- Adventism is belief in the imminent Second Coming or Advent of Jesus Christ, seen as the climactic moment in history. In the more limited sense used in this volume, it refers to the movement that originated in the teachings of William Miller (1782-1849), a Baptist lay minister who became well-known throughout the United States in the 1830s for his prediction that Jesus would return in 1843 (later adjusted to 1844). Though Miller later withdrew with apologies for his errors, the movement continued into the 20th century and flourished through a number of new Christian bodies that became large international denominations - most notably the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Worldwide Church of God.Miller's speculation centered on Bible prophecy. starting from easily dated biblical events, and a belief that days and years may be interchanged in prophetic Bible passages (Job 10:5; Psalms 90:3; II Peter 3:8), Miller laid out a complicated but logical argument for Christ's imminent return. Following the failure of his predictions (termed the Great Disappointment in Adventist history), Millerites regrouped and several organizations emerged. one group continued to pose new dates for Christ's return. Others believed the date was imminent but could not be predicted exactly.The most successful group took the position that Miller's date had been correct, except that it referred only to the start of the process of cleansing the heavenly sanctuary (a task believed to be described in Hebrews 9). in the very near future, the heavenly work would be completed and become visible. Church founders James and Ellen G. White had also come to believe in Sabbatarianism, and proposed that Saturday, the true Sabbath, be restored as the day of worship. Propounding their ideas through the 1850s and 1860s, the Seventh-day Adventist movement emerged as the largest surviving segment of the Adventist cause.In the wake of Christ's failure to return in 1874, as some Adventists predicted, a young Pittsburgh Bible student, Charles Taze Russell, proposed a new version of Ellen G. White's idea. The year 1874 was indeed the time of Christ's parousia (the Greek word commonly translated as coming), but parousia, said Russell, actually meant presence. Christ had become invisibly present for the final harvest of believers; he would actually appear a generation later, around 1914. The millennium in which Christ would rule on Earth was dawning. Russell's Millennium Dawn movement underwent vast changes following his death, eventually emerging as the Jehovah's Witnesses in the 1930s. it would be further distinguished from the rest of the Protestant community by its harsh criticism of other churches, its denial of popularly held beliefs concerning the Trinity and hell, and its willingness to proselytize the members of other churches.One small segment of Millerites accepted Ellen G. White's teaching on sabbatarianism, but not her understanding of the heavenly sanctuary. Reforming as the seventh-day Church of God, it divided into even smaller groups, some of them promulgating what became known as the Sacred Name Message. Sacred Name groups believed that the Hebrew name of God (usually written as Yah-weh) and of Jesus (Yeshua) should be used in all church discourse and the words God and Jesus dropped from their vocabulary. The Jehovah's Witnesses adopted some Sacred Name perspectives in its use of Jehovah (another spelling of the Hebrew name of God).in the 1930s, the most successful of the sabbatarian Church of God groups emerged out of the broadcast ministry of Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986) as the Radio Church of God. After World War II, Armstrong relocated to Pasadena, California, and changed the name to the Worldwide Church of God, using radio and then television. As an integral part of its teachings, it adopted British Israelism, the idea that the legendary Ten Lost Tribes of israel are to be identified with the modern Anglo-Saxon peoples. The church also developed a modern version of the ancient Hebrew festivals, practiced a system of tithing, and separated itself from other Christian churches.After Armstrong's death, his successor, Joseph Tkach Sr., and his son, Joseph Tkach Jr., led a reformation in the church and dropped all of Armstrong's distinct ideas from Sabbatarianism to the British Israel theory, and moved the church to an orthodox Evangelical position. The majority of the church membership defected into three groups - the Living Church of God, the United Church of God, and the Philadelphia Church of God - and a number of smaller groups that more or less continue Armstrong's teachings.Both the Seventh-day Adventists and the Jehovah's Witnesses enjoyed spectacular success, having joined the short list of religious groups that have worshipping communities in more than 200 countries. The Witnesses are now the second- or third-largest denomination in all of the European countries save Switzerland, where a Witness splinter group, the Church of the Kingdom of God, is the third-largest denomination. Some disrepute came to the larger movement in 1993 with the incident at Waco, Texas, involving the deaths of members of a small Seventh-day Adventist splinter group, the Branch Davidians.Further reading:■ Gary Land, ed., Adventism in America: A History (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1998)■ James M. Penton, Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985)■ Michael J. St. Clair, Millenarian Movements in Historical Context (New York: Garland, 1992)■ Joseph Tkach, Transformed by Truth (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah Books, 1997).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.