Religion in a Changing World: Comparative Studies in Sociology

By Madeleine Cousineau | Go to book overview

13
Mission Churches and Church-Sect Theory: Seventh-day Adventists in Africa

Ronald Lawson


INTRODUCTION

Seventh-day Adventism was born in the United States. It emerged from the Millerite movement, whose leader, William Miller, had gathered a considerable following as a result of his preaching throughout New England and upstate New York that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. Although Miller had stated that it was not his intention to found a new religion, his followers were typically expelled from their churches. After the bitter disappointment and humiliation of the failed prediction, which silenced Miller himself, some of his followers continued to cling together, convinced that truth underlay his prophecy. While they awaited the end of the world as they knew it, they studied the Bible intensely and gradually arrived at a set of beliefs and norms that separated them from mainstream society.

Their urgent apocalyptic belief meant that they rejected the American Dream, for they believed that the nations were about to be destroyed with the return of Christ. Their insistence on observing Saturday as their Sabbath when a six-day work week was almost universal closed most avenues to employment. Their norms included vegetarianism, a refusal to take up arms, and prohibitions against coffee, tea, alcohol, smoking, dancing, theater, gambling, card playing, fiction reading, jewelry, and makeup. Moreover, Adventism's view of itself as God's Remnant people, the one true church and chosen vehicle of God's final message to the world in the last days, its declarations that other religious groups were "apostate," its brazen challenges in its evangelistic meetings to clergy of other denominations, and its expectation of persecution from the American state all tended to create bitter antagonisms.

These boundaries were strengthened by the close ties among Adventists, whose lives usually centered around their church. They attended church-run schools, often worked for the institutions developed by the church--hospitals, schools, health-food factories, and publishing houses--and were frequently drawn by

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