(Note: this post originally appeared on a blog called “Convergence” that I used to have for the Bangor Daily News. For various reasons, I no longer maintain that blog. However, I wanted to make sure a few of the posts were still accessible and so, even though I was able to finally track down the archived version of this post, I wanted to re-post it here [with a couple minor additions] in the event that I lost access to that archived blog again. So . . . enjoy.)
Chances are, if someone were to ask you what you knew about Seventh-day Adventists, the blank look on your face would betray the fact that you know very little—if anything. That’s all right. You would be in good company. In 2003, when a survey was conducted in North America to determine what was known about Seventh-day Adventists (often called simply “Adventists”), nearly 50 percent of respondents said they had not heard of the Christian denomination.
Perhaps just as interesting, of the remaining respondents who said they had heard of the faith, more than one out of every ten confused Adventists either with Latter-day Saints (Mormons) or Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I am a Seventh-day Adventist pastor who has recently moved to the Bangor area to pastor the local congregation. I have been a life-long Seventh-day Adventist and I would love to share with you the hope, joy, peace, and fulfillment I have found as a result of enjoying the 30+ years of being a part of this world-wide community of faith. Going forward, I will share thoughts on life, faith, meaning, culture, politics, worldview, science, and many other areas, from a Seventh-day Adventist perspective. It will be a convergence of many different ideas. But first, I want to share a little bit about who Seventh-day Adventists are so the next time you hear the name, you will be able to respond with a little less befuddlement.
First, there’s the numbers. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the fastest growing denomination in the United States, and one of the fastest growing denominations in the world. With the current growth rate, and the over 16 million members worldwide presently, some estimate that by the mid-twenty-first century there will be over 100 million Adventists in the world. Among those who presently claim ties—or did during their lifetime—to the Seventh-day Adventist faith, there are recognizable names such as Barry Black, chaplain of the United States Senate, Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital who became the first person to successfully separate siamese twins conjoined at the back of the head (and was portrayed by Cuba Gooding, Jr., in the 2009 film about his life called, Gifted Hands), longtime newscaster Paul Harvey, and John Harvey and Will Keith Kellogg, who together invented corn flakes (with the latter creating the Kellogg’s cereal company). These are just a few of the many who are, or have been connected, to the Adventist Church.
In addition to this, the Adventist Church runs one of the largest church-supported education systems in the world, and the largest Protestant educational system in the United States (recently highlighted in the documentary The Blueprint, which aired on PBS). Similarly, Adventists run a huge network of health-related institutions, including many hospitals and medical centers, many run by the Adventist Health System, which is the largest not-for-profit, Protestant healthcare system in the United States. Our interest in health, which has contributed to one of the longest life expectancies in the world, has been documented in many different media outlets, including magazines like National Geographic, books such as The Blue Zones, and the 2010 PBS documentary The Adventists.
Second, there’s the history. The denomination was spawned amidst the rolling hills of upstate New York and New England in the mid-nineteenth-century. It was borne out of a response to a “great disappointment” (as it is often referred to by adherents) that happened in October, 1844, when Christ did not come as expected. Out of hundreds of thousands of “Millerites” who subscribed to the teachings of William Miller about Christ’s imminent return, a handful of disappointed believers made sense of what went wrong and eventually formed the Seventh-day Adventist Church. These early believers—who hailed from places such as Portland and Palmyra, Maine, New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Washington, New Hampshire—left their various Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches to form the denomination.
Third, there’s the teachings. Seventh-day Adventists follow the example of the Protestant Reformation and hold the Bible and its teachings with prime regard. The Bible is our only creed. And like our Protestant forefathers, we like to scour the pages of the Bible to find every ounce of God’s love, goodness, forgiveness, and grace. Similarly, like other Protestants, we are passionate about the truth that no amount of rule-following or law-keeping can earn God’s love or His salvation.
This doesn’t mean we don’t think there is a part for us to play. As a response to God’s love and forgiveness, and out of an appreciative heart, we stress the beautiful reality of God’s ability to transform us into loving people who are shining examples of what His heart is all about. This has very practical implications for our lives as God changes us into His image—making us more loving, more patient, more gracious, more concerned with humanity, and more detached from things that simply turn our focus inward instead of outward.
Of course, much like the Protestant Reformers, we approach the Bible with humility and recognize that God is always trying to teach us more about who He is and what He longs to accomplish in our lives. Such a humility and continuous desire to learn more about God has helped us recognize that, because God loves us so much, He has blessed humankind with things like the Sabbath—a 24-hour period each week on Saturday—when we can come apart from the stresses that our busy lives heap upon us, and spend time in undistracted communion with God and in fellowship with one another. This idea is nothing new of course, since God’s followers in Bible times (including all New Testament believers) also took advantage of this awesome gift from God’s heart.
He has also blessed us with a deepening understanding of His love in relation to our health. He cares too much about us to not share with us a blueprint for optimal health. Similarly, the biblical truth about God’s love has helped us recognize that God is too loving to burn people in hell forever, that He is too loving to leave us on this earth without the continued presence of Himself in the Holy Spirit, that He is too loving to leave us open to deception about who He is, what He’s all about, what He wants for us, and what the earth is heading toward. And, of course, He loves us so much that He is eager to be reunited with us very soon so that we might enjoy eternity with Him, not just in spirit or thought, but in physical reality.
These are a few snapshots into who Seventh-day Adventists are. We are a group of people who come from diverse backgrounds, cultures, education, and financial situations. We make no pretension of being perfect, infallible, or mistake-free. And, just like every other religion, you will find a handful of Seventh-day Adventists who are hypocritical, imbalanced, judgmental, and downright miserable people. But we recognize that God loves these people too and, by His grace, that they, like us, can somehow have God’s love get a hold of their hearts to the point that they are changed more fully into Christ’s image—acknowledging that we, ourselves, are nowhere near God’s ideal.