COURT HOUSE – The quest for freedom is universal, and most want to live happy, fulfilled lives. Living in the U.S. highlights the struggle for freedom, especially freedom of soul and conscience. Those examining the impact of the Seventh-day Adventist Church catch a glimpse of their dreams and cherished convictions.
America was a rough-and-tumble place, in the early 1800s, as the new nation charted its course into a new age of commerce, agriculture, and industry. Western expansion was on the rise, along with the belief that every person controlled their destiny. Bigger questions also rustled under the surface: Is faith dictated by tradition or a personal relationship with God?
Men and women began questioning traditions and rituals in the Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches throughout New England. Revivals sparked enthusiasm and a longing for a deeper, more intimate experience with God.
In 1830, William Miller, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, held Bible studies in his home for like-minded individuals. Miller, a War of 1812 veteran, was a Baptist who rediscovered his faith during the war. He wanted to understand the Bible and examine its teachings, focusing on prophecy in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation.
The movement spread, as families gathered for worship under Miller’s direction, leading to the term “Millerites.” They believed that Jesus Christ’s return to earth was both literal and imminent. Miller set the date for Christ’s return Oct. 22, 1844. When the day passed, it became known as “The Great Disappointment,” and many returned to their former churches.
Miller’s vision, however, continued spreading across the nation. Ellen White, of Maine, claimed to receive visions from God, confirming Miller’s teachings, and helped spearhead the movement, along with Rachel Oakes, a Methodist, from Vermont. Oakes believed Christians should keep the Sabbath, as taught in the Old Testament.
Eventually, leaders in the movement formed the Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists, in 1863, and formally organized. America was torn apart by the Civil War, and Adventists preached unity and love for all humankind.
They stood against slavery and bigotry, and, according to Adventist’s history, “to share how a deeper understanding of Scripture not only prepares us for eternity with Christ, but for living more abundant lives in the here and now.”
“We trace our roots back to the Garden of Eden,” said Pastor John Pifer, during a phone interview Sept. 3. Pifer pastors the Cape May Court House Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Parkway South Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Marmora, and another congregation near Salem (Salem County).
Parkway South Seventh-day Adventist Church was a missionary endeavor enacted by members of the Court House congregation, said Pifer.
Pifer’s family roots run deep, in Cape May County, as his great-grandparents were part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, in 1905. The Court House church began at the turn of the 20th century, according to Pifer. He and his family live near Salem and celebrate over 30 years of ministry, in South Jersey.
According to church statistics, Seventh-day Adventists are 18 million strong across the world, with one million in North America.
Besides keeping the Sabbath and expecting Christ’s imminent return, Adventists also follow a plant-based diet. Pifer said the Bible provides the “perfect” diet, consisting of whole grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables, as Adam and Eve would have enjoyed. Some “clean meats,” such as fish, are also eaten.
Living a healthy life is important, and Adventists helped found and staff hospitals across the nation. Pifer told the Herald that Adventists founded sanitariums for patients suffering from Tuberculosis. Fresh air, sunshine, and wholesome food aided many to recovery, according to Pifer.
Since the 1940s, Adventists still maintain medical schools, notably Loma Linda University Medical Center, in California.
“We believe in serving our country,” Pifer said, “and in serving humanity. We are all one in Christ.” Seventh-day Adventist churches reflect diversity in their congregations and with Spanish-speaking ministries.
Pifer added that members recently stood with protestors against police brutality, while also standing with police officers. Although against brutality and racism, Adventists are for law and order.
“We submit to the law,” Pifer said. Seventh-day Adventist Church members continue to promote peace and unity, as they did during the Civil War and the civil rights movement.
As COVID-19 continues to impact lives and worship services, Pifer is confident that the church will continue to grow and carry out its mission.
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.