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    Chapter 1—Background of the Issues

    The Issue Explicated—What must have been the ultimate issue for Ellen White was clearly spelled out by her in correspondence with our two principals, Belden and Underwood. And she left them—as well as the more recent reader of her words—in no doubt as to how she viewed matters, and where she stood.1888FI 7.2

    Writing to Franklin Belden and his wife, the former Harriet McDearmon (Harriet married Belden in 1881; her sister, Emma, had wed Ellen White’s eldest surviving son, James Edson, 11 years earlier in 1870), Mrs. White commented in 1892 concerning the events of four years earlier:1888FI 7.3

    Never before have I seen among our people such firm self-complacency and unwillingness to accept and acknowledge light as was manifested at Minneapolis....

    When I purposed to leave Minneapolis, the angel of the Lord stood by me and said: “Not so; God has a work for you to do in this place. The people are acting over the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. I have placed you in your proper position, which those who are not in the light will not acknowledge; they will not heed your testimony; but I will be with you; My grace and power shall sustain you. It is not you they are despising, but the messengers and the message I sent to My people. They have shown contempt for the word of the Lord.” 1Letter 2a, November 5, 1892, pp. 4, 5.

    And to Underwood, in two different letters seven days apart, both in January of 1889, she came right to the point. The issue? “My brethren thought that I was influenced in my judgment and work by W. C. White, A. T. Jones, or Dr. Waggoner.” 2Letter 22, January 18, 1889, p. 11.1888FI 8.1

    Declining Underwood’s invitation to speak at his Ohio camp meeting the following spring, she gave the reason succinctly:1888FI 8.2

    You did not recognize the voice of the True Shepherd speaking through His servant. Again and again did I bear my testimony to those assembled in a clear and forcible manner. But that testimony was not received....

    I stated my experience and work for the last 45 years before you at Minneapolis and [subsequently at] Battle Creek. But since some of my brethren hold me in the light they do, that my judgment is of no more value than that of any other, or of one who has not been called to this special work, and that I am subject to the influence of my son Willie, or of some others, why do you send for Sister White to attend your camp meetings or special meetings? I cannot come. I could not do you any good, and it would only be trifling with the sacred responsibilities the Lord has laid upon me. 3Letter 3, January 25, 1889, p. 12.

    Then, three pages later, she amplified her concern: I expect to have these words [of mine] distorted, misapprehended by unbelievers, and it is no surprise to me. But to have my brethren, who are acquainted with my mission and my work, trifle with the message that God gives me to bear, grieves His Spirit. It is discouraging to me to have them pick out portions in the testimonies that please them which they construe to justify their own course of action and give the impression that that portion they accept as the word of God, and then when other testimonies come that bring rebuke upon their course, when words are spoken that do not coincide with their opinions and judgment, they dishonor God’s work by saying, “Oh, this we do not accept—it is only Sister White’s opinion, and it is no better than my opinion or that of anyone else.” This is dishonoring to God and grievous to His Spirit. 4Ibid., p. 5.1888FI 8.3

    Two Precipitating Questions—Two resolutions were brought before the session for action by the delegates, which illustrate the nature of the “forgotten” issue: (1) the content of religion courses to be taught subsequently at Battle Creek College, and (2) a proposed requirement that no man be allowed to enter the gospel ministry who had not first proved himself successful in the sale of truth-filled literature as a colporter.1888FI 9.1

    Ellen White, as we shall note below, opposed both proposals. What seems little short of incredible today is that after the prophet voiced her objections in the strongest possible terms, the chairman still brought the motions to the floor for a vote by the delegates! As it turned out, the first resolution failed to muster a majority vote, but the second was actually passed! What were the specifics of these two proposals?1888FI 9.2

    (1) Content of Religion Courses at Battle Creek College: A resolution was proposed at an afternoon education-interest meeting to the effect that “nothing be taught in our school at Battle Creek contrary to what has been taught in the past, or as approved by the General Conference Committee.”1888FI 9.3

    Ellen White, present in the meeting, pricked up her ears upon hearing this, and promptly requested a re-reading of the motion. Following this, she then inquired, “in a very decided tone” (in the memory of one eyewitness), as to whether or not such a resolution had ever came before the conference previously. The silence that followed was, to some, painful and reportedly “could be felt.”1888FI 9.4

    Pursuing the point, she pressed Uriah Smith, secretary of the session, on the point of whether or not he was aware of a precedent for such an action. “He seemed uncertain.”1888FI 10.1

    R. B. Craig, one of four delegates from Indiana, tried to be helpful by pointing out to Mrs. White that, earlier, a call had been voted for A. T. Jones to transfer from editorial duties on the Signs of the Times to teach Bible at Battle Creek College the next year. The framers of this resolution were attempting, in Craig’s word, to “control” (or, perhaps more accurately, to nuzzle) Jones in the classroom.1888FI 10.2

    Mrs. White responded by cautioning delegates concerning the substantial danger inherent in the resolution of “binding about the Lord’s work,” and warned them away from this ground.1888FI 10.3

    Jones, who was also present, quite understandably (and quite properly) protested this infringement of his academic freedom.1888FI 10.4

    When brought to a vote, the motion failed of majority support, though one delegate—perhaps attempting to make up for this lack—reportedly voted in favor with both hands upraised! 5Based on a letter R. B. Craig to L. E. Froom, May, 1930, cited by L. E. Frown in op. cit., pp. 253, 254. (Some have since surmised that this enthusiastic voter was Morrison.)1888FI 10.5

    Whether or not this is so, it is known that Rufus Underwood actively joined in the effort to curb Jones’ freedom in the classroom; for, with the experience still vivid in her memory, Ellen White wrote him this stinging rebuke less than three months later: I stated these things [her reasons for opposing the notion] clearly [in the meeting], but still you urged that the resolution should be carried into effect. You made it evident that if God was leading me, He was certainly not leading you. Your resistance to my words, and the manifestation of so much feeling expressed in your lowering countenance and your determined words impressed me very unfavorably. 6Letter 22, 1889, p. 10, emphasis supplied.1888FI 10.6

    At least two reasons can be deduced for Ellen White’s opposition to this particular proposal, apart from the more obvious issue of the ethics of academic freedom:1888FI 11.1

    (a) Such action might imply—and be construed to support the notion—that nothing but truth had, heretofore, been taught in the classrooms of Battle Creek College; but such, demonstrably, had not been the case. Error and wrong sentiments had been taught, four years earlier (1884), by none other than the president of the General Conference, George I. Butler!1888FI 11.2

    Butler was a principal exponent of the curious view that there are “differences in degrees” of inspiration in the Scriptures (for example, the prophetic books are heavy with inspiration; the historical books have somewhat less; and the poetical books have little or none—because, allegedly, they don’t need any).1888FI 11.3

    Butler’s series of 10 articles, which ran in the Review and Herald from January 15 through June 3, prompted Mrs. White, five years later, to write to Underwood, to explain, in part, her opposition:1888FI 11.4

    Both in the [Battle Creek] Tabernacle and in the college the subject of inspiration has been taught, and finite men have taken it upon themselves to say that some things in the Scriptures were inspired and some were not. I was shown that the Lord did not inspire the articles on inspiration published in the Review, neither did He approve their endorsement before our youth in the college. When men venture to criticize the Word of God, they venture on sacred, holy ground, and had better fear and tremble and hide their wisdom as foolishness. God sets no man to pronounce judgment on His Word, selecting sore things as inspired and discrediting others as uninspired. The testimonies have been treated in the same way; but God is not in this. 7Ibid., p. 9; cited in Selected Messages 1:23 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1958).

    Addressing Underwood’s own support for the proposal to nuzzle A. T. Jones in the classroom, Mrs. White bluntly told this conference president:1888FI 12.1

    You seem to be surprised that I look at matters in the light that I do.... Now my dear brother, I would not wound your feelings, I would not grieve your soul or discourage you; but I must lay some things open before you. I told the conference [Minneapolis/1888] what had been shown me in the past in reference to resolutions which covered the same ground. I stated that many things had been taught in the college that was as seed sown in minds and would yield a harvest which would not be pleasant to reap. I stated that I had light in reference to this matter. 8Letter 22, January 18, 1889, p. 9.

    Then, amplifying these words, she added:1888FI 12.2

    Infidel arguments have been brought into the college for the purpose of instructing our youth how to argue against infidelity. The seeds of infidelity may not at once be developed yet they will manifest their existence when temptation arises. I have been shown that doubts will enter the heart, arguments in favor of infidelity will fasten in the mind that will finally lead to skepticism as a result of this course. 9Ibid., pp. 9, 10.

    (b) A second reason for Ellen White’s opposition to the controlling of content in religion classes at Battle Creek College was that additional new, “special light” was yet to come to God’s people “as they neared the closing scenes of this earth’s history,” and “it would be impossible for us to state just how this additional light would come.”1888FI 12.3

    It might come in a very unexpected manner, in a way that would not agree with the ideas that many have conceived. It is not at all unlikely, or contrary to the ways and work of God, to send light to His people in unexpected ways. Would it be right that every avenue should be closed in our school so that the students could not have the benefit of this light? The resolution was not called for. 10Ibid., p. 10.1888FI 12.4

    There were other reasons for Ellen White’s opposition to the resolution, which remained unstated at the time. In an 1890 manuscript she added: “I protested, for there had been many things presented to me which I could not at that time present before the Conference, because they were not prepared for it.” 11Ellen G. White Manuscript 5, 1890, p. 2.341888FI 12.5

    (2) Colporteur Work a Prerequisite to Gospel Ministry: A second resolution brought before the delegates on Thursday, November 1, on the 12th day (of 19) of the session was introduced by none other than Ellen White’s nephew, Franklin E. Belden. Its effect was to require “a practical experience in the canvassing [colporteur, or gospel literature sales work] field before persons are encouraged to enter the Bible work or the ministry.” 12The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, November 13, 1888, p. 713.1888FI 13.1

    The motion apparently was introduced late in the day, and seems initially to have been discussed only briefly. Then, for reasons not clear from the published minutes (though one suspects it was either the lateness of the hour, or opposition of the prophet—or both), the motion was referred back for further consideration by the Committee on Resolutions.1888FI 13.2

    On the succeeding day (November 2) the item was brought back at 10:30 a.m. as a first item of business. Perhaps to assuage the anxiety of Ellen White, and to nullify her supporters, someone proposed the resolution be amended to include the prefatory limitation “as far as reasonable.” And with that revision the recommendation was adopted forthwith, despite the prophet’s continued objection.1888FI 13.3

    Writing to Underwood (who strongly supported this measure at Minneapolis) less than three months later, Mrs. White made it clear that despite the amendment, which (on paper, at least) softened the severity of the prior requirement, the regulation would nevertheless still be viewed—and applied—by local conference officials as a rule with virtually no exceptions. And in words as strong as she ever employed, she inveighed against this resolution which, having been passed, was now official church policy:1888FI 13.4

    This was to be an absolute rule, and notwithstanding all I had to say against this resolution, it was carried. It was not right for the conference to pass it. It was not in God’s order, and this resolution will fall powerless to the ground. I shall not sustain it, for I would not be found working against God. This is not God’s way of working, and I will not give it countenance for a moment. 13Letter 22, January 18, 1889, pp. 10, 11.

    If Underwood (and the other delegates at Minneapolis) were surprised, even startled, at Mrs. White’s opposition to this measure, they could perhaps—at least in some small measure—have been forgiven their astonishment. For, at least in the last decade, none other than Ellen White was in the forefront of lauding the importance of literature sales work (known first as “canvassing,” and then as “colporteuring”), not only as a splendid avenue of soul-winning work in its own right, but also as an excellent, praiseworthy preparation for the gospel ministry.1888FI 14.1

    She would come to characterize it, variously, as an “elevated” and “elevating” work, 14Testimonies for the Church 4:603, (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1948) (cited hereafter as 4T, etc.); Colporteur Ministry (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1953), p. 77 (cited hereafter as CM). a “most blessed ... work,” 15Colporteur Ministry, 20. a “sacred work,” 16Colporteur Ministry, 29. a “work of great responsibility,” 17Colporteur Ministry, 14, 37. an “important field for labor,” 18Testimonies to Ministers (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1962), p. 317 (cited hereafter as TA).—in short, “a great and good work.” 19Testimonies for the Church 6:340.1888FI 14.2

    Its importance, further, would be explicated as “missionary work of the highest order” (if conducted properly!), 20Testimonies for the Church 6:313. “equal to that of the gospel minister,” 21Colporteur Ministry, 8, 45, 97; Testimonies for the Church 6:321. 37. CM the “most successful way of saving souls,” 22Testimonies for the Church 6:313; 1M 316. to which she added this superlative benediction: “If there is one work more important than another, it is that of getting our publications before the public.” 23Testimonies for the Church 4:390.1888FI 14.3

    More startling, it was none other than Ellen White who had publicly taken the stand that young men planning and preparing for the ministry should take up gospel literature sales work, 24Testimonies for the Church 6:471, 321. for it is “an excellent school for those who are qualifying themselves to enter the ministry.” 25Colporteur Ministry, 31, 32; Gospel Workers, 96, 97 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1948); Testimonies for the Church 4:603, 604; Testimonies for the Church 6:322. In short, she viewed it as “a good work ... which will educate men and women to do pastoral labor.” 26Testimonies for the Church 4:390.1888FI 14.4

    But, conditioned as they were (colporteur work in the church traces its genesis to an 1879 Ellen White testimony and Dr. John Harvey Kellogg’s subsequent experimentation the next year with the sales promotion of his 1600-page Home Handbook on health 27“Literature Evangelist,” SDAE (1976): 792.), these men had perhaps not also read from the same pen additional cautionary caveats. For, while it is true that “to everyone ... the Lord appoints a work for others,” 28Prophets and Kings, 222 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1943). it is equally true that “not all can fill the same place in the work ... [though, indeed,] there is a place and a work for all.” 29Christ’s Object Lessons, 300, 301 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1941) (cited hereafter as 13Q.1888FI 15.1

    Why? Because, as she herself had said, “All ... do not receive the same gifts.” 30Christ’s Object Lessons, 327. God does not expect each Christian to be prepared for “any and every” position in the work of the church. 31Testimonies for the Church 6:334 And—face it—not everyone is fitted for colporteur work. 32Testimonies for the Church 4:390. It is, indeed, in this very context that Ellen White added, “We cannot lay out an undeviating line for everyone to follow. Circumstances alter cases.” 33Colporteur Ministry, 42. 351888FI 15.2

    And while it is true that some who are adapted to make a success of colporteur work “are not adapted to the work of the preacher,” 34Testimonies for the Church 6:323. it is equally true that “it is not correct to think that everyone can be a canvasser. Same have no special adaptability for this work.” 35Testimonies for the Church 6:333, 334.1888FI 15.3

    And so Ellen White objected to making colporteur work the “knot-hole” through which all, without exception, must be dragged before they can engage in the work of Bible instructor or gospel preacher.1888FI 15.4

    In view of these expanded counsels, it is, then, all the more interesting to discover that the world church yet today continues to be of the opinion of the majority of the delegates at Minneapolis in 1888! For this very same requirement is still on the policy books in 1988 (although in practice it is not applied consistently throughout the church). The General Conference Working Policy 361987/1988 edition, Section L-15-45-1j, p. 267. and the North American Division Working Policy 371987/1988 edition, Section L-25-30-1h, p. 276. continue to require, that eligibility prerequisites for ministerial internship1888FI 16.1

    shall include [along other things] ... three months or 350 hours of experience as a literature evangelist. (Exceptions should be allowed only after careful study of the individual case and should be very few.)

    It is interesting to ponder a curious question at this point. Why did the delegates pass the colporteur prerequisite to gospel ministry over Ellen White’s stated (and vehement) objections, when they had earlier acceded to her wishes and counsel in the matter of not muzzling teachers in the classrooms of Battle Creek College?1888FI 16.2

    At least three possible answers carne quickly to mind:1888FI 16.3

    (a) Is it possible that the delegates, as with Ellen White, were just a trifle uncertain about the avenues through which God might yet choose to reveal new and further light to His people? That He might just use the religion department of Battle Creek College—heaven forbid, He might just even use A. T. Jones himself! And that the delegates were perhaps a bit leery of “binding about the Lord’s work” in such uncertain, uncharted areas? The hypothesis does not seen all that unreasonable.

    (b) Then, is it possible that in the case of the colporteur prerequisite to gospel ministry the delegates felt on somewhat “safer” ground? That this might, indeed, be a “safe” issue (with no potentially horrendous consequences immediately visible on the horizon), and, at the same time, it could provide than with a handy vehicle for demonstrating their personal displeasure at Ellen White’s stubbornly siding with Jones and Waggoner in their opposition to the more traditional theological position of the mainstream church? Such, indeed, might helpfully serve to illustrate tangibly their unhappiness with her failure to support “properly” (at least in their view) the constituted top leadership of the church?

    (c) Finally, because some of those ministerial delegates may have been required to perform colporteur work themselves as a sort of “rite of passage” (“good discipline”) before being allowed to enter ministerial labors, did those workers want to force on other, younger men coming along behind them, the same “experience” or “discipline” as prerequisite to doing pastoral and evangelistic labor?

    While one cannot, of course, be dogmatic at this point, it is a fact that a similar spirit dominated others in the closing days of the 19th century. There was a spirit to force fellow Seventh-day Adventist church members to wear something Ellen White had labeled the “reform dress”—and had recommended highly. But she protested the spirit of coercion manifested in that area, as well:1888FI 17.1

    Some who adopted the reform [dress] were not content to show by example the advantages of the dress, giving, when asked, their reasons for adopting it, and letting the matter rest there. They sought to control others’ conscience by their own. If they wore it, others must put it on. They forgot that none were to be compelled to wear the reform dress. 38Testimonies for the Church 4:636, emphasis supplied.

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