Who Are We?
Why remembering matters
By Ted N. C. Wilson
In 1863 the United States was in the middle of a vicious civil war. Blood flowed freely on American battlefields, as brother fought against brother, each convinced that God was on their side. By the end of the war, 2 percent of the population, 625,000 soldiers—the equivalent of 6 million today—had died.
During this time of national upheaval and division something remarkable took place in the northern U.S. city of Battle Creek, Michigan. Instead of fighting each other, brothers from several states gathered together to organize into one official, united denomination—the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The name “Seventh-day Adventist” was chosen nearly two years earlier at an October 1, 1860, meeting in Battle Creek. During the following two years, churches in seven states organized into state conferences, with the Michigan Conference being the first in 1861.
At the invitation of the Michigan Conference, representatives from the other state conferences met May 20-23, 1863, in Battle Creek to officially organize as a denomination, adopting a constitution, electing officers, and defining the roles and responsibilities of the General Conference and its officers.
This was a far different experience than what the Second Advent believers had experienced less than two decades earlier when, with tear-dimmed eyes, they watched the October 22 clock strike midnight, and Jesus had not come.
Foundational Bible Truth
Although the disappointment was bitter, a small remnant of believers did not cast away their faith. Humbly, prayerfully, they searched the Scriptures, and during the next 15 years the group grew larger as they held a series of Bible conferences. As they studied, biblical truths overlooked for centuries were opened to their understanding:
♦ the reaffirmation of a literal second coming of Jesus Christ seen simultaneously worldwide
♦ Christ’s ministry in a literal heavenly sanctuary where the investigative judgment began on October 22, 1844
♦ the seventh day of the week as God’s true Sabbath, to be remembered and kept holy
♦ the dead in an unconscious “sleep” until Christ’s return
♦ the three angels’ messages in Revelation 14 to be heard throughout the entire world: proclaiming the “everlasting gospel,” announcing the judgment, calling everyone to worship the Creator, identifying the fall of spiritual “Babylon,” warning all to avoid the “mark of the beast,” and identifying God’s end-time, remnant people as “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (verse 12).
This remnant people will “have the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17), and that “testimony of Jesus” is the “spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). This gift of prophetic guidance was recognized in the visions and writings of Ellen G. White and validated as a source of continued guidance for the remnant church.
No other church in existence accepted these vital biblical truths.
Then and Now
These important scriptural discoveries, along with the imperative to proclaim them to the world, led to the official organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on May 21, 1863. The newly organized church had approximately 3,500 members scattered across several of the northern United States.
Today we are a global denomination with more than 17 million members, worshipping in 73,526 churches and 67, 276 companies in 209 countries, working and publishing in 924 languages, with 1.7 million students studying in 7,883 schools around the globe. The church ministers to millions through its 173 hospitals and sanitariums, 133 nursing homes and retirement centers, 238 clinics and dispensaries, and 36 orphanages and children’s homes.*
We praise God for the wonderful things He has done! Yet, as we commemorate the 150-year anniversary of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, rather than glorifying or reveling in the past, we realize that we don’t want to continue having anniversaries; we want to go home.
"Now is [the] time to reexamine what led the Advent believers to organize,...and determine if those reasons should be relegated to the past."
Now is an appropriate time to reexamine what led the Advent believers to organize into the Seventh-day Adventist Church one and a half centuries ago, and to determine if those reasons should be relegated to the past, or if they are still valid today.
Nineteenth-Century Religious Landscape
By the mid- to late nineteenth century a variety of Christian religious denominations already existed in the developed world and in many territories then administered by Western nations. Protestantism was flourishing in Europe, in British territories around the globe, and in the United States, with numerous Presbyterian, Congregational, Lutheran, Episcopal, Christian Connection, Baptist, and Methodist bodies established. Roman Catholicism also had strongholds in Europe, Latin America, and some portions of Asia and North America, where Roman Catholics were a growing minority, the first Roman Catholic church in Battle Creek, Michigan, being established by Irish and German immigrants in 1863.
As the Advent believers met together, their intention was not to form yet another denomination, but rather to study the Bible and to follow what they learned. However, as they uncovered important truth after truth, including the imperative to proclaim the three angels’ messages to the world, and guided by a series of visions given to Ellen White in the 1850s regarding “gospel order,” the believers realized that to effectively carry out their God-given mission, it was necessary to officially organize.
By May 1863 Seventh-day Adventists had a clear picture of:
(1) who they were—the remnant identified in Revelation 12 and 14
(2) what their mission was—to proclaim the three angels’ messages to the world.
Although the church continued to learn and grow as more truth was revealed, and confirmed through the prophetic gift bestowed upon Ellen White, the core of their identity, as established in Revelation 12:17, was never lost sight of.
An Identity Crisis?
Is our identity and purpose as clear today as it was 150 years ago? Or is it possible that our focus has blurred and we aren’t sure if we have a unique purpose or mission anymore?
I’m reminded of an experience a few years ago when someone asked me what my greatest challenge was. I thought for a moment, then responded that one of our greatest challenges was to keep the vision that we are a unique movement alive in the church. The individual looked at me and asked, “Really? Are we?” Then said, “I’m first a Christian, then a Seventh-day Adventist.” Of course, we are Seventh-day Adventist Christians, but we have a special task that others are not doing.
Does “Unique” = “Better”?
Who are we as a unique movement? God’s remnant church. Does that mean that we are better than others? Of course not. We are all in need of Christ’s justifying and sanctifying power. We are indebted to Christ for salvation and His all-encompassing grace and righteousness.
But we are also a unique movement, people of the Book, a prophetic movement, people who believe in the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. We believe in the prophetic landmarks throughout history that were predicted before they happened and lead us to an understanding of who we are and where we are in earth’s history. Daniel 8:14 reveals the vital truth about what happened in 1844, and that the sanctuary message, which is replete in Scripture, is a powerful and meaningful message for the world throughout time—even more so during these last days of this earth.
We are living in a most incredible time in earth’s history. We have been called to proclaim God’s incredible message of salvation through Christ and His righteousness. We need to know who we are if we are to deliver that message with Holy Spirit power. We need to understand why we are here as an Advent movement.
We need to understand our special calling from the Lord. We don’t take this identity in a self-centered, egotistical way, but we humbly understand that the Seventh-day Adventist Church fulfills the qualifications of God’s remnant people as identified in Revelation 12:17, and we know that the church will finish united and strong!
“I am instructed to say to Seventh-day Adventists the world over,” Ellen White wrote in 1908, “God has called us as a people to be a peculiar treasure unto Himself. He has appointed that His church on earth shall stand perfectly united in the Spirit and counsel of the Lord of hosts to the end of time” (Selected Messages, book 2, p. 397).
We are a beautifully diverse church, but united in Christ and this precious biblical message. We are an international family from every corner of the globe proclaiming God’s grace, united by the Holy Spirit and our foundational biblical beliefs.
A Great Privilege
We have the great privilege of belonging to something much larger than just another denomination or a church body—we belong to a heaven-born Advent movement that has been called by God at the end of time for a unique purpose. We are a church that has gone through challenging times and will go through very challenging times ahead, according to biblical prophecy and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. We are a church that does not rely on traditions or human reasoning, but relies completely on the written Word of God as its sole foundation, and on the Living Word, Jesus Christ. We are a church that does not derive its power from itself but fully accepts the admonition of the Lord in Zechariah 4:6, “’Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
Never be ashamed to be a Seventh-day Adventist, a member of God’s remnant church. Millions of people all over the world are waiting for Seventh-day Adventists to stand up, speak out, and share the precious biblical messages on which our church was founded. The giving of the three angels’ messages is the reason God raised up the Seventh-day Adventist movement. We have a mandate from heaven to preach the everlasting gospel and Christ’s righteousness, to boldly proclaim the fall of Babylon’s apostate religion, and to warn the world not to receive the mark of the beast but instead be sealed with the seal of God’s everlasting mark of authority—the seventh-day Sabbath.
Jesus is coming soon! Soon we will see in the eastern sky a small, dark cloud about half the size of a man’s fist. It will get larger and larger and brighter and brighter. All of heaven will pour out for this climax of earth’s history. Everyone will see Him at the same time through a miracle of heaven. And there seated in the middle of millions of angels will be the One we have been waiting for—not the humble, broken Lamb, not the High Priest, but the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ our Redeemer!
We will look up and say, “This is the God we have waited for.” Christ will look down and say, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Enter into the joy of your Lord”; and we will rise to meet the Lord in the air to go home to be with Him forever—the beautiful end of the Advent journey!
*Statistics from http://www.adventistarchives.org/quick-statistics-on-the-seventh-day-adventist-church
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.