Story: Diverse Christian churches

Page 4. Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses

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Mormons

Officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (‘latter-day’ means present-day or recent), the Mormon Church was formed in the US in 1830. Its members believed they were restoring the original Christian faith which had elsewhere fallen into decay. They forbade consumption of alcohol, tobacco, tea and other addictive substances. William Cooke and Augustus Farnham were the first Mormon missionaries to New Zealand, arriving in 1854. They preached in Auckland and Nelson with only modest success. By 1880 seven branches of the church had been established, with 133 members.

Māori and Mormonism

In 1881 the Ngāti Kahungunu prophet Pāora Te Pōtangaroa predicted a new church for Māori – a prophecy which some have interpreted as referring to the Mormon Church.

The Mormon emphasis on genealogy (since deceased relatives could be baptised into their church) matched the importance placed by Māori on whakapapa (lines of descent). Many Māori, especially in rural communities in Northland and the East Coast, quickly adopted the new religion. The Book of Mormon, the church’s sacred text, was first published in Māori in 1889, and other translations followed. By 1900, there were nearly 4,000 New Zealand Mormons, 90% of them Māori, in 79 branches.

20th-century Mormonism

A Mormon-run school to train young Māori in useful skills, the Maori Agricultural College in Hawke’s Bay, opened in 1913 but was destroyed in the 1931 Napier earthquake. A new teaching institute, the Church College of New Zealand, was built largely by volunteer labour and opened in Hamilton in 1958. In the same year the Auckland Stake (a stake is a formal branch of the church) was created. It was the first stake to be set up outside North America. After the Second World War Māori became proportionally less significant in the church. In 2013 there were about 40,700 Mormons in New Zealand, almost half of them Māori.

Seventh-day Adventists

In the 1830s William Miller, a former US Army captain, preached that Jesus would shortly return to earth. This emphasis on the advent, or coming, of Christ, gave Miller’s new church its name. Seventh-day Adventists have their day of worship on a Saturday. US pastor Stephen Haskell was the first Seventh-day Adventist missionary to reach New Zealand, in 1885. He was joined by evangelist A. G. Daniells, who opened the first Seventh-day Adventist church, in Ponsonby, Auckland, in 1887. Daniells later became the world president of the church. New Zealand Seventh-day Adventists numbered about 860 by 1900.

Many Seventh-day Adventists were committed vegetarians, prohibitionists and feminists. Church members ate special diets, with an emphasis on vegetables and other unprocessed foods. They set up a health centre called the Sanitarium at Papanui, Christchurch. In the early 1900s Seventh-day Adventists launched the Sanitarium Health Food Company, which by the 1930s owned a factory in Christchurch and had health-food shops and vegetarian cafés in main centres.

The Pukekura Training School was opened near Cambridge, Waikato, in 1908 to teach members and missionaries of the church. It relocated to Longburn, near Palmerston North, in 1913, and in 1986 was renamed Longburn Adventist College. In 2013 New Zealand Seventh-day Adventists numbered about 14,600.

Rules and regulations

In 2009 the national convenor of the New Zealand Jehovah’s Witnesses, John Wills, said his church refused to allow its members to receive blood transfusions even when their lives were at stake. Voting, military service, drinking alcohol, dancing, smoking and card-playing were all discouraged by the New Zealand church, but not forbidden.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

A Bible study group in Pennsylvania, USA, developed into the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1870s. The church arrived in New Zealand in 1903, when it is thought to have had just two members.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the world will end soon. They are discouraged from voting, holding public office, serving in the military and saluting national flags. In 1940 the church was declared illegal in New Zealand, although restrictions on its activities were at partly lifted the following year. The attorney-general said that its members devoted themselves to ‘vilification of religion, of their fellow-citizens, of the state, and of the Government’.1

In 2013 there were about 17,900 Jehovah’s Witnesses in New Zealand, meeting in about 100 ‘Kingdom Halls’.

Footnotes:
  1. Quoted in ‘Jehovah's witnesses: cult, sect or true Christian believers.’ Otago Daily Times, 22 January 2009, http://www.odt.co.nz/news/national/40325/jehovah039s-witnesses-cult-sect-or-true-christian-believers (last accessed 30 November 2010). Back
How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Diverse Christian churches - Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/diverse-christian-churches/page-4 (accessed 17 June 2019)

Story by Mark Derby, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 20 Apr 2018