The History of Adventism
Its birthplace in the township of Washington, New Hampshire, in 1844, reveals three central truths about the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Before it was "Adventist" or Sabbath-keeping Adventist, it was "Christian."
It celebrates a history that has emphasized "freedom."
It welcomes and grows from diversity within its membership.
The Christian Roots of Seventh-day Adventism
The local church where "Christian," "Advent," and "Sabbath" combined was established by Christian Connection believers, a religious body that in the mid-nineteenth century was fifth in membership within the United States.
Members of the Christian movement sought biblical authority for every aspect of belief. They wanted "no creed but the Bible." Thus, if they were convinced from the Scriptures of the literal soon advent of Christ and the continuing validity of the seventh day Sabbath, their heritage demanded acceptance.
Because William Miller, a well-known Baptist preacher, exhibited profound knowledge of the Scriptures as he lectured upon the literal soon advent of Christ, scores of Christian Connection churches and many of its ministers and leaders became "Adventist" in the late 1830s and 1840s. The Washington, New Hampshire, Christian Connection church by the early 1840s was an "Adventist" church.
Social, Organizational, and Theological Freedom
Another element of the Seventh-day Adventist heritage from "Christians" involves the Seventh-day Adventist emphasis upon freedom. Washington, New Hampshire, was the initial town in the United States to name itself after George Washington, and it took that name in 1776, the year of the American Revolution. Its very birthplace seemed a call to personal freedom.
"Christians," as did Seventh-day Adventists from their earliest days, actively sought freedom for all and worked toward abolition of slavery as well as roles for women in the church, and fostered a strong opposition to formalized church creeds. Freedom was also emphasized through an orientation toward temperance and health reform. Proper care of the physical frame would yield a clear mind with which to perceive scriptural truths.
Thus within nineteenth-century Adventism one finds strong anti-slavery actions, women licensed as ministers, and health reform principles that included abolition of alcohol and tobacco within the membership.
Religious freedom came to mean more than the separation of church and state. It also implied a right to read the Scripture for oneself and come to conclusions not bound by creedal presuppositions. The "present truth" perspective assumed that new insights would arise as Seventh-day Adventists continued to study the Scriptures. The prophetic guidance of Ellen White within the movement solidified this perspective of social, organizational, and theological freedom.
J. N. Andrews
Ellen G. White
A Diverse Movement
The Washington, New Hampshire, roots also illustrate the diversity within the heritage of Seventh-day Adventists. It was Rachel Oakes, a Seventh Day Baptist, that convinced some of the members of the Washington church about the continuing validity of the seventh-day Sabbath. Not all mid-nineteenth century churches would give a fair hearing to the insights of a woman. Besides that, Thomas Preble, who attended that church and wrote an influential tract on the seventh-day Sabbath, was a Freewill Baptist. Frederick Wheeler, who served as their pastor, was a Methodist minister. We thus have substantial diversity within that original church. At least five different religious faiths formed the first Sabbath keeping Christian Adventist church. Within that diversity, however, unity over central issues prevailed.
Shortly after settling on a denominational name in 1860, Seventh-day Adventists began to talk about a worldwide movement. After all, didn't Christ urge to "go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" and didn't Revelation talk of "the everlasting gospel" to be proclaimed to "them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people"?
In 1861 it was discovered that at least five in Ireland were practicing Seventh-day Adventists. But how could a group of only a few thousand perform the task of worldwide evangelism? The denomination was officially organized on May 21, 1863, when the movement included some 125 churches and 3,500 members. By 1864 Michael Belina Czechowski, a former Catholic priest, decided to spread the Seventh-day Adventist message throughout Europe. In 1874 the church was ready to send abroad its first official missionary, J. N. Andrews, who left the United States for Switzerland. By the end of the century Seventh-day Adventism had become worldwide in scope.