Monday, March 30, 2009

To Acquire a Following

I was watching "House" on TV the other night. He had a conversation with a patient that went like this:

House: "In 1844 a preacher in upstate NY added up some dates in the Bible & predicted Jesus' return. His followers gave away all their possessions & showed up in a field.
Guess who didn't show?
So the preacher said that he miscalculated & they went right back the next month, but with more followers.
Every time he was irrefutably proved wrong, it redoubled everyone's belief."

A few days later...

Patient: "I looked up the preacher from NY State. His followers never faded out! They became the Seventh Day Adventists! A major religion! That man changed the course of history!"

House: "Because his followers were as deluded as he was."

Patient: "Maybe he just gave them something to live for."
Here is an excerpt from The New York Times:


By Peter Steinfels
Published: Saturday, March 6, 1993

Seventh-day Adventism itself was born of speculation about the last days. In the 1840's, followers of a Baptist preacher, William Miller, announced that Jesus would return to earth on Oct. 22, 1844. What followed was known as "The Great Disappointment," and only the visions and writings of Ellen G. White, the chief founder of Seventh-day Adventism, forged a new church from the dispersed followers.

And an excerpt from: [Bold and underline mine. Do any of them sound at all familar?]

 Saints, Sinners and Reformers

The Burned-Over District Re-Visited

John H. Martin

Chapter 8
William Miller
The End of Time and the Adventist Sects

There is nothing like certainty in predicting the future to help religious sects to grow and to attain additional adherents. So it was with the date of October 22, 1844, the time when the Millennium would occur, when Jesus would return, and the thousand year reign of the saved would begin. In the 1840s a wave of anticipation brought many believers to millennial expectations, both within American churches as well as in the growing number of revivals where the preaching about the end of time was taking place. It was, therefore, a great disappointment when October 23rd rolled around and time was still present. Hope does spring eternal, however, and the Millennial excitement which occurred in the period before 1843 has seldom abated, and in these later times the electronic information revolution provides the expectant with more than one hundred popular millennial sites which can be found on the Internet.

William Grandison Finney, and the many other revivalists who excited believers in the first half of the nineteenth century, in part provided the seed ground for those who looked forward to the End of Time. A belief in the return of Jesus as the Messiah had been strongest in the early Church in the decades after the death of Jesus, but it was to fade thereafter as the centuries rolled on. It was the growth of pietistic groups in Europe after the Reformation and then the great revivals in the nineteenth century in America which was to bring about a resurgence in Millennial hopes. These revivals which occurred in the first third of the nineteenth century in America placed the emphasis on the Bible rather than on the traditional Christian theology which had accrued in the centuries after the death of Jesus. Many of the popular preachers of the time were ignorant of this Christian tradition since they were untrained, often poorly educated, and knew only the Bible as the basis for their faith.

In one sense, these revivalists were creating a new Reformation since they were attempting to go back solely to the Bible, to the earliest recorded form of Christianity, a step which neither Calvin nor Luther had fully undertaken. The primitive approach to Christianity of these revivalists encouraged a literal acceptance of the words of the Bible as inherently correct in every detail. It also could lead to a gullibility and a readiness to accept anything new in religious experience which came down the pike. The "New Methods" in religion which Charles Grandison Finney had encouraged were a form of religious innovation which was based on the emotional revivalism which did not encourage a depth of religious thought. It was stressing the "New Man in Christ," a reformed individual who was freed from sin—and freed from any theological moorings.

Revivalist Christianity freed one to interpret the Bible as one saw fit, and thus those who read the Bible often concentrated on the sections of scripture which seemed to forecast the future, particularly the Book of Revelations and The Book of Daniel. As a result, one of the basic elements in revivalist preaching dealt particularly with the anticipated Second Coming of Jesus and the Millennium. There arose among some literalistic Christians a need to pinpoint just when the Millennium would arrive and as to what form it would take. These individuals who were eagerly anticipating the End of Time fell into one of two camps: they were either Pre- or Post-Millennial believers.

1. The Pre-Millennialists believed that Christ, the Messiah, would return before long to begin his one thousand year reign. He would come when conditions in the world had become sufficiently hopeless. These believers were, if you will, pessimists who saw the world becoming more and more sinful. They praised the Lord since the world was getting worse, and it was essential that Christ return to make all things whole once more. Among these were the followers of William Miller who would, after the 1840s, eventually develop the Seventh Day and other Adventist churches.

2. The other group, the Post Millennialists, saw the coming of the Messiah when the world was made ready for his return. These were the activists and optimists who wished to help make the world a better place so the Messiah could return. These included the Shakers, Jemima Wilkinson, and the Oneida Community.

Two things brought the Pre-Millennial excitement to a white heat in the late 1830s and into the 1840s. First, there was widespread economic distress after the 1837 economic panic in the United States, and this seemed to indicate that the world was growing more hopeless. Millennialism has always flourished in difficult times, and the Millennial hope had always surfaced on those occasions in the history of Christianity when the outlook for life was most bleak.

Secondly, there was the preaching and teaching of William Miller, a man who had little formal education but who had a fixation on the coming "End of Time." Concern for "The Last Days" thus excited the hopes and fears of many believers. Many who heard William Miller preaching that the Millennium was at hand became convinced that the coming end of the world was imminent.
The followers of Miller were quite dramatic in their beliefs, for they foresaw the literal appearance of the Christ, the actual ascent of the saints into Heaven, and the actual descent of the wicked into Hell—and this in their own lifetime.

What was the background of William Miller, this American apostle of the End of Time? Miller was born in 1782 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the eldest of sixteen children. He was not too educated an individual, although he was an omnivorous reader, nor did he hold a position of any note in the society of his day. In 1813, when he was thirty-one, Miller was swept up in a Vermont revival, and he became worried over the state of his eternal soul. He was convinced, from the revival preaching that he attended, that he was a sinner and that he was faced with the possibility of eternal damnation. Thus he began to go to church and to study the Bible assiduously, growing ever more despondent over his future fate.

Finally he had a conversion experience, and he joined a Calvinistic Baptist church where he developed a sincere and lasting piety. Miller came to believe that scripture should be accepted entirely and literally. Every word in the Bible was true, every Biblical prophecy would be fulfilled. That there were contradictory statements in the Bible might bother some individuals, but not Miller. He spent fourteen years reconciling all the contradictions he found in the Bible, thereby proving to his satisfaction that the Bible was pure revelation.

Miller next began to figure the date of the second coming of the Messiah by using The Book of Daniel and The Book of Revelation, particularly the twentieth chapter of Revelation. His calculations led him to a date around 1843 for the Second Coming. He spent the years from 1822 to 1832 re-figuring his calculations, ever more convinced of their validity. He was, however, shy and fearful of speaking out since, after all, he was a man of little education. Then in 1832 there occurred an event which changed his life: he was asked by a church to fill in for an absent preacher, and his vision of the future simply overflowed in his speaking.

In the pulpit he became eloquent in describing the joys of the saved as opposed to the suffering of the wicked. He so thrilled the congregation on this 1832 occasion that he was asked to stay on to lead a week's revival—and thirteen families were converted under his preaching. Requests poured in for him to speak at other churches, and in 1833 he became a Baptist preacher and a revivalist. Piety alone, and not knowledge, were sufficient for ordination in some American churches. Now, as a minister, he could speak concerning his ideas of the Second Coming of Jesus. His fame spread, and he was much in demand in Vermont, New Hampshire, and upstate New York.

The Reverend Joshua V. Himes, the pastor of the Chardon Street Baptist Chapel of Boston, happened to hear Miller preach at a religious conference. Himes immediately accepted Miller's millennial ideas and became Miller's publicity agent, manager, and promoter. Himes happened to be a religious entrepreneur par excellence, and he invited Miller to speak at his Chardon Street Chapel in December of 1839. The Chardon Street Chapel is remembered today primarily because of a comment Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote after a November 1840 meeting there when the Chapel housed a "Convention of Friends of Universal Reform." Emerson described it in these words:

If the assembly were disorderly, it was picturesque. Mad Men, Mad Women, Men with beards, Dunkers, Muggletonians, Come-outers, Groaners, Agrarians, Seventh Day Baptists, Quakers, Abolitionists, Calvinists, Unitarians, and Philosophers, all came successively to the top and seized their moment, if not their hour, wherein to chide, pray, or preach, or protest.

With functions such as this in his Chapel, it is understandable why Himes loved crowds, revivals, camp meetings, particularly the exhibition of fear and repentance which were the trappings of emotional religion.

Himes not only arranged Miller's revivals for him, but he edited journals which promulgated Miller's ideas such as the Boston Sign of the Times, the New York Midnight Cry, the primary papers of the Millennial movement. In 1836, sixteen of Miller's lectures appeared in book form as
EVIDENCES FROM SCRIPTURES AND HISTORY OF THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST ABOUT THE YEAR 1843. As with the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith, Miller's writings needed editing by a more literate individual, a service which Himes provided for William Miller.

By 1842 at least fourteen itinerant lecturers, urged on by Himes, were swarming over the Burned-Over area of New York State promulgating Miller's ideas. Then, as a confirmation of Miller's predictions, from February 18th until April 1, 1842, a brilliant comet burned nightly on the horizon of the sky. It ,fulfilled the prophecy that the Lord would be "Revealed in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not the Lord." Miller grew even more inspired as 1843 neared, lecturing more than three hundred times in six months on the theme:
"ARE YOU READY TO MEET YOUR SAVIOUR?" In the summers of 1842 and 1843 there were one hundred and twenty camp meetings whose preaching centered on the coming Millennium.

Miller was not a ranting revivalist, for his sermons were given in a serious and convincing tone. Thousands had to be turned away from his tent rallies as interest in his preaching and predictions surged during what was evidently the last year of earthly existence. In 1843 as Time neared an end, Himes moved their headquarters to Rochester, New York, to be in the heart of the Burned-Over District. On June 23rd of that year Himes had a great tent erected in Rochester, one which could hold three thousand potential converts to Millennialism. Two weeks of meetings, prayers, preaching, and forecast of the coming Millennium proceeded.

Not everyone believed as Miller and his followers did, and books and pamphlets both for and against the prediction of the imminent Millennium poured from the presses. Many clergymen of more moderate persuasion condemned Miller's ideas as erroneous, and at times mobs even tried to break up the meetings at which he spoke, and Miller was pelted with rotten vegetables. But still his converts increased. Himes, ever the public relations man, estimated that one million people had been converted to Millennial beliefs. This is the usual problem with such estimates made by those most concerned with the success of a movement in which they are involved. At best, there may have been some 50,000 individuals who succumbed to Miller's predictions, and most of them remained within the churches to which they had previously adhered.

As 1843 continued day by day, month by month, Miller almost disappeared from sight, growing ill, old, and worn out by his activities. He preached less and less. Himes, however, was in his element as time ran out for this wicked world. He developed more field workers, placing additional itinerant speakers on the roads. Huge meetings were held in New York City, Philadelphia, and the Mid-West. The announcement of the date of such meetings always bore the titillating conditional phrase "If Time Continues." Sunday schools were started for children, and books and catechisms were printed for them, such Sunday school literature and Millennial newspapers always ending with "And that's the way the world is coming to an end." Nonetheless, the secular press remained skeptical. There were reports of dishonesty among the leaders who operated the lectures predicting the End of Time and of the filling of their pockets at the expense of susceptible believers.

With the advent of 1843, a demand grew for an exact date of the Second Coming. Miller was reluctant to pinpoint the day. He had always said it would come about 1843. The radicalism which was developing among some of Miller's converts also distressed him. One of his disciples, John Starkweather, for example, was going too far in encouraging physical manifestations of conversion, the old excesses of the earlier revival movement. For Starkweather, hallucinations and epileptic attacks were seen as extreme but sincere forms of conversion and piety. Then Starkweather went in for mesmerism (hypnosis) and orgies of exhibitionism. The movement was growing out of control. Most Millerites were poor and uneducated, mostly converts from Methodist and Calvinistic Baptist sects. There were few from the more established churches of the Unitarians, Presbyterians, or Episcopalians among the Millerites. Thus these less educated religious seekers were more susceptible to the emotional excesses in which Starkweather reveled.

The appointed year of 1843 passed without the appearance of Jesus or the End of the World. As a result, the spring equinox of 1844 was seen as the more likely appointed time—without Miller's approval. Miller went over his calculations, and he decided that his figures were in error. Thus the Millerites now realized that October 22, 1844, was when Time would end. Millennial excitement revived, and a great Millennial Tabernacle was even erected in Boston. It has been claimed, whether it is true or not is hard to determine since there were many scoffers around, that there was a run on white cloth for the making of Ascension Robes as believers prepared to be received into Heaven. Some believers are said to have paid off all their debts, while others gave away their possessions as time ran out. Two hundred followers of Miller in Philadelphia, it was reported, fled that city of Sodom before its cataclysmic destruction. It was also claimed that tents were erected atop hills on October 21st so as to be nearer to Heaven when the moment arrived, and it was also said that the more ardent believers even climbed into trees so as to get to Heaven first. Some Americans were evidently to be go-getters even in the Heavenly realm if these claims can be accepted.

Alas, nothing happened on October 22, 1844, or in the days which followed. What of those who were disillusioned when the Millennium did not arrive? Some left thechurch for good, some joined the Shakers, some continued to believe in the imminent Millennium and joined new Adventists groups which began to arise. Among this latter there was one Adventists sector led by Hiram Edson who on October 23, 1844, had a vision when he saw clearly that October 22, 1844, was not the end but the beginning of the end. His vision indicated that Christ had come on October 22nd—but not in the manner they had expected. The event had occurred in Heaven, and thus the Book of Daniel was right in its prophecies. These believers formed the Seventh Day Adventist Church which honored the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday, as prescribed in the Bible. Others said that Christ had come spiritually, and true believers could enjoy Heaven's privileges on earth through one of the newly formed Adventist churches in the loose association of Adventists formed in 1845. The Seventh Day Adventists legally came into being as a religious sect the following year. Then in 1861 the Advent Christian Association was created, having separated from the Seventh Day Adventist group over a question as to the immortality of the soul. In 1882 there was a further division when the Church of God, and then the Churches of God in Jesus Christ came into being. Such groups continue to exist, and their members remain pietistic, tithe contributors to support the many charitable institutions which the Adventists see as the visible reflection of their inner faith.

Miller, poor man, was read out of the Baptist Church. He started a small Adventist church, but he died in 1849 broken and forgotten. What of Himes? He lived until 1895, becoming an Episcopal clergyman in South Dakota. Nonetheless, his old beliefs lived on within him, for when he died he was buried atop a hill so as to be nearer to Heaven and among the first to be with Jesus and the saints.

Biblical literalism remains in many Christian sects today which hold to the prophecies of the Book of Revelation and other Biblical writings as being literally true and imminent. Thus the followers of Miller remain firm in their Biblical orthodoxy and are more orthodox in their Biblical beliefs than the standard Protestant churches where theology and Biblical literalism became less important, leaving Americans free to float from one denomination to another among the main stream Protestant churches which differ little in belief today.

There was an upsurge in Millennialism as the year 2000 neared. Pat Robertson, one of the deans of more fundamentalist American Protestantism, wrote a book in advance of that date entitled
THE END OF THE AGE. In 1997, as the Associated Press religious reporter wrote, there were 1,500 people who packed the Sheraton Hotel ballroom in Washington: 

…where for sixteen hours a day the End of Time Handmaidens prayed and swayed, singing of the day when they will "dance on streets that are golden." Around them middle-aged women clad in white and gold robes glide through the aisles while other believers blow into rams' horns, their shrieks announcing the Second Coming. "The end is near. The End-Times are here….This is God's last call," Sister Gwen Shaw, the End of Time Handmaiden's seventy-two year old leader, proclaimed.

It was perhaps the Handmaiden's last convention if they were correct in their predictions. 

According to an Associated Press poll in 1997 almost forty percent of Christians expect Jesus to arrive in the twenty-first century, if not sooner. But then, Joshua V. Himes claimed to have awakened over a million Millennialists in his day, so one may believe what one wishes when it comes to such statistics, then or now.

NOTE from another source: It is important to Seventh-day Adventists to maintain October 22, 1844 as the Day of Atonement regardless of historical documents that bear out September 23, 1844 as the Day of Atonement.

Did any of the things I bolded or underlined sound in the least bit familiar… at all?

How about any of this? (Of course, this covers a wide range)


It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom.



xHWA said...

Good post, Seeker! Lots of good stuff there I hadn't seen before.
It was informative, and not condemnatory or critical. I think I like that a lot.

Our first posts are very complimentary to each other. At least no one can truthfully say we are trying to sweep our own cult backgrounds under a rug or that we are preferring to give ourselves a pass.

I think what you've highlighted goes a long way to emphasizing the desperate need for people to review their unquestioned faith in Adventist movements, such as Armstrongism (in my case). Perhaps, as I see things, especially since the fact that Armstrongism did come from the SDA, and the SDA did come from William Miller's false prophecies, and those things are completely hidden from the people therein.

Thanks for sharing with us!

xHWA said...

I wonder about that dilemma from House. House asks the same questions I think we all do.. mainly, why on earth do people follow false prophets after they are proven false? I don't have the slightest clue! The patient says it gives people something to live for, but as noble sounding as that may be I think it's not really accurate.

I know that in Armstrongism, the details of any failure were actively hidden from us. Many of us who came in after the fact had no idea that '1975 In Prophecy' happened at all, for example. I hadn't heard of 1975 until after Y2K. Immediately, the damage control kicked in, history was changed to suit the leaders, and we were all kept ignorant.

The patient says hope, but I think ignorance, fear, and pride (and perhaps even idolatry) play a larger role.

Dill Weed said...

Great post!

I am an Ex-JW. I'm keeping tabs on RW just for fun at

I'm the cat on your blog followers.

All the best,
Dill Weed

Dill Weed said...



Dill Weed

Seeker Of Truth said...

Glad you both liked the Post.
As far the patient's comment to house about 'hope'; I think it is hope, actually, but more of a blind hope. ie, they start off hoping the guy is right, and when it falls through they then hope that he really was mistaken and that the next time he will get it right... they want it to be true so badly that they will blindly hold out for the manifestation of that hope, ie, ignoring red flags.

Luc said...

Jesus said he would return; the ones who are crying wolf by predicting dates and drawing a following after themselves are a vaccine against this hope.
Once the hoax is revealed, the return of the Lord becomes something to scoff at by the victims. They become victims twice, and a large proportion go from believing a lie, to not being willing to hear any truth, skipping the gospel entirely (the Holy Spirit should be the teacher, “just you and God”).

Now if there is a Devil wishing to thwart the receiving of the gospel, this strikes me as a highly effective device, such devices nearly turned me into my own spiritual executioner.

Luc said...

I meant to say frequently become a subject of scoffing by victims, certainly not always.

xHWA said...

Hi Dill and Luc! I would like to thank you for coming, and ask you to please come back often. Hopefully we'll have plenty to discuss as time goes on -- God willing.

xHWA said...


You have a good point. The Bible clearly says Jesus will return. I wouldn't doubt, given the other things we know about certain self-proclaimed prophets, that they are being used by Satan. I certainly feel as if I was deceived.

Now, I'm not certain what exactly it means when it says Jesus will return. But I take the position that He will literally return, just as the Apostles saw Him go. If so, then that has to happen at some time. And I agree with you that people who set dates to acquire a following only cause God's name to be blasphemed. I'd hate to be them when He does return.

xHWA said...

"they want it to be true so badly that they will blindly hold out for the manifestation of that hope, ie, ignoring red flags."

Seeker... I didn't see it at first, but what you describe sounds a lot to me like idolatry.

Or perhaps a mental delusion.

But probably idolatry.

Seeker Of Truth said...

However, they obviously wouldn't recognize it as such, just as they believe they are keeping the NC, not the Old.

It's interesting though, how we all seem to believe God has opened our eyes to the truth... when what we each see as truth can be so vastly different.

xHWA said...

"However, they obviously wouldn't recognize it as such,"

Totally agree.

"just as they believe they are keeping the NC, not the Old."

Totally agree again.
Both in that they believe they keep the NC, and in that they are actually keeping (a cherry-picked version of) the OC.

I was thinking about that this morning, in fact. How I used to believe that salvation is by grace alone. However, once saved you could lose that grace easily by not keeping... what amounts to a cherry picked version of the OC.
The contradictions are what gets me. If I was saved by grace alone, then why was keeping the Sabbath and other select laws the only thing that stopped people from being "first fruits"? That would mean all are saved, then all have fallen. Then they will be saved again at the resurrection? Not likely.
But HWA said they aren't saved at this time; Jesus will put their sins on Satan at the last fulfillment of Atonement (which is bunk, the Azazel pictured Christ). So then one has to ask - in what way was Jesus' sacrifice insufficient? Or in what way was Christ incorrect when He said "It is finished"?
HWA tried to shoe-horn the NC into the OC framework (or vice versa). It simply can't work!

I used to see those things as being truth, and now what I believe is vastly different. Just like you said.

Seeker Of Truth said...

Exactly. Does Christ need to die repeatedly to save us from each sin? Of couse not. He died once, for all (1 Pet 3:18).

It is impossible to be sin free. Impossible. What does that tell us?
Does it say Jesus must die for each and every sin, or does he need to die repeatedly for each person who fails to keep holy days and sabbaths - a select few sins (as OC believers would see it)?

The idea doesn't make sence.
As long as you keep holy days and sabbaths, you're OK because your other sins can't cause you to lose your salvation? Really? So then, you can be saved... but if you fail to keep those days... that is the sin that disqualifies you from salvation?

Yeah, like you said; "The contradictions are what gets me. If I was saved by grace alone..." and; "So then one has to ask - in what way was Jesus' sacrifice insufficient?"

The deal is that we were taught that they were/are all-knowing - have the direct line to God, and that we were not to question them. And that's the neat trick... if the congregation ignores the bit about the Bereans being of more noble character than the Thessalonians because they checked daily to see if what Paul said was true, then the church can maintain it's control over their minds.

Have you ever seen someone who can say things in such a way that they can get you to do something and all the while make you think it was your idea?
Something for people to think about.

xHWA said...

Let me ask you this, then. I am going to speculate that HWA was correct that the Azazel was Satan (which I totally disagree with).

Doesn't putting the sins of the world on Satan's head so he can carry them off make Satan the savior (ie. Messiah, sacrifice for our sins, etc)?

Seeker Of Truth said...

Lol... yes it does.

Luc said...

Clearly the sins of the world were put upon Jesus, and for a moment the Father turned his back on his son who was at that moment a goat, however unjust this might have been.

The Azazel goat is put out to wonder the wilderness like Jesus is put out of the camp of the righteous, outside the favor of God, just for one painful moment when he cries out “why have you forsaken me.”

HWA couldn’t see past the image of the goats being placed on the Righteous Judge’s left hand, and the sheep to his right.

This small detail (HWA’s misidentification of the Azazel as representing Satan) reveals a systemic lack of understanding from the man who presumed to be the worlds greatest teacher of God.

xHWA said...

Thanks, Seeker. I was wondering if I was totally misunderstanding that whole business.


I couldn't agree with you more.
I remember seeing HWA in a video thundering out "God speaks through ME!" Ohhhhh man. That fella needs prayers for his soul.