The history of the Seventh-day Adventist church is the emergence of a small band of disappointed Millerites to that of a worldwide church of more than 10 million members by the end of the 20th Century, but not without struggles of all kinds along the way. Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church by Richard W. Schwarz with revisions and updates by Floyd Greenleaf is comprehensive look into the development the denomination over the course of over 170 years by professional historians balancing their own religious beliefs and professionalism.
“Beginning” in 1839, though not without highlighting Advent strains across the Christian spectrum leading up to that point, and finishing at the year 2000 with the need to focus on the doctrinal, organizational, institutional, and missionary facets of the denomination’s history was a challenge needing an organized and methodical approach for the reader. Dividing the history into three parts Greenleaf used Schwarz’s formula of advancing all the facets of the denomination’s development at the same space—though some overlap from one part to another was unavoidable—in different chapters but linking them to past or future characters when required. These three parts, “Origins and Formative Years 1839-1888”, “Years of Growth and Reorganization 1888-1945”, and “The Globalization of the Church 1945-2000” give the reader, while not a step-by-step look at the denomination’s history, at least a lens to view the events that shaped the denomination as its history developed. A fourth part, “Maintaining a Biblical Message”, relates the challenges that 20th Century members had keeping the unique doctrines of the Church based Biblically as well as answering challenges from not only without but within as well.
Given the multifaceted aspect of history that a book on the Seventh-day Adventist Church entails as well as revising and updating a previous history, Greenleaf did a professional job. Yet as the first 15 chapters of the book are the original work of Schwarz with scant revisions, it is also a testament to his own professionalism that they hold up just as much as the final third when Greenleaf’s own work is solely on display. With numerous historical actors and events throughout the over 170 years, both authors delicately balanced the need to be informative enough without slowing down the pace of the book unless the covered topic was doctrinal and thus needed a thorough explanation to better understand the controversy being covered.
Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church might look like a daunting book at nearly 700 pages, but for those interested in the development of the denomination that they are either apart of or wanting to understand this is the book for them. Longtime Adventist historians Richard W. Schwarz and Floyd Greenleaf both balance their religious beliefs with their professionalism to give the reader an accurate—warts and all—look at a now global church that developed from only a few hundred disappointed Millerites.