reporter, and author of Thieves in the Temple, reports that the SDA church is the fastest-growing church in the United States. “Newly released data show Seventh-day Adventism growing by 2.5% in North America, a rapid clip for this part of the world, where Southern Baptists and mainline denominations, as well as other church groups, are declining.”[66]

The church has been described as “something of an extended family”,[67] enjoying close, “two-degrees-of-separation social networks“.[68]

Church institutions

The Biblical Research Institute is the theological research center of the church.

The Ellen G. White Estate was established in 1915 at the death of Ellen White, as specified in her legal will. Its purpose is to act as custodian of her writings, and as of 2006 it has 15 board members. The Ellen G. White Estate also hosts the official Ellen White website whiteestate.org.

The Geoscience Research Institute, based at Loma Linda University, was founded in 1958 to investigate the scientific evidence concerning origins.

Adventist mission

Main article: Adventist Mission

A pastor baptizes a young man in Mozambique.

Started in the late 19th century, Adventist mission work today reaches people in over 200 countries and territories.[2] Adventist mission workers seek to preach the gospel, promote health through hospitals and clinics, run development projects to improve living standards, and provide relief in times of calamity.[69]

Missionary outreach of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is aimed not only at non-Christians but also at Christians from other denominations. Adventists believe that Christ has called his followers in the Great Commission to reach the whole world. Adventists are cautious, however, to ensure that evangelism does not impede or intrude on the basic rights of the individual. Religious liberty is a stance that the Adventist Church supports and promotes.[70]

Aerial photograph of Andrews University, the flagship higher education center of the Adventist church

Education

Globally, the Adventist Church operates 7,598 schools, colleges and universities, with a total enrollment of more than 1,545,000 and a total teaching staff of approximately 80,000.[71] It claims to operate “one of the largest church-supported educational systems in the world”.[72] In the United States it operates the largest Protestant educational system, second overall only to that of the Roman Catholic Church.[73] The Adventist educational program strives to be comprehensive, encompassing “mental, physical, social and above all, spiritual health” with “intellectual growth and service to humanity” as its goal.

The largest (in terms of population) Seventh-day Adventist university in the world is Northern Caribbean University, located in Mandeville, Jamaica.

Health

Adventists run a large number of hospitals and health-related institutions. Their largest medical school and hospital in North America is Loma Linda University and its attached Medical Center. Throughout the world, the church runs a wide network of hospitals, clinics, lifestyle centers, and sanitariums. These play a role in the church’s health message and worldwide missions outreach.[74]

Adventist Health System is the largest not-for-profit multi-institutional Protestant healthcare system in the United States. It is sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and cares for over 4 million patients yearly.

Humanitarian aid and the environment

For over 50 years the church has been active in humanitarian aid through the work of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). ADRA works as a non-sectarian relief agency in 125 countries and areas of the world. ADRA has been granted General Consultative Status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Worldwide, ADRA employs over 4,000 people to help provide relief in crises as well as development in situations of poverty.

The church embraces an official commitment to the protection and care of the environment[75] as well as taking action to avoid the dangers of climate change:[76] “Seventh-day Adventism advocates a simple, wholesome lifestyle, where people do not step on the treadmill of unbridled over-consumption, accumulation of goods, and production of waste. A reformation of lifestyle is called for, based on respect for nature, restraint in the use of the world’s resources, reevaluation of one’s needs, and reaffirmation of the dignity of created life.”[77]

Religious liberty

The Adventist church has been active for over 100 years in promoting freedom of religion for all people regardless of faith. In 1893 its leaders founded the International Religious Liberty Association, which is universal and non-sectarian. The Seventh-day Adventist Church State Council serves, primarily through advocacy, to seek protection for religious groups from legislation that may affect their religious practices. In May 2011, for example, the organization fought to pass legislation that would protect Adventist employees who wish to keep the Sabbath.

Media

Adventists have long been proponents of media-based ministries. Traditional Adventist evangelistic efforts consisted of street missions and the distribution of tracts such as The Present Truth, which was published by James White as early as 1849. Until J. N. Andrews was sent to Switzerland in 1874, Adventist global efforts consisted entirely of the posting of tracts such as White’s to various locations.

In the last century, these efforts have also made use of emerging media such as radio and television. The first of these was H. M. S. Richards‘ radio show Voice of Prophecy, which was initially broadcast in Los Angeles in 1929. Since then Adventists have been on the forefront of media evangelism; It Is Written, founded by George Vandeman, was the first religious program to air on color television and the first major Christian ministry to utilize satellite uplink technology. Today the Hope Channel, the official television network of the church, operates 8 international channels broadcasting 24 hours a day on cable, satellite, and the Web.[78]

Adventist World Radio was founded in 1971[79] and is the “radio mission arm” of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It utilizes AM, FM, shortwave, satellite, podcasting, and the Internet, broadcasting in 77 major language groups of the world with a potential coverage of 80% of the world’s population. AWR’s headquarters is in Silver Spring, Maryland, with studios throughout the world. A large portion of the ministry’s income is derived from membership gifts.[80]

SDA evangelists such as Doug Batchelor, Mark Finley and Dwight Nelson have undertaken a number of international satellite-broadcast live evangelistic events, addressing audiences in up to 40 languages simultaneously.[81]

Additionally, there exists a range of privately owned media entities representing Adventist beliefs. These include the 3ABN and SafeTV networks and organizations such as The Quiet Hour and Amazing Discoveries.

Publishing

The Adventist Church owns and operates many publishing companies around the world. Two of the largest are the Pacific Press and Review and Herald publishing associations, both located in the United States. The Review and Herald is headquartered in Hagerstown, Maryland.[82]

The official church magazine is the Adventist Review, which has a North American focus. It has a sister magazine (Adventist World), which has an international perspective. Another major magazine published by the church is the bimonthly Liberty magazine, which addresses issues pertaining to religious freedom.

Ecumenical activity

The Adventist Church generally opposes the ecumenical movement, although it supports some of the other goals of ecumenism. The General Conference has released an official statement concerning the Adventist position with respect to the ecumenical movement, which contains the following paragraph:

“Should Adventists cooperate ecumenically? Adventists should cooperate insofar as the authentic gospel is proclaimed and crying human needs are being met. The Seventh-day Adventist Church wants no entangling memberships and refuses any compromising relationships that might tend to water down her distinct witness. However, Adventists wish to be “conscientious cooperators.” The ecumenical movement as an agency of cooperation has acceptable aspects; as an agency for the organic unity of churches, it is much more suspect.”[83]

While not being a member of the World Council of Churches, the Adventist Church has participated in its assemblies in an observer capacity.[84]

Criticism

The Adventist Church has received criticism along several lines, including what some claim are heterodox doctrines, and in relation to Ellen G. White and her status within the church, and in relation to alleged exclusivist issues.[85]

Doctrines

Critics such as evangelical Anthony Hoekema (who felt that Adventists were more in agreement with Arminianism) argue that some Adventist doctrines are heterodox. Several teachings which have come under scrutiny are the annihilationist view of hell, the investigative judgment (and a related view of the atonement), and the Sabbath; in addition, Hoekema also claims that Adventist doctrine suffers from legalism.[86]

While critics such as Hoekema have classified Adventism as a sectarian group on the basis of its atypical doctrines,[17][18] it has been accepted as more mainstream by Protestant evangelicals since its meetings and discussions with evangelicals in the 1950s.[87] Notably, Billy Graham invited Adventists to be part of his crusades after Eternity, a conservative Christian magazine edited by Donald Barnhouse, asserted in 1956 that Adventists are Christians, and also later stated, “They are sound on the great New Testament doctrines including grace and redemption through the vicarious offering of Jesus Christ ‘once for all'”.[88] Walter Martin, who is considered by many to be the father of the counter-cult apologetics movement within evangelicalism, authored The Truth About Seventh-day Adventists (1960) which marked a turning point in the way Adventism was viewed.[89][90]

“…it is perfectly possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and be a true follower of Jesus Christ despite heterodox concepts…”

— Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults[91]

Later on Martin planned to write a new book on Seventh-day Adventism, with the assistance of Kenneth R. Samples.[92] Samples subsequently authored “From Controversy to Crisis: An Updated Assessment of Seventh-day Adventism”, which upholds Martin’s view “for that segment of Adventism which holds to the position stated in QOD, and further expressed in the Evangelical Adventist movement of the last few decades.” However, Samples also claimed that “Traditional Adventism” appeared “to be moving further away from a number of positions taken in QOD,” and at least at Glacier View seemed to have “gained the support of many administrators and leaders”.[93]

Ellen G. White and her status

Ellen G. White‘s status as a modern-day prophet has also been criticized. In the Questions on Doctrine era, evangelicals expressed concern about Adventism’s understanding of the relationship of White’s writings to the inspired canon of Scripture.[17] However, the church makes clear in belief #18 of the 28 fundamental beliefs, that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.[94]

A common criticism of Ellen White, widely popularized by Walter T. Rea, Ronald Numbers and others, is the claim of plagiarism from other authors.[95][96][97] An independent lawyer specializing in plagiarism, Vincent L. Ramik, was engaged to undertake a study of Ellen G. White’s writings during the early 1980s, and concluded that they were “conclusively unplagiaristic.”[98] When the plagiarism charge ignited a significant debate during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Adventist General Conference commissioned a major study by Dr. Fred Veltman. The ensuing project became known as the “‘Life of Christ’ Research Project.” The results are available at the General Conference Archives.[99] Dr. Roger W. Coon,[100] David J. Conklin,[101] Dr. Denis Fortin,[102][103] King and Morgan,[104] and Morgan,[105] among others, undertook the refutation of the accusations of plagiarism. At the conclusion of his report, Ramik states:

“It is impossible to imagine that the intention of Ellen G. White, as reflected in her writings and the unquestionably prodigious efforts involved therein, was anything other than a sincerely motivated and unselfish effort to place the understandings of Biblical truths in a coherent form for all to see and comprehend. Most certainly, the nature and content of her writings had but one hope and intent, namely, the furthering of mankind’s understanding of the word of God. Considering all factors necessary in reaching a just conclusion on this issue, it is submitted that the writings of Ellen G. White were conclusively unplagiaristic.”[106]

Exclusivism

Finally, critics have alleged that certain Adventist beliefs and practices are exclusivist in nature and point to the Adventist claim to be the “remnant church“, and the traditional Protestant association of Roman Catholicism and other denominations with “Babylon“.[107][108][109] These attitudes are said to legitimize the proselytising of Christians from other denominations. In response to such criticisms, Adventist theologians have stated that the doctrine of the remnant does not preclude the existence of genuine Christians in other denominations, but is concerned with institutions.[110]

“We fully recognize the heartening fact that a host of true followers of Christ are scattered all through the various churches of Christendom, including the Roman Catholic communion. These God clearly recognizes as His own. Such do not form a part of the “Babylon” portrayed in the Apocalypse.”

— Questions on Doctrine, p. 197.

Ellen White also presented it in a similar light:

“God has children, many of them, in the Protestant churches, and a large number in the Catholic churches, who are more true to obey the light and to do [to] the very best of their knowledge than a large number among Sabbathkeeping Adventists who do not walk in the light. {3SM 386.2}”

— Ellen White, Selected Messages, book 3, p.386.

Independent ministries, offshoots, and schisms

Independent ministries

In addition to the ministries and institutions which are formally administered by the denomination, numerous para-church organizations and independent ministries exist. These include various health centers and hospitals, publishing and media ministries, and aid organizations.

A number of independent ministries have been established by groups within the Adventist church who hold a theologically distinct position or wish to promote a specific message, such as Hope International. Certain of these ministries solicit funding from members. A number of the independent ministries have strained relationship with the official church, which has expressed concerns that such ministries may threaten Adventist unity.[111] Some independent ministries, like many of the Protestant reformers have identified the Roman Papacy as the Antichrist.[112] However, the church does not condone any behavior by members which may “have manifested prejudice and even bigotry” against Catholics.[113]

Offshoots and schisms

Throughout the history of the denomination, there have been a number of groups who have left the church and formed their own movements.

Following World War I, a group known as the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement was formed as a result of the actions of L. R. Conradi and certain European church leaders during the war, who decided that it was acceptable for Adventists to take part in war. Those who were opposed to this stand and who refused to join the war were declared “disfellowshipped” by the local Church leaders at the time. When the Church leaders from the General Conference came and admonished the local European leaders after the war to try to heal the damage, and bring the members together, it met with resistance from those who had suffered under those leaders. Their attempts at reconciliation failed after the war, the group became organized as a separate church at a conference held from July 14–20, 1925. The movement officially incorporated in 1949.[114] Conscientious Objection to all acts of war and bloodshed remains a major point of contention.

In 2005, the mainstream church again looking to resolve what the German leaders had done, apologized for its failures during World War II expressing that they “‘deeply regret’ any participation in or support of Nazi activities during the war by the German and Austrian leadership of the church .”[115]

In the Soviet Union the same issues produced the group known as True and Free Seventh-day Adventists. This formed as the result of a schism within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Europe during World War I over the position its European church leaders took in having members join the military or on the keeping of the Sabbath. The group remains active today (2010) in the former republics of the Soviet Union.[116]

Well known but distant offshoots are the Davidian Seventh-day Adventist organization and the Branch Davidians, themselves a schism within the larger Davidian movement.[117] The Davidians formed in 1929, following Victor Houteff after he came out with his book The Shepherd’s Rod which was rejected as heretical. A succession dispute after Houteff’s death in 1955 led to the formation of generally two groups, the original Davidians and the Branches. Later, another ex-Adventist, David Koresh, led the Branch Davidians until he died in the 1993 siege at the group’s headquarters near Waco, Texas.

A number of Adventists apostatized, such as former ministers Walter Rea and Dale Ratzlaff and have become critics of the church’s teachings and particularly of Ellen White.

SDA Kinship International, a gay group[118] was formed in 1976, and is a social network that is not officially associated with the church for individuals who are or were former Adventists who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT). The Adventist church filed a 1987 lawsuit for trademark infringement against Kinship International to stop their use of the name—District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer ruled that Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International, Inc. did not infringe on the Adventist church’s use of the name and therefore could continue to use the identifying name.[119][120] Another fringe group is the Sabbath Rest Advent Church which claims it comes out of 1888 message of A. J. Jones and E. J. Waggoner.

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I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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1 Response to SEVENTH DAY ADVENTISM

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