The SDA Church regularly touts that the founder of Millerism, William Miller, was an American reformer. This is typically to wax over the fact that he was a false prophet who erroneously date set the return of Christ in 1843. Since the SDA Church is a daughter of Millerism, with roots tied back to his biblical interpretation methods and historical claims, they have to try and reposition William Miller in a favorable light. The fountainhead for this assertion is coming from their prophetess, Ellen G. White, who they believe was divinely inspired and corrects inaccurate interpretations of scripture.
Within Christianity, the Reformation and the Reformers distinctly refer to those individuals of the 16th century that sought to see change in the Church to realign itself in accordance with the Scriptures. This is not to be confused with restoration—the idea of reviving something that was entirely lost. The Reformers were not restorationists. In accordance with scripture, the primary areas of focus that the Reformers sought to see change in were church governance, the sacraments, and soteriology. The Reformers were really later voices of those that came before them such as Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, Saint Francis Assisi, and Valdes of the Waldensians. They were all a part of the Church, not rogue individuals that simply picked up a bible and tried leading a revolution.
William Miller was a 19th century farmer with no formal theological training. He was a military captain in the War of 1812 that started to preach in 1831 as a result of studying the Bible with an English concordance—prior to which he was a deist. This led to his prediction that the time of the end had started during what we now know as the Second Great Awakening and the end of all things could come in the year 1843 based on Daniel 8:14. In a time and region of the Puritan postmillenialist view and a far sighted view of Christ’s return being the dominant understanding, Miller re-popularized the idea of Christ’s return being imminent—drawing in an estimated 50–100k followers.
After the passing of 1843, the date shifted to, specifically, October 22, 1844. This thanks to Samuel Snow, a Millerite who believed he was the return of Elijah the Prophet before the second coming. This number came in the summer of 1844 which led to what is known as the 7 Month Movement period of the SDA Church’s history. It was during this time that Ellen White claimed to be shown by God, in vision, that:
I saw some, looking too far off for the coming of the Lord. Time has continued on a few years longer than they expected, therefore they think it may continue a few years more, and in this way their minds are being led from present truth, out after the world. In these things I saw great danger; for if the mind is filled with other things, present truth is shut out, and there is no place in our foreheads for the seal of the living God.
This seal is the Sabbath. I saw that the time for Jesus to be in the most holy place was nearly finished, and that time can last but a very little longer; and what leisure time we have should be spent in searching the Bible, which is to judge us in the last days.To Those Who Are Receiving the Seal of the Living God (January 31, 1849)
She erroneously claimed to be shown that Jesus was “nearly finished” in the holy place of heaven and time could last only a little while longer. On top of erroneously stating that she was shown that the seal of God is the seventh day Sabbath, not the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13, 4:30; 2 Corinthians 1:21-2).
After the Great Disappointment in 1844, William Miller humbly accepted his errors. While he still affirmed the imminent return of Christ, he put his date speculations to rest. Sylvester Bliss, in his 1853 Memoirs of William Miller, documents down Miller’s public statement on the subject:
I confess my error, and acknowledge my disappointment; yet I still believe that the day of the Lord is near, even at the door.Sylvester Bliss, Memoirs of William Miller, pg. 256
William Miller was not a reformer of the Christian church. He was a man with misplaced zeal who, in that zeal, believed he had come across something never seen before. By this standard all sorts of individuals and false prophets would be considered reformers of the Christian church—such as Joseph Smith (Mormons), Charles Taze Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses/Millenial Dawnists), Ann Lee (the Shakers), Mary Baker-Eddy (Christian Science), etc. All individuals the SDA Church would theologically stand in opposition to.
Miller sought to popularize an idea that was not popular at the present time in the American West, but that hardly qualifies for being a reformer. The reality is the SDA Church has sought to rebrand Miller as such as a way of seeking to connect him with the Protestant Reformers to try and have a link themselves back to the Reformation—another common claim they love to try and make.
William Miller, though apologetic, was a false prophet—a false prophet that (sadly) gave birth to many splintering offshoots such as the Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The SDA Church seeks to blur the history to downplay this fact.