Seventh-day Adventist Church

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The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a Christian denomination that is best known for its teaching that Saturday, rather than Sunday, is the Sabbath. In addition, the group believes that the second coming (or Advent) of Jesus Christ is imminent. Seventh-day Adventists are also known for their groundbreaking teachings regarding diet and health, their assertion than the dead are in an unconscious state, and the belief that Jesus is currently performing an investigative judgment in heaven. The denomination, which was officially established in 1863, grew out of the Millerite movement in the United States during the middle part of the nineteenth century. As of June, 2006, the church has 14,754,022 baptized members.[1]

The Seventh-day Adventists are active advocates for freedom of religion. They are also involved in education and scholarship, running one of the largest Protestant education systems in the world, which spans 145 countries, including many universities. The church provides education that balances "mental, physical, social, and spiritual health" with "intellectual growth and service to humanity" as its ultimate goal.

Contents

Origins

Church pioneers James and Ellen White.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church arose out of the Millerite Movement in the United States during the 1840s, which was part of the wave of revivalism known as the Second Great Awakening. The Millerite movement was named after William Miller, a Deist who lived on a farm in Low Hampton, New York, where he began attending a local Baptist church to appease his grandmother. One day, when reading a sermon, he became convinced of the benefits of Christian salvation. After this experience, Miller began studying the Bible, using a concordance as his only study aid. He had a particular interest in the prophecies of the Book of Daniel, and their relation to events of history. Miller became convinced that the "cleansing" in Daniel 8:14 referred to Christ's return to "cleanse" the church. Using the "year-for-a-day" principle based on the prophecy of Seventy Weeks, he concluded that the "two thousand and three hundred days" referred to in Daniel 8:14 represented a period of 2300 years commencing in the year 457 B.C.E., when the command was given by Artaxerxes I to rebuild Jerusalem. This led him to conclude that the second coming of Christ would occur in the year 1843. The Millerite movement resulted in the "seventh month movement," which taught that the "priestly ministry of Christ" would culminate in the Saviour's cleansing of the earth. In the process, the second coming of Christ was predicted to occur on or before October 22, 1844. Christ's failure to arrive on this day came to be known as "the Great Disappointment."

A small number of Millerites believed that their calculations were correct, but that their understanding of the sanctuary being cleansed was wrong. Their alternative interpretation of the Bible led them to the conviction that in 1844 Jesus had entered into the "Most Holy Place" of the heavenly sanctuary, and began an "investigative judgment" of the world: a process through which He examines the heavenly records to determine who has shown significant repentance of sin and faith in Christ such that they should be entitled to the benefits of atonement. After this judgment has finished, they held that Jesus will return to earth. According to the church's teaching, the return of Christ may occur very soon, though they are determined to no longer set dates for His coming in accordance with the Gospel of Matthew which says, "no one knows the day or the hour" (Matthew 24:36).

For about 20 years, the Adventist movement consisted of a loosely knit group of people. Eventually, a formally organized church called the Seventh-day Adventist Church was established in Battle Creek, Michigan in May of 1863, with a membership of 3500. Through the evangelistic efforts of its ministers and laity, along with the guidance of Ellen G. White, the church quickly grew during the late 1800s and established a presence beyond North America. In 1903, the denominational headquarters were moved from Battle Creek to temporary quarters in Washington D.C. and soon thereafter established in nearby Takoma Park, Maryland. In 1989, the headquarters was moved again, this time to Silver Spring, Maryland.

Doctrine

The core teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination are expressed in the church's 28 Fundamental Beliefs. This statement of beliefs was originally adopted by the church's General Conference in 1980, with an additional belief (number 11) being added in 2005. On the whole, Adventist doctrine resembles mainstream trinitarian Protestant theology, with emphasis placed on premillennialism and Arminianism. Seventh-day Adventists uphold evangelical teachings such as the infallibility of Scripture, the substitutionary atonement, the resurrection of the dead and justification by faith. There are, in addition, some distinctive teachings that are unique to Seventh-day Adventism.

Law

Seventh-day Adventists believe that the Law of God is fully summarized in the Ten Commandments, which continue to be binding upon Christians. Just as Christ lived by the Commandments, so too should followers of Adventism. These precepts remain the regulations of God's covenant with humanity, and provide the standard basis by which God judges the merits of human beings. Together, these Commandments identify what is sin, and therefore justify the need for a Saviour in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, it is these laws that imbue the Gospel with its meaning; without these laws there would be no need for atonement via the blood of Christ. By obeying the commandments, human beings emancipate themselves from the fetters of sin and the emotions to which sin is closely related, such as worry, guilty conscience, and remorse, all of which wreak havoc over the vitality of the human body. Despite this focus on the law, Seventh Day Adventists believe that salvation is dependent entirely on grace of God rather than works. Grace supplies Adventists with the ability to overcome sin.

Sabbath

For Seventh Day Adventists, recognition of the Sabbath is indispensible for the worship of God since it serves to commemorate His creation. Based on their interpretation of Genesis, Adventists believe that the Sabbath was God's greatest gift, in effect a day that has been given to human beings so that they can cultivate their personal relationship with God through worship, song, and prayer. Just as God rested on the Seventh day, Adventists believe that humanity is to follow His example and therefore must rest as well. Not only are human beings able to replenish the vitality of their bodies by way of this rest on the seventh day, but they are also able to follow God's example. Thus, Adventists consider themselves sanctified by way of their Sabbath observance, as their communion with God's primordial will leads to personal holiness. Since the Sabbath was first undertaken in the Garden of Eden, an atmosphere without sin, continued observance of the Sabbath allows for weekly experience of heaven on earth.

By commemorating creation, the observance of the Sabbath is thought to affirm allegiance with God. While all the other commandments can be more or less found in other religions, Adventists note that observance of the Sabbath is a sign of righteousness unique to the Judeo-Christian faiths. It is only on the basis of the Judeo-Christian God's special revelation that the Sabbath is observed on the seventh day. As well, since Jesus propounded the Sabbath as a day for the redemption of his people, its observance also marks acceptance of Jesus Christ as the redeemer. The Sabbath serves as a symbol of "resting" in Christ, as the day of rest suggests that all efforts to achieve righteousness through one's own works are set aside, further illustrating their faith in the righteousness bestowed upon them by the grace of God.

Unlike many other Christian denominations, Adventists believe that the Sabbath should be observed from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, as opposed to on Sunday. The Christian shift of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, Adventists claim, has no biblical basis, and represents the work of Satan against sanctimony. Adventists cite the historical evidence that the shift to Sunday worship was largely effected by Gentile Christians in Rome, where anti-Judaic sentiments were prevalent. In order to distinguish themselves from the Jews, early Christians of Rome began to commemorate the Sabbath on other days, particularly Sunday, mainly because the importance traditionally accorded to sun-worship by the pagan Romans. This change, according to the Seventh-day Adventists, was prophesied in the Book of Daniel (7:25), who speaks of an attacking power that is represented by a "little horn." This little horn is considered to be responsible for the deception conceived by an apostate power, that is, the Catholic Church, which claims to have by its own authority transferred solemnity from the seventh day back to the first day. As such, Adventists believe that it is been their role to restore the original day of the Sabbath before the onset of the Second Advent.

Eschatology

Adventists believe that Jesus Christ will return visibly to earth (known as the "Second Advent") after a "time of trouble." At this time, the question of the Sabbath will be a foremost issue as every human being will be faced with the decision of whether they will accept the commandments of God or of humanity. They believe that those who reject the Sabbath will receive the mark of the beast. Finally, they claim that the second coming will be followed by a millennial reign of the saints in heaven.

According to the Adventists, several features will allow them to distinguish between the genuine Second Advent and other falsely purported eschatons. They believe that during the genuine Advent, Jesus will return in a literal, personal form rather than as a spiritual or metaphorical entity. Human encounter with Christ will not be inward and invisible, but instead his personage will leave no doubt in the mind of any witness, righteous and the wicked, of His authenticity. All believers who have ever lived will meet Jesus after he has returned, regardless of status, so they may participate in the celebration of the Second Advent. This grand celebration is made possible by the resurrection of all the righteous dead, and the ascension of all those living in righteousness to the heavens so that they too have the opportunity to meet with the Lord. Meanwhile, those who have not accepted Christ's salvation will be promptly destroyed.

Although Jesus' return will be instantaneous and unexpected, Adventists believe that it will be precipitated by a number of cataclysmic events. A number of anomalous natural phenomena have been considered by Adventists to mark the proximity of the return of Christ, including the massive earthquake which occurred in Lisbon, Portugal in 1755, as well as darkening of the sun and moon, which Adventists texts note as having occurred in various parts of North America in 1780. Further, Adventists interpret Matthew 24:14 to suggest that the endtimes will come during a time in which the gospel is preached in all the nations of the world. Statistics showing that the gospel has been distributed in virtually every country and language of the world are used by Adventists to argue that the endtimes are fast approaching. Yet, despite the increase in the gospel's promulgation, there has been a general decline in genuine religiosity before the endtimes. This decline is consistent with biblical prophecy that states there will be a rise in lawlessness and calamity before the eschaton. Moreover, natural disasters, and famines are supposed to occur. Adventists take the sexual revolution of the 1960s World War II, and malnutrition in Africa and Asia as further indicators of the impending endtimes. Considering all these factors, Adventists are advised to be ready for the end of the world at all times.

Death as Sleep

Adventists believe that death is an unconscious sleep, commonly known as "soul sleep," and reject the idea of an immortal soul. This state is temporary unconsciousness while one awaits their resurrection. As evidence for this idea, Seventh Day Adventists cite descriptions in the Old Testament that refer to kings such as David and Solomon as slumbering with the forefathers of Israel and Judah, as well as New Testament descriptions, such as that of Lazarus, who Christ claims in John 11: 11-14 to be "sleeping." Sleep represents the cessation of daily activities, thought and emotionality, while dissociating those who are asleep from those who are awake, all of which Seventh Day Adventists see as analogous to the relationship between the living and the dead. Moreover, sleep presupposes the possibility of awakening, which in this case symbolizes the resurrection from death by way of Christ.

Conditional immortality

Seventh Day Adventists consider God to be the only entity that is truly immortal, since they acknowledge no evidence in the scriptures that human beings possess an eternal soul or spirit. Humanity derives its finite existence from God, thus, any hope for human immortality relies entirely upon God's grace. Originally, Adam and Eve were immortal on the condition that they obeyed God's commands. Their choice to eat from the tree of Good and Evil and thereby transgress God's will lead to their mortality, which was subsequently transmitted to all human beings ever since. Continued existence depends upon continued obedience of God's plan. Thus, the power of free will that God bestowed upon Adam and Eve determined whether or not they would live forever. The ability to choose good is the condition which must be followed for life to persist eternally, and has governed the existence of all human beings since the Fall. Adventists teach that those who choose wickedness will not endure eternal torment in hell, but instead will be permanently destroyed.

Great Controversy

Adventists believe that humanity is in the middle of a "great controversy" between Jesus Christ and Satan. Seventh Day Adventists believe that this controversy is a dramatic, cosmic struggle which is being acted out upon planet earth, affecting all human beings who have ever existed. Adventists teach that evil began in heaven when the angel Lucifer (or Satan) rebelled against the Law of God. Adventists conceive of Satan as having an intellectual disagreement with God's laws. Satan does not accept responsibility for the wickedness in the world, but instead places the blame on God, considering His laws to be arbitrary, impeding personal freedoms. After being cast out of heaven Satan proliferated his spirit of rebellion on earth by tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden. By tainting humanity with original sin, Satan deprived human beings of dominion over earth, and claiming himself prince of the terrestrial world, issued a challenge to God. This understanding of the origin of evil relieves God of any responsibility for evil in the world, instead placing the blame directly on Satan.

The controversy most important in the contemporary world, according to Seventh Day Adventists, involves not only Christ's law but also His Word in the form of the scriptures. Contemporary methods of Biblical interpretation, Adventists claim, do not afford the Bible the necessary theological prominence that it deserves. These methodologies, largely influenced by academia, seem to deny the idea that The Bible is indeed the Word of God. Such an approach, Adventists claim, throws the miraculous attributes of Jesus Christ into question. A strategy employed by Satan throughout the course of the cosmic conflict has been to convince human beings that they can garner an understanding of Truth without accepting Jesus, instead espousing other means to knowledge, such as reason, nature and the apostate. While Adventists acknowledge each of these avenues as helpful in revealing truth, any one of these is incomplete in comparison to the power of Christ. Therefore, it is imperative for Adventists to acknowledge that the Bible is divine revelation.

Heavenly sanctuary

Adventists teach that Christ ascended to heaven to minister in the heavenly sanctuary. Adventists cite New Testament scripture in order to argue for the existence of a sanctuary or temple in heaven. The heavenly sanctuary is a continuation of the earthly places of worship such as the tabernacle constructed by Moses and the permanent temple built in Jerusalem by King Solomon. However, unlike previous temples, the heavenly sanctuary is the true tabernacle, where Christ is the presiding priest. This heavenly temple is not a metaphorical abstraction, but instead a real place that serves as the primary living space of God. While the earthly sanctuary demonstrated symbolically the scope of Christ's ministry through substitutionary sacrifice, priestly mediation between God and sinners, and the final judgement (as illustrated on the Day of Atonement, which deals with the judgement process by which sin is eradicated), the establishment of the heavenly sanctuary did away with the need for symbolism. With Christ's self-sacrifice the atonement of death had taken place once and for all times, therefore negating the need for redundant sacrifices. Just as in the Day of Atonement ritual the sins of human beings were placed upon a sin offering, which was then transferred to the earthly sanctuary, sins under the new covenant are thereby placed upon Christ in the heavenly sanctuary.

Investigative Judgment

As the sins of humanity accumulate, objects in the heavenly sanctuary receive a taint. In the same way that the earthly sanctuary must be cleansed (as occurs in the Day of Atonement proceedings), so too must be the heavenly sanctuary. This cleansing process involves a final removal of the record of sins recorded in the books of heaven, a process known as the investigate judgement. The investigate judgement affirms who is worthy of salvation in God's kingdom. Those who have faith in Christ and have repented of their sins will receive pardon of their worldly transgressions. The judgement will discern three classes of individuals: 1) the wicked, 2) those who genuinely believe, and 3) those who only appear to believe. The investigate judgement is not for the benefit of the Godhead, but rather gives assurance to creation that God will accept only those who have truly converted into his kingdom, since even genuine believers cannot discern the disingenuous ones. Further, such a judgement prevents individuals professing to be Christians from entering heaven on the merit of good works alone. This judgement is a necessary precursor to the Second Advent. The process of judgement will debunk the "little horn" power which has controlled the apostate, and will thereby vindicate the law and character of God as well as His people while spurning Satan. In conjunction with their historicist interpretation of the prophecy of Daniel, Adventists believe that Jesus began the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary in 1844.

Remnant

Adventists teach that there will be an end-time remnant, a small group of people who remain loyal to God and keep His commandments despite many trials. The remnant will have been scattered throughout the world in order to proclaim God's final warning to humanity, that is, the "three angels' messages" of Revelation 14:6-12 to all nations of earth. These angels' messages include: 1) a call to the world to honor God's law, repent and give glory to Him as Creator through the act of worship (Rev. 14: 6-7); 2) a prescription of the wickedness of Babylon, which Adventists interpret as referring to Rome, the stronghold of the apostate power (Rev. 14: 8); and 3) a stern warning to humanity that it must not worship the beast (which represents the union of church and state) and his image (the religion of the apostate), thereby rejecting the gospel in the process (Rev 14:9-12).

As these angels' messages would suggest, the remnant's primary prerogative is to work against the apostate in Rome, which Adventists believe has syncretized elements of pagan religion while secularizing its power, creating a false religion based in ecclesiastical authority rather than Scripture. Adventists view the remnant as a continuation of the work of early reformers such as John Wycliffe and Martin Luther, who attempted to steer Christianity back toward scripture and away from non-Biblical institutions such as penance, celibacy of the priesthood and the veneration of saints, among others. However, Seventh Day Adventists see the works of these figures as ultimately incomplete, as they did not argue for Biblically supported practices such as the seventh-day Sabbath and baptism by immersion, which the remnant will propound.

The remnant will warn the world that the hour of judgement has arrived and will prepare other human beings for their meeting with the resurrected Jesus. Furthermore, the distinctive characteristic of the true remnant church will be its prophetic gifts as individual members of the remnant be able to understand, interpret and teach prophecy. Adventists interpret Revelation 12:14-17 as indicating that the remnant will emerge after a time of great stress in the world. Adventists typically understand this stress to refer to the French Revolution, which led to the captivity of the Pope in 1798 C.E., the year which they claim marks the end of the 1260-year period described in the prophecy of Daniel.

Spirit of Prophecy

Adventists believe in a Spirit of Prophecy that refers to the inspiration of a prophet with a revelation by way of the Holy Spirit, or gift of prophecy itself. Unlike many other Christian denominations, Adventism holds that prophecy did not cease to function with the closure of the Biblical canon. Instead, provision of the prophetic gift has remained intact so as to provide further guidance to human beings during the crises that they will face as the endtimes approach. Adventists claim that there is no Biblical evidence in support of the idea that God has withdrawn the gift of prophecy. On the contrary, since the Church has not completed their purpose of uniting humankind with Christ (as prescribed in Eph. 4:13), the gift of prophecy must continue to operate. Adventists do grant that prophetic gifts have become less common since the Apostolic period, which they claim to be a consequence of the general deficit in activity of the Holy Spirit engendered by the little horn apostate power. As the Second Advent approaches, however, the gift of prophecy will allegedly become more frequent.

Ellen G. White is believed by Adventists to have possessed this "Spirit of Prophecy." Her writings[2] are considered consistent with the Bible and accurate (such as her prediction that Protestants and Catholics would come to cooperate in modern times). Adventists claim her works to be indisputable prophecy and her writings are considered an authoritative source of guidance. Despite the merit afforded to White's works, Adventists make it clear that the Bible is the definitive source of truth. Since the canon is closed, post-Biblical prophetic gifts cannot supersede existing scripture, nor can they be included in the canon. Rather, these prophecies can only serve to aid believers in understanding and applying the principles of the Bible, which remains the supreme standard against which all other prophetic claims are measured.

Practices and customs

Sabbath activities

Bundaberg Seventh-day Adventist Church

Sabbath activities are of immense importance for Seventh-day Adventists. A typical Adventist's Sabbath routine begins on at sundown Friday evening with worship known as Vespers performed at home or in church. Saturday morning commences with Bible study and a prayer of thanksgiving for physical and spiritual repose. Different groups are formed in which biblical themes and practical questions can be freely discussed. After a small break, the community joins together again for a church service that follows a typical evangelical format which may vary from church to church but which always has a sermon as its central feature. Worship through music is also a standard and prominent feature.

Sabbath afternoon activities vary widely depending on the cultural, ethnic and social background of the groups involved. Some groups may have an Adventist Youth program called "Pathfinders" that focuses on the study of the Bible and physical activities such as hiking and nature viewing.

Special meetings are provided for children and youth in different age groups during the Sabbath. The most prominent of these is Sabbath School, analogous to Sunday school in other churches. Sabbath School is a structured time of study at church, consisting of an introduction to the day's study, discussion in classes and a conclusion by the Sabbath School's leader. The Church uses a Sabbath School Lesson, which deals with a particular Biblical doctrine or teaching every quarter. The Lesson is the same worldwide.

Seventh-day Adventists practice communion usually four times a year. The communion is an open service (available to members and Christian non-members), based on the Gospel account of (John 13). The communion service includes a feet washing ceremony, known as the Ordinance of Humility. The Ordinance of Humility is meant to symbolize Christ's washing of his disciples' feet at the Last Supper. Male and female participants go to separate rooms to conduct this ritual, although some congregations allow married couples to perform the ordinance on each other. After the completion of this rite, participants return to the main sanctuary for consumption of the Lord's Supper, which consists of unleavened bread and unfermented grape juice.

Mission and Outreach

Traditional Adventist evangelistic efforts started in the late 1800s, which usually consisted of street missions and the distribution of tracts such as "The Present Truth" published by James White in 1849. Adventist mission workers preach the gospel, teach relevant living skills, heal people through Adventist hospitals and clinics, spread the gospel on radio and television, run development projects to improve living conditions, and provide comforting relief in times of suffering. Missionary outreach of the Seventh-day Adventist church is aimed to both non-believers and other Christian denominations. Seventh-day Adventists believe that Christ has called His believers to minister to the whole world, thus, the church actively ministers in over 204 countries worldwide. Adventists are cautious, however, to ensure that evangelism does not impede upon the basic rights of the individuals whom they seek to help. Religious liberty is a stance that the Seventh-day Adventist church actively supports and promotes.

Adventists, as demonstrated in their expansive distribution of tracts, have for a long time been proponents of media-based ministries. Until John Nevins Andrews was sent to Switzerland in 1874, Adventist global efforts consisted entirely of the posting of tracts to various locations. The reading of such material was the primary reason that Andrews was eventually called to travel overseas. In the last century, these media based efforts have also made use of emerging media such as radio and television. The first such broadcast was H. M. S. Richards' radio show, "Voice of Prophecy," which was initially aired in Los Angeles in 1929. Since then Adventists have been on the forefront of media evangelism, and one program, "It Is Written," was the first religious program to air on color television. Today "The Hope Channel," the official television network of the church, operates six international channels broadcasting 24 hours a day on both cable and satellite networks. In addition, a number of evangelistic events broadcasted live via satellite have also been undertaken by evangelists such as Mark Finley and Dwight Nelson addressing audiences in as many as 40 languages.

Health and Diet

Since the 1860s, when the church began, wholeness, health and wellness have been emphasized by the Seventh-day Adventist church. The church recommends vegetarianism and expects its followers to abstain from pork, shellfish, and other foods proscribed as "unclean" in Leviticus 11. They are also expected to abstain from alcohol and tobacco to maintain internal purity so they will be fit for the return of Jesus' kingdom.

The pioneers of the Seventh-day 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 Seventh-day Adventist health work, and the breakfast cereals he developed as a health food allowed for the creation of Kellogg's by his brother William K. Kellogg. Research funded by the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, has shown that the average Adventist in California lives four to ten years longer than the average Californian. The research, as cited by the cover story of the November 2005 issue of National Geographic magazine, asserts that Adventists live longer due to their abstinence from smoking and drinking, as well as their healthy, low-fat vegetarian diet rich in nuts and beans.

Seventh-day Adventists run a large number of hospitals and health-related institutions, such as Hugley Memorial Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. Their predominant school of medicine in North America, Loma Linda University, is located in Loma Linda, California. In Australia, the church-owned Sanitarium Health Food Company is one of Australia's leading manufacturers of health and vegetarian-related products.

Sexuality and Abortion

According to an official statement from the General Conference, heterosexual marriages are the only biblically ordained grounds for sexual intimacy accepted by Seventh-day Adventists. An extramarital affair is one of the few sanctioned grounds for a divorce. Masturbation has also been traditionally condemned as a sinful practice, contrary to God's design for the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit as well as the idea that sex is a shared experience within marriage. Seventh-day Adventists do not perform same-sex marriages and gay men cannot be ordained.

Officially, Seventh-day Adventists do not condone abortions for reasons of birth control, gender selection, or convenience. 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, serious jeopardy to her health, and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. In these cases individuals are counseled and encouraged to make their own decisions whether or not to keep their baby.

Structure, polity and institutions

Structure and polity

The French-speaking Ottawa Seventh-day Adventist Church, a former synagogue

The Seventh-day Adventist Church mixes hierarchical (or episcopal), presbyterian and congregational elements. All church offices are elected from the grass-roots upwards and no positions are permanent. The local church is the foundational level of organizational structure and represents the public face of the church. Every baptized Adventist is a member of a local church and has voting powers within that church. A number of church offices exist within the local church, including the ordained positions of pastor, elder and deacon, as well as the positions of clerk and treasurer, which are largely concerned with bookkeeping. All of these positions, except that of pastor, are appointed by the vote of elected committees or as a result of a local church business meeting.

Directly above the local church is the local conference, mission or field. The conference is an organization of churches within a state, or part thereof, which appoints ministers, owns church land and organizes the distribution of tithes and payments to ministers. The conference is also responsible for the appointment and ordination of ministerial staff. Above the local conference is the union conference that embodies a constellation of conferences within a particular area. 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, located in Silver Spring, Maryland, is the ultimate church authority and has the final say in matters of conjecture and administrative issues. The General Conference is headed by the office of President, which, as of 2006, is held by Jan Paulsen.

Each organization is governed by a general session that occurs at certain intervals. It is at this session where general decisions concerning the church 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 church manual gives provisions for each level of government to create educational, healthcare, publishing, and other institutions that are perceived to be within the call of the Great Commission.

Scholarship and publication

Seventh Day Adventists also operate a number of scholarly and literary institutions, such as the Biblical Research Institute, the official theological research center of the church. This organization makes numerous articles of concern to Adventists available on its website (http://www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org). The Adventist Theological Society is an unofficial group of Adventist scholars and church members that publishes the Journal of the Adventist Theological Society. The Geoscience Research Institute was founded in 1958 to investigate the scientific evidence concerning origins. 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 has 15 board members. The Ellen G. White Estate also hosts the official Ellen White website (www.whiteestate.org).

The Seventh-day Adventist Church owns and operates many publishing companies around the world. Two of the largest are located in the United States - the Pacific Press Publishing Association and the Review and Herald Publishing Association. This latter organization publishes the official church magazine, the Adventist Review. Another major magazine published by the church is the bimonthly Liberty Magazine, which addresses issues of religious freedom.

Social Work

Seventh-day Adventists have consistently been interested in education. The Adventist church runs one of the largest unified Protestant education systems in the world, operating over 6800 schools at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. A number of other institutions are concerned with worker training. These schools span 145 countries worldwide, educating approximately 1,300,000 students and employing over 66,000 teachers. The Adventist educational program is comprehensive, encompassing "mental, physical, social, and spiritual health" with "intellectual growth and service to humanity" as its ultimate goal.

The Youth Department of the Seventh-day Adventist church runs an organization for 10- to 16-year-old boys and girls called Pathfinders, which is similar to the Boy Scouts of America, except that membership is open to both boys and girls. Pathfinders exposes young people to such activities as camping, community service, personal mentorship, skills-based education, and leadership training. For younger children, Adventurer, Eager Beaver, and Little Lambs clubs are programs that are available that serve as a stepping stone into the Pathfinder program.

For over 100 years the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been an active advocate for freedom of religion. In 1893 its leaders founded the International Religious Liberty Association, which is universal and non-sectarian. The Seventh-day Adventist Church State council serves to protect religious groups from legislation that may affect their religious practices. This is primarily achieved through advocacy. Recently the organization has been fighting to pass legislation that will protect Seventh-day Adventist employees who wish to keep their Sabbath.

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 Committee. Worldwide, the ADRA employs over 4000 people who serve to provide relief in crises and develop poverty-stricken areas.

Membership

Adventist church in Campion, Colorado

The primary prerequisite for membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is baptism by immersion. This, according to the church manual, should only occur after the candidate has undergone proper teaching as to what the church believes. As of June, 2006, the church has 14,754,022 baptized members.[1] Over 1,093,089 people joined the Adventist church in the 12 month period ending June 2006 (inclusive), through baptisms and professions of faith. The church is one of the world's fastest-growing organizations, primarily due to increases in membership in developing nations. Depending on how the data is measured, it is said that church membership reached 1 million between 1955 and 1961, and grew to 5 million by 1986. At the turn of the 21st century the church had 10,782,042 members which had grown to 14,487,989 members by the end of 2004, and 2005 statistics reported 14,399,072 members.[3] It is believed that over 25 million worship weekly in churches.[4] The church operates in 204 out of 230 countries and areas recognized by the United Nations.

Movements and offshoots

The Seventh-day Adventist church conceives itself to be remarkably unified considering its large geographic span. However, as in any church, certain groups, movements or subcultures that subscribe to differing views on core beliefs and/or lifestyles have arisen within the mainstream church. Several of these groups have chosen to stay within the church, whereas others have formed offshoots or schisms.

Theological subcultures

A theological spectrum exists within Adventism, comparable to the fundamentalist-moderate-liberal spectrum in the broader Christian tradition as well as in other religions. Seventh-day Adventists vehemently resisted changes in the broader American culture. Many "progressive" elements in the church were impacted by the Fundamentalist undercurrent in Adventist theology. Denominational leaders including progressives such as Arthur Grosvenor Daniells and William Warren Prescott as well as other traditionalists discussed these issues at the 1919 Bible Conference. This conference would contribute to the polarization of Seventh-day Adventist theology. Some of the issues such as the atonement would become significant issues during the 1950s during a series of conferences between Adventist and evangelical leaders that led up to the publication of Questions on Doctrine in 1957.

On two opposite ends of a continuum are historic Adventists and progressive Adventists, with many variations in between. Progressive Adventists tend to hold a different perspective on such areas as the investigative judgment, the prominence given to Ellen White's writings, creationism, and certain prophetic interpretations such as the remnant and Mark of the Beast. A significant number of Adventist scholars could be considered "progressive." Many progressive Adventists regard the 1980 Glacier View crisis, which centered upon major problems with the investigative judgment doctrine identified by Dr. Desmond Ford, as something of a rallying point.

In contrast, Historic Adventists, also known as "traditional Adventists," are often characterized by their rejection of the formative 1957 book Questions on Doctrine, prepared as a result of dialogue between church representatives designated by the General Conference and the late evangelical Walter Martin. While this officially sanctioned book has been generally well received within Adventism and has established the framework for mainstream Adventist theology in modern times, historic Adventists tend to view it as a compromise with evangelicalism and a departure from "traditional" Adventist teachings. The leading objector M. L. Andreasen eventually lost church employment as a result of his protests. Historic Adventists place a great deal of emphasis on character perfection, and teach that Jesus Christ was born with a fallen nature.

Offshoots and schisms

Throughout the history of the Seventh-day Adventists, there have been a number of groups who have left the church and formed their own movements. These offshoot and schism groups operate under their own system of beliefs and are considered to be entirely separate from the church. The most notorious of these off-shoots were the Branch Davidians. The Davidians formed in 1929 after Victor Houteff's message to the church outlined in his book "The Shepherd's Rod" was rejected as being heretical. Few of Houteff's teachings were consistent with the views of mainstream Adventism. A dispute over succession after Houteff's death in 1955 led to the formation of the Branches. Later, another ex-Adventist David Koresh (formerly Vernon Howell) led the Branch Davidians until he was killed along with his followers in the infamous conflagration in 1993 at the group's headquarters near Waco, Texas.

Following World War I, a group known as the "Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement" was formed as a result of the actions of certain European church leaders during the war, who decided that it was acceptable for Adventists to take part in war. When attempts at reconciliation failed after the war, the group became organized as a separate church at a conference in July of 1925. The movement officially incorporated in 1949.

The most recent large-scale schism within Adventism was the aforementioned Glacier View doctrinal crisis of 1980. This crisis centred around the 900-page research paper by Dr. Desmond Ford entitled "Daniel 8:14, the Investigative Judgment, and the Kingdom of God." The paper questioned the church's position on the investigative judgment, and the meetings at Glacier View rejected Ford's proposals. The schism caused by this rejection resulted in Ford's being stripped of his ministerial credentials, as well as his removal from church teaching. Many Adventists also left the church as a result. In the 26 years since, Ford has worked through the ministry of Good News Unlimited and has appeared on radio, television and in many print publications.

Criticisms

A common discussion in evangelical circles is whether or not Seventh-day Adventist doctrines deviate enough from orthodox or mainstream Christian teaching to be classified as cultic. Much of this criticism originated with the defection of Dudley Marvin Canright, an Adventist minister, in 1887 followed by his book Seventh-day Adventism Renounced in 1889. Some contemporary Christian thinkers such as John C. Whitcomb assert that Adventism is cultic based on their insularism from non-Christians and non-Adventists. Whitcomb cites the Adventist emphasis on an Adventist education as evidence of this, although many Christian denominations also have their own similar school systems.

Another criticism is related to the level of authority that Ellen G. White is given by Adventists. Some claim that the authority of White is contrary to the traditional Protestant "sola scriptura" view of the Bible, where biblical scripture is considered the sole inspired source of authority. In response, Adventists argue that the Bible does not completely prohibit the belief in "new" prophets; rather, it allows for the belief in contemporary prophets as long as their credentials as such can be verified by simple tests found in John 3:20-21. The church has traditionally defended White's writings as a manifestation of the spiritual gift of prophecy mentioned in the Bible itself (1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4). Ellen White, herself, never considered her writings as above or even equal to the Scriptures.

Today many evangelical Christians follow the advice of Walter Martin from the Christian Research Institute when viewing the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists. In the September 1956 issue of Eternity magazine, Martin and Donald Barnhouse declared that Seventh-day Adventists are a truly Christian group. In 1960, Martin published The Truth about Seventh-day Adventists. These publications marked a turning point in the way Adventism was viewed. In another book, Kingdom of Cults, Martin wrote that "…it is perfectly possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and be a true follower of Jesus Christ despite heterodox concepts…"[5] Some of the doctrines formerly considered "heterodox" by other Christian observers, such as conditional immortality (annihilationism) have become relatively mainstream in evangelicalism today.

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Office of Archives and Statistics. " Statistical Report," Annual Council of the General Conference Committee; Silver Spring, Maryland, October 6-11, 2006, [1]. accessdate 2006-10-23
  2. Ellen G. White Library.gilead.net. Retrieved December 2, 2008.
  3. Seventh-day Adventist World Church Statistics. 2006-05-10, [2] Seventh-day Adventist Church. accessdate 2006-10-18
  4. World Church: San Antonio, Texas Selected As 2015 GC Session Site 2006-10-10, [3]. Seventh-day Adventist Church. accessdate 2006-10-18
  5. Walter Martin. Kingdom of the Cults. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003)

References

  • Martin, Walter. Kingdom of the Cults. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0764228218
  • Pearson, Michael. Millennial dreams and moral dilemmas: Seventh-Day adventism and contemporary ethics Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1990. ISBN 0521365090
  • Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1988.
  • Vance, Laura L. Seventh-day Adventism in Crisis: Gender and Sectarian Change in an Emerging Religion. University of Illinois Press, 1999. ISBN 0252067444.
  • White, Ellen G. Early Writings. Coldwater, MH: Remnant Publications, 1999. ISBN 1883012775


External links

all links Retrieved December 2, 2008.

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