On May 21, 2023, the Seventh-day Adventist Church will celebrate its 160th anniversary. Despite challenges, the Adventist movement has now reached communities worldwide with the Gospel message—all due to its missional efforts over the last 160 years.
Aptly themed “Chosen for Mission,” the celebration is an invitation for all members of the World Church to pledge commitment to mission through Mission Refocus. It also is a call for renewed dedication and participation in discipleship through Total Member Involvement (TMI).
Elder Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the Adventist World Church, said of its development, “We are incredibly grateful for the privilege of sharing God’s final messages for the past 160 years.”
Chosen for Mission precedes and seeks to prepare the World Church for the upcoming mission milestone in 2024–the 150th anniversary of Adventist mission to the world.
A Historic Gathering: The Birth of the Adventist Church
When he presented at the 2023 Spring Meeting about the 160th-anniversary celebration, Ertön Kohler, Adventist Church secretary emphasized the wisdom in looking to the past to inform and guide the future. Using an analogy, he stated, “Healthy organizations move forward looking at the windshield while at the same time looking at the rearview mirror.”
Our rearview mirror as a Church reaches back to 1863, when on May 20, 1863, 20 delegates from across the United States gathered in Battle Creek, Michigan, to organize the church. They had a shared vision and commitment to preach the Three Angels’ Messages and recognized the need to organize to propel the mission forward.
On May 21, 1863, a selected committee comprised of eight delegates developed a constitution outlining the structure of what would become the General Conference (GC) of Seventh-day Adventists.
According to Dr. David Trim, historian and director of the Adventist Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research (ASTR), the constitution included a preamble, outlining the purpose and focus behind the development of the GC: “To secure unity and efficiency in labor and promoting the general interest of the cause of present truth,” Trim shared at the 2023 Spring Meeting.
He added, “Article five of the first GC Constitution stated the Executive Committee was to have the special supervision of all missionary labor and as a missionary board [would] have the power to decide where such labor was needed and who shall go as missionaries to perform the same.”
In summary, the purpose of the GC was to promote “unity, identity, and mission,” Trim emphasized.
Reflecting on the Legacy: The Adventist Church Today
Today, the Adventist Church is dedicated to helping individuals find freedom, healing, and hope in Jesus through a deep understanding of the Bible. After 160 years, the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s mission efforts have impacted education, healthcare, and media evangelism. The movement that began with 3,500 members and six conferences has now grown into a global membership of over 22 million people, spanning more than 200 countries.
With over 9,000 denominational schools and universities worldwide, the Church has nurtured the minds and hearts of over 2 million students.
The Church’s healthcare system is another significant aspect of its legacy. With over 200 hospitals and sanitariums, and more than 1000 clinics, the holistic health approach of Adventist healthcare institutions has contributed to the physical, mental, and spiritual health of global communities.
Additionally, the Church’s media presence has continued to increase in recent years. From literature evangelism to publishing houses, TV and radio channels in over 80 languages, and now its web and social media presence, the Church has been pivotal in spreading the Gospel.
“The remarkable growth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church over the past 160 years is a testament to the commitment and involvement of every local church member. Each individual plays a vital role in our mission,” said Paul Douglas, Chief Financial officer and treasurer for the Adventist Church.
He added, “As we celebrate this anniversary, we invite all members to join hands, stepping forward with renewed passion and dedication. Together, let’s reflect on what it means to be chosen for mission, knowing that our collective efforts can transform people’s lives around the world.”
A Vision for the Future: Unity, Identity, and Mission
When the Church reflects on its rich legacy of the past, “We receive new commitment, new energy, [and a] new vision for the future,” expressed Köhler.
As the Church moves towards the future, its emphasis these last 160 years highlights three key points: unity, identity, and mission.
160 years ago, Adventists united with the purpose to fulfill their mission focus. Now, Adventist leaders invite divisions, unions, conferences, and local churches to join in advancing the mission today, tomorrow, and for years to come.
“Our identity is God-given,” Bible-based, and emphasized by the Adventist Fundamental Beliefs shared Köhler. “This message must be shared with the world,” by Christ-followers with a unique identity.
In a new upcoming video series meant to reaffirm and deepen Adventist identity in members worldwide, Frank Hasel, associate director of the Biblical Research Institute, and co-host Kéldie Paroschi, explore the foundation for the 28 Fundamental Beliefs along with guest historians.
Mission is also at the center of the Church’s vision. Köhler stated, “Our 160 years stand as an invitation to revive the unwavering commitment of our pioneers and embrace the extraordinary achievements the Lord has prepared for these crucial times. In the midst of polarization, let us forge ahead united, fortifying our biblical identity amidst the challenges of relativism, and rejuvenating our unwavering dedication to mission.”
Adventist leaders will share and highlight new 160th anniversary projects and initiatives at the 2023 Annual Council in October and members worldwide can look forward to articles and resources throughout our 161st year so every member can become involved in Chosen for Mission.
In a final note of reflection, Wilson addresses the World Church, “Let’s pause for a moment in this anniversary to ask ourselves: Are we truly doing everything we can to reach every person in the world, so that we can witness the return of our Lord during our lifetime? Oh, how we long for you to come, Lord Jesus!”
Stay tuned for updates about the 160th anniversary of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.