There is a tendency for many people to confuse Seventh Day Baptists with the much larger, but also much younger Seventh-day Adventists. Although there is agreement in some areas, there are considerable differences in others, both historical and theological.
Seventh Day Baptists trace their origin to the mid-seventeenth century separatist movement in England. Emphasizing the importance of a Scriptural basis for doctrine and practice, some Baptists concluded that the keeping of the seventh day Sabbath was an inescapable requirement for biblical Christianity. In America, the first Seventh Day Baptist Church began when the study of the Scriptures caused others to come to the same conclusion and thus withdraw from their non-Sabbath keeping Baptist brethren in 1671. Though there were eventually leaders among the early Seventh Day Baptists, the movement was not founded upon the writings or leadership of any single person. Even today, Seventh Day Baptists recognize no authoritative leaders or prophets.
Seventh-day Adventists trace their roots to the first half of the nineteenth century and the teachings of William Miller, whose interpretation of Daniel's prophecy calculated that Christ's return would come in 1844. When the prophetic note proved to be a "great disappointment," many of his followers continued with modified interpretations of his eschatology and became influenced by teachings of the Seventh Day Baptists concerning the Sabbath. The two strains of Millerite eschatology and Sabbatarianism were solidified through the visions of Ellen G. White, who became the authoritative prophet of the movement. Mrs. White, though eschewing the title of prophetess, spoke with near absolute authority during her lifetime. At the 1857 Conference her testimony to the church was, "received as the voice of the Lord to His people" (Review & Herald, Nov. 12, 1857). Her ministry was alleged to include even more than the term "prophet" signified (Review and Herald, July 26, 1906, page 3).
Both denominations practice baptism of believers by immersion
Both observe the Biblical Sabbath, the seventh day of the week
Both practice a non-liturgical form of worship
Both are champions of religious freedom and the separation of church and state
1. Seventh Day Baptists hold to the historic Protestant principle that the Bible alone is the authoritative source of faith.
1. Seventh-day Adventists hold the Bible as the source of their faith, but also believe that Ellen G. White was an inspired prophetess, and that her writings and interpretations are to be received as authoritative in the church.
2. Seventh Day Baptists hold that Christ will return to earth in power at an undisclosed time. They believe that a detailed understanding of prophetic texts is a matter of individual interpretation, and that Christ will return for those who believe in him--whether or not they have gained such an understanding.
2. Seventh-day Adventists place great emphasis on accepting the interpretation of the apocalyptic writings which they believe to be correct. They also believe that only those who live up to the SDA concept of "present truth" will be prepared for "translation" when Christ appears.
3. Seventh-day Adventists hold to an Episcopal form of organization in which the power and many of the decisions flow from the top down.
3. Seventh Day Baptists hold to the congregational form of organization, by which the congregation as a whole has the final authority in decision- making locally, and each local church is autonomous with respect to the General Conference (which is a "conference" of churches, not an authority structure). Thus the General Conference operates on the principle of "advice and consent" for cooperative programs, fellowship and spiritual enrichment, while local congregations direct their own activities (including the call and support of ministers).
4. Seventh-day Adventists hold to a more dogmatic position, insisting on a detailed and extensive uniformity in the beliefs and practices of their members.
4. Seventh Day Baptists cherish the freedom of the individual to interpret the Scriptures under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For this reason they allow differences of belief and understanding of the Scriptures within the framework of their agreed upon common faith.
5. Seventh-day Adventists teach that such regulations as the Old Testament dietary distinctions between clean and unclean meats are still required of Christians.
5. Seventh Day Baptists recognize a distinction between moral laws of the Old Testament (such as the Ten Commandments)that were intended to express principles of "right and wrong" for mankind in all ages, and more ceremonial or national laws intended to guide Israelite worship under the Old Covenant, teach symbolic truths, and govern Israelite life in the land of Canaan. Therefore, Seventh Day Baptists do not consider that such things as the dietary laws of the Old Covenant are still obligatory under the New Covenant in Christ (Mark 7:19).
6. Seventh-day Adventists lay great stress on the "third angel's message" ( Revelation 14:9-12). They consider that Christ entered a (literal) heavenly sanctuary in 1844 and that an "investigative judgment" of human lives is now going on in heaven. Thus the atoning work of Christ is unfinished. The practical consequences of this view are that believers are denied the assurance of their salvation and are left with the responsibility to establish their worthiness for it, by their efforts to identify and confess each individual sin and live a righteous life.
6. Seventh Day Baptists agree with other Protestants that Christ's atoning work was finished on the cross; that it alone, not our own works of righteousness, is the basis for salvation; and that salvation is by God's grace and is received by faith. They believe that the gift of eternal life thus gained assures a future free from condemnation (John 5:24). Therefore, they deny that salvation depends upon a person's confession of every individual sin, and they reject the unscriptural concept of an "investigative judgment."
7. Seventh Day Baptists approve of tithing, but do not make it obligatory. Instead, they teach that as faithful stewards of God's creation, believers ought to give a fair proportion of their income, voluntarily, cheerfully and in the amount they have decided in their own hearts. This should be done as an act of worship, in response to God's love and provision. Tithing is a model to consider, not a rule to obey.
7. Seventh-day Adventists hold tithing of income (for support of the ministry) to be obligatory, supplemented by offerings.
8. Seventh Day Baptists in general believe that, upon death, the body "falls asleep" (figuratively), but the spirits of the righteous go to be with Christ in the Father's presence, and are not unconscious there. They believe that the redeemed will be given spiritual and glorified bodies at the resurrection.
8. Seventh-day Adventists teach that both the spirit and the body fall asleep in death, not to waken until Christ returns. The righteous are with Christ, but are (literally) unconscious.
9. Seventh Day Baptists have preached from the very beginning their distinctive doctrine of the Sabbath as a blessing for mankind and an experience of God's eternal presence with His people. They practice obedience to God's command as a loving response to His grace in Christ. They believe the Sabbath should be faithfully observed as a day of rest, worship and celebration, but leave it up to the individual how best to do this.
9. Seventh-day Adventists have been in agreement with the Sabbath of their historic heritage, but at times have cast it into the judgmental framework of the heavenly sanctuary doctrine, giving it a role in determining a person's salvation. They have also expected their members to conform to the same standards for Sabbath observance, as taught by their church.
10. Seventh Day Baptists practice baptism of believers as a "witness to the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord." Though believer's baptism is required for membership in a Seventh Day Baptist church, church membership is a separate (but related) step of discipleship. When requested to do so, Seventh Day Baptists have baptized believers who wish to testify to their faith in Christ, but do not intend to join a Seventh Day Baptist church.
10. Seventh-day Adventists practice baptism of believers as a means of acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior, but also as a means of entrance into the Seventh day-Adventist Church. Seventh day-Adventist certificates of baptism affirm the candidate's acceptance of the distinctive doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist church.
11. Seventh Day Baptists have been ecumenical in their relations with other denominations, believing that while other believers may be mistaken in some of their practices and beliefs, only the denial of Christ or the Gospel would be cause for not receiving them as Christian brothers and sisters. Seventh Day Baptists do not associate Sunday observance with (or identify it with) "the mark of the Beast" mentioned in Rev. 13:15-17, 16:2, 19:20 (NIV). The mark is presented in those texts, not as a sign of faulty Bible interpretation or disobedience to the law or to Christ (as Sunday observance might be characterized), but as a sign of the direct denial of Christ by those who (in order to buy and sell, under the domination of the Beast) "worshiped his image."
11. Seventh-day Adventists historically have subscribed to a remnant theology (according to which salvation is open to them alone), with the question of the Sabbath playing a central role in the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Their association of Sunday observance with "the sign of the Beast" has tended to restrict their relationships with other denominations.
Note: Characterizing SDA beliefs is difficult because of the existence of movements within the church today which interpret the writings of Ellen White differently. Also, where the characterization of SDB beliefs above has touched on areas not specifically addressed by the Conference's Statement of Belief, it has been a characterization of the beliefs of the majority of churches and individuals The above description of differences was adapted by Pastor Ken Burdick from a tract by SDB Historian Emeritus, Don Sanford (with his permission).