April 2, 2024

Seven Phases

The development of the publishing work

Almir Marroni

The invention of the printing press in the 1440s marked a significant technological advancement, signaling the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern age. Gutenberg’s invention became a tool for the Protestant Reformation, facilitating the revival of truths long forgotten and rectifying distortions introduced by the dominant church.

During the Reformation the distribution of literature surged in both intensity and speed. Then the emergence of literary romanticism and the establishment of book fairs in various European cities in the eighteenth century led to the widespread adoption of reading as a popular and impactful societal habit. Hence, it comes as no surprise that there was a vigorous distribution of papers and small books at the onset of the Advent movement in the nineteenth century. Even prior to the organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Millerites already had a rigorous system to spread William Miller’s teachings through publications.

In the following paragraphs we consider seven phases of Adventist literature distribution, beginning with William Miller and his associates.

Millerite Movement (1839)

In 1839 William Miller and Joshua V. Himes initiated a venture of mass production and distribution of magazines and pamphlets. The content concerned the imminent fulfillment of Bible prophecies, especially Daniel 8:14, which pointed to the cleansing of the sanctuary, interpreted by Miller as referring to the second coming of Christ.

The first Millerite periodical was the Signs of the Times magazine, followed by more publications. LeRoy Froom recorded the distribution of 6 million periodicals between 1843 and 1844.1 At that time the population of the United States was 19 million, which means that proportionally, one publication was delivered for every group of 3.2 people. It is not by chance that Miller and his urgent message reached all regions of the country. If he had focused only on preaching from the pulpit, the impact of his message would have been much smaller. Not everyone can preach, but everyone can share books, pamphlets, and magazines.

Adventist Movement (1848)

After the disappointment of the Millerite movement, Adventist pioneers, in addition to their belief in the imminent return of Jesus, rediscovered other Bible truths, including the observance of the seventh day as the Sabbath.

In November 1848, after a vision, Ellen White said to her husband: “I have a message for you. You must begin to print a little paper and send it out to the people. Let it be small at first; but as the people read, they will send you means with which to print, and it will be a success from the first. From this small beginning it was shown to me to be like streams of light that went clear around the world.”2

James White must have pondered the meaning of “success from the first” as he dedicated countless hours to writing and hard work to gather just enough money to initiate the project. Seven months after Ellen White’s vision, as The Present Truth, an eight-page paper, emerged from the press, the pioneers organized a private and emotional dedication ceremony at the Belden home.

“The date was July 1849. The little pile of papers was laid upon the floor. Then the brethren and sisters gathered about them and with tears in their eyes pleaded with God to bless the little sheet as it should be sent out. Then the papers were folded, wrapped, and addressed, and James White carried them eight miles to the Middletown post office. Thus the publishing work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church began.”3

With heartfelt prayers the pioneers held those papers, recognizing that only God could arrange each page, each word, in a manner that would be fruitful. Gradually their work bore fruit. Letters from readers brought two exciting pieces of news—some people expressed that after reading the papers, they decided to observe the Sabbath. Other letters were accompanied by much-needed financial contributions.

Soon new publications were added, and in 1852 the purchase of a small press marked the beginning of the Review and Herald, the first Seventh-day Adventist publishing house.

What lessons do this humble beginning teach? When God’s people follow His vision, success is granted. The pioneers’ self-denial, sacrifice, hard work, and passion for mission paved the way for church growth.

Tract Societies (1870)

Adventist literature distribution kept increasing over the next two decades, prompting the leaders to initiate a new venture. The Tract Societies, first established in the 1870s, functioned as bookstores where members and the public could access Adventist publications.

Commenting on the importance of having literature available to church members, John Loughborough wrote: “The most important result of the establishment of the Tract Society work among us has been the influence which it has exerted in the direction of creating and increasing a missionary spirit among the local church organizations.”4

Regular Colporteur Work (1880)

Richard Godsmark placed tracts and papers in the hands of George King, a stammering young man who dreamed of becoming a preacher: “Here is the message, son. Let these preach for you. Take them out and sell them. You don’t need to hold meetings in order to sell these. Visit people in their homes.”5

By selling those tracts and magazines King pioneered the Adventist colporteur work. A couple of years later, at his request, the Review and Herald printed Thoughts on Daniel and Revelation, by Uriah Smith, the first subscription book for literature evangelism. 

With the first colporteurs in the 1880s, the church gained more mobility to penetrate unreached territories. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the church reached the four corners of the globe; most often, the message first arrived through publications sent from North America or through the hands of missionary colporteurs.

Where the preacher’s voice could not reach, there the literature evangelist planted the seed. People who would otherwise have not known the truth received it from the consecrated hands of a colporteur.

Student Literature Evangelism (1900)

At the start of the twentieth century Ellen White provided guidance and counsel on engaging students in canvassing work. She outlined a comprehensive list of advantages that young people would gain by participating as literature evangelists at the conclusion of the school year. She emphasized that by engaging in canvassing work sharing God’s message, the youth would cultivate a deep relationship with Jesus, strengthening their own Christian identity and beliefs. Furthermore, they would nurture and enhance talents that would equip them for future responsibilities. Another significant benefit: proceeds from book selling have empowered thousands of youth to generate funds for their school fees.

Wide Distribution Initiatives (Late Twentieth Century)

In the late twentieth century Adventist publishing houses increased the production of small sharing books, aiming to encourage church members to distribute publications regularly.

In 2006 the world church approved the Missionary Book of the Year project, seeking to reignite missionary passion for literature distribution.

Missionary books are designed to achieve three primary objectives: present our most distinctive beliefs; promote widespread and mass distribution; involve every church member in the distribution effort.

Since 2007, missionary books have been translated into more than 120 languages, with a global distribution exceeding 700 million copies. Notably, The Great Controversy alone has reached 150 million copies.

Internet and Digital Publications

Globalization and the Internet have opened new avenues for literature distribution. To reach a global audience, the church has been adapting to the changing landscape by utilizing online platforms, ebooks, and digital resources. Translation of publications into various languages has also increased. Adventist literature in digital format can be accessed through church-owned websites and apps, aligning with contemporary communication trends.

Today both print and digital publications collaborate in proclaiming the three angels’ messages, each serving distinct purposes to reach a diverse global audience. The decision between print and digital formats depends on the target audience, region, and preferences. It’s crucial to acknowledge that electronic media is more vulnerable to censorship and restrictions.

Using digital publications is easier, faster, and economically efficient. There will come a time, however, when printed books will stand as the enduring voices, persisting when sharing electronic media is curtailed.

The wider distribution of printed books ensures that more “voices” will be heard even if digital censorship arises.

Conclusion

As we celebrate the 175th anniversary of Seventh-day Adventist literature in 2024, let’s reflect on the pivotal role of books, magazines, and tracts in presenting the truth to the world.

The birth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church marked a crucial moment, with pioneers dedicating themselves to publishing the present truth. Subsequent phases underscore the resilience and adaptability of Adventist literature distribution, emphasizing its role as a primary tool available to every church member eager to reach people for God’s kingdom. The journey continues, as literature remains indispensable to the church’s mission of sharing the everlasting gospel.


1 LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1954), vol. 4, p. 628.

2 Ellen G. White, Colporteur Ministry (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1953), p. 1.

3 Ellen G. White, Early Writings (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1882, 1945), p. xxv.

4 J. N. Loughborough, Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists (Battle Creek, Mich.: General Conference Association of Seventh-day Adventists, 1892), p. 290.

5 M. Carol Hetzel, The Undaunted (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1967), p. 31.

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