Seventh Day Adventist

Issue: What do Seventh-day Adventists believe?

Response: Seventh-day Adventists are identified with two main beliefs: the Sabbath is to be observed on Saturday, and Christ’s return (the Advent) is the only hope for good in the world.

Discussion: Adventism in the United States was founded largely on the leadership of William Miller (1782-1849) as an interchurch movement. His followers—Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and others—were called "Millerites." Through his brand of Bible scholarship, Miller concluded that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent. Frank Mead, in his Handbook of Denominations in the United States, explains:

Using only the Bible, its marginal references, and Cruden’s Concordance, Miller came to the same conclusion that many biblical scholars had already reached: The symbolic "day" of Bible prophecy represents one year. He also concluded that the 2,300 "days" of Daniel 8:14 started concurrently with the "seven weeks of years" of Daniel 9—that is, from 457 BC, the year of the command to rebuild and restore Jerusalem; he believed that the longer of the two periods would end in or about the year 1843, as calculated by Jewish reckoning. Miller thought that the "sanctuary" mentioned in Daniel 8:14 was the earth (or the church), which would be cleansed by fire at the Second Advent, and that this cleansing would occur sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844.1 

When no great cleansing occurred, Adventist leadership reset the date for October 22, 1844. When that day, known as the Great Disappointment, came and went, many left the movement.

The remaining adherents were first known as "millennium millennialists," and they emphasized premillennialism (Premillennialism is the belief that Christ is going to establish on earth a literal reign of 1,000 years [a millennium] between the Second Coming and the Last Judgment). They later became known as Adventists. In the absence of the unifying force of an anticipated day of reckoning, different denominations emerged within Adventism. A primary point of disagreement was the question of Christ’s Second Coming. Some Adventists continued to emphasize premillennialism, while many other Adventists became amillennialists (they believe that the reign of God began with Christ’s death and resurrection and the "thousand years" is a figurative number to describe the reign of His Church [2 Pt. 3:8-10; Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 664, 668-682]). Other differences arose between Adventist denominations regarding issues such as the state of the dead, whether the wicked were to be punished or annihilated, and when the Sabbath should be recognized.

The group that later became known as the Seventh-day Adventists believed that something had indeed occurred in October of 1844. A woman named Ellen Harmon began having alleged visions that provided teachings that unified and directed the Seventh-day Adventists. They looked especially to Revelation 14 as the source for their theology. In particular, verse 7 says, "Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water." This was taken as a call to observe the Sabbath of the Creator of the Old Testament—that is, Saturday. Frank Mead writes:

As early as 1844, a small group of Adventists near Washington, New Hampshire, had begun to observe the Sabbath on the seventh day. A pamphlet written by Joseph Bates in 1846 gave the question wide publicity and created great interest. Shortly thereafter, Bates, together with James White, Ellen Harmon (later Mrs. James White, whose writings Seventh-day Adventists hold "in highest esteem . . . accepting them as inspired counsels from the Lord"), Hiram Edson, Frederick Wheeler, and S.W. Rhodes, with the aid of regular publications, set out to champion the seventh-day Sabbath, along with the imminence of the advent. Hence the name: Seventh-day Adventist.2 

Adventists hold that the Ten Commandments express the principles of God’s law, which is exemplified by Jesus Christ in the Gospels. For example, they teach that the Catholic Church, which they believe to be the Whore of Babylon, will perish for breaking the Third Commandment by instituting the Sunday observance. Of course, the overriding issue here is the nature of the New Covenant from which the Sunday observance arises. As with most fundamentalist movements, the tendency is to focus on a few passages of the Bible to support particular strongly-held beliefs.

Passages that contradict the seventh-day Sabbath include Colossians 2:16, in which Paul says of New Testament practices, "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath." Also, Acts 20:7 is fairly clear that early Christians gathered on the first day of the week: "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bead, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight."

In his "Third Letter to a Seventh Day Adventist," Jim Likoudis notes that the writings of other early Christians mention Sunday worship as well:

St. Ignatius of Antioch refers in his writings to the drastic change that took place with the coming of Christ and the teaching of the Apostles: "Those who walked in ancient customs came to a new hope, no longer sabbathing but living the Lord’s Day, on which we came to life through Christ and through His death. . . . Sunday is the day on which we all gather in a common assembly, because it is the first day, the day on which God, changing darkness and matter, created the world; and it is the day on which Christ Our Savior rose from the dead [emphasis added]."3 

Consistent with the beliefs of latter-day denominations (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, World Wide Church of God) is the Seventh-day Adventist belief that the early Church apostatized. These denominations use this claim in an attempt to legitimize their brief and non-apostolic history and to give grounds for discounting all teachings of the Church. This position is untenable given the lack of historical evidence of an apostasy of the Church—when did it take place? were there any outward signs?—and Christ’s assurance that "the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Mt. 16:18).

Seventh-day Adventists also claim that all dead sleep in an unconscious state and that when the resurrection occurs, bodies and souls will come to life. The just will enter into life everlasting while the damned will be consumed by fire until they die and cease to exist (a belief that makes punishment in hell non-eternal).

While many mainstream Protestant denominations consider them to be more of a cult than a legitimate denomination of Christianity, Seventh-day Adventists do have a Christian heritage. A way to move forward in a discussion with Adventists is to emphasize beliefs held in common and then show the internal consistency of the Catholic faith as it includes these beliefs.

 1 Handbook of Denominations in the United States New Tenth Edition, revised by Samuel Hill. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995
 2 Ibid.
 3 Jim Likoudis, Serviam Newsletter (of CREDO of Buffalo), September/October 1995.

Recommended Reading
Holy Bible (Catholic edition)
Catechism of the Catholic Church 
Vatican II Documents
Frank Mead, Handbook of Denominations in the United States

To order, call Benedictus Books toll-free: (888) 316-2640. CUF members receive a 10% discount.

Hahn and Suprenant, eds., Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God
Leon Suprenant and Philip Gray, Faith Facts: Answers to Catholic Questions
Ted Sri, Mystery of the Kingdom: On the Gospel of Matthew
Leon Suprenant, ed., 
Servants of the Gospel
Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Without a Doubt: Bringing Faith to Life

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Available Faith Facts
Apocalypse Not Now: The Church, The Millennium, and the Rapture
Give It a Rest: Sunday is the Lord’s Day

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© 2004 Catholics United for the Faith


Date created: 8/9/2005
Date edited: 10/10/2007