Seventh-day Adventists are a group that appeared in the 19th century, out of the same religious culture that produced the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. There has long been a debate among evangelicals as to whether or not to consider Seventh-day Adventists to be a Christian denomination or to consider it a cult. People are still divided about this.
Where Did Seventh-day Adventists Come From?
The 19th century was a time of great religious fervour with two specific trends: expectations of the imminent return of Jesus and careful study of the Bible apart from denominational traditions. The Seventh-day Adventists were the product of both these forces.
In the first half of the 19th century, there was a man named William Miller. Miller had predicted, by calculations from the book of Daniel, that Jesus would return in 1844. Miller convinced thousands of people that his theory was true. But when the day that was predicted came and went, many people were confused as to what had happened. This was called the Great Disappointment. However, many were to ready to give up yet.
Some were still convinced of Miller’s calculations. The problem must be in the interpretation. It was determined that Miller was correct that something important had happened on that day, but it was not the return of Jesus. Rather it was Jesus entering into the heavenly sanctuary to cleanse it in preparation for his eventual (and soon) return.
Certain leaders, including Ellen G. White, took these beliefs and combined them with a renewed conviction that worship was to take place on the Sabbath, and from this emerged Seventh-day Adventism.
What Do Seventh-day Adventists Believe?
Seventh-day Adventists believe most of what would be considered orthodox Christian doctrine. This would include belief in the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, the death and resurrection of Jesus and salvation by faith. Unlike the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Seventh-day Adventists see themselves in the same line as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and other prominent church leaders.
Seventh-day Adventists do believe in some distinctive doctrines. This includes the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary in 1844. They also believe that it is important to worship on the Sabbath. While I see nothing wrong with Sabbath worship, I’m concerned by their identification of the mark of the beast as Sunday worship. To be fair, they don’t believe that Sunday worshipers today have the mark. Rather just before Jesus returns, the truth of Sabbath worship will be made clear and anyone who retains Sunday worship will receive the mark.
Seventh-day Adventists also believe in annihilationism or conditional immortality. This is something they share with Jehovah’s Witnesses. But is this enough to put them in the cult camp? The truth is that man orthodox Christians hold to conditional immortality. See my post Orthodox Christians and Conditional Immortality.
Are Seventh-day Adventists Christian?
Many years ago, Walter Martin caused a stir by classifying Seventh-day Adventists as a Christian denomination in his classic Kingdom of the Cults. That is not to say that Martin had no concerns. He did but argued that the weight of the evidence pushed them into the Christian side.
I have some concerns with Seventh-day Adventist theology. Their emphasis on following Old Testament rules can lead to a sense of legalism. This can be dangerous. Still, they do hold to salvation by faith and other Christian denominations also have expected standards.
The main concern is the role of Ellen White. I see two kind of religious leader in the 19th century: the Bible teacher and the prophet. Charles Taze Russel (Jehovah’s Witnesses) would be a Bible teacher and Joseph Smith, Jr. (Mormons) would be a prophet.
Ellen White seemed to see herself with a foot in both camps. I have read a number of her books and the emphasis was overwhelmingly as a Bible teacher, sharing interpretations from the Bible and church history. But many of her followers did and do consider her a prophetess. New Testament Christianity has a place for prophets, so this does not necessarily lead to heresy. The problem is when prophetic revelation is taken as an authority equal or superior to Scripture (as in Mormonism).
While some Seventh-day Adventists may have an overly exalted view of Ellen White, I would say, based on their official statements of faith, that they are a Christian denomination and not a cult. I would have no problem working with a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in ministry.
You might find this recent Twitter poll I did interesting.
What would you consider the Seventh-day Adventists?
— Stephen Bedard (@SJBedard) July 17, 2018