Post 52: More on the Ordination of Women

In a “breaking news” item this week, Adventist Today ( reports that the Mid-America Union has voted “to support the ordination of women” in its territory.

The Mid-America Union territory embraces the local conferences that administer Adventist churches in the states of Colorado, Iowa, Kansas Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, plus San Juan County in New Mexico.

As an historian, I believe that the evidence suggests the day will come when the Seventh-day Adventist Church in a General Conference session will again  conclude (like it did in the 1880s) that “with perfect propriety” women who have appropriate qualifications can be ordained to the gospel ministry.

It may help us if we realize that the commissioning we currently authorise for women is actually closer to the biblical pattern than ordination is-see the Adventist Today blog on this subject by Dr David Newman.

In short, to keep abreast of “breaking news” in the church we love, you may like to log on to and

Perhaps now might be a good time to re-read the blog that I posted on this website 4 December 2011 (North American time, a day later Oz time), in which I concluded:

It is my humble but considered opinion that since the 1970s, Adventists have well explored almost every biblical, historical, theological and sociological fact about the ordination of women. One of the finest of these explorations is reported in the volumeWomen in Ministry: Biblical and Historical Perspectives. Our church remains essentially at the same point as it was when Jennifer Knight and Gwen Wilkinson edited “Perspectives of Women in the Church: All We’re Meant to Be,” reporting the Namaroo Conference Centre discussion of 20 April 1986. Seventh-day Adventism has well maintained many aspects of its reformist stance, to do with slavery, health and education, for instance. One of its pressing duties is to fulfil the promise of its heritage and the implications of Scripture by the full inclusion of women in its life and witness–by ordination.

Arthur Patrick, 17 March 2012, updated 19 March 2012

Post 51: Exploring Adventist Identity: “Who is the Seventh-day Adventist?”

“Most of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism would not be able to join the church today if they had to agree to the denomination’s ‘27 Fundamental Beliefs’.” With those provocative words, Adventist historian George Knight opens a scintillating book about the development of the church’s beliefs and the long quest to understand Adventist identity.1

Knight’s volume was recommended reading for over 160 attendees at the conference on Adventist identity convened by the South Pacific Division (SPD) at Avondale College, January 30 to February 2, 2006. Entitled “Past, Present and Future: Who is the Seventh-day Adventist?” Bible Congress 2006 drew participants from entities and churches throughout Australia, New Zealand, and the SPD mission territories.2

Major Questions

Major questions were listed “to permeate all presentations” and guide discussion. What is the Seventh-day Adventist as a Christian? What are our beliefs as compared with other Christian denominations, or even, other religions and worldviews? What is it necessary to believe in order to maintain an identity as a Seventh-day Adventist? What is the core of our beliefs? How do we relate to changes in theological emphases or theological content? What is our divine mission as a church to present to the world?

Dr Paul Petersen, at the time SPD field secretary and secretary of the Biblical Research Committee, bore major responsibility for planning the event. The congress was billed as a beginning “at this early stage of the quinquennium in order to inspire strategies and action plans in a number of areas at various levels of the Church.”

Presenters and Presentations

While this brief report cannot relay the content of the congress in detail, it will give a list of the presenters and their themes to facilitate some understanding of the perspectives offered.

Three presenters came from the Northern Hemisphere. Niels-Erik Andreasen, president of Andrews University, focused on “The Vision: Where Are We Going?”

He identified 21st Century trends, challenges and opportunities in the Adventist Church and its theology, in Adventist education, and “in our Advent hope, the cornerstone of our theology.” Roy Gane, an Old Testament professor at the SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University, explored the doctrine of the sanctuary from Leviticus and then discussed Righteousness by Faith. Gunnar Pedersen, a lecturer in Systematic Theology at Newbold College, examined “Justification and Judgment” in four dimensions: “The Dogmatic Challenge,” “The Divine Provision,” “The Redemptive Outcome,” and “The Redemptive Participation.”

SPD specialists augmented the contribution of the overseas guests. Petersen gave two presentations: his first dealt with the challenge to remain aware of “the central theological pillars of our faith and to reflect on how to present them to church members and the world in a Christ-centred manner”; his second session examined an issue currently under discussion worldwide, “The Trinity and SDA Identity.” Two Avondale College Research Fellows presented: Bryan Ball spoke on “The Heart of an Authentic Adventist Identity”; Norman Young defended the integrity of the Sabbath against claims about Sunday observance in the New Testament. In addition to Petersen and Pedersen, other PhD graduates of the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University participated: Ray Roennfeldt, the dean of the Faculty o Theology at Avondale College, presented a paper on the Second Coming; Ross Cole’s title was “The Who and What of the Remnant”; Darius Jankiewicz explored the “Sacraments in Seventh-day Adventist Theology and Practise.” Grenville Kent, a pastor in Sydney and a PhD candidate at Manchester University teamed with Philip Rodionoff, a medical doctor and M.Phil candidate at the University of Queensland; their topic was “The Wholism Debate in Systematics and Biblical Studies.” Barry Oliver, yet another PhD graduate of Andrews University (Adventist history) and at the time SPD secretary participated in the conference, as did Laurie Evans as the serving SPD president.

Therefore Bible Congress 2006 should be evaluated initially in terms of three considerations: its announced theme, its assigned topics, its presenters. The topics selected, viewed in relation to the roles and qualifications of the presenters, suggest that the leadership of the SPD envisages Seventh-day Adventist identity as an issue of profound importance but considerable complexity.

Back to Adventist Origins

Only one of the presenters is primarily a church historian, but all of them in some way implied Adventist identity is illumined by the study of Christian history and Adventist heritage. The fact that such an array of specialists was assembled to address the theme of Adventist identity indicates powerfully that SPD Adventism is serious about coming to terms with the way in which evidence challenges and sustains faith in the modern world. The congress highlighted selected theological issues, all of them crucial to its theme. But “Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed,” according to the voted preamble to our Fundamental Beliefs. Therefore, only Scripture in its entirety expresses Adventist identity; to encapsulate that is a task far too large for any particular conference. Hence, Bible Congress 2006 may be viewed as offering useful case studies on how to explore Adventist identity.

Christianity was founded by a carpenter who communicated effectively with “common people”; fishermen, a tax agent, a medical doctor, and a teacher were among its earliest exponents. But history demonstrates that Christianity offers intellectual challenges to all humans, from the unlearned to the highly educated.

Non-specialists founded the Advent Movement, including two farmers (William Miller, Hiram Edson), a teenage girl (Ellen Harmon), a retired mariner (Joseph Bates), and a schoolteacher with 29 weeks of formal education/training (James White). Profound respect is indicated for these pioneers in that five biblical landmarks they perceived remain crucial after almost seventeen decades: Second Coming, Sabbath, Sanctuary, State of the Dead, Spiritual Gifts. In no way do Adventists denigrate the church’s health message when they consult a medical specialist. Nor does the present church detract from the sterling significance of its pioneers when it consults specialists in a range of relevant disciplines. However, a substantial proportion of Adventist members seem to assume that an important Protestant doctrine, the Priesthood of All Believers, means everyone is well equipped to marshal and assess all the biblical and other evidences that relate to Adventist faith.

The presentations by Roy Gane on Leviticus, that by Grenville Kent on I Samuel 28, like the lectures of Gunnar Pedersen on Romans, indicated that if Adventism is to reliably express and credibly present its message in Western culture, it must understand thoroughly every facet of human knowledge that illumines the biblical text. Farmers and mariners are able to understand and apply this evidence; they cannot be expected to invest the years required to master it or to write the books that present it. Thus Adventism must foster “the dialogue and dialectic of a living community” along the lines that Fritz Guy enjoins so cogently.3 In no way do such realities diminish the responsibility of “every rational being to learn from the Scriptures what is truth, and then to walk in the light and encourage others to follow his example.”4 Rather, they call all of us to be humble learners in the school of Christ.

Potential for Conflict Resolution

The twentieth century in Adventism, according to the textbook commonly used in university classrooms, witnessed effervescent debate over Adventist fundamentals.5 A recent doctoral study identifies one of these debates as a crucial factor in “the most rapid and massive exit of Adventist pastors” in the church’s history.6 The evidence is compelling: events like Bible Congress 2006 may be expected to have a constructive role in offsetting such outcomes.

In fact, the 2006 event must be seen as part of a concerted, ongoing initiative in the SPD. It was similar in style to a theological conference held in 2003 and the Ellen White Summit convened in 2004. Together, these three events demonstrate an informed awareness of issues facing the church and a genuine commitment toward the difficult task of offering coherent leadership in a volatile context.

The life and writings of Ellen White were only in soft focus during Bible Congress 2006, no doubt because they were in prime focus at the 2004 event. The strident criticisms levelled at the church leaders who convened the Ellen White Summit have not caused them to withdraw from a coherent strategy formulated in 1999 and revised carefully for the new quinquennium. Graeme Bradford’s slim volume on Ellen White was launched at the 2004 Summit; the same publisher will launch Bradford’s sequel to that book during March 2006. A cluster of such initiatives bodes well for the future of Adventism in the SPD.7

Burning Questions

All this does not mean the immediate future of Adventism may not be fraught with challenges, especially if Neils-Erik Andreasen’s analyses are realistic. The content of Bible Congress 2006 appeared to put some participants under uncomfortable pressure. What of the far greater number of ministers and teachers who could not even attend? How can the vaster body of evidence relevant to SDA faith, not even mentioned at the conference, be understood by ministers, teachers and members, and communicated effectively? How can we all embrace this complexity and yet rejoice in the essential simplicity of the Adventist message so that we can share our faith winsomely? And what will occur when the crises of faith that have impacted Western culture impact the young, rapidly-growing church within developing nations?

As an attendee at the three conferences mentioned above, by the close of Bible Conference 2006 I had a long list of burning questions scribbled down or jostling one another in my mind. But one matter was beyond question: the laudable wisdom of the church leaders who envisaged these events and are leading the church from the centre. Addressing the crucial issue of Adventist identity is not a simple task, nor is it an easy one. The process is imperative, however, if the church is to nurture its members effectively and witness to its world coherently in Century 21.


1 George R. Knight, A Search for Identity: The Development of Seventh-day Adventist Beliefs (Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2000), 17.

2 See Nathan Brown, “Conference explores Adventist identity,” “Leaders reflect on identity issues,” Record, 18 and 25 February 2006, for reports in the “Official Paper of the South Pacific Division,” available on-line with related material at

3 See Fritz Guy, Thinking Theologically: Adventist Christianity and the Interpretation of Faith (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1999.)

4 Cf. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1911), 598.

5 Richard W. Schwarz and Floyd Greenleaf, Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 2000), 627-647.

6 Peter H. Ballis, Leaving the Adventist Ministry: A Study of the Process of Exiting (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, Peter 1999), 27.

7 I reviewed five related books by six authors in “Prophets Are Human! Are Humans Prophets?” Spectrum 33, no. 2 (Spring 2005), 71-72.

Arthur Patrick, 16 March 2012

A note for the reader: I scripted this blog on 8 March 2006 and revised it for posting six years later. Some Adventist conferences are best understood decades after they occur; cases in point are Minneapolis (1888) and the most-historic-ever conversations between administrators, Bible and history teachers (1919). The subject of the 2006 conference remains crucial as we experience the challenges posed for us by the 21st Century’s second decade.



Post 50: Interpreting 1888, 1950-1980: Thirty Years of Adventist War

The General Conference session of 1946 drew 828 delegates to Washington, D.C., and the 1950 event brought 943 delegates to San Francisco. Urgent issues were on the church’s agenda at both world sessions as the carnage and disruption of 1939-1945 gave place to renewed organisational links and fresh mission initiatives. There was a notable focus upon “Christ-centred preaching” at the 1950 session but two United States missionaries on furlough from Africa listened with increasing disquiet. It seemed to Robert Wieland and Donald Short that the growing emphasis was “anti-Christ centred preaching” by reason of its (perceived) failure to embrace the message of Jones and Waggoner.

Such a serious allegation could not be taken lightly. Church leaders asked Wieland and Short to express their convictions in written form for careful consideration. Further, in response to a cluster of issues relating to Adventist teachings, a Bible conference was convened in 1952 and its presentations were published the next year, in two reassuring volumes entitled Our Firm Foundation. To read these books is to hear the church declaring all is well, confidently, without it identifying the actual concerns hovering in the background. Even though Wieland and Short’s manuscript (entitled “1888 Re-Examined”) was studied on three separate occasions over eight years, church leaders could find no substance in its core allegation or its call for corporate repentance (see the 396-page compilation of documents, A Warning and its Reception, 1959). Meanwhile, the missionaries returned graciously to their posts in Africa without circulating their manuscript. However, without permission from the authors, well-intentioned individuals reproduced “1888 Re-Examined” and distributed it widely. In partnership with other issues, that activity re-energised the long struggle over 1888 and raised it to unprecedented levels of intensity.

What Fuelled the Renewed Conflict?

Controversy often thrives on ambiguity, in part because earnest souls are ready and willing to offer certainty. There was a continuing element of mystery surrounding the message of Jones and Waggoner: after sixty-two years nobody still alive knew what was said at the epochal General Conference and detailed bulletins had not been issued in 1888. Even the results of LeRoy Edwin Froom’s research, commissioned by the aging A.G. Daniells late in the 1920s, was largely unknown before Movement of Destiny was published (1971). Not until the centenary of the 1888 session would researchers like Dr Milton Hook (see the 1989 volume edited by Arthur Ferch, Towards Righteousness by Faith) convincingly conjecture the content of the Jones and Waggoner presentations. Scholars, helped by fragmentary notes made by attendees at the 1888 session listing Bible verses cited by Jones and Waggoner, reconstructed what was most likely said by assembling, comparing and contrasting their written comments on those Scriptures prior to and after the General Conference session. In the 1950s no such objective research had been done. Conflict flourished as diverse individuals presented their ideas authoritatively, often citing later writings of Jones and Waggoner and claiming that these expressed the message given in 1888.

More than that, the church was becoming more aware that dynamic processes of change were operating within its communion and beyond its borders. Graduate education that commenced intermittently two decades earlier was bearing fruit in a new generation of Bible students, better equipped by the original languages for close study of the Scriptures. Biblical exegesis and other relevant modes of enquiry, like historical studies, were starting to mature in Adventism. Between 1954 and 1957, the seven-volume Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary was produced, leading the church to a fuller acknowledgement of Scripture in its entirety and facilitating a more comprehensive understanding of biblical thought. Outside Adventism, Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians were studying Adventism more objectively than before, even consulting with Adventist leaders as part of the process. Baptist Walter Martin and Presbyterian Donald Grey Barnhouse, in particular, concluded that despite some aberrant ideas, Adventists were in fact their fellow-believers rather than a dangerous cult—a welcome assessment for some of the Adventists who had looked out from Zion’s fortress and identified all other Christians as besieging armies.

Times of change are apt to stimulate reaction; forthright reactionary forces were coalescing in the Seventh-day Adventist Church of the 1950s. For many earnest believers, all other Christians were the Babylon from which Adventists were called out. If they acknowledged we were genuine Christians, we must be in the process of watering down our message, compromising “the truth”! Battle lines that were sketched in 1919 were drawn more firmly inside Adventism. Milian Lauritz Andreasen at seventy-four-years-of age, long a stalwart teacher and thought-leader, a delegate at the General Conference of 1950, heard a list of retiring workers read. Andreasen was astonished that, without consultation with him, his name was read out for retirement. Later, he was more deeply hurt when he was not amongst more than 200 persons consulted over the landmark volume, Questions on Doctrine (1957). A spirit of dissent began to focus around Andreasen, especially when his trenchant Letters to the Churches were published and became a de facto manual for those opposing church leadership. (Consult Virginia Steinweg’s approving biography of Andreasen on It would be decades before doctoral dissertations and responsible publications could tell faithfully and fully the inside story of the escalating conflict. Wieland and Short’s warning, the Andreasen Letters and similar critiques were scattered worldwide by such committed reformers as Al Hudson and the Brinsmead brothers.

A Few Historical Perspectives

If the defection of Canright was an important factor in the background at the 1888 General Conference, opposing elements were likewise scary for the church of the 1950s. Adventist leaders were not only acutely aware of the factors mentioned above, they faced the ongoing problem of the Seventh-day Adventist Reform movement that originated within the turmoil of World War I and escalated during and after World War II. On another tack, Louis Were, an Australian minister, was questioning a literal Armageddon fought between East and West in Palestine’s Valley of Megiddo. I wrote a paper on the War of Armageddon in 1954 and concluded Were was essentially correct: Armageddon will be a far greater conflict than any clash between Western powers and Asiatic nations. While Armageddon includes unparalleled conflict on earth, it is the climactic engagement between the forces of good and evil. No astute Theology student would be seen reading Were’s books at the Australasian Missionary College during the 1950s. Although Were was summarily dismissed from ministry, he was only two decades ahead of his contemporaries. Indeed, his books were assigned reading for selected Seminary classes that I undertook while studying and teaching at Andrews University from 1970 to 1972.

George Knight and other historians point out with arresting clarity the fact that Adventism is wonderfully illumined when we identify the principal issues the church has faced at the various stages of its development. The great issue of 1844 was, What does it mean to be Adventist? The big question of 1888 was, What does it mean to be Christian? In 1957 the overarching matter was, Is Adventism Evangelical? We must not minimise the difficulties faced by church leaders in earlier generations simply because the actual concerns seem clearer to those of us who look back. Rather, we must be as faithful as our forebears tried to be as we respond to the light God sheds on our pathway, remembering well the way the Lord has led and taught us in the past.

By mid-century, Adventism was entering an era of accelerating change. Ripples evident on the surface of life in the Australian church by 1950 would become contrary waves within a few years. Robert Greive, as president of the Queensland Conference, had long opposed the reformist propositions of the Brinsmead family. However, as the new president in North New Zealand, Greive imbibed ideas from the Adventist/Evangelical discussions in the United States too overtly and extended them too rashly in the opinion of other leaders. Painfully, Greive and a small group of his ministers were dismissed and his struggles toward a better grasp of justification were, thereby, discredited. By 1958 Robert Brinsmead concluded Greive’s “errors” were being embraced by the entire church; thus began the public phase of his controversial career, including an emphasis on the sinful nature of Christ during His incarnation. Within a few years, Brinsmeadian publications were scattered amongst Adventists like the leaves of autumn. Congregations were harried and even divided; ministers, teachers and members were dismissed.

One case amongst many illustrates the tensions of the time and the need that church leaders perceived for clarity of allegiance during the years of conflict. During 1960, a minister and his congregation came under serious question for wanting to restore the church membership of a person disfellowshipped a few years previously for opposing Robert Greive in North New Zealand. In the troubled climate of the time, this raised the question whether or not the minister was “soft” on Brinsmead and his teachings. The minister, relocated so as to have a reliable supervising pastor, was asked by the Conference committee to state six words without qualification, “Robert Brinsmead is of the devil.” Since the minister could only say that (like himself), “Robert Brinsmead has done some devilish things,” it took ten months leave-of-absence for the dilemma to be resolved. Probably the tipping point was counsel given to the Committee on Special Study (forerunner of the current Biblical Research Committee in the South Pacific Division) by Desmond Ford, one of its promising younger members. (It would take almost two more decades for Ford to lose his own employment as a minister/teacher, in part because he could not in good conscience parry an inaccurate affidavit by anathematising Brinsmead in the Review.)

Here Are the Questions: Where Are the Answers?

By 1950 the forces that would energise thirty years of war in Adventism were becoming apparent but it would take another two decades for most of the crucial questions to be articulated clearly. The world church breathed a sigh of relief in 1951 when Francis Nichol penned Ellen G. White and Her Critics, thereby putting to flight the alien armies that had attacked an Adventist landmark, the doctrine of spiritual gifts and its application in the life and writings of Ellen White. However, by 1970, a new set of questions and fresh evidence exposed the inadequacy of Nichol’s well-intended apologetic of 1951. As part of the magnificent endeavour to write the Bible Commentary series, Adventists discovered that the Scriptures didn’t say some of the things we had presumed they said. One result was an illuminating volume, Problems in Bible Translation (1954). At the first Seminary Extension School in Australasia (December 1957, January 1958), Edward Heppenstall demonstrated that the King James Version did not adequately infer the rich meaning of Daniel 8:14; soon a new journal, Andrews University Seminary Studies, would reinforce that concept, powerfully.

These remarks are intended to illustrate the fact that the questions relating to the Adventist understanding of Righteousness by Faith were not being asked in a theological vacuum. Throughout the crisis during the last dozen years of the nineteenth century, the most important issue for Adventism was the doctrine of Christ and salvation. The same was true during the thirty years of war from 1950 to 1980. However, in the perception of over-worked administrators and worried members from 1888 to 1901 there was such a plethora of important matters to be solved that only sometimes was salvation by grace through faith seen as paramount. That situation was repeated in the 1950s as Adventist thought from creationism to eschatology came under review, increasingly.

In such hard times, administrators wisely seek for reliable support. By 1957, Australasian leaders had selected an Avondale graduate of 1950 for further study and a teaching career. Whenever difficult questions were referred to him, Desmond Ford’s solutions seemed balanced and insightful. Ford relished all the equipping the Seminary in Washington could offer him and then completed a doctorate in rhetoric at Michigan State University. Back in Australia, he built a solid reputation as the most effective “answer man” for all the complex biblical and theological problems that confronted Adventism. By the time Ford had completed a second doctoral degree, this time under the supervision of F.F. Bruce at Manchester University in 1972, church leaders were much comforted that he could resolve effectively questions arising from whatever source, including “the Brinsmead agitation.”

However, that was not the conclusion of a growing number of mainly retired missionaries, ministers and others who idealised the Adventism of former generations when most discussions could be settled with the help of three words, “Sister White says ….” They deemed any extension of a literal six thousand years since creation to be out of kilter with the genealogies of Genesis. They cherished a form of perfectionism that was derived in part from The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, published by A.T. Jones in 1905, honed by the “last generation” theology of M.L. Andreasen, influenced by the Brinsmeads (with not a little help from Wieland and Short) and presented afresh by the Review and Herald of the 1970s as the authentic Adventism. While the church declined to accept Brinsmead’s “final atonement” concept (advocating “a miraculous, punctilear, moral cleansing” said to occur in the investigative judgment) as the way to ultimate perfection, many Adventists favoured the perceptions of the Review over against those of Ministry magazine. By 1975, Southern Publishing Association would choose four American authors to articulate two contrasting views in a volume entitled Perfection: The Impossible Possibility.

Meanwhile, tensions were deepening in Australia, so selected leaders gathered during 1976 in the quiet of a Californian desert (Palmdale) to provide answers. The conferees affirmed the essential equivalency of Righteousness by Faith and justification, as well as the primary importance of justification by faith. But the tensions were not resolved for such groups as the “Concerned Brethren.” Because Desmond Ford was the highest profile exponent of the updated Adventism, developed from asking and answering the difficult questions of the past two decades, these brethren intensified their efforts to effect to his dismissal. The resolve of retired workers was supported in the writings of younger men as well, including two medical doctors and an educator: John Clifford, Russell Standish and Colin Standish. (More than a third of over 60 books published by the Standish brothers focus on what they term “the ills of God’s Church.”)

Within the first half of the thirty years of war that was incipient by 1950, many of the important questions that would face Adventism during the latter half of the twentieth century were already on the corporate desk of the church in Australia. Constantly Australasian Division officers sought counsel from Washington, as well as from their own Biblical Research Committee. A new Division president was appointed soon after the Palmdale conference. Keith Parmenter decided not to consult his Biblical Research Committee on the continuing issues, but he did communicate with the newly appointed president of the General Conference, Neal Wilson.

The Dynamics of Salvation

Wilson and his colleagues at world headquarters envisioned the need for a representative gathering of administrative and thought leaders from all regions of the world to study the issue of salvation. They appointed 145 persons to a Righteousness by Faith Consultation that convened in Washington on 3-4 October 1979. A working group of 24 members re-assembled the following February, drafted The Dynamics of Salvation statement and later incorporated suggestions received from the full membership of the Consultation. This was not a creedal statement but a study document that attempted “to set forth what Seventh-day Adventists believe about salvation through Jesus Christ.” Published in Adventist Review on 31 July 1980 for worldwide reference by church members, the statement sought “to combine theological accuracy with clarity and practicality, so that the reader may experience the benefits of salvation and not merely grasp the theory.” Further, in the words of the Director of the Biblical Research Institute:

Certain aspects of the inexhaustible theme, such as the nature of Christ, perfection, and original sin, are not dealt with in detail in this paper. They may be taken up later as subjects of the church’s ongoing discussions. “The Dynamics of Salvation” should be considered as a whole, in order that the balance of the various parts may be discerned.

By this consultation, the church demonstrated the importance of the subject and acknowledged its responsibility to provide the coherent leadership required to solve the long-standing conflict calmly and thoroughly in the light of Scripture. Many Adventists had attempted to achieve this purpose by making Ellen White’s writings the source of authority, against her specific counsel and her consistent stance during 1888 and thereafter. They had also tried to make the issue a purely Adventist discussion, without reference to the way God led Reformers, Puritans (see, for example, the analyses of James Packer), Evangelicals and others. Here, at last, was a viable way for Adventists to express consensus and build community on the core concern of Scripture.

A Note for Those Who Want to Read More

We commenced this series of five articles with the promise to explore the idea that Adventist teachings have developed constructively over time and to use the doctrine of Christ and salvation as a case study of that process. This article mentions respectfully the names of selected individuals who influenced the course of events. Some readers may want to know more about the ideas under discussion, wherein they were orthodox or otherwise, why some persons were disciplined and so on. The “big picture” is far better elaborated in longer treatments that are available, many of them written by scholars whose names are amongst 350-plus listed in the current directory of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies, a list I keep near my computer as a convenient way to unearth reliable research. To identify a wealth of treasures, access the SDA Periodical Index online and enter names such as Rolf Pöhler, author of a 1995 dissertation published in two volumes, 1999 and 2001; Fritz Guy, author of Thinking Theologically, 1999; or the names of a host of Old Testament specialists like Alden Thompson (see, as well, Alden, or New Testament devotees like William Johnsson (editor, Adventist Review) and Norman Young. My published writings, including those available electronically on in the At Issue section, review some of the related issues that press for attention, especially the role of Ellen White. See, as well, Spectrum and Adventist Today articles in which I spell out how peripheral concerns once again eclipsed the importance of Righteousness by Faith after 1980. For an introduction to sources that facilitate historical and contextual study of the issues, see my Journal of Religious History article (Volume 14, Number 3, June 1987), available in most scholarly libraries and on CD, now updated by a document entitled “Adventist Studies: An Annotated Introduction for Higher Degree Students” (2006, re-titled and updated 2009) and a Journal of Religious History published in September 2010. While some of the principal sources alluded to in this series of articles can be accessed on a home computer, all of them and countless others are available for study in the Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, Avondale College, Cooranbong, NSW 2265, Australia. By opening this facility in 1976 and giving it ongoing support, our church demonstrates its commitment to helping all of us better understand “the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”

Arthur Patrick, 15 March 2012

Post 49: Perennial Crisis: The Aftermath of 1888

Christianity is “a salvation religion” with Jesus Christ and the gracious salvation He offers as its prime focus. Seventh-day Adventism, as a denominated part of Christianity, seeks “the truth as it is in Jesus.” In its official literature, Adventism identifies itself with the threefold message of Revelation 14 that ripens earth’s harvest for the heavenly sickle. According to Ellen White’s analysis, “justification by faith” is “the third angel’s message in verity.”

During its first four decades, Adventism well demonstrated its nature as “a salvation religion” but it failed to convince either its world or most of its members that the gracious salvation Jesus Christ offers was its central focus. Is justification by faith the root of salvation that bears the fruit of loving obedience? Or is “the way of life” based on keeping the sacred law of God so faithfully that salvation is measured by human performance? Providentially, the 1888 General Conference confronted us with a coherent answer to such questions by its fresh emphasis on Jesus Christ and salvation by grace through faith in Him. To quote Ellen White, again:

The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family. All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel’s message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure.

Now, that is merely one paragraph from four weighty volumes conveying Ellen White’s reflections on the momentous General Conference session at Minneapolis (see “The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials: Letters, Manuscripts, Articles, and Sermons Relating to the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference,” 1987). It is, however, an apt intimation of the content of the larger whole: the “most precious message” of 1888, “the message that God commanded to be given to the world.”

What Went Wrong, and Why?

During the past 124 years, most of those who have studied the history of the Righteousness by Faith controversy in Adventism have concluded that the immense possibilities of this message were never realised, at least during the lifetimes of the people who participated in the 1888 session. What went so wrong? Why did it turn out that way?

First of all, instead of glad acceptance there was much conflict. During a dispute near the birth of Christianity, according to Acts 6: 15, “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw his face was like the face of an angel” (NIV). However, few of us have angelic faces in the midst of a doctrinal controversy. Former soldier Alonzo Trevier Jones didn’t. Ellet Joseph Waggoner was better able to keep his eyes on Scripture and avoid personality issues. But both Jones and Waggoner were often mimicked, ridiculed, or damned with faint praise. Indeed, “the spirit of Minneapolis” was set to become a famous Adventist descriptor for a negative experience. The conflict proved able to obscure “justification through faith in the Surety” so fully that even the church’s leaders denied that crucial teaching was the real issue.

Looking back, it is clear that a number of important issues surfaced in Adventism during the 1880s and beyond: the need for a clear focus on the Word of God as the basis of all the church’s teachings; the challenge to aqequatelyinterpret biblical apocalyptic; the identity of the law in Galatians; the essentiality of a coherent response to “new light” in relation to the identity and content of Adventist landmarks; the necessity for a mature understanding of the inspiration and authority of Ellen White. Singly or together these issues cried out for a better understanding of both continuity and change in Adventist doctrine. The tragedy of the time is unmistakable: a cluster of important issues dominated the centre of the Adventist stage, keeping the most crucial issue waiting in the wings.

In the final article of this five-part series we will note that from 1950 to 1980 the Seventh-day Adventist Church engaged in thirty-years of war over 1888, with disastrous consequences. In part, a major Bible conference (1952) was a first official response, but that merely reiterated “Our Firm Foundation” rather than dealing with the real issues. Close to the middle of the thirty-year struggle, a forthright book by A.V. Olson was published to defend the church, entitled Through Crisis to Victory, 1888-1901 (1966). The church acknowledged in the publication of this book that there was a crisis. That was a very important step. The church also admitted the crisis was unresolved for years, up to thirteen years. Probably Olson did not choose and was not happy with the title given to his book, nor did he deem the evidence supported the idea that the conflict led to “victory” after a mere thirteen years. Indeed, fifteen years after its first publication, Olson’s book was republished with a more apt title, one that better mirrored its content: Thirteen Crisis Years, 1888-1901 (1981). By then the church was recognising the crisis as a continuing one. In no way was anything like a consummate “victory” achieved by 1901.

Another of the major reasons why the 1888 message was discounted is also very apparent: Jones and Waggoner were fallible human beings. Their mannerisms could be flawed, as was their way of speaking. They could react with vitriol that seemed rather like that of their accusers. They were not immune from over-statement, or even false doctrine. Both of them lost their membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Waggoner’s marriage succumbed as well; in fact, he divorced his wife and married a younger woman. Jones moved from criticism of his brethren to criticism of Ellen White when her prophetic ministry failed to meet his unrealistic expectations. Jones came to be possessed by a grand vision of perfectionism and nurtured a distorted understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit. At least some of the loyalists of the Advent Movement felt vindicated, fully, when both Jones and Waggoner “left the truth.” Now these earnest defenders of the landmarks could discredit the message of 1888 because of the “fall” of the messengers.

A third reason was, amongst others, also important: the church was finding success in its mission, going into “all the world,” developing schools, colleges and sanitaria as far away as Africa and Australia. The challenges of the ongoing present and the promising future seemed far more important than tarrying to understand former events. It was easy to forget the way the Lord had led and taught the church in the past, but that neglect would produce a baleful harvest. In hindsight, it is clear that the church’s 1888 experience was so painful that it was not discussed adequately, let alone understood fully and applied coherently. That is ever the way some of us deal with bereavement experiences: we cope by being silent. The pain seems too real to talk about the hurtful event. Denial is a mechanism that helps us cope.

But there was at least one leader who felt the 1888 story must be told clearly and understood fully. He would receive considerable support in making his bold attempt.

Daniells to the Rescue

Arthur Grosvenor Daniells (1858-1935) is the longest-serving General Conference president in Adventist history. He worked closely with Ellen White and her son, William, during the 1890s in Australia and New Zealand. Elected to lead the world church at the 1901 world session, Daniells steadied the Adventist ship through and beyond the turbulence caused by Ellen White’s aging and death in 1915. In 1919 he attempted to share with selected leaders some of what he knew about the prophetic ministry of Ellen White, but the tide was turning against effective understanding in favour of a narrow Fundamentalism. Men like Prescott, Lacey, Daniells and William White needed to be heard fully by the church because of the way in which they understood Ellen White’s life and writings from direct personal experience. They knew that prophets are human, as all God’s people are, but that God uses the ministry of prophets uniquely, despite their humanness. They recognised the strength of Ellen White’s clear statements about Seventh-day Adventist faith as “advancing,” meaning it is “our duty to walk in the increasing light.”

But the Fundamentalist forces were too strong. Daniells was threatened during and after the 1919 discussions; he was dismissed from presidential leadership in 1922. Significant others like him were little understood, often maligned and marginalised. Note, for instance, the life experience and reputation of W.W. Prescott, until Gilbert Valentine’s books (1992, 2005) effected Prescott’s rehabilitation. Even the transcripts of the fruitful 1919 discussions would become so secret that probably no Adventist leader even knew they existed in 1970, when conflict over Ellen White’s prophetic ministry began to cry out for historical understanding. However, in the providence of God, the 1919 transcripts were “discovered” as the church began to better organise its headquarters archive, implementing crucial decisions made at the world headquarters in 1972. Finally, late in the 1970s, the 1919 transcripts were published by an independent journal, Spectrum. Now they can be read anywhere in the world by pressing a few computer buttons.

Daniells learned the sad lesson of 1919 so thoroughly that thereafter he said little of significance about his fuller understanding of Ellen White’s life and writings. Certainly his book The Abiding Gift of Prophecy (1936), completed during his last illness, fails to address the hard questions. But there are other indicators that offer insights into Daniells’ mind. While it is apparent that he decided it was too difficult to help the church understand the role of Ellen White in a way that encompassed all the available evidence, he determined to clarify a matter of crucial importance: the General Conference of 1888. He deemed it was possible to address the central message of that epochal event in a constructive way.

As the 1920s wore on with so many Adventists lurching toward shelter in the Fundamentalist camp, it seemed to Daniells that the best way to address the church’s need was through its ministers. Therefore, he moved his focus from his appointed work as General Conference secretary toward a newer venture, The Ministerial Association and the fostering of ministerial institutes and a magazine for ministers, entitled Ministry. The time would come when Daniells would lay the heavy burden of understanding 1888 on the shoulders of a younger man, LeRoy Edwin Froom. But first Daniells wrote his own book, Christ Our Righteousness: A Study of the Principles of Righteousness by Faith as Set Forth in the Word of God and the Writings of the Spirit of Prophecy (1926).

A Wistful Book Indeed!

 As I drafted these lines, I had open before me a much-marked copy of Christ Our Righteousness. I bought Daniells’ book, second hand, and signed my name on its flyleaf, along with the date that I acquired it, fifty-six years ago. Also, on the flyleaf I wrote, “Beginning of the light, page 76,” along with a sequence of page numbers: 10, 35, 55, 58, 79, 86. (Of course, the page numbers are different in other editions; for instance, page 76 in my 1926 edition is page 56 in the 1941 edition.)

What do those pages say, in the context of Daniells’ book? They impressed me all those years ago, the year after I came to know a fellow student at Avondale College, Robert Daniel Brinsmead. Bob would start to get me (and countless others) interested in the General Conference of 1888. He would help me begin to see the strengths and weaknesses of the various positions Adventists adopted in relation to that epochal event. While Bob may not now be interested in the interpretation relating to 1888 that he advocated from 1958 to 1970, or the contrasting formulation that he adopted during the next decade, Adventists need to give him credit for raising important issues. A host of studies have, since those turbulent years, analysed the data, thoroughly. The issues are now so plain that there is no need to fight about them. During their difficult “Thirty Years War” most Adventists didn’t have the information that they needed, so desperately, in order to make coherent decisions. Such controversy feeds on inadequate information and even more especially, disinformation. Thank God, the situation is not like that in 2012.

As a Theology student at Avondale College from 1954 to 1957 I received a few glimmerings of light about 1888. My engagement with the issues in pastoral- evangelism after 1958 would offer me a steep learning curve in relation to salvation by grace through faith and how that understanding illumines the precious significance of our Adventist landmarks. The Daniells book was one of the helpful resources I cherished during the 1960s, even though it wasn’t until the next decade that many things started to become clear, not least because the church was organising its archival resources and making them more accessible. But back to Daniells’ quote on page 76:

The time of test is just upon us, for the loud cry of the third angel has already begun in the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer. This is the beginning of the light of the angel whose glory shall fill the whole earth.

Again, we must emphasise that this is only one of many arresting quotes that Daniells makes from the writings of Ellen White. Fifty years ago these words from the Review and Herald of 1892 were helping to feed the Adventist longing to see Revelation 18:1 fulfilled: planet earth so lightened with the glory of God that Jesus could come and reap the ripened harvest.

Daniells Analyses the Evidence

In the view of A.G. Daniells, did the church experience the revival and reformation that the 1888 message promised? Isolated sentences always must be read in their context, of course, but there are many examples of a wistful tone in Daniells’ book.

In our blindness and dullness of heart, we have wandered far out of the way, and for many years have been failing to appropriate this sublime truth (page 10).

To this day, many of those who heard the message when it came are deeply interested in it and concerned regarding it. All these long years they have held a firm conviction, and cherished a fond hope, that someday this message would be given great prominence among us, and that it would do the cleansing, regenerating work in the church which they believed it was sent by the Lord to accomplish (page 35; cf. page 55, 58).

Our waiting for the fulfillment has been anxious and long. The fulfillment will be witnessed by someone. Why may we not see it and be in it? (page 79).

O that we had all listened as we should to both warning and appeal as they came to us in the seemingly strange, yet impressive way at the Conference of 1888! What uncertainty would have been removed, what wanderings and defeats and losses would have been prevented! What light and blessing and triumph and progress would have come to us! But thanks be unto Him who loves us with an everlasting love, it is not too late even now to respond with the whole heart to both warning and appeal, and receive the great benefits provided (page 86).

Ready for the 1950s?

My purpose in this series of articles is to invite you, the reader, to consider again the heart of Seventh-day Adventism: the message of salvation that centres in Jesus Christ our Substitute and Surety. Adventist landmarks are precious only because of the way they point to our Creator, High Priest, Communicator, Lifegiver and Consummator. Now, I am concerned lest these brief excursions into the Adventist past are so flimsy that they may leave misunderstandings in your mind. Hence, later I will say more about the fuller historical accounts that are available, some of which are alluded to in these articles. The final article of this five-part series will be both sadder and more hopeful than the first four. The “moral” is clear: next in importance to our study of God’s Word is consideration of the “the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” 

Arthur Patrick, 15 March 2012


Post 48: Landmarks, the Message of the Third Angel, and Salvation

(Before reading this blog, at least scan “Mount Exmouth and Adventist Teaching” and “Salvation: Courage to Face the Tough Stuff,” posted 2 and 10 March 2012.)

The prophetic charts cherished by the Baptists, Methodists and other Christians who peopled the Second Advent Movement marked out no dates beyond the Jewish year 1843. The Great Disappointment on 22 October 1844 decimated what had been a cohesive movement; Advent believers retreated back to their former churches, fled into deserts of unbelief, or formed movements with new names. After seventeen decades, only one of the new movements looks viable: Seventh-day Adventism, with its 16 million members in over 200 nations.

After 1844, the journey forward for Sabbatarian Adventists was a daunting one. They knew not what to call themselves and their numbers were miniscule, anyway. To some, “The Little Flock” seemed a fitting name. There were small groups of believers in different parts of New England and elsewhere, so “The Little Remnant Scattered Abroad” seemed appropriate for a while. Proposals like “The Church of God” and “The Church of Christ” failed to attract lasting support. Descriptors like “Friends of the Sabbath” and “Those With An Interest in the Third Angels Message” were used briefly. Sometimes concepts relating to the Sabbath and the Shut Door were united so as to form a colourful title, but that no longer suited the movement after 1851.

The Five “S” Landmarks

The great truth that had brought the Advent Movement into being was The Blessed Hope, often described as “the message of the Advent near.” To that big S, Second Advent, four other capital S concepts were added: Sabbath, Sanctuary, State of the Dead and Spiritual Gifts. Together, those five ideas formed comforting landmarks that orientated the Sabbatarians’ pilgrimage. By 1860 they finally agreed on a lasting name for themselves, Seventh-day Adventists; within another three years they had overcome the strong objections to organisation sufficiently to form not only state conferences but  a somewhat Methodist-style General Conference.

In 2012, we understand all this history so much better than I did in the 1950s when a great stirring of interest began with reference to the 1840s. Back then, the best sources available to me included Nichol’s The Midnight Cry (1944) and Froom’s The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (1954). Later, as a penniless (should that be centless?) student at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Michigan (USA), I cherished the resources of the Heritage Room (now the Center for Adventist Research) at Andrews University and contrived a way to legitimise further research at Aurora College in Illinois during 1972. The treasures in the Advent Christian Church archive at Aurora included about 800 letters from or to William Miller. I still feel a warm glow as I remember the excitement of first seeing those brittle documents. But let’s keep things in perspective: a host of excellent studies have since been published, so the whole picture is decidedly clearer now. Especially is that so since 2002, when Merlin Burt completed an entire doctoral dissertation focused on the period 1844 to 1849. In the early 1970s I was excited by the opportunity to do research in two archives; Merlin Burt did his explorations in seventeen archives!

Consolidating Adventism

The church had grown to include perhaps 3,500 members when, from 1863 to 1865, the United States experienced the consummate disaster of a civil war that killed more than six hundred thousand men. American society would never be the same after that; the attitudes of people shifted dramatically. Jon Butler describes the change as from Millerite “boundlessness” to “consolidation.” The early years of Adventism were characterised strongly by a search for truth; for the next generation, the greater need seemed to be to preserve and defend the truth. Adventist evangelists did that very effectively, with their King James Versions of the Bible, open. Armed with the Sword of the Spirit, they put to flight the armies of critics seeking to attack and destroy the Sabbath and other landmark truths they cherished.

A prevailing idea in Sabbatarian Adventism was that time was very short indeed, so it was essential to give a warning message to a Christian world that needed to know the Adventist distinctives above everything else. Why spend time telling Christians about Christ and the cross when they were convinced about the First Advent already; what they really needed, it was assumed, was to know the hour of God’s judgement has come-and that judgement was based on obedience to the eternal Ten Commandments. The “sealing message” focused on the Sabbath as the seventh day of the week. Spiritism was growing, so the “State of the Dead” as knowing nothing was a crucial truth that guarded people again Satan’s deceptions, as was the concept that the Lord was speaking anew, in the way He had done in earlier ages, through a chosen “messenger.” Even late in the 1850s it was assumed there was no time to tell the gospel to all the world; the reference in Revelation 14:6 about the everlasting gospel for “every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” would be fulfilled in the melting pot of the nations (the United States) alone.

From Certitude to Crisis

However, by the 1880s there was evidence that a storm was gathering within Adventism. Joseph Bates, perhaps (as contended in George Knight’s scintillating book “the real founder of Seventh-day Adventism”) had died in 1872; James White, the foremost builder of Adventism and its institutions succumbed in 1881. Of the three co-founders, then, only “the messenger of the Lord” remained. The need for consolidation that permeated American society had infused Adventism, thoroughly. George Ide Butler, General Conference president, cherished his association with the founders who had participated in the providential rise and remarkable development of Seventh-day Adventism, as did Uriah Smith, General Conference secretary. Since 1850, the Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald had reviewed God’s leading in the Millerite and Sabbatarian phases of the Second Advent Movement and heralded the Sabbath with vibrant faith and great energy. The watchmen on Zions’s walls were confident that all was well. Years before his last sickness, James White had confirmed the central truth of Adventism by commissioning a graphic engraving that pictured  “The Way of Life” as focused on obedience to the Ten Commandments.

However, before the death of James, the White’s were already revising the depiction of “The Way of Life” to focus on Christ and the cross rather than human obedience. Next, two young ministers in California, a converted soldier and a medical doctor, began to catch glimmerings of how Righteousness by Faith related to Adventism’s landmarks. They used the church’s missionary magazine, The Signs of the Times, to share their convictions. From a study of Galatians, they started to move toward the understanding that the problem Paul was addressing was not the ceremonial law but the wrong use of law, that is, legalism. The former soldier, A.T. Jones, began to discern that the Adventist interpretations of the symbolic prophecies of Daniel and Revelation may not be as absolute as stalwarts like Uriah Smith had presumed them to be.

It is clear, now, that the debate over the law in Galatians and the interpretation of symbolic prophecy were red herrings that drew attention away from the real issue, the way of salvation. Conflict intensified, however, when Butler published his convictions about the law in Galatians. Battle lines were drawn more tightly when the young doctor, E.J. Waggoner, wrote about the gospel in Galatians, and Jones lectured on the ten horns of the fearsome beast portrayed in Daniel 7.

The Pioneers: Butler and Smith

Bert Haloviak gave effective definition to the terms “pioneer” and “progressive” in a consultation paper delivered in 1980. Both these terms, as employed by Haloviak, are useful for understanding the period. Uriah Smith and George Butler during 1888 epitomised the “pioneer” stance within Adventism in general and amongst the 96 Minneapolis delegates in particular. Butler and Smith were born in 1831 and 1834, respectively, thus they became 57 and 54 years of age during 1888. Both of them had long been suffused with the sense of urgency and the sacrificial spirit so often evident within early Adventism.  They were possessed by the same prophetic certainties that galvanised the movement’s founders.  They were convinced their church was led directly by God through the ministry of Ellen G. White (1827-1915), and they believed their doctrinal positions shared a comforting consensus amongst its worthiest proclaimers. Landmark truths were many and readily identifiable within their schema.  Hence Smith and Butler epitomised the stabilising influences within Adventism and the determination to maintain its continuity, factors usually (and rightly!) characteristic within the central corps of the church’s thought-leadership and administration.

Smith was present when the historic move to Battle Creek took place during 1855. He was the most outstanding editor of the movement’s flagship periodical, the Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald; the first elected and most often re-elected General Conference secretary; the most authoritative writer on the interpretation of biblical apocalyptic, especially since 1867 and 1873 when his volumes on Revelation and Daniel were first published. Also, he taught at the church’s premier college in Battle Creek.

Butler, man of the “rugged heart,” was a self-made leader who at a young age drew the scattered believers together as Snook, Brinkerhoff and the “Marion Party” defected in Iowa. He was, up to 1888, the longest-serving president of the General Conference, under whose leadership during 1874 the first college was established at Battle Creek and Pacific Press was initiated on the West Coast. Hence Smith and Butler were the men at the centre of things best fitted to steady the church in a time of crisis.

In contrast to these pioneers, Alonzo Jones and Ellet Waggoner were second-generation “progressives.” Born in 1850 and 1855 respectively, their perspectives on Adventism were different from those of the founding pioneers and their associates.    The year after Jones was baptised, John N. Andrews went as the first official missionary to Europe, thus beginning the internationalisation of Adventism, and changing its internal mood. Waggoner attended Battle Creek College, the institution that Butler had founded, before proceeding with his medical studies. Jones and Waggoner became 38 and 33 years of age respectively during 1888. They had only begun editorial careers within the previous five years, and then only on the West Coast, on the rim of the denominational wheel, far from the hub, Battle Creek. Hence Jones and Waggoner were fitted to be innovators rather than stabilisers within Adventism.

Some years after Minneapolis, in Smith’s mind, the General Conference session of 1888 still could not be separated from the controversy over the law in Galatians. For Smith it was “the greatest calamity that ever befell our cause.” Butler continued to speak of “the Minneapolis fiasco,” adding: “I can never believe myself, that God led Waggoner to deluge the denomination with the Galatians controversy.” Both these pioneers were dismissive of the need for any fresh emphasis upon righteousness by faith. Indeed, for Smith and Butler neither that doctrine nor its practical application seemed to be the real issue confronting the church during the last half of the 1880s.

At the time Smith and Butler entered Adventist leadership, stability was the crucial need of the movement. The demand for continuity was constantly being addressed by reviewing the leading of the Lord during the founding years of “The Great Second Advent Movement,” by the development of organisation and by buttressing the doctrine of the seventh-day Sabbath and other landmark ideas in debate with a hostile Protestant world. The final defection of Dudley M. Canright in February 1887 was still painfully fresh in the church’s mind. Both Butler and Smith were able apologists for the principal tenets of sabbatarian Adventism. And they stood tall amongst those who were enunciating Adventist reforms in health and education, Scripture-based emphases that had created a sanitarium and then a college in Battle Creek. Such men spoke with living certainty of a God-led movement based on a theology forged upon the anvil of the Word amidst trying circumstances.

Smith and Butler represented, therefore, a seemingly immovable posture within Adventism. Their determination to foster continuity came into direct confrontation with powerful forces calling for change. There had to be an adjustment in the expression of Adventist faith, a far-reaching reorientation, adequate to accommodate the movement to its new situation. No longer could Adventist evangelists assume it was their main role to warn North American Christians about landmark truths like the judgment, the Sabbath, and the Second Advent. As the towering crisis of 1844 became less dominant with the passage of time, it was crucial for Adventists to redefine both their relationship to what the nineteenth century termed “common Christianity” and their mission to the unchurched within society. The internationalisation of Adventism intensified its need to be seen, unmistakably, as a Christian movement. It was crucial for it to be identified as an evangelical denomination amongst the other branches of Christianity following on from the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century and the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century. Only thus would it be believable as it declared its unique message. Seventh-day Adventists could never expect the world to heed their distinctive doctrines adequately unless, first of all there, was a comprehensive accord with other earnest Christians concerning salvation in the crucified Christ. The movement’s literature prior to 1888 had not denied this imperative; it had either assumed it, or deemed its real task was to declare Adventism’s uniqueness.

This neglect within nineteenth-century Adventism submerged the fact that the movement is by nature an evangelical one, with the inescapable responsibility to emphasise first of all the central message of Christianity. Ellen White ably stated this in her writings, compiled during 1946 into the book Evangelism. The faith of Smith and Butler was born and nurtured in a climate of burning expectancy, in which the Second Advent was seen as so imminent and so urgent that the distinctives replaced the basics. Indeed, the Adventist superstructure was being made to stand without an adequate foundation. Adventism could never fulfil its commission if it remained a North American sect, for it must proclaim “the everlasting gospel … to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” The forces calling for change in 1888 were powerful ones. When they met an entrenched posture opting for continuity, there was bound to be a destructive collision.

Given their lifetime orientation, it was crucial for Smith and Butler to stand by the landmarks, and it was understandable that they stretched this emotive term to include peripheral issues. Even the identity of the ten horns of Daniel 7 and the law in Galatians could be elevated into non-negotiables within such a system. Both were part of the “present truth,” and the Galatians issue appeared to be (especially for Smith) settled by the Spirit of Prophecy, and thus beyond debate. There seemed to be a latent threat that the message of Jones and Waggoner would lead Adventists into the clutches of the churches that would constitute the last-day Babylon. Thus, for Smith and Butler, the preaching of the progressives sounded perilously like a dilution of the third angel’s message and a move toward ordinary Protestantism. Contrastingly, Ellen White wrote in 1890 that the message of justification by faith is “the third angel’s message in verity.”

In the aftermath of Minneapolis, Ellen White published Steps to Christ (1892) and The Desire of Ages (1898), and much more about the believer’s standing and experience in Jesus Christ. This wealth of material was in continuity with what she said during the conference, but the pioneers experienced mainly pain in response to her stance. Their comments indicate they were confused, they felt bruised, almost betrayed. The high point of Ellen White’s ministry at Minneapolis, her sermon entitled “A Call to a Deeper Study of the Word,” must have intensified their dilemma. Was the one who had a unique responsibility, in a distinctive movement, herself accommodating to change? Our answer, a century later, is an affirmative one. For Smith and Butler, seeking to be faithful within their context, the answer had to be “God forbid!”

A Note on Sources for Further Study To understand this subject more fully, the extensive writings of George Knight are helpful, especially Angry Saints: Tensions and Possibilities in the Adventist Struggle Over Righteousness by Faith (1989). See also the earlier book edited by Arthur Ferch, Toward Righteousness by Faith: 1888 in Retrospect (1989). I have drawn a portion of the above article from my chapter in the Ferch volume.

 Arthur Patrick, 10 March 2012

Post 47: Salvation: Courage to Face the Tough Stuff?

In the blog posted 2 March 2012 (“Mount Exmouth and Adventist Teaching”) we reviewed, oh so briefly, the way in which Adventists’ understanding of their mission has developed since 1844. Some will want to stop reading this piece, right now. Let me warn you: we are now about to start trying to understand something that isn’t as easy as the case study, above. More than that, the subject is controversial.

Some pilgrims have fallen into what John Bunyan depicts as the dangerous Slough of Despond because they failed to understand how good God is and what His grace really means. Some have lost all interest in spiritual things because of what they perceive as destructive conflict over which path is the absolutely right one to the Celestial City. Others have suffered heat stroke from getting too hot under the collar about what they deemed were bad choices made by other pilgrims, be they leaders, members, or both. In technical terms, this tough stuff may be referred to as the Protestant Reformation doctrine called Righteousness by Faith. In Revelation 14 it is referred to as “the everlasting gospel” (KJV) or “the eternal gospel” (NIV) or the “Good News” (TCNT).

But let’s make it simple: it is really all about salvation, a principal teaching of the Bible, the main concern of the Protestant Reformation, the core doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is also the focus of some of the most vigorous fights Adventists have had during the past seventeen decades. The Adversary is always sure to target something as precious as God’s Good News. In essence, the gospel tells us how good God is; doubt about that reality started the “war in heaven” (Revelation 12) and has kept the conflict running ever since. The Bible not only depicts the process of that war; it enables us understand the outcome and choose to be on Mount Zion with the God’s name on our foreheads (Revelation 14:1) amongst those who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Revelation 14:4).

So, What is the Good News?

Christianity is, very simply defined, “the religion of Jesus.” The earlest written accounts of His life and teachings are called the Four Gospels. Mark’s action-packed narrative starts this way: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” Mark: 1:1. Luke quotes “an angel of the Lord” who announced to the shepherds at Bethlehem: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord,” Luke2:10, 11.

Mark, Luke and the other New Testament authors wrote for a Mediterranean world where Roman government and Greek language were almost universal. Mark tells the story of Jesus with energy and action up front, in a way that would appeal best to Romans. Luke’s gospel was ideal for the Greeks. But all the 27 books of the New Testament used the Greek language to express Christian ideas. So it helps to understand just what the words they used meant, at the time the books were written.

Probably Matthew and the other writers, including Paul, knew very well four meanings of the Greek word we often translate into English with one word, gospel, or with two words, Good News. An angel is inside the Greek word, because an angel is a messenger. The other part of the word implies something well or good. Literally, then, gospel is a good message.

Back in the times of the Greeks and the Romans, when a son was born to a ruler, the announcement was said to be Good News. When a military victory was reported, that was announced as Good News. When an election was held, the identity of the elected one was declared as Good News. When a wedding invitation was given, that too was deemed to be Good News!

The New Testament writers are passionate about their particular Good News: a Son is born to the Ruler of the Universe; He met and defeated Satan in the desert of this world; He is the Chosen One that will lead the redeemed to the Kingdom of God and rule them lovingly for all eternity; all are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19). Those four ideas, surrounding birth, triumph, election and marriage, are woven into the fabric of the New Testament and help us to understand the gospel that the earliest Christians loved so much and  “proclaimed to every creature under heaven,” Colossians 1:23.

Notice that the gospel was good news about God’s action in Jesus Christ to save us. How on earth could such a heavenly message create fights on earth?

The Story of the Church

Paul Landa, an expert historian who earned his first degree at Avondale College, used three words to package the marvellous, three-phase survey of church history he gave each year at La Sierra University in California. When I was called back in 1996 to teach in the School of Religion there, one of my assigned tasks was to sit in Paul’s classes so that if his treatment for cancer meant he couldn’t take the next session, I could fill in. Students drove hundreds of kilometres to attend his four hours of classes each Thursday night.

Paul Landa’s shoes were so big I didn’t find them easy to wear. The good side was I got to hear most of his memorable account of twenty centuries of Christianity. Like the Ancient Mariner, he held us with his glittering eye as he told the story of the Christian Church in three 40-lecture segments entitled Formation, Reformation, Transformation.

It is awesome to learn how the religion of Jesus was planted in a hostile world. “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons,” Galatians 4:4. The church was formed well: Apostles like Peter told their message very plainly: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ,” Acts 2: 36. Paul reminded the church at Corinth of the gospel he preached to them: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” I Corinthians 15: 1-4. But the purity of that New Testament gospel was lost to the masses until the church that was deformed by human tradition was reformed.

At its core, the Reformation of the sixteenth century was a return to the gospel, in part by a four-fold emphasis: Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone. Next came the Evangelical Revival as people like John Wesley emphasised anew the grace of God. Miller and his hundreds of committed Adventist preachers proclaimed a clear, winsome gospel that called their generation to receive Christ as the only way to be ready for the Second Advent.

I am awed by the effectiveness of many Millerite Adventists as they balanced the message of salvation (Christ’s First Advent) with the message of an imminent consummation (Christ’s Second Advent). My readers may like to read the lively pamphlet that William Miller called his Apology and Defence, published in 1845; it underlines the adequacy of his teacing about salvation.

The next blog will offer a profile of the first four decades of Sabbatarian Adventism. Why was the explosive 1888 General Conference necessary?

Arthur Patrick, 9 March 2012

Post 46: “The Night is Far Spent”: Toward a Glacier View Balance Sheet

(This blog may make more sense to some readers if they first read “Encircling Gloom: Kindly Light: Seeing Glacier View with the Lantern of History,” posted on this website 10 November 2011.)

Journalist Paul Johnson ventures with some success into areas of human experience that are complex, even daunting, for would-be interpreters. For instance, in the epilogue to a tome entitled A History of Christianity, Johnson reflects that Christianity contains a “self-correcting mechanism.” Therefore, even though “Christian history is a constant process of struggle and rebirth-a succession of crises, often accompanied by horror, bloodshed, bigotry and unreason,” there is “evidence too of growth, vitality and increased understanding.”[1]

The words Glacier View are well known amongst older Seventh-day Adventists in North America and elsewhere. They are particularly poignant for Adventists living in Australia, earth’s driest continent where no glaciers exist. Rather than conjuring mental images of an ice-river issuing from snow-covered mountains, for many the two words evoke vivid memories of years darkened by career crises for ministers and teachers, exits, “failed expectations, loss of commitment, and the erosion of faith.[1][2] This article acknowledges the harsh reality that, for many Australians and some others, a sense of trauma and unresolved grief are still bewildering realities. However, it also seeks to move beyond the struggle and its immediate outcomes by contending that three decades after Glacier View there is evidence of  “growth, vitality and increased understanding.”

I. Defining Glacier View

Some 125 Seventh-day Adventist administrators and scholars were invited to assemble at a youth convention facility in the foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains for five days during August 1980 to consider the content of Fundamental Belief 23, “ Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary.” Of the invitees, 115 actually arrived at Glacier View to constitute the Sanctuary Review Committee (SRC), participate in discussions and approve consensus statements, “Christ in the Heavenly Sanctuary” and “The Role of the Ellen G. White Writings in Doctrinal Matters.” Reports of the conclave applauded the quality of the fellowship experienced by the conferees, the constructive stimulation they derived from collective Bible study and their satisfaction with the dialogue and the consensus documents.

Richard Hammill was the principal organiser of the SRC, under the direction of General Conference president Neal Wilson. Wilson’s era of leadership (1979-1990) was characterised by conferences offering the church outstanding opportunities to better relate to crucial aspects of its faith and polity, such as the Righteousness by Faith Consultation (1979/80), Consultation I and II (1980, 1981) and the first-ever International Prophetic Guidance Workshop (1982). Hammill’s autobiography (1992) summarizes the positive aspects of Glacier View but also lists problematic features: “a serious mistake in tactics”; official reporting that was at times “the opposite of the discussion on the committee”; the way in which crucial pieces of evidence were ignored; the later perception by the church’s Bible teachers that they were “betrayed”; “hasty” action “due to the ineptitude of the Australasian Division officers,” and so on.[3] Hammill’s diverse career as a pastor, scholar, educator and administrator makes him one of twentieth-century Adventism’s best-known leaders. Since his testimony indicates that Glacier View incorporates significant elements of profit and loss, it would seem eminently worthwhile for the church to construct a comprehensive balance sheet now that enough time has elapsed to facilitate effective historical analysis. This brief overview may be useful for those who wish to consider whether such a task is feasible and, if so, how it might be initiated.

II. A Glacier View Balance Sheet: Assets

To begin the process of assessing Glacier View, it is helpful to seek an inclusive understanding of similar events in both Christian history and Seventh-day Adventism. Glacier View may be analysed fruitfully as a Christian council. The first major Christian council convened in Jerusalem circa 49 A.D. and initiated patterns that are useful for describing and understanding countless such events.

Often the church convenes a council as something of a last resort when its agenda seems to demand more than local input. A council often focuses on issues of faith and order that in whole or in part defy tidy definition, so its outcomes are likely to be far less than those desired by some participants. Decisions reached may involve accommodation of rival viewpoints, even compromise. Unity of belief and practice may be strengthened or developing divisions may be widened, as when Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians separated. A council’s task may be fraught because of external pressures: Nicaea in 325 A.D. had to satisfy a petulant emperor, Constantine, for whom political unity was far more important than biblical truth. Viewed within the context of twenty centuries of Christian councils, the Glacier View gathering from 11 to 15 August 1980 is memorable for its level of success.

But there is more: Glacier View not only succeeded as a Christian council, it was successful as an Adventist conference. Adventists have been convening councils or conferences since 1840, when our Millerite forebears first held a General Conference of Christians Expecting the Advent in Boston. Between 1848 and 1850 in various New England and especially New York State locations, 22 gatherings loosely dubbed Sabbath Conferences established the theological foundations of Sabbatarian Adventism. Outstanding General Conference sessions in 1863 and 1901 organised and reshaped the structure of the movement, whereas the epoch-making1888 session struggled with a core theological issue-how being Adventist related to being Christian. A conference attended by administrators, Bible and history teachers in 1919 offered insights with promising potential for averting the crisis relating to the life and writings of Ellen White that enveloped the church increasingly from 1970. The trouble was that the 1919 transcripts were unknown until Spectrum published them in 1978.

By 1980 Adventism was established in 190 nations with three million members. The SRC in August that year represented this geographical diversity quite adequately. It convened on United States soil to diagnose and treat an Australian cancer that was metastasising rapidly to other parts of the Adventist body. The SRC was the largest assembly ever to give significant consideration to Adventism’s most distinctive and controversial fundamental belief; it created a comprehensive and potentially unifying description of Christ’s high priestly ministry. In so doing, it addressed a cluster of issues that had been simmering constantly and boiling over about once in each generation since 1844, usually with significant loss of one or more valued employees. Its two relatively succinct consensus statements were voted unanimously and applauded even by Desmond Ford, the pastor/educator/scholar whose 27 October 1979 address at the Pacific Union College chapter of the Association of Adventist Forums highlighted an immediate need for the SRC. It is now obvious that the SRC made outstanding progress toward clarifying divisive theological issues long under debate; perhaps as much clarification was achieved in five days as the church has usually managed in fifty years.

Glacier View also needs to be viewed in association with three other notable achievements, during the same calendar year, that form the apex of the councils called during Wilson’s presidency. Given Adventism’s growing geographical extent and ethnic diversity, as well as its developing theological sophistication, it was remarkable that the April 1980 world session could actually vote approval of a statement setting forth the church’s fundamental beliefs. The process that in 2005 gave the church one additional fundamental indicates how noteworthy the 1980 session was: in a mere ten days it agreed on 27 points of faith.

Further, a thirty-year struggle over Righteousness by Faith came to a potentially constructive climax with the publication of “The Dynamics of Salvation” statement. Issues that emerged at the 1950 General Conference session reignited debate about the 1888 General Conference session and brought to prominence a cast of whistle blowers and innovators: Robert Wieland, Donald Short, M.L. Andreasen, Al Hudson, Robert Brinsmead, and more. In Australia, Desmond Ford took a lead in seeking to clarify the theological issues, only to awaken striking opposition from senior ministers and others, some of whom adopted the descriptive title “Concerned Brethren.” Even the “bishops’ conference” at Palmdale (California) in 1976 failed to tie all the loose ends together; therefore President Wilson summoned the Righteousness by Faith Consultation in 1979; its findings were reported in Adventist Review on 31 July 1980. A careful reading of the consensus document, “The Dynamics of Salvation,” makes clear that the Righteousness by Faith Consultation was a sterling endeavour with a positive outcome offering a way to solve many of the tensions that had been effervescing for three decades.

Therefore, President Wilson and his colleagues deserve positive recognition for their “conciliar” initiatives within Adventism and the SRC merits particular attention in this regard. The SRC stands out as a constructive illustration of a healthy, creative tension between continuity and change in Adventist thought. It laid a useful foundation for Consultation I that began on the evening of 15 August 1980, confirming the essentiality of a working partnership through face-to-face dialogue between thought leaders and elected leaders. Not only did the SRC offer an illuminating illustration of how constructive development may be expected to occur in Seventh-day Adventist doctrine, it underlined the value of serious Bible study that embraces disputed aspects of a fundamental belief as well as the potential for consensus statements to offer a path for disputants to walk together in enhanced fellowship and intentional engagement with the church’s mission. In short, any serious analysis of Glacier View in terms of Adventist conferences held over seventeen decades is likely to rate it as a remarkable success.

III. A Glacier View Balance Sheet: Liabilities

Why has such a positive event as Glacier View become Adventist shorthand for contention, pain and division? On the afternoon of 15 August 1980, after the SRC closed and many of its conferees had departed, nine church leaders met with Desmond Ford, initiating an administrative process that would be employed in the trials of scores of ministers, teachers and members in Australia. Some of the outcomes can be documented in detail; they include divided congregations, alienated families, blighted evangelism, reduced tithes and offerings, the loss of a major part of a generation of potential leaders, plus virulent distrust of church administrators.

Since the crisis era, significant investigations have clarified both the issues and the outcomes. One of the relevant doctoral dissertations offering fruitful analyses is the work of Peter Harry Ballis. A sociological study, the Ballis dissertation became a major book in the Religion in the Age of Transformation series. Ballis began his professional career as an effective pastor, demonstrating early in his ministry a passion for understanding Adventism via historical research. His published writings and unpublished papers document a strong Adventist commitment and scholarly maturity. However, Ballis observed with increasing angst the decimation of the Australian church following Glacier View, finally deciding not to further subject his family to the tensions engulfing so many ministerial families. Leave of absence from pastoral ministry for doctoral study in sociology brought an unexpected outcome: Ballis had not anticipated the loss of his ministerial credentials. However, his scholarship and administrative potential were welcomed by Monash University in Victoria.

Ballis “compiled a list 182 ministers who left the Adventist ministry between 1980 and 1988” in Australia and New Zealand, “an astonishing 40 percent of the total ministerial work force.” While the exact number of exits and the precise reasons for some of them are elusive or disputed, Ballis observes: “Theology has consistently featured in exits, although it would be both incorrect and simplistic to attribute fallout exclusively to one set of theological issues or to assume that the conflicts occurred in a social vacuum.” Therefore, he uses a range of descriptors: “complex,” “subtle” and “difficult” are amongst them, and he contends that “social factors and organizational processes interacted with sectarian beliefs to generate loss of confidence in Adventist bureaucracy, disillusionment with sect ideology, and loss of commitment in ministry, which have contributed to the most rapid and massive exit of Adventist pastors in the movement’s 150-year history.”[4] The factors described deeply impacted a far larger number of people than just the ministers who exited, including such others as employees who soldiered on, wounded members determined to remain, members ejected forcefully or leaving of their own volition. It is difficult to quantify the effects of the conflict on the quality of the fellowship within the church and the effectiveness of its outreach to the wider society.

The “ineptitude” Hammill identifies as demonstrated by Australasian Division officers stands out in bold relief; however, his circumspect North American perspective does not attempt to trace the outcomes in Australasia, some of them deriving from the administration of Division president Keith Parmenter, 1976-1983.

Parmenter observed the cancerous conflict growing in Australia and New Zealand during his tenure as Division secretary. He witnessed the valuable support offered by such bodies as the Biblical Research Committee toward clarifying issues and recommending patterns of response. But once in the presidential chair, he chose to handle the issues “administratively,” not calling the Biblical Research Committee to offer advice and deeming a request to call it together as insubordination. Ellen White’s role was increasingly in the eye of the storm during Parmenter’s administration with the 1982 International Prophetic Guidance Workshop constituting the crest of the information wave. Parmenter declined to engage with the new data relating to Ellen White’s life and writings, fostering administrative procedures that disallowed the flow of information to ministers, teachers and churches, and refusing to acknowledge or correct disinformation. Failing to grasp the significance of Righteousness by Faith as the core issue of the 1970s, he did not maximise the promise inherent in the “The Dynamics of Salvation” statement reported on 31 July 1980. Additionally, Parmenter focused anxiously on the peril posed for the church by the ideas and activities of Robert Brinsmead whose sanctuary-related agitation began in 1958 and was climaxing (in its second phase) by 1979.

This Australasian context made several things almost inevitable after the Glacier View SRC had finished its work on the afternoon of 15 August 1980. The consensus statements had to be marginalised immediately in favour of a ten-point statement prepared by six conferees without discussion or vote by the assembly. After the closure of the SRC, administrative leaders conferred with Desmond Ford whose 900-page position paper was a key part of two thousand pages of material supplied to the conferees. These administrators parried Ford’s enthusiasm for the consensus statement on the sanctuary and dismissed the significance of his written commitment to teach and preach within its parameters. In one afternoon nine leaders created a template whereby the Australasian church would measure its employees and members. The resignations and dismissals Ballis documents were indeed for complex reasons, but the most prominent amongst them was the decision of administrators to opt for difference rather than consensus, for traditional belief rather than the evidence of Scripture and history that renewal was essential and achievable.

III. Glacier View As Profit and Loss: Another Ten-Point Statement

In the aftermath of Glacier View, the interpretation of Adventism fostered by the unofficial but vigorous GROF (“Get Rid of Ford”) party finally prevailed and was adopted administratively as normative for the South Pacific church. The theological benchmark of this group was not so much the Bible as the concept of truth carried in the minds of a trusted group of vocal leaders composed mainly of retired ministers, evangelists, missionaries, and administrators, plus some prominent lay members. Desmond Ford’s dismissal was merely one early step in a pervasive process designed to cleanse the church. Ultra-conservative members in numerous congregations welcomed a virtual charter wherewith to hold ministers for ransom with support from church administrators. Pastors became vulnerable for what they read and said, and for what they didn’t say. The attitude of the ten-point statement created a way for assessing the theological reliability of anyone who appeared enthusiastic about Righteousness by Faith or was impressed by the relevance of new data about Ellen White’s life and writings. Whereas the Adventist doctrine of the sanctuary was moving toward a new level of biblical maturity and theological winsomeness, this reality was shrouded by distrust and conflict. A student capable of taking shorthand notes in college classes was as welcome an ally for some church leaders as were surreptitious tape recordings of conversations: suspects needed to be incriminated and excised from the remnant.

This costly night of Australian Adventism is now far spent as new leaders have striven to lead from the centre rather than the right edge. Perhaps the church is ready and able to consider issues of profit and loss with the aid of an alternative ten-point statement that might read along the following lines.

Adventist doctrine has developed in constructive ways over time. A chief contention of the Australian “winners” after Glacier View was that Adventism’s “truth” was unchanged and unchanging. Since then, a plethora of books and dissertations such as those by Rolf Poehler (Andrews University, 1995 and after) offer realistic correctives for this view.

Adventists can participate constructively in the development of their teachings. As early as 1980, Fritz Guy outlined how “the activity of theological reflection and construction” might proceed coherently, a process well described in his volume Thinking Theologically, Andrews University Press, 1999.

The Adventist sanctuary doctrine as it was in the mid-twentieth century needed development. Ford’s concern over concepts presented in Adventist books motivated his quest from 1945 that culminated in Glacier View. There is now widespread agreement that some earlier formulations negated Christian assurance, were “stilted” or inadequate.

Serious mistakes were made in the way the Glacier View event was interpreted. This matter, introduced in Hammill’s autobiography, can be explored effectively with the help of the primary and secondary sources that are readily available.

The general treatment of Adventist ministers in Australia and New Zealand during  the 1980s crisis was inadequate. President Wilson wrote in 1980: “We do not believe it is Christian nor morally just to condemn or assign guilt by association.” He also declared: “The church is not embarking on a hunting expedition to find pastors who teach variant doctrines.” See Spectrum 11, no. 2 (November 1980), 65-67.  However, such wise and reasonable comments did not deter the Australian church from a “hunting expedition” followed by actions that were unchristian and unjust.

While Hammill warns the “official” reports of Glacier View were flawed, a trustworthy account of Glacier View is available online. According to F.E.J. Harder, Raymond Cottrell and Spectrum “are to be congratulated for providing what must be regarded as the normative description of that unprecedented and historic session for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” Spectrum 12, no. 2 (December 1981), 64.

Australasian Adventism in the 1970s and beyond implemented a creed in terms of Loughborough’s definition. Loughborough said: “The first step of apostacy is to get up a creed, telling us what we shall believe. The second is, to make that creed a test of fellowship. The third is to try members by that creed. The fourth is to denounce as heretics those who do not believe that creed. And, fifth, to commence persecution against such.” Review and Herald, 8 October 1861, 148.This creed was not the 27 Fundamental Beliefs voted at the 1980 General Conference session; it was the concept of Adventism carried in the minds of an earnest but misguided pressure group.

Adventism is tempted to choose tradition over Scripture in a time of crisis. According to Raymond Cottrell, “In the thinking of the majority at Glacier View, Adventist tradition was the norm for interpreting the Bible, rather than the Bible for tradition,” Spectrum 11, no. 2 (November 1980), 18. The problem of putting tradition above Scripture was the fatal flaw in the approach taken by the Australasian Division officers.

Currently, a vigorous reversionist stance continues to elevate tradition above Scripture. Over twenty of the books written by Colin and Russell Standish illustrate this observation, as does their periodical entitled The Remnant Herald. For many years the Standishes were faithful prosecutors of the emphasis developed by the Concerned Brethren; in their view Adventism descended into deep apostasy, as argued in their volumes on Ellen White and Adventist fundamentals.

There is a single major solution for conflicts like that of the era following Glacier View:“the dialogue and dialectic of a community.” This pattern does not exclude members who ask questions, nor does it reject Adventism. Rather, it transforms Adventist faith and practice through attention to Scripture by a community that values each member and invites every one of them to participate in understanding, expressing and sharing its message.

Ellen White claims ours is a “progressive truth” that challenges us to “walk in the increasing light.” She also declares,  “We having nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” Perhaps the supreme lesson of Glacier View is that vigilant parties (even people as dedicated as those calling themselves Concerned Brethren) who demand dismissals should never control the church’s agenda when the clear voice of a properly constituted council (like the Sanctuary Review Committee) offers realistic consensus.[5]


[1] Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976), 515-516.

[2] Peter H. Ballis, Leaving the Adventist Ministry: A Study of the Process of Exiting (Westport, Conn.: Praegar, 1999), 1.

[3] Richard Hammill, “The Sanctuary Review Committee and Desmond Ford,” Pilgrimage: Memoirs of an Adventist Administrator (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1992), 183-198.

[4] Ballis, Leaving the Adventist Ministry, 17, 22, 27.

[5]For a fuller discussion of related issues and citation of relevant sources, see “Twenty-five Years After Glacier View: Using the Lantern of History, Anticipating a Brighter Future,” my presentation to the Sydney Adventist Forum, 22 October 2005.

Note: The above script is related to the oral presentation that I made to the Sydney Adventist Forum when, 25 years after the event, it sought to analyse Glacier View. For the published form of some of these ideas, see my article, “Glacier View and the Adventist Ministers,” Spectrum 34, Issue 2 (Spring 2006). Taken together with this blog and the one mentioned above, the four presentations offer a more balanced picture than that given in isolation by any one of the pieces. On 9 March 2012 I edited the above blog from the in-process draft dated 16 January 2006.

Arthur Patrick, 10 March 2012


Post 45, Mount Exmouth and Adventist Teaching

During the past dozen years, I’ve invested hundred of hours in trying to understand the tragic conflict that impacted the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia and New Zealand during the late 1970s and early 1980s. I’ve written various papers and articles unpacking some of the issues; people with contrasting viewpoints have quoted, published or distributed these as they have attempted to support or demolish my analyses. I thank all those folk who have (usually with the help of computer technology) shared pro and con convictions with me. We grow from receiving the insights of even our sharpest critics.

The series of articles that begins with this blog will focus on a single aspect of the wide-ranging discussion referred to above: the reality of change in Adventist teaching.

I do not submit this article with any claim to know everything that needs to be known about the history that it reviews. It’s just another humble attempt to assist the ongoing dialogue. The community of faith to which we belong is struggling to understand its heritage more fully; if an individual makes a mistake while interpreting the past, the rest of us need to lovingly offer facts and interpretations that will correct the error. That way, we all mature in understanding and faith. Read the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald from 1850 onwards, observing the vigorous discussions that characterised the early years of Sabbatarian Adventism. We can renew that healthy process in the twenty-first century!

Continuity and Change: A Case Study

Adventists are a pilgrim people, journeying from the counterpart of Egypt to the real Canaan. On such a journey through a vast landscape, landmarks are essential. The Bible gives us the significant truths that meet this need.

A number of years ago, I was one of a party of four that hiked in the Warrumbungle National Park where volcanoes and time have created fantastic mountains. Colourful names for various peaks reflect human perceptions and experience: Crater Bluff, Split Rock, Needle Mountain. And Mount Exmouth, reaching 1206 metres into the clear sky of New South Wales, beyond the Great Dividing Range.

Let’s press Mount Exmouth into service as a symbol of an Adventist teaching, the message of the First Angel. See Revelation, chapter 14, especially verses 6 and 7.

Even though it towers over other impressive tors like the Breadknife and Bluff Mountain, Exmouth cannot be seen from Blackman’s Camp. From that angle, other peaks hide Exmouth.

From part of the walking track, Exmouth looks like a single, rounded mass of rock.

When at last we reached its crest, Exmouth was a small range with a number of rocky outcrops.

How similar is the “range” we call the First Angel’s message: proclaiming the everlasting gospel for earth-dwellers, announcing judgment in the present tense, calling for worship of the Creator. Each of these “outcrops” is a guiding truth for our spiritual journey.

But each aspect of this teaching has been viewed very differently from various vantage points during more than sixteen decades of the Adventist journey. Let’s test that statement with reference to just one feature: the gospel, for everyone.

In 1845 when William Miller read in his King James Version about preaching “the everlasting gospel unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” he wrote: “We have done our work in warning sinners, and in trying to awake a formal church. God in his providence has shut the door; we can only stir one another up to be patient, and to be diligent in making our calling and election sure.”

No sense of continuing mission there!

When Uriah Smith read those same words in 1859, he wrote that the United States “is composed of people from almost every nation.” He mused that it may not be necessary, then, to go everywhere preaching the gospel; and probably there wasn’t time to do so, anyway, because Jesus was coming so soon.

That was an improved but short-sighted concept of mission! Jesus declares in Matthew 24:14 (NIV) that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

The concept of mission we cherish from Revelation 14:6-16 propelled earnest folk from North America to every continent, beginning with John Andrews and his two motherless children who went to Europe in 1874. By 1885, that message was moving Stephen Haskell and his ten companions past Samoa and Auckland to Melbourne, to begin their Australian mission.

By the 1950s some Adventists were beginning to ask whether our mission should target non-Christians more effectively. Rather than a main emphasis on re-converting believers, shouldn’t we go more intentionally to those who had never heard the name of Jesus? That line of thinking would develop research centres focused on how best to present Adventism to Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and so on.

Late in the 1960s a fresh concept of mission was forming in the minds of people like Gottfried Oosterwal of Andrews University, formerly a pioneer missionary in what was Dutch New Guinea. By the 1980s for Oosterwal and the church the necessity was clear, Adventists must consciously plan what is now called “Global Mission,” a way of reaching every people group within every nation. For instance, it will never do to tell the story of salvation to just the Anglo-Saxon Australians: our Aborigines must hear the Good News, as must immigrants from India, China, Cambodia and everywhere. God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance,” 2 Peter 3:9.

The New International Version expresses the Adventist task unmistakably: the gospel must go to “every nation, tribe, language and people.” Currently Adventists are working in over 200 of the geographical divisions of the world. The other countries are in their minds, as is every people group in every nation under heaven.

So much for a brief account of over 160 years of Adventist mission. Of course, like Exmouth, the vital truths of the First Angel’s message were there even when we failed to see them at all, or when we peered at some of them as through a dark glass. And as our vantage point changed, so did the substance of what we saw.

All of us need to take responsibility for understanding the truths of the Bible in the light of history. Ellen White’s memorable words reassure us: “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history,” Life Sketches, page 196. One of the deepest problems Adventists face is that we forget what God has clearly taught us in the past. That’s like paying for experience but failing to keep the receipt.

To summarise: the concept of world mission was crucial in Millerite Adventism. It was put on hold in the era of transition when Millerites were becoming Sabbatarian Adventists. After the theological foundation of the new movement was laid effectively, Seventh-day Adventists developed an understanding of their mission in several stages, matching the capacity of the movement to engage with an ever-enlarging task. Thus believers were challenged progressively to better perceive and implement the biblical ideal: God’s Good News is for everyone.

Undergraduate students study such conceptual change in subjects like Seventh-day Adventist history and the life and writings of Ellen White. Seminary or graduate students go into it all in far greater depth when they undertake subjects relating to the development of SDA theology. But all of us need to benefit from understanding how God has led our pilgrimage. Not all of us can sit in college or seminary classrooms. But we can learn a lot about the essentials with the help of books, journals and magazines, plus valuable information we can access at the push of a few computer buttons.

More on this, soon!

Arthur Patrick, 2 March 2012

Post 44: Adventists and the Message of Salvation

One of my friends in Africa is a well-informed scientist and an earnest Christian believer. On the last day of February, Ryan Hill sent me this poem, entitled “Himself,” by A.B. Simpson:

Once it was the blessing, now it is the Lord;

Once it was the feeling, now it is His Word;

Once His gifts I wanted, now the Giver own;

Once I sought for healing, now Himself alone.

Once ’twas painful trying, now ’tis perfect trust;

Once a half salvation, now the uttermost;

Once ’twas ceaseless holding, now He holds me fast;

Once ’twas constant drifting, now my anchor’s cast.

Once ’twas busy planning, now ’tis trustful prayer;

Once ’twas anxious caring, now He has the care;

Once ’twas what I wanted, now what Jesus says;

Once ’twas constant asking, now ’tis ceaseless praise.

Once it was my working, His it hence shall be;

Once I tried to use Him, now He uses me;

Once the power I wanted, now the Mighty One;

Once for self I labored, now for Him alone.

Once I hoped in Jesus, Now I know He’s mine;

Once my lamps were dying, Now they brightly shine.

Once for death I waited, Now His coming hail;

And my hopes are anchored, Safe within the veil.

I couldn’t remember encountering Simpson in the recent past, so I was somewhat amazed that there is so much about him readily available, with a little help from GOOGLE. For instance, Tim Melton posted a picture of Simpson and these paragraphs on 5 June 2008:

Albert Benjamin Simpson (1843-1919) the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance was a leader of the church during his day. He wrote a beautiful hymn called “Himself” that is absolutely stunning in its clear emphasis upon dependence on Christ. In the sermon that preceded this hymn, Simpson writes…

(I once thought) that the Lord would take me like the old run-down clock, wind me up, and set me going like a machine. It is not thus at all. I found it was Himself coming in instead and giving me what I needed at the moment. I wanted to have a great stock, so that I could feel rich; a great store laid up for many years, so that I would not be dependent upon Him the next day; but He never gave me such a store.

I never had more holiness or healing at one time than I needed for that hour. He said: “My child, you must come to Me for the next breath because I love you so dearly I want you to come all the time. If I gave you a great supply, you would do without Me and would not come to Me so often; now you have to come to Me every second, and lie on My breast every moment.”

Tim Melton continues: “So often we look to Christ as a means to an End. Simpson makes it clear that Christ is the Means and the End for which we seek.” He then enables his readers to click on the sermon “that preceded the writing of this hymn.”

There is so much else about Simpson on the Internet, but I thank Ryan Hill for mentioning him and his emphasis on salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This website was a big inactive during much of February, while Joan and I travelled amidst the beauties of North New Zealand with dear friends Dr Allan and Mrs Ruth Juriansz.

I was again deeply impressed by the abundant indicators of time that we saw: the fascinating, fertile soils from the Bombay Hills to the impressive volcanic outcrops that are so evident to anyone who passes through Auckland; the immense sandhills near the north end of Ninety Mile Beach; the Kauri forests buried for so many thousands of years, still being dug up to make beautiful furniture; the impressive contours of Lake Taupo, compelling evidence about one of the biggest volcanoes on earth; the limestone, its erosion, stalactites and stalagmites in the Waitomo Caves. We only visited three of hundreds of caves in the Waitomo area; the data they offer is profoundly important (see the earlier blogs on this site about the age of the earth).

However, now we’ve dealt with a tiny bit of the data about the age of the earth, let us give some attention to the theme of salvation. Several blogs under that rubric will appear on this website, during the next few weeks.

Arthur Patrick, 2 March  2012