We’ve come a long way as a faith community from the early days of William Miller, James White, Ellen Harmon, Joseph Bates and Hiram Edson. The road has been arduous. It’s taken fascinating twists and turns. As we’ve traveled, our perspectives have matured. Our understandings have grown.
But, at times, we’ve forgotten why we began, and lost the vision of where we’re headed and why it matters. We’ve even forgotten the difference the journey can make in the worlds in which we live. So this summer we recall the story of authentic Adventist Christianity—especially how our journey’s beginning impacts who we are today. If you ever wonder what an Adventist is, or if this old road can really take us into today’s world, we invite you to Journey On.
Before you Begin. This study guide will serve you well if you just want to quietly explore the inspiring story of the Adventist journey.
It also will be useful in the setting of a small study group. Divide the guide into sections, assign sections to be studied in advance, and use the outline to gather each member’s comments and opinions and structure your discussion. Add your own questions for your group to discuss.
“GIVE ME THAT OLD TIME RELIGION.” Using a summer-time, camp meeting theme, the titles in this outline are taken from familiar hymns found in the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, including many that would have been sung in the earliest years of our church, and several written by the Adventist pioneers themselves. Why not sing along with each section?
Interestingly, in his introduction to the 1843 hymn book, The Millenial Harp, Joshua V. Himes, with great insight, remarked:
“We are aware of the difficulty of suiting the taste of all classes in musical and devotional compositions; the greatest possible diversity for this purpose, which is consistent with the nature of the work in which we are engaged, must therefore be allowed. Some of our hymns, which might be objected to by the more grave and intellectual, and to which we ourselves have never felt any great partiality, have been the means of reaching, for good, the hearts of those who, probably, would not otherwise have been affected; and, as our object, like that of the Apostle, is to save [people], we should not hesitate to use all means lawful, that may promise to ‘save some.’”
A. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus” (SDA Hymnal, #290). From the earliest conversations, Adventism has been about Jesus. Do you agree that if our family of faith today is to accurately reflect historic Adventism, our beliefs and practices will emphasize Jesus?
What impact might these Bible passages have had on the early Advent believers?
Listen to these words from two who thought Jesus would return in 1844. Does our message today reflect the same Christ-centeredness?
- a. William Miller: “Suddenly the character of a Savior was vividly impressed upon my mind. It seemed that there might be a Being so good and compassionate as to Himself atone for our transgressions, and thereby save us from suffering the penalty of sin. I immediately felt how lovely such a Being must be; and imagined that I could cast myself into the arms of, and trust in the mercy of, such an One.”
- b. Ellen Harmon: “If they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus, who was just before them, leading them to the city, they were safe.”
Should contemporary Seventh-day Adventism still be Christ-centered? Or have other, more pressing theological issues become more important and more relevant?
- a. “It is not enough to embellish our doctrines with an occasional mention of Jesus and the gospel. Every doctrine that is worthy of acceptance must be firmly rooted in the gospel” (Norval Pease, By Faith Alone, 237).
- b. “Jesus, the central focus of Scripture and history, is also the central focus of Adventist doctrine and experience... The different beliefs, or doctrines, emphasize different facets of Christ’s lovely character. Each one reveals more of what he is like and what a relationship with him means” (Website, General Conference Ministerial Department).
B. “Give Me the Bible” (SDA Hymnal, #272). The Adventist journey began because the Bible was read! Not a day passed without diligent and careful study of God’s Word.
Read the following passages in your favorite Bible translation. How does the Bible keep us traveling on the same road we began in the 1840s?
C. “Faith of Our Fathers” (SDA Hymnal, #304 ). Advent believers are, by definition and experience, Protestants. Out of that great up-heaval in 16th century church history came the foundational principles on which Adventism was built. Our salvation story remains grounded in what God has done and continues to do for us.
Read each of the paired statements below. from your under- standing of the issues of the reformation, which statement better reflects the teaching of the medieval church, and which one portrays the Protestant position?
- a. Christians accept the Bible, and only the Bible, as the authoritative rule for faith and practice in their lives.
- b. Christians accept the Bible, and the inspired messages of church leaders and councils, as the authoritative guide for their lives.
- a. Salvation (eternal life) is based upon what Jesus has done in our behalf (justification) plus our response to the leading of Jesus throughout our lives (sanctification).
- b. Salvation (eternal life) is based solely upon what Jesus has done in our behalf (justification) and nothing else. Sanctification is our life-long response to His gift of grace.
Reflect on this statement from martin Luther: “Sinners are lovely because they are loved; they are not loved because they are lovely.”
D. “What Heavenly Music” (SDA Hymnal, #452 [James White, 1849]). For a while, Adventists were known as the “Sabbath and Second Coming People.” Nothing was as important as the reality that Jesus was coming soon! And the Sabbath soon took its significant place in doctrine and experience, thanks to Rachael Oakes.
Think about your earliest Sabbath experiences.
- a. What was it that made Sabbath special?
- b. Were there any dynamics of Sabbath keeping that made the Sabbath dreary or burdensome to you?
- c. What Sabbath advice would you give to a new Adventist?
E. “We’ll Build On the Rock” (SDA Hymnal, #531 [Frank Belden, 1886]). Because time moves on; because here could also be there; because God’s truth doesn’t change but our understanding of it does, our journey continues and continues to grow.
Discuss the changes that happened in the early Adventist church in the following areas. How does the concept of “progressive truth” undergird of continuing spiritual growth?
- a. The Second Coming – 1840s
- b. The Seventh Day Sabbath – 1850s
- c. Healthful Living – 1860s
- d. Church Organization – 1860s
- e. Salvation – 1880s
Examine closely this preamble to the official statement of SDA fundamental beliefs. How does the statement uphold the authority of the Bible? How does it encourage us to keep studying?
“Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. These beliefs, as set forth (by the church), constitute the church’s understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture. Revision of these statements may be expected at a General Conference session when the church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God’s Holy Word.”
F. “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” (SDA Hymnal, #262). Known initially as one of the young founders of the Seventh-day Adventist family, Ellen White would soon become the inspiring voice through whom God encouraged the developing church. Today, many continue to refer to her writings as, “The Spirit of Prophecy.” Does Ellen White still journey with us?
- Did You Know? Ellen White is the most translated female non-fiction author in the history of literature, as well as the most translated American non-fiction author of either gender.
- From a devotional standpoint, which ellen White books are your favorites? What draws you to these books?
- If someone in your Sabbath School class or small group insisted that “we Adventists have a higher authority than the Bible -- Ellen White,” how would you respond?
G. “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” (SDA Hymnal, #647 [Julia Ward Howe, 1861]). In the 19th century, America was turbulent with the pressure and promise of reform. Adventism was born in this cauldron. It seems the gospel really is intended to transform humanity -- society is to be engaged, not ignored. Are we rediscovering this essential dynamic?
Here’s a partial list of areas in American society that were areas of reform in the early 1800s. Note a dynamic in Adventist teaching and practice that reflects the same concern.
- a. Art & Literature
- b. Education
- c. Abolition
- d. Women’s Rights
- e. Temperance
- f. Utopian Societies
- g. Religion
Contrast the way Jesus engaged in the society of His world (Matthew 9:10-13) and the way Jesus withdrew from society to gain strength (Luke 5:16). Why do we need both dynamics to be integrated Christians? Which of the two dynamics do you find most difficult to keep active in your life?
H. “How Sweet Are the Tidings” (SDA Hymnal, #442 ). From the beginning, there has been a joy and comfort in belonging to Advent family. The energetic community discovered they were at their very best when they all rallied together -- even when they didn’t fully agree with each other.
- What about belonging to the Adventist family gives you joy?
- What can we do to recapture or strengthen the spirit of the early Adventist church?