by John Kiesz


The history of the Church of God organization, as we know it in the Twentieth Century,  seems hard to trace accurately as to its  origin. But if we look into articles and letters, still available to us, which have been published in the Review and Herald (S.D.A. Church paper), The Hope of Israel (Church of God Paper), and a few references from the Seventh Day Baptist publications, etc., we may draw some conclusions regarding our faith and heritage.

Sabbath‑keepers in America can be traced to early colonial days. It is evident that there were seventh‑day observers among those who landed on the American shores when they arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. Local congregations developed in several of the New England States, in some of the Eastern, Southern, and later even in the Midwestern States, as time rolled on.

All who are familiar with American history remember that in A.D. 1620 the Puritans or Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, coming to the New world primarily to escape religious persecution which prevailed in Europe. The Puritans had zealously endeavored to purify the Church of England, and the result was that those who felt they could not remain with the established church went afterwards by such names as Non‑Conformists and Separatists. Were there really any Sabbatarians on the Mayflower which brought the Pilgrims to America? The evidence seems to be in favor of their presence in the Plymouth Colony.

In the month of December, 1934, Hugh Sprague, editor of The St. Joseph Gazette, (Missouri) wrote an editorial on this very matter, as follows:

“Strange as it may seem in the early history of America there was an attempt at suppression of the Christmas spirit. The stern Puritans at Plymouth, imbued with the rigorous fervor of the Old Testament, abhorred the celebration of the orthodox holidays.  Their worship was on the  Sabbath (Saturday), rather than Sunday, and Christmas in particular they considered a pagan celebration. Later immigrants attempted to observe Christmas as a time of joy, but were suppressed. Governor Bradford, Elder Brewster, Miles Standish and other Leaders were firm against the yuletide spirit as we know it today.”

In a private conversation between Elder A. N. Dugger and Mr. Hugh Sprague, after this editorial appeared, the latter stated that the Pilgrims were his direct ancestors, and that he very well knew their religious beliefs and practices. And, in addition, he stated that all his grandparents and great‑grandparents knew that the Pilgrims of the Mayflower were strict Sabbath‑observers on the seventh day of the week, instead of on Sunday.

Chief Rabbi Kohn, Hungary, in a work entitled, Sabbatarians in Transylvania, says of the Puritans:

“Several leaders and preachers of the Puritans have re‑transferred the rest day from Sunday to Saturday (1534),” p. 38. And of the Bohemians and the English he said: “In Bohemia Sabbatarians sprung up as early as 1520. Such Sabbatarians, or similar sects, we meet about 1545 among the Quakers in England.” (1894 edition)

The earliest Sabbath‑keeping churches in America were composed of local groups, not formally organized or incorporated into conferences. Local groups went by various names, such as: Sabbatarians, Church of God, Church of Christ, Seventh Day Baptists, and even Independents.

The Seventh Day Baptists were among the earliest Sabbatarians to effect a General Conference organization (in 1802), which evidently embraced the majority of the then known Sabbath‑keepers.

Arthur Elwell Main, D. D., in Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America, Vol. 1, says that just when or how the Sabbath truth first came to America from England was not known. We have learned, however, since that was written, that there were Sabbath‑keepers among the Pilgrims in 1620. Doctor Main also stated that as early as 1646 it was the occasion of much earnest discussion in New England. Just who, may we ask, were the folk who at that time engaged in much earnest Sabbath discussion? Were they not the Puritan Sabbath‑keepers?

This dates Sabbath agitation about eighteen years prior to the London Seventh Day Baptists’ sending of Stephen Mumford to America. He arrived in 1664 at Newport, Rhode Island and through his teaching a number of first‑day Baptists embraced his sentiments, and accordingly, in 1671, they covenanted together in a Sabbatarian church organization. This group later, when the Seventh Day Baptists organized their General Conference (in 1802), was considered a definite part of it. Some of this history may also be ascertained from Felt’s Ecclesisastical History of New England, Vol. 1, p. 593.

Between the years of 1833 and 1844 William Miller, a student of prophecy, who received his license to preach from a Baptist church, stirred many thousands into believing that the Lord would return to earth in 1844. His conclusions were largely based on Daniel 8:13,14, respecting the 2300 days (evenings‑mornings), which he believed were symbolic and stood for years instead of literal days. He believed that the earth was the sanctuary, and that it would be cleansed by fire when Jesus returned. This disappointment was great and caused much consternation.

Miller, after the disappointment, honestly admitted that he had made a mistake, but there were others who had heard him preach that believed he was right with his figures. Thereupon they made a special study of the sanctuary question, comparing the earthly with the heavenly, and decided that Jesus at His ascension to heaven did not sit down at the right hand of God in the Most Holy Apartment, but entered and remained in the first or Holy Place until 1844, when He entered the Most Holy, there to cleanse the sanctuary, blot out sins, make a final atonement, and start the investigative judgment. These still are, in general, the Beliefs of those who shortly after that became known as Seventh‑day Adventists.

The little group of Advent people of Washington, New Hampshire, had the Sabbath first introduced to their attention by a faithful Seventh Day Baptist Sister, Rachel Preston. Nearly the entire church at that place became observers of the Seventh‑day Sabbath.

Elder Joseph Bates, who had acted a prominent part in the time‑setting Advent Movement, also had the Sabbath brought to his attention, and in 1845 took hold of this truth and began to set it before his fellowmen. Elder and Mrs. James White accepted the light of the Sabbath a little later, and became the most prominent leaders of what became officially know as the Seventh‑day Adventists. “An association was incorporated in the city of Battle Creek, Michigan, May 3, 1861, under the name of the Seventh‑day Adventists Association” (J. N. Andrews in History of the Sabbath). And according to the Seventh‑day Adventist Yearbook, the “denomination was organized May 21, 1863....”

It is evident that there were Sabbath‑keeping groups (independent) besides the Seventh Day Baptists, before and during the time of William Miller’s preaching and prediction of the end of the world, in 1844. Elder Gilbert Cranmer of Michigan wrote in his memoirs that he received his first light on the Sabbath in 1843 from an article in the Midnight Cry, a Millerite publication, written by J. C. Day of Ashburhan, Massachusetts. S. C. Hancock of Forestville, Connecticut, also advocated the doctrine in the same year.

Articles appearing in the Review and Herald show that by the time they, in 1860, chose the name of “Seventh‑day Adventist,” the name of the “Church of God” had become a “bone of contention” and the “Visions” of Ellen G. White were discussed and debated. When the Whites traveled over the country to recruit and organize, they found many independent Sabbath‑keepers. Some of the disappointments of the Whites were the refusal of numbers of local groups to join them, because of the church name, because of the “Vision,” and because some believed in no general conference organization at all.

Many isolated groups had sprung up in various areas, it is said, before the 1844 disappointment, that is, seventh‑day local groups, as well as isolated individuals. This may be readily ascertained from things that were written by Elder James White (and by others) about their various trips they made to groups which they tried to get into their fellowship. When the Whites made their tours over the Eastern and Midwestern states in the early 1860’s for the purpose of effecting cooperation and general organization, they found many congregations of Sabbath‑keepers. Many of them became affiliated with the Seventh‑day Adventists, while others began to fellowship and cooperate with those who later became known as the “Church of God.” Some of the groups remained independent of all general organizations.

Subsequent church history shows that although some of the independent Sabbatarian groups aligned themselves neither with the Seventh Day Baptists, nor with the Seventh‑day Adventists, yet for logical reasons, as far as they were concerned, did actually desire cooperation and fellowship in order to more effectively propagate gospel truths as they saw them.

In tracing some of our own church history, of which we have some specific information, we find that Elder Gilbert Cranmer (1814‑1904), who saw the falling of the stars in 1833, and who received light on the Sabbath in 1843, heard the preaching of William Miller about that time. He believed the message, including the setting of the date for the Lord’s coming in 1844. After the disappointment, he fully accepted the keeping of the Sabbath, learned of the “Visions” and for a while worked with the Seventh‑day Adventists (that was before they decided to go by the name of “Seventh‑day Adventists”) with headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Because Elder Cranmer could no longer endorse the “shut door” message, nor the “Visions” teachings, and for other reasons, he severed his connections with the Seventh‑day Adventists. Henceforth he preached as the Spirit directed, and got quite a following, which included several ministers. Persecutions had to be endured. Other ministers united until there were a total of twelve, and he was instrumental in effecting an organization in the state of Michigan, in 1860, of which he was the first president.

In 1863, the Michigan Brethren began publishing a periodical called The Hope of Israel (now called The Bible Advocate) and the contents of those papers together with some of the contents of The Review and Herald, reveal that at that time groups of similar beliefs existed in the New England States, in New York, in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in Indiana, in Illinois, in Iowa, in Michigan, in Wisconsin, and even in Canada. Many conferences and camp meetings were held, especially so in Michigan and in Iowa, to which delegates were sent from groups within these states, and from groups within other states, even as far away as New England.

Some of those people, including Elder Cranmer, had for a while associated themselves with William Miller, and a few had even associated with the Seventh‑day Adventists, before they, with some of the independent groups banded together and eventually took the name of the “Church of God”. Some of the former independent groups joined neither the Seventh Day Baptists, or the Seventh‑day Adventists, nor even the Church of God (7th day).

Many camp meetings and conferences were held in Michigan, and some in Iowa too, to which delegates were sent from Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York, the New England States, and even from Canada. It seems that the Creed which held them together in those days was the “Keeping of the Commandments of God and the Faith of Jesus.” One of the instruments that had a cohesive effect upon that association was The Hope of Israel, their religious publication, which was open for discussions of various views.

There was discussion as early as 1865 of forming a General Conference, but officially this was not done until October 5, 1884, when a Constitution and by‑laws were adopted, in the state of Michigan. In 1889 the body was incorporated in Gentry County, Missouri, and the headquarters established at Stanberry, Missouri. At the present time (1974) the headquarters of the General Conference of the Church of God (7th day) is located at Denver, Colorado.