The origin of the Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs) can be traced to the Millerite Movement of the 19th Century. This movement was largely responsible for what has been called the Great second advent awakening. William Miller (1782-1849) was a farmer who settled in upstate New York after the war of 1812. He was originally a Deist (a person who believes that God created the universe but has not been actively involved since). After two years of private Bible study, Miller converted to Christianity and became a Baptist lay leader. He was convinced that the Bible contained coded information about the end of the world and the Second Coming of Jesus. He also realized that he had an obligation to teach his findings to others. In 1831, he started to preach; the next year, he wrote articles about his findings. In 1833, he published a pamphlet on end-time prophecy. In 1836, his book Evidences from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ about the Year 1843 was published.
One of the key texts that he interpreted was in the Book of Daniel: Daniel heard two angels talking; one asked how long it will take until the destruction of the Temple is avenged and it is restored to its rightful state. The other replied in Daniel 8:14
"And he said onto me, unto 2,300 days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed."
Miller believed that the 2,300 days were each of one year duration and that the interval started in 457 BCE. He concluded that the cleansing of the temple (i.e. the Second Coming) would occur sometime between two spring equinoxes: 1843-MAR-21 to 1844-MAR-21. He found other methods of calculating the end time which also seemed to point to the year 1843 CE. In common with all other predictions of the Second Coming, the end didn't happen on cue. Samuel Snow, a follower of Miller, then interpreted the "tarrying time" referred to in Habakkuk 2:3 as equal to 7 months and 10 days, delaying the end time to 1844-OCT-22. That prophecy also did not come to pass. Many believers left the movement in what has become known as The Great Disappointment. Miller himself gradually withdrew from the leadership of the group and died in 1849. His followers called themselves Adventists; the group was often referred to as Millerites by others.
Ellen Harmon (later known by her married name Ellen White) joined with other Adventists, including Joseph Bates, and her husband James White to form a small group of Baptist, Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian believers in Washington NH. The church was formally organized as the Seventh-day Adventist Church. on 1863-MAY-21. She believed that the 1844 prediction was correct, but that it referred to the start of an Investigative Judgment. This is a time when Christ will judge the dead and the living on earth for righteousness. She predicted that this would soon be followed by the second coming of Jesus. Late in her career, the church voted her the credentials of an ordained minister. However, she was never actually ordained.
The Church Now:
The SDA church has always taken a special interest in health concerns. They have played a major role in health research into the dangers of smoking and of diets rich in cholesterol and fats. Dr. John Kellog, founder of "Kellogg's" and a major supplier of breakfast cereals was a well known member of the church. They promote plans to help people quit smoking and consuming alcohol. They sponsor cooking classes, heart disease teams, narcotics education outreaches and disaster teams. There are 155 SDA hospitals and 276 clinics, dispensaries, etc. in the world. Many congregations have a Dorcas Society which provide food and supplies to the needy. They currently operate 92 post-secondary institutions, almost 1000 secondary schools and over 4000 elementary schools and kindergartens.
The SDA church is a strong supporter of the principle of separation of church and state. They also promote religious liberty, and publish a periodical called Liberty.
As of mid-2000, the Church has about 11 million baptized members, worldwide, who are "of age" and on the "official" roles. The total number of members and adherents is perhaps double that. They have a growth rate of about 11% per year. "Adventists can now be found in 205 of the 229 countries and areas of the world recognized by the United Nations, with 91.6% of membership living outside of North America."
By the middle of 2004, the total world church membership reached 13,663,497. The Adventist News Network reports that: "Six of the church's 13 world regions -- Inter-America, South America, East-Central Africa, Southern Africa-Indian Ocean, Southern Asia Pacific and North America -- have memberships of more than 1 million each. The church regions with the largest membership are: Inter-America, with 2.5 million; South America, with 2.3 million; and East-Central Africa with, 2.1 million."