(Investigator 156, 2014 May)


Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs) are a big religion that rarely makes headline news.

There was Lindy Chamberlain, wife of an Adventist pastor.
Their baby was taken by a dingo in Central Australia in 1980. She was found guilty of murder in 1982 and Michael Chamberlain accessory after the fact. Mrs Chamberlain spent three years in prison, was exonerated by a royal commission in 1987, and finally received a revised death certificate for her baby in 2012.

There was Larry Cottam and his wife Leona.
This SDA minister in New York was unemployed but refused help from relatives and neighbors. Believing "God would provide" he also kept his children out of school and its breakfast and lunch programs. In January 1989 his son died of starvation. Found guilty of third-degree murder the Cottams commenced prison sentences in 1994.

There was Waco in Texas.
In 1993 a 51-day siege of the "Mount Carmel" headquarters of a cult called Branch Davidians ended in a flaming inferno with over 80 people dead. Branch Davidians split or "branched" in 1959 off from the Davidian SDAs who in turn split from the SDAs in 1930.

There was Pitcairn Island.
Pitcairn had a culture of SDA men raping girls who, trapped on the small Island, had no escape. In 2004 Britain shipped in judges, lawyers and police to set up the Pitcairn Supreme Court and put the accused child abusers on trial.

There was Wayne Dent (b. 1941)
This former SDA pastor founded his own cult in 1987,  situated it on a commune in New Mexico, and in 2000 declared himself "Messiah" and the "embodiment of God". He was convicted for sex crimes against minors and imprisoned in 2009.


The SDAs are among the largest religions to originate in 19th century USA.

The adult worldwide membership increased as follows:

1870 5,400
1880 15,600 1970 2,052,000
1890 29,700 1980 3,481,000
1900 75,800 1990 6,695,000
104,500  2000 11,687,000
1920 185,000 2005 14,399,000
1930 314,000 2010 16,923,000
505,000 2012 17,881,000

"Adventism" began in 1833, in New York State, when William Miller (1782-1849), formerly a U.S. Army officer, published the pamphlet Evidences from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ about the year 1843, and of His Personal Reign of One Thousand Years.

When 1843 arrived without the "Second Coming" the date was reset to 1844. The Adventism movement numbering about 100,000 then split up. Many defected permanently, but others worked to reorganize.

Leading Millerites met at Albany, N.Y., in 1845 and adopted a statement declaring their belief in the visible return of Christ when the resurrection of the dead would take place and the millennium begin. They became known as Second Adventists.

Over the next decades six denominations developed out of the shambles of 1844:
•    Evangelical Adventists (1845)

•    Seventh-Day Adventists (1844-1855; 1863)
This became the largest Adventist denomination.

•    Advent Christian Church (1861)
This was formed as a result of disagreement on the soul's immortality and has a U.S. membership of about 30,000. They reject the SDA observances of the Saturday Sabbath and the dietary laws. They coordinate their work throughout the world through the Advent Christian General Conference of America.

•    Life and Advent Union (1863)
This group had only 300 members and merged with the Advent Christian Church in 1964.

•    Church of God (Seventh Day) (1866)

•    Churches of God in Christ Jesus (1888)
Renamed Church of God in 1921; U.S. membership 75,000.

The SDAs started in 1844-1855 under the leadership of three American Millerites:
•    Joseph Bates (1792-1872);
•    James Springer White (1821-1881);
•    Ellen G Harmon (1827-1915) who became Ellen G. White in1846.

The Church headquarters was set up in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1855. It was moved to Washington, D. C. in 1903, and to Silver Spring, Maryland in 1989.

Time magazine reported:
Prophet Ellen G. White (1827-1915) rallied the group…following the "Great Disappointment of Oct. 22, 1844… White, a "messenger" of God and interpreter of the Bible, said she received a vision explaining that on Oct. 22 Christ had entered a new "sanctuary" in heaven to begin investigative judgment" of the lives and works of believers. Then White reported a second vision that confirmed the necessity of Saturday worship… Followers came to regard White's numerous visions and books as divinely inspired interpretations of the Bible, as well as a proper guide on everything from vegetarianism (pro) to Darwinism (con). (August 2, 1982, pp 38-39)

The date, 1844, therefore was regarded as correct but the predicted event wrong. Instead of appearing publicly Christ went from one location in heaven to another to examine all the names in the Book of Life. After finishing this examination Christ will appear visibly to the world and his millennial reign will begin.

The SDAs formally organized in 1863. They paid tithes, baptized by immersion, held Saturday meetings, anticipated Jesus' early return, believed in the resurrection of the dead, and emphasized healthy living including abstaining from tobacco, meat and alcohol.

SDAs dispatched their first missionary, John N Andrews (1829-1883) in 1874, and soon developed a great emphasis on missionary work.

Today there are SDAs in 208 countries.

Besides Miller, Bates, James & Ellen White, and Andrews the SDA "pioneers" and others of special note include:
•    Sylvester Bliss (1814-1863)
•    Daniel T. Bourdeau (1835-1905)
•    John Byington (1798-1887)
•    Merritt E. Cornell (1827-1893
•    Owen Russell Loomis Crosier 1820-1913
•    Charles Fitch (1805-1844)
•    Stephen N. Haskell (1833-1922)
•    John Norton Loughborough 1832-1924
•    Thomas M. Preble (1810-1907)
•    Uriah Smith 1832-1903
•    George Storrs (1796-1879)
•    Joseph Harvey Waggoner 1820-1889
•    Alonzo T. Jones 1850-1923
•    Dr. Ellet J. Waggoner 1855-1916
•    William Warren Prescott (1855-1944)

The main SDA governing body, The General Conference, now has its headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. The General Conference meets every fourth year and consists of delegates sent by local conferences that oversee local congregations.

The General Conference supervises worldwide evangelism, sanitariums (medical institutions), schools, and publishing houses. It makes recommendations that are followed by most SDA congregations.

SDAs spread their beliefs in over 900 languages, run comprehensive programs for their young people, manage hundreds of hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, and maintain an extensive school and college system.


Critics on the Internet allege that after 1844 there were further failed dates for Christ's return or for other events, including 1845, 1847, 1850, 1852, 1855, 1863, 1866, 1868 and 1877.

Of the19th century critics one of the most informed and influential was Dudley M Canright who is discussed in a separate article.

In 1929 Victor Houteff (1885–1955), a Bulgarian immigrant to America and a SDA Sabbath School teacher, claimed he had a new message for the Church and called for reforms. He presented his message in his book Shepherd's Rod: The 144,000—A Call for Reformation. Houteff was excommunicated and his followers became known as "Davidians". They settled near Waco, Texas, in 1935, to live simple lives and wait for Christ's coming.

In the 1970s, Australian Adventist theologian Desmond Ford (b.1929) claimed that the "investigative judgment" of 1844 is not a Bible teaching.  As a result over a hundred Adventist ministers and teachers left the Church.

Walter T Rea, an Adventist minister of California, documented borrowings in Ellen White's books (including her main book The Desire of Ages) from 75 earlier books — a huge amount of plagiarism. Time magazine says: "She utilized the words of prior authors in describing words she heard spoken while in vision."

Rea promoted his findings in his book The White Lie (1982). The Church defended Ellen White by responding that parts of the Bible were also prepared from earlier sources. This argument is risky however, as it could support Bible critics who list parallels between Jesus and earlier pagan gods to argue that Jesus is myth and early Christianity a "copycat" cult.

The 1980 General Conference of the Church reaffirmed White as a prophet and her writings an "authoritative source of truth". Rea continued his criticisms in at least six other books including The Paraphrasing Prophet (2005).

Another critique is LYING FOR GOD: What Adventists Knew And When They Knew It (7th Edition 2012). This book attacks the Sabbath doctrine, tithing, and "Church Corruption". The authors are Kerry Wynne (a former third generation SDA), William Hohmann (formerly of the Worldwide Church of God), and Robert K. Sanders (formerly a SDA Church historian).

Recently an unsolicited DVD arrived in the Investigator post box, titled Seventh-day Adventism The Spirit Behind The Church (1999). It features former SDA pastors who criticize errors in Ellen White's revelations including false predictions she made.


The oldest SDA books in my possession are:
•    Bible Readings for the Home Circle (1896)
•    The Coming King (1906) James Edson White
•    Earth's Last Generation (1923) Robert Hare

These books discuss current events, mainly 19th century events, and interpret them as signs of the end, such as earthquakes, famines, the Boer War, divorce statistics, alcohol consumption, disease outbreaks, workers on strike, tornadoes, inventions such as steamships, and the rise of missionary societies.

Precise dates for Christ's return are absent. But statements such as the following are incompatible with a century having passed:

Thus the downfall of Turkey, which every intelligent person will not hesitate to admit is inevitable in the very near  future, becomes the signal for the beginning of the reign of Christ, his advent in the clouds of heaven, the time of trouble, the resurrection of the dead, and the end of all things.
(Bible Readings for the Home Circle 1896, p. 396)

The coming of Jesus the King is near. The long course of sin and corruption is nearly run.
(The Coming King 1906 p. 222)

A few more days, and the final iniquity of the world will be filled to the brim, and the angel of mercy will again leave the earth. Then the fires of the great day of God will break forth, and destroy the earth by fire… (ibid, p. 231)

Reader, what does all this mean to you? … This is the generation upon whom the ends of the world are come" (1 Cor. 10:11), and in it God is looking for the 144,000 who are to stand before the thrown…
(Earth's Last Generation 1923, p. 142)

In the first quote the "downfall of Turkey" interprets Daniel 11:45 and refers to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. This actually did occur "in the very near future" with World War One. But Christ's "advent in the clouds" failed to occur as surely as in 1844.

The Coming King seems to limit the number of SDAs to 144,000:
Paul teaches that the true Israel is made up of all who are true to God… By faith we are accepted as the true Israel… (p. 260)

When Christ comes to earth to gather out of it those who are true to Him, there will be found one hundred and forty-four thousand belonging to the true Israel, who will be translated without tasting death. (p. 263)

And pages 315-316 predict that the "powers of Europe" will become "kings of the whole world":
China and Turkey alone now await the national scalpel that must divide their lands, and then "the days of those kings will have fully come.

Rather than ruling the world the European empires are gone.


The practice of tithing gives the SDA Church an enormous steady income which finances worldwide welfare programs and one of the biggest preaching endeavours in history.

In 2011 the Church published its message in 370 languages and dialects. "Oral work" increased the languages used to 927.

The 2013 Annual Statistical Report 149th Report of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for Year Ending December 31, 2011 has 87 pages of statistics.

Page 71 gives the numbers of Church-run institutions in 2011:

   Institutions Employees
Hospitals and Sanitariums 172
Nursing Homes & Retirement Centers 133
Clinics and Dispensaries 238
Orphanages and Children's Homes 36

Page 77 reports that the UN recognizes 232 countries and that the SDA work is established in 208 of these.

Page 80 gives the following statistics for 2010 and 2011:

Ministers 15,096 15,249

Churches 70,188 72,144 74,299
Companies 65,157 67,078 67,669
Membership 16,923,239 17,479,890 17,881,491
World-population per member ratio 407

(The 2012 figures are from the Supplement to the 2013 Annual Statistical Report)

Membership increased 3.3% in 2011 and 2.3% in 2012.

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