As a Christian who keeps Saturday as the Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset), I am sometimes a source of bewilderment to others not familiar with my beliefs. They persistently think that I am either a Jew or a Seventh-day Adventist. I am neither. But in the eyes of many, these are the only religions observing the Seventh-Day Sabbath.
Most people have heard of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews. The well-known Seventh-day Adventists number in the millions. Yet most Seventh-day Adventists know little or nothing of the hundreds of other Sabbath-keeping groups who believe the Messiah has come. For a listing, with addresses and in many cases a summary of their distinctive doctrines, write for the Directory of Sabbath-Observing Groups, from the Bible Sabbath Association, 3316 Alberta Drive, Gillette, WY 82718.
Seventh-day Adventists should know more about others who hold very similar beliefs. Their fellow Sabbath-keepers live in the same communities as Adventists, yet in many cases neither knows about the existence of the other. Both know little about the doctrinal beliefs or the history of the other. This is really not too surprising. The typical Protestant or Catholic knows little about the history and doctrines of his own denomination, let alone that of another. Few will bother to know what their church believes, fewer still will find out what others believe.
I have written extensively on Sabbatarian history and have closely examined Adventist doctrine, as well as that of many other Sabbath-observing groups. There are very sincere and dedicated Seventh-day Adventists. I share many beliefs with Adventists. Yet they are lacking in two areas: (1) Adventists need to know their own history, and (2) Adventists need to know their fellow Sabbath-keepers and their doctrines.
The oldest continuously organized and operating Christian Sabbath-keeping church, the Mill Yard Church in London, England, is not, and never was, Seventh-day Adventist. The first Christian Sabbath-keeper on the American continent came about 200 years before there was a Seventh-day Adventist. The first Sabbath-keeping settler in the Oregon country was not an Adventist either.
There has never been a time since the Seventh-day Adventist church was formed in the 1860s that all Christian Sabbath-keepers were in their fold. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is not the only descendant of the Adventist movement led by the Sunday-keeping William Miller in the 1840s. The largest non-SDA body of Sabbath-keepers, the various Churches of God, were not an "offshoot" of the Seventh-day Adventists, but existed long before the SDA denomination was formed. They parted company over the visions of Ellen G. White and various other doctrinal views.
I urge that my SDA friends read my two books: History of the Seventh Day Church of God, Volume I, and Six Papers on the History of the Church of God, available from: Giving & Sharing, PO Box 100, Neck City, Missouri 64849. The SDA Loma Linda and James Andrews Universities have requested these books.
Regretfully, the history of SDA�s and non-SDA�s has been marked by much dissension and mutual name-calling. SDA official writings have denounced those in the Church of God as "fanatics" and "rebels," who in turn denounced Ellen G. White�s visions as from the devil. Her husband James White referred to Church of God people as "bold slanderers" and "baptized liars."
But then there are many Sabbath-keepers who have never had close relationships historically or doctrinally with SDA�s. The Seventh Day Baptists were the first Sabbatarian settlers of the New World. Some of the Adventists learned about the Sabbath from a Seventh Day Baptist lady in New Hampshire. Seventh-day Adventists and Seventh Day Baptists continue to be the two best known long-established Sabbath-keeping groups. However, Church of God leader H.E. Carver of the Marion, Iowa, Church of God Seventh Day, in a letter written in the February 8, 1872, Seventh Day Baptist Sabbath Recorder, noted that at that time there were "hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Sabbath-keepers scattered over the land, from the Atlantic coast to the shores of the Pacific, who do not belong either to your church organization [SDB�s], or that of the Seventh-day Adventists. Some of these are lonely ones, having no church privileges."
This is even more true today. But it is a fact not well-known among Seventh-day Adventists.
Overview of Major Sabbath-Keeping Groups
Here is a brief outline of some of the major Messianic Sabbatarian groups, broken down in broad classifications:
(1) Seventh Day Baptists number about 5,000 in the USA, and over 50,000 overseas. Their USA headquarters is in Janesville, Wisconsin. The oldest SDB church, the Mill Yard church in London, England, dates back at least to the 1600s. SDB churches have considerable local autonomy. Their first church in America was organized in 1671 in Newport, Rhode Island. Their magazine, The Sabbath Recorder, started in 1844 and is still being published. SDB�s are much like other Baptists doctrinally, but keep the Sabbath. There are independent SDB groups as well.
(2) Seventh-day Adventists number over 4.5 million (1986) with nearly a million members in North America. This is a 50% increase since the 1970s. They easily dwarf all other Sabbatarian groups in sheer size. Their hospitals, colleges and universities, publishing houses, literature, radio (Voice of Prophecy, H.M.S. Richards), and TV make them well-known. Their teaching on vegetarianism is well-known, but few know of their other teachings which differ from mainline Protestants (man is mortal, the dead sleep, immortality will be conferred upon the righteous at Christ�s second coming, the millennium in heaven).
(3) The Church of God numbers from 300,000-500,000. This broad classification includes those who trace their history back to Sabbath-keeping Adventists (not SDA�s) who did not go along with the visions of Ellen G. White. Seventh Day Churches of God have never been united in one organization comparable to that of SDA�s. Their history has been characterized by local autonomous groups, and splits into factions when groups did organize.
(a) Church of God (Seventh Day) is a subgroup of dozens of independent groups, the largest of which is headquartered in Denver, Colorado. This grouping is the subject of my books on Church history. The Denver group has about 6,000 North American members and 30,000 overseas. It publishes the Bible Advocate (began in 1863 as The Hope of Israel) and is organized into conferences of local churches similar to that of Adventists. Major distinguishing beliefs are: annual observance of the Lord�s Supper, abstinence from unclean meats, a Wednesday crucifixion, Sabbath resurrection of Christ (three days and three nights in the tomb), the millennium on the earth, the Holy Spirit not a Trinity but the mind and power of God, and nonobservance of Christmas and Easter. Some of the other headquarters of Church of God (Seventh Day) groups are Meridian, Idaho; Salem, West Virginia; Caldwell, Idaho; and Jerusalem, Israel. Tens of thousands of local Church of God believers in Africa (Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana primarily), India, the Philippines, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, are affiliated, but not solidly tied to any organization. Beliefs vary. Some keep the Biblical Holy Days, some do not, etc.
(b) The Worldwide Church of God and its offshoot groups is a large and well-known Sabbath-keeping body other than SDA�s. At one time, the parent organization had over 100,000 members, but in the mid 1990s, splits had reduced its membership by 60% or more. Founded by Herbert W. Armstrong in 1933-34, the WWC had a worldwide coverage due to its World Tomorrow television program, and large circulation The Plain Truth magazine. It had offices and churches in many countries, and is controlled centrally from Pasadena, California. Herbert Armstrong was ordained by the Church of God (Seventh-Day) and was ousted from them in 1937 over his doctrines of Anglo-Israelism and Biblical Holy Days (ideas which some in the Seventh Day Church of God had held long before him, and which many continued to hold who were never associated with him). The Worldwide Church of God�s classical distinctive teachings were: belief in the Holy Days described in the Old Testament, that the United States and the British Commonwealth are mainly the descendants of Israel, in the three tithes described in the Old Testament, non-observance of holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and abstinence from pork and shellfish. After Armstrong�s death in 1986, the Church had abandoned its "Anglo-Israel" teaching, accepted the Trinity doctrine, rejected the Biblical requirement to observe the Sabbath and Holy Days, and approved eating unclean meats. Its classical doctrines were continued by offshoots such as the United Church of God, Global Church of God, Living Church of God, and the Church of God, International.
Since its inception, numbers have left Armstrong�s organization, but until the late 1960s, the Worldwide Church was growing rapidly. There were major splits in the period of 1974-1978, climaxed by the ouster of Herbert Armstrong�s own son, Garner Ted Armstrong, who for years was the radio and TV voice of the World Tomorrow. Garner Ted leads the much smaller Intercontinental Church of God, after being himself ousted from his own Church of God, International, because of public revelation of his sexual improprieties. Many former Worldwide ministers broke away and started various smaller independent groups. In the mid-1990s, major doctrinal changes led to the formation of the United Church of God and the Global Church of God (later, the Living Church of God).
(4) Sacred Name Assemblies all told may number up to 50,000 worldwide. This classification of Sabbath-keeping groups is distinguished by their insistence that the Hebrew names for God (Yahweh or Yahvah, etc.) and Jesus Christ (Yahshua Messiah, etc.) must be used exclusively, rather than the English terms, which they label as "pagan." The term "assembly" rather than "church" is used. Most groups observe the Biblical Holy Days, but usually with a calendar other than the one used by most Jews. Otherwise, they have much similarity to their ancestors, the Church of God (Seventh-Day).
The largest Sacred Name group is the Assemblies of Yahweh, Bethel, Pennsylvania, headed by Jacob O. Meyer since the late 1960s. His Sacred Name Broadcast radio program and Sacred Name Broadcaster magazine have wide coverage. "Yahwists," as they call themselves (rather than "Christians") are even more prone to local independence and splits than the Church of God (Seventh-Day). In the early 1980s, Donald Mansager led a major defection from Meyer�s group and formed what later became known as Yahweh�s New Covenant Assembly headquartered in Missouri. They publish Light magazine. Many other Sacred Name groups have existed from the 1930s to the present. Historical leaders were C.O. Dodd (a former Seventh Day Church of God elder), and A.B. Traina, who wrote a Sacred Name Bible. See my short history of Sacred Name groups in Volume II of History of the Seventh-Day Church of God, available from Giving & Sharing.
(5) Pentecostal Sabbatarian Groups. "Pentecostal" is a term referring to fiery, charismatic preaching and sometimes to "speaking in tongues." Pentecostal-type churches exist in the Church of God and Sacred Name groups. Here covered specifically are groups unrelated to the above. Two well-known groups are:
(a) Church of God and Saints of Christ was founded in 1896 by a Negro cook on the Santa Fe Railroad, William S. Crowdy, who claimed to have visions from God. This group keeps the Biblical Holy Days and has a center in Cleveland, Ohio. Membership is said to be around 40,000.
(b) Church of God, Jerusalem Acres, is a Sabbath-keeping descendent of Pentecostalist A.J. Tomlinson�s work in the early 1900s. It has about 1,000 members in America and 6,000 overseas, with headquarters in Cleveland, Tennessee.
(6) Other Sabbath-keeping Groups. Like Heinz, there are more than 57 varieties of Sabbath-keeping groups. I can�t list all the groups here. The Directory of Sabbath-Observing Groups is updated every few years by the Bible Sabbath Association, a nondenominational association founded in 1945 to promote fellowship and co-operation between all Sabbath-keepers and the worldwide restoration of the seventh-day Sabbath. Its magazine, The Sabbath Sentinel, contains articles from Sabbath-keepers of many faiths. Its President is a former Seventh-day Adventist, its secretary-treasurer is from the Church of God (Seventh Day), and several of its presidents have been former members of the Worldwide Church of God.
Seventh-day Adventists should write the Bible Sabbath Association, 3316 Alberta Drive, Gillette, WY 82718, to obtain the Directory and the Sabbath Sentinel, and learn more about their Sabbath-keeping neighbors.
Seventh-day Adventists: there are many others out there who also keep the Sabbath!
Several years ago my wife was being "bothered" by various religious workers who appeared on our front door step. A bit peeved, she wanted to politely get them to leave. "We�re not interested," she said, "we are Sabbath-keepers!" This got rid of most, except the time when the evangelizers were Seventh-day Adventists! Here we were, Sabbath-keepers in the same community, and we didn�t even know each other! Can�t we know each other and respect each other�s differences? Or will we instead pull into our religious cocoon and be unaware of anyone outside our group?
It is sad but true, that often as I meet and talk with other Sabbatarians, that I know more of their history and doctrines than they do themselves. It must be that their church group is merely a social club, not the most important activity on earth. This article is not just for Seventh-day Adventists; it is for all Sabbath-keepers. Know what you believe, and why! Don�t be totally ignorant of your Sabbatarian cousins. Realize that we can all learn from each other. Yes, we are all different. But then there will come a time when we shall all see eye to eye! W
� written by Richard C. Nickels
This article was originally published as Study No. 63.