The Adventist doctrine regarding the state of the dead is unique, setting Adventism apart from other Protestant denominations. The official Fundamental Belief states:
The wages of sin is death. But God, who alone is immortal, will grant eternal life to His redeemed. Until that day death is an unconscious state for all people. When Christ, who is our life, appears, the resurrected righteous and the living righteous will be glorified and caught up to meet their Lord. The second resurrection, the resurrection of the unrighteous, will take place a thousand years later.
The 2017–2018 Global Church Member Survey (2017–18 GCMS) was conducted on behalf of the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research; this survey collected data from Divisions of the Adventist Church around the world. Researchers Petr Činčala, Shannon Trecartin, and Paul Brantley collected and analyzed data from the North American Division (NAD). The sample was made up of 1,923 participants and included members from NAD Unions. Over half (55%) of respondents were women, and the remaining 45% were men. The average age of the NAD survey participants was 57 years; 19% of the respondents were under 40 years of age, while the remaining 81% were 40 years of age or over. All levels of education from primary/elementary to professional/graduate school were represented. Over one in 10 (11%) respondents reported having some form of or multiple disabilities.
Death as an Unconscious State
As the 26th Fundamental Belief states, Adventists understand death, according to the Bible, to be an “unconscious state for all people.” However, do members of the North American Division hold this belief to be true? The 2017–18 GCMS determined that almost all (98%) of NAD Adventists agreed with this belief to one degree or another. This score was 9% higher than the worldwide score of the total sample on this question.
Similarly, when NAD members were asked if they believed that dead people are in heaven now, a vast majority (96%) disagreed to one degree or another. This is almost a quarter higher than the results of the total sample. Thus, these two findings are encouraging and indicate that NAD members have a strong understanding of Adventist doctrine regarding the state of the dead.
However, it is interesting that while many members understood that the dead remain unconscious in the ground and are not in heaven, there was a less wide-spread understanding of other topics related to death. For example, when asked if the dead can communicate with the living, about 3% of the NAD Adventists agreed to one degree or another that this was possible, and about 1% admitted that they were unsure. While these are still very low numbers, especially when compared with the overall results of the study, the presence of this belief in the church is concerning and is definitely something that should be addressed by church leadership at every level in the NAD. Additional research may also be necessary in this area to learn more about such erroneous beliefs.
Consorting with Witch Doctors
In some cultures, witch doctors or other such spiritual people are consorted with to communicate with the dead. In Western culture, this very often takes the form of fortune tellers, palm readers, psychics, and tarot card readers. When the NAD members were asked if Christians should communicate with witch doctors, a vast majority (97%) disagreed with such practices, and again, this number was higher than in the total, worldwide sample. However, it should be noted again that a small number, slightly more than 3%, were unsure or agreed with this statement to one degree or another. This makes it clear that the majority of the NAD Adventists have a strong understanding of the problems related with such contacts and steer clear of these interactions. However, let us not overlook the smaller group of members who believed it was fine to participate in such practices and educate them as to why it is best not to interact with witch doctors or mediums.
The state of the dead is a unique biblical belief that sets Adventists apart from other Christian denominations. Thus, it is encouraging that within the NAD, members appear to have a strong understanding of this belief and avoid practices that are contrary to it. However, future research may be required on this topic to learn more about specific beliefs associated with death in this and other world Divisions of the Adventist Church.
To learn more about the NAD, visit their Division website: https://www.nadadventist.org
To view the full NAD 2017–18 GCMS report, click here.
To learn more about the total sample please read the Meta-Analysis Report.
More blogs regarding the state of the dead:
Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry
Published by ASTR on 11-10-2021
 Belief 26, Seventh-day Adventist Church, n.d.
 Seventh-day Adventist Church, n.d. Death, the state of the dead, and resurrection. https://www.adventist.org/death-and-resurrection/