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The "Seventh-day Adventist" name turns 150 years old

James Nix

 

Several years ago, while on vacation with my wife, we decided to visit the museum of another denomination. My career has been mostly involved with preserving and promoting Adventist history, so I was curious to see how another church promotes its history, specifically to its own members.

The exhibits were professionally presented. Upon entering the main exhibit gallery, there was a large sculpture on the left. As we passed it, a father holding the hand of his small son was explaining the significance of what they were viewing. My wife and I did not stop to hear the entire conversation, but what little I heard still reverberates in my memory. That father was introducing his church heritage to his young son. Immediately I asked myself, What opportunities does the Seventh-day Adventist Church provide for me to introduce the heritage of our movement to my children, grandchildren, or even to fellow church members? For a church that remembers the seventh-day Sabbath every week, I wonder if we have done enough, collectively, to recall God’s leading in the history of the Adventist movement.

I am well aware of, and deeply appreciate, such preserved historic Adventist sites as Elmshaven in California, Sunnyside in Australia, and Historic Adventist Village in Battle Creek, Michigan, plus other heritage sites owned by the denomination. I also know that some churches conduct an annual Spirit of Prophecy Day or Heritage Sabbath in October each year. And we publish books about our past, with Adventist history taught in our schools. But I realize that many more church members would be greatly blessed and encouraged were we more proactive and creative in our local congregations about recalling God’s leading in our denomination’s history. Knowing from where we came historically, and why we exist, gives direction and purpose to our current and future endeavors as a church.

Sabbath, October 2, 2010, provides an opportunity to combine Adventist heritage with visioning by the members of your congregation. The previous day, Friday, October 1, marks the 150th anniversary of when the pioneers of our movement chose the name Seventh-day Adventist.

October 1, 1860

The men and women who gathered in Battle Creek, Michigan, from September 28 to October 1, 1860, knew something had to be done as relating to coming up with a name for the church. Consequently, during the services Friday evening and Sabbath, the 28’ x 42’ Meeting House1 was reported as being full.2 Among the 25 men named as being in attendance at the conference,3 at least 15 were ministers from five states—Iowa, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.4 A number of them had not previously met.5 Although no women are listed by name, they are mentioned as being present for the Sabbath services, though if any also attended the business sessions that followed, this was not recorded.6 One woman who apparently was not present was Ellen White—still home recuperating after giving birth to her fourth son on September 20.7

After sundown Sabbath evening, the first business session began. The immediate problem was the future of the publishing house. For the previous several months, discussions regarding what to do had been underway both in the church paper, then called The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, as well as between traveling ministers and lay members. Although many individuals had contributed to the press, legally it was owned by James White.8 Even the Meeting House in which they met that weekend was owned by Stephen Belden,9 a member of the Battle Creek congregation. James White did not like the situation and felt that something must be done. After all, if anything happened to him, the publishing house would go to his heirs, not to the members who had contributed to it. Consequently, he and three others called for this meeting to decide what should be done.10

Complicating the issue in the minds of many present that weekend was their belief that taking any steps at all toward anything that might be viewed as organization constituted Babylon. Coming out of the Millerite movement of the 1840s, during which they had either been forced out of or had voluntarily left their former churches, these pioneers did not now want to organize and thus in their minds return to what they had so recently left. But others argued that without some form of organization there was no way they could legally hold property and thus protect the publishing house or even the meeting houses that then existed.

Eventually, following considerable discussion Saturday night and most of Sunday, the conclusion was reached by all that some kind of simple organization could be undertaken.11 With that decision behind them, the need for a name was discussed. Obviously, they could not legally incorporate the publishing house without agreeing upon a name for the new organization. Again, a theological concern surfaced. Revelation 14:11 warns against worshipers of the beast as well as against those who receive the mark of his name. Therefore, taking a name was also problematic for some. Eventually, most agreed that naming the publishing association they were forming must also happen.12

During the discussion that followed, on Monday, October 1, the name initially favored was “Church of God.” Among its supporters was James White.13 However, it was pointed out during the discussion that other churches already used that name, not to mention that it really was quite generic. Some thought that calling ourselves “Church of God” sounded presumptuous. Those present, whether pastors or lay delegates, wanted to choose a name that, in the words of James White, “would be the least objectionable to the world at large.”14

In time, the name Seventh-day Adventists was discussed. David Hewitt, Joseph Bates’s first convert to the Sabbath in Battle Creek seven years earlier,15 eventually moved that they take the name Seventh-day Adventists. After more discussion, Hewitt’s motion was withdrawn and a reworded resolution was substituted in its place—that we call ourselves “Seventh-day Adventists.” Apparently, the change in wording satisfied those conscientious delegates concerned over taking a name. The revised motion passed with only one vote in opposition and was then voted to recommend “the name we have chosen to the churches generally,” again passing with only one dissenting vote. Regarding the name chosen 150 years ago, the October 1, 1860, minutes record that, “Seventh-day Adventists was proposed as a simple name and one expressive of our faith and position.”16

A short time later, Ellen White wrote, “The name Seventh-day Adventist carries the true features of our faith in front, and will convict the inquiring mind.”17

The 150th anniversary weekend—October 1, 2, 2010

This year, as Seventh-day Adventists worldwide recall the 150th anniversary of choosing our denomination’s name, churches, schools, healthcare institutions, publishing houses, and conferences are urged to seriously consider the question, “How can we maximize the impact of our Seventh-day Adventist presence in our community?” A Web site, www.150sda.org, containing ideas and resources, has been created to assist those wishing not only to celebrate the 150th anniversary of our name but also to explore this important question. A suggested weekend program, beginning Friday evening and continuing all day Sabbath, is included on the Web site, as are historical and other resources.

A suggestion includes individual members considering what it means to them, personally, to be a Seventhday Adventist. Other questions worth considering include, What difference does having a Seventh-day Adventist family living on my street make? Or, What, if any, differences can my customers/employer expect because I am a Seventh-day Adventist? If I am a student attending a public school, what difference does it make having a Seventh-day Adventist student in my school? In short, what does it mean to me to be a Seventh-day Adventist living in the twenty-first century? Obviously, no single right or wrong answers exist, but no answers at all means that I’m not serious about being an Adventist because my faith should be making a difference—in my family as well as in my community.

As a congregation, irrespective of how long your church has been in your community, if it were to close tomorrow, would anyone notice? If not, what can you as a church do to change that reality? Even if your church is well known locally, are there ways of further enhancing— both spiritually and physically—the lives of those living in the community where your church is located? In short, in what ways can you more effectively share the message of Christ’s soon return that is embodied in our church name?

We encourage you to use the 150th anniversary weekend not merely to recall the past, but also to look to the future by finding ways to even more effectively accomplish the prophetic mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. What God has done in the past assures us regarding what He wants to do for us now, as well as in the future. Therefore, commemorate the name while visioning for the future—what a unique and profitable way to celebrate our Adventist heritage.

 

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1 J. N. Loughborough, Rise and Progress of Seventh-day
Adventists (Battle Creek, MI: General Conference
Association of the Seventh-day Adventists, 1892), 217.

2. Review and Herald, October 2, 1860, 156.

3. Review and Herald, October 2, 1860, 156; October 9, 16,
23, 1860.

4. Review and Herald, October 2, 1860, 156.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White, The Early Years, 1827-
1862, vol. 1 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub.
Assn., 1985), 419, 425.

8. Review and Herald, October 9, 1860, 162; October 23,
1860, 177.

9. Review and Herald, October 9, 1863, 163.

10. Review and Herald, September 11, 1860, 136.

11. Review and Herald, October 23, 1860, 178.

12. Ibid., 179.

13. Ibid., 179.

14. Ibid., 179.

15. J. N. Loughborough, “Second Advent Experience—No. 7.”
Review and Herald, July 26, 1923, 5; “Sabbath Services.”
General Conference Bulletin, vol. 1, Extra No. 6, February
17, 1895, 208.

16. Review and Herald, October 23, 1860, 179.

17. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1 (Nampa,
ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 224.

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