What it’s all about:
The Seventh Day Adventist church arose out of a movement that took place back in the 1840’s led by a man named William Miller. Miller was a Baptist who self-converted to Adventist after his thorough reading of the Bible led him to discover prophecies of the coming of Christ. He focused mainly on a passage in the book of Daniel:
“Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said to that certain one who was speaking, ‘How long will the vision be, concerning the daily sacrifices and the transgression of desolation, the giving of both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled underfoot?’ And he said to me, ‘For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.’” Daniel 8:13-14
Daniel 8:14 became his obsession (I added verse 13 for a little context) as he tediously calculated (via the very popular day-year principle) that 2300 days really meant 2300 years. He determined that the start date would be 457 B.C. when the decree to rebuild Jerusalem by Artaxerxes I of Persia took place. It was 1818 when Miller made the discovery, through his calculations and interpretations, that the second-coming of Christ would be in 1843. He spent the next few decades honing in on his discovery and eventually began lecturing the public on his findings in 1831. (Source) He gathered and attracted many followers (known as the Millerites) but, after the prophesied date came and went and others attempted to predict new dates based on different calendars and those dates came and went without issue, most of the Millerites fell off the bandwagon and went back to their initial religions.
Some Millerites did stay, however. These people decided that the text did not intend to show us the exact date or year in which the coming of Christ would occur, but merely when the cleansing process would begin. These people became known as the Adventists due to their emphasis on the imminent second-coming and later, became known as the Seventh Day Adventists due to their strict observance of the Sabbath Day. The church really took off when a woman named Ellen G. White had a spiritual vision in which she realized that the church needed international expansion. She created a missionary program and “by 1945, the church reported 210,000 members in the US and Canada, and 360,000 elsewhere; the budget was $29 million and enrollment in church schools was 140,000.” (Source)
The problem was most people viewed the church as a cult due to its unorthodox belief systems (the sabbath day is now on a Saturday?!) and its strangely large amount of church leaders living by Arian doctrine. But, after the church adopted the Trinity in the early 20th Century, all was good by the protestants and it began to take an even stronger foothold. (Source)
Today, the Seventh Day Adventist church preaches mostly about how much god loves you and how safe you are in his hands. Their website says things like, “God keeps a family album-and your picture is in it. God loves you and has a plan for your life.” (source) and is constantly reassuring its readers/followers that god is always there for them. They still put a huge emphasis on the Sabbath Day with many of its followers never doing anything secular, whether for leisure or work, on Saturdays outside of church functions and gatherings (I should note that certain things like nature walks and family activities are encouraged on sabbath days). Also, the second coming of Christ is still central to the church in many ways. They teach that death is only a “peaceful pause before the resurrection” saying, “death is almost like a wintery promise of spring.” (source) They believe (similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses I talked about here) that when you die you are simply awaiting the return of Christ to take you home and the “millennium” of the 1,000 year reign of Christ over Earth will be a time in which all the wicked will be judged.
Some distinctive teachings include the doctrine of an investigative judgement, in which god will individually look back on all the things you have said and done in your life to determine whether or not you are worthy of being saved and continuing on to heaven.
Also, they include foot washing in their practice of partaking in the Lord’s supper. This is supposed to symbolize the commitment to love others as Jesus loves them. (source) They only initiate the practice of taking the Lord’s supper about 4 times a year, however, and they are made to segregate themselves by gender in order to complete the ritual (although, some married couples are allowed to participate together).
Baptisms are completed with a full body dunk to symbolize “dying to self and coming alive in Jesus. Seventh-day Adventists practice full immersion baptism because by being fully buried beneath the water [they] symbolize that God’s grace fully fills [them] with His new life for the future.” (source)
Why it’s harmful to society:
Seventh Day Adventists are living in a state of constant anticipation for the coming of Christ. I would argue that living in this state would be scary and stressful, especially for children who have a limited understanding of the doctrine. Imagine growing up thinking that your death is imminent and could happen at any moment! Not that this isn’t the case with or without religion, but who in their right mind would remind their children of that? Also, wives are commanded (by the Bible, of course) to be completely submissive to their husbands, however, the church is much more lenient on things like birth control (as long as its intended use is not for abortion purposes) and even abortion if it is being considered for reasons other than birth control, convenience or gender selection.
Another cause for concern is how rapidly they are spreading. Today, missionaries are reaching people in over 200 countries! As of June 2011, the church was said to have 17,214,683 members with only 7% of them residing in the United States. It is one of the fastest growing religions in the world because of its missionary efforts in developing countries (mostly in Africa and in the Central and Southern Americas). (Source) Is it just me or does it seem wrong to travel to developing countries offering much needed medical attention and food while indoctrinating the people with your religious beliefs? If I was poor, starving, sick and uneducated and someone came offering a remedy to my misfortunes while speaking about the second coming of Christ, I think I would start believing, too!
Another bummer, although not detrimental, would be the sabbath observance on Saturday as opposed to Sunday. Pretty much everything is already closed on Sundays anyway (heck, you can’t even buy a car in the state of Colorado on Sundays!) so wouldn’t it be easier to follow the strict sabbath rules? Think of all the things they are missing out on! But, I guess that isn’t really the point, now is it?
Why it’s not as bad as the others:
Seventh Day Adventists put a huge emphasis on health. Most follow strict diets, with about 35% of members adhering to vegetarianism. They abstain from all foods listed as “unclean” in the Bible as well as alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. They are encouraged to get adequate exercise as well as plenty of rest to take care of their bodies and, because of this, research is finding that Adventists live significantly longer than most people do.
“Research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has shown that the average Adventist in California lives 4 to 10 years longer than the average Californian. The research, as cited by the cover story of the November 2005 issue of National Geographic, asserts that Adventists live longer because they do not smoke or drink alcohol, have a day of rest every week, and maintain a healthy, low-fat vegetarian diet that is rich in nuts and beans. The cohesiveness of Adventists’ social networks has also been put forward as an explanation of their extended lifespan.” (source)
This is a really cool side effect of a really strict doctrine in which I see nothing but good coming to society as a result. Another positive aspect of the Adventist religion is their tolerance for other religions and their firm stance on religious liberty. While some have criticized their seemingly exclusive behaviors, the church has time and time again rebutted with its beliefs that all Christians are doing their best to worship the same god. And, while they may not agree with other practices or interpretations, those religions should be granted the same respect and freedom all Adventists desire. (source)