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And let us retrace again the footsteps of our pioneer forebears who made their way to Minneapolis by horse-and-buggy that fateful autumn of 1888 where two historic series of meetings would convene, back-to-back. The Ministerial Institute, perhaps the first of its kind among us, though now a regular staple preceding General Conference sessions, opened at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 10, and continued for seven days. The 27th (then annual) Session of the General Conference followed immediately, convening at 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, October 17, and continued through Sunday, November 4. The combined meetings spanned a period of four weeks, less two days.1888FI 2.2
The venue was the newly constructed Seventh-day Adventist church edifice in Minneapolis, Minn.; and the attendees numbered perhaps as many as 500, including 96 delegates representing 27,000 church members in North, Central, and South America, plus Britain and Scandinavia.1888FI 3.1
Because General Conference President George I. Butler was absent, lying ill at home back in Battle Creek, the principal leadership of these two gatherings devolved upon three men: (1) Stephen N. Haskell, world leader and troubleshooter who, curiously, held his delegate credentials jointly from California and the British Field (and was the recipient of more personal letters from Ellen White than any non-family member during the prophet’s lifetime), chaired both the Ministerial Institute and the General Conference Session which followed as “presiding officer”. (2) Franklin E. Belden, secretary of the denomination’s Central Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association at Battle Creek (and a nephew of Ellen White), acted as secretary of the institute. And (3) Uriah Smith, General Conference secretary, served as secretary of the session. 1“General Conference Proceedings, 27th Annual Session,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook of Statistics (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1889), p. 45 ff; William C. White to Taylor G. Bunch, December 30, 1930, p. 1, in MMM/1888, p. 333.1888FI 3.2
The theological problems formally discussed in public, both in the institute and in the studies and debate which continued into the session, were principally three: the identity of the 10 horns of —especially the 10th kingdom (Uriah Smith favored the Huns, while A. T. Jones championed the Alemanni); the identity of the “law” in Galatians—the “schoolmaster” of (Butler and Smith favored the ceremonial law, while Dr. E. J. Waggoner held for the moral law of 10 commandments); and righteousness by faith (the chief presenters were Jones and Waggoner).1888FI 3.3
The leading proponents of what came to be called the “New View” were Jones and Waggoner, co-editors of the Signs of the Times, published by the Pacific Press at Oakland, California; and they were supported by Ellen White and her son, William C. (“Willie”). Opposing them with the “Old View” were Smith (who served both as General Conference secretary and as editor of the Review and Herald); the absent Butler; and state conference presidents James Harvey Morrison 2For a definitive and highly readable biographical sketch of Morrison by his grandson, see “The Case for Jim Morrison,” by Warren L. Johns, General Conference general counsel and founding editor, in JD 1988, pp. 58-113. (Iowa), Robert Mead Kilgore (Illinois), and Rufus A. Underwood (Ohio).1888FI 4.1
Various denominational historians have seen as many as four basic problems surfacing at Minneapolis: (1) the rapid polarization of attendees into one of two soon-to-be warring camps; (2) cavalier (and sometimes even war-like) attitudes on the part of probably the majority—a totally non-Christian spirit which came to dominate most discussions; (3) the partial withdrawal of the presence of the Holy Spirit because of attitudes held; and (4) a growing challenge to Ellen White’s credibility and legitimacy as an authentic prophet of the Lord—a subject upon which this presentation will primarily focus.1888FI 4.2
And those same historians, though sometimes coming from quite different perspectives, definitely agree that these meetings were a watershed in the life of the church, though admittedly for differing reasons.1888FI 4.3
C. Mervyn Maxwell, recently retired professor of church history at Andrews University, calls it “one of the most important” General Conference sessions, ranking along with 1863 [organization] and 1901 [reorganization]. 3Tell It to the World (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1977), p. 232.331888FI 4.4
standing out like a mountain peak, towering above all other sessions in uniqueness and importance. It was a distinct turning point. Nothing like it had occurred before, and none has since been comparable to it. It definitely introduced a new epoch.... 1888 was not a point of defeat, but a turn in the tide for ultimate victory. It was the beginning of decades of clarification and advance—despite struggles and setbacks. 4Movement of Destiny (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1971), p. 187.
“Willie” White saw both a positive and a negative side. Writing to Smith Sharp two days before the session closed, White characterized the conference as “very interesting, ... perhaps as profitable a meeting as was ever held, for many important principles were made prominent, and some conclusions arrived at.” 5W. C. White to Smith Sharp, November 2, 1888, WOW LB D, p. 1; cited by Arthur L. White in The Lonely Years, 1876-1891 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1984), pp. 410, 411.1888FI 5.2
Twenty-five days later, writing to newly elected General Conference President O. A. Olsen (whose surrogate he would be for the next six months until Olsen could return from church duties in Scandinavia), White commented on “certain influences,” at work for some time in the church, which at Minneapolis “culminated ... in the manifestation of a spirit of pharisaism. So mother named it.” 6W. C. White to O. A. Olsen, November 27, 1888, WOW LB D, pp. 20, 21.1888FI 5.3
His mother was perhaps not as optimistic. To daughter-in-law Mary Kelsey-White, on the closing day of the session, Ellen White characterized events as “the hardest and most incomprehensible tug of war we have ever had among our people,” 7, p. 1. And to a “Brother Bollman,” some 14 years later, she stated unequivocally, “I have been instructed [by God] that the terrible experience at the Minneapolis Conference is one of the saddest chapters in the history of the believers in present truth.” 8, p. 10.1888FI 5.4
Robert W. Olson sees the convocation of 1888 as significant for two reasons. Writing an extremely helpful introductory background article to a special 64-page edition of Ministry devoted to the them “1888/1988: Advance or Retreat?” the secretary of the White Estate observes, first, that:1888FI 5.5
In many ways the Minneapolis meeting was a disaster. The church hit bottom spiritually at that session. Ellen White called it “the saddest experience of my life” 9Ellen G. White , p. 4. and “the most grievous trial of my life.” 10Ellen G. White , p. 3. It is the only General Conference session in Adventist history that was marked by open rebellion against Ellen White [in person] on the part of a large number of our ministers. 11“1888—issues, outcomes, lessons,” Ministry, February 1988, p. 4.
From that date—1888—there began a new emphasis in our preaching—less of legalism and more of the righteousness of Christ. This steamed largely from the messages on righteousness by faith ... by E. J. Waggoner. 12“The 1888 General Conference,” unpublished monograph (Washington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Estate, June 16, 1987), p. 1.
As a result of the writings of Wieland and Short, and reactions by nearly a dozen different denominational historians, it is not surprising that most Adventists, when they think of Minneapolis/1888, generally think of two men and one issue: A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner, and the subject of righteousness by faith. And this, certainly, is appropriate.1888FI 6.2
Without desiring to deflect such an emphasis in the slightest, I would, however, like to add another dimension—a different set of two men and another (often, in the minds of many, a “forgotten”) issue—not as a substitution, but rather as an additional relevant element, necessary to an adequate understanding of what happened at Minneapolis and afterward.1888FI 6.3
My two candidates are: Franklin E. Belden, as already noted a prominent leader in the denomination’s publishing enterprise at Battle Creek, composer of two score Adventist hymns and tunes, and nephew of the prophet; and Rufus A. Underwood, president of the Ohio Conference. Underwood was elected to the General Conference Executive Committee first in 1885 (when it had five members) and was re-elected in 1888 (when it was enlarged to seven members); and he would continue to serve in this capacity until his retirement from the ministry in 1920. 13“R. A. Underwood,” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Revised Edition (1976): 1513 (cited hereafter as SDAE); obituary in The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 5, 1932, p. 429.1888FI 6.4
And the often “forgotten issue”? Did Adventism really have a legitimate, authentic, divinely inspired prophet of the Lord? Was God really bringing His messages to and through Ellen White before, during, and after 1888? Or was she only merely voicing her own private, personal opinions, which—some even boldly said out loud—were influenced by her son and his loyalty to his youthful friends, A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner?1888FI 7.1