This academic year I had the chance to do a placement with the North England Conference (NEC) of the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church. Pastor Ramdin (the youth Director of the NEC and Director of Lineage) is currently undertaking a documentary series on Adventist history, filming in America (New England, Alabama, Loma Linda, Washington), New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. This series follows a previous one that was done last year (2017) on the reformation. The aims of the placement provider are to film a season, 52 short episodes, on the origins of the SDA church alongside a critical analysis of how various events, during its rise, have shaped the church today. My personal aim was to research deeper into the British connection to SDA church, specifically looking at the doctrine of the Sabbath. This goal would be met by me accompanying the Lineage team to America (New England) for two weeks (in October 2017) where we would film most of the episodes for the second season.
‘Lineage’ prides itself on being a documentary series that films its episodes directly at the historical sites where the phenomena happened. This meant that whilst I was in America we were on a very tight schedule travelling almost every day from our base in Maine to Massachusetts, Vermont, New York (state), New Hampshire, and as far as the Canadian border in order to film about 31 episodes of the intended 52. Whilst in America I learnt a lot more than I would have done from simply reading about these occurrences. I learnt that New England was the Birthplace of both Adventism and Seventh-Day Adventism, having the opportunity to go, and see with my own eyes and enter the first ever Seventh-day Adventist church in Washington, where the first Adventists kept the Sabbath (as Saturday) under the admonition of Rachel Oaks Preston – a Seventh-day Baptist. Here is where I perceived the direct link between Seventh-day Adventism and British theology as the Seventh-day Baptist denomination arose in England during the 17th century. Travelling to other places like Plymouth rock also deepened this understanding as I came to believe that it was no coincidence that New England is both the location where the first Puritans settled and where Adventism arose.
Despite this, the first thing I noticed, even before embarking on this placement, was that there are gaps in the academic studies of Adventist doctrines from a non-insider standpoint and also a gap, even amongst SDA scholars in linking its history back to British theology. I know of, and have many books that are published by SDA publishing houses and authors that cover beliefs on the Sabbath and only one author links it to British theology. I struggled to find secondary sources on SDA doctrines of the Sabbath. Even when the sources I found were academic (in library catalogues) they were still written by SDA’s. Nevertheless, I must say that I have enjoyed researching material on SDA beliefs and the Sabbath and how it’s roots can be found in British theology. I do admit, however, that my understanding and intrigue into this topic is directed by my insider standpoint as a SDA myself. Having grown up as a SDA; being baptized into the faith at the age of 8 and being in the church (going on a weekly basis) from my birth, the understanding that I already have of the Sabbath is unique. I am actively involved in its orthopraxy. This is different from a knowledge of SDA orthodoxy on the Sabbath because not only was I brought up with the knowledge of SDA theory and practices surrounding the Sabbath, I have also been brought up knowing the correct conduct, ritual practices and everyday ethical issues concerning the Sabbath.
Despite potential problems arising around my insider standpoint, I do not believe they are substantiated. As an insider my research is strengthened as a whole new pathway of looking at SDA orthopraxy on the Sabbath in relation to how it is seen officially and also how it is practiced in reality is opened up. Additionally, many SDA sources provide a real way of understanding SDA orthopraxy and also uphold the conventions that are indispensable to academic research. Yet, SDA’s tend to link their Sabbath beliefs back to the reformation and Judaism, and arguably rightly so, I still think that there is something exceptional gained by looking at what British theology gave to Seventh-day Adventism. My placement has thus, provided me with the experience and inspiration to continue my research into the history of Adventist doctrines on the Sabbath which will fill the gap in literature both in the Adventist sphere and the academic world.
By Wezley Bishop
Image Credit: Wezley Bishop