A Thumbnail Sketch of Seventh Day Baptists
1650 – The Present
The Rev. Don A. Sanford – Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society
Seventh Day Baptists are a covenant people based on the concept of regenerate membership, believer’s baptism congregational polity, and Scriptural basis for belief and practice. Seventh Day Baptists have presented the Sabbath as a sign of obedience in a covenant relationship with God, and not as a condition for salvation. They have not condemned those who do not accept the Sabbath, but are curious at the apparent inconsistency of those who claim to accept the Bible as their source of faith and practice, yet have followed traditions of the church, instead.
Seventh Day Baptists date their origin with the mid-seventeenth century separatist movement in England. With the renewed emphasis on the Scriptures for such as James Ockford, William Saller, Peter Chamberlen, Francis Bampfield, and Edward and Joseph Stennett concluded that the keeping of the Seventh day Sabbath was an inescapable requirement of Biblical Christianity. Some maintained membership within the Baptist Fellowship and simply added the private Sabbath observance to their shared convictions. As the power of the state was used to enforce conformity to a common day of worship, separation became necessary. The first separate church of record was the Mill Yard Church founded around 1650 in London.
The study of the Scriptures in America brought Samuel and Tacy Hubbard to the Baptist principle of believer’s Baptist in 1647, and membership in the First Baptist Church of Newport, Rhode Island. Beginning in 1665, their family, and several others, became convinced of the Seventh day Sabbath. They joined with Stephen Mumford and his wife who had held Sabbath Convictions while members of a Baptist Church in Tewksbury, England. When two couples gave up their Sabbath convictions, the others found it difficult to share communion with them at the First Baptist Church. Thus, Five members joined with the Mumfords in a covenant relationship, establishing the first Seventh Day Baptist Church in America in December, 1671. Even after this separation, close fellowship with other Baptists remained.
A similar separation occurred in Piscataway, New Jersey, when a deacon of the Baptist Church, Edmund Dunham, became convinced of the Biblical basis for Sabbath observance. Dunham and sixteen others withdrew to form their own church. A third group of churches came out of the Keithien split from Quakerism in the Philadelphia area around 1700.
A pietistic movement among German immigrants was influenced by this third group. This led to the formation of a sister conference known as German Seventh Day Baptists who founded the cloisters of Ephrata Pennsylvania around 1728. From these beginnings, Seventh Day Baptists followed the westward migration. They reached the Pacific coast around 1900.
Seventh Day Baptists have been characterized by their participation in missionary activity, educational endeavors, ecumenicity, and civic responsibility. The missionary spirit led to the domination of a General Conference in 1802. In preserving the autonomy of the local church, the conference has relied upon societies for implementing a range of missions, publications, and education. Beginning in 1821 the denomination has had an almost continuous publication of The Sabbath Recorder. This paper / magazine has had unbroken publication since 1844.
Several early missionary societies encouraged pastors to make extended journeys in the home field. The current missionary Sociey was formed in 1843. Four years later, missionaries began an effective mission in China, embracing both medical and education phases until the Communist takeover in 1950. Most of the foreign missions of the 20th century have been of the “Macedonian Call” in response to Sabbath Keeping groups who have cried out, “Come over and help us.” This led to missions in such places as Jamaica and Guyana in the Caribbean; Malawi and Ghana in Africa; India, Burma (Myanmar), and the Philippines in Asia; Australia and New Zealand in Oceania; and scattered responses in other areas. In 1965 a World Federation of Seventh Day Baptist Conferences were formed. These have grown to almost twenty conferences.
Seventh Day Baptists’ insistence on an enlightened conscience for belief and practice led to the formation of an Education Society and the establishment of schools and academies as they migrated into the frontier. These schools were never limited to members of the denomination, but served the areas where public education was not readily available. Three of these schools later became colleges at Alfred, New your, Milton, Wisconsin, and Salem, West Virginia. The desire for an educated clergy led to the establishment of a seminary at Alfred University in 1871. These schools were among the pioneers in Women’s education at the college and seminary level. What the academies and colleges did for higher education was duplicated for both children and adults in the local church through the Sabbath Schools.