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 of 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 reported 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. Adventists often claim continuity with earlier groups such as the Waldenses, Protestant Reformers including the Anabaptists, English and Scottish Puritans, evangelicals of the 18th century including Methodism, Seventh Day Baptists and others
Development of sabbatarianism
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 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 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. The church was formally established in Battle Creek, Michigan, on May 23, 1863, with a membership of 3,500. Through the evangelistic efforts of its ministers and laity, the church quickly grew and established a presence beyond North America during the late 1800s. The denominational headquarters were later moved from Battle Creek to Takoma Park, Maryland, where they remained until 1989. For much of the 1800s, a majority of the Adventist leaders supported the doctrine of Arianism (although Ellen G. White was not one of them). This, along with the movement's other theological views, led most Christian denominations to regard it as a cult. However, the Adventist church adopted the Trinity early in the 20th century and began to dialogue with other Protestant groups towards the middle of the century, eventually gaining wide recognition as a Christian church.
In order to keep the Sabbath holy, Adventists abstain from secular work and other non-essential business on Saturday. They will also usually refrain from purely secular forms of recreation, such as competitive sport and watching non-religious programmes on television. However, nature walks, family-oriented activities, charitable work and other activities that are compassionate in nature are considered acceptable. Much of Friday might be spent in preparation for the Sabbath; for example, preparing meals and tidying homes. Some Adventists gather for Friday evening worship to welcome in the Sabbath, a practice often known as Vespers. 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.
The major weekly worship service occurs on Saturday, typically commencing with Sabbath School which is a structured time of small-group study at church. Most 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 a money collection (or offering) are other standard features. The instruments and forms of worship music vary greatly throughout the worldwide church. Many youth-focused churches in the Western world have a contemporary Christian music style, whereas other churches enjoy more traditional hymns including those found in the Hymnal.
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 and 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. Adventists are known for presenting a "health message" that recommends vegetarianism and expects abstinence from pork, shellfish, and other foods proscribed as "unclean" in Leviticus 11. However according to some studies, the majority of Adventists do eat meat. The church discourages its members from the use of alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs (compare Christianity and alcohol). In addition, some Adventists avoid coffee and other beverages containing caffeine. The pioneers of the Adventist church had much to do with the common acceptance of breakfast cereals into the Western diet. John Harvey Kellogg was one of the early founders of the Adventist health work. His development of breakfast cereals as a health food led to the founding of Kellogg's by his brother William. In Australia, the church-owned Sanitarium Health Food Company is one of the country's leading manufacturers of health and vegetarian-related products. Research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has shown that the average Adventist in California lives four 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 of not smoking or drinking, and their healthy, low-fat vegetarian diet, rich in nuts and beans. The cohesiveness of Adventists' social networks has also been put forward as an explanation of their extended lifespan.
Ethics and Sexuality
The official Adventist position on abortion is that "abortions for reasons of birth control, gender selection, or convenience are not condoned by the Church." 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. According to official statements from the General Conference, heterosexual marriages are the only biblically ordained grounds for sexual intimacy. Adventists do not perform same-sex marriages and homosexual men cannot be ordained. An extramarital affair is one of the sanctioned grounds for a divorce, although reconciliation is encouraged whenever possible. Following biblical principles, Adventists believe in and encourage chastity for both men and women before marriage. The Adventist church has released official statements in relation to other ethical issues such as euthanasia, birth control and human cloning.
Dress and Entertainment
In Western countries, 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." Accordingly, many Western Adventists are opposed to practices such as body piercing and tattoos. More conservative Adventists refrain from the wearing of jewelry altogether, including such items as earrings and wedding bands. Traditionally Adventists dress semi-formally when attending church. Conservative Adventists also avoid certain recreational activities which are considered to be a negative spiritual influence, including dancing, rock music and secular theatre. However, these sentiments are far less common among the more recent generations of Adventists. The Adventist church officially opposes the practice of gambling. Though it seems unbelievable to some, I’m thankful that when I grew up in the church 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.