Seventh Day Adventism (SDA) is a form of Christianity whose theology is marked by an apocalyptic and at times conspiratorial tone. According to the Adventist Church itself, SDA is a worldwide community of over 8 million members, with millions of others regarding the church as their spiritual home.
Doctrinally, SDA was formed from the interfaith Millerite movement of the 1840s. Importantly, it was during this period that much of U.S. Protestantism became pessimistic about the work of God and his followers on earth.
The earth was thought to be a corrupt place in Satan’s hands and thus the only hope lay in the apocalypse. Elements of this theology can be found in a number of movements, such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and their offshoot, the Branch Davidians.
Between 1831 and 1844, William Miller, a Baptist preacher and former army captain, launched the second-advent awakening. Based on his study of the prophecy of the Book of Daniel 8:14 (“It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be consecrated”), Miller calculated that Jesus would return to earth sometime between 1843 and 1844. Others within the movement calculated a specific date of 22 October 1844.
When Jesus did not appear, Miller’s followers experienced what came to be called the Great Disappointment. Most left him, but some concluded that 22 October had been correct and became convinced that the Bible prophecy predicted not the return of Jesus in 1844, but that he would begin at that time a special ministry in heaven for his followers.
James and Ellen G. White and Joseph Bates, a retired sea captain, took on leadership roles in the newly formed Adventist Church. Ellen G. White became the spiritual counselor of SDA for more than seventy years until her death in 1915.
Early Adventists came to believe that she enjoyed God’s special guidance, while Christian Protestant groups that denounce the Seventh Day Adventists believe they have placed Ellen G. White as a prophet, heretical to orthodox theology. In 1860, at Battle Creek, Michigan, the wide group Adventists chose the name Seventh Day Adventist and in 1863 formally organized a church body with a membership of 3,500.
The movement began to slowly spread through the rest of the world during the twentieth century. Since the early 1980s SDA has experienced much division, with groups splitting off, some known as “the remnant church,” and perceived as more fundamentalist.
Many outside these splinter groups believe in the conspiratorial theory that the remnant church is trying to dominant the world, but in turn that group believes that the rest of the world, including all other Protestants, will face the fires of hell and are part of a global conspiracy of evil, linked to the “New World Order.” Some Christian groups are prepared to believe that SDA is a Christian church holding the core Christian doctrines, but others are convinced that it is a secretive and malevolent cult.