Full Text for American Religious Scene- Volume 55 - Seventh-Day Adventists (Video)

No. 55. >> We always struggle to get a child care worker to serve on Sunday mornings in the nursery at our church. On the one hand, if we got a member of our church, she cannot worship with the rest of us. On the other hand, we didn't want someone who has nothing to do with the church. Our solution has been to hire a Seventh-day Adventist. She goes to church on Saturday and so is free Sunday mornings. Frankly, I admit to knowing almost nothing about the Seventh-day Adventist. I would like to talk to her about her faith. But I would love to be better informed first. >>DR. LAWRENCE R. RAST, JR.: Eric, I commend you for your sensitivity to this person. And I commend you for your desire to speak with her about her faith and to have the opportunity to present the Gospel to her. It's an important thing I think to be sensitive to other people's history and their story. And as I've argued already in this class, that's one way of developing a relationship and providing for non-threatening avenues of discussion. So once again, well done. And I commend you for wanting to learn about the tradition, the Seventh-day Adventist tradition, which is -- can be a little unusual. A little out of the mainstream of American Christianity. And depending on what part of the country in which you live, there may be a lot or there may be only a few Seventh-day Adventists. In fact, in my own experience, we had very few in my area of Northern Illinois where I grew up. And I knew effectively nothing about them. But in the area of Tennessee where I was a pastor, there were quite a few Seventh-day Adventists. And I had to become familiar with their perspective. And to that end, I've delved a little bit in their history. And what has emerged is an absolutely fascinating story. Very unusual. In the first part of the 1800s there was a man by the name of William Miller, who grew up in the northeastern part of the country. He lived in Vermont. And he lived in New York state. And from all indications early on in his life, he was a rationalist. He really didn't have much to do with the church. Really didn't believe that the Bible was God's Word. Simply was a functional unbeliever for all intents and purposes. But over the course of his early life, he began to read the Bible. And the more he read it, the more intrigued he became with it. And the more intrigued he was, the deeper he delved until some of its mysteries, at least he believed, began to reveal themselves to him. Particularly some of the mysteries revolving and the books of Daniel and the Apocalypse of Saint John, the book of Revelation. And what William Miller began to do -- he was a layman, by the way, he simply began to read these texts and to find a way to reconcile them with world events so that he could begin to know at least the general timeframe that Jesus would return. Now, in this respect, he very much went against the popular mind. Most Americans in the first part of the 1800s were post millennialists: They believed that the millennium would occur before Jesus came back. Hence, post millennium, the return of Christ after the millennial period. And the manner in which we went into the millennium was by virtue of the sanctified works of the church preparing this world for the imminent return of Jesus. William Miller, on the other hand, proposed a radical form of premillennialism. That is before any millennial period would occur, Jesus would return. And that return would be striking and sudden. And what it would involve would be Jesus coming back, cleansing the world, gathering believers to himself. And preparing the world himself for the millennial kingdom. So on the one hand, post millennialism, the church preparing the world for Jesus' return. On the other hand, Miller's premillennialism, Jesus returning and preparing the world for the millennium. Very different idea here. And as a result, not too many people were taken up by his millennial scheme. Until he began to relate it to various parts of the Scripture. Until he began to speak about distinctive texts of Scripture. And to interpret these in specific ways in the light of world history. Now, the scheme which he ultimately developed was terribly complex in character. And has to be put up in chronological and graphic form for you to make sense of it. And we'll do that on the screen now so you can take a look at it. But what you'll note in this particular scheme is the manner in which he locates a start date and an ending date. Now, the basis for his claims in this regard are really very simple. His whole point is that if we can identify the beginning of the 70 weeks that are talked about in the book of Daniel, then we can extrapolate from there weeks being a certain amount of time, that when the ending of those 70 weeks finally occurs, we will see the return of Jesus. Here we see the Year-Day Theory come into practice, as it's called. And then that combined into weeks, as well. A day being a thousand years in the sight of the Lord, prophetic interpreters began to take every mention of a year or a day within the Scriptures as being equal to 1,000 years. So a day equals 1,000 years. A week equals 7,000 years. 70 weeks equals 4900 years is the way the scheme would work itself out. So the key becomes the application of the beginning point. And then one would know the ending point. William Miller became increasingly convinced over the course of the 1820s that the ending point was rapidly approaching. And in the 1830s, he began to speak to family members initially that this meant the return of Christ was imminent. In fact, he located a date some time between March 1843 and March 1844. Afterall, the Bible said: No man knows the day and the hour. But that didn't preclude Miller from concluding the month and the year. At least in terms of the scope. So some time between March 1843-March 1844 on the basis of his calculations. When he told his family this, they were certainly alarmed in the first place. Convinced of his calculations. And they encouraged him then to share this with others. Through the late 1820s and then '30s, his influence expanded particularly when he met the man named Joshua Himes, H i m e s. And Himes took Miller's scheme and put it into graphic form and then plastered it all over the place. Posters were made. Publications featured it. Tracts went out. Books were written. Until it seemed like by the end of the 1830s, early 1840s, this is all anybody was talking about. The return of Christ was imminent. Add into this the financial panic of 1837. And Americans were ripe. They experienced an economic disaster. And it looked like things were coming apart. All the hopes and dreams that many had more America now would not be realized. Maybe Miller was right. He entered upon a series of preaching and teaching tours that were characterized by the use of a big tent. Drew enormous crowds. And as the dates drew closer, the expectations rose to a fever pitch. March 1843 arrived. But Jesus did not. Nor did he at the end of March 1844. And people wondered what had happened. What had gone wrong? Miller simply said: My calculations may have been off. I never said this was the absolute date. This is simply my reading of the Scriptures. And he backed off somewhat from his earlier convictions. However, several of his followers redid the calculations and came to the absolute conclusion that Jesus would return on October 22nd, 1844. This was the date. They appealed to their leader, to Miller, for his imprimatur, his agreement, he resisted. Until about a month, three weeks before the event itself. Where he finally capitulated and said: Yes, I think this is right. Again, expectations rose to fever pitch as October 22nd approached. But as midnight passed and Jesus had not returned, the followers of Miller experienced what they call the Great Disappointment. And in many ways, the movement collapsed. Some had said up to 50,000 people were committed Millerites by this point in time. Whether that number is accurate or not is impossible to say given there were no formally structured churches. But it had impacted all of American religious culture. But in the wake of the Great Disappointment, many said: Well, that's the end of that. And we should simply move on. Forget the rest. But there was a young woman who had been touched by the Millerite message affected by Miller's preaching. And who was interested in terms of what he had had to say. Her name was Ellen G. White. And she picked up the themes of William Miller. She looked at what he had taught. And developed a unique interpretation of what he had advanced. Namely, that what had occurred was, in fact, the completion of the work of Christ on that day in 1844. But that it had not occurred in a visible and manifest way here on earth. Rather, the completion of Christ's salvific work occurred on that day as he moved into the Holy of Holies, finalizing the work of salvation in heaven. When asked how she knew this, she responded: God showed me this in a vision. Thus, as this movement began to coalesce around the earlier millennial teachings, Adventist teachings of William Miller with now the prophetical visions of Ellen G. White, this new movement, began to coalesce and take form in the turns and form of Seventh-day Adventism. The assumptions about the millennial shift that had occurred as Christ entered the Holy of Holies finalizing salvation for human beings coupled with an insistence that the keeping of the Sabbath is, in fact, a part of the moral law. And thus, the seventh day, Sabbath, as required for all who would be required as true Christians became the marked points of this movement as Ellen G. White continued to have revelations, continued to be the voice piece for God in terms of the present time. Later on she coupled that with her interest in health care and health cure. Arguing that it was improper for human beings and, in fact, unbiblical for them to be engaged in the consumption of other living animals. Thereby helping develop a whole thrust within the Seventh-day Adventist tradition towards the creation of new kinds of food. When she and her followers moved their base of operations from the northeast to central Michigan, specifically around Battle Creek, Michigan, in the 1860s, a number of those who were convinced of her position developed their food products in that area. For example, Kellogg's and the birth of cereal as we know it today came about. In terms of formal principle, the Seventh-day Adventist tradition would turn to the Scriptures. But would also supplement it with the prophetic visions and writings of Ellen G. White. Thus, you have Scripture plus something else in terms of the formal principle of this group. And in terms of the material principle, you also have a distinct perspective among the Seventh-day Adventists. They would certainly affirm the doctrine of justification as its taught. But rather, they would also talk about the need for conformity with the divine precepts, specifically in terms of care of the body. And the Seventh-day Sabbath. Those who are faithful in maintaining these things are those who are justified. So a radically different move for this particular expression of faith. And some have said it's difficult to categorize Seventh-day Adventism as a Christian tradition given this supplemental revelation and the way it tempers the clear biblical doctrine of justification. On the other hand, within the Seventh-day Adventist tradition, there are those who are responsible for reform. That is to say there is a variety of opinion. So it's difficult simply to paint it with a broad brush. There's a variety of perspectives. And among some, Ellen G. White has status as one of the prophets. Among others, simply as a child of her times. The result is it's hard to pin down. And there is that variety of expression. But what we do see in Seventh-day Adventism is a uniquely American tradition that grows up within the setting of the American context. And expresses its faith in a dramatically unique way.