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Adventist Family Churches and the Apocalypse

Since the beginning of Christianity, groups have arisen based on a faith called apocalyptic or millennial. There is an expectation that Christ would soon return to end this "evil order" and replace it with a new world of supreme happiness and goodness.

APOCALYPTICISM IN HISTORY

Christian expectation of the immediate return of Christ began in the early days of the Church. The Old Testament book of Daniel as well as non-canonical literature such as the Assumption of Moses and the Books of Enoch were part of the thought-world in which early Christians lived.

In later generations the apocalyptic focus was centered on Daniel and the Book of Revelations. There is a shared common core. History is seen as having followed a steady course to the present, with the climax of all history soon to come. That climax will be an action by God destroying the present system and ushering in a new and better system based on God.

History is seen as a struggle between good and evil, and good is losing. The believer experiences this personally as persecution, deprivation, or moral scandal. Evil can only be stopped by the action of God who will completely eliminate its power.

God is seen as directly involved in history. He caused the formation of a faithful remnant who remain true to him. He will soon act to crush the forces of evil.

History is seen by the believer as personal and internalized. It is interpreted as centering directly on himself and his group of the elite, who are not honored as they should be by the general society.

As the date of the expected action by God comes closer, normal life becomes less important and the focus turns to preparing for the coming event. Apocalyptic groups have always been controversial. Determining the date of Christ's return has been a recurring quest.

In the early 1800s Edward Irving, founder of the Catholic Apostolic Church, proclaimed the second coming in England and set the date as 1864. Dr. Joseph Wolff, a converted Jew, toured England and the United States lecturing on the second coming. Both men had been spurred into action by the French Revolution and Napoleon.

Until his death Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons, established locale after locale as the headquarters of the kingdom of God. It was, however, a poor farmer in upper New York State who founded the movement which still exists as America's most well-known Adventist movement.

MILLENNIALISM IN AMERICA

William Miller, a Baptist layman, started the movement known as Adventism in the 1830s in New York. He became convinced that the end of the world was near and that he must tell the world. He was welcomed at different churches as a speaker and the principles he taught continue to be held by many.

Miller believed that he had deciphered the chronology concerning the end of the age. He used the idea that passages in Daniel and other places use "day" to refer to "year." Two keys were Daniel 8:14, "unto 2,300 days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed, or justified," and Daniel 9:24, "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people to make an end of sins." Miller saw the end of the 70 weeks (490 days or 490 years) as 33 AD at the cross of Jesus.

From this date, he pushed backward to 457 BC ("the going forth of the commandment to Ezra to restore the law and the people of Jerusalem") as the beginning. Since, as Miller argued, the 70 weeks were part of the 2,300 days, the 2,300 days could be seen to begin also in 457 BC. Thus, the cleansing of the sanctuary would be in 1843. Miller bolstered this chronology with several other figures which also ended in 1843.

From these calculations Miller and his followers built a history based on the events described in Revelation and Daniel and published their work. As the movement grew, opposition increased. Formerly cooperative churches closed their doors to Miller and his associates. Numerous accounts appeared of ministers and laymen being expelled from their churches.

In 1843, Miller committed himself to a specific time for the Second Coming. That time came and went, leading to a second date being stated, again without result. Near the time of the first date, in February of 1843, a large comet unexpected by astronomers appeared, along with a string of other unusual events.

That heightened expectation and attracted attention to Miller's predictions. Miller had attracted about 50,000 followers, and following the second failure, Charles Fitch began to encourage the formation of independent churches. That was opposed by Miller.

The second failed prediction came to be called "The Great Disappointment" by Miller's followers, but most continued to follow his understanding of the Second Coming. Miller remained confident in the imminent return of Jesus, but challenged any further attempts to set an exact date.

As Advent churches developed they followed much of Baptist theology, the primary parent group. There is general agreement on the doctrines concerning the Bible, God, Christ, and the sacraments. The idea of ordinances (instead of sacraments), Baptism by immersion, and the practice of foot washing, particularly, further manifest Baptist origins. Sabbatarianism was transmitted directly by the Seventh-Day Baptists.

The Adventists, however, went far beyond the Baptists in speculation about the Second Coming. They also raised the issue of man's innate immortality by denying it.

Ethical positions among Adventists have shown two divergent trends. An emphasis on the Old Testament and on the law as mandatory for Christians has developed out of the acceptance of the Sabbath. Some groups have gone so far as to celebrate Jewish holidays and dietary laws.

The celebration of the Sabbath has been promoted by the ecumenical Bible Sabbath Association, which was formed as a counterpart of the Lord's Day Alliance of the United States. Formed in 1945, the Bible Sabbath Association promotes the observance of the Sabbath and publishes a directory of Sabbath-keeping organizations.

A second ethical trend emerged as the Adventists became involved in the great social crusades of the two decades preceding the Civil War. Many Adventists were vocal abolitionists and ardent supporters of the peace movements. Pacifism remains a common Adventist position. The well-publicized refusal of the Jehovah's Witnesses to be drafted is derived from their Adventist heritage.

THE SACRED NAME MOVEMENT

No one knows exactly who first raised the issue of God's name as being an important doctrinal consideration. Certainly, in the 1920s the International Bible Students on their way to becoming the Jehovah's Witnesses raised the issue forcefully.

Twentieth-century scholarship had, however, begun to emphasize the belief that "Yahweh" was the correct pronunciation of the "YHWH," the spelling of God's name in Hebrew. By the mid-1930s there were members and ministers, primarily of the Church of God (Seventh-Day), who were beginning to use the "sacred name" and to promote the cause actively.

During the 1940s, several assemblies were formed that differentiated themselves over the name issue and exactly what the spelling and pronunciation should be. The common designation for local gatherings is "assembly," a literal translation of the Greek "ecclesia."

CHARLES TAZE RUSSELL'S BIBLE STUDENTS

Following a failure to correctly predict the Second Coming, a group has several logical options. The group can disband and return to a more conventional life and belief system. Second, the group can claim that the prophecy was true and fulfilled, but in a spiritual rather than physical sense. A final option is for the group to propose a new, hopefully more accurate date.

For more on this see Comments and additions from Mark.

BRITISH ISRAELISM

Influenced by the Adventists, this movement developed in America shortly after World War I. There was a rejection of the Trinity, and a focus on the Sacred Name and the Sabbath. They experienced a steady growth into the 1940s. In the 1970s there was a new resurgence focused on the Identity Movement. The Identity Movement traces its history to ancient Israel, based on English efforts in the 1700s to discover what happened to the ten lost ten tribes of Israel. One theory identified them with various Anglo-Saxon groups.

British Israelism has attracted much attention because of its racist tendencies, especially in the United States. Implicit in the theory is the natural and religious superiority of the Anglo-Saxon.

One Church of God radio minister, Herbert W. Armstrong, integrated British Israelism into his thought. Under its present name, the Worldwide Church of God, it has introduced literally millions of people to British Israelism and now claims approximately 100,000 members, the single most successful such group to ever exist.

THE MODERN IDENTITY MOVEMENT

In recent years British Israelism became associated with racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi movement, including the Christian Nationalist Crusade.

The term "Identity Movement" comes from identifying modern white people as the literal children of the ancient Israelites. It is controversial not only on the basis of theology and racism but because of violent and illegal actions performed in its name.

Other groups associated with it recently are: the Church, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (C.S.A.); Posse Comitatus; the Order; and the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, Aryan Nations.