The Great Disappointment

The Seventh-day Adventists do not promise everlasting life but they do offer me an extra decade. When I enter the church doors, I’m handed a flyer for their “10 Years More Series: Happier, Healthier, Longer,” a set of special presentations about the importance of weight control and proper sleep. Before now, what I knew of this denomination came from the media attention given to a Seventh-day Adventist community in southern California for having an average lifespan many years longer than the national average. This denomination promotes a plant-based diet. They are basically messianic vegans; apparently, that is not an oxymoron. Their interest in growing organic food is part of an effort to return the planet to a Garden-of-Eden-like state in anticipation of, and perhaps even to accelerate, Christ’s return to earth.

Today’s service takes place in a church building belonging to a different denomination. The Seventh-Day Adventists hold their services on Saturdays, making it convenient for them to share a building with a denomination that worships on Sundays.

The program announces the time of today’s sunset as well as the sunset for the following Friday evening. As far as I know, this is the only Christian denomination that celebrates according to the lunar Jewish tradition of Sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Officially, the holy day began the previous evening. The Bible suggests that Jesus won’t return until the “Sabbath is restored” and Seventh-day Adventists interpret this literally. This is another action they hope will help fulfill Biblical prophecy.

When Jesus did not return in 1843, Miller revised his prediction. He decided his miscalculation was the result of an oversight; he hadn’t taken into account the “tarrying time” referred to in the Bible. Believers decided upon a corrected date: October 22, 1844.

What must it have been like to be among the faithful who stayed up that fall night hoping for Christ to appear? I stumbled upon an account of a farmer who described the anticipation. He stood in a field with other believers, their eyes trained to the sky. I can only imagine what they hoped to see: some bright light or benevolent fireball and then the figure of Jesus with his arms outstretched to them. Perhaps a golden staircase would materialize for the faithful to climb.

When the sun rose as usual on October 23rd, the farmer and his companions were devastated. The failure of Jesus to return on that date has gone down in the history books as “the Great Disappointment.”

Ellen White, the woman credited with founding the Seventh-day Adventists, was just an ordinary girl growing up in Maine when these events were unfolding. She had believed passionately in Miller’s predictions. Not long after the Great Disappointment, she began to have visions. She would fall into trance-like states in which heavenly messengers would communicate with her.

Of all my church visits so far, I have not yet had anyone readily admit to first-hand interactions with celestial beings. That is about to change…

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9 thoughts on “The Great Disappointment

  1. “Messianic Vegans” I have never been called that before. Very nice! lol. I wanted to offer up a couple notes of correction. Ellen White was one of the founders of the SDA church, but was not the only one.

    Joseph Bates, J.N Andrews, James White, and Uriah Smith were integral to organizing the teachings and denomination. Ellen White was given the gift of prophecy and thus also assisted greatly in countering fanaticism and extremism (legalism and antinomianism) through counsel given to her by God.

    I am curious as to where you heard or came to this understanding:

    “The Bible suggests that Jesus won’t return until the “Sabbath is restored” and Seventh-day Adventists interpret this literally. This is another action they hope will help fulfill Biblical prophecy.”

    I am not familiar with this teaching, and would say that I know SDA doctrine (and Evangelical doctrine for that matter) quite well. I understand His return to be centered around Mt. 24:14 and Rev. 7:3,4 i.e. the sealing (the giving of the Holy Spirit) of God given to all those who accept Jesus by faith, will be the catalyst that brings forth the end. This witness will be the very thing that convicts the hearts of all those who are on earth (either for or against God), and brings forth the final events of earth’s history.

    Other than that, I believe you have offered up a very fair assessment of Adventist history (which lead to the formation of the Seventh-day Adventist church).

    May God bless you as you study these things out.

    • Hi Jon, Thank you for your feedback and additions. I found the bit about restoring sabbath in this book from the library:

      Damsteegt, P. Gerard. Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1977. (Specifically on page 106.) Sort of an old book, and just a brief mention of this detail, but I thought it was interesting. From an outside perspective, I wondered why SDAs worship on Saturday.

      A couple more posts on my SDA experience to come…

      • Very interesting indeed…

        I had never heard it in that fashion. In fact I had to read on in order to gain a contextual understanding of the statement. Thanks for the book reference, it seems to be a very good source of Adventist history and theological formation!

        The essential concept is that after the disappointment, God revealed the meaning to Rev. 12:17 and Rev 14:6-10 in where we find the law of God and the faith of Christ as the main characteristic of God’s remnant church (which comprises of a diverse world wide group not based on denomination but rather on their faith in God’s Grace through Christ!). Within that package came the realization of the Sabbath in where the early church (and the modern one) saw the Sabbath as “testing truth” and apart of the greater visible package of a Spirit filled (Sealed) life.

        Therefore the restoration of the Sabbath (along with other forgotten or repressed biblical truth) is indeed a catalyst that will bring forth the coming of Christ.

        As I understand this, it is not so much the day as it is the worship of the Person that will draw the proverbial “line in the sand” and cause the final persecution (Time of Trouble) and death decree (Great Tribulation) and finally the last plagues and the 2nd Coming of Christ.

        To hopefully answer your inquisitive pursuit more succinctly. The SDA church realized the corruption of the Christian church which included (but was not limited to) the transference of solemnity from Sabbath to Sunday. And keeping to good ol’ fashioned Protestantism we have protested the fallen state of the papacy and the reformed tradition ever since. Of course, such a position in this day in age is not the easiest to pass along (PC police and all!).

        God bless and I hope that this helps,

        Jon

  2. I must confess to hoping that I never encounter a burning bush. I don’t think I am up to it, and I don’t mean that in a blaspheming way! When I see God ‘face to face’, I hope it will be on the other side. Personally, until then, I am content with the Holy Ghost!

    Your blog is, as usual, a pleasure to follow.

    Yours in Christ

  3. I have always admired the medical arm of the Seventh Day Adventists. They have done much to encourage people to lead healthy lives. The one time I visited I was anxious to see how much their service might resemble something of Jehovah’s Witnesses since they developed out of the same seed pod of Charles Taze Russell and Mr. Miller who finally broke apart when Miller advocated a literal return of Jesus to earth while Russell had decided it would be a spiritual second coming. Like the JW’s it was a plain “church” with quiet but friendly folks who seem to take their religion seriously. On the Saturday I happened there they were having a “wash your neighbors feet” ritual and after a quasi play on stage in symbol of the last Supper they said that everyone who wanted to participate should meet in a back room and take their shoes off so another member could wash their feet and they would reciprocate.. No one was made to feel forced to do it.

  4. There are a number of Christian churches that not only keep the seventh day as the sabbath but also the Christian application of the Jewish Holy days…Passover,Unleavened Bread Trumpets, Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles, Last Great Day..

    • Hi James, Unleavened bread trumpets? I want one! If you have more information, please share. I’ve encountered some groups of Jews who have accepted Jesus and blend Judaism with Christianity. But I’m not familiar with the other way around (besides a touch with the SDAs)…although one might argue that ALL Chrisitanity has integrated Jewish ideas and concepts since it came from Judaism. So interesting!

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