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The Seventh-day Adventist Church: 160 years later

A review of the church’s growth during the past 160 years in music, medicine, education, and more.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church officially began on May 21, 1863. John Byington (1798–1897), James White (1821–1881), and John N. Andrews (1829–1883) were the first presidents of the General Conference. Also in 1863, the Red Cross and the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States came into existence. Thus, in 2023, the denomination is not alone in celebrating 160 years since its founding.

Adventists resisted establishing doctrines and a church organization, having gone through the dramatic experience of disassociation from their original churches. The abolitionist debate and compulsory military service accelerated the process of officializing Seventh-day Adventism in the face of the pressure for an official position on non-combatants. The United States of America was emerging as an influential nation and demanded the organization of its citizens.

Since its officialization, Adventism has expanded its influence and today, is present in 212 of the 235 countries recognized by the United Nations (UN). In 1863, there were 125 congregations and 3,500 members. Today, there are 21.9 million Adventists in the world. It is estimated that there is one Adventist for every 355 inhabitants in the world. Of the 500,000 Millerites who faced the Great Disappointment of 1844, only 3,500 Adventists remained and accepted, among other doctrinal emphases, the doctrine of the sanctuary.

They launched the first issue of the English-language Adventist Review, known as the Second Advent Review, and Sabbath Herald, in November 1850, in Paris, Maine. That periodical already hinted at the future name of the group that, six years earlier, awaited the return of Jesus. In the title, there were two striking words: “Advent” and “Sabbath,” elements of contemporary denominational identity. The newspaper had 46 references to “Christ”; “God,” 48; “Jesus,” 25; “Advent,” 26; and “Adventist,” once, as quoted by Joseph Bates (1792–1872) thirteen years before 1863.

By the beginning of the 20th century, they were already known as one of the most active mission agencies among Protestants. However, there was no shortage of challenges to the growth of the Adventist Church in the United States and around the world. From 1851 to 1940, Adventists presented their message orally or in writing in 824 languages in 412 countries and islands. Between 1901 and 1960, they sent 9,150 missionaries. Member generosity and missionary volunteerism made Adventists a benchmark for giving in 1980 in the United States.


A great Adventist cultural legacy for contemporary society came through its members. And music was one of those expressions. An example of that is the best-known contemporary exponent of instrumental classical music, 95-year-old Adventist maestro Herbert Blomsteadt. He began as a conductor in 1954 and led the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, Germany, having passed through the orchestras of San Francisco, California, and Hamburg Radio in Germany, among many others. He still has an active concert schedule in 2023 and is a record holder in recording the great classics.

Vocal music is another cultural trademark. The group Take 6, for example, was formed at Oakwood Adventist University and has been awarded several Grammys, the highest recognition in the field of music in the United States. There is also the Heritage Singers, who have already toured the world carrying messages inspired by the Bible. The King's Herald and Arautos do Rei were highlighted in the North American and South American, respectively, Christian music world, being a reference in evangelical music. Also among the best-known solo singers in the United States is Pastor Wintley Phipps, who performed before six American presidents.

Many hymns were prepared by Adventists, including “We Have This Hope,” composed in 1962 by Wayne H. Hooper (1920–2007), who was inspired by the four notes of the final theme of the Fourth Symphony No. 1 of Johannes Brahms (1833–1897), in C Minor, in the opening notes. Also in 1962, a teacher at the then Instituto Adventista de Ensino (IAE), Pastor Flávio A. Garcia (1929–2019), translated “Oh, What a Hope,” and the hymn was disseminated on the occasion of the centenary of the organized Adventist Church in 1963. From 1975, Pastor Garcia established a long partnership with the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra (OSESP) in Brazil.


A relevant contribution of the Adventist Church is the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. The Kellogg brothers became world-renowned for this. One of them, John H. Kellogg (1852–1943), founded the Battle Creek Sanitarium, which marked the beginning of the largest Protestant network of hospitals, clinics, and centers for healthy living in the world, and institutions such as Florida Hospital and Loma Linda Medical Center stood out. This year, in Brazil, Newsweek magazine ranked the Adventist Hospital of Manaus, for the third time, as one of the best hospitals in the country: 24th among 113 national institutions. The research also featured the top 300 hospitals for cardiology and 250 for oncology, citing Sydney Adventist Hospital, listed in both categories.

John's brother, Will Keith (1860–1951), founded Kellogg's, the world's largest morning food company, and that duo revolutionized breakfast in the U.S. and the world. In that direction, Adventists created industrial departments in their pioneering elections to generate financial resources for young students, and many of these initiatives gave rise to whole food industries such as Sanitarium in Australia, Granix in Argentina, and Superbom in Brazil.

The Adventist Church was impacted by the prophetic ministry of Ellen White (1827–1915), a leading figure in the early development of Adventism who progressively encouraged members to adopt a vegetarian diet and exercise regularly. In recent decades, one of the most striking records in the international media and medical-scientific publications has highlighted the longevity of vegetarian Adventists in Loma Linda, California. Since the 1940s, nutrition studies have been conducted in the public health sphere by Adventist physician John A. Scharffenberger, who will soon turn 100 years old and is living proof of what he preached. Another researcher, Dr. Gary Fraser, went beyond the Adventist advantage of about six more years of life, recording the correlation between nutrition, quality of life, and lower risk of cancer.

The pioneers of the Adventist Church, including Joseph Bates and James and Ellen White, promoted abstinence from substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs. In 1848, Ellen began to warn about the evil effects of smoking. Adventists led worldwide anti-smoking initiatives, developing the Five-day Plan to Stop Smoking, which was introduced in 1962 in South American countries as the main Adventist action against smoking, which had as a reference the project created by physicians J. Wayne McFarland (1913–2011) and J. Elman Folkenberg (1920–1986) in the United States.

With the emphasis on nutrition and longevity, the American journalist Dan Bluettner, a member of the National Geographic Society and writer for The New York Times, launched in 2008 the book Blue Zones and seven other bestsellers, revealing the healthy habits promoting longevity in various parts of the world, including the Californian Adventists who embraced the Christian life balanced with the eight natural remedies introduced by Ellen White, essential factors for the promotion of health: pure air, sunlight, abstinence, rest, exercise, balanced diet, use of water, and trust in God.

Central to Adventist identity is Sabbath observance, a distinctively Adventist belief, which is undoubtedly a spiritual, physical, and mental blessing for families. It also influenced the extension of workday reduction legislation and contributed as a means of individual reduction and an additional factor in environmental protection and local and global sustainability.


The Adventist Church also contributed to the culture of education. In 1872, it established the Battle Creek Elementary School, which began the world's largest Christian educational network, present in 165 countries and celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2022. The Adventists maintained 9,589 schools that year, 118 of which were higher education institutions, with 2,640,761 students. Over the years, the educational work grew; the philosophy became broader and broader, and many other schools were planted, forming the Adventist Education Network.

The Adventist Church also contributed to the culture of solidarity and social responsibility. The largest Adventist humanitarian agency, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), started in 1956 as Seventh-day Adventist Welfare Service (SAWS), is active in more than 100 countries and was ranked in 2001 by MinistryWatch among the 13 most influential of 400 international organizations in the field.


In politics, several Seventh-day Adventists around the world stood out in defending religious freedom and promoting health and education in their countries, including Sanson Kisekka (1912–1999), prime minister of Uganda, and Ben Carson, an African-American neurosurgeon who became known in the separation of Siamese twins and inspired children and young people with books and the Dream Big project. He participated in the American presidential race in 2016 and was Secretary of Habitat and Urban Development of the United States, with a budget of more than US$30 billion.

Other current standouts include Gordon Lilo, prime minister of the Solomon Islands (2011–2014); Henry Puna, prime minister of the Cook Islands (2010–2020); Jioji Konrote, president of Fiji (2015–2021); Patrick Allen, governor general of Jamaica, since 2009; Andres Holness, prime minister of Jamaica (2011–2012, 2016–present); and Hakainde Hichilema, president of Zambia since 2021.

In South America, the mission of Pastor Leo B. Halliwell (1891–1976) and Jessie R. Halliwell (1894–1962), who acted in several states of Brazil, stood out in the care of 250,000 patients in the Lucero boats on the Amazon River. Both were recognized in 1958 by the government of Juscelino K. de Oliveira (1902–1976) with the highest decoration of the Brazilian government: the medal of the Order of the Cruzeiro do Sul.


The Adventist Church was also impacted by members who promoted actions of solidarity, social justice, and human rights. Sojourner Truth (c. 1797–1883) was an African-American abolitionist and women's rights activist; Irene Morgan (1917–2007), African-American Adventist activist; John H. Weidner (1912–1994), a Dutch native who, during World War II, created the Dutch-Paris line, an underground organization that saved about 800 Jews and 100 allied pilots; Desmond T. Doss (1919–2006), at the end of that same war, in 1945, on the island of Okinawa, Japan, saved 75 infantrymen and was the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor from the hands of the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman (1884–1972). His heroism was transformed into the 2016 movie Hacksaw Ridge, a biographical drama directed by Mel Gibson.


The literary legacy of Adventists is another outstanding global feature in the world's religious culture. Its 57 current publishers printed millions of books, magazines, and pamphlets in 276 languages in 2022, covering a wide range of topics from spirituality and theology to health and education. Ellen White wrote dozens of books.

Steps to Chist, written in 1892 in Battle Creek, Michigan, USA, is available in at least 160 languages, with hundreds of millions of copies in print. In addition, it is planned to reach a distribution of 150 million copies of The Great Controversy by 2024, a book launched in 1888 and published in 74 languages.

Dr. William F. Albright (1891–1971), of great renown in biblical archaeology, cited White in 1957 as one of the five whom he considered to be authentic prophets in the last 250 years. In a 1983 research project conducted by Roger W. Coon (1928–2011) on the most translated authors in the Library of Congress of the United States, the co-founder of the Adventist Church was in fourth place, with books translated in 116 languages. Smithsonian magazine listed White among the 100 most prominent American personalities in the United States in 2014.


Adventists followed the example of Jesus, whose life was marked by teaching, preaching, and healing, as revealed in Matthew 4:23. And that became the mark of worldwide Adventism to enlighten nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues in a relevant, unique way with the good news.

A beginning marked by a gesture of faith and trust in 1863 created an organization focused on the urgency of preaching locally and abroad. Pastor Arnaldo B. Christianini (1915–1984), in the lyrics of a hymn, synthesized well the beginning of the Adventist movement and the meaning of its existence:

We Are a Very Happy Little Town!

Christ is our Savior

and very soon he will return.

We are a very happy little people.

There are signs of Jesus' return,

for there are wars, there is fear and anxiety;

pestilence and famine everywhere,

and wickedness is on the increase;

Christ will soon bring us deliverance.

The day of the Lord is not far off,

our hearts are beating with excitement.

Soon we shall look up

our eyes to see

Jesus coming in glory and majesty.

Men and women with calloused knees, tears, and sweat, in their youth, built churches, schools, hospitals, publishing houses, food factories, headquarters, bookstores, radio stations, universities, humanitarian agencies, TV studios, and internet platforms, all integrated in the perspective of mission: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:15, 16, KJV).

The denominational gallery, equivalent to Hebrews 11:32, could also be H. M. S. Richards, Kata Ragoso, E. E. Cleveland, Siegfried H. Horn, Del Delker, William A. Fagal, George Vandeman, F.H. Westphal, Augustus B. Stauffer, Wilhelm Belz, Wilhelm Frederick Kumpel, Oswaldo M. Chagas, John Lipke, John H. Boehm, F. W. Spies, Abraham C. Harder, Luiz Calebe Rodrigues, Manuel de Melo, Domingos S. Costa, Thereza Philonilla S. Assumpção, Isolina A. Waldvogel, Siegfried J. Schwantes, Yolanda A. Silva, Orlando R. Ritter, Iraci C. Cunha, Hermínio Sarli, Geraldo Marski, Floyd L. Greenleaf, Pathfinders, Adventurers, Calebs, DREAMBig Dreamers, teachers, Bible workers, district pastors, receptionists, nurses, motorcyclists, cooks, drivers, deacons, elders, mothers, psychologists, engineers, retirees, musicians, Angels of Hope, among unknown and anonymous, famous and humble—Christians committed to the mission who proclaim with their actions, "Maranatha, come Lord Jesus" (see 1 Corinthians 16:22).

Elder Hosokawa has a Master's degree in Social History from the University of São Paulo (USP) and is coordinator of the History degree program at the Centro Universitário Adventista de São Paulo (UNASP), Engenheiro Coelho campus.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church: 160 years later ADVENT7