Seventh-day Adventism is a relatively new Christian denomination. It was founded in 1848 by several people, including Ellen G White (1827-1915), who Adventists believe to have been a prophet. Her books, Steps to Christ, The Desire of Ages, The Great Controversy and others, have been published in many languages for quite some time now. These books were not intended to replace the Bible, but are commentaries intended to help readers understand it more fully.
Prior to Sister White (as many Adventists call her - the custom in the 1800s was to refer to fellow congregants as 'Brother' and 'Sister'), the nascent denomination's practitioners were referred to as 'Millerites', after William Miller, its founder. Millerites were greatly disillusioned after Miller, who had concluded that the Second Coming would take place in 1844, convinced them all to sell off their worldly possessions and join him to meet Jesus, son of God. It was reported that 100,000 people were either kicked out of their churches, or chose to leave, in order to follow Miller up until that date. Since the world failed to end as Miller had predicted, Adventists refer to this time period as 'The Great Disappointment' and many thousands left the movement.
Ellen White and her co-founders wanted it made clear that Miller's only mistake was a misinterpretation of the significance of 22 October, 1844. Another important member of the Church, Hiram Edson, concluded that that date signified a new stage in Christ's intercessory ministry in Heaven.
In 1863, the Adventist movement officially became the Seventh-day Adventist Church with, at that time, a membership of 3500. Membership in 1999 stood at over 10,000,000.
What does 'Seventh-day Adventist' Mean?
Seventh-day Adventists attend church on Saturdays, because it's the seventh day. They believe that because God rested on the seventh day after He created the world, that humans should rest, also.
Typically, Saturdays mean more to Adventists than simply attending church and returning to their normal lives. They don't work, study, or shop (unless they're buying necessities, like food or medicine). Some won't play sports or watch television or movies on 'the Sabbath', as they call Saturdays.
'Adventist' means a person who anticipates the imminent return (the Second Coming) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This date is referred to as the 'Advent'.
Dietary Restrictions and Lifestyle
Adventists are required to live a 'healthful lifestyle'. American Adventists tend to be vegetarians, as they believe it to be healthier, but that is a personal, not official choice. However, they believe that drinking alcohol and caffeine, smoking, and taking drugs are all prohibited by the teachings of the Bible. They preach modesty in dress and demeanor, although they do not require anyone to cover their hair, as Islam does. Adventists take the Bible very literally, and even non-vegetarian believers will not eat 'unclean' meat, such as meat products from pigs, as well as certain kinds of seafood.
Adventism Wants You!
Adventism is an evangelical Protestant belief system, which means that it preaches righteousness by faith, rather than the concept of righteousness by works. In other words, Adventists believe that we will be judged by God based on our hearts and minds, as opposed to the number of good works we've done to earn our way into heaven. Additionally, Adventists attempt to 'spread the good news' (about Christianity) by converting others.
The Adventist Church is divided up into Conferences, and is led by a President (at the time of writing, Jan Paulsen). Each Conference administers its own churches, which are led by ministers, also known as 'pastors'. Both men and women may be pastors, and are allowed to marry. Many prefer their church members to address them by their first name.
The Supernatural, Prayer and Miracles
Adventists do not believe that certain people have special powers, or that magic exists. The Adventist stance on magic is that it is not harmless, is not derived from any God-given power, and is either a hoax or involves Satan.
This is not to say that they do not believe in miracles, but they attribute them only to God. He may choose to work through someone, but on their own, humans would have no power to do anything supernatural.
Although pastors have no special powers, they may sometimes participate in a healing ceremony, 'the laying on of hands'. First, the pastor prays with his/her head elder, a layperson chosen by the local church committee to help lead services. When a person is very ill, the pastor will sometimes be asked to lay his/her hands on the patient, asking for God's healing. Of course, Adventists believe that it is God's decision whether the laying of hands will actually work, and prayer is used throughout the whole ceremony.
Adventists believe they can speak with God directly. Since they think that God always forgives them, they don't have to atone through reciting any special prayers. After a person is dead, they don't pray for them to go to Heaven, because they believe that no amount of prayer will change who the person was while they were living.
They only pray to the Trinity (God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, also known as the Holy Ghost), and have no saints. The Adventist belief is that 'saint' simply meant a church member, not a person blessed above all others who was capable of miracles.
Certain aspects of religion that some other Christian denominations view as divine are sometimes thought of differently by Seventh-day Adventists. A good example of this would be speaking in tongues, which is when an individual starts uttering strange syllables which have no meaning in any known language.
One view is that God is speaking through the person in an original, divine, pre-Babel language (after the fall of the Tower of Babel, some Christians believe that God broke up one language and caused it to split into many disparate languages). Somehow, other individuals are able to then interpret the syllables that their fellow believer is voicing. The Adventist Church believes that this is not a divinely-inspired practice.
Some Adventists might argue that people speaking in tongues are simply enthusiastic, and therefore want to show their love for God (even if it means making up a few syllables here and there). Other, more conservative believers would go as far as suggesting that its connection to the supernatural is a bit unseemly, and possibly satanic.
Who is Satan?
Adventists have a strong view of good versus evil, perhaps because of Revelations, as well as Ellen White's Biblical commentary, The Great Controversy.
They believe that Satan (also known as 'the Devil', or 'Lucifer') and his evil angels (Who all fled Heaven with him during 'the Fall', when they were expelled by God after Satan tried to usurp leadership of Heaven) are constantly trying to tempt people to stray from the ways of Christianity.
Life After Death
Certain aspects of Adventism are considered somewhat controversial by other denominations. Adventists don't believe in the immortal soul. They say that when a person dies, s/he is sleeping in a way, and that on the Second Coming of Christ, the righteous will go to Heaven, while the condemned will die.
Certain denominations refer to a period of 'Rapture', which will take place at the Second Coming. They believe that the righteous will be taken from their everyday lives and go straight to Heaven, while the condemned will remain on Earth, wondering where the righteous went. Adventists don't believe this, however.
As for the actual time of the Apocalypse/Armageddon/Second Coming, Adventists follow the Bible when it cautions that 'no man shall know the hour, nor the date, nor the time, not even the Son'.
Adventists believe that once Christ comes, the righteous will return with Him to Heaven; however, they don't actually spend eternity there. Instead, the Church believes that people will simply wait in Heaven for Christ to 'make a new Earth', as it says in the Bible. Once the Earth has been cleaned up and beautified by Jesus, the righteous will return to their home planet.
Baptism - Your Decision
When an Adventist couple has a baby, s/he is not baptized or christened, but is 'consecrated', which means that the pastor and the elders of the church (people selected to help lead the church) pray over the parents and infant, asking for God's blessing upon them. Once the child is old enough to choose baptism, s/he meets with the pastor over a period of months, studying the tenets of the Adventist faith, as well as the Bible, and is then baptized on a mutually agreed-upon date. Adventists practice full-immersion baptism, which means that the pastor immerses them completely in water. This is the way that Christ Himself was baptised.
Biblical Ceremonies... Alive and Well
Adventists tend to take the Bible very literally. Although certain Biblical passages indicate that alcohol was consumed by Christ Himself, Adventist historians believe it was very weak. Since Adventists believe that 'the body is a temple', they choose not to consume wine in their Communion service.
After everyone partakes of grape juice and unleavened bread (which tastes like the American brand of crackers, Wheat-Thins), men and women assemble in different sections of the church for the foot-washing ceremony. This is important to them because it symbolizes equality between church members, and encourages humility. Christ washed the feet of His disciples at the Lord's Supper, and enjoined his disciples to follow His example.
What is Tithe?
Paying tithe is another important aspect of the Adventist faith. According to the Bible, Christians should donate 10% of their wages to the Church. Of course, due to tax deductions, there is some disagreement among Adventists as to whether tithe should be 10% of their gross or net pay, but the general consensus is that it's the individual's choice.
Certainly, tithe is not a necessity for membership, but it may sometimes be required if one wishes to advance in the lay-leadership of the Church. In addition to tithe, if they feel so moved, Adventists may also contribute 'offerings', sums of money that will go towards a different, specially-chosen Church ministry.
Jewish synagogues collect offerings and tithe differently than the Adventists, because the Bible cautioned against money-lending inside a temple. Because they believe tithe and offerings weren't being referred to in that Biblical reference, Adventists choose to donate their monetary gifts on the Sabbath itself, inside the church sanctuary. Church elders pass around velvet bags supported by an upper wooden frame, and members put their donations either directly into the container, or into an envelope, and then into the container.
A visitor to an Adventist church may sometimes hear a speaker stating that the more one contributes to the Church, the more s/he will be blessed by the Lord; it should be noted that this is only a personal opinion and is not supported by the Bible or the Church itself.
Politics, the Adventist Church, and the World
Some faiths in the United States tend to take political stances, and encourage their members to vote in a certain way, but the Adventist Church believes this can divide the Church. As such, it has no official position on abortion, capital punishment, etc. Adventists may divorce, and abortion is also permitted. The Church has never issued a statement voicing its position on abortion, although it has issued guidelines to help people make a morally-informed personal decision.
The Church is not merely concerned about its own members. It endeavors to help people worldwide. ADRA, a relief organization, is run by the Adventist Church, and has a representative at the United Nations. This charitable group has been widely acclaimed for its good works, which are done for Christian and non-Christian alike.
Unfortunately, members of the Church have encountered some discrimination and recrimination in certain parts of the world, such as Turkestan, whose government authorised the destruction of an Adventist church and the detainment of Adventist pastors and church members. Despite all of this, the Church remains staunchly pacifistic.
In the United States, Adventists are recognized as conscientious objectors by the military, and therefore, when drafted, do not serve as soldiers, because of their beliefs against killing.
Adventism is a growing faith worldwide, and was most recently recognized publicly by the Governor of Papua New Guinea as having contributed to the spiritual welfare and peace of that sometimes troubled nation.
The Adventist Church doesn't merely try to proselytize people, but also fights vigorously for the rights of others to believe as they choose. Adventists tend to closely study Revelations (a book in the Bible with many predictions about the end of the world), and believe that one day, their own religious freedom will be threatened. It is for this reason that the Church founded an international religious liberty organization in the 1800s, and continues to champion religious freedom.
A common misconception about Adventists is that they do not celebrate certain events, such as Easter, Christmas, Birthdays and Halloween. In fact, Adventists love holidays, even though they don't have any holidays that belong only to them.