By Eileen Maddocks
The Albany conference inadvertently set up a church structure, which set the scene for more schismatic revolts. Since the Bible was the ultimate authority and every person had the right to interpret it as he saw fit, a lot of new theological concepts emerged in the 1840s and 50s in an attempt to retain Adventism in the face of the nonappearance of Jesus in 1844. Most of these theories, after endless debates and rebukes, died out. The persons who would ultimately found the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) adopted conditionalism (soul sleep after death until the resurrection) and annihilationism (the annihilation of the souls of the unsaved) that had been formulated by the Advent Christians. To these doctrines were added worship on the seventh day, or Sabbatarianism, the second sanctuary, the investigative judgment, and both the shut door and the open door.
Christianity had always observed the Sabbath on Sunday, the first day of the week, as the day of rest and worship. The early church had freed itself from Pharisaic and Mosaic law because Jesus had fulfilled that law. Emphasis was put on freedom from sin and death through belief in Jesus Christ. Beliefs in seventh-day worship seldom survived, the first exception being the Seventh-day Baptist sect that was established in the mid-seventeenth century in England and then spread to the United States. Today it has about 5,000 members in the United States and Canada and 50,000 worldwide. The sabbatarian belief in the seventh day for worship, Saturday, gained renewed interest in the ferment of the 1840s and 50s. The Advent Christians chose to remain first-day worshippers but seventh-day worship became a core belief for the Seventh-day Adventists.
Another fundamental belief was a reinterpretation of Daniel 8:14 (“Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.”). The sanctuary was thought to have meant the earth and the cleansing was to purify the earth from sin. Since the Second Coming had not occurred and with it the cleansing of sin, it was essential to reassess and provide a new interpretation. On one of the final days of October 1844 a man named Hiram Edson, a Methodist farmer of Port Gibson, New York, had a vision while passing through a field.
I was stopped about midway and heaven seemed to open to my view . . . . I saw distinctly, and clearly, that instead of our High Priest coming out [the common expectation of many Millerites] of the Most Holy of the heavenly sanctuary to come to this earth on the tenth day of the seventh month, at the end of the 2300 days, that he for the first time entered on that day the second apartment of that sanctuary; and that he had a work to perform in the Most Holy before coming to this earth.
Then in late 1844 a young woman named Ellen Harmon (later Ellen White) had a vision that she believed confirmed the October 22, 1844, date. George R. Knight wrote:
From that point to her death in 1915, she saw the October 22 date as a “bright light” to guide God’s end-time people. Far from being a mistake or a delusion, the seventh-month movement with its October 22 fulfillment of prophecy became an anchor point in the advent experience. Those who rejected that anchor point, she held, were left in “perfect darkness” and “stumbled and fell.” In that sentiment she seemed to be giving what she saw as the fruitless longterm future of the open-door (eventually Albany) Adventists. From her perspective in December 1844, she held that those forms of Adventism that cut loose from their prophetic roots would eventually come to nothing.
A cohesive theology would develop for the Seventh-day Adventists. The 22 October event had happened in a second sanctuary in heaven. In due course, Jesus would return to earth to start His millennial rule. The idea of the investigative judgment, or pre-advent judgment, also took form. The cleansing of the sanctuary came to be understood as Christ’s judgment in the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary. In other words, the Millerites had been correct about the date but not about what was to occur, which was the entry of Christ in a celestial apartment in heaven where the fate of all people would be set. The heavenly sanctuary became a core doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
There had also been the open-door/shut-door controversy, a staple of early Adventism that was inspired by Matthew 25:1‒13, the parable of the ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five had sufficient oil but five did not bring oil and were out trying to buy oil when the bridegroom arrived at midnight. The first five virgins were admitted to the wedding banquet, the kingdom of heaven, but the door was shut to the other five. A basic belief of Millerism was that the door to salvation would be shut in 1844 with the Second Coming. After Christ did not come, endless disputes over the shut door and the open door erupted. The Albany Adventists endorsed the open door, that is, the door was not shut to salvation now that the Advent had not occurred.
The Seventh-day Adventists had changed their beliefs about the cleansing and the sanctuary; however, their belief in the shut-door was no longer rational because it meant that many people would be born and die with no hope of salvation. There had to be resolution to this apparent contradiction, and it took the form of a very creative compromise. Knight wrote:
It would be the early 1850s before they had worked out a harmonized position on the topic. But they gradually came to see the shut door in the framework of shutting the door of the Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary, when the first phase of Christ’s ministry had been completed in 1844, and the opening of the door to the second phase of His heavenly ministry that same year.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church was formally established in 1863 with a cohesive theology of an eschatological nature combined with the traditional Christian beliefs in the trinity, baptism, communion, and the Bible as the only sacred text. This church has always considered itself to be the true heirs of Millerism. There are four levels to its administration and it was this intensity of organization that made the Church’s impressive global outreach possible. The church also put emphasis on caring for the body with good nutrition. As a result many Seventh-day Adventists are vegetarians. Alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs are prohibited.
Membership has spread to more than 200 countries. The Church’s statistics for 2014 show 78,810 churches, global membership of 18,479,257, 237 persons, established missions in 216 countries and areas of the world, publications and oral teaching in 947 languages, 7,579 schools from primary to tertiary levels, and 173 hospitals and sanitariums. The 2016 statistical report of the SDA states that in 2015 a total of 1,260,880 people became Seventh-day Adventists by baptism and profession.
However, 170 years and counting is a long time to maintain a fervent expectation of the Second Return and a new millennium. Another perspective on this church is given in the article “Why Are So Many Seventh-day Adventists Leaving the SDA Church?”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has 28 fundamental beliefs that can be found on its website (http://szu.adventist.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/28_Beliefs.pdf)
2 George R. Knight, Millennial Fever and the End of the World, 305. Knight is a Seventh-day Adventist.
3 Ibid., pp. 302‒303.
4 Ibid., p. 313, from E. White, Early Writings, 42; J. White, Life Incidents,, 207‒208; “Open and Shut Door,” in Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, rev. ed., Don F. Neufeld, ed. (Washington, D.C., Review and Herald, 1976), 1034‒1037.
5 2016 Annual Statistical Report, 152nd Report of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for 2014 and 2015, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Statistics/ASR/ASR2016.pdf, p. 1