Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Is the End near? A Look at Seventh-Day Adventists

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Is the End near? A Look at Seventh-Day Adventists

Article excerpt

With their disciplined lifestyle and anticipation of the Second Coming, the Seventh-day Adventists have attracted nearly 8 million people around the world to what they believe is the true church.

As we approach the year 2000, we can expect a revival of interest in millenarianism, the belief that the end of the world is near and the reign of Christ is about to begin. From the earliest days of Christianity various groups have emphasized the imminent Second Coming. Today the Seventh-day Adventists constitute the largest millenarian body although they no longer set a specific date.

For 150 years the Seventh-day Adventists have proclaimed that the climactic Battle of Armageddon and the return of Jesus Christ are just around the corner. Nearly 8 million people around the world have accepted their message. Nine out of ten Adventists live outside the U.S. although the church was founded in this country.

Unlike the Jehovah's Witnesses--another large millenarian sect--who concentrate on proselytizing, the Seventh-day Adventist Church pours its resources into education, health care, and disaster relief as well as evangelism. For example, this remarkable denomination operates the largest parochial-school system in the world after that of the Roman Catholic Church. It enrolls 860,000 students in 5,835 schools, including colleges and universities. Adventists try to organize a school if as few as 20 pupils can be enrolled. The eminent church historian Edwin Gaustad wrote that while the Adventists were "expecting a kingdom of God from the heavens, they worked diligently for one on earth."

The Seventh-day Adventist Church traces its history to the excitement generated by an early 19th-century preacher named William Miller. A veteran of the War of 1812, Miller went through a period as a skeptic before embracing Christianity and launching a rigorous study of the Bible.

Like others in the millenarian tradition, he concentrated on the Books of Daniel and Revelation. Daniel was actually written in the second century B.C. but purported to be a product of the sixth century. The Book of Revelation is attributed to John the Revelator, an official of the church of Asia Minor. His vision of the end times was accepted into the canon of the Bible by 200 A.D.

Miller focused on a particular passage in Daniel 8:14: "Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." He made the assumption that one day really meant one year. But when did the countdown begin? For Miller it was the year 457 B.C., when the command was given to rebuild Jerusalem. By his calculation the world would end sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.

With a license to preach from the Baptists, Miller began to tell others about his prediction. His views attracted many people from Methodist, Baptist, and other churches. At the peak of his popularity an estimated 200 Protestant ministers and 50,000 laypeople could be identified as Millerites.

But March 21,1844 came and went and the sun rose as usual. Some of his followers became disillusioned, but Miller kept faith in his calculations. That summer one of his followers developed the theory that Jesus would return on Oct. 22,1844. Again the prediction apparently failed to come true. (Miller never became a Seventh-day Adventist and died in obscurity in 1849.

Many Millerites refused to abandon their faith and returned to their Bible study. Hiram Edson in western New York state announced that Oct. 22,1844 was indeed a momentous date but that it did not refer to the Second Coming as generally understood. Instead, according to Edson, it marked the date on which Jesus Christ moved from one of heaven's apartment to another to begin the "investigative judgment." In this phase Jesus would begin to determine who was eligible to enter God's presence.

A second early Adventist leader, Joseph Bates of Washington, New Hampshire, promoted the practice of worshiping on the seventh day rather than on Sunday. …

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