Advent Christian Church

By Denis Fortin

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Denis Fortin is professor of historical theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Since joining the seminary faculty in 1994, he has served in several administrative roles, including dean (2006-2013). Among the most recent of his many publications on Adventist history and theology are One in Christ: Biblical Concepts for a Doctrine of Church Unity (Pacific Press, 2018) and the annotated 125th anniversary edition of the Ellen G. White classic, Steps to Christ (Andrews University Press, 2017).

First Published: February 15, 2023

Advent Christian Church was a group of former Millerite believers who organized themselves as the Advent Christian Association in 1860.1

Post-Disappointment Developments

The history of the Advent Christian Church parallels that of other groups of former Millerite believers, particularly the Evangelical Adventists. For about ten years after the end of the Millerite Second Advent movement, Sunday-keeping Adventists basically formed one large group of believers. Following the Albany Conference at the beginning of May 1845, Millerite leaders struggled against public opinion and ridicule to rebuild confidence in their premillennialist understanding of Bible prophecies. Most of the Millerites who remained faithful Adventists after the last disappointment of October 22, 1844, concluded that they had made a mistake in their calculations of the prophecies of Daniel. Although Jesus had not returned as anticipated, they still expected his return in the very near future.

After the Albany conference, three factors in the late 1840s and 1850s ultimately led to the organization of Adventist denominations: trusted leaders who encouraged the organization of local congregations, the influence of Adventist periodicals, and the formation of associations of pastors and churches. Of these three factors, the Adventist periodicals played the most important role in shaping the future of Adventism and in institutionalizing these denominations. Four Adventist denominations originated during that period: Evangelical Adventists (1858), Advent Christians (1860), Life and Advent Union (1863), and Seventh-day Adventists (1863).

The Formative Role of Adventist Periodicals

The greatest and most consistent influence among former Millerite believers came from Adventist journals. Since 1840, Joshua V. Himes published The Signs of the Times, renamed the Advent Herald in February 1844. Already, during the Millerite movement, this periodical provided dependable support for scattered believers all over the northeastern part of the continent. Since the organizational structures of any Adventist denomination were not yet established, and since the number of pastors to visit and oversee all the Adventist congregations was still insufficient, the Advent Herald became an essential instrument to consolidate the faith of thousands of believers and to propagate their beliefs to new followers.

Schisms and Organization

For many years, former Millerite Adventists focused on the imminent return of Christ, but not everything went smoothly among them. Doctrinal differences and personality conflicts continually plagued them. Clyde Hewitt commented that, “as the decade of the [eighteen] fifties opened perhaps only the shrewdest of Adventists could have foreseen the separate organizational outcome of these doctrinal and personal differences.”2 By the late 1850s, the main body of Sunday-keeping Adventists in North America split into distinct denominations after years of polemics over the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.

Out of this division came the Evangelical Adventists who continued to publish the Advent Herald under the leadership of Joshua Himes. These Adventists formed the American Evangelical Advent Conference in 1858 and affirmed the immortality of the soul after death and the eternal punishment of the wicked. They also argued that they were the most faithful followers of William Miller’s original message.

The second group was officially formed in 1860 and took the name of Advent Christians. The Advent Christians believed in the conditional immortality of human beings, holding that immortality is granted at the resurrection only to those who are saved in Christ and that sleep is the intermediate state between death and the resurrection. Those who held this belief had published their own journal since 1854, The World’s Crisis and Second Advent Messenger.

Hewitt believed that the split between these early Adventists was precipitated by their respective periodicals. Repeated efforts at reconciliation and cooperation were made almost up to the time when Evangelical Adventists formed their organization in 1858. Hewitt comments that these “publications allowed strong individuals to express themselves to thousands of readers.” They readily emphasized doctrinal differences in “intemperate editorials” which “exacerbated personal and group rivalries” and it was “around these periodicals that the emerging denominations coalesced.” This phenomenon was replicated in all early Adventist denominations, including Seventh-day Adventists.3

It was the editor of The World’s Crisis, Miles Grant, who was a determining influence in the formation of the Advent Christian group. From the beginning of his association with the journal, Grant became known as someone who “not only held clear and pronounced convictions, but he held them, and they held him, with a strength and intensity rarely experienced.”4 In other words, he earned a reputation as “a champion debater on religious questions.”5 His aggressive leadership style ultimately would sideline Joshua V. Himes who subsequently became part of the Western Advent Christian Association located in Buchanan, Michigan.6

While Seventh-day Adventists often referred positively to Grant’s publications on the non-immortality of the soul and his endorsement of health reform, Grant’s opposition to Sabbath observance caused a lot of friction and sometimes heated public debates with Seventh-day Adventist pastors.7 He was also strongly opposed to Ellen White’s ministry.8 Much rivalry between Advent Christians and Seventh-day Adventists came from the fact that preachers of these two Adventist denominations seemed to be purposefully shadowing each other and seeking to steal one another’s converts.9 Such rivalry came to a head after James and Ellen White met Miles Grant on a train. Their conversation resulted in the Whites attending the Springfield Advent Christian Camp Meeting in 1869. When James White handed out some literature solicited from him, he was asked to leave the premises. Ellen White also had spoken in front of a group of people, which resulted in an angry response from Grant. This accentuated tensions, and Grant remained a lifelong and bitter opponent of the Whites and Seventh-day Adventism.10

In 1860, the Advent Christian Association adopted a congregationalist system of church governance, like the Baptists, which respected the autonomy and independence of local churches. The Advent Christian General Conference organized fifteen years later. For many years it operated a camp meeting in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, and it was replaced later by one in Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1893 it founded Aurora College (now Aurora University) in Aurora, Illinois, where William Miller’s correspondence and other early Advent Christian documents are archived.

According to historian Albert Johnson, Advent Christians adhered to eight principal points of doctrine: (1) the fundamental appeal to Scripture, (2) the imminent second coming of Christ, (3) the denial of the universal conversion of humanity followed by a temporal millennium on earth, (4) the rejection of the restoration of a literal Jewish state in Palestine as a sign preceding Christ’s second coming, (5) the saints living and departed will receive together their eternal rewards at the second coming of Christ, (6) the kingdom of God will be established on earth at the second coming of Christ, (7) the intermediate state between death and the resurrection is an unconscious sleep until the resurrection, and (8) the Christian church is now living in the last days as indicated by the signs of the times.11

Another smaller group of Adventists, the Life and Advent Union, also arose at about the same time as Advent Christians. With Advent Christians, this group believed in conditional immortality, but in contrast argued that sinners would never be resurrected at the end of time to face the final judgment. Among the dead, only those who believed in Christ would be resurrected, no one else. Led at the beginning by George Storrs, this group also published its own paper, the Herald of Life and of the Coming Kingdom. But being opposed to any form of centralized organization, they struggled to remain united between themselves. In 1890, they numbered about 1000 believers in twenty-eight congregations. By 1957, there were only three congregations left. The remnant of this group merged with the Advent Christian Church in 1964.12

Today, the Advent Christian Church numbers about 25,000 members in the United States. Its General Conference headquarter is in Charlotte, North Carolina.13

Sources

Advent Christian General Conference: www.acgc.us.

Delafield, D. A. Ellen G. White in Europe. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1975.

Fortin, Denis. “Grant, Miles (1819–1911).” In The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, edited by Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2013.

Hewitt, Clyde E. Midnight and Morning. Charlotte, NC: Venture Books, 1983.

Johnson, Albert C. Advent Christian History. Mendota, Ill.: Western Advent Christian Publishing Society, 1918.

Piper, F. L. Life and Labors of Miles Grant. Boston: Advent Christian Publication Society, 1915.

Wellcome, Isaac C. History of the Second Advent Message and Mission, Doctrine and People. Yarmouth, ME: I. C. Wellcome, 1874.

White, Arthur L. Ellen G. White: The Lonely Years, 1876-1891, vol. 3. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1984. 

Notes

  1. Seventh-day Adventists have traditionally called these former Millerite Adventists, First-day Adventists. Although they worshipped on Sunday, this is an inaccurate denominational name.

  2. Clyde E. Hewitt, Midnight and Morning: An account of the Adventist Awakening and the Founding of the Advent Christian Denomination, 1831-1860 (Charlotte, NC: Venture Books, 1983), 230-31.

  3. Hewitt, Midnight and Morning, 231.

  4. F. L. Piper, Life and Labors of Miles Grant (Boston: Advent Christian Publication Society, 1915), 48.

  5. Piper, Life and Labors of Miles Grant, v.

  6. For a longer discussion of the relationship between Joshua V. Himes and Miles Grant, see Douglas Morgan, “Himes, Joshua Vaughan (1805-1895),” in the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, September 13, 2020, accessed February 15, 2023, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=49HD&highlight=Joshua|himes.

  7. “Books Received,” ARH, August 21, 1866, 96.

  8. For example, A. S. Hutchins, “Discussion in Melbourne,” ARH, November 13, 1860, 205-206; J. N. Loughborough, “Discussion at Manchester, N. H.,” ARH, March 1, 1864 (the account of this debate covered three entire pages of this issue); “The Work at Large,” The Present Truth, September 24, 1881, 317-318; Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Lonely Years, 1876-1891, vol. 3 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1984), 335.

  9. J. N. Loughborough, “California,” ARH, March 5, 1872, 94.

  10. [James White], “Springfield Camp-meeting,” ARH Extra, April 14, 1874, 2. For a longer discussion of the relationship between Miles Grant and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, see Denis Fortin, “Grant, Miles (1819-1911),” in the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, September 7, 2020, accessed February 15, 2023, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=C9DI&highlight=Miles|Grant.

  11. Albert C. Johnson, Advent Christian History (Mendota, Ill.: Western Advent Christian Publishing Society, 1918), 139-206.

  12. Hewitt, Midnight and Morning, 264-69.

  13. The Association of Religion Date Archives: www.thearda.com/us-religion/group-profiles/groups?D=7.

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Fortin, Denis. "Advent Christian Church." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. February 15, 2023. Accessed April 18, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=H8SW.

Fortin, Denis. "Advent Christian Church." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. February 15, 2023. Date of access April 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=H8SW.

Fortin, Denis (2023, February 15). Advent Christian Church. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved April 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=H8SW.