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Ellen G. White: The Early Elmshaven Years: 1900-1905 (vol. 5)

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    Meeting the “Holy Flesh” Fanaticism

    The workers’ meeting at five-thirty on Wednesday morning, April 17, was not only solemn but exciting. Ellen White chose at that point in the session to meet the “holy flesh” fanaticism. She did so by reading a carefully prepared manuscript statement. Before the meeting closed, she told the audience that to meet this fanaticism was one of the reasons she had left Australia and returned to the United States. The situation with which she was dealing had been revealed to her in Australia in January, 1900, “before I left Cooranbong.” And she declared, “If this had not been presented to me, I should not have been here today. But I am here, in obedience to the word of the Lord, and I thank Him that He has given me strength beyond my expectations to speak to the people.”—Ibid., 426.5BIO 100.3

    What was the holy flesh movement?5BIO 100.4

    In 1898 and 1899 Elder S. S. Davis, conference evangelist in Indiana, developed and promulgated teachings that led to this movement. The basic features of this strange doctrine, which was called “the cleansing message,” were that when Jesus passed through the Garden of Gethsemane He had an experience that all who follow Him must have. It was taught that Jesus had holy flesh, and that those who followed Him through this Garden experience would likewise have holy flesh. They were then “born” sons of God and they had “translation” faith. Having holy flesh like Christ, they could not experience corruption any more than He did; thus they would live to see Him come. This faith, it was claimed, was similar to that which led to the translation of Enoch and Elijah. Those who did not have this experience were “adopted” sons. They did not have translation faith; they must pass through the grave and thus go to heaven by “the underground railway.”5BIO 100.5

    Attempting to gain this Garden experience that would give them holy flesh, the people gathered in meetings in which there were long prayers, strange, loud instrumental music, and excited, extended, hysterical preaching. They were led to seek an experience of physical demonstration. Bass drums and the tambourines aided in this. It was expected that one, possibly more, of their number would fall prostrate to the floor. He would then be carried to the platform, where a dozen or more people would gather around and shout, “Glory to God!” while others prayed or sang. When this person regained consciousness, it was declared that he had passed through the Garden experience—he had holy flesh, he had translation faith!5BIO 101.1

    Under the guise of a great revival and the outpouring of the latter rain, the movement swept through the Indiana Conference. Late in 1899 the president, Elder R. S. Donnell, became a strong advocate of these views and was joined by most of the ministers in Indiana. In arranging for the camp meeting of 1900, he planned great things. He was unwilling that the two visiting General Conference brethren, Elders S. N. Haskell and A. J. Breed, be given much opportunity to reach the people. He warned his workers that these men did not have “this experience” and the ministers should not allow themselves to be influenced by them.5BIO 101.2

    As the conference president stood speaking one evening, he held his arms outstretched toward the congregation, and later reported that he had felt great power coursing down his arms and passing through his fingers out to the people.5BIO 101.3

    Elder Haskell reported that there was indeed a power, a strange power, in this new message. The people were bewildered. None wished to miss the experience of the outpouring of the Spirit of God. Translation faith seemed desirable. The teaching was a mixture of truth, error, excitement, and noise.5BIO 101.4

    The camp meeting at which this experience took place was held in Muncie, Indiana, while Ellen White was on board ship returning to the United States. When James Edson White journeyed to the West Coast to greet his mother, he handed her a letter from Elder Haskell in which he described some of the things that had taken place.5BIO 101.5

    To describe it, I hardly know what to say. It is beyond all description. I have never seen any company held with a firmer grasp by a certain number of the leading ministers, than they are held in Indiana. Brother R. S. Donnell is president, and they have an experience in getting the people ready for translation. They call it the “cleansing message.” Others call it the “holy flesh“: and when I say the “cleansing message” and the “holy flesh,” no doubt these terms will bring to your mind experiences that illustrate what we saw....5BIO 102.1

    There is a great power that goes with the movement that is on foot there. It would almost bring anybody within its scope, if they are at all conscientious, and sit and listen with the least degree of favor, because of the music that is brought to play in the ceremony. They have an organ, one bass viol, three fiddles, two flutes, three tambourines, three horns, and a big bass drum, and perhaps other instruments which I have not mentioned. They are as much trained in their musical line as any Salvation Army choir that you ever heard. In fact, their revival effort is simply a complete copy of the Salvation Army method, and when they get on a high key, you cannot hear a word from the congregation in their singing, nor hear anything, unless it be shrieks of those who are half insane. I do not think I overdraw it at all.—S. N. Haskell to EGW, September 25, 1900.5BIO 102.2

    Haskell went on to describe the confusion and perplexity that were resulting from this preaching. One of the features of their teachings, along with holy flesh and translation faith, was that of “moral purity,” for which they seemed to carry a great burden. It was all “a mixture of truth and error, with much excitement and music.”5BIO 102.3

    Haskell's letter to Ellen White indicated that in his opinion the work that was done by him, his wife, and Elder Breed had been of little consequence as far as most of the people were concerned.5BIO 102.4

    Another communication that had reached Ellen White concerning this movement was a letter written June 1, 1900, by an Ida V. Hadley. The questions asked in this letter throw some light on the holy flesh teaching. Some of these questions were:5BIO 103.1

    Was Mary's body made holy, sinless, in her flesh before conception, so that Christ was born from sinless flesh? And His own body sinless flesh of itself? (Hebrews 10:5)....5BIO 103.2

    Is it Bible doctrine that men need never have died, but all been translated, if they only had grasped the “translation faith”? Was that why Enoch and Elijah were translated, because they grasped this fact, rather than others? (John 11:26)....5BIO 103.3

    Is conversion a change of flesh from sinful to sinless? ...5BIO 103.4

    Is it possible for us to arrive at that place in our experience where we do not always have to be overcomers? ...5BIO 103.5

    Is it possible to get where we will not be tempted from within before Christ comes? ...5BIO 103.6

    Do the Scriptures teach that there is a difference between born sons and adopted sons, that adopted sons go to dust, and born sons are translated?5BIO 103.7

    We have no knowledge that Ellen White responded to the Hadley communication, which would have reached her just before she left Australia. In replying to the Haskell letter on October 10, 1900, she wrote from her Elmshaven home in northern California:5BIO 103.8

    Last January the Lord showed me that erroneous theories and methods would be brought into our camp meetings, and that the history of the past would be repeated. I felt greatly distressed. I was instructed to say that at these demonstrations demons in the form of men are present, working with all the ingenuity that Satan can employ to make the truth disgusting to sensible people; that the enemy was trying to arrange matters so that the camp meetings, which have been the means of bringing the truth of the third angel's message before multitudes, should lose their force and influence.—Letter 132, 1900 (Selected Messages 2:37).5BIO 103.9

    But Ellen White's letter to the Haskells did not constitute a confrontation with the issues or with those involved. The Haskell letter conveyed to her what was now in the open. Some may feel that these letters gave Ellen White her inspiration in this matter. In this her experience was much like that of Paul, of which she tells us:5BIO 103.10

    Paul was an inspired apostle, yet the Lord did not reveal to him at all times just the condition of His people. Those who were interested in the prosperity of the church, and saw evils creeping in, presented the matter before him, and from the light which he had previously received he was prepared to judge of the true character of these developments.... The Lord had shown him the difficulties and dangers which would arise in the churches, that when they should develop he might know just how to treat them.5BIO 104.1

    He was set for the defense of the church. He was to watch for souls as one that must render account to God, and should he not take notice of the reports concerning their state of anarchy and division? Most assuredly; and the reproof he sent them was written just as much under the inspiration of the Spirit of God as were any of his Epistles.—Testimonies for the Church 5:65, 66. (Italics supplied.)5BIO 104.2

    Ellen White was shown in Australia in January, 1900, what would take place. The strange work was just then developing in Indiana, and she was shown what would take place at the camp meeting. Thus she was prepared to speak of the matter when she came to the General Conference session in 1901.5BIO 104.3

    In her audience that Wednesday morning, April 17, were R. S. Donnell, president of the Indiana Conference; S. S. Davis, who had led out in this teaching; and many of the ministers from Indiana. Battle Creek was not far away from their home State. Ellen White said in part:5BIO 104.4

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