During that period, Ellen White wrote to Dr. Kellogg: “You are not definitely clear on the personality of God, which is everything to us as a people. You have virtually destroyed the Lord God Himself.”
“Pantheism” is derived from two Greek words—pan, “all,” and theos, “God.” In pantheism, everything manifests the presence of God; nature and God are identical. By misunderstanding the role of the Holy Spirit the Christian church for two thousand years has lapsed into various heresies that border on pantheism; some have been direct incursions into pantheistic territory. That same misunderstanding created a crisis in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the early 1900s.
In the 1840s and 1850s ex-Millerite “spiritualizers” not only emphasized that Jesus had indeed “come” in 1844 to the “believers,” they were also “highly introverted” in their ecstatic worship practices. In addition, many groups were allied with the growing influence of modern spiritualism, first with the Shakers and then with the Fox-sisters movement in Hydesville, New York. But underneath the “spiritualizer” movement was the reduction of Jesus to that of a “spirit” rather than a material Person.32
When pantheistic ideas developed half a century later among Seventh-day Adventists, Ellen White recognized the similarities with the “spiritualizers” that she had firmly confronted in the 1840s and early 1850s.33
Before the death of James White in 1881 J. H. Kellogg shared with the Whites some theories of “new light” in understanding God. Ellen White responded forthrightly that she had “met them before” and that he should “never teach such theories in our institutions.”34
But by 1897 Kellogg was introducing his pantheistic concepts at a ministerial institute preceding the General Conference session. His presentations were recorded in the 1897 General Conference Bulletin. Expressions such as the following were enthusiastically received by those who were not able to see where such thoughts would lead: “What a wonderful thought, that this mighty God that keeps the whole universe in order, is in us! . . . What an amazing thing that this almighty, all-powerful, and all-wise God should make Himself a servant of man by giving man a free will—power to direct the energy within his body!”35
In the late 1890s E. J. Waggoner also developed similar concepts. Because of his reputation as a Bible student and previous support from Ellen White for his salvation-by-faith teachings in 1888-1892, his linkage with Dr. Kellogg brought plausibility to the teachings of both men. At the General Conference of 1899 he taught that men and women should be able to overcome their diseases and live forever, that every breath taken is “a direct breathing of God” in the nostrils, and that God is in pure water and good food, because “God is in everything.”36
From these General Conference sessions and the Bulletins, these “new” and intriguing thoughts, pantheistic to the core, soon circled the Adventist world. That this age-old error in modern dress, often misusing Ellen White statements in sermons and articles, was not confronted early and head-on, seems astonishing today.37
But Ellen White in Australia was aroused. Letters had been written many weeks prior to the 1899 General Conference in order to arrive in time to be read to the delegates. On March 1 the first letter was entitled: “The True Relation of God and Nature.” In part, she wrote: “Nature is not God and never was God. . . . As God’s created work, it but bears a testimony of His power. . . . We need carefully to consider this; for in their human wisdom, the wise men of the world, knowing not God, foolishly deify nature and the laws of nature.”38
This communication should have been enough to eliminate further pantheistic teaching by denominational spokesmen. But these clear statements were ignored. Pantheistic theories seemed to pick up additional supporters among physicians at the Battle Creek Sanitarium as well as ministers in the field.
When A. G. Daniells returned from Australia to assume leadership of the General Conference, he was astounded to hear expressions such as “a tree maker in the tree,” and God in flowers, trees, and all mankind. W. A. Spicer, newly appointed secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, had just spent several years as a missionary in India where pantheism permeated Hinduism. He quickly recognized the popularized American concepts for what they were.
On February 1, 1902, the world-renowned Battle Creek Sanitarium burned to the ground. Within hours Dr. Kellogg was laying plans to rebuild. Within days he was asking the General Conference for financial assistance. (The denomination at that time was heavily in debt—much of the debt due to expansive medical facilities.) Daniells, remembering that funds were being raised to reduce the debts on educational facilities by selling Ellen White’s book, Christ’s Object Lessons, suggested that Dr. Kellogg write a laymen’s book on physiology and health care as promoted in the Battle Creek Sanitarium. He thought that 500,000 copies could be sold by Adventists to their friends, and all the proceeds would go to help reconstruct the sanitarium.39
But in the discussion over the proposed book, Daniells made it plain to Kellogg that none of his “new theory” must be in the book because, if it were, many church members would not cooperate in the venture. The doctor quickly agreed and immediately began to dictate the manuscript for The Living Temple.
However, as soon as the galley proofs were read by W. W. Prescott and W. A. Spicer, controversy over its contents began.40 Kellogg saw that the General Conference Committee intended to withdraw support for publication of the book, so he withdrew it from further consideration as a church venture. Nevertheless, he placed a personal order for 5,000 copies with the Review and Herald Publishing Association.41 About a month later, December 30, 1902, fire destroyed the publishing house with the plates for the book then ready for the press.
At the General Conference of 1903 other issues besides The Living Temple dominated the agenda. Management decisions regarding the Battle Creek Sanitarium and denominational health work in general became a struggle of leadership, Kellogg against Daniells. The doctor was determined to reopen Battle Creek College (the faculty and student body under Sutherland and Magan had already moved to Berrien Springs, Michigan). Prescott, as editor of the Review, used its pages to resist Kellogg’s “ill-advised” venture and to expose the errors of his pantheism.
During that period, Ellen White wrote to Dr. Kellogg: “You are not definitely clear on the personality of God, which is everything to us as a people. You have virtually destroyed the Lord God Himself.”
A few days later she continued: “Your ideas are so mystical that they are destructive to the real substance, and the minds of some are becoming confused in regard to the foundation of our faith. If you allow your mind to become thus diverted, you will give a wrong mold to the work that has made us what we are.”42
But Mrs. White did not openly confront the doctor at the session. In vision she was told that she “must not say anything that would stir up confusion and strife in the conference.” The whole controversy must play out further so that all concerned would see the issues more clearly.43
Disregarding her counsel, Dr. Kellogg had 5,000 copies of The Living Temple produced by a commercial printer. Now more of the general public could see for themselves why church leaders had been concerned. Opposing sides developed; those in favor saw this “new light” to be conducive to a deeper religious experience; those opposed saw it as contributing to the dismantlement of the sanctuary doctrine, creating confusion regarding the function of the Holy Spirit, and blurring the truth concerning the distinct personalities of the Godhead. Throughout the summer Ellen White remained silent.
When the Autumn Council of the General Conference opened in Washington, D. C., on October 7, everyone knew that the Kellogg controversy and The Living Temple would have to be addressed. Among those supporting Kellogg were E. J. Waggoner, A. T. Jones, and David Paulson, a young physician.44
After a spirited all-day and late-evening meeting, Daniells returned home to find a group of people waiting. Their first greeting was: “Deliverance has come! Here are two messages from Mrs. White.”
The messages were clear, concise, and unambiguous: “These sentiments [The Living Temple] do not bear the endorsement of God. They are a snare that the enemy has prepared for these last days. . . . The track of truth lies close beside the track of error, and both tracks may seem to be one to minds which are not worked by the Holy Spirit, and which, therefore, are not quick to discern the difference between truth and error.”45
Read at the Council the next day, these messages settled the issue for most of the waverers. Daniells wrote immediately to Ellen White, saying, in part: “Never were messages from God more needed than at this very time; and never were messages sent from Him to His people more to the point than those you have sent to us. They have been exactly what we have needed, and have come at just the right time. . . . The conflict was severe, and we knew not how things would turn. But your clear, clean-cut, beautiful message came and settled the controversy. I do not say that all parties came into perfect harmony, but it gave those who stood on the right side strength to stand, and hold their ground.”
Again in the letter, Daniells emphasized the remarkable timing: “Dr. Kellogg had been with us two or three days. His attitude had brought more or less confusion in the minds of a number of our ministers—men who do not really know where they stand. Your message came on just the right day—a day earlier would have been too soon.”46
After receiving this letter from the General Conference president, Mrs. White wrote back, explaining the circumstances that prompted her timely messages. In this reply she revealed the vision in which she saw the iceberg and the captain’s order, “Meet it!” She knew immediately what her duty was. Beginning at 1:00 A.M., she wrote as fast as she could. When her office help arrived, they had pages to edit. She wrote throughout the day, and the secretaries worked throughout the next night so that the material could be sent on the early-morning train.
They worked until they heard the sound of the train whistle. D. E. Robinson, one of the secretaries, rode his bicycle as fast as he could for almost two miles to catch the mail car. Days later, these timely messages arrived in Washington, D. C., not a day too early, nor a day late! 47
Ellen White wrote personally to E. J. Waggoner, one of the foremost supporters of The Living Temple, urging him to change his ways: “I have seen the results of these fanciful views of God, in apostasy, spiritualism, free loveism. The free love tendencies of these teachings were so concealed that it was difficult to present them in their real character. Until the Lord presented it to me, I knew not what to call it, but I was instructed to call it unholy spiritual love.”48
With these public messages now before the denomination and The Living Temple available for all to see the issues involved, the struggle at Battle Creek especially, was intense. More than the issue of pantheism was involved, of course. A number who felt identified with Dr. Kellogg’s position on the control of the sanitarium also felt inclined to support his “new light.” The big picture was not clear for many.
At the Lake Union Conference session in May 1904, the deepening cleavage between two definite camps continued. Each camp was composed of strong, well-known church leaders. Each group looked differently and deeply at various denominational issues. According to E. K. VandeVere, long-time head of the history department at Emmanuel Missionary College (E.M.C.), the polarities at the 1904 session included:
Centralization vs decentralization of authority
Orthodoxy vs the new theology (pantheism, etc.)
Organization vs independence
Paid ministry vs a self-supporting ministry
Validity of Ellen White’s “testimonies” vs her being questioned and/or ignored
Medical work as “arm” vs medical work as “body”
Emmanuel Missionary College’s success vs the reopening of Battle Creek College
Battle Creek regarded as “punished” vs Battle Creek’s fires as accidental
Move to Washington vs the value of Battle Creek label
Educational orthodoxy vs experimental education
Board control of E.M.C. vs E.M.C. administrators being led by the Spirit
“Reformers” Kellogg, Sutherland, Magan, E. J. Waggoner, A. T. Jones vs top-level church administrators Daniells, Spicer, Prescott, Morrison.49
Into this ferment came Ellen White with sermons each morning at eleven o’clock, including “The Foundation of Our Faith,” “Lessons From Revelation 3,” “A Plea for Unity,” “Take Heed to Thyself,” and “A Change of Feeling Needed.”50
In these sermons Mrs. White emphasized the principles that each side was trying to uphold. She hoped that both sides would see the big picture. But she also saw what prevented both groups from understanding each other. Attitudes on both sides of various issues were the chief obstacle to resolving the apparent dilemmas: “Angels from heaven, sent to minister wisdom and grace, were disappointed to see self pressing its way in, to make things appear in a wrong light. Men were talking and discussing, and conjectures were brought in that should have had no place in the meeting.”51
Near the end of the meetings, Ellen White had a vision. She wrote an account of it and gave it to W. C. White to read to the delegates on the last day: “Last night matters were presented to me, showing that strange things would mark the conclusion of the conference . . . unless the Holy Spirit of God should change the hearts and minds of many of the workers. The medical missionaries especially should seek to have their souls transformed by the grace of God.”52
Tensions continued building. To provide as much help as possible to those who still wavered, Mrs. White rushed the printing of Testimonies, volume 8, with its section entitled, “The Essential Knowledge.”53 Further, she was fast developing her next health book especially for the general public, The Ministry of Healing. In this book she incorporated the same principles regarding the personality of God and His involvement in the healing of disease, especially in the section also entitled, “The Essential Knowledge.”54
The sanctuary-doctrine crisis in 1905 was one more result of misunderstanding the role of the Holy Spirit in the salvation process. Whenever one neglects the work of the Holy Spirit in the relationship between the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12), the tendency is either toward cold legalism or hot feelings and fervent individualism. Or error arises when the work of the Holy Spirit is de-emphasized when focusing on the substitutionary death of Christ; or, when one focuses on the “indwelling Spirit” to the neglect of Christ as Sacrifice and High Priest.55 Misunderstanding Christ’s double role56 as Sacrifice and enabling High Priest set the stage for the Holy Flesh Movement, the pantheistic crisis, and, later, the sanctuary challenge.
Unfortunately for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it seemed difficult for many in the 1890s, including E. J. Waggoner, John Harvey Kellogg, A. F. Ballenger, and, for a time, W. W. Prescott, to keep in balance the 1888 messages that Christ was “as ready to impart victory over future sins as to forgive those that were past.”57 Their attention focused on the “imparting victory” and the manifestation of the Spirit, overlooking the Holy Spirit’s primary role in character transformation that precedes the promised “latter rain” and “loud cry” experiences.58 After “accepting” the 1888 Minneapolis messages, these leaders believed that God would follow through quickly by sending His Spirit in a marked manner, enabling the church to “finish the work” and thus hasten the return of Jesus. For some, this focus on the work of the Spirit would lead them to believe that each person “filled with the Spirit” would also receive the gift of the Spirit of prophecy. Further, such church members would not need strong denominational organization because they would be Spirit-led.59
Ever since Ellen White returned from Australia in 1900, she had been sending scores of letters, private and public, warning of the deceptions and errors developing among leading spokesmen who were missing the point of sanctification, even as many leaders had been missing the point of commandment-keeping prior to 1888. In 1903 she wrote to Daniells: “I have often been warned against overstrained ideas of sanctification. They lead to an objectionable feature of experience that will swamp us unless we are wide-awake. . . . During the General Conference of 1901, the Lord warned me against sentiments that were being gathered and then held by Brethren Prescott and [E. J.] Waggoner. Instruction was given me that these sentiments received have been as leaven put into meal. Many minds have received them. The ideas of some regarding a great experience, called and supposed to be, sanctification have been the alpha of a train of deception which will deceive and ruin the souls of those who receive them. Because of some overdrawn expressions frequently used by Brother E. J. Waggoner at the conference, I was led to speak words intended to counteract their influence. . . . Satan is surely presenting some false theories which you must not receive. Elders Waggoner and Prescott are out of the way.”60
A. F. Ballenger wrongly believed with many others that the Holy Flesh Movement was the logical extension of the 1888 messages. What he did see clearly was that, since the 1888 messages on righteousness by faith had been circulated through the denomination, “we are in the time of the latter rain, but the outpouring of the Spirit is withheld because of our sins.”61 He rightly saw the connection between the character of God’s people and finishing their assignment as God’s last-day witnesses. That had been a strong emphasis in Ellen White’s messages for many years.62 But he was wrong as to how the Holy Spirit was to prepare people for latter-rain witnessing: he held that believers could claim and receive sanctification as they could claim and receive justification. Further, for him, believers could claim the promise of the Spirit through faith even as they could claim the gift of healing by faith.63
Reports of physical healings followed Ballenger’s preaching, which, for many, added special credence to his theology. What was the basis for Ballenger’s connection between receiving the Spirit and physical healing? He believed that because Jesus “‘took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses,’”64 Scripture “proves that the Gospel includes salvation from sickness as well as salvation from sin.”65
What was Mrs. White’s response to these “new ideas”? Writing to J. H. Kellogg in 1898, she said that some read the Bible without thorough study and then, “full of ardor and zeal, present theories which, if received, will counterwork” that which had been received since 1844 as “a connected chain of truth. . . . These crave for new ideas and suppositions, which mar the symmetrical development of character. . . . Let such a one put his whole mind upon some idea which is not correct, and deformity rather than symmetry is developed.”66
At the 1905 General Conference session in Washington, Ballenger presented three one-hour studies on his “new” light on the sanctuary doctrine. His main thrust was that Jesus, on ascending to heaven, entered the second apartment of the heavenly sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. Prior to the cross, He had been functioning in the first apartment, the Holy Place. Ballenger did not convince the committee members. The committee responded with a Biblical exegesis that had been worked out decades before and confirmed by revelation to Ellen White. The response seemed to have led to a stalemate.
A decade or more of misconstruing the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation by faith weakened Ballenger’s understanding regarding Christ’s role in the atonement. Focusing his attention on the immediacy of the cleansed experience through claiming the Holy Spirit, he took his theological eyes off Christ’s function as High Priest, both in His first phase of ministry in the Holy Place and then in the Most Holy. Refusing to accept the correcting ministry of Ellen White, Ballenger began a course of attacking her credibility on theological matters as well as other areas.
In one of her public responses during this period, Mrs. White said: “In the future, deception of every kind is to arise, and we want solid ground for our feet. . . . Not one pin is to be removed from that which the Lord has established. The enemy will bring in false theories, such as the doctrine that there is no sanctuary. This is one of the points on which there will be a departing from the faith. . . . I am praying that the power of the Saviour will be exerted in behalf of those who have entered into the temptations of the enemy. They are not standing under the broad shield of Omnipotence.”67
Later she wrote: “He [Ballenger] was gathering together a mass of scriptures such as would confuse minds because of his assertions and his misapplication of these scriptures, for the application was misleading and had not the bearing upon the subject at all which he claimed justified his position. Anyone can do this, and will follow his example to testify to a false position; but it was his own.”68
After noting how Ballenger reacted to her counsel in 1891, Mrs. White continued: “Now again our Brother Ballenger is presenting theories that cannot be substantiated by the Word of God. It will be one of the great evils that will come to our people to have the Scriptures taken out of their true place and so interpreted as to substantiate error that contradicts the light and the Testimonies that God has been giving us for the past half century. . . . I declare in the name of the Lord that the most dangerous heresies are seeking to find entrance among us as a people, and Elder Ballenger is making spoil of his own soul. The Lord has strengthened me to come the long journey to Washington to this meeting to bear my testimony in vindication of the truth of God’s Word, and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in confirmation of Bible truth. The Word is sure and steadfast, and will stand the test.”
She continued: “There is not truth in the explanations of Scripture that Elder Ballenger and those associated with him are presenting. The words are right, but misapplied to vindicate error. We must not give countenance to his reasoning. He is not led of God. . . . I am instructed to say to Elder Ballenger, Your theories which have multitudes of fine threads, and need so many explanations, are not truth, and are not to be brought to the flock of God.”69
In one of the public sessions Ellen White was led to recount early experiences. As she had done on several earlier occasions,70 she described how, in the early years, intense Bible study preceded the “clear explanation of the passages we had been studying” that would be revealed to her in vision. None of this was done in secret. “The brethren knew that, when not in vision, I could not understand these matters, and they accepted, as light directly from heaven, the revelations given.”71
She presented several other messages to various groups at the 1905 session, each one warning both Ballenger and church leaders “not to mingle erroneous theories with the truth of God.” She emphasized that he had “been allowing his mind to receive and believe specious error.” If his theories were accepted, they “would undermine the pillars of our faith.” One of the problems was that in removing “the old landmarks,” they were “working as blind men.”72
Under God’s illumination, Ellen White’s clarifying and unifying leadership in these four theological crises—Salvation by Faith encounter at Minneapolis in 1888; Holy Flesh Movement in 1901 at Battle Creek; Pantheism crisis in 1903 at Washington, D. C.; and the Sanctuary challenge in 1905—was remarkably timely as well as determinative. No other person involved in these four potentially divisive crises was able to unify and set the course for the future. As noted often by many, “It was she who played a key role in resolving these issues. . . . Without Ellen White’s authoritative voice, the outcome may have been very different.”73
Ellen White was indeed the voice of the Advent movement, but not by spelling out each theological detail and settling each crisis with Sinai thunder. She worked to build up the best thinking of the moment, waiting at times until that best thinking ripened so that she did not break the equation initiated many years before: sound Bible study + confirmation by divine revelation = present truth.
It seems that Mrs. White’s highest, greatest contribution was to keep the big picture in view, sensing always the harmful consequences of false theories. Clear in her mind was the full-orbed understanding of the gospel, and any theory that blurred any aspect of the gospel got her careful and concerned attention. She steered the church away from legalism on the right and romantic fanaticism on the left, always concerned with unity and with the distinctive mission of the Adventist Church.