The Seventh-day Adventist Church and The Great Appointment 1844-2004
I find myself thinking about this editorial as I return from our Church’s 2004 Annual Council. Attending were world leaders representing the organized Seventh-day Adventist work in 204 of the 230 countries of the world.
It may be fruitful to contrast the Adventist Church today with the disenfranchised, disoriented, disorganized, and disappointed Advent believers who faced the bleak cold New England winter of 1844—160 years ago. Of these 50,000 Adventist believers, only 50 remained as the nucleus that would eventually become the Seventh-day Adventist Church we know and love. Only through the eyes of a visionary teenage girl could that small “Remnant” even partially fathom how God would use them in the future.
When Ellen White predicted that the humble leaflet they were soon to produce would be distributed around the world, they could not have imagined the size and impact of the Pacific Press Publishing Association as we know it today. (See page six.) Incidentally, that first tract was printed on credit and paid for by contributions only three months after it was mailed out—a step of faith we might consider presumptuous today.
Thirty years later, J. N. Andrews, whose wife had just passed away, sailed with his teenage son and daughter for Switzerland. Foreign missions work had thus begun. Now more than nine out of every ten Adventists live outside of North America. When my parents were born, there were 185,450 church members. By the time I was born, there were 598,683 Adventist members. As of the third quarter of this year, there were 13,666,497 Adventists around the world, with a weekly church attendance of more than 25 million.
When you go to bed tonight, 2,715 people will have been baptized since you went to bed last night. It’s an incredible fact that on the average two new members are baptized every minute. And to give them a spiritual home, eight new churches are planted every day.
Sometimes members will cynically say that people are being born faster than we can baptize them. This may be true, and we know we will never baptize everyone. We aren’t supposed to. But we are to tell everyone the good news of salvation. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit to help the honest in heart respond, and indeed, they are doing just that.
Notice how the ratios have changed since the Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized. At that time, there was only one Adventist for every 367,143 people living in the world:
1880 1: 92,871
1900 1: 24,342
1950 1: 3,322
1990 1: 794
1994 1: 669
2004 1: 468
Ron Watts, the Southern Asia Division president, has told me that in India, the Church baptized 100 people each year. However, Ron recently mentioned that seven years ago his division had a membership of 250,000. Today the membership is more than 800,000, or an average of 78,751 baptisms per year. Yes, as we look back at our inauspicious beginnings, we can see that God has blessed this Church, its organization, and its people phenomenally.
As we end this year, I want to personally thank you for what you have done for the Lord and His Church. The growth I have described here does not happen without sacrifice, commitment, and faith. (See page 10.) Thank you for the time, money, and energy you have unselfishly shared. May God richly bless you, and may you have a happy holiday season and wonderful New Year. And whatever challenges, disappointments, suffering, or loss you may experience, face it knowing that His coming is much closer than it was when we first believed.
Yes, in reality, The Great Disappointment points us to The Great Appointment. And I believe that appointment is very soon.