Seventh Day Baptists (SDBs) are a Baptist denomination which observes the Sabbath on the seventh-day of the week—Saturday—in accordance with the Biblical Sabbath of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8, Deuteronomy 5:12). The movement originated in mid-17th century England and spread within a few years to the British colonies in North America. Today, the Seventh Day Baptist World Federation represents over 50,000 members in 22 countries worldwide, of whom over 20,000 reside in India and almost 5,000 reside in the United States.
Seventh Day Baptists trace the beginning of their movement to coalescing factors during the decade of the 1650s in England. These factors included the continuing Baptist movement in England, English language publications about the Sabbath in the early 1600s, and a relative freedom of religion from state interference in Oliver Cromwell's commonwealth. Once the factors had coalesced, individuals associated with the movement chose to accept punishment meted out by the State rather than renounce their Sabbath conviction.
The first recorded SDB meeting was held at The Mill Yard Church in London in 1651 under the leadership of Dr. Peter Chamberlen. However many SDBs believe that their origins date to 1617 with John Trask and his wife, but the records for this were lost in a fire.
Stephen Mumford, a SDB from England, arrived in Rhode Island in 1665 and is mentioned as an advocate for seventh-day Sabbath in many records of the time. The first SDB church in America was at Newport, Rhode Island, established December 1671. In that month, two members of the First Baptist Church of Newport, pastored by John Clarke—namely, Samuel and Tacy Hubbard—withdrew from that church and joined with Mumford. Along with four others, they covenanted to meet together for worship, calling themselves Sabbatarian Baptists.
Other SDB churches arose in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and soon spread north into Connecticut and New York, and south into Virginia and the Carolinas. Seventh-day Sabbatarianism also emerged among the Germans at Ephrata, Pennsylvania, founded in 1735. Ephrata was incorporated as the German Religious Society of Seventh Day Baptists in 1814, and the site where their community was founded came to be known at the Ephrata Cloister. The Seventh Day Baptist General Conference was organized in 1801. Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, Seventh-day Sabbatarianism was one of several controversial doctrines—including pedobaptism, Arianism, and anti-missionism—that roiled the newly established Baptist churches on the American frontier.
Alfred University, in Allegany County, New York, was founded in 1836 as the "Select School" by SDBs on a non-sectarian basis. Unusual for the time, the school was co-educational. Moreover, Alfred was racially integrated and enrolled its first African-American student (along with two Native American students) in the 1850s, becoming the second college in the nation (after Berea College) to do so. (Alfred's affiliation with the SDB church later lapsed.)
It is not the case that the Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs), established in 1863, are a "splinter group" of the SDBs. (At least not in the sense that former SDBs broke with their church and formed the SDAs.) But there was a connection, and an influence. It was an SDB—Rachel Oakes Preston (1809–1868)—who brought the seventh-day Sabbath understanding to the small Millerite group which became the SDAs in Washington, New Hampshire. Through her influence, Frederick Wheeler became the first Sabbath-keeping Adventist preacher. One family, the Cottrells, looked favorably upon William Miller's Second Advent message, but did not join the movement prior to 1844 because it did not acknowledge the seventh-day Sabbath. After a group of Adventists accepted the Sabbath, the Cottrells joined them. Later on, in the 1860s and '70s, the leadership of the two organizations associated with each other. They recognized their common interest in promoting Sabbath observance. Adventist pioneer James Springer White went so far as to advise Adventist preachers not to conduct evangelistic campaigns in the small towns with an SDB presence.
Salem College—renamed Salem International University in 2000—was established by SDBs in Salem, West Virginia, in 1888, about a century after pioneering SDBs had founded the settlement of "New Salem" there.
The Seventh Day Baptist World Federation was founded in 1964–65, and it now represents over 50,000 Baptists in 17 member organizations in 22 countries. In 1995, the SDBs had 253 churches (and over 20,000 members) in India, 78 churches with 4,885 members in the United States, two churches with 55 members in England, and one church of 40 members in Canada. Conferences and associations exist in many other countries including Australia, Brazil, India, Jamaica, the Netherlands, New Zealand and amongst the Seventh Day Christians of Poland. Some conferences have sent missionaries to other nations including Malawi, Fiji, and Argentina.
Other than the belief that Christian Sabbath is Saturday rather than Sunday, SDBs are very similar to other Baptists. However, due to the Baptist tradition of freedom of conscience, even within and among Baptists, there are many variations of doctrine—and the SDBs are no exception. SDBs do not hold to a binding creed, their belief system is relatively more flexible than mainstream Christianity, and the teachings SDBs hold may also vary from member to member. Some of the basic beliefs are baptism of believers by immersion; the practice of a non-liturgical form of worship, and belief in principles of religious freedom and separation of church and state. In the days before Emancipation, the SDB church officially denounced slavery in several resolutions.
Each church and association of Seventh Day Baptist churches may have a statement of belief. A representative statement, from the conference of the USA and Canada, is as follows:
Seventh Day Baptists consider liberty of thought under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be essential to Christian belief and practice. Therefore we encourage the unhindered study and open discussion of Scripture. We uphold the individual's freedom of conscience in seeking to determine and obey the will of God.
The following statement is not intended to be exhaustive, but is an expression of our common belief, which is derived from our understanding of Scripture.
We believe in one God, infinite and perfect, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe who exists eternally in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and desires to share His love in a personal relationship with everyone.
II. The Bible
We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and is our final authority in matters of faith and practice. We believe that Jesus Christ, in His life and teachings as recorded in the Bible, is the supreme interpreter of God's will for mankind.
We believe that mankind was created in the image of God and is therefore the noblest work of creation. We believe that human beings have moral responsibility and are created to enjoy both divine and human fellowship as children of God.
IV. Sin and Salvation
We believe that sin is disobedience to God and failure to live according to His will. Because of sin all people have separated themselves from God. We believe that because we are sinners, we are in need of a Savior.
We believe that salvation from sin and death is the gift of God by redeeming love accomplished by Christ's death and resurrection, and is received only by repentance and faith in Him. We believe that all who repent of their sin and receive Christ as Savior will not be punished at the final judgment but enjoy eternal life.
V. Eternal Life
We believe that Jesus rose from the dead and lives eternally with the Father, and that He will come again with power and great glory. We believe that eternal life begins in knowing God through a commitment to Jesus Christ. We believe that because He died and lives again, resurrection with spiritual and imperishable bodies is the gift of God to believers.
VI. The Church
We believe that the church of God is all believers gathered by the Holy Spirit and joined into one body, of which Christ is the Head. We believe that the local church is a community of believers organized in covenant relationship for worship, fellowship and service, practicing and proclaiming common convictions, while growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We believe in the priesthood of all believers and practice the autonomy of the local congregation, as we seek to work in association with others for more effective witness.
We believe that baptism of believers in obedience to Christ's command is a witness to the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We believe in baptism by immersion as a symbol of death to sin, a pledge to a new life in Him.
VIII. The Lord's Supper
We believe that the Lord's Supper commemorates the suffering and death of our Redeemer until He comes, and is a symbol of union in Christ and a pledge of renewed allegiance to our risen Lord.
We believe that the Sabbath of the Bible, the seventh day of the week, is sacred time, a gift of God to all people, instituted at creation, affirmed in the Ten Commandments and reaffirmed in the teaching and example of Jesus and the apostles.
We believe that the gift of Sabbath rest is an experience of God's eternal presence with His people.
We believe that in obedience to God and in loving response to His grace in Christ, the Sabbath should be faithfully observed as a day of rest, worship, and celebration.
We believe that Jesus Christ commissions us to proclaim the Gospel, to make disciples, to baptize and to teach observance of all that He has commanded. We are called to be witnesses for Christ throughout the world and in all human relationships.
Offices of the General Conference for the USA and Canada are maintained in Janesville, Wisconsin. The Missionary Society offices are in Westerly, Rhode Island, and the Board of Christian Education has offices in Alfred Station, New York. The Seventh Day Baptist General Conference (USA and Canada) is a member of the Baptist World Alliance and is officially recognized by the Covenant Christian Coalition. The current General Secretary of the Seventh Day Baptist World Federation (founded in 1965) is Pastor Andrew Samuels, of the Miami Seventh Day Baptist Church.