The year 1994 marks the 150th anniversary of the October 22 disappointment of Millerite Adventism. Up to that date the Millerites had been certain that Christ would return in 1844. But suddenly their hopes were shattered; their certainties replaced by disorientation. On October 23 the disappointed Millerites found themselves in the midst of a sudden and unexpected identity crisis.
The Adventist denominations
The subsequent months and years found those who remained faithful to their Advent hope in a search for identity. Who were they? What did it mean to be an Adventist?
The answer to these questions was not obvious at the time. Further Bible study and heart searching were in order. Between 1844 and 1848 three major strands of post-Millerite Adventism evolved. 1 The first was the Spiritualizers. This group gave up the literal interpretation of Scripture and spiritualized the meaning of even concrete words. Thus they could claim that Christ had come on October 22 He had come into their hearts. That was the Second Coming. This group spawned a large amount of fanaticism.
The second group was the Albany Adventists, so called because they organized along congregational lines at Albany, New York, in May 1845. Their aim was to distance themselves from the fanatics among the Spiritualizers. They continued to look for the cleansing of the sanctuary as the second coming of Christ. Further time-setting sprang up periodically in their midst. The group's proponents eventually gave up any firm belief in Miller's prophetic scheme. Joshua V. Himes and Josiah Litch (Miller's chief lieutenants) belonged to this segment of Adventism, as did William Miller himself up to his death in 1849.
A third group eventually concluded that the Millerites had been correct in the dating of the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14 and that something of importance had happened on October 22, 1844, but the event was not the Second Advent. Rather it was the beginning of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. This group developed around several key doctrines, including a continuing belief in the near advent of Jesus in the clouds of heaven, the sanctity of the seventh-day Sabbath, Christ's two-apartment minis try in the heavenly sanctuary, the conditional nature of immortality, and the perpetuity of spiritual gifts (including the gift of prophecy).
These Sabbatarian Adventists came to see themselves as the only true heir of pre-Disappointment Adventism, since (unlike the Spiritualizers) its advocates continued to hold to a literal Advent and (unlike the Albany Adventists) they continued to hold to Miller's principles of prophetic interpretation. The foremost leaders of the Sabbatarians were Joseph Bates and James and Ellen White.
Between 1844 and 1866, six denominations arose out of the three branches of Millerism. The Albany Adventists gave birth to four of those denominations the American Evangelical Conference in 1858, the Ad vent Christians in 1860, the Church of God (Oregon, Illinois) in the 1850s, and the Life and Advent Union in 1863. The Sabbatarian movement resulted in two denominations, the Seventh-day Adventists between 1861 and 1863 and the Church of God (Seventh Day) in 1866. With their diversity, individuality, and lack of organization, the Spiritualizer wing of Adventism formed no permanent bodies. Various Spiritualizers eventually gravitated to other "isms," more stable Adventist groups, or were absorbed back into the larger culture.
The changing shape of Adventism
While membership statistics are not available, it seems safe to suggest that the Evangelical Adventists and the Advent Christians were the most numerous in the early 1860s, with the Advent Christians constantly gaining over the Evangelicals. One reason for the Advent Christians' relatively greater success seems to be that they had unique doctrines that gave them something to stand for. Their doctrines of conditionalism and annihilationism provided a focal point for their identity. Those teachings gradually even surpassed their emphasis on the Advent. They became their distinctive doctrines and provided the Advent Christians with a rallying point.
The Evangelicals, on the other hand, had only the premillennial Advent to separate them from the general Christian populace. When a significant portion of conservative Protestantism also adopted forms of premillennialism in the decades after the Civil War, Evangelical Adventism had little reason to continue a separate existence. By the early twentieth century it had ceased to exist as a separate religious body.2
Statistics among the Adventist groups were not easy to come by in their early years. Some feared that "numbering Israel" might bring a "curse." Others proved to be more helpful, even though reluctant. The divisions and mutual suspicions among the Adventist groups didn't make the task any easier. 3
The first Adventist census was published by D. T. Taylor in 1860. Taylor counted 584 ministers, with 365 believing in conditionalism and annihilationism, 67 believing in consciousness after death, nine undecided, and 143 not reporting. On the day of worship, 365 held to Sunday, 57 to the seventh day, with 162 not reporting. Taylor estimated 54,000 lay members, but did not attempt to break them down according to belief. However, other sources indicate that somewhat more than 3,000 were Sabbatarians. Thus by 1860 the seventh-day keepers represented a little more than 10 percent of the adventists. The balance of them, presumably, were first-day worshipers.4
Taylor's census also gathered estimates regarding the subscription lists of the various Adventist journals. The Advent Christian World's Crisis led the list with 2,900 subscribers. The Crisis was followed by the Sabbatarian's Review and Herald (2,300) and the Evangelical's Advent Herald (2,100). Taylor went out of his way to note that the promoters of the Review and Herald, "though a distinct minority, are very devoted, zealous, and active in the promulgation of their peculiar views of the Sunday and Sabbath." The results of that zeal would show up in the decades to come.5
The 1890 United States government census not only provides a more accurate picture of Adventist membership but also indicates radical shifts in the relative size of the various Adventist denominations. By that time the Seventh-day Adventists had achieved predominance, with 28,991 members in the United States. The Advent Christians were next, with 25,816. Then came the Church of God (Oregon, Illinois), with 2,872, the Evangelicals, with 1,147, the Life and Advent Union with 1,018, and the Church of God (Seventh Day), with 647. 6
A century later only four of the six Adventist denominations still existed. In 1990 the Seventh-day Adventists reported 717,446 members in the United States, while the Advent Christians claimed 27,590, the Church of God (Oregon, Illinois) 5,688, and the Church of God (Seventh-Day) 5,749.7
As noted above, the once-strong Evangelical Adventist denomination had been the first to go. It had disappeared in the early twentieth century. The Life and Advent Union had been the next to lose its separate identity. By 1958 the Union reported only 340 members. Six years later it merged with the Advent Christians.8
Thus by the early 1990s the Seventh-day Adventists, with their more than 700,000 members in the United States and more than 7,000,000 members worldwide dominated the ranks of the religious bodies tracing their heritage back to Millerism. As Clyde Hewitt, an Advent Christian historian, put it, "the tiniest of the Millerite offshoot groups was the one which would become by far the largest." 9
The "why" of success
At this point one is left with the question of why? Why did the minute Sabbatarian movement with its unpopular doctrines not only survive but prosper? One can only speculate regarding the answer to that question, but several respectable hypotheses can be argued from the historical data. Before exploring those hypotheses, it should be noted that closely connected to the query as to why Seventh-day Adventism succeeded is a second is sue, that of why Millerism succeeded. I suggest that the two movements experienced success for largely the same reasons.
Before moving to my analysis, we should look at the answers that others have supplied to the why of Millerite success. Three helpful answers come from David L. Rowe, Michael Barkun, and Ruth Alden Doan---all non-Adventist scholars who have done extensive study in Millerism.
Rowe points out that while many "prophets" predicting the end of the world have arisen in American history, none achieved a mass following like Miller's. Rowe then goes on to explain the movement's success in terms of revivalism, millennialism, and pietism. All three of those forces met at the time of the Millerite movement. Rowe argues that while Second Awakening revivalism provided the method for spreading Millerism, millennialism supplied the m idea or dream of the future kingdom that gave direction to the movement, and pietism furnished the temperament of faith that enabled individuals to respond to the revival and accept the vision of the new world to come. The three working together developed a dynamic that thrust Millerism forward. 10
Barkun calls attention to environmental factors as contributors to the success not only of Millerism but also of other millennarian and Utopian movements of the same era. Thus natural disasters (such as changing weather patterns) and economic/social crises (such as the panic of 1837) provided a climate in which people were looking for solutions to their individual and collective stress. In such a context, Miller's message supplied hope in a world in which human effort had failed to achieve the expected results. There seems to be a rule that the worse things get in human terms, the more feasible millennial options appear to be. 11
In support of Barkun's point, it is an established fact that millennial groups prosper in times of crisis. Thus Seventh-day Adventist and dispensational evangelism had some of its most successful years during World War I. Likewise, Barkun notes that millennarian revivals took place not only during the economic depression of the 1840s, but also during those of the 1890s and 1930s. 12
Doan views one factor in the success of Millerism to be its orthodoxy its essential harmony with the other religious forces of the day in terms of doctrine, lay leadership in understanding the Bible, and so on. Millerism's one essential heresy was its view of the premillennial Advent. But the movement's very orthodoxy in most matters left the populace open to its one unorthodox message. Doan's position, which is currently shared by most non-Adventist scholars, is a reversal from earlier views that treated Millerism as something strange (if not weird) and out of harmony with its culture. 13
It should be noted that the various suggestions for Millerism's success presented thus far are not mutually exclusive. Each appears to supply a portion of the explanation underlying Millerism's success (and, by extension, the success of Sabbatarian Adventists). But even collectively they supply but a part of the answer to our question.
The suggestions put forth in the rest of this article should not be seen as being out of harmony with those set forth by Rowe, Barkun, Doan, and others, but as being complementary to them. But whereas their suggestions tended to focus on factors external to the Millerite movement, those developed in the rest of this article look more carefully at the internal factors that led to the success of pre-1845 Millerism and post-1844 Sabbatarian Adventism. Social forces and contextual factors are important (prob ably even essential) to the success of any religious movement, but they are not enough by themselves. The external factors are not the movement, but the soil for the successful planting and development of a movement. Both the external and internal factors must be in place for a movement such as Millerism or Sabbatarian Adventism to succeed.
We will now look at four internal factors that seem to have contributed to the success of Millerism and Seventh-day Adventism.
A view of truth
First, it should be noted that apocalyptic movements often attract two personality types. On one side we find the rationalism that unpacks the biblical prophecies and develops the apocalyptic scheme of events. On the other side are the emotional types that gravitate to ward the excitement of the apocalyptic expectancy and of ten run into fanatical, irrational extremism.
Millerism had both types. Thus although it was founded upon the cool rationalism of Miller, it also had its Stark weathers (a fanatical leader in the pre-Disappointment period), Gorgases (R. C. Gorgas was mixed up in fanaticism on October 22, 1844), 14 and Spiritualizers. A movement disintegrates whenever the rational forces are not strong enough to stem the centrifugal forces of irrationalism or emotionalism. It was in this area that the Spiritualizer wing of Adventism came to nothing. Its irrationalism overcame its rationalism until at last there were no controls on its belief structure.
One of the strengths of Millerism was its rational development of its central doctrine. That element drew believers to its cause through its very logic. But Millerism at its best also made room for religious emotional ism, and that emotionalism ideally took place within the bounds of rationality. That combination gave both life and stability to the movement and heightened its appeal.
Seventh-day Adventism has partaken of much that same balance, although it appears at times to wander too far toward the purely rational pole. Both Millerism and its Sabbatarian offspring, of course, have had their excitable and fanatical elements, but the stability of their success can largely be attributed to their ability to appeal to the rational element in people. Thus they have aimed at converting people to "the truth."
The content of truth
A second element that appears to have led to the evangelistic success of Millerism and Seventh-day Adventism is the content or doctrinal factor in their view of truth. Thus Millerism had what it considered to be an important Bible truth to offer to individuals searching for meaning. For Millerism, that doctrinal factor was the premillennial return of Christ. Millerism was not just a part of the ecclesiastical wood work; it stood for something distinctive from other religious groups. Thus it had a message to preach. Many responded to that message.
As noted above, one of the reasons that Evangelical Adventism died out was that it had lost its doctrinal distinctiveness once a significant portion of American Protestantism accepted premillennialism. After that, Evangelical Adventism had no further reason to exist. As a result, it blended back into generic evangelicalism. On the other hand, the Ad vent Christians adopted conditionalism as their new doctrinal distinctive. Thus they had at least one more rea son to continue a separate existence than their Evangelical sibling.
By way of contrast, the Seventh-day Adventists developed a whole arena of unconventional beliefs that they saw as their special mission to share with the world. Just as a kite flies against the wind, so there is a dynamic in religious movements that is vitalized by differences and even opposition. Being different gives individuals and social groups meaning. And being different develops commitment to a cause, especially when it entails bridge-burning as one joins a religious subculture. 15
In Millerism that bridge-burning dynamic took place when people were "cast out of Babylon" for espousing premillennial beliefs. An example of that dynamic in Seventh-day Advent ism takes place in family and work struggles that involve the keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath in a culture that sees Saturday as a workday.
Seventh-day Adventists have established several doctrinal and lifestyle boundary markers that have had that effect. Hewitt, in seeking to explain Seventh-day Adventist growth in contrast to the lack of growth in his Advent Christian community, notes that "the distinctive beliefs and practices of the [SDA] denomination, while causing it to be viewed with suspicion by many traditional Christian believers, have seemingly given its faithful members a resoluteness of individual and group character that goes far to explain their successes." Dean Kelley sheds light on this dynamic when he notes that if people are going to join a church they want to join one that provides a genuine alter native to the larger culture. 16 On the other hand, Seventh-day Adventism (like Millerism) is close enough to orthodoxy in most central doctrines to get a hearing among other Christians.
Organizational structure A third element that led to the evangelistic success of Seventh-day Adventism was an organizational structure sufficient to carry on the mission and meet the challenges of its perceived message. At first glance it might seem that Millerism's success and that of Seventh-day Adventism might vary here. In a sense it does. But the variable appears to be time rather than organization as such. My essential point is that Millerism, given its brief existence, had sufficient organization through its conferences and periodicals to give direction to its mission for its few intense years. But such a nebulous organizational pattern would not have been sufficient to direct the movement's mission over an extended period of time.
It was the lack of sufficient organization that spelled the demise of the Spiritualizers and the lack of growth for the two Church of God Adventist denominations. Without sufficient organization they could not concentrate their resources for mission or maintain unity. Costly schism was the result.
It is at the point of sufficient organization that the Advent Christians and the Seventh-day Adventists also parted ways. The Seventh-day Adventist Church was the only one of the Adventist denominations to place significant authority at any ecclesiastical level above that of the local congregation. Hewitt, in bemoaning the plight of the Advent Christians, indicates that the lack of a "strong centralized organization" is one reason that "contraction threatens to over come expansion" in their work. What centralized organization they did get, he argues, came too late and, worse yet, represented mere structure with out significant power. As a result of their congregational structure, Hewitt points out that the Advent Christians were unable to mobilize for united action. With proper organization, he suggested in 1990, the Advent Chris tians might be "a growing and not a dying denomination."17
By way of contrast, two recent studies of Seventh-day Adventist organizational structure indicate that the denomination's structure was consciously designed with mission outreach in mind in both 1861-1863 and 1901-1903. 18 Of course, that does not mean that the denomination is without significant problems in its organizational structure. To the contrary, Seventh-day Adventism, as we shall see below, is facing major organizational problems in the last decade of the twentieth century.
The fourth, and by far the most important, factor in the rapid spread of Millerism was its sense of prophetic mission and the sense of urgency generated by that prophetic understanding. Millerism was a mission-driven movement. One of the theses that I argue for in Millennial Fever and the End of the World: A Study of Millerite Adventism is that it was a sense of personal responsibility to warn the world of its soon-coming end that literally drove William Miller, Joshua V. Himes, and their Millerite colleagues to dedicate everything they had to warn the world of coming judgment. Himes put it nicely in an editorial in the very first issue of the Midnight Cry. "Our work," he wrote, "is one of unutterable magnitude. It is a mission and an enterprise, unlike, in some respects, anything that has ever awakened the energies of men. ... It is an alarm, and a cry, uttered by those who, from among all Protestant sects, as Watchmen standing upon the walls of the moral world, believe the world's crisis is come and who, under the influence of this faith, are united in proclaiming to the world, 'Behold the Bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him!' " 19
That sense of urgency, it must be emphasized, was built upon an interpretation of the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation. The Millerites believed with all their hearts that they had a message that people must hear. It was that belief and the total dedication that accompanied it that pushed the Millerites into tireless mission.
It was that same vision, based upon the same prophecies, that provided the mainspring of Seventh-day Adventist mission. From their beginning, the Sabbatarians never viewed themselves as merely another denomination. To the contrary, they understood their movement and message to be a fulfillment of prophecy. They saw them selves as a prophetic people.20
That understanding came from the conviction that they were the only genuine continuation of Millerism, particularly as that continuation related to Miller's interpretation of prophecy. From the early Sabbatarian perspective, the other Adventist groups had lost their way and eventually their mission because of their denial of Miller's principles of prophetic interpretation.
That denial took two different directions. One was a rejection of the literal interpretation of scriptural pas sages that seemed to be quite literal. Thus the belief that Christ had already come sapped the missiological strength of the Spiritualizers. After all, if Christ had already come, what was the reason for mission?
Meanwhile, it can be argued, the Albany Adventists rejected the stimulus to mission that had convicted and empowered Millerism when they rejected Miller's principles of prophetic interpretation in their denial of the great time prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation. Without that certainty of the flow of prophetic history, they lost their sense of conviction and urgency. They finally had to find meaning for existence in other doctrines, such as conditionalism or the nonresurrection of the wicked. That may have been good enough for a sort of denominational existence, but the Albany groups had abandoned the mainspring that had aggressively propelled Millerite mission.
By way of contrast, the Sabbatarians founded their movement on that very main spring. They not only maintained Miller's prophetic scheme of interpretation, but they extended it in such a way as to give meaning to both their disappointment and the remaining time before Christ's advent. Central to that extended interpretation were Christ's work of pre-Advent judgment in the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary and the progressive nature of the three angels' messages of Revelation 14.21
Those two prophetic extensions provided the Sabbatarians with the same sense of urgency that had inspired the Millerites in the 1840s. While the Sabbatarians saw Miller and Charles Fitch, respectively, as the initiators of the first and second angels' messages, they saw their own movement with its emphasis on the commandments of God as initiating the third. Thus, they believed, conflict over their unique Sabbath doctrine would be a focal point in the great struggle between good and evil right before the Second Coming.22
An end-time movement That interpretation was reinforced by their view of the end-time struggle over the commandments of God pictured in Revelation 12:17 and the fuller exposition of that verse in Rev elation 13 and 14. As a result, the Sabbatarians were convinced that not only were they the heir of Millerism, but their movement had been predicted by God to preach the three angels' messages to all the world immediately before Revelation 14's great end-time harvest.
That prophetic understanding did the same thing for Sabbatarian Adventists that it had done for Millerites. It eventually drove them to mission. By 1990 the conviction that their movement is a movement of prophecy had resulted in one of the most widespread mission outreach pro grams in the history of Christianity. By that year they had established work in 182 of the 210 nations then recognized by the United Nations. 23
That kind of dedication did not come by accident; it was the direct result of prophetic conviction of their responsibility. Central to that prophetic conviction was the imperative to the first angel of Revelation 14:6 to preach "to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" and the command of Revelation 10:11 that the disappointed ones "must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings."
Clyde Hewitt, in seeking to explain the success of the Seventh-day Adventists as opposed to the attrition faced by his Advent Christians, touched upon an essential element when he noted that "Seventh-day Adventists are convinced that they have been divinely ordained to carry on the prophetic work started by William Miller. They are dedicated to the task." 24
In contrast to that conviction, Hewitt's father wrote to F. D. Nichol in 1944 that the Advent Christians had given up Miller's interpretation of Daniel 8:14 and the 2300 days and had no unanimity on the meaning of the text. Another leading Advent Christian scholar interviewed in 1984 noted that his denomination no longer even had any agreed-upon interpretation on the millennium the very heart of Miller's contribution.25 In short, when the Albany Adventists stepped off Miller's prophetic platform, they began a process of deterioration in their prior understanding of the end of the world. The seventh-day branch of the Adventist family, of course, have been quick to point out that Ellen White had predicted in December 1844 that those who rejected October 1844 as a fulfillment of prophecy would eventually be left in "perfect darkness" and would stumble in their advent experience.26
But it should be noted that merely holding the conviction that they have the "correct doctrine" is not a sufficient explanation for the spread of Sabbatarian Adventism. After all, the Seventh Day Baptists preached the seventh-day Sabbath with conviction, but their 5,200 members in the United States in 1990 is less than what they had in the 1840s. As one nineteenth-century Seventh Day Baptist preacher told Bates, the Baptists had been able "to convince people of the legality of the seventh-day Sabbath, but they could not get them to move as the Sabbath Adventists did." 27
Likewise, many of the nonsabbatarian Adventist groups preached what they believed to be the truth of the premillennial return of Christ, but without the same results as Seventh-day Adventists. Hewitt notes that his "Advent Christian people have not been an evangelistic church" and have not made much of an impact on the world. The result, he points out, has been smallness. Not just smallness in numbers, but smallness "in dreams, in visions. Smallness breeds smallness." Hewitt also indicates that Ad vent Christian smallness cannot be attributed to unpopular doctrines. After all, he argues, the Seventh-day Adventist list of unpopular doctrines "includes all those of the Advent Christian faith and adds several more." In another connection, Hewitt roots Seventh-day Adventist success in their conviction that they have a prophetic mission in the tradition of William Miller.28
Hewitt's conclusions go a long way toward helping us understand the spread of Sabbatarian Adventism. Its mainspring seems to have been much more than merely the fact that the Sabbatarians believed they had the "truth" on the Sabbath and the "truth" of the Second Advent. The driving force undergirding Seventh-day Adventism was the bedrock conviction that they were a prophetic people with a unique message concerning Christ's soon coming to a troubled world. That prophetic understanding of their mission, integrated with their doctrines within the framework of the three angels' messages, provided the Sabbatarians with the motive power to sacrifice in order to spread their message far and wide. That same dynamic operated in Millerism. Unfortunately for Seventh-day Adventism, that very vision appears to be in jeopardy in the 1990s.
Vitality or death: the shape of Adventist futures
The Adventist denominations growing out of Millerism are facing possible death. That is the inference of Richard C. Nickels, who concluded his 1973 history of the Church of God (Seventh Day) with a section entitled "A Dying Church?" The volume's ominous last words are from Christ's message to the Church at Sardis: "It was alive, yet dead!" 29
Similarly, the final section of Hewitt's three-volume history of the Advent Christians is "Should a Denomination Be Told It's Dying?" That section, published in 1990, contains a heart felt analysis of the denomination's situation. The final moving words in Hewitt's trilogy are: "I devoutly hope some are listening. Amen!" 30
Where is the millennial fervor that brought these denominations to birth? And what about the other post-Millerite denominations? Are they also in danger of losing their vision? In particular, what about the strongest of the Millerite siblings---the Sabbatarians?
At first sight it would appear that the rapidly growing Seventh-day Adventist Church has nothing to worry about. In May 1994 the denomination was approaching 8 million members worldwide. Estimates for the year 2000 project a membership of 12 million.
The problem of aging. Yet all is not well. It is difficult for the older population sectors of the denomination to maintain their Adventist identity. After all, it is hard to keep people excited about the Second Coming for 150 years. The Sabbatarians face all the problems of an aging denomination that afflicted previous religious movements down through church history. Time after time the world has witnessed vibrant reformatory religious movements harden and lose their vitality with age. 31
But beyond the issue of aging, some sectors of Seventh-day Adventism in the 1990s (particularly in such places as North America, Europe, and Australia) appear to be confronted with all the threats that eroded the other Adventist bodies. Thus in their search for meaning in the face of the seemingly ever-delayed end of the world, some believers are tempted to spiritualize the nature of Christ's advent. But to lose faith in an actual historical advent is to lose Adventism itself.
The problem of affluence. Alternately, affluence has made its impact on the beliefs of some members regarding the Advent hope. The Protestant ethic of hard work and frugality has led many Seventh-day Adventists into cross-generational upward mobility. Several generations of such mobility can develop a membership that locates its kingdom on this earth and has little felt need for coming kingdoms. It is easy for such members to be more at home with the larger culture than with their sectarian roots. 32 Many in such circumstances find it easy to downplay their denomination's distinctive doctrines. But such were the dynamics that spelled the end for Evangelical Adventism.
At the opposite extreme of the denominational spectrum are those who, in their reaction to their "less Adventist" Adventist neighbors, will be tempted to follow the lead of the Adventist extremists of the post-1844 period into the fringes of the Christian community. Some in this sector of the denomination are also prone to sectarian sensationalism.
The challenge facing the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to maintain a healthy middle-of-the-road balance as it seeks to uplift both the doctrines that have made it unique and those doctrines that it shares with other Christians. Both acculturation to the larger community and segregation into a sectarian ghetto sound the death knell for vibrant Seventh-day Adventism.
The problem of organization. A third tension faced by Seventh-day Adventism is in the realm of organization. On the one hand, denominational health is threatened by too much of a good thing. Nearly a century ago Seventh-day Adventism adopted a multi-tiered administrative structure that, in its trim state, was well fitted for mission expansion at the time. But decades of expansion and change have created a bureaucracy that is extremely expensive to maintain and appears to be becoming progressively dysfunctional in fostering the mission of the church in the most efficient manner. While the early 1990s have seen efforts at reform, the results have been minimal. Few in the denomination's power structure seem to be able to think through thoroughly the massive organizational changes necessitated by a century of internal and external change. Few seem to be able to catch the vision of possible new structural models for world mission in the twenty-first century.
At the other extreme are large segments of Seventh-day Adventists who are tired of paying the cost of the administrative machinery. These members see the future of the denomination in congregational terms. That route, of course, is the one fol lowed by all branches of Millerite Adventism except the Sabbatarians. For them, Congregationalism resulted in denominations that were weak in ability to maintain their own identity and unable to focus resources on ex tended mission efficiently.
Thus it appears that Seventh-day Adventism is faced, on the one hand, with the increasing weight of a superstructure that could eventually crush the movement it self. On the other hand, it is faced with the quite real threat of Congregationalism. Success would seem to lie in coming to grips with the compromises and structural changes that need to be made if Seventh-day Adventism is to continue to be a viable international movement capable of operating efficiently to ward accomplishing its perceived mission.
The problem of overinstitutionalism. Clearly related to Sabbatarian Adventism's organizational dilemma is its inclination toward overinstitutionalism. There is a tendency for its extensive educational, publishing, conference, and medical institutions to become ends in themselves rather than means for the end of taking the denomination's peculiar message "to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." Thus there is the danger of the denomination gaining its self-image from its institutions rather than from its stated mission.33
It was at that very point that Joshua V. Himes, Miller's second-in-command, challenged the Seventh-day Adventists in 1895---a half century after the Disappointment. "You have," he wrote to Ellen White, "many good and great things connected with health reform and the churches, with the increase of wealth, and colleges as well, and to me it looks like work in all these departments that may go on for a long time to come. . . . There is a great and earnest work being done to send the message of the third angel everywhere but all classes of Adventists are prospering in worldly things, and heaping up riches, while they talk of the coming of Christ as an event very near at hand. It is a great thing to be consistent and true to the real Advent message." 34
With those sentences, Himes put his finger on the tendency toward institutional and individual secularization in Seventh-day Adventism that was present even in his day. That tendency has not lessened in the past 100 years.
The peril of losing our vision. A final temptation faced by Seventh-day Adventism will be to give up its vision of itself as a people of prophecy, to forget its prophetic heritage. It is easy to see how that could come about, but for it to do so would be death to the dynamic that made Seventh-day Adventism what it is today. To deny its prophetic heritage is a certain way to kill its "millennial fever" and thereby destroy its missiological mainspring.
It is in line with that thought that we need to understand one of Ellen White's most oft-quoted statements. "In reviewing our past history, having traveled over every step of advance to our present standing," she penned, "I can say, Praise God! As I see what the Lord has wrought, I am filled with astonishment, and with confidence in Christ as leader. We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history." 35
This article is adapted from a chapter from the author's Millennial Fever and the End of the World: A Study of Millerite Adventism (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1993).
1. See George R. Knight, Millennial Fever and the End of the World: A Study of Millerite Adventism (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1993), pp. 245-325.
2. David Tallmadge Arther, "Come Out of Babylon;" a Study of Millerite Separatism and Denominationalism, 1840-1865" (Ph.D. dis., University of Rochester, 1970), p. 306.
3. Daniel T. Taylor. "Our Statistical Report," World's Crisis, Jan. 11, 1860, p. 75.
4. Ibid., Jan. 25, 1860, p. 81; Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, rev. ed. (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1976), p. 1326.
5. Taylor, "Our Statistical Report," World's Crisis, Feb. 15, 1860, p. 96; Feb. 8, 1860, p. 89.
6. H. K. Carroll, The Religious Forces of the United States (New York: Christian Literature Co., 1893), pp. 1-15.
7. Kenneth Bedell and Alice M. Jones, eds., Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (Nashville: Abingdon, 1992), pp. 270-277.
8. Benson Y. Landis,ed., Yearbook of American Churches (New York: National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1959), p. 253; Clyde E. Hewitt, Midnight and Morning (Charlotte, N.C.: Venture Books, 1983), p. 267.
9. George R. Knight, Anticipating the Advent: A Brief History of Adventism (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1993), pp. 120, 122; Hewitt, p. 275.
10. David L. Rowe, Thunder and Trumpets: Millerites and Dissenting Religion in Upstate New York, 1800-1850 (Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1985), pp. 48, 70, 71,93.
11. Michael Barkun, Crucible of the Millennium: The Burned-over District of New York in the 1840s (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1986), pp. 103, 111, 112, 117-119, 139, 143.
12. Howard B. Weeks, Adventist Evangelism in the Twentieth Century (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1969), pp. 78- 85; Timothy P. Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming: American Premillennialism, 1875-1982 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), p. 127; Barkun, Crucible of the Millennium, p. 152.
13. Ruth Alden Doan, The Miller Heresy, Millennialism, and American Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987); "Millerism and Evangelical Culture," in The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Ronald L. Numbers and Jonathan M. Butler (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1987), pp. 12, 13; Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1950), p. 291; Ernest R. Sandeen, "Millennialism," in The Rise of Adventism: Religion and Society in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America, ed. Edwin R Gaustad (New York: Harper and Row, 1974), p. 112.
14. For more information on Starkweather, see Knight, Millennial Fever, pp. 174-177; for more on Gorgas, see Millennial Fever, pp. 211, 212; Francis D. Nichol, The Midnight Cry (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1944), pp. 342, 343, 411, 412, 505-508.
15. Luther P. Gerlach and Virginia H. Hine, People, Power, Change: Movements of Social Transformation (Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs- Merrill, 1970), pp. 183, 137.
16. Hewitt, p. 277; Walter R. Martin, The Truth About Seventh-day Adventism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960); Dean M. Kelley, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing: A Study in Sociology of Religion (New York: Harper and Row, 1972).
17. Clyde E. Hewitt, Devotion and Development (Charlotte, N.C.: Venture Books, 1990), pp. 211, 341, 371.
18. Andrew G. Mustard, James White and SDA Organization: Historical Development, 1844-1881 (Berrien Springs, Mien.: Andrews University Press, 1987); Barry David Oliver, SDA Organizational Structure: Past, Present, and Future (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1989).
19. In Midnight Cry, Nov. 17, 1842, p. 2.
20. See Knight, Millennial Fever, pp. 295- 325; Knight, Anticipating the Advent.
21. P. Gerard Damsteegt, Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977).
22. James White, "The Third Angel's Message," Present Truth, April 1850, pp. 65-69; Joseph Bates, The Seventh Day Sabbath, A Perpetual Sign, 2nd ed. (New Bedford, Mass.; Benjamin Lindsey, 1847). A Vindication for the Seventh-day Sabbath and the Commandments of God (New Bedford, Mass.: Benjamin Lindsey, 1848). A Seal of the Living God (New Bedford, Mass.: Benjamin Lindsey, 1848).
23. 128th Annual Statistical Report---1990 (Silver Spring, Md.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1990), p. 42.
24. Hewitt, Midnight and Morning, p. 277.
25. C. H. Hewitt to F. D. Nichol, May 24, 1944, in Nichol, pp. 455, 456; Interview of Moses C. Crouse by George R. Knight, Aurora College, Aurora, 111., Oct. 18, 1984.
26. Ellen G. Harmon, "Letter From Sister Harmon," Day-Star, Jan. 24, 1846, pp., 31, 32. See also Ellen G. White, Early Writings (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1945), pp. 14, 15.
27. Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (1992), p. 276; 0. P. Hull, in Arthur Whitefield Spalding, Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1961), vol. l,p. 257.
28. Hewitt, Devotion and Development, pp. 334,362,357,156; Hewitt, Midnight and Morning, p. 277.
29. Richard C. Nickels, A History of the Seventh Day Church of God (1973), pp. 364-366.
30. Hewitt, Devotion and Development, pp. 267, 373.
31. See George R. Knight, "Adventism, Institutionalism, and the Challenge of Secularization," Ministry, June 1991, pp. 6-10, 29; Derek Tidball, The Social Context of the New Testament: A Sociological Analysis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984).
32. Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart, Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream (San Francisco, Calif.: Harper and Row, 1989), pp. 256-268.
33. See George R. Knight, "The Fat Woman and the Kingdom," Adventist Review, Feb. 14, 1991, pp. 8-10.
34. J.V. Himes to E.G. White, Mar. 13, 1895; cf. Sept. 12, 1894.
35. Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1915), p. 196.