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A group of six American Protestant sects which hold in common a belief in the near return of Christ in person, and differ from one another mainly in their understanding of several doctrines related to this common belief. They are, excepting the "Seventh Day Adventists" and the branch entitled "The Church of God" congregational in government.
The sects of Adventists are the outcome of a religious agitation begun by William Miller (1781-1849) in 1831, after a minute study of the prophecies of the Bible. Testing the mysterious pronouncements concerning the Messias by a method exclusively historical, he looked for the fulfillment of every prophecy in its obvious surface reading. Every prophecy which had not been literally accomplished in the first coming of Christ must needs be accomplished in His second coming. Christ, therefore, should return at the end of the world in the clouds of heaven to possess the land of Canaan, and to reign in an earthly triumph on the throne of David for a thousand years. Moreover, taking the 2,300 days of the Prophet Daniel for so many years, and computing from 457 B.C. -- that is, from the commencement of the seventy weeks before the first coming, Miller concluded that the world would come to an end, and Christ would return, in A.D. 1843. He gave wide circulation to his views and gained a considerable following in a few years. When the year 1843 had passed as any other, and the prediction had failed, Snow, one of his disciples, set himself to correct Miller's calculations, and in his turn announced the end of the world for 22 October, 1844. As the day drew near groups of Millerites here and there throughout the United States, putting aside all worldly occupations, awaited, in a fever of expectancy the promised coming of Christ, but were again doomed to disappointment. The faithful followers of Miller next met in conference at Albany, N.Y., in 1845, and professed their unshaken faith in the near personal coming of the Son of God. And this has remained the fundamental point of the Adventist creed. According to the official census of 1890, the Adventists had 60,491 communicants; at present they have about 100, 000 adherents all told. The Adventist movement, inaugurated by Miller, has differentiated into the following independent bodies:--
1. Evangelical Adventists (the original stock). They believe the dead are conscious after separation from the body, and will rise again; the just, first to reign with Christ on earth for the Millennium and, after the Judgment, in heaven for all eternity; the wicked to rise at the Day of Judgment to be condemned to hell forever. They may be said to have organized in 1845. They number 1,147 communicants.
2. Advent Christians. These believe that the dead lie in an unconscious state till Christ comes again, when all will arise; the just to receive everlasting life; the wicked to be annihilated; since immortality, once man's natural birthright, has been forfeited by sin and is now a supernatural gift had only through faith in Christ. The General Association was formed in 1881. The Advent Christians number 26,500.
3. Seventh Day Adventists. These hold to the observance of the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath. They believe that the dead remain unconscious until Judgment, when the wicked will be destroyed. They attempt, in addition, a detailed interpretation of certain biblical prophecies, and believe the prophetic gift is still communicated, and was possessed latterly by Mrs. E.G. White in particular. They were formed into a body in 1845. They number 76,102 members.
4. The Church of God. An offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists. These dissidents refuse to accept the prophecies of Mrs. White, or the interpretation of the vision in Apocalypse 12:11-17, as applying to the United States. Otherwise they resemble the Seventh Day Adventists, They became an independent body in 1864-65. This church has 647 members.
5. Life and Advent Union. A movement which, begun in 1848 was compacted into an organized body in 1860. This church insists that the wicked will not rise again, but will remain in an endless sleep. It has a membership of 3,800.
6. Age-to-come Adventists. These believe, besides the common Adventist doctrines, that the wicked will ultimately be destroyed, and that eternal life is given through Christ alone. They originated in 1851; the General Conference was organized in 1885. They number 1,872 in the United States.
Taylor, The Reign of Christ (Boston, 1889); Wellcome, History of the Second Advent Message (Yarmouth. Maine, IB74); McKinstrey, The World's Great Empires (Haverhill, Mass., 1881); Andrews, History of the Seventh and First Day (Battle Creek, Mich., 1873); White, The Great Controversy (Battle Creek, 1870); Smith, Thoughts on Daniel and Revelation (1882); Long, Kingdom of Heaven Upon Earth (1882); The End of The Ungodly (1886); Pile, The Doctrine of Conditional Immortality (Springfield, Mass); Brown, The Divine Key of Redemption (Springfield, Mass).