From the beginning, the Seventh-day Adventist denomination announced its stand as follows: "We, the undersigned, hereby associate ourselves together as a church, taking the name of Seventh-day Adventists, covenanting to keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." –J. Loughborough: The Great Second Advent Movement, p. 352.
The same position was confirmed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United States during the American Civil War. They declared in 1864:
"The denomination of Christians calling themselves Seventh-day Adventists, taking the Bible as their rule of faith and practice, are unanimous in their views that its teachings are contrary to the spirit and practice of war; hence, they have ever been conscientiously opposed to bearing arms. If there is any portion of the Bible which we, as a people, can point to more than any other as our creed, it is the law of the ten commandments, which we regard as the supreme law, and each precept of which we take in its most obvious and literal import. The fourth of these commandments requires cessation from labor on the seventh day of the week, the sixth prohibits the taking of life, neither of which, in our view, could be observed while doing military duty. Our practice has uniformly been consistent with these principles. Hence, our people have not felt free to enlist into the service. In none of our denominational publications have we advocated or encouraged the practice of bearing arms, and, when drafted, rather than violate our principles, we have been content to pay, and assist each other in paying, the $300 commutation money." –F. M. Wilcox: Seventh-day Adventists in Time of War, p. 58.
In 1865, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists reaffirmed their original stand:
"Resolved that we recognize civil government as ordained of God, that order, justice, and quiet may be maintained in the land; and that the people of God may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty. In accordance with this fact we acknowledge the justice of rendering tribute, custom, honor, and reverence to the civil power, as enjoined in the New Testament. While we thus cheerfully render to Caesar the things which the Scriptures show to be his, we are compelled to decline all participation in acts of war and bloodshed as being inconsistent with the duties enjoined upon us by our divine Master toward our enemies and toward all mankind." –.
As this position of total obedience to the commandments of God was not practiced during World War I (1914-1918), a great crisis came upon the Seventh-day Adventist Church. While 98% of the members decided to obey the instruction of the officers of the denomination, taking part in the war, 2% decided to remain faithful to the law of God, upholding the original position, as taught and practiced up to that time. These faithful believers were disfellowshipped from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Europe because they chose to uphold the church's original position in regard to keeping the Law of God (all Ten Commandments).
In a booklet published by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Germany, they announced the following change:
"In all that we have said we have shown that the Bible teaches, firstly, that taking part in the war is no transgression of the sixth commandment, likewise, that war service on the Sabbath is not a transgression of the fourth commandment." –Protokoll, p.12.
In the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Commentary Reference Series, the following explanation is given:
"On the German mobilization, in August, 1914, the SDA's of that country were faced with the necessity of making an immediate decision concerning their duty to God and country when called into the armed service (see Germany, V; Noncombatancy). After counseling with the few SDA leaders locally available at that time, the president of the East German Union Conference informed the German War Ministry in writing, dated Aug. 4, 1914, that conscripted SDA's would bear arms as combatants and would render service on the Sabbath in defense of their country. . . . Admittedly, the three SDA leaders in Germany took a stand concerning the duty of SDA's in military service that was contrary to the historic stand officially maintained by the denomination ever since the American Civil War (1861-1865)." –The Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Commentary Reference Series, Vol. 10, p. 1183, Edition of 1966.
The Adventist leaders declared:
"At the beginning of the war our organization was split into two parties. As ninety-eight percent of our membership, by searching the Bible, came to the conviction that they are duty-bound, by conscience, to defend the country with weapons, also on Saturdays, this position, unanimously endorsed by the leadership, was immediately announced to the War Ministry. Two percent, however, did not submit to this resolution, and therefore had to be disfellowshipped because of their unchristian conduct. These unprofitable elements set themselves up as preachers and, with little results, sought to make converts to their propaganda of foolish ideas. They call themselves, falsely, preachers and Adventists. They are not; they are deceivers. When such elements receive their merited punishment, we regard it, in fact, as a favor done to us." –Dresdener Neueste Nachrichten (A German newspaper), p. 3, April 12, 1918.
A newspaper correspondent gave his unbiased opinion about the situation, as follows:
"Since the beginning of the war there has been a division among the Adventist people. During the period of the war, the majority wanted to see the fundamental teachings set aside, by force if necessary. The others asked that the sanctification of Saturday (Sabbath) be allowed them, even in these times of stress. The opposing faction finally brought about the disfellowshipment from the organization of the followers of the original principles of faith." –Koelnische Zeitung (Evening Edition) September 21, 1915.
In the same year, SDA leaders made another declaration, as follows:
"In the beginning of the war there were some members, as there are also in other places, who did not want to take part in war service, either because of their lack of unity, or because of fanaticism. They started to spread around their foolish ideas in the congregation by word and in writing, trying to convince others to do the same. They were admonished by the church, but because of their obstinacy they had to be put out, for they became a threat to internal and external peace." –Stuttgarter Neues Tagblatt, September 26, 1918.
Those disfellowshipped from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, not only in Germany but also in many other countries in Europe, had no intention of starting a new church. They were about 4,000 in number. Attempts at reconciliation with the main body were made just after the war, in 1920 and in 1922, but with no positive result.
Therefore, as their numbers increased, the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement was organized as a church, separate from the the main body of Seventh-day Adventists, when representatives from different countries met at Gotha, Germany, July 14-20, 1925. It is the purpose of the Reform Movement to continue with the original teachings and practices of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
In the General Conference Bulletin of the Seventh-day Adventists, May 13, 1913, pages 33, 34, E. G. White stated:
"It will be well for us to consider what is soon to come upon the earth. This is no time for trifling or self-seeking. If the times in which we are living fail to impress our minds seriously, what can reach us? Do not the Scriptures call for a more pure and holy work than we have yet seen?
"Men of clear understanding are needed now. God calls upon those who are willing to be controlled by the Holy Spirit to lead out in a work of thorough reformation. I see a crisis before us, and the Lord calls for His laborers to come into line. Every soul should now stand in a position of deeper, truer consecration to God than during the years that have passed. . . .
"I have been deeply impressed by scenes that have recently passed before me in the night season. There seemed to be a great movement—a work of revival—going forward in many places. Our people were moving into line, responding to God's call. My brethren, the Lord is speaking to us. Shall we not heed His voice? Shall we not trim our lamps, and act like men who look for their Lord to come? The time is one that calls for light bearing, for action."
The Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement General Conference first operated from Isernhagen, Germany, and then Basel, Switzerland. After World War II, the headquarters was moved to the United States of America, and in 1949 was incorporated in Sacramento, California. Because it was deemed more advantageous for a worldwide work to be situated on the eastern side of the U.S.A., the headquarters was temporarily relocated to Blackwood, New Jersey, before moving to its permanent location in Roanoke, Virginia. The SDA Reform Movement has already reached 131 countries and territories.
As the great reformation carried on by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others in the sixteenth century actually had its beginning several centuries earlier (), so the prophesied Reform Movement among Seventh Day Adventists, in existence today, had its embryonic beginning in 1888, when the Lord sent a special message to His people.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 17 through November 4, 1888, Seventh-day Adventists held a memorable and controversial General Conference session. Ninety delegates (85 were present when the session was opened and 5 more were seated on October 26) representing a world membership of 26,968, gathered in one of the largest chapels owned by Seventh-day Adventists at that time–the church building located on the corner of Lake Street and Fourth Avenue South. The important event which took place at that conference was the presentation of a vital subject–the message of Righteousness by Faith–by two young ministers, E. J. Waggoner, and A. T. Jones, editors of The Signs of the Times.
In plain terms, the Spirit of Prophecy placed its seal of approval upon that message. Sister White wrote about it thus:
"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." –, 92.
"The message given us by A. T. Jones, and E. J. Waggoner is the message of God to the Laodicean church, and woe be unto anyone who professes to believe the truth, and yet does not reflect to others the God-given rays." –Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, p. 92.
As the date for the General Conference session that was to meet in Minneapolis (1888) was drawing nigh, God sent to the Adventist leadership and people specific testimonies showing the spiritual condition that had developed in the church and that made the coming of the message an urgent necessity. Sister White wrote:
"What is our condition in this fearful and solemn time? Alas, what pride is prevailing in the church, what hypocrisy, what deception, what love of dress, frivolity, and amusement, what desire for the supremacy! All these sins have clouded the mind, so that eternal things have not been discerned." –.
"Spiritual death has come upon the people that should be manifesting life and zeal, purity and consecration, by the most earnest devotion to the cause of truth. The facts concerning the real condition of the professed people of God, speak more loudly than their profession, and make it evident that some power has cut the cable that anchored them to the Eternal Rock, and that they are drifting away to sea, without chart or compass." –Ibid., July 24, 1888.
The message of Christ’s righteousness (which includes Isa.and Rev. ) was entrusted to the angel of Revelation 18 for the purpose of accomplishing a work of revival and reformation under the ministration of the Holy Spirit. That this message was to remedy the backslidden state of the church and prepare a people for the coming of the Lord can be seen from several testimonies:
"Now, it has been Satan’s determined purpose to eclipse the view of Jesus, and lead men to look to man, and trust to man, and be educated to expect help from man. For years the church has been looking to man and expecting much from man, but not looking to Jesus, in whom our hopes of eternal life are centered. Therefore God gave to His servants a testimony that presented the truth as it is in Jesus, which is the third angel’s message, in clear, distinct lines." –.
"The third angel’s message must go over the land and awaken the people, and call their attention to the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Another angel unites his voice with the third angel, and the earth is lighted with its glory. . . . What are you doing to prepare for this work? . . . You must remember that this angel represents the people that have this message to give to the world. Are you among that people?" –.
"God has raised up men to meet the necessity of this time who will cry aloud and spare not, who will lift up their voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins. Their work is not only to proclaim the law, but to preach the truth for this time–the Lord our righteousness." –Ibid., August 13, 1889.
"Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, ‘It is the third angel’s message in verity.’ The prophet declares, ‘And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.’ Brightness, glory, and power are to be connected with the third angel’s message, and conviction will follow wherever it is preached in demonstration of the Spirit. How will any of our brethren know when this light shall come to the people of God? As yet, we certainly have not seen the light that answers to this description. God has light for His people, and all who will accept it will see the sinfulness of remaining in a lukewarm condition; they will heed the counsel of the True Witness." –Ibid., April 1, 1890.
"The question of most vital importance for this time is, ‘Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will unite with the angel [of] in giving the message of truth to the world? Who will receive the light that is to fill the whole earth with its glory?’ Those who cherish the light that they have will receive more. Increasing light will shine about the souls who yield to the softening, subduing grace of Christ; and those who love the light, will be saved from the delusions of Satan." –Ibid., November 5, 1889.
"If we would receive the light of the glorious angel that shall lighten the earth with his glory, let us see to it that our hearts are cleansed, emptied of self, and turned toward heaven, that they may be ready for the latter rain. Let us be obtaining a fitting up to join in the proclamation of the angel who shall lighten the earth with his glory." –.
"Mystic Babylon has not been sparing in the blood of the saints and shall we [not] be wide awake to catch the beams of light which have been shining from the light of the angel who is to brighten the earth with his glory." –.
It cannot be said that the General Conference delegation and the majority of the Adventist membership in 1888 accepted the message of Righteousness by Faith. Among the leaders and the people there were serious differences of opinion. Arthur G. Daniells, in his book Christ Our Righteousness, p. 43, states that a complete report of the presentation and discussion of the message was never published. From subsequent writings of Sister White, however, we know that the message had a very limited reception. Therefore, the work of revival and reformation, that was called for to uproot the growing weeds of apostasy and restore the church to the favor of God, did not take place. And, as a consequence, a large proportion of leaders and members were left to walk in the sparks of their own kindling. Sister White, who supported the message and the messengers, refers to that regrettable experience and its consequences as follows:
"God meant that the watchmen should arise and with united voices send forth a decided message, giving the trumpet a certain sound, that the people might all spring to their post of duty and act their part in the great work. Then the strong, clear light of that other angel who comes down from heaven having great power, would have filled the earth with his glory." –Manuscript Releases, vol. 14, p. 111.
"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. Satan has blinded their eyes and perverted their judgment; and unless every soul shall repent of this their sin, this unsanctified independence that is doing insult to the Spirit of God, they will walk in darkness. I will remove the candlestick out of his place except they repent and be converted, that I should heal them.’" –Ibid., vol. 3, p. 191.
"Oh, for a religious awakening! The angels of God are going from church to church, doing their duty; and Christ is knocking at the door of your hearts for entrance. But the means that God has devised to awaken the church to a sense of their spiritual destitution have not been regarded. The voice of the True Witness has been heard in reproof, but has not been obeyed. Men have chosen to follow their own way instead of God’s way because self was not crucified in them. Thus the light has had but little effect upon minds and hearts."–, 720.
"For nearly two years we have been urging the people to come up and accept the light and the truth concerning the righteousness of Christ, and they do not know whether to come and take hold of this precious truth or not. They are bound about with their own ideas. They do not let the Saviour in." –.
"Since the time of the Minneapolis meeting, I have seen the state of the Laodicean church as never before. I have heard the rebuke of God spoken to those who feel so well satisfied, who know not their spiritual destitution. . . . I feel sad when I think how for long years there has been a gradual lowering of the standard. I have been shown that very few realize the constant presence of the Divine Watcher who declares, ‘I know thy works.’ Through the indulgence of sin, many have forfeited the favor of God, misrepresented Jesus, forgotten His presence, forgotten that they are living in His sight, and so have added evil to evil. All such are foolish virgins. . . . The reasons why the churches are weak and sickly and ready to die is that the enemy has brought influences of a discouraging nature to bear upon trembling souls. He has sought to shut Jesus from their view as the Comforter, as one who reproves, who warns, who admonishes them, saying, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it.’" –Ibid., August 26, 1890.
"The influence that grew out of the resistance of light and truth at Minneapolis tended to make of no effect the light God has given to His people through the Testimonies." –Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, p. 305.
"Instead of leading the world to render obedience to God’s law, the church is uniting more and more closely with the world in transgression. Daily the church is becoming converted to the world."–(1903).
If the church, that was "steadily retreating toward Egypt" (Ibid., vol. 5, p. 217), had actually accepted the message "Christ Our Righteousness," she would have made a U-turn in her itinerary, and would now be moving in the opposite direction–with Christ to the heavenly Canaan. And she would not have been accused, in 1903, of having become a harlot (Ibid., vol. 8, p. 250), nor would she become "a cage of every unclean and hateful bird" () as a result of her progressive unity with the world. In 1903 the Spirit of Prophecy made this startling declaration about the condition that had developed in the church:
"Why is there so dim a perception of the true spiritual condition of the church? . . . Who can truthfully say, ‘Our gold is tried in the fire; our garments are unspotted by the world’? I saw our Instructor pointing to the garments of so-called righteousness. Stripping them off, He laid bare the defilement beneath. Then He said to me: ‘Can you not see how they have pretentiously covered up their defilement and rottenness of character? "How is the faithful city become an harlot!" My Father’s house is made a house of merchandise, a place whence the divine presence and glory have departed! For this cause there is weakness, and strength is lacking.’ " –, 250.
Soon after 1903 A. T. Jones was taken in the delusions of Dr. J. H. Kellogg and was finally separated from the church. In 1909 a special effort was made to restore him. Several meetings were held with him. He seemed to be moved and prepared for a reconciliation. When Elder Daniells, the General Conference president, extended his hand to him, pleading, "Come, Brother Jones, come," he stood up, slowly reached out his hand too, but suddenly pulled it back and said, "No, never," and sat down again.
E. J. Waggoner also had a negative experience when domestic problems led him to resort to divorce, and then he remarried. He nevertheless advocated the fundamental SDA beliefs to the day of his death.
This was not the first or the last time that those especially chosen by the Lord apostatized after having faithfully given the message. The Spirit of Prophecy, however, warns us that this unfortunate backsliding should not be used as an argument against the light of Heaven that came through them to the people of God. Messengers may draw back, but this will not turn the truth that they have preached into a lie. We have been warned:
"It is quite possible that Elder Jones or Elder Waggoner may be overthrown by the temptations of the enemy; but if they should be, this would not prove that they had had no message from God, or that the work that they had done was all a mistake. But should this happen, how many would take this position, and enter into a fatal delusion because they are not under the control of the Spirit of God. . . . I know that this is the very position many would take if either of these men were to fall, and I pray that these men upon whom God has laid the burden of a solemn work, may be able to give the trumpet a certain sound, and honor God at every step, and that their path at every step may grow brighter and brighter until the close of time."–Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, pp. 201, 202.
The message brought by these two brethren set up an important landmark in the history of the SDA Church. "It marked the beginning of a great reform."–Department of Education, General Conference of SDAs, The Story of Our Church, p. 246.
God had placed two possibilities before the Adventist Church–either to accept the message of "Christ’s Righteousness," and be transformed, and finally become the triumphant church, or to reject the message, and consequently become like one of the popular churches.
1. If the church accepted the message of 1888 which demanded a revival and reformation . . .
"If the church will put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness, withdrawing from all allegiance with the world, there is before her the dawn of a bright and glorious day. God’s promise to her will stand fast forever."–.
2. If the church acted contrary to the light of heaven and allowed the apostasy to grow and take over . . .
"If most earnest vigilance is not manifested at the great heart of the work to protect the interests of the cause, the church will become as corrupt as the churches of other denominations." –.
The repeated denouncements which came through the ministry of Sister White, accompanied by factual evidence marking the downward trend of the church after 1888 (especially the great changes witnessed since World War I), show which of the two alternative routes was taken by the denomination. And the final consequences of this fatal choice have been clearly pointed out in the prophetic picture referring to the end of probation. All those who do not heed the counsel of the True Witness and refuse to wear the white raiment of Christ’s righteousness (Rev.) must be left without the seal of God and without protection against the seven last plagues. Unfortunately, since very few have accepted the remedy offered in 1888, the great majority will suffer a denominational disappointment. This can be read in Ezekiel 9, which is explained by Sister White as follows:
"Those who receive the pure mark of truth, wrought in them by the power of the Holy Ghost, represented by a mark by the man in linen, are those ‘that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done’ in the church. Their love for purity and the honor and glory of God is such, and they have so clear a view of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, that they are represented as being in agony, even sighing and crying. Read the ninth chapter of Ezekiel.
"But the general slaughter of all those who do not thus see the wide contrast between sin and righteousness, and do not feel as those do who stand in the counsel of God and receive the mark, is described in the order to the five men with slaughter weapons."–Ibid., vol. 3, p. 267.
"Here we see that the church–the Lord’s sanctuary–was the first to feel the stroke of the wrath of God. The ancient men, those to whom God had given great light and who had stood as guardians of the spiritual interests of the people, had betrayed their trust."–Ibid., vol. 5, p. 211.
After the Minneapolis General Conference session of 1888, Sister White traveled with A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner from place to place, taking part in the presentation of the message, which was attended by the power of God. She reported:
"In every meeting since the General Conference, souls have eagerly accepted the precious message of the righteousness of Christ. We thank God that there are souls who realize that they are in need of something which they do not possess–gold of faith and love, white raiment of Christ’s righteousness, eyesalve of spiritual discernment." –.
"We have seen souls turned from sin to righteousness. We have seen faith revived in the hearts of the contrite ones." –Ibid., May 27, 1890.
Especially informative is the description of the revival meeting held in South Lancaster, Massachusetts, shortly after the Minneapolis conference. That memorable gathering is an example showing how the Lord wrought through the message for the conversion of souls. Sister White reported:
"I have never seen a revival work go forward with such thoroughness, and yet remain so free from all undue excitement. There was no urging or inviting. The people were not called forward, but there was a solemn realization that Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. The honest in heart were ready to confess their sins, and to bring forth fruit to God by repentance and restoration, as far as it lay in their power. . . . There were many who testified that as the searching truths had been presented, they had been convicted in the light of the law as transgressors. They had been trusting in their own righteousness. Now they saw it as filthy rags, in comparison with the righteousness of Christ, which is alone acceptable to God. While they had not been open transgressors, they saw themselves depraved and degraded in heart. They had substituted other gods in the place of their heavenly Father. They had struggled to refrain from sin, but had trusted in their own strength. We should go to Jesus just as we are, confess our sins, and cast our helpless souls upon our compassionate Redeemer. This subdues the pride of the heart, and is a crucifixion of self." –Ibid., March 5, 1889.
These individual or local revivals, however, did not benefit the Adventist leadership and people in general. The church as a church continued sliding deeper and deeper into apostasy. This is clearly revealed in the writings of E. G. White, who testified at the turn of the century:
"On every hand we see those who have had much light and knowledge deliberately choosing evil in the place of good. Making no attempt to reform, they are growing worse and worse." –.
In the General Conference Bulletin, March 15, 1897, pp. 365—374, there is an article about a serious controversial question which was already making inroads among the Advent people–"Should SDAs take part in politics and war?" Under the title, Out of Babylon and Egypt (No. 7), A.T. Jones discusses the issue. Hereunder we reproduce the highlights of his article. We recommend, however, that you read the whole article in the General Conference Bulletin.
It is right in the third angel’s message, that by it, and through it, God proposes to "establish Christianity upon an eternal basis." Then, as surely as in the third angel’s message, God establishes Christianity upon an eternal basis, it will be a Christianity that will not be connected with anything upon this earth. It will be connected only with God; only with His eternal word; enlightened by His eternal Spirit; taught by Him whose goings forth have been from the days of eternity; and thus be led to the eternal God, that He may rule, and underneath shall be the everlasting arms.
I know, and you know, that there are some of the brethren that do not think that this is straight. Two years ago it was preached, and was published in the Bulletin. By many it was not accepted. By some it is not accepted yet. It is thought to be altogether wrong. But in the late General Conference, two testimonies were read to us–written especially for this Conference, and one of them, I find, is printed in Bulletin No. 4; the next one is not printed yet, but will be, I suppose, shortly–reproving Seventh-day Adventists for engaging in political matters. I read a passage here that will show you the idea of it:
The Lord Jesus is disappointed in His people. He is the Captain; they are to file under His banner. They have no time, wisdom, or strength to spend in taking sides with political parties. Men are being stirred with an intense activity from beneath, and the sons and daughters of God are not to give their influence to this political strife. But what kind of spirit takes hold upon our people, when those who believe we are now under the third angel’s message, the last message of mercy to the world, brothers in the same faith, appear wearing the badges of opposing political parties, proclaiming opposite sentiments and declaring their divided opinions.
Now I ask this question in the form of a proposition: If that which was preached two years ago on this subject of government and the church had been accepted and followed by all Seventh-day Adventists, could there possibly have arisen any place for that testimony?–Plainly, no. Then did those lessons call for the wrong thing, when they called God’s people to a position where it would be impossible for Him to find fault with them? I mean in this particular point. I mean that when a line of truth is presented from the word of God, which, if His people would accept it before God and the world, would set them in such an attitude that it would be impossible for the Lord to find fault with them in things related to that line of truth, is it not safe to accept that as the truth? How could it possibly be wrong? . . .
I do not ask now that anybody shall accept that because it is there. I ask that they shall accept it, study into it, pray over it, look at it, and accept it because it is the truth, and will deliver the people of God from the possibility of His ever being called upon to reprove or correct them upon any such point as that. Yet I know that there are brethren who still think that it is all wrong; and say that it called for our people to take an extreme position, and that it was taking an extreme position. Can that be an extreme position which puts God’s people where He wants them to stand, so they will be utterly free from all these confused things that confuse the world? . . .
There is another thing that we need to consider. If we take part in political affairs and political discussions, different sides will be taken by different individuals, in opposing political parties, proclaiming opposite sentiments and declaring their divided opinions, while professing to be brethren. What is the last step in political working?–War, of course. Then what is in it, at the beginning?–Simply what is in it at the end–war. It is that spirit from beginning to end. Can brethren in Christ, who are one in Christ, engage in anything that will cause them to be divided in the spirit of antagonism? Can they?–No! not and remain one in Christ. . . .
But this is not all. If we as Seventh-day Adventists are to preach those principles, and are to hold to them, there is an important step that must be taken, in justice to the United States government, in justice to the state of Michigan, and several other states, that we may appear in the right light.
I say it again, so that you may understand what I am talking about. If it is to be so that we shall accept the principle that Christians may fight, may lift their right arm to defend country and government and all that, then the denomination, in justice to itself, and especially in justice to the government of the United States and to several of the states, must publicly proclaim it, and repudiate and reverse the course that was once taken by the denomination as such.
I have here two little documents printed in 1865, but what is written in them occurred in 1864. One of them is entitled "Views of Seventh-day Adventists Relative to Bearing Arms, as Brought before the Governors of Several States and the Provo-Marshall General [that is, of the United States], with a Portion of the Enrolment Law."
At that time Seventh-day Adventists, by the General Conference Committee, represented to the government of the United States, to the government of the state of Illinois, of Michigan, of Pennsylvania, of Wisconsin, and another state or two, that Seventh-day Adventists, as Christians, and because they were Christians, could not allow that Christians could under any circumstances bear arms or fight. The other document is extracted from the writings and publications of Seventh-day Adventists, to justify the government in accepting from the denomination, that plea as genuine.
Now if that order is to be reversed, and we are to accept the view that Christians may fight under any circumstances at all, for government or whatever it may be, then we owe it to the government of the United States to have the General Conference Committee, representing the denomination, go to the government of the United States and tell them that we have changed our views; and go to the governors of these states and tell them that we have changed our views; so that the records will stand according to our new and revised views upon that subject. . . .
Now I will read to you some of the extracts that were then printed from documents, publications, and papers of Seventh-day Adventists, as evidence to the United States government, and as evidence to the governors of the states, that that position taken by the General Conference Committee of the denomination, was their understood position, and not one made up for the occasion, to escape the draft, or to escape the results that were coming upon the country because of the war. . . .
Here is an extract from something written in the Signs of the Times, by Elder James White, in 1853:
The professed church of Christ has left the arm of her true husband, and now leans on the strong arm of the law. She seeks protection, and to be nourished by the corrupt governments of the world, and is properly represented by the harlot daughters of the old mother, she being a symbol of the Catholic Church. As the woman should cleave to her husband, so should the church cleave to Christ, and instead of seeking protection from the arm of the law, lean only on the potent arm of her Beloved. The church is unlawfully wedded to the world. This may be seen in the various departments of civil government. Even in the war department, the professed minister of Jesus Christ is seen mocking the God of peace with his prayers for success in battle.
Again, an extract quoted from the Review and Herald of May 9, 1854:
Whether these things are at hand or not [it is about the coming of the Lord], the fact remains: a war spirit is abroad, a spirit of hatred and delusion. It is its contaminating influence that we fear–it is the demoralizing influence of familiarity with the ideas of war and bloodshed; it is the unhealthy excitement, the bitter party spirit, that is evil and causes evil to spread.
Let it not be said there is no danger to Christ’s disciples from these causes. There is danger; because "when iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." Such are the mysterious and inexplicable sympathies which bind man to man, which forbid a separate and isolated interest, that we catch unconsciously the prevalent tone, and we know not till the mind is warped and unsettled; and thus being in an unhealthy state it is ready to receive and to conceive evil. The moral scourge is more destructive even than the pestilence. . . .
I now read another extract, reprinted from the Review, dated Aug. 14, 1856:
Has the gospel of Jesus granted you the right to use the sword, to arm you with carnal weapons, to take the sword to "provide for your own household," to deliver the oppressed out of the power of the oppressor, by breaking the sixth commandment of God, "Thou shalt not kill"? Jesus says, "Love your enemies."
Do you think that you, as a Christian living under the gospel, have a Bible permission to mingle in political strife in any way whatever? either in legislating, or executing the laws of human government? If so, I think you are greatly mistaken.
That is what the denomination said in 1864. They presented that to the government of the United States as evidence that they did not believe in war, and that they could not engage in bearing arms, and that if they were drafted, they could not be expected to fight. And the government of the United States listened to their representations, and made provision that they should attend the hospitals where they could do the work of ministers of the gospel, and care for the sick, and bring salvation to the dying. Now if that is to be reversed, we should stand fairly before the government and state that it has been reversed.
As pointed out before, the rejection of the message of 1888 was not without consequences. From history we learn what happens when a message of God is rejected. "Where the message of divine truth is spurned or slighted, there the church will be enshrouded in darkness; faith and love grow cold, and estrangement and dissension enter" (, 379). The Laodicean condition (Rev. ) affected the church to such a point that, when a great crisis came with the outbreak of World War I, the majority were not prepared for the test.
Before we can discuss the events that took place under the test, we must reemphasize the original position of Seventh-day Adventists concerning participation in war.
Over one hundred years ago, when SDAs were faced with the question whether bearing arms, especially in time of war, is consistent with the requirements of the law of God, they decided:
"We are compelled to decline all participation in acts of war and bloodshed."–Report of the Third Annual Session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists ().
The original Adventist position–no participation–had the seal of God’s approval. It was in harmony with the Bible (; Matt. ; ; Matt. ; ) and with the Spirit of Prophecy. Sister White wrote during the Civil War:
"I was shown that God’s people, who are His peculiar treasure, cannot engage in this perplexing war." Why not? "For it is opposed to every principle of their faith. In the army they cannot obey the truth and at the same time obey the requirements of their officers."–.
"War and bloodshed," according to the Spirit of Prophecy, is "a disregard for the law of God." –.
At the turn of the century, the Adventist Church had already gone a long way in the wrong direction (, 76, 84, 217; and vol. 8, pp. 119, 249, 250; and so on). Nevertheless, her spiritual condition was incomparably better in those days than it is today. Her original position–no participation–was still upheld, as can be seen from articles published in the Review and Herald and in the Signs of the Times.
Here is an interesting experience summarized from an article published in the Review and Herald of June 21, 1898.
"Many people imagine that the times when quiet, unoffending people could be made to suffer real persecution for their loyalty to God and His Word, are in the past, and that men in these days are too enlightened to persecute their fellowmen for conscience sake; but we have had under close observation for nearly a year a case which shows that all the elements of religious persecution are everywhere present as much as they ever were; and that more extended and relentless persecution than has ever yet been known is not only possible, but is highly probable, yes, actually inevitable, since careful and systematic preparations are being made for it."
Hereunder we refer to the experience of a young Adventist in one of the European countries.
Christen Rasmussen, a nineteen-year-old Dane, was called up for military service in l897, when he was just turning to the Lord. April 10, 1897, was a Sabbath day; therefore, he did not present himself at the military headquarters at one o’clock p.m., according to the conscription letter he had received. Instead, he appeared only after sunset. Being sharply reprimanded for his delay, he was assigned to his duty.
During the week he approached the captain requesting exemption on Sabbath days, but his petition was not granted. Under those conditions, the young man understood that it was his sacred duty to obey the King of the universe rather than the king of Denmark. Sabbath morning he remained in his room reading his Bible. A corporal came after him, but he refused to act contrary to his conscience. Then a lieutenant came, and commanded him to take his place in the ranks, but he replied, "I cannot."
"Why not?" the lieutenant asked.
"Because it is the Sabbath."
Finally Christen left his room, accompanying the lieutenant outside, but he refused to take his place in the ranks.
So the young conscientious objector was brought to the captain.
"Why do you not take your place?" the captain asked.
"Because the Lord has said, The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work."
"Well, you are a soldier, and must obey; nothing of that kind is taken into consideration here. Take your place," said the captain.
"I cannot, sir."
As the young man did not yield to the pressure of the officers, a sergeant was ordered to take him to prison.
Before the military court his only answer was this:
"The God who created heaven and earth has said, ‘On the seventh day, which is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God, shalt thou do no work,’ and I cannot do anything other than obey Him."
The young hero of the faith was sentenced to eighteen days’ solitary confinement, on bread and water. After each period of five days in a dark cell, he was permitted to spend one day in a lighted cell.
The sentence he received was milder than he expected: "eight months’ hard labor in the penitentiary." Because of his refusal to work on the seventh day, each Sabbath he was put in a dark cell, or hole, where there was no fire, and he suffered much from cold. But he spent only a little less than two months in prison. He was pardoned on the king’s eightieth birthday.
A Danish newspaper, Aarhus Folkeblad of February 19, 1898, commented on this case as follows:
"One cannot comfort himself with the thought that this is an isolated case; for that there will soon be many I know of a certainty. We really come to the heart of the matter only when we see that such a man can come into a yet more serious situation in time of war. For, according to what I have seen, belonging to the Seventh-day Adventists, they will absolutely refuse to go against an enemy with weapons in hand. They will hold themselves strictly to the fifth [sixth]* commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ They will allow themselves to be killed, but they will not kill. If this is correct, and I believe it is, then these men are useless as soldiers, and may, if war should break out, come into the most deplorable condition in that they may be condemned to death, and put others in the painful situation of being obliged to pronounce so hard a sentence upon them."
Christen represented the historic position of the Adventist people, who believed that, while in the army, a Christian could not obey military orders and at the same time remain loyal to the law of God. In those days it was also understood that on this point a great test was before the people of God. The editor of the Review and Herald (June 21, 1898) added the following comment:
"The Danish people are as kind and courteous and gentle a people as can be found in the world. Moreover, all those who came in contact with young Rasmussen liked him personally, and the officers praised his efficiency and willingness; yet the worship of the military demon begets so false a conception of duty that not one of them would hesitate in obedience to inflict upon him any sort of punishment. Why?–Because, in their minds, human government is greater than God. Young Rasmussen was not punished because the officers had any ill-will toward him, nor because they were hardhearted men. Far from it. On the contrary, it caused them pain, and they did it at the sacrifice of personal feelings to what they conceived to be their duty. The same thing would be done in any other country in the world; only the punishment might be much more vigorous. The kings and rulers of earth have set themselves against God and have assumed the right to set aside His law, which says, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; and as a matter of course, the other portions of that law are as lightly regarded by them.
"This case shows the fallacy of another idea that is entertained by many; namely, that religious persecution must be prompted by hatred of the religious principles of the ones persecuted. In this case those at whose hands Rasmussen suffered had no religious bias. They cared no more for Sunday than for the Sabbath. It was absolutely immaterial to them what religion the soldiers professed, or if they professed none at all. The only thing that concerned them was to secure implicit and unquestioning obedience to the regulations of the army. If a man disregards them, the fact that he does so in obedience to God’s law is not for a moment taken into consideration; punishment must follow to the bitter end.
"‘But there must be discipline in the army, or else its efficiency is at an end; and if partiality is shown, there will be an end of discipline,’ will be urged by many, and not last, by any means, by men who occupy places of influence in the church. Think of the wickedness of such a defense! God and His law must be considered of secondary importance to the military machine! It is of more importance that the army should be maintained than that God should be regarded! The mere statement of the case is sufficient to show that it is as gross paganism as ever existed. What hope can there be of peace on earth as long as such principles rule?
"The situation will be worse in the future than it has ever been in the past; for war is now sanctioned by the professed ministers of the gospel as it has never been before. It is so easy for the rulers to raise the cry of ‘humanity’ in justification of any war, or else there is always that magic word ‘patriotism’; and when a country is ‘Christian,’ it is readily argued that to defend its ‘honor’ is a Christian act; so that he who will refuse to disobey God’s law, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ will be condemned as a traitor to God and his country, and that even by the ministers of religion.
"Is it not time that the question should be again asked: ‘How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.’ In so-called ‘Christian’ countries, the worst sort of paganism is assuming overwhelming proportions. The great mass of people seem to think that when the ‘government’ (which is, in the main, only another name for the army) commands disobedience to God’s law, there is no alternative but to disobey it; and those who refuse to transgress God’s law are branded as lawless and disobedient. What is it but heathenism thus to ignore God, and to set the military god above Him?
"Thank God that there are still faithful witnesses to the truth, lone voices in the desert, saying, ‘Behold your God!’ When the testing time comes, these single voices will be multiplied by thousands, whose quiet lives of humble obedience to God’s law will speak louder than any words, and will result in bringing many from the camp of Satan to enlist under the banner of the Prince of Peace."
Other young Adventists, in Germany, also represented the historic position of the church. In The History of the Advent Movement in Germany, a thesis prepared by Jacob Michael Platt for his doctorate of philosophy degree, Stanford University, he gives the following information based on an article published in the Review and Herald of September 26, 1907:
"The German Seventh-day Adventist young men drafted into the armed forces before 1914 faced many hardships as a result of adhering to their beliefs."
The military authorities believed that these young men were simply following the instructions received from their pastors. So, in some cases, church leaders were called before the military courts to give an explanation. The leaders were wise enough to assert that, while it was true that they taught obedience to the law of God as a Christian duty, each soldier acted according to the dictates of his own conscience. It became clear that the soldiers could think and decide for themselves. In no instance were the authorities able to determine that an Adventist soldier was acting on the advice of his spiritual leaders. Platt continues his report:
"The German Ministry of War resolved on the strict enforcement of the law, hoping that severity of punishment might bring these Seventh-day Adventist young men to terms. Military authorities were astonished to find that these soldiers were willing to endure harsh punishment rather than do ordinary work on Saturday."
Young Adventist men, as a rule, suffered severe punishment for their decision to obey God rather than men. Among others, Platt mentions these two: Hermann Gross and Hans Kraemer. Having been sentenced to eight years of imprisonment in 1904, Gross served four years in military prison, often in solitary confinement and at times in a dark cell. A similar sentence was meted out to Kraemer. They were both released upon the advice of medical officers, who certified that longer confinement would cost their life.
A peculiar case was narrated by Platt: In 1903, Johann Strasser, when drafted into the army, refused to do service on the Sabbath. The officers interrogated him: "How long have you been a Sabbathkeeper?" "I have been a Sabbathkeeper from childhood, as my parents had," Johann replied. The military authorities found out that Martin Strasser, Johann’s father, for refusing to work on the Sabbath while in the army, received a prison sentence of three years, and they were convinced that Johann, too, would remain faithful to his religious convictions. Therefore, they exempted him from service on the Sabbath.
"As instances of adherence to religious beliefs increased, the German army officials became perplexed," Platt informs. "It was evident that Adventist soldiers would not violate their consciences, regardless of consequences. For about nine months, during 1904 and 1905, when a new recruit was found to be a Seventh-day Adventist, he was rejected as unfit for military service; but the government did not continue this policy. Yet for all of the rigors of the German military discipline, the authorities dealt relatively mildly with objectors for conscience’ sake. They meted out to Seventh-day Adventists no punishment worse than imprisonment, or enforced labor on fortifications, or duty in hospitals."
Before World War I, historic Adventists understood that war songs are not heard in the narrow pathway leading to heaven, but only in the abyss (). It was clear to them that combatancy is inconsistent with the law of God. To the question, "Can a Christian do military service?" they had only one answer–No! Here is additional evidence quoted from the Signs of the Times:
"Can a Christian enlist in the army and be a soldier?
"A Christian has yielded himself a servant of Christ. ‘Ye call Me Master and Lord; and ye say well, for so I am’ (). ‘One is your Master, even Christ’ ( ). ‘Know ye not, that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey?’ ( R. V.).
"Having become a servant of Christ, a man cannot accept another master. ‘No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other’ ().
"Notwithstanding these plain statements, some men think they can be Christians while as soldiers they are sworn servants of the government, and may at any time be ordered to the front and to fire upon the enemy. Indeed, they expect this when they enlist, though it is in direct disobedience of the command of God, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ ().
"What is the soldier’s business? Is it not to fight and to war? But ‘the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men’ (). And the Holy Spirit said through John the Baptist, ‘Do violence to no man’ ( ). Read these scriptures: ‘This is My commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you’ ( ). ‘Love worketh no ill to his neighbour’ ( ). ‘I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you’ ( ).
"Reader, do you honestly think you can serve these two masters?"–(by Geo. E. Hollister).
The evidence presented so far shows that noncombatancy, which in those days was equivalent to no participation or conscientious opposition, was the historic position of the SDA Church in connection with military service, especially in time of war. And this position was based on the Bible (New Testament) and on the Spirit of Prophecy.
At this stage a serious question should arouse the thinking of the reader: What consequences are to be expected if the church changes her stand from no participation to complete freedom of participation? Will everything continue as usual? Will peace and harmony be kept up among the members as if nothing serious has happened in the church? Or will there be a crisis and a shaking? These questions will make the contents of this book meaningful to serious-minded Adventists when they find out that such a change has actually happened.
While the Adventist denomination was recovering from the crisis of 1902—1903, and while plans were being made to expand the work, to launch new enterprises, and to establish new institutions, the servant of the Lord warned the leadership and the people about a much more fearful crisis that the church would have to face in the near future. She was shown the preparations that were being made in the political world for a series of conflicts that would start with World War I and how these conflicts would affect the people of God.
"The nations of the world are eager for conflict," she had written back in 1900; "but they are held in check by the [four] angels. When this restraining power is removed, there will come a time of trouble and anguish." –.
Sister White wrote Testimonies for the Church, volume 9, during a period of five years, from 1904 through 1909. Deeply impressed by the scenes that she had seen in vision, she started the first chapter of that book by sounding a warning:
"We are living in the time of the end. The fast-fulfilling signs of the times declare that the coming of Christ is near at hand. . . . Plagues and judgments are already falling upon the despisers of the grace of God. The calamities by land and sea, the unsettled state of society, the alarms of war, are portentous. They forecast approaching events of the greatest magnitude.
"The agencies of evil are combining their forces and consolidating. They are strengthening for the last great crisis. . . .
"The condition of things in the world shows that troublous times are right upon us. The daily papers are full of indications of a terrible conflict in the near future." –.
"The world is stirred with the spirit of war. The prophecy of the eleventh chapter of Daniel has nearly reached its complete fulfillment. Soon the scenes of trouble spoken of in the prophecies will take place." –Ibid., p. 14.
"Fearful tests and trials await the people of God. The spirit of war is stirring the nations from one end of the earth to the other." –Ibid., p. 17.
In connection with this warning, she quoted, among other verses,—8. Verse 1 mentions the destruction that would be caused by wars in the latter days: "Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof."
In spite of the warnings that the Advent people had received, the majority were not able to see what was actually going on behind the scenes. Only those who were prayerfully watching the signs of the times saw that the world was about to be involved in an international conflict identified with "the beginning of sorrows" ().
World War I did not start suddenly out of events emerging in 1914. The real causes of the conflict can be traced much further back. Tensions resulting from unwise political attitudes over a period of years lined up the most powerful nations of Europe in two blocs. Each side was proud, jealous, suspicious, and filled with a spirit of nationalism. Both sides were heavily armed and fearful of each other.
Sensing that war was about to erupt, wise leaders in those nations did their best to ward off the imminent danger. Also, a Permanent Court of Arbitration was established at The Hague, the Netherlands, for the purpose of helping nations to settle disputes. The first international peace conference, attended by 24 nations, was held at The Hague in 1899. A second peace conference, to which 44 nations sent their representatives, took place in l907. But the Hague Court had practically no authority, as it could only help settle disputes that the contending nations were willing to submit to it for arbitration.
Besides the efforts made through the Hague Court and the Hague Conferences, there were organized peace movements supported by wealthy men in the early years of the twentieth century.
Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite, donated a high sum of money to be distributed in the form of prizes in the interest of peace and cooperation among the nations. Andrew Carnegie, an American steel manufacturer, built the famous Peace Palace for the Hague Court. But "the nations were angry" () beyond human help. While the Peace Palace was under construction, a reporter wrote:
"The erection of the Peace Palace at The Hague is going on satisfactorily. There is much discouragement connected with this peace building. It has quite a dangerous drawback. Proof: When the construction was approved, the Boer war broke out. When the plans for the building were accepted, the Russo-Japanese war started. At the time of the laying of the foundation, the German emperor visited Tangier and the unrest in Morocco began. When the first floor was completed, Austria conquered Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Turks. When the second floor was finished, the German-French tension over Morocco began. Since the completion of the attic chambers, the Italian-Turkish war broke out. I have been following with great fear the progress of the building. The closer it is drawing toward its completion, the worse the situation is becoming. When you think that the glaziers, the paperhangers, and the decorators have not even started their job, what will it be like when these men begin working? I have heard of some of the great symbolic peace paintings which should brighten the triumph of the peace movement. I’m afraid. As often as one part is completed, somewhere in the world there will be a shrapnel shower. Also a few statues are to be placed in the gallery of this palace–Pax, Lex, Labor, etc. Every one will cost thousands of lives. And, finally, the day when this temple of peace shall be dedicated, every one of us will shoulder his gun. A general World War will then break out–all against all. Therefore, I request that this palace be torn down as quickly as possible." –Taegliche Rundschau, No. 473.
The spirit of imperialism kept fueling the tension existing especially among the European powers. So, before 1914, Europe was split into two rival military alliances, as mentioned before. On the one hand there was the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, and on the other hand the Triple Entente of Great Britain, France, and Russia.
Shortly before the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, the two military blocs, from fear of each other, increased their military preparations, which, in turn, increased their mutual fears day by day. Only a little "spark"–a new international crisis–was needed to trigger the imminent conflict, and this crisis was provoked on June 28, 1914, when the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, a province which Austria-Hungary had recovered from the Turks in 1908. And then the feared chain reaction began. When the war was over, in 1918, the casualties on all fronts were estimated at 10 million dead and 20 million wounded.
Let us go back a few years before the war. In view of what was about to happen in those eventful days, 1914—1918, Sister White predicted the beginning of a time of trial and persecution for the church as follows:
"A season of great trial is before us. . . . The time is right upon us when persecution will come to those who proclaim the truth. . . . But wherever God’s people may be forced to go, even though, like the beloved disciple, they are banished to desert islands, Christ will know where they are and will strengthen and bless them, filling them with peace and joy.
"Soon there is to be trouble all over the world. It becomes everyone to seek to know God. We have no time to delay. . . . God’s love for His church is infinite. His care over His heritage is unceasing. He suffers no affliction to come upon the church but such as is essential for her purification, her present and eternal good. He will purify His church even as He purified the temple at the beginning and close of His ministry on earth. All that He brings upon the church in test and trial comes that His people may gain deeper piety and more strength to carry the triumphs of the cross to all parts of the world."–, 228.
Tests and trials have a purifying effect upon the church. When everything seems to be at peace, there is no noticeable difference between the two classes of believers. But when strict obedience to God is followed by oppression and persecution, and threats of imprisonment, torture, and death, the false-hearted professors are clearly distinguished from those who have made a "Thus saith the Lord" their rule of life. This dreadful experience was before the Adventist people when the servant of the Lord was writing Testimonies for the Church, volume 9. She often pointed out the fact that the coming crisis would reveal two distinct companies of Adventists.
"The authorities will make laws to restrict religious liberty. . . . They will think they can force the conscience, which God alone should control. Even now they are making a beginning; this work they will continue to carry forward till they reach a boundary over which they cannot step. . . . Many stumble and fall, apostatizing from the faith they once advocated. Those who apostatize in time of trial will, to secure their own safety, bear false witness, and betray their brethren." –.
"Thank God, all will not be rocked to sleep in the cradle of carnal security. There will be faithful ones who will discern the signs of the times. While a large number professing present truth will deny their faith by their works, there will be some who will endure unto the end." –.
"Soon God’s people will be tested by fiery trials, and the great proportion of those who now appear to be genuine and true will prove to be base metal. . . . To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when the champions are few–this will be our test. At this time we must gather warmth from the coldness of others, courage from their cowardice, and loyalty from their treason. . . . The test will surely come." –Ibid., pp. 136, 137.
Some of the readers may think that the oft-predicted test will not come before the Sunday decree. Surely, we will all be tested when the image of the beast is set up shortly before the close of probation. A decree enforcing Sunday observance will go forth to all the nations of the world. But this will be "the final test" (), "the last act in the drama" ( ). When E. G. White mentions the coming "test" or "tests," she often refers to a testing time, or a series of tests beginning with the preliminary tests and ending up with the final test. This is evident in , quoted above, as well as in other Spirit of Prophecy statements.
Another point which must be clarified before we can proceed to the next chapter: unless we have a correct concept of what it means to "apostatize from the faith," we will not have a clear understanding of certain Spirit of Prophecy declarations. Some will say that apostatizing from the faith is the same as leaving the church. Not necessarily. History teaches that, century after century, the apostatized majority did not leave the church; on the contrary, they took control of the church. This is why, today, there is a whole family of fallen churches –Babylon, both mother and daughters (). In —267, and vol. 5, pp. 210—212, and in many other prophetic writings referring to the end, we read about an unreformed majority which will hold the reins of government in the Adventist Church until it is too late to make a change.
The course of the unfaithful majority was prophetically described as follows:
"There is a prospect before us of a continued struggle, at the risk of imprisonment, loss of property, and even of life itself, to defend the law of God, which is made void by the laws of men. In this situation worldly policy will urge an outward compliance with the laws of the land, for the sake of peace and harmony."–Ibid., p. 712.
"A company was presented before me under the name of Seventh-day Adventists, who were advising that the banner or sign which makes us a distinctive people should not be held out so strikingly; for they claimed it was not the best policy in securing success to our institutions." –.
In her prophetic visions, Sister White saw also another company of Seventh Day Adventists, namely, a faithful minority:
"I saw a company who stood well guarded and firm, giving no countenance to those who would unsettle the established faith of the body. God looked upon them with approbation."–.
"Not all in this world have taken sides with the enemy against God. Not all have become disloyal. There are a faithful few who are true to God; for John writes, ‘Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.’."– .
The first phase in the fulfillment of these predictions was seen in 1914—1918 under the preliminary tests.
The Lord has always given the first opportunity to the leaders to exhibit faithfulness and courage but, sad to say, when the crisis loomed up before the church in 1914, it found them unprepared. The decisive majority of the membership in Europe were unable to see that the brethren in the highest offices were leading the church in the wrong direction by committing the members to combatancy.
Under that fiery test, the SDA leadership in Europe issued declarations instructing the brethren to take a combatant part in the war. These writings brought much confusion in the churches. Thousands of SDAs in Europe were thrown into great trial and perplexity, as, to avoid persecution and possible death, they consented to give up Sabbathkeeping, bear arms, and do as other patriots were doing. The great majority acted in accordance with the decisions of their leaders.
It was only a small minority of conscientious objectors who had the necessary faith and courage to stand for truth and righteousness. They were not troublemakers; they were honest Adventists who stood up in defense of the law of God in a time of crisis, when the church was wavering between loyalty and compromise. But their position was out of harmony with the decision of the leaders, who wanted the church to be in favor with the government. Therefore, the faithful few who stood for their convictions were disfellowshiped from the church. The persecution and tribulation which followed as the result of this attitude is part of denominational history. In the crisis caused by World War I God had His faithful witnesses in every country, as we will see in the following pages.
Since the beginning of the war, the General Conference was aware of the troubles that had come upon the church in Europe. The contentions and divisions that were taking place in the Adventist ranks were not concealed from the General Conference brethren. Therefore, at the end of 1916, William A. Spicer, General Conference secretary, was sent to Europe to obtain firsthand information about the problems and, if possible, help find a solution. If he had contacted the disfellowshiped minorities and heard also their side of the story, he might have taken back to Washington, DC, a balanced picture of the situation. But he was satisfied with the one-sided reports obtained from the European leaders (especially L. R. Conradi) who were responsible for and directly involved in the difficulty. Thus, the visit of Elder Spicer, instead of serving to solve or minimize the question at issue, regarding faithfulness to the commandments of God also in time of war, only served to aggravate it.
Thousands of Adventists were filled with consternation and began to protest when they read the circular letter of August 2, 1914, signed by Elder G. Dail, secretary of the European Division, which contained the following instructions:
"We should do our military duties cheerfully whilst we are in service or being called to serve, so that the officers in charge will find in us valiant and true soldiers who are ready to die for their homes, for our army, and for our fatherland."
To aggravate the distress of these conscientious objectors, the commitment of the leadership, according to a declaration submitted by the East German Union to the Ministry of War (August 4, 1914), signed by the Union president, H. F. Schuberth, was brought to their knowledge providentially a few days later. They said:
"We have bound ourselves together in the defense of the Fatherland, and under these circumstances we will also bear arms on Saturday (Sabbath)."
An additional shock to those faithful few was the publication of the booklet Der Christ und der Krieg (The Christian and War), in 1916. There, on page 18, three of the main Adventist leaders in Germany made the following declaration:
"In all that we have said, we have shown that the Bible teaches: first, that taking part in war is not a transgression of the sixth commandment; second, that doing military service on the Sabbath is not a transgression of the fourth commandment."
No one can deny that a fundamental change took place in the doctrinal position of the Adventist Church in Germany and that this change affected the law of God directly. A crisis, followed by separation, was the unavoidable consequence.
Even outsiders commented on this event. A Lutheran minister wrote:
"The World War brought a great crisis upon German Adventism. The Koelnische Zeitung (Cologne Newspaper) of September 21, 1915, writes: ‘A division occurred among the followers of Adventism after the outbreak of the war. The majority wanted to see the fundamental teachings invalidated during the time of the war. The other part, on the contrary, desired the sanctification of the Sabbath (Saturday) even during this difficult time. These differences of opinion finally led to the disfellowshipment of the followers of the old faith from the church.’ Above all it was the position taken toward war service in general that caused this division.
"Already on August 4, 1914, the great majority of German Adventists had declared in a very submissive communication to the War Office in Berlin: ‘In this present solemn time of war, we consider ourselves duty-bound to stand for the defense of the fatherland and also, under these circumstances, to bear arms on the Sabbath (Saturday).’ A similar declaration was sent to the office of the commanding general of the 7th army corps on March 5, 1915. This declaration was signed by L. R. Conradi, the president of the European Division of Adventists, and by P. Drinhaus, the president of the Saxon Conference. Therefore, this official position was taken in conflict with the pacifist teachings laid down by the American Conference [of Adventists]. For this reason, part of the German Adventists withstood this official resolution. This disagreement resulted in a bitter conflict. Those Adventists who accepted participation in war and who had become disloyal to the original principles turned most vehemently against the followers of the old teachings. In an article published in the Dresdener Neueste Nachrichten (Dresden Latest News), April 12, 1918, they call these people ‘unreasonable elements’ with ‘foolish ideas,’ and in very unkind words they say: ‘We would, indeed, regard it as a favor done to us if such elements met the fate which they deserve.’ In the same article they recount, to exalt their own merits, what they have done for the fatherland. This way of fighting each other, we feel, is a very unpleasant thing. On the other hand, the followers of the original teachings, in a special number of their periodical Waechter der Wahrheit (Watchman of the Truth), narrate the unkindness that they have suffered on the part of their hostile brethren."–Dr. Konrad Algermissen, Die Adventisten (The Adventists), pp. 22—24 (booklet published in 1928).
In a pamphlet published by the Adventist Church in Germany, the crisis which came upon the Adventist people during World War I was explained as follows:
"As children of their heavenly Father, they [the Adventists] cultivate peace among themselves and with their fellowmen all over the world. At the same time, they seek to uphold the principles which the Lord of Christendom has given to those who are the light and salt of the world in this solemn time. Where general conscription exists, they [the Adventists] have always been ready, as a denomination, to fulfill their duties both in time of peace and in time of war, like every other loyal citizen. In the observance of the weekly seventh day, peculiar to them, they only desire the same rights that are granted to other professors of religion with regard to their rest day.
"At the outbreak of the war, the denomination firmly complied with the conscription law as its members had done in times of peace. They desired, only if possible, the privileges which could be granted to others under the same circumstances. Thousands of their members are in the army. Many of them have fallen on the field of honor, both in Europe and some also in the colonies, while many others have received decorations or have been promoted. Also, at the beginning of the war, many of their members, both men and women, reported voluntarily for ambulance service, and the denomination placed their roomy mission establishments without hesitation at the disposal of the Red Cross.
"In the course of the war, however, there were unfortunately some individual members who failed to openly confess their own personal conscientious doubts to the authorities, but rather withdrew from their duties secretly and wandered from place to place inducing others by word and literature to take the same step. When they were called by the denomination to account for their procedure, they accused the leaders of being in apostasy. Therefore, they had to be disfellowshiped, not because of their personal convictions, but because of their unchristian attitude and because they became a threat to internal and external peace." –Zur Aufklaerung (For Clarification), pp. 2, 3.
In a circular letter entitled The European Situation, Elder C. H. Watson gave the following explanation:
"There was in Germany and those other countries concerned a minority of our believers who refused to follow the leadership of Conradi and others into combatant participation in the war.
"These were subjected to much suffering at the hands of their governments because of their stand.
"In Germany, those who took their stand against Conradi’s wicked action in thus committing them to war were treated with great harshness by Conradi and his associates. The resistance of the minority to military service threatened to compromise the whole body of Adventists in the eyes of the German government; and, to avoid this, Conradi had the minority disfellowshiped from the church.
"Thus the noncombatant minority was forced out of the church in that country, and this separation continued throughout the war years.
"When this state of affairs became known to the General Conference leaders, it created deep concern in their hearts, and led to their sending W. A. Spicer to Germany at a time when the German submarine peril was extremely grave. Brother Spicer took his life in his hands in order to get firsthand information on that situation.
"The result of that visit was that the General Conference became possessed of firsthand information regarding:
a. The wrong done to these minority believers.
b. The division and strife which had resulted among our German members.
c. The development of bitterness in both groups, and especially in those wronged by Conradi.
d. The extreme views to which these groups were driving each other in their differences."
While Conradi was a leader of the SDA Church, he was whitewashed and defended even by the General Conference representatives. After he left the Adventist Church, some leaders began to admit what they should have admitted at the beginning of the trouble (1914—1920).
Elder Watson’s admission, however, is a very rare exception. SDA publications on this great crisis generally miss the point by ignoring the fundamental aspects of the whole problem. One of these aspects is that the faithful minority were disfellowshiped–a fact which is usually concealed.
Another rare admission of the responsibility of the church in the treatment dispensed to the conscientious objectors is found in a booklet published by the Southern Publishing Association, Nashville, Tennessee:
"In truth the ‘reform’ movement . . . sprang into being in Germany during the World War, while [L. R.] Conradi was the leader of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in the whole of Europe. That movement as it is today and has been since it came into existence is the practical protest of a large number of Seventh-day Adventists, not against the teachings of the denomination, but against the high-handed actions of this very man Conradi and a few others who were associated with him in his leadership of the church in Europe–actions which he took without either the counsel, consent, or even the knowledge of the General Conference. The departure of these people was not from ‘a lot of gross errors and a dominating hierarchy,’ but from Conradi’s leadership which had committed them, without their voice or consent being given to his action, to the cannon and the bayonet of the battlefield. From the hour that he so basely betrayed them, they have had absolutely no faith in him either as a man, a minister, or a leader in the church of God." –Walter H. Brown, Brown Exposes Ballenger, p. 30.
It is true that Conradi and other European leaders betrayed the confidence of these "unfortunate victims," as Elder Brown admits in his defensive writing against Ballenger. But Elder Brown was greatly mistaken when he said that Conradi acted "without either the counsel, consent, or even the knowledge of the General Conference," because evidence proves the very opposite. Furthermore, Elder Brown did not state facts correctly when he said there were a "protest" and a "departure"; he should have said that there were a "protest" and a "disfellowshipment."
During World War I, well over 2,000 conscientious objectors were separated from the Adventist Church in Germany. Together with the conscientious objectors of other religious groups, these faithful believers were put to the hardest test that Christians have ever been called to endure. Since Germany had no provision to accommodate these heroes of the faith, they had to face the firing squad or suffer horrors in prison.
During a conference that was held in Yugoslavia in 1933, Brother Otto Welp gave the following report, which was published by our Yugoslav brethren: As far as conscientious objectors were concerned, the sentence pronounced against them was that, from among the men eligible for the army, one out of every ten was to be executed. Then, if the others did not yield, every fifth man was to be put to death, and finally every second one. Only God knows–and the day of judgment will reveal–how many conscientious objectors were actually executed. At that time they were often despised as cowards who were afraid to go to the battlefront; now they are more often regarded as heroes who refused to take human life but were not afraid to die for their convictions. Those who survived the firing squad were kept in prison until the end of the war.
Also in other countries which took part in the war, faithful Adventists went through great hardships.
We do not know how many conscientious objectors there were in Great Britain when World War I broke out. But there were some. One earnest Adventist, when called to take up his gun, stated that he could not fight.
"Cannot fight!" said the officer. "What do you mean by that?" The soldier explained his position in a few brief words.
"But it means death to refuse service in the face of the enemy!" said the commanding officer.
"I expected that it would," said the reservist.
"But you will be shot," said the officer. "I can do nothing else than order you shot."
"Yes," said the young man, "I know that is your military duty. I expected as much when I came. But as I see Christ as my example, I cannot bear arms."
The officer hesitated for a moment while the battle was raging. Then he made arrangements for the young brother to serve as a noncombatant, according to his religious conscience. We are only narrating what happened. Of course, not everything he did was according to our stand as a Movement.
After one year or more, the young man was sent back for reassignment. Being assigned to drive the ammunition trucks, once more his conscience brought him into difficulty when he stated to his commanding officer that he could not do that.
"Can’t drive the ammunition to the front! What do you mean?"
The soldier again explained his convictions.
"But you will be court-martialed at once."
"Yes," he replied, "but I cannot do that kind of work."
Only after he had shown unflinching courage to stand for his conviction and take the consequences was he given an alternative duty. (Condensed from the book Providences of the Great War.)
Another young man told his experience as follows:
"I was alone among some 900 desperate men on the docks, with armed guards on every hand. During the morning the governor appeared on his rounds and sent for me.
"‘You are to work with this party till 6 p.m.,’ he said, ‘with none of this Sabbath nonsense we had from you last week.’
"‘Pardon me, sir,’ I said, ‘but I must follow my convictions, though I have no desire to be troublesome.’
"Sternly the officer barked out, ‘Look here! If these men see you refusing to work at sunset and they mutiny, you will be held responsible, and you will be liable to be shot. . . . You’ll be taught not to mutiny today. Back to work.’"
In the midst of his desperate struggle, when that soldier began to falter inwardly, he felt encouraged at the thought that he was not going through those trials alone. He knew that eleven other Adventist brethren were in the same furnace of affliction. Constant prayer was his main source of strength.
When the black and lonely Friday was coming to a close, he said to a senior guard, "I’m sorry, but I can work no longer today." Instantly several guards grabbed him and dragged him behind some sacks of oats out of sight of the other prisoners, where they mistreated him. Then they chained him and thrust him into a small cell.
"An officer came to me," he continued, "and said in a somewhat conciliatory tone:
"‘Your companions have all come to their senses and are quietly working now. I’m sorry you are so misguided as to bring this punishment on yourself. Why not change your mind, and give up this impracticable Sabbath idea, as your friends have done?’
"‘I cannot be untrue to my beliefs, even if the others have been,’ I replied.
"As the guard’s steps died away, I began to think in the silence of the solitude: surely all my companions could not have failed. Yet I ought to have heard them, I thought, had they been in the adjoining cells. After a few minutes, I whistled softly two bars of the hymn, ‘The Lord is my light, my joy, and my song.’ No answer. Gloom began to settle on me. But I whistled the bars again, and a little louder. Suddenly came the next bar from the adjoining cell. The song of the angels could hardly have been sweeter to the shepherds than was that whistled hymn which told me my companions had by God’s grace endured another Sabbath test, and were all still rejoicing in Jesus." (Condensed from the book Seventh-day Adventists in Time of War.)
Other brethren who also got a very grueling treatment in prison told their experiences as follows:
Since they refused to work on the Sabbath, they were driven like wild beasts to the cells amid much cursing and the cracking of whips. There they were immediately handcuffed and, as the manacles were too small, they consequently tore the flesh on the backs of their hands. And then the sergeants made sport of them and punched all over their bodies.
Those young men were also subjected to what was called "number one field punishment" or "shot drill." This torment consisted in having heavy weights placed upon their backs and chests, with which they were made to run from place to place for one hour.
One of those soldiers was declared to be the ringleader and was handled with so much cruelty and violence that he collapsed and foamed at the mouth. He did not die, as it was feared he would, but he was ill for some time.
Friday morning, they were all lined up before the sergeant major, who asked what they had decided concerning the Sabbath which was before them. As they said that it was their duty to obey God rather than men, keeping the Lord’s day holy, they were sent back to their cells quietly. The punishment they received was solitary confinement with bread and water only, together with one hour’s shot drill daily, for seven days.
The next Sabbath, as those Adventist soldiers refused to break the law of God, they received the same type of punishment as before, which was extended for two weeks. It seemed to them that it was only a matter of time and they would all die in prison. They prayed to the Lord continually that He would give them strength to bear the test.
On a Friday, at the end of the fourteen-day period, a prison official was sent to talk to them separately. He said to each one that all others had given in, "so you might just as well do the same." This was the severest test that came upon them at a time when they were physically very weak through starvation and exhaustion. But God inspired each one of them with sufficient valor to reply: "Even if I am alone, I will continue obeying God rather than men. I will keep also His holy Sabbath." Then one or two of the group began to whistle a hymn, and soon they were all whistling, assuring one another that they were all loyal to God. In answer to prayer, their strength was renewed day by day. (Condensed and adapted from the book Seventh-day Adventists in Time of War.)
When the hostilities were breaking out in Europe, the leaders of the Romanian Union of the SDA Church encouraged its members to take part in the war. In a declaration issued (August 4, 1914) by P. P. Paulini and G. Danila, respectively president and secretary of the Union, they said:
"Those members who are called to serve in the army should not lose sight of the fact that, in time of war, all must fully perform their duties. From Joshua 6, we see that the children of God bore arms and that they fulfilled their military duties even on the Sabbath day. . . . Therefore, in a special meeting with our leaders, which was attended by a large number of fellow believers who had been called to bear arms, we came to the conclusion that all members should cooperate in the above spirit."
The following decision was later published in a denominational paper in Romania:
"We, the Conference of the Romanian Seventh-day Adventists, make known the biblical standpoint that military service and the call to bear arms is a duty imposed by the state, to whom God has rightfully given authority, according toand .
"This same stand was also taken by the General Conference Committee during their meeting of November 1915. So, in this matter the different countries in the world have complete liberty, of their own, to continue meeting these legal requirements as they have done until now." –Curierul Misionar, 1916, No. 3, p. 35.
The combatant position taken by the Adventist leadership caused much confusion also in Romania, and the faithful few who stood in defense of the law of God suffered much abuse at the hands of the leaders–not only criticism and defamation, but also disfellowshipment and persecution. Betrayed to the authorities, they were separated from one another, imprisoned, and tortured (only God knows how many died under these circumstances), while the regular members, following the recommendations of the church leaders, had no problem, because they were prepared to do what all others were doing. The leaders explained the official position of the church as follows:
"We have had cases in which the brethren in Germany asked: ‘What must we do in war?’ The answer was: ‘Remain faithful to God, but do what everyone else is doing.’ And what happened? Where the soldiers could get permission to rest on Sunday and keep it holy, our soldiers went to their officers with the request: ‘We ask you to give us Saturday off. . . .’ But where no one could think of holidays, it would have been a strange attitude for our brethren to ask permission to keep the Sabbath." –Ibid., p. 37.
As it happened in other European countries, it also happened in Romania. Some conscientious objectors distinguished themselves as heroes. Gheorghe Panaitescu reported the following experiences:
"When Romania entered the war, 1916, in one regiment three faithful Adventists were sentenced to be executed by a firing squad because they had refused to serve as combatants. One of the three was called and ordered to dig his grave. Then, as he was standing on the edge of the hole, the officer appealed to him: ‘Soldier, because of your position as conscientious objector, you have been condemned to be shot. But, before you fall backwards into the hole, you are given a short moment to meditate upon what you are going to do. Consider your family. If you want to escape being shot to death, take your gun and go to the front. Not all soldiers are killed in battle. Many will return home and be with their families. Think about it quickly.’ That brother said he had already thought about it a long time before and was determined to remain firm in his position, because he could not act against his conscience. When the officer saw the resoluteness of the brother, he said to him: ‘Follow me,’ and he led him away. A shot was fired into the air, the hole was filled up, and a bit of blood of an animal was spilled on the ground nearby.
"Then the second brother was called and the same appeal was made to him with the following warning: ‘You see, your brother is dead and buried in this first hole because of his stubbornness, and this second hole is reserved for you in case you continue showing the same stubborn attitude.’ This other man said: ‘If my brother remained faithful to Christ unto death, I will also remain faithful to Him who taught us to love one another, because I don’t want to forfeit the crown of life.’ The same procedure was repeated. Again a shot was fired into the air, the hole was covered, and a few drops of blood were sprinkled on top.
"When the third brother was called, the officer said to him, pointing to the two covered holes: ‘This is where the bodies of your two brothers lie. They lost their lives because of their obstinacy. But you still have a chance to save your life. It’s easy. Take your gun and fulfill your military duties to avoid being shot to death. After the end of the war you can live in peace and happily follow your religion.’ This third man began to think. Then he hesitated for a little while. And finally he declared himself ready to bear arms, go to the front, and do as all other combatants were doing. The officer said to him: ‘We must shoot you, because you are not faithful to your God as your two brethren were. You are a hypocrite and a coward. If you do not serve your God, we have no confidence that you will serve our government. You will shoot into the air, and when in danger you will play into the hands of the enemy. Your two brethren, who maintained their decision and remained faithful to the end, have survived; but you will be executed.’ He then ordered the firing squad to shoot.
"The two survivors who did not deny their faith were put to work in the fields and were sent home after the end of the war. That is when the whole story became known among the brethren in Romania."
Here is another interesting case that was reported by Brother Panaitescu. Because of his religious convictions, which did not allow him to be a combatant, a faithful Adventist brother was condemned to death by the military court. Standing with his back turned toward his grave, he asked permission to pray for the last time on this earth. Kneeling down, he prayed aloud imploring God to be merciful to his executioners and forgive all those who were responsible for the death sentence that was being applied. Before he finished his prayer, a high officer happened to pass by and asked what was going on.
"Who gave orders to shoot this man? and for what reason?"
In a few words, the soldiers explained the problem: "He will be executed because, as a conscientious objector, he says he cannot break the law of God. This means that he will not bear arms or do any secular work on Saturdays."
"This man shall not die," said the officer. "He will go with me to the military court, and I will defend him."
This is the gist of the appeal that the officer made in court, in defense of that faithful believer:
"Here we have a great man before us. A man who is conscientious in the fulfillment of his religious duties, and who would rather die than break the commandments of God, is a great man. This is the kind of men that Romania needs, and we don’t have machines to manufacture them in one day. Not all competent men go to the front. Many things must be done all over the country, far away from the firing line. There are men who were not born to kill–men who have their religious convictions–men who can be a blessing to mankind in many other occupations. It is in the best interest of the country not to put such men to death, but to preserve their lives."
In some cases, God was honored in delivering His faithful servants in a miraculous way; in other cases God was honored in giving His faithful servants strength and resignation to suffer martyrdom. Whichever way God chooses, He knows what He is doing. May His name be honored and glorified!
Also in Russia there was a minority of Adventist believers who, because of religious convictions, refused to take part in the war. We read in an Adventist book:
Some time after the war broke out, our leaders in Russia learned that the government had sentenced about seventy of our brethren to ‘hard labor in chains, with terms of from two to sixteen years.’ Thousands of young men of other denominations were serving similar sentences. But God’s loving eye was following these suffering Christians. He saw their fettered hands and heard their cries of anguish. He brought deliverance in an unexpected way. The régime of the ages went down, a new one was set up, ‘and . . . the new government issued decrees for the liberation of conscientious objectors and their exemption from the using of arms.’" –Matilda Erickson Andross, Story of the Advent Message, pp. 173, 174.
Besides these 70, there must have been other true Adventists whose faith and courage were severely tried.
A new convert, whose heart was filled with the first love, proved to be a hero among other heroes of the faith. After he was released from prison, he told his story:
"I had tried to explain that it was against my religious principles to carry arms, but that I would serve my country to the best of my ability in any other capacity. But nobody paid any attention. At last our company was called out, and we were lined up before the long line of arms. The order was given to pick up guns. There was a gun lying before each man. All bent over at the command. Only I remained standing there erect, praying earnestly for sufficient grace to be given at this crucial moment.
"The officer quickly asked, ‘Did you not understand?’
"After an affirmative answer from me, he asked again, ‘Well, is it not necessary then to obey orders?’ and angrily, ‘What is this new idea?’
"By this time all eyes were fixed on me. I felt that I must reply, but as I began to speak, the officer commanded me to take the gun, no talking being necessary.
"‘I can not,’ I said.
"He quickly drew out his sword, holding it in a position to strike, and said angrily, ‘You know the law.’
"Then, turning to an underofficer, he said, ‘I shall kill him, for I must be obeyed.’
"I really expected the sword to come down on my neck in one fatal blow, and yet someway I was not one bit afraid. That uplifted sword meant no more to me than if it were a piece of paper. For some moments he maintained this position. Then as if he had a command to sheathe his sword–I doubt not that it was a real command from our heavenly Father–he lowered his sword and ordered some soldiers to take me to the lockup.
"It was February, and very cold. The prison to which I was taken was an old broken-down place. Everything was taken away from me but my Bible and an old, worn-out blanket, which was altogether insufficient covering when wrapped about me on the cold bare floor, with blasts of winter coming in through many crevices. I took a severe cold, and began coughing blood . . . and I was released without further questioning.
"Five or six days later all the soldiers in our barracks were awakened at night by an officer who brought in a notice that I was to appear at some place of trial and be judged. . . . I knew that according to law my sentence would be death, or lifelong imprisonment in Siberia, so I felt that I must witness for my Master now. Nearly every evening the boys asked me to talk to them. . . .
"One day the priest came in, and in every way tried to persuade me to change my views. When he saw that it was useless to argue longer, he became very angry, and addressed the soldiers around us, saying, ‘Children, do not listen to this man. Do not speak with him. He is a leper.’ But this simply amused the boys, and they were more eager to have me talk with them. . . .
"Finally, I was taken to be judged. The charge against me was read, namely, my refusal to bear arms. . . . My sentence read, ‘Eighteen years in Siberia. The first two in heavy chains. The next eight in heavy work and close confinement. The remaining eight in government employ.’ After these eighteen years I could return, but not to any city, and was to report to some police station every week. . . .
"I was immediately handcuffed and led to prison, waiting to be sent to Siberia. . . . [Meanwhile,] I was kept in very close confinement with the poorest, scantiest fare imaginable. . . .
"I was in this prison until April 29, 1917, when the government was changed, and the old despotic rule of the czar fell. . . . Under these new circumstances I met a dear brother of the same faith, also imprisoned on the same charge. We spent many happy hours together in Bible study and prayer. When our cases were settled, he was freed and sent home, and I was asked to continue my service in the army, but was given noncombatant work." –W. A. Spicer, Providences of the Great War, pp. 129—131.
During World War I, many Adventists went through trials and persecutions also in other ways which were not directly connected with the military question. And the Lord often showed His powerful hand to save the faithful ones who put their confidence entirely in Him.
A Russian general, for example, had threatened to banish all the Adventists from a Latvian town and to kill all those who decided to remain. It happened that on the very day that he had set to carry out his decision, he was deposed and was ordered to report to the headquarters. On that day, which was a Sabbath, the brethren were fasting and praying, and the Lord defeated the plans of that wicked general.
In another place in Russia, the judge, with the help of the local priest, had vowed that "no Adventist should be allowed to set his foot in the territory" under his jurisdiction. But the revolution broke out, and that wicked judge, who had wronged the people by his arbitrary rule, was seized by the mob and hanged on a tree.
In this country, conscientious objectors were generally, but not always, accorded exemption rights by the military authorities. When the United States entered into World War I, a number of Adventist soldiers were subjected to severe trials because of their stand as conscientious objectors. We quote:
"There were times when the very existence of our work was threatened by those who were in military authority, concerning the misunderstandings and false reports sent to government headquarters. The federal department of justice received over ten thousand complaints against us, our published literature, and our work, during the first six months of war.
"Many of our boys had to suffer terrible abuses at the hands of military officers and private soldiers for their loyalty to religious principles. . . . The Sabbath was the greatest test of all for our young men in the army. More than one hundred of our young men were court-martialed for refusing to do military duty on the Sabbath day. Over thirty were sentenced to Fort Leavenworth, as military prisoners, whose sentences ranged from ten to fifty years of imprisonment at hard work.
"Their troubles had just begun when they were sent to Leavenworth. The military prison officials endeavored to compel our young men to work on the Sabbath at ordinary labor crushing stones. Of course, they could no more do this kind of labor in prison than they could do it out of prison in the military camps.
"The prison officials endeavored to coerce them by meting dire punishments upon them. For refusing to work on the Sabbath, they were deprived of their daily rations and given only a few slices of bread and water, and the amount of stone they were to crush was greatly increased per day, and at night they were confined to underground dungeons and strapped on bare hardwood planks for their beds, and exposed to the dampness and the cold. This punishment lasted for two weeks. If they refused to work the second time upon the Sabbath day, they were put upon still smaller rations, and their hands were handcuffed behind their backs around the prison bars of their cells on a level almost with their shoulders, and in this awkward standing position without any relief they were compelled to stand for nine hours each day. Others were confined in dirty dark cells for months where they were unable to stand upright or lie down without being cramped for room." –F. C. Gilbert, Divine Predictions Fulfilled, pp. 397—399.
Appeals were made to Senator W. G. Harding, who later became the 29th President of the United States and, through his assistance, those Adventist military prisoners were released from that inhuman form of punishment and were exempted from Sabbath labor in prison. They were finally released from prison parole.
It is encouraging to know that some faithful Christians, following their personal convictions, decided to obey God rather than men and that they were prepared to suffer even martyrdom for Christ’s sake, if necessary. We have no controversy with these conscientious believers, although we may not agree with them on every point. However, according to evidence included in this book, the reader will see that the official position adopted by the Adventist Church as a church is completely different from the independent stand taken by those serious-minded Adventists as individuals.
From the facts considered so far, we already know that the leadership of the church and the majority of the membership felt free to set aside distinctive Adventist doctrines, such as strict obedience to the Law of Ten Commandments, both in times of peace and in times of stress and war. Consequently, a minority held that, with such a deviation, the import of the Advent message would be lost sight of and the unique doctrines hitherto advocated for over a half century would be nullified. They felt that the threat of persecution and loss of property should never have led the denomination to seek a compromise with the powers of darkness. The refusal to secure false peace at the sacrifice of principle, they contended, would now be the distinguishing mark between the true and the professed Adventist believers.
Through the years of World War I, the controversy over doctrinal differences widened the gap between the majority and the minority until, in many cases, the faithful few were disfellowshiped. The church leadership had reasoned that this step was necessary in order to safeguard the properties of the denomination and ensure the right of the Adventist people to continue holding their meetings.
The strife and division, we must emphasize again, was by no means confined to Germany; it was witnessed in sixteen countries, involving hundreds of true Adventists. Since traveling was restricted, much of what went on during those perplexing years was done through correspondence, and mutual contacts were established among the separated groups.
When the war was over, the news was spread that the numbers of those who had been cut off from church membership, because of their loyalty to the fundamental doctrines of the Advent Movement, had increased to thousands. These people realized that something more definite must be done in search of a solution to the existing problem. It was suggested that a preliminary meeting, if called in a nearby neutral country, would be welcomed by the disfellowshiped minority and that their experiences would offer them a common ground for the united actions that were required under those circumstances. The purpose of such a meeting would be to strengthen connections among fellow believers who had suffered for the truth’s sake and to encourage one another in the truth.
The planned meeting convened in Switzerland in the autumn of 1919. Brother D. Nicolici reported on the event as follows:
"When we in Romania were disfellowshiped from the Adventist Church, we did not know that faithful brethren in other European countries had gone through similar experiences. As soon as we received information about the Reform brethren in Germany, we wrote to them. As a result of mutual contacts among Reformers in several countries, arrangements were made to hold a meeting in Switzerland toward the end of 1919. From Romania we sent two representatives along with our experiences and views. During that meeting, which was attended by 16 brethren, the question of organization was not discussed because the Reform brethren were hopeful that a reconciliation with the Adventist Church would come. We were not interested in separation but in unity, and we expected that our Adventist brethren would open the door for an official discussion with some of their General Conference representatives. Upon the suggestion of Brother Otto Welp, it was then agreed that an international conference of Reformers would be held in Wuerzburg, Germany, in 1921."
As the brethren narrated their experiences in that meeting in 1919, it became very evident to them that the hand of God was leading a faithful remnant in a work of reformation. There was no doubt in their minds that what they had suffered, both at the hands of the SDA leaders and of the secular authorities, was the result of their unflinching decision and of their determined effort to remain loyal to the fundamental truths upon which the Advent Movement had been founded. According to reports presented, many had sealed their testimony with their lives. Others had suffered years of imprisonment and privation. The fact that in not a few cases both lay members and ministers had chosen the pathway of compromise and employed their talents to bring persecution against the reform-minded Adventists was the cause of considerable consternation.
At this meeting it was agreed that the international connections should be fostered under the leadership of Brother Otto Welp, who had his office in Wuerzburg, Germany. The brethren had no desire to form a separate organization, at least not on a permanent or final basis. It was believed that the General Conference leadership of the Seventh-day Adventists would vindicate the position of the faithful minority and set things in order. With the fondest hope that the necessary corrective steps would be taken by the church, that memorable meeting came to a close.
The General Conference Executive Committee members in Washington, DC, had been informed of the difficulties involving the church in Europe. Several executive officers were therefore sent to Europe to examine and, if possible, solve the problem. During June and July 1920, they visited various countries where hundreds of members had been disfellowshiped from church membership. Their visit was eagerly anticipated. But these General Conference leaders yielded to the influence of the European leaders and supported their compromising attitudes. Thus, at the conference in Friedensau, 1920, Elder A. G. Daniells endorsed the disfellowshipment of the faithful minority (known as "Reformers" or "Reform brethren").
From the very outbreak of hostilities, the leading brethren in the United States were aware of the crisis which had affected the work in Europe. They knew that there was a division among the members. Yet they extended no support or sympathy to the persecuted ones who found themselves outside the church.
In 1920 four members of the SDA General Conference Executive Committee visited Europe with the stated purpose of settling the difficulty and in some way restoring unity among the believers. They were particularly concerned with the Balkan countries and Germany, but in all their efforts they made scarcely any attempt to contact the scattered groups of minority believers who had endured the fires of affliction for the third angel’s message. Their opinions were based almost entirely upon the reports received from the European leaders who were directly involved in the problem. It became evident to them, however, that the apostasy in Europe could not be easily covered up, and that one day it would be made known to the Adventist membership at large.
The Reformers began to ask themselves serious questions about the real intentions of the General Conference brethren: Are they actually willing to settle the problems, or do they only intend to clear themselves of the responsibility for what had taken place in Europe? Will they admit or minimize the betrayal of the European leaders, and give the impression that on the whole they had been loyal to the message, and that they had done the best they could under the circumstances? Do they think that the Reform brethren were only a group of rebellious elements, extremists and fanatics, who refused all efforts for reconciliation? Our brethren were invited by L. R. Conradi, H. F. Schuberth, G. W. Schubert, and P. Drinhaus (see Zions-Waechter, Nos. 13 & 14, July 1920) to send a delegation to a meeting of ministers to be held in Friedensau, Germany, where the General Conference president would be prepared to discuss the controverted questions.
The opportunity of meeting with the General Conference president and other Executive Committee members was welcomed by our pioneers, who thought they could expect a fair and impartial hearing. They soon realized, however, that they were mistaken in their optimistic expectations. It was declared that the German leaders had been faithful in the time of crisis, that no principle was involved in the stand taken by the church, and that the Reformers were only a small group of disaffected and disgruntled elements, deluded by false dreams and visions.
A conference was held at the SDA Missionary College in Friedensau, July 21 through 23, 1920. There were present 51 members of different Union Conference Committees (the three German Unions, The Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary); plus 16 members of the disfellowshiped minority (who were called by the SDA leaders "The Movement of Opposition"); plus 4 General Conference men: A. G. Daniells (president), L. H. Christian, F. M. Wilcox, and M. E. Kern. The main speakers for the Reformers were Edmund Doerschler and Heinrich Spanknoebel.
The representatives of the so called Movement of Opposition, who took part in the discussion that was carried on at the Adventist Missionary in Friedensau, Germany, July 21-23, 1920.
The Reformers had four questions to which they desired answers:
First question: "What stand does the General Conference take toward the resolution adopted by the German leadership, since 1914, in regard to the fourth and sixth commandments? On this point we refer to the following written declarations (five documents presented)."
Second question: "What evidence can be presented to us that we have not followed the biblical way toward the brethren, as we are accused in the last issue of Zions-Waechter (SDA paper in Germany), Numbers 13 & 14, July 1920? We will present the evidence later on."
Third question: (a) "What is the stand of the General Conference, the American brethren, concerning the Testimonies of Sister White? Are they or are they not inspired by God? (b) Should we or should we not continue presenting the light on health reform (as brought forth in the Testimonies) as the right arm of the message?"
Fourth question: "Is our message, according to—12, a national or an international message? We have here several numbers of Zions-Waechter which do not show that we are an international people. Example: Zions-Waechter, Number 5, March 3, 1920, from the leadership of the school."
The reasons for, and the purpose of, these questions should be understood, so the answers may be properly evaluated.
The first question was asked with a view to finding out how far the evident involvement of the General Conference in the combatant position taken in Europe was admitted by the Adventist leaders, and whether they were willing to make the necessary correction.
Many SDA leaders realize that this is a very delicate point; and many try to deny some very serious facts which we must disclose to the Adventist believers, namely, that:
a. By having condoned combatancy, not only among SDAs in Europe, but also in America, and by not having corrected the situation soon after World War I, the General Conference made matters worse; and,
b. By now refusing to acknowledge any General Conference involvement in the World War I defection, the leaders were actually increasing their complicity and culpability.
The Adventist brethren should be informed that, during the Friedensau conference (1920), the European leaders were whitewashed, and even Conradi and Dail, respectively president and secretary of the European Division (who had signed documents in behalf of SDA combatancy), were justified as if they had committed no blunder in connection with the law of God and the war question. And those few who had stood up in defense of the commandments of God were condemned for believing in strict obedience to the precepts of Jehovah both in time of peace and in time of war, according to the original SDA stand. The discussion is quoted from the Minutes of the Conference with the Movement of Opposition (held in Friedensau, July 21—23, 1920), published by the SDA Church.
Following is the gist of Elder Daniells’ answer to the first question:
"As soon as the war broke out in Europe, we in America studied this matter carefully. . . . And we took this position: Let everyone act according to his conscience in this question. . . . Then we had some brethren who had the spirit of love for their country, and went to the battle line, and fought. They came to England and France, and went to the trenches, and I don’t know what they did while they were there, but they served and came back when the armistice was signed. . . . We regret the war, and we are against it. But we must permit every citizen to act toward the authorities according to the dictates of his own conscience. Not one of these persons was disfellowshiped from our church. Not one of them was treated as if he was not a Christian. . . . As long as we do not have precise limits towards the authorities, it must be left with each one to act according to his own conscience. The brethren in America took the same moderate and tolerant position as our brethren in Europe. . . . I would like to say that, when the declaration of Brother Dail reached us in America, it did not seem right, and we regretted it. We received letters from brethren who condemned it severely and asked us to arise and condemn it too. We told them to be quiet and cautious. . . . Therefore, brethren, neither Brother Spicer nor I have ever used the pen to publish a condemnation against these declarations. . . . In spite of our views about this declaration, we did not send one word in answer to it. . . . So I believe I have made clear the feeling and position that has existed in America regarding the events which took place in Europe. After all this we are convinced that our brethren here, too, take the noncombatant position. We have talked with brethren who were in the war, and I can tell you that I have not found in any brother in Europe a greater military spirit than in America. And I can say, too, that in their spirit and in their procedure, our brethren in Europe have been as faithful as our brethren in America. I will say it all over again in other words: We are sorry for some of the declarations that have been issued. But when we consider the spirit and the purpose that led them to do that, we find that these brethren stand as faithful and upright in the work as we ourselves. . . . And I must say that everyone has had the right to set up his own conviction and form his own conscience with reference to the war question. . . . We believe that you brethren [referring to the representatives of the disfellowshiped minority] are completely wrong in the position you represent. We do believe in the fourth commandment as we have ever believed in it. But we cannot agree with your interpretation in connection with it. What would you have said about Moses a few days after he had received the law on mount Sinai, if he had told you to go and kill the king of Bashan, and all the men, women, and children? Would you have accused him of murder? But God commanded him to violate the sixth commandment. You see that there are many things to be found in the interpretation of the commandments, and we must have freedom to read and understand them, without being bound to the interpretation of any small corporation."
This quotation from the Minutes of the Conference with the Movement of Opposition (held in Friedensau, July 21-23, 1920), published by the SDA Church in Germany, shows the original and real issue which brought the Reform Movement into existence: It was the law of God. SDA leaders libel us in too many unprofitable words, with too many irrelevant remarks and even nonsensical conclusions, and generally miss the point altogether (as is the case of Elder Christian in his Aftermath of Fanaticism or A Counterfeit Reformation). However, Elder Daniells, the General Conference president in 1920, was different. He brought to view, in a few words, the actual big bone of contention, which caused the division at the beginning of the crisis in Europe. We will restate his answer in a few words:
a. From the very beginning the General Conference men were informed of what was going on in Europe, and read at least some of the compromising declarations of the European leaders, but they decided to keep quiet, leaving it up to the Europeans themselves to decide what they should do under those circumstances. Elder F. M. Wilcox had already explained this acquiescent attitude in an article published in the Review and Herald:
"Particularly should the Church of God today remember our European brethren who are now suffering adversity. Some have been forced into active military service; their lives are constantly menaced, and they are exposed to hardship and danger. Families have been broken up; those left at home are anxious with fear for those who have gone to the front. The officers of some of our Conferences and churches have been compelled to forsake their charges and join the national colors. It should be our earnest prayer that God will save His cause of truth during this trying period, and that He will safeguard the lives of His children. As to just what our European brethren should do under these trying circumstances only they alone in prayer to God can decide." –.
Elder Conradi, the president of the European Division, wrote:
"After having received instruction from the highest authority, we in Europe were permitted to decide this matter ourselves."–Zions-Waechter (SDA paper in Germany), No. 18, 1914.
b. The General Conference men then took the position that everyone should follow his own conscience concerning the law of God in connection with war service. And this is exactly what the European Adventists did. The great majority, in Germany and other countries, according to their conscience, took a combatant stand. The leadership in Germany declared in one of the newspapers:
"At the beginning of the war our organization was split into two parties. Ninety-eight percent of our membership, by searching the Bible, came to the conviction that they are duty-bound, by conscience, to defend the country with weapons also on Saturdays. This position, unanimously endorsed by the leadership, was immediately announced to the War Ministry. Two percent, however, did not submit to this resolution and therefore had to be disfellowshiped because of their unchristian conduct."–Dresdener Neueste Nachrichten, April 12, 1918.
c. The General Conference men even sent word to the European leaders, expressly authorizing them to continue in their combatant position. This cannot be denied in the face of the evidence existing in our files: Curierul Misionar (SDA paper in Romania), November 3, 1916. Also a declaration in Zions-Waechter (SDA paper in Germany), April 3, 1916, shows the responsibility of the General Conference for the combatant position taken in Europe. These evidences were not denied when shown to the General Conference men in Friedensau, 1920.
d. Elder Daniells, the General Conference president, made it plain that, while in theory SDAs declare themselves noncombatants, they may in practice follow their own conscience–which means that they actually have their own choice and are free to act either as faithful Christians or as patriotic warriors–when facing the war question.
e. The small disfellowshiped minority were condemned by Elder Daniells as being "completely wrong" in their interpretation that taking part in war service is irreconcilable with the law of God. This condemnation was pronounced in the presence of many SDA leaders in Europe and some General Conference leaders too. It is true that we still hold the same belief–and by the grace of God intend to hold it to the very end–for which we have often been stigmatized as fanatics.
The evidences which we have just produced pinpoint the main cause of the division and show that the law of God is in question. And since the two parties hold different views on such a vital issue, they must go their separate ways, as Elder Daniells himself declared in answer to the second question.
History shows and the Word of God confirms that fanatics and disorderly elements have always been associated with the work of reformation.
"In all the history of the church no reformation has been carried forward without encountering serious obstacles. Thus it was in Paul’s day. Wherever the apostle raised up a church, there were some who professed to receive the faith, but who brought in heresies that, if received, would eventually crowd out the love of the truth. Luther also suffered great perplexity and distress from the course of fanatical persons. . . . And the Wesleys, and others who blessed the world by their influence and their faith, encountered at every step the wiles of Satan in pushing overzealous, unbalanced, and unsanctified ones into fanaticism of every grade. . . .
"In the days of the Reformation its enemies charged all the evils of fanaticism upon the very ones who were laboring most earnestly against it. A similar course was pursued by the opposers of the advent movement. And not content with misrepresenting and exaggerating the errors of extremists and fanatics, they circulated unfavorable reports that had not the slightest semblance of truth. . . .
"The fact that a few fanatics worked their way into the ranks of Adventists is no more reason to decide that the movement was not of God than was the presence of fanatics and deceivers in the church in Paul’s or Luther’s day a sufficient excuse for condemning their work."–—398.
To give the reader an idea of the different forms of fanaticism associated with Seventh-day Adventists in the early days of the movement, we quote from an Adventist book:
"Between 1844 and the organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church nearly twenty years later, but especially in the first few years after the disappointment, the Adventist believers were at times embarrassed by extremes and fanatical movements. A part of Ellen White’s work was to witness against these movements.
"Writing of her early experiences, Mrs. White tells of a trip taken with her husband through the New England States in 1850. Many former believers had become bitter from the disappointment. Some were still looking for truth. ‘But we had a still worse element to meet,’ she writes, ‘in a class who claimed that they were sanctified, and they could not sin, that they were sealed and holy, and that all their impressions and notions were the mind of God. . . .’
"‘They claimed to heal the sick and to work miracles. They had a satanic, bewitching power; yet they were overbearing, dictatorial, and cruelly oppressive. The Lord used us as instruments to rebuke these fanatics, and to open the eyes of His faithful people to the true character of their work.’–Ellen G. White, in Review, Nov. 20, 1883.
"Another group claimed to be sanctified so that they could not sin. Yet they were immoral in their actions, following their own lust and committing presumptuous sin. They even advocated ‘spiritual’ free love.
"Fanaticism showed up in some other strange forms. Some got the idea that religion consisted in great excitement and noise. Their behavior irritated unbelievers and aroused hatred against themselves and the doctrines they taught. When they were opposed or mistreated because of their annoying ways, they rejoiced because of the ‘persecution.’
"Mrs. White had to rebuke some people who professed great humility and tried to demonstrate it by creeping on the floor like children. They would creep around their houses, on the street, over bridges, and in the church itself.
"Another group believed it was a sin to work, although they seemed to think it quite consistent for their wives and others to do the necessary work for them. Animal magnetism, or mesmerism, the forerunner of hypnotism, was practiced by some. The supposed gift of tongues, accompanied by shouting and confusion, appeared in a few places. From time to time some small group would announce a new time for Christ to appear."–Department of Education, General Conference of SDAs, The Story of Our Church, pp. 238, 239.
If the previous statement from The Great Controversy is correctly understood, similar difficulties should also be expected in connection with the present-day SDA Reform Movement. There must be a parallel.
Sad to realize, history repeats itself also in the distorted picture presented about the relationship of some fanatics with the Reform Movement. In the past, as we just read, the enemies of the reformation made it their business to establish confusion between wild fanatics and true reformers, bunching them together as birds of the same nest. Today the enemies of Reform are doing exactly the same thing. This is as preposterous as affirming that those fanatics mentioned in The Story of Our Church were actually the pioneers of the SDA Church. Worse than that, to create a still more distorted picture, SDA leaders associate with Reform certain elements who never belonged to the organized Reform Movement.
Margaret Rowen, a false prophetess, was a member of the SDA Church, not of Reform. Yet her name is often used for the purpose of smudging the name of the Reform Movement.
Johann Wieck, a member of the SDA Church, was jailed for refusing to be vaccinated. January 21, 1915, he had some visions in which, he declared, God had shown him that the end of probation would come in the spring of that year. He wanted to see his visions published by the church. As the SDA leaders refused, he got them published on his own and forwarded a copy to each minister and to each church all over Germany. He never belonged to the Reform Movement, but his name is still being used for maligning and slandering us. It has even been declared that he was the founder of the Reform Movement. What an absurd and irresponsible figment!
In the discussion that took place in Friedensau, Germany, July 21—23, 1920, this was stated:
"Elder A. G. Daniells [the General Conference president]: These here are the documents that were handed to us by Brother Conradi. They should show what relationship they have with this movement. We can select and separate those that you brethren do not regard as belonging to your movement. The first writing is by Wieck.
"E. Doerschler [representative of the disfellowshiped minority]: He never belonged to this movement. I have had the privilege of belonging to this movement from the very beginning.
"Elder A. G. Daniells: Then how about this second document–by Stobbe?
"E. Doerschler: Yes, that belongs to us. . . . I would like to give a short explanation on this subject. Some very unsober people came to us. We could not see what kind of people they were, and they went ahead and published different writings without consulting the committee, because at the beginning we were not as organized as we are now. . . .
"Elder A. G. Daniells: Was this Herms with you?
"E. Doerschler: For a short time. We marked these people immediately when they did these things behind our backs."
This discussion, quoted from the Minutes of the Conference with the Movement of Opposition (held in Friedensau, July 21—23, 1920), published by the three German Unions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is sufficient evidence that fanaticism was not the origin of the SDA Reform Movement any more than it had been (as quoted from The Story of Our Church, pp. 238, 239) the starting point of the SDA Church.
Nevertheless, in a libel entitled The Aftermath of Fanaticism or A Counterfeit Reformation, published by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Elder L. H. Christian makes this gross overstatement: "This fanaticism in Germany as well as in the other countries in Europe is the true origin of the counterfeit reformation movement." This simplistic conclusion is an offense to an honest and intelligent person who can weigh the evidence for himself.
In more recent years the SDA leadership published a more decent, but not entirely correct, report about the rise of the Reform Movement. In the SDA Encyclopedia, Commentary Reference Series, vol. 10, p. 1183, they say: "Though the original issue was over visions and time setting, the bone of contention through the years has been the stand taken by the SDA Church concerning the duty of its members in military service." There is at least half a truth in this statement. While it is not true that "visions and time setting" brought the Reform Movement into existence, it is true that the stand taken by the SDA Church concerning the duty of its members in military service and in war, in the light of God’s law, has always been the main bone of contention from the very beginning. The holy law of God has always been the real issue. But, since 1914—1918, new controversial points have arisen, which were briefly mentioned in the preface to this book.
Our first international conference proper was held in Wuerzburg, Germany, in 1921. This meeting was covered by a report which supplies much information about the beginning of the work and the early experiences of the SDA Reformers. For this reason we reproduce it hereunder (transcribed from the Sabbat-Waechter, special issue, 1921):
Delegates to the first international convention of SDA Reformers held in Wuerzburg, Germany, 1921.
By the merciful help of God, we as brethren from different countries were able to meet in Wuerzburg, in the morning of November 18, current year (1921). To this meeting we were invited by the German brethren of the Reform Movement. The following were present: the brethren of the German Union Committee; two brethren as representatives of the believers in Sweden; two brethren from Denmark; two brethren from Estonia; two brethren from the Danubian Union (which comprises Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia); two brethren from Switzerland; one brother from Czechoslovakia, and the brethren from the Committee in Holland.
Due to prevailing circumstances, none of the brethren connected with us in Poland were able to come. . . .
After we had considered Psalm 96 and had, with thankful hearts, entreated the Lord and Saviour to grant us His special presence, we discussed our conference program.
We decided to exchange our experiences in the Reform Movement, to discuss the principles, to confer on our work, and to become united in the proclamation of the third angel’s message through the election of an International or General Conference Committee.
Brother O. Welp gave the following report:
Confusion and division in the SDA Church in our country began with the proclamation of error by our leading brethren in Hamburg in the matter of Sabbathkeeping during the war and our position toward military service when the war broke out in 1914.
A circular letter of Brother G. Dail (secretary of the European Division), dated August 2, 1914, sent out from Hamburg, contained an appeal for participation in the military and for Sabbathbreaking. Our conscientious conviction as well as that of other sincere brethren was provoked to raise a protest in many places against this distortion of the holy law and rejection of the third angel’s message.
In May 1915, we found out by a roundabout way, through a brother at the General Detachment in Dresden, about a declaration directed by H. F. Schuberth to the Ministry of War in Berlin, in which declaration the wrong stand of the leadership was made known. The churches in Germany had no knowledge whatsoever of this declaration. Through the tract Der Christ und der Krieg (The Christian and War), this error was taught in all the churches, and all the protesting brethren were declared to be "a menace to the peace of the church" and were disfellowshiped. We were termed "the movement of apostasy."
Apart from the movement of protest in the Rhine Province, there was a similar movement at the church in Bremen. None of the brethren who loved the truth more than error intended to leave the church. We wept and lamented over this situation before the Lord. At first we even hoped that our brethren would turn around and repudiate their wrong stand. In September 1915, when we requested a meeting with the leading brethren, we received no reply; we rather noticed greater opposition to the truth. The opposition of the brethren who teach error brought us to the firm conclusion that it is not the will of God to use holy tithe money to diffuse error. We became more and more determined in our desire to associate ourselves together in the truth.
We had our first meeting in the Reform Movement at Wermelskirchen (Rhine Province), July 1915. There, after we had reached full unity in the third angel’s message, we elected a committee to lead out in the work of reformation and appointed a treasurer. In April of the same year, some of the brethren had distributed all over Germany a pamphlet containing the third angel’s message, entitled, Die letzte Gnadenbotschaft (The Last Message of Mercy). The magazine Waechter der Wahrheit (Watchman of the Truth) first appeared in August. It was published in Barmen.
We found good access to the churches everywhere, and many brethren took their stand with Reform. Opposition to the truth, from the leading brethren in Hamburg, kept growing. Our work became the object of direct persecution by the authorities, who had been stirred up against us.
In December 1915 we had our second conference at Gelsenkirchen (Rhine Province), with the presence of 250 brethren. Then the enemy began an even stronger attack against the truth, as he brought error and fanaticism into our ranks.
Many of the brethren will remember the names Sturm, Herms, Fratz, Kersting, Jeschke, Portzek, Schamberg and Bach in connection with so-called divine visions and inspirations. Publications were scattered advocating the celebration of the feast of tabernacles and a different form of self-sanctification. The way of sober truth was blasphemed. These difficulties and trials prepared by Satan impelled us to seek God in prayer and to search the Scriptures and the Testimonies. The Lord answered our petitions by sending us more light and clarity.
After the revolution in Germany, we met in Erfurt (Germany), January 1919, where the Lord showed us that we must scatter the light given us, by means of literature, among His people all over the world. We transferred our printing office and headquarters to Wuerzburg and began an international work, which was richly blessed by the Lord. We saw the need to publish a church paper in which we could narrate our experiences in the third angel’s message. So the first Sabbat-Waechter (Sabbath Watchman) appeared in 1920.
As we have gone through several difficulties, our work in other countries . . . has revealed to us the need to establish a firm apostolic church order so that there would be unity of faith and procedure. During our blessed conference in Fr[ankfurt], in August this year, a letter of invitation was directed to all our brethren abroad, calling them to attend an international gathering for a full unification in the third angel’s message.
During the discussion with a few General Conference leaders in Friedensau, July 1920, the explanations given by them showed that there is a general apostasy from the third angel’s message. Nevertheless, through a representation of the international Reform Movement we were happy to bring the existence of this movement once more to the attention of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. We are conscious of the fact that, in view of this international gathering, we now stand before an important turn in the work of reformation. May this work be instrumental in bringing blessings and salvation to us and to many brethren who were formerly united with us! This is our prayer.
As reported by Brethren K. J. Stiphout and Le Vermeulen, the beginning of the work in The Netherlands, under the Spirit of God, was similar to that in Germany. At a conference in The Hague, 1916, Brother Stiphout and Brother . . . (?), from the Amsterdam church, presented a protest to which the leadership of the conference paid no attention. Also, they sent in the same declarations as in Germany with reference to Sabbathkeeping and the war question. As the consequence, Brother Stiphout laid down his office in the church and, together with other members, he resigned from membership in January 1917. The activities of German fugitives, who brought fanaticism, has been a great hindrance to the development of the work. Nevertheless, the few standard bearers there have the firm hope that, through patient labor, the way will be opened for the loud cry.
According to a report by Brethren C. Adams and O. Welp, the Reformation in Switzerland has had to face greater difficulties than in Germany. Souls were aroused in . . . (?), who were scattered again through the spiritualistic (?) activities of E. Herms. Apostasy and self-exaltation have suffocated, even for these few, the work of reformation, as Brother Carl Spanknoebel reported. In spite of all these things, however, some who are working and praying with us rejoice to see that the third angel’s message is gathering together God’s children.
This is what Brethren K. A. Ekeroth and C. E. Liljebaeck reported:
For a long time we had been deploring the great apostasy among the Advent people and had been praying to God that He would send an awakening among us. How such a thing would take place we had no idea. We had hopes in new leaders; and new leaders came, but there was no reconversion to the old principles. We were disappointed again and again. Last winter a pamphlet came to our hands, entitled To All Our Dear Brethren in Germany, from which we learned that the apostasy existed also in Germany. Constrained by the Spirit of God, we raised the following questions at the conference at Nyhyttan, May 1921:
1. What is the position of the Swedish Conference, which is now in session here, towards Brother Daniells’ views concerning liberty of conscience in connection with the fourth and sixth commandments?
2. What is the position of the Swedish Conference towards the Testimonies of E. G. White: Are they or are they not inspired? May those who are striving for purity and holiness still eat meat?
3. What is the position of the Swedish Conference toward the Reform Movement in Germany and other countries?
4. Have the German church leaders confessed and corrected before the church their deception concerning the law of God, and have they retracted their writings containing doctrinal error, such as Der Christ und der Krieg (The Christian and War), as well as the declarations inserted in the newspapers?
In answer to these questions, Brother Raft gave a long lecture in which he explained that the Reform Movement is fanaticism. As evidence that the work is of Satan, he mentioned a few fanatics. After that we were disfellowshiped. We had long been waiting for a reformation and had believed that the reformation must come through the leadership. But by earnestly searching in the Testimonies we saw that God will use simple men. Some wanted to sound a call for an awakening; these, however, did not regard themselves as worthy and thought that a revival would possibly come through some ministers. We entreated much light and power of God. And then we saw the heaven-appointed way open before us. Our God wants to be with us, and we want to be sanctified through this pure truth. We stand firm like one man with you, dear brethren, in the glorious truth and testimonies of God.
As the direct result of circumstances mentioned before, over 3,000 believers found themselves outside the ranks of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1922. Their efforts to achieve a reconciliation and unification upon the fundamental principles of the Advent faith were not treated with good will, and many false reports were put into circulation to create prejudice against them.
However, before any steps could be taken for a definite organization, our brethren still felt it their duty to follow the Bible rule and present the problem before the General Conference delegation in session; hence their decision to send two delegates to the General Conference.
The General Conference session of Seventh-day Adventists convened in San Francisco, USA, on May 11–31, 1922. The two representatives of the disfellowshiped Adventists arrived in due time and notified the General Conference of the purpose of their coming to the United States. Furthermore, they directed three written appeals to the delegation: first appeal, May 11, 1922, handed by Brother Otto Welp to Elder A. G. Daniells; second appeal, dated May 18, mailed to every member of the General Conference Committee together with a copy of the first appeal; third appeal, dated May 22, handed to Elder Daniells. And there was no answer. The period of waiting stretched from days into weeks without the slightest indication that their petition would be granted. Anxious as to the outcome of their long journey, our two delegates went to the hall where the session was being conducted. There they contacted Elder Daniells personally and requested a hearing before the whole delegation. His answer was: "We cannot allow these questions to come before the whole delegation."
Words would fail to express the depth of disappointment that came to our believers when they heard how the two representatives and their appeals had been treated at the General Conference session. The serious issue which divided the church was not brought up for discussion. It was completely ignored.
As the president, Brother Daniells, refused to allow our representatives to present their case before the assembly, our brethren then had no other alternative than to organize separately, in a definite way, to carry on the gospel work, lifting up the standard and pouring forth the straight truth.
Refusing to recognize the true work of revival and reformation which had begun in the church, and trying to offset the influence the Reform Movement was having upon many members in the church, the SDA leadership made an attempt to introduce a revival and reformation within the ranks of the denomination. We quote from a recommendation made before the assembled delegates of the 1922 General Conference:
"One of the recommendations I feel pressed to make is so important, so vital, that I shall venture to call it an appeal. It is this:
"That during the next quadrennial period a supreme effort be made to bring about a great spiritual revival and spiritual reformation in all our churches throughout the world. . . . If every one of these responsible leaders in God’s cause will first of all gain this spiritual experience and work in God’s appointed way for others, a wonderful reformation will be brought about in our ranks. And, brethren, just that reformation must take place or we are doomed with the rest of mankind. We cannot survive without it."—General Conference Bulletin, 1922, p. 16.
When our brethren learned of this resolution, they knew that a true revival and reformation could not come unless there was a recognition and a putting away of the apostasy; but they hoped that some good would come as a result. Time proved, however, that this was only a passing sentimental revival which was soon forgotten. Similar efforts have been made in succeeding years to give the appearance that at last the long-awaited reformation had come within the church. We would be overjoyed if this should happen, but we cannot pass over the facts as they exist. By changing her position from "no participation" to "complete liberty to participate" in war, the SDA Church changed her position toward the law of God. This is contrary to the Bible (New Testament) and to the Spirit of Prophecy. And this apostasy has never been confessed. No true revival and reformation is possible without first experiencing genuine repentance. The work of reforming the church is not left to the decision of any council or committee. It is rather the prerogative of God to work upon the hearts of men and women and to choose His own instrumentalities. If we reject the messengers whom God sends with a message of reformation, we virtually reject Him.
The leaders of the Adventist Church in Europe realized that, to counteract the work of the Reform Movement, something else had to be done besides talking about revivals and reformations. At the joint meeting held in Friedensau (July, 1920), there was no evidence that those who were directly responsible for the apostasy were actually sorry for what they had done. In the Report of the Negotiations with the Opposition Movement (Protokoll) there is no indication of repentance. So, a declaration containing a formal confession of their error was the expedient adopted by those leaders. During a committee meeting held at Gland, Switzerland, they declared (January 2, 1923):
"We revere the law of God contained in the Decalogue as explained in the teachings of Christ and exemplified in His life. For that reason we observe the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday) as sacred time; we refrain from secular labor, upon that day, but engage gladly in works of necessity and mercy for the relief of suffering and the uplift of humanity; in peace and in war we decline to participate in acts of violence and bloodshed. We grant to each of our church members absolute liberty to serve his country, at all times and in all places, in accord with the dictates of his personal conscientious conviction."—F. M. Wilcox, Seventh-day Adventists in Time of War, pp. 346, 347.
In addition to this declaration, the leaders of the German Union signed a special statement declaring:
"At the Council of the European Division Committee in Gland, Switzerland, Dec. 27, 1922, to Jan. 2, 1923, our position during the war as it had been expressed in different documents was reviewed, and we herewith by our own signatures confirm anew, what had already been declared at Friedensau in 1920, our regret that such documents had been issued. We are in full harmony with the statement adopted by the Council today (Jan. 2, 1923)."—Ibid., p. 347.
The council of the European Division, SDA Church, meeting in Gland, Switzerland, December 27, 1922–January 2, 1923.
To the Reformers and reform-minded Adventists this semblance of confession brought disappointment because, while seemingly admitting their error, the leaders still confirmed their compromise with the powers of darkness by giving their members "absolute liberty" to continue doing what many of them had actually done during the war. As a matter of fact, their later declarations and actions clearly show that their so-called "repentance and confession" was only a farce. Consider these examples:
SDA Church in Romania: "Doing military service and taking part in war does not involve a covenant with the world, nor is it equivalent to taking sides with Babylon. Participation in war is a mere civil duty."— P. P. Paulini, Prophecy, 1924, p. 41.
SDA Church in Yugoslavia: "According to the Bible standard, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,’ Adventist Christians fulfill all their duties, including military duties. They conscientiously serve the army with weapons in time of peace as well as in time of war."—Adventism, 1925, pp. 53, 54.
SDA Church in Germany: "Even in the middle of the battle the soldier can show Christian love: toward the disarmed [adversary] he uses kindness, toward the conquered [foe] he uses mercy, toward the prisoners he uses compassion."—Der Adventbote (SDA paper published in Germany), October 15, l927.
SDA Church in Russia: "This sixth assembly of Seventh-day Adventists, 1928, declares and decides that SDAs are required to render to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to God that which belongs to God. This means that they are to serve the state in the army and render all forms of service, according to the established rule for all citizens."—Report of the Sixth General Assembly of Seventh-day Adventists, May 12–19, 1928.
. Under the title, our European Brethren and Noncombatancy, at the end of the last paragraph, the Adventist Church made known her new position.
Documentary evidence shows that, during World War II, the official position taken by the Adventist Church permitted or encouraged its members to enter the armed forces as combatants and do even worse than they had done during World War I. Sad to say, among Adventists, absolute freedom for every believer to serve his country as a combatant has become a firmly established position. Mind the following declarations:
"Though our Adventist ideal for our youth in war is that of noncombatancy, we do not take a dogmatic position on this. Accordingly, we do not disfellowship the youth who does not enter the armed services as a noncombatant. Far from it. We follow him into the armed services with our prayers." —.
"Individual conscience is held supreme at all times and it is therefore possible for an Adventist young man to be either a combatant or a conscientious objector and still be an Adventist."—Bulletin issued by the West Australian Conference, September 25, 1967.
For more evidence on this point, we refer our readers to the book A Turning Point in the History of Adventism published by the Reformation Herald Publishing Association, P. O. Box 7240, Roanoke, VA 24019, USA.
The return of the two delegates–Brethren Otto Welp and Heinrich Spanknoebel– from their trip across the Atlantic, in 1922, aroused untold interest and, in some cases, disappointment and perplexity. Through correspondence and personal contacts the news spread from country to country that there were no prospects of reconciliation with the Adventist Church . . . that the door was closed . . . that our two envoys had not even been granted a hearing at the General Conference session in San Francisco. Many of the brethren began to ask themselves: What will be the next step? Prayerful consultations with one another led the representatives of the different groups of SDA Reformers to the conclusion that a general meeting was absolutely necessary.
1922 – Second International Conference (Bebra, Germany)
Conference of SDA Reformers, Eisenach, Germany, 1922.
Representatives of several Unions were present at this second international convention.
A second international meeting of Reformers took place at Bebra, west of Eisenach, Germany, in the summer of 1922. Four Unions that had already been organized agreed to unite into a General Conference and work together. Sabbath School quarterlies, Week of Prayer magazines, and other publications had been put out locally according to the possibilities of the brethren in each country. But now the need was felt to centralize the preparation and dissemination of these materials through the General Conference office in Wuerzburg, Germany. This office became the coordinating link among the different Unions and the center from which attention would be given to new interests and new groups that should be aroused by the message of reformation in many other places in the world. The four Unions committed themselves to support the General Conference work with a tithe of the tithes. Brother Welp was confirmed as president and Brother Spanknoebel as secretary. It was decided that the General Conference would be organized on a definite basis in 1925, and the believers in general were informed of this plan.
1925 – Our First Official General Conference Session
Our first GC delegation session proper was held at Gotha, Germany, July 14–20, 1925, with the presence of 18 delegates. It is from that time that official minutes of our GC sessions have been kept. We still preserve the original minute book as a precious treasure.
When the brethren came together in 1925, the verse incould almost be paraphrased as follows: "And when they were come to Gotha, Germany, they were received of the church and of the elders who had organized the conference, and they declared all things that God had done with them." Their reports confirmed again the fact that the reform-minded brethren in several countries had gone through similar experiences. But every heart seemed to be worried over the question: How far are we united in doctrine? All were genuine Seventh Day Adventists. All professed to be Reformers. All upheld the truth as revealed in the threefold message of Revelation 14. There was no doubt as far as the general tenets of Adventism were concerned. But coming down to minutiae–to the understanding and application of certain principles–it could not be said that they were all "joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" ( ). Far from that. And then there were different ideas with reference to the proposed organization and everything that goes with it. Amid the apparent confusion of concepts, however, there seemed to shine a ray of hope for a better future.
GC delegates of SDA Reformers, first session, Gotha, Germany, 1925. Front row, left to right: Constantin Ursan, Wilhelm Richter, Dumitru Nicolici, Wilhelm Korpmann, Johann G. Hanselmann, Otto Welp, P. Rasmussen, Wilhelm Maas, Joseph Adamczak, Albert Krahe. Back row, left to right: Mihai Streza, Karl Kozel, Heinrich Spanknoebel, Sister A. Ottender, A. Jurgens, K. A. Ekeroth, Sister Ekeroth (not a delegate), Max Koehler, C. Adams.
The points of harmony–where all could see things eye to eye–were explored in the first place. All shared the conviction that sincere and orderly efforts had been made to bring about a genuine and God-approved reconciliation with the church that they loved. All were of the opinion that it would be useless to try again, since there was no evidence that the serious errors which lay at the basis of the discussion at Friedensau, 1920, had been or would ever be removed. They had no hope that the needed reformation would ever come "within the church." All felt that they were going through the experience of their predecessors in the work of reformation. History, which has a tendency to repeat itself, and which is a textbook of pattern procedures, held out an important lesson for them as follows:
"When the Reformers preached the word of God, they had no thought of separating themselves from the established church; but the religious leaders would not tolerate the light, and those that bore it were forced to seek another class, who were longing for the truth. . . . Often those who follow in the steps of the Reformers are forced to turn away from the churches they love, in order to declare the plain teachings of the word of God. And many times those who are seeking for light are by the same teaching obliged to leave the church of their fathers, that they may render obedience."–The Desire of Ages, p. 232.
"The work of God in the earth presents, from age to age, a striking similarity in every great reformation or religious movement. The principles of God’s dealing with men are ever the same."–The Great Controversy, p. 343.
Thus, when our first delegation session proper was convened, our pioneers in the work of reformation were already convinced that God demands unity "upon a true, scriptural basis," not unconditional affiliation. This principle, exemplified by our forefathers in the faith, was clear to them:
"To secure peace and unity [our forefathers] were ready to make any concession consistent with fidelity to God; but they felt that even peace would be too dearly purchased at the sacrifice of principle. If unity could be secured only by the compromise of truth and righteousness, then let there be difference, and even war."–Ibid., p. 45.
"Christ calls for unity. But He does not call for us to unify on wrong practices. . . . He does not gloss over wrongdoing with a coat of untempered mortar."–Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 175.
Our delegates in 1925 did not have the Fundamental Principles of SDAs published in 1872, but they had the book Bible Studies for the Home Circle, which was based on that publication of 1872. They did not believe in establishing a creed but, for the sake of ensuring uniformity in teaching and practice, they deemed it necessary to adopt a set of principles based on the material available to them, from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They did their best, according to their knowledge and understanding. This is how our humble booklet Principles of Faith came into existence. Resolution No. 10 reads:
"The principles of the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement submitted to the General Conference were adopted after examination and detailed deliberation. Seventeen delegates voted for their adoption in their original form. One delegate had objections because of the formulation with reference to the 144,000. The principles were accepted by the majority."
To us as a Movement the Principles of 1925 have ever been a symbol of unity in the faith.
When this step of prime importance was settled, there was a secondary step which also involved some discussion, namely, the organization of the Reform Movement. Most of those 18 delegates (representing 4,000 members) felt that the fundamental truths of the threefold message could not be successfully promoted without a concrete form of organization. Some were opposed to this idea, but their objections did not prevail.
This was the first reason presented in favor of organization: From the very beginning, every true reformation has had to face opposition. The apostles had a struggle with disorderly elements. Luther and Melanchthon contended with them. The early Adventists fought them. And, certainly, this Reform Movement would be no exception. For the purpose of keeping out impostors and for several other purposes (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 26), a definite form of organization was considered necessary. And it was understood that this organization should be built on the same platform which had been established by the Advent pioneers and strengthened by the distinctive doctrines of the Advent Movement, but separate from the organization of the Adventist mother church; for, "How can two walk together lest they be agreed?"
Left : Minutes of the first GC session of SDA Reformers, 1925, first page. Right : GC minutes, 1925. Decision 11 refers to the Principles of Faith. See next page.
The official name to be adopted by the Reform Movement was another matter of discussion among the delegates. The representatives of the work in Germany proposed that their name, International Missionary Society, registered in 1919, should be accepted for the Reform church as a whole. The majority had a different idea. The main objection was that many other societies, such as the so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses, were using the name "International." The delegates wanted a name that would not cause unnecessary confusion with other societies. And, after a lengthy discussion, they finally agreed to adopt the name (Resolution No. 11) that we have carried until today.
The meeting of 1925 paved the way for a worldwide movement. At this session the Principles of Faith were adopted, four Union Conferences joined to form a General Conference, and the name of our organization was agreed upon, as shown in the General Conference minutes of 1925 and on the front cover of the booklet Principles of Faith published immediately afterwards in Germany:
The Principles of Faith of the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement and their Rules of Church Order–Concise Presentation published by the General Conference of the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement during the General Conference session held in Gotha (Germany), July 14–20, 1925:
German Union: Wuerzburg (Germany)
Danube Union: Sofia (Bulgaria)
Scandinavian Union: Copenhagen (Denmark)
Baltic Union: Revel (Estonia)
The Principles of Faith in German carried also the address of each Union Conference.
For the first term Otto Welp was elected president and Willi Maas secretary.
The second General Conference session was held at Isernhagen, Germany, June 24–30, 1928. Twenty-one delegates were present.
In the best interest of the development of the work, the Danube Union was divided into two. Unions and Fields represented at this session:
The Principles of Faith (front cover) as adopted by the GC delegation, first session, 1925, according to decision 11 (GC minutes, 1925). See previous page.
Encouraging letters from Russia, South America (Argentina and Brazil), and Africa (Northern and Southern Rhodesia) told of considerable progress. The message of reformation was gaining new ground. In Russia, where Brother H. Unrau was working, over 500 souls had taken their stand with the Reform Movement. The report of the session, published in the Adventarbeiter (Advent Worker) of October 1928 (year 1, number 1), says: "Different countries, such as Palestine, African countries, India, are asking for workers." And the report continues: "The Lord will, in due time, do His work, and He will make souls willing to help promote His work."
In view of the urgent Macedonian calls from many places, the need to prepare and send out missionaries was given serious consideration. One of the resolutions adopted in 1928 says that young men should be encouraged to study foreign languages, with the assistance of the General Conference, so they can be sent abroad. But it was felt that it would not be enough to put young men through a training course and then send them out. They would have to gain some experience in the home field before they could be entrusted with responsibilities abroad. History is full of lessons for us. We have learned that, if we send inexperienced young men into a new field by themselves, we will have cause to regret our mistake.
The brethren assembled in 1928 were concerned about the uplifting of the principles. This is evident from the decision that the people should be instructed concerning the need to take a higher stand in health reform, dress reform, and Sabbathkeeping, and that, in harmony with the written Word, only qualified brethren (with emphasis on) should be employed as workers and elders.
GC delegation, second session, Isernhagen, Hannover, Germany, 1928.
With reference to proper Sabbathkeeping, our pioneers understood that the brethren in general needed more instructions. Therefore, according to the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, we as a church have maintained that cooking on the Sabbath, unjustified traveling on the Sabbath, leaving work late and arriving home after sundown on Friday evening, and attendance at public school on the Sabbath are forms of transgression of the fourth commandment. It was agreed that our people should be instructed that these and any other transgressions prepare the soul, not for the seal of God, but for the mark of the beast.
For the new term Brother O. Welp was elected president and Brother W. Maas secretary.
1931 – Third General Conference Session
Nineteen delegates assembled at Isernhagen, Germany, August 4–10, 1931.
Der Adventarbeiter (The Advent Worker), which was the official organ of the General Conference, published a comprehensive report (October 1931) with some statistics that were presented at this session, as follows:
"If we consider the wonderful blessings bestowed upon us during the past, our trust in the help of God is stronger than ever. . . . During the past three years more than 800 new souls were accepted into the church. At present our membership is over 5,000. . . . About 100 workers are actively engaged in carrying this message, and several hundred more colporteurs are carrying the present truth through our literature from house to house."
GC delegation, third session, Isernhagen, Hannover, Germany, 1931.
Decisions of general interest adopted at the third session: to teach people how to reach, by the grace of God, a higher moral stand; to start a missionary school for the training of qualified young men for the work of the Lord; to establish health centers in various places.
It was also decided that, in future, the General Conference sessions should be held every three years.
In those days many Adventist leaders were teaching that the latter rain had already fallen. Our General Conference delegation, 1931, was therefore required to define our position on this question. From Der Adventarbeiter (The Advent Worker) of October 1931 we quote:
"It is quite generally known that Seventh-day Adventists throughout their ranks are teaching that the latter rain has already fallen. This teaching is a great deception, and it is contrary to the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. Also, there are some who have left this Movement and are now trying to deceive souls and becloud minds by telling them that we teach that the latter rain has already fallen. For this reason we make it plain that we do not believe that the latter rain has fallen. All those who use these arguments or insinuations against the Reform Movement are making untrue statements for which there is no ground whatsoever. And there are others who, through a wrong interpretation of Revelation 18, are trying to put this Movement in a false light. We know for sure that whatever these people may do will not hinder our work. These points were thoroughly discussed by the delegation, not because of the influence of those who left this Movement, but because of the well-known belief of many leaders in the Adventist Church who openly profess that the latter rain has fallen. We praise God that our understanding of these points (the latter rain and Revelation 18) is clear. As far as these subjects are concerned, we stand firmly on the teachings of the Bible and the Testimonies. It is our prayer that God may help His church to gain the victory over every besetment and over every wrong word and action, that the blessed promise of the latter rain may soon become a blessed reality."
The subject of organization was also given consideration by the delegates in 1931, not because there was any doubt in their minds, but because in some places our people had to face those who insisted that there was no need for church organization. On this point the report of 1931 reads as follows:
"There are continually, as the Spirit of Prophecy declares there would be, some who seek to do away with organization, who try to disorganize the work at a time when organization is most necessary. Praise be to God that on the question of thorough organization there is full unity among us."
A special financial plan was adopted: So that there might be means to extend the work into new fields and to help poor missions that had already been opened, the Union Conferences should build up a special fund through colporteur work. Special "missionary days" were to be designated for this purpose in the autumn of each year.
Officers elected for the new term: O. Welp, president; W. Maas, secretary.
Budapest, Hungary, September 25–28, 1934. The session was opened with 21 delegates present. Membership in 1934: over 7,000 members.
To the happy surprise of the delegation, the membership report in 1934 revealed a considerable increase over the figure reported in 1931–about 40 percent.
GC delegation, fourth session, Budapest, Hungary, 1934.
The joy of our delegates was expressed in these words:
"We thank the Lord with all our heart for the blessings that we have received these last three years. He has blessed the work of reformation beyond our petitions and expectations. In the financial field He has helped us in all our needs. But we thank Him especially for His aid in our spiritual work. It is the conversion and harvest of souls that fills our hearts with thankfulness toward Him. He aroused these souls. He prospered the work. He guided and protected the laborers. He shielded us everywhere from numerous dangers and helped us out of manifold difficulties during these last three years. And amid the troubles which are in the land, and the still greater afflictions which are before us, our earnest prayer to God is that He will be our defense and that He will soon visit us with the latter rain."
A certain number of questions which had to do with our beliefs were put on the agenda for discussion–questions dealing with health reform, occupations inconsistent with our faith, rebaptism, the marriage institution (questions regarding divorce and remarriage), and the loud cry. Answers were sent to the Union Conferences, in the form of resolutions, in harmony with the light that our delegates had from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy writings. Our previous decision to lift up the principles was reenforced with emphasis on the need to insist on thorough preparation of candidates before baptism.
The delegates were much concerned over one of the greatest problems which is worrying us today more than ever before: "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few," and the time of probation is running out. Besides, there were signs that the world was preparing for a new conflict. This brought additional uneasiness to them. Their anxiety was well expressed in these words:
"During all our council meetings we were fully impressed with the seriousness of this time, and one and all were thoroughly convinced that only a few days remain in which we may proclaim the gospel message. It is therefore our aim to labor earnestly today, that we may be found faithful stewards."
New officers: W. Maas, president; A. Rieck, secretary.
1948 — Fifth General Conference Session
From 1934 to 1948–because of growing political impediments, because of the war (1939–1945), and because of the devastation caused by the war and the unsettled situation prevalent in Europe during the first few years after the war—it had not been possible to hold a regular General Conference session for fourteen years. And since June 1938, when the GC Committee brethren met in Budapest, Hungary, there was no committee meeting until the leading brethren came together in Holland in 1948. Circumstances beyond the control of the leadership of the work made it impossible to give direct attention to the Unions and Fields. Many things accumulated during this long period of time. Each Union and Field, each State Conference and local church had problems, needs, and questions which demanded urgent attention. Under these conditions, the work of the General Conference delegation (July 5–15, 1948) at The Hague, Holland, was not an easy job. Due to existing restrictions, several countries were not able to send their delegates, but they sent in their written proposals, questions, and requests. Brother C. Kozel explained why the session of 1948 was legal in spite of the fact that only a partial delegation was able to come:
GC delegation (plus visitors), fifth session, The Hague, Holland, 1948.
"The representatives from the Balkan states–Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Hungary–were not able to come due to their political circumstances. But they were represented in writing because they sent in their reports, their recommendations, and their proposals. Only the brethren who live in Russia were not represented, either directly or indirectly."–C. Kozel’s 23-page bulletin, Allgemeiner Bericht der Generalkonferenz (General Report of the General Conference), p. 7.
At the beginning of the session, clouds of worry rested upon the 24 representatives present. After a few days, however, these clouds were lifted and rays of renewed hope, assurance and courage penetrated their hearts.
The reports and experiences shared at the session brought great joy and showed that our brethren, scattered in many parts of the world, had worked hard, fighting the good fight of faith successfully.
Among the points discussed by the delegates, there were:
There were also some sensitive issues that had to be tackled. One of these was resultant from the strained relations that existed between the leaders of the American Union and the outgoing GC president, A. Mueller. It was for this reason, apparently, that the American Union did not send their delegates to the 1948 session. And many brethren said that the partial delegation, in 1948, without listening to both sides, was biased to pronounce an unfair sentence against the American leaders.
Another sensitive issue was an administrative problem that had been smoldering between C. Kozel and the Brazilian Union because the Unions and Fields were required to send substantial financial contributions to the South American Division, of which Brother Kozel had become the president, while the Division had no legal existence. This matter was now brought up for discussion before the delegation. The delegates did not approve the existence of Divisions, as J. Adamczak, chairman of the 1948 GC session, explained in his report, and, for a while, the problem seemed to be settled. Nevertheless, as Brother Kozel, after the session, insisted on maintaining the South American Division, which had not been confirmed by the delegates, this created tension between him and Brother Lavrik, the president of the Brazilian Union.
In 1948, the work was organized in sixteen Union Conferences and Mission Fields, with over 10,000 members.
GC Committee elected in 1948: these six plus one brother from Romania.
New General Conference officers: C. Kozel, president; A. Mueller, vice president; D. Nicolici, secretary.
A certain number of questions which were not dealt with by the delegation were placed into the hands of the incoming GC Committee. There were two delicate questions from the Romanian Union. One of these had to do with the articles of incorporation of the Union, which had already been published in an official paper with some unauthorized changes introduced by government officers who accepted these articles for publication. Because of this publication, the SDA Reform Movement was accused by some leaders of the SDA mother church. Brother Kozel reported on this issue:
"Concerning the [SDA] publication against us, where they refer to a wrong publication that was made, contrary to our principles, by our Romanian leadership, in the Romanian official paper Monitor Oficial of March 5, 1947, we admit that this was true. But we must testify that, until the General Conference session in Holland, July 1948, the General Conference Committee [the leading body] knew absolutely nothing about that document handed in to the Romanian government in opposition to our principles and to our leading body. I am the first competent witness [to what I am saying here]. . . . On that occasion I was elected GC president. And the General Conference was to be transferred from Europe to USA; so Brother D. Nicolici was placed by my side as secretary. . . . Shortly before the [GC] Committee dispersed, Brother Nicolici. . . informed us about that wrong document, which shocked all of us who were on the Committee (most of the delegates had already left). It was annulled, and the necessary correction was made right away by a Committee resolution signed by myself as the new president."–Sabbat-Waechter, September 1, 1971.
The other question from the Romanian Union was concerning a minister who had been disfellowshiped because of adultery and had later been restored to membership through rebaptism. The question: Could he also be reinstated in the ministry? Normally, there was no need for such a question, because our position, based on the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, had been very clear from the beginning. But an answer had to be sent. And the answer was a positive "No." The GC Committee members signed that answer. It happened, however, that one of the cosigners was a morally disqualified minister who should have been disfellowshiped, but who had just been put on the GC Committee while our two most responsible leaders knew about his situation, because he himself had informed them.
Later on, other leading brethren, members of the GC Committee, heard about this problem and also found out that this was not the only case of official tolerance toward immoral ministers. Worse than that. They were surprised at the arguments used by some of the highest leaders who tried to justify the toleration of guilty pastors, allowing them to remain in their offices. This proved that there was a strong tendency to introduce a new standard, lowering the discipline of the ministry and thereby encouraging more corruption. The new controversial issue testified that the leadership was divided over a fundamental principle.
To aggravate the situation, a unique setup in the organizational structure of the Reform Movement was unwisely accepted by the GC delegation at the end of the 1948 session. The GC presidency and treasury were entrusted to the same person. This arrangement led to the creation of new problems. Irregularities in the financial administration (such as GC funds kept in personal bank accounts) became a sore spot in their experience and increased tension among the leaders.
There was also a great deal of authoritarianism and arbitrariness in the GC administration, about which the leaders of the American Union had to protest most vehemently, as can be seen from their letters and circular letters. And they were not the only ones to resent this unfortunate situation.
History proved once more that even good men, thinking that they are doing the right thing, can be honestly mistaken. Serious mistakes committed by main leaders, if not admitted and corrected without delay, generally cause a reaction, and may involve the whole church in a controversy. It was the interaction of these factors that prepared the way for the crisis which reached its climax in May 1951.
The sixth GC session was held at Zeist, Holland, May 7—30, 1951. The order of the delegation was established with 24 delegates who represented only 40 percent of the total membership (a little over 10,000). The other 60 percent of the Reform people were not able to send their delegates to the conference, due to political restrictions. Besides, the legitimacy of some of those 24 delegates was questioned. One more delegate was introduced May 20.
Our delegates to the sixth GC session, Woudshoten, Zeist, Holland, 1951.
Because of the problems that had arisen in the administration of Brethren C. Kozel and A. Mueller, respectively president and vice president of the General Conference, there were important complaints from the USA, Germany, Portugal, South Africa, and South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Uruguay). As these problems had not been settled by the GC Executive Committee, and as some of the most dangerous problems had even reached the General Conference level, as indicated in the previous section (1948–Fifth GC Session), tension built up among the Committee members, and there was a serious disagreement among the leaders at the 1951 GC session.
May 20, 1951, the delegates of our Unions and Fields presented a protest pointing out the main problems which involved principles and rules of church order, and affected the work in general. In their declaration of protest they demanded that a special committee be elected to investigate the whole situation, but their request was turned down. The delegates present–who, even when together, did not form a legal majority–were strongly polarized; therefore, neither of the two sides was competent to solve the situation unilaterally. All could see that the Reform Movement was before a great crisis.
The main conference room at Woudshoten, Holland, where the 1951 GC session was held. From left to right: Sister Mandemaker, Brother H. Mandemaker (who was one of the delegates to that conference), Brother N. S. Brittain, Brother R. Ludwig, Brother D. Dumitru. Photo 1995.
In that emergency situation, in the middle of the contention, our delegates resented the arbitrary procedure of the chairman and, to signify their protest, they occupied a hut for prayer and mutual consultation, while C. Kozel and A. Mueller, with their supporters, started a separate delegation session. Then, from our side, two legal possibilities were suggested to the outgoing president and vice president: (1) either accept the appeal of our delegates, submit the complaints to an investigation, and keep dialoguing and negotiating until an agreement could be reached; or (2) suspend the session, send all the delegates home with the understanding that another conference would be called in due time, as far as possible with other delegates, and at the same time inform all the Unions and Fields and welcome their advice.
These constitutional ways were not acceptable to Brethren Kozel and Mueller, who decided that they could not lay down their responsibilities when their term of office was over. They, instead, resolved that they had authority to take action against the delegates of our Unions and Fields because of their protest. This, however, did not bring the expected solution; on the contrary, it aggravated the crisis step after step, as follows:
On May 22, our delegates were rejected by letter, and were left alone in the same place, even in the same room, where the conference had started, at Zeist. The delegation, initially representing only 40% of the membership, was now separated into two groups, each representing only 20% of the total number of members. Though our leaders and delegates were declared "disfellowshiped" from the church, they renewed their appeal, but Brethren Kozel and Mueller, together with their supporters, now in Utrecht, were not prepared to negotiate an agreement that would envision the ironing out of the discrepancies, a combined election of GC officers, and the finalization of the conference in unity. So, as the door was closed against us, the crisis reached its climax. These facts resulted in two separate reorganizations (May 23—24, 1951). As the other leading brethren refused to consider a joint reorganization, and as their independent reorganization would be valid only for that portion of the membership (20%) that they represented, we had no other choice but do without them what they refused to do together with us. Therefore, in that emergency situation, our delegates elected our GC Committee May 24, 1951, with the following officers: D. Nicolici, president; A. Lavrik, vice president; C. T. Stewart, secretary. This reorganization was recognized by almost 80 percent of the total membership.
Continuing in the same conference room where the joint delegation session had started, our representatives made the following resolutions with a view to promoting the work of God through the Reform Movement:
That an appeal be made to each Union Conference to send a young family, with sufficient knowledge and experience, to help establish institutions in the USA (medical work, publishing work, educational work);
That the Reformation Herald, which was started in 1950, be recognized as the official organ of the General Conference of the Reform Movement;
That a certain number of books, booklets, and guides be prepared to meet the urgent needs of the church (on doctrine, Christian living, health reform, gospel order, and so forth);
That the Principles of Faith, the Rules of Church Order, as well as the Constitution and Bylaws, be rewritten in a clearer light, in harmony with a decision made by the General Conference in session, in 1948;
That an essay be prepared on the subject of Divorce and Remarriage, explaining the position of the Reform Movement.
The matter of church discipline was also discussed, especially with reference to the seventh commandment. In view of the determination revealed by some of the principal leaders ("Actions speak louder than words") to lower the standard among the ministers, whereby the Reform Movement would forfeit one of the reasons for its existence, during the conference of May 1951, our delegates took a firm stand on this point, for which we should never cease to thank God.
Another principle which was threatened during the great crisis, and which was also closely related to the seventh commandment, was the marriage institution. In 1951, our delegates adopted the position–still maintained by the Reform Movement until today–that men who advocate divorce and remarriage cannot hold positions in the leadership.
Interest in gospel order–a principle which had been misunderstood and abused under the previous administration–was rekindled in 1951 and has been greatly improved in our midst since the crisis. In the light of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, it became very clear to us that among the people of God, men are not to regard themselves as authority, seeking the mastery over others, as if they were in the position of Moses and Aaron. God demands coordination, not unilateral subordination.
1955 – Seventh General Conference Session
The seventh General Conference session was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, April 10–May 9, 1955, with 31 delegates representing over 9,000 members (1,000 less than in 1951) distributed in 12 Unions and Fields. The number of ministers, workers, and other employees stood at 402.
Two delegates to the seventh GC session, Sao Paulo, Brazil,
just arriving from South Africa (1955).
The outgoing secretary presented a voluminous agenda with many questions that had been sent in by Unions and Fields that wanted to have clear definitions or precise answers. These questions had to do with various points of the Principles of Faith, such as: violation of the seventh commandment and eligibility for ordination; divorce and remarriage and eligibility for membership; health reform; belief in the Spirit of Prophecy as a test of fellowship; our attitude toward fashion; relationship with labor unions; court action; occupations contrary to our principles; life insurance. The delegation had a full schedule for one month.
Top: GC Delegation, seventh session, 1955.
Bottom: Delegation in session, 1955.
Among the many points on the agenda, there was also the distribution of territory. Each Union and Field wanted to have its territory clearly defined. This subject was finally left for the incoming Executive Committee.
Recommendations from countries that were not able to send their delegates were read and discussed and were taken into consideration as part of the agenda.
GC Committee elected in 1955.
The GC administration was reorganized as follows: D. Nicolici, president; A. Lavrik, vice president; I. W. Smith, secretary.
On September 3—23, 1991, the delegates of our Unions and Fields came together in a castle at Breuberg, a little town situated in the beautiful forest area of Odenwald, about 60 miles southeast of Frankfurt, Germany. The session was opened by J. Moreno, the outgoing president, with the remark that, from the beginning of the Reform Movement, this was the first session with a full, worldwide attendance–109 delegates present.
GC delegation, sixteenth session, Breuberg (south of Frankfurt), Germany, 1991.
In his opening address, Brother Moreno said among other things: "Great changes have taken place in the world during these last four years, and further serious events are expected to occur in the next few years. The opening of the East-European countries, where the people now enjoy religious liberty, and where the Gospel can be preached freely, is one of the prophetic signs showing that the coming of Jesus is very near."
D. Dumitru, the outgoing GC vice president, said: "I am particularly thankful to the Lord because I can see for the first time representatives from practically all our Unions and Fields." After reporting on his activities during the quadrennium, he added: "Let us unite our hearts and efforts in the finishing of the work to hasten the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
A. C. Sas, the outgoing GC secretary, presented the statistical report: members added during the quadrennium: over 5,000. Membership at the end of 1990: over 20,000. Number of buildings (such as churches and chapels) owned by our corporation: 395. Organized churches: 492. Organized groups: 481. Rented meeting places: 238. Private homes where meetings are held: 355. Number of ministers: 158. Full-time Bible workers: 302. Part-time Bible workers: 44. Voluntary Bible workers: 116. Colporteurs: nearly l,000. In conclusion, he said: "The GC officers have worked together in harmony, revealing a good spirit of mutual understanding."
Delegation in session, 1991.
J. Garbi, the outgoing GC treasurer, presented a clear picture of the financial situation of our organization. He closed his remarks saying: "I thank the brethren of the different Unions, Fields, and Missions that have cooperated with the General Conference and especially with the Treasury Department by sending in their reports and remittances on time."
Then the regional secretaries reported on the work accomplished in their regions. Next, the GC departmental secretaries presented their reports.
Unions, Fields, and Missions: Change of Status
For technical reasons, three unions agreed to be dissolved and reorganized as follows:
New GC Officers
The following were elected for the new quadrennium: N. S. Brittain, president; D. Dumitru, vice president; A. C. Sas, secretary.
The incoming GC president, N. S. Brittain, thanked the delegates for the confidence bestowed upon him and encouraged them to take a good report back to their fields. He said we are called upon to raise the standard of the truth everywhere, even though in some matters we may not understand one another fully. In the name of the delegation, he also thanked the German Union and the Romanian Union for the hospitality and for everything that was done to accommodate the delegation session and spiritual gathering. Then, from –25, he read words of encouragement and counsel to the homeward-bound delegates.
J. Moreno pronounced the benediction, and the delegation sang the hymn, "God Be With You Till We Meet Again."
1995 – Seventeenth General Conference Session
The delegation session began right after the spiritual convention which was held at the Stadium of Ploesti, Romania, August 29–31, 1995, with an estimated attendance of 4,500–5,000 people. The Romanian Union had provided a fair and pleasant place at Voineasa, in the Carpathian mountains. That is where 131 delegates representing our worldwide membership met from September 4 through September 24, 1995.
GC delegation, seventeenth session, Voineasa, Romania, 1995.
In his opening address, N. S. Brittain, the outgoing president, emphasized our responsibility in the plan of God for these last days. Our work, he said, is paralleled by that of Elijah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist. There was a seventy-year period which became very significant in the history of ancient Israel, and there is also a period of seventy years, from the establishment of the Reform Movement (Gotha, Germany, 1925) until now (1995), which should likewise have a deep meaning for us.
"The history covering these seventy years," he said, "is a history of development, amid victories and disappointments, with examples of faithfulness and unfaithfulness. Yet through it all the message entrusted to us has remained clear, and we have seen the leading hand of God in His work. The work is His, not ours. Let us never lose sight of this distinction.
"During the second part of the quadrennium, much attention was given to the building of the GC headquarters (Roanoke, VA, USA), and we are happy that the new building is now occupied and functioning."
Brother Brittain also pointed out a certain number of challenges that our leaders and members would have to meet during the new administrative period:
"There is little time left in which to dedicate ourselves to the finishing of the work," he said. "Therefore, we cannot waste our precious moments trying to deal with all the trials and problems that the adversary will put in our way to draw our attention from the things that really matter as far as the salvation of souls is concerned."
Our spiritual condition as a people, especially in some places, is cause for great concern, Brother Brittain stated. And he explained that there is strong evidence that we need more and more reformatory actions in our experience as a Movement (Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 594, 595; and vol. 6, p. 142). He brought up a question which should arouse our thinking: Are we coming out completely from the captivity of the world, or will the future show that we have adopted philosophies calculated to turn our hearts away from full consecration to the Lord. At this seventeenth session, he emphasized, the Reform Movement may be at the crossroads, since plans and decisions must now be made which may lead our church either into a spiritual revival or into apostasy. Therefore, lest we forget the ways of the Lord and give room to self-sufficiency and religious pride, let us turn wholeheartedly to Him who said, "Without Me ye can do nothing." He also insisted that we must cease to make decisions based upon false sympathy or upon dictatorial control.
Our goal will be achieved if we allow the Spirit of God to develop a clear and united vision among all the workers. So we will "be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." In order to receive the latter rain, we must do a personal and collective work in developing true Christian unity in our ranks.
The growing need for workers is becoming urgent in several Regions, Brother Brittain stated. This need spotlights one of the requirements of our missionary schools, namely the preparation of textbooks for a common course of instruction, correlated with a plan to conduct special seminars for workers.
The need for more personal involvement in missionary activity was also accentuated by Brother Brittain. And these were the closing words of his introduction: "May the Lord guide us during this session. May we listen earnestly to the voice of the Holy Spirit, laying our own opinions aside. And may we fully unite in the word of God."
After having reported on his work during the quadrennium, in his capacity as vice president, Brother D. Dumitru said: "As I look back to the last four years, I must thank God from the bottom of my heart for all the loving watchcare that He has extended to my coworkers and to me on our many trips and in the fulfillment of our duties."
The outgoing secretary’s report revealed that over 7,000 new members were added to the Reform Movement from January 1991 to December 1994. Our people (23,772 on December 31, 1994; over 24,000 at the time of the session)–organized in 13 Union Conferences, 23 Field Conferences, and 20 Mission Fields–were at that time scattered in 81 countries and territories. The report also showed other interesting details: chapels owned by our corporation, 581; other buildings owned, 98; rented meeting places, 223; private homes used as regular meeeting places, 530; number of organized churches, 606; organized groups, 652; number of ministers, 196; full-time Bible workers, 241; part-time Bible workers, 104; voluntary Bible workers, 95; colporteurs, l,943; colporteur leaders, 58; office workers, 112.
The Sabbath School Department reported that, at the end of l994, there were 1,417 Sabbath Schools with almost 35,000 students (adults and children) in the Reform Movement.
The report of the Colporteur Department showed that over four million books and booklets were sold during the quadrennium 1991–1994 in addition to the seven million tracts.
The Missionary Department reported the work done during the quadrennium: Bible studies given, over 250,000; missionary visits, over 380,000; books and booklets distributed, over four million (these are not the books and booklets sold by the colporteurs); tracts and pamphlets distributed, over eight million.
The outgoing treasurer, Brother Ruffo Lopez, at the end of his report, thanked the Lord and the brethren for all the support received from them.
Unions, Fields, and Missions Confirmed
The following constituencies were confirmed by the delegation: Bolivian Union (for administrative purposes, Bolivia was separated from the South American Southern Union); Martinique Field (Martinique and Guadeloupe were separated from the French Polynesian Field); Spain Mission (Spain was separated from the Iberian Field); Czechoslovakia Mission (separated from Poland); Ghana Mission; Finland Mission; Costa Rica Mission; China Mission.
General Conference president, A. C. Sas; vice presidents, N. S. Brittain and D. Suresh-Kumar; secretary, D. P. Silva.
At the close of the session, the new president, Brother Sas, appealed to his coworkers and to all the ministers that they do their best to set an example before the people. As undershepherds, he said, we should not drive them, but lead them. He appealed especially to the older brethren to come closer to the younger ones as friends, bridging the gap that in many cases exists between the two age levels. By tactfully making friends and winning the confidence of others, he stated, we will be able to help them. Speaking about our priorities, he said we should be anxious to be witnesses, not only through our words, but through our converted lives, demonstrating to the world that we are the people of God and that we are preparing to receive the promised power for the finishing of the work. We should not fear the future unless we forget the way in which the Lord has led us and taught us. And we should work to convert souls to Christ, not to ourselves. If we have this aim in view, he said, the Lord will bless our efforts.
In the name of the delegation, Brother Sas thanked the brethren of the Romanian Union for their hospitality. A spirit of perfect peace prevailed among the delegates. Brother I. Tomoiaga offered the closing prayer, and Brother F. Devai pronounced the final benediction.
From May 28 to June 24, 1959, 32 delegates convened in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Twelve Unions and Fields, with 10,000 members, were represented. For the first time, after 22 years, the Yugoslavian Union was able to send its representatives to the General Conference session. From Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, only letters with greetings and news were read before the delegation.
GC delegation, eighth session, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1959.
Brother D. Nicolici, in his report, spoke about the work in the Philippines (started in 1956) and the contacts made in such countries as India, Burma, and Nigeria.
Consideration was given to the calls coming from Colombia, Venezuela, Central American countries (especially Guatemala), Mexico, as well as Spain and Portugal, and a resolution was made to send workers and canvassers to take advantage of the openings in these areas.
Among the doctrinal points brought to the attention of the delegation, there were questions about the identity of Melchisedec, interpretation oflife insurance, trades in which a Reformer can or cannot engage, the use of one cup in the ordinances, the loud cry (Principles of Faith, point 16), and others.
Delegation in session, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1959.
Regarding point 16 of our Principles of Faith, the following recommendation was made: So that our teaching may not be misinterpreted, we should refer to the present work of reformation as leading to the fulfillment of the prophecy contained in Early Writings, pp. 85, 86. It is in this sense that point 16 should be read and understood.
GC Council elected in 1959.
1963 – Ninth General Conference Session
Twenty-three delegates were present at Gross Gerau, Germany, from August 22 to September 19, 1963. The reported membership was approximately 11,000. Among the new fields, the Philippines were mentioned as the most promising one.
GC delegation, ninth session, Gross Gerau, Frankfurt, Germany, 1963.
Outgoing President’s Address
Brother A. Lavrik, the outgoing president, expressed his gratitude to God for the privilege that He had given us of meeting again as a GC delegation in session. He briefly reviewed the history of the Reform Movement, some phases of which, as we could see, were not for encouragement. Our only hope and assurance for the future of our work, Brother Lavrik said, is found in the message of the Lord to King Jehoshaphat: "Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe His prophets, so shall ye prosper." Our greatest need at this time, he emphasized, is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The question was put to the delegates, "Why do we not feel so urgently the need of the promised gift as in the early days of the message of reformation?" It is left for each one of us, he added, to seek the answer for himself on his knees before God. In order that the promised power may be ours, we must meet the conditions, preparing the way.
Brother Lavrik thanked the German Union for the substantial financial help extended to the General Conference during the past quadrennium (1959—1963), which made it possible to send out and support missionaries in four new missionary fields–Iberia, Central America, Philippines, and Nigeria.
He explained that, in the restricted countries, where religious liberty does not exist, we have thousands of brethren who, despite the most cruel oppression, stand firm in the truth. Some heart-rending experiences that had been endured by individual members, families, and groups living in these countries were narrated before the delegates.
The delegation gave much attention to the missionary work and recommended the following program:
2. If this work is properly developed, more funds will come in and the publishing work can be built up. Besides, more members will be added to the church, and more young people will be prepared to become Bible workers.
3. New methods should be devised, manuals of instruction should be prepared, and seminars should be conducted wherever possible, with a view to teaching our people to do the work efficiently. The book Colporteur Ministry should be studied by all.
4. Missionary families should be encouraged to settle and establish health food stores in areas where there are no churches or members.
5. It was also recommended that the incoming Executive Committee should appoint brethren to prepare manuscripts for books to be used in the canvassing work.
Brother D. Nicolici was censured by the delegation for having ordained men who were not qualified for ordination (Nigeria, 1958). He apologized for his mistake, saying that he was deceived by those men.
Doctrinal and Administrative Points
A certain number of doctrinal questions were considered by the delegates (e.g., occupations inconsistent with our principles, health reform, proper Sabbathkeeping, preexistence of Christ, and others).
So that our belief would not be misconstrued, the question about the preexistence of Christ was answered, and our position on this point was reconfirmed, only with quotations from the Spirit of Prophecy and the Principles of Faith, point 2.
There were also administrative points on the agenda such as the administration of the American Union to be completely separated from that of the General Conference, the GC headquarters to be moved to a more suitable location, the General Conference to adopt a budget system, and regional secretaries to be placed in different strategic parts of the world.
Officers for the new term: C. T. Stewart, president; E. Kanyo, vice president; A. Balbach, secretary.
GC Committee elected in 1963.
At the tenth quadrennial delegation session, which was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, August 13 to October 8, 1967, there were 33 delegates representing 16 Union Conferences and Fields. Complete membership reports had not been received from the restricted countries.
Besides doctrinal questions which had to be answered, there were many other points on the agenda, which were placed in the hands of three special committees: (1) Committee on Tithing, Properties, and Pension; (2) Committee on Credentials and Location of Workers (the same Nominating Committee); (3) Committee on Bylaws and Guidelines for Church Officers.
GC delegation, tenth session, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1967.
In view of the growing needs of the work, the delegation adopted a new GC constitution and bylaws to meet new circumstances, a sustentation plan for workers (which allowed for local adaptations), and a project for a church officers’ guide. It was resolved that each minister should receive a mimeographed copy of the projected guide for church officers. The idea was that with the suggestions sent in by our Unions and Fields, an ad hoc committee would be able to revise the guide and submit an improved copy to the delegation at the next session (1971) for final approval.
At our invitation, the IMS sent three representatives to us during the delegation session, to discuss the possibility of a reconciliation and a reunification. No agreement was reached.
The following GC officers were elected: F. Devai, president; I. W. Smith, vice president; A. N. Macdonald, secretary-treasurer.
Before the delegation was dismissed, Brother Devai made an appeal to the representatives of the people, based on —15. Our leaders, church officers, and members in general should be encouraged to seek the Lord with all their hearts, as an important step in their preparation for the receiving of the latter rain.
1971 – Eleventh General Conference Session
The eleventh session of GC delegates was held in Brasilia, Brazil, September 22 through October 13, 1971. Forty-five delegates, representing 18 Union Conferences, Fields, and Missions, were seated. Two Unions and one Field were not represented. The total membership reported was 12,694.
GC delegation, eleventh session, Brasilia, Brazil, 1971.
The Aztecan Mission (Mexico) and the Danube Union (composed of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland) were recognized by the GC delegation.
The reports of the brethren who had visited some of the restricted countries and those which dealt with the opening of new fields aroused special interest.
The points on the agenda were distributed among the various committees (Doctrinal Committee, Bylaws Committee, Plans Committee), which brought their recommendations to the delegation.
The Doctrinal Committee recommended and the delegation voted that candidates for membership be fellowshiped as follows: (1) by baptism–only those who are thoroughly grounded in the present truth and have given proof that they have had a genuine conversion and have started a new life in Jesus Christ; (2) by vote–only Seventh-day Adventists and separated (Reform) brethren who have been faithful to the light they have had and have lived up to the principles that we stand for.
The delegation also resolved that a general appeal be made to our churches, groups, and individual members throughout the world calling for a deeper consecration to God and for the elevating of the standards of the threefold message (2 Chron.—15), as follows:
2. Faithfulness in health reform, Sabbathkeeping, tithes and offerings.
3. More emphasis on decency and simplicity in dress reform.
4. Separation from the evil influences of the world.
As regards television, it was resolved that a renewed effort be made by our ministers and workers to warn our people against the hazards caused by a TV set in the home.
GC officers elected for the new term: F. Devai, president; W. Volpp, vice president; A. Balbach, secretary.
Brasilia, Brazil, October 19–November 4, 1975. Forty-six delegates present. Unions and Fields represented: 23. Total membership reported: over 14,000.
GC delegation session,
Brasilia, Brazil, 1975.
The Indonesian Union was accepted as a new member of the General Conference.
The different committees, especially the Plans Committee, seemed to have more to do this time than during previous delegation sessions.
Much consideration was given to the Ministerial Guide and the Church Officers’ Guide, then under preparation.
A plan for a more efficient development of our work–entitled "Our Aims"–was adopted by the delegation.
We could clearly see once more that the work which has been entrusted to us seems more than we are able to accomplish (The Great Controversy, p. 609). There is only one hope: When we feel our utter human helplessness and begin to rely entirely on the Lord, then more help from above will come.
One of the resolutions adopted by the GC delegation was a pledge which reads as follows:
"We believe that the time has come when due to the increase of diseases in the animal world, the use of milk and eggs is today a growing danger to health.
"‘Let the diet reform be progressive. Let the people be taught how to prepare food without the use of milk or butter. Tell them that the time will soon come when there will be no safety in using eggs, milk, cream, or butter, because disease in animals is increasing in proportion to the increase of wickedness among men. The time is near when, because of the iniquity of the fallen race, the whole animal creation will groan under the diseases that curse our earth’ (Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 356).
"I hereby pledge myself to give due regard to the counsel given in the Spirit of Prophecy on this subject by taking a forward step in putting less and less dependence on these foods and intelligently educating our members away from them."
GC delegation, twelfth session, Brasilia, Brazil, 1975.
Due to the expansion of the work, it was decided to increase the number of regional secretaries from 2 to 6.
1979 – Thirteenth General Conference Session
At this session, 54 delegates came together at Bushkill, Pennsylvania, USA, September 12—26, 1979. In that year, the work was being promoted in 26 Unions and Fields. Membership reported: over 15,800.
GC delegation, thirteenth session, Bushkill, Pennsylvania, USA, 1979.
The development of the different departments established at the GC level and how to make them more effective was one of the major points of discussion.
In the Working Policies an important provision was made in behalf of the restricted countries which are unable to send their delegates to the GC session. The provision reads:
"Suitable person(s) in other countries having experience and/or knowledge of and/or close contacts with believers in countries unable to send regular delegates, and in good and regular standing in their local church, but no more than two immediate relatives, may be nominated by the committee or members in such restricted countries, with the concurrence of the GC Regional Secretary for the area, to represent them and have a vote, and such shall be seated as regular delegates when recognized by a majority vote of the credentialed delegates already seated."
One of the resolutions adopted by the delegation, which should be of special interest to all our members and friends, reads:
"Ministers, Bible workers, and church officers will be requested to pledge themselves that they, together with their families, will place greater emphasis on uplifting the standards by taking a higher stand in Christian living and by closing the door against worldliness; and it is expected that, by the help of God, they will seek to bring the same result in the homes of others. . . ."
Delegation in session, 1979.
GC Council elected in 1979.
GC officers elected: W. Volpp, president; F. Devai, 1st vice president; C. Palazzolo, 2nd vice president; A. C. Sas, 3rd vice president; A. Balbach, secretary.
Because he was overloaded with other duties, A. Balbach resigned his office as secretary in 1980, and A. N. Macdonald took over with the agreement of the GC Executive Committee.
This session, attended by 59 delegates, was held at Puslinch, Ontario, Canada, from August 16 to September 6, 1983. By the grace of God, 11 Unions and 9 Fields, covering 50 countries, were able to send their representatives. Complete membership reports from the restricted countries were not available, but recent information on hand showed that the work was going ahead in all of our 13 Unions and 19 Fields and Missions.
GC delegation, fourteenth session, Puslinch (near Toronto), Canada, 1983.
In his address to the delegation, the outgoing president said:
"It is my recommendation to this GC delegation in session that the right understanding of ‘Reform Movement’ be made clear to all our delegates, ministers, workers, and church officers. Only a church which is ‘moving’ forward in all the reformatory lines specified in the Bible and in the Spirit of Prophecy may legitimately carry the name of ‘Reform Movement.’ Our ministers and workers should be the first to reveal a revival and reformation in their lives, showing a spirit of sacrifice and devotion to God. They should set the right example before the people. Earnest and humble prayers and confessions, coming from repentant hearts, should be poured out before God. Let us entreat Him to be merciful to us and bring back into our minds, in full measure, the true spirit of reformation–that primitive godliness–which should characterize our lives. We are to receive strength from above to lift up higher the standards of the threefold message in our religious life, and, down to the youngest members of the church, we are to become colaborers with Christ in the salvation of souls."
The need for improvement in our system of organization and administration was discussed during this session. Here is a summary of the recommendations that were made to the delegates:
1. In the plan for decentralization we need in the first place the upper-room experience. Ministers, workers, church officers, and people need to be encouraged to look much more to Christ than to GC or Union officers, committees or resolutions for leadership and for solution of problems. They should spend more time praying and counseling together.
"The Lord desires His workers to counsel together, not to move independently. Those who are set as ministers and guides to the people should pray much when they meet together. This will give wonderful help and courage, binding heart to heart and soul to soul, leading every man to unity and peace and strength in his endeavors."–Testimonies to Ministers, p. 485.
"It is a selfish thing for men who feel that they have some service to do for the Master, to wish to be alone in their work, and to refuse to connect with those who would be a help to them, because they fear that they will not obtain all the credit for doing the good work which they flatter themselves they will do. This has greatly hindered the work of God. Let brother lay hold of brother. Link up a Peter and a John. Let each encourage his brother to stand by his side doing zealous, interested service, as partners in the great work. Two or three can pray together, sing the praises of God together, and grow up into the full stature of workers together with God. Perfect harmony must be cherished. All must serve the Lord as little children, feeling that they are branches in the same parent stock."–Ibid., p. 329.
"The Lord has not qualified any one of us to bear the burden of the work alone. He has associated together men of different minds, that they may counsel with and assist one another. In this way the deficiency in the experience and abilities of one is supplied by the experience and abilities of another. . . .
"In our work we must consider the relation that each worker sustains to the other workers connected with the cause of God. We must remember that others as well as ourselves have a work to do in connection with this cause. We must not bar the mind against counsel. In our plans for the carrying forward of the work, our mind must blend with other minds.
"Let us cherish a spirit of confidence in the wisdom of our brethren. We must be willing to take advice and caution from our fellow laborers. Connected with the service of God, we must individually realize that we are parts of a great whole. We must seek wisdom from God, learning what it means to have a waiting, watching spirit, and to go to our Saviour when tired and depressed."–Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 499, 500.
2. The local churches, the Fields, the Unions, and the Regions are to be strengthened. Each regional secretary should work with a regional committee.
Individual members are to be subject to the church; the local churches and groups are to be subject to the Field; the Fields are to be subject to the Union; and Unions are to be subject to the General Conference.
"While it is true that the Lord guides individuals, it is also true that He is leading out a people."–Ibid., p. 488.
"As all the different members of the human system unite to form the entire body, and each performs its office in obedience to the intelligence that governs the whole, so the members of the church of Christ should be united in one symmetrical body, subject to the sanctified intelligence of the whole."–.
3. That which can be solved at a local level should never be referred to a higher body.
4. The leading authority of the work as a whole to be in the hands of a larger GC Council during the quadrennium. This leading body to include the regional secretaries and at least some of the departmental secretaries (see example in General Conference Bulletin, 1901, p. 499). The Council to meet once a year.
5. Five men of the GC Council to constitute the Executive Committee, whose duty is to carry out the decisions made by the GC Delegation and GC Council. The Executive Committee (with a president as chairman) to function as a working committee and as a coordinating body.
6. All the instructions in reorganization and administration, as contained in the Bible and in the Spirit of Prophecy, to be carefully studied and complied with.
The improvements which were made until 1983, in our system of organization, are not in themselves sufficient to ensure success in the work. More true success will be seen only as we come closer to God, both as individuals and as a people. Therefore, the upper-room experience was greatly emphasized.
One of the recommendations referred to the Young People’s Department reads:
"We recommend that special efforts be made to bring our youth closer to Christ in accordance withand that articles be prepared about the dangers confronting our young people all over the world, such as spiritualism connected with certain types of modern music, the evil influence of TV, the demoralizing effect of worldly fashions, drug addiction, the evil of unconverted companions, indiscreet courtship, attitudes which compromise the moral integrity of a young man or woman."
The delegation made a pledge which our church officers were and still are requested to present to our people everywhere, as follows:
"We as delegates of the 14th Session of the General Conference, after a prayerful and serious consideration of our condition as a people, have come to the conclusion that we must now seek an answer to our urgent spiritual needs. The coming of our Saviour is at the door, and we realize our inability to finish, without His help, the work that He has put into our hands. Therefore, we humbly confess our sins and ask the Lord to forgive us our slowness to grasp His almighty hand in the work for the salvation of erring souls.
"As we can see our need for a new motivation by His Spirit, we hereby pledge ourselves to turn to our God in deep humility. Let us all seek a new and complete reconciliation with the Almighty, and renew and strengthen our relationship with our brethren. May our gracious and merciful God help us that the work of thorough reformation, with fasting and prayer, will become more evident in our Christian experience. We believe that the time has come for the spirit of prayer to actuate every believer. Special attention should be given to the following statement:
"‘Those who have not been living in Christian fellowship will draw close to one another. One member working in right lines will lead other members to unite with him in making intercession for the revelation of the Holy Spirit. There will be no confusion, because all will be in harmony with the mind of the Spirit. The barriers separating believer from believer will be broken down, and God’s servants will speak the same things. The Lord will cooperate with His servants. All will pray understandingly the prayer that Christ taught His servants: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.".’– .
"We also extend our Christian love beyond our organizational borders to all those who honestly desire to experience a reformation in mind and heart and life and who are willing to work together with us, ‘looking for and hastening unto the coming’ of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
New GC officers: J. Moreno, president; F. Devai, vice president; A. N. Macdonald, secretary.
1987 – Fifteenth General Conference Session
August 26, 1987, the camp called "Sitio dos Cataventos," near the city of Braganca Paulista, which is situated 88 km from Sao Paulo, Brazil, was filled with echoes of joy and happiness, when 74 delegates representing 59 countries (12 Unions, 8 Fields, and 13 Missions in 6 Regions) convened for the 15th session of the General Conference. Those Unions, Fields, and Missions which were unable to send their representatives to this session were not forgotten by those present.
GC delegation, fifteenth session,
Braganca Paulista (near Sao Paulo), Brazil, 1987.
It was certainly an impressive sight to see brethren coming from many places in the world and meeting under one single roof, united in the same precious truth and hope, irrespective of nationalities or languages.
Opening of Delegation Session
Having welcomed the delegates to the session, J. Moreno, the president, read fromand and emphasized the need of preparation for the latter rain.
After the welcoming address, the delegates presented their credentials. North India, French Polynesia, and Japan were able to send their representatives for the first time.
Figures previously received by the secretary showed that, up to December 31, 1986, our total membership had increased to 18,000.
Special mention was made of five of our ministers who, since the last session, were laid to rest in the blessed hope of the resurrection.
During the session we had many important Bible studies, followed by questions and answers, in which the delegates took part with much interest. Among the different topics that were brought up, two were given special interest, namely, justification by faith and the nature of Christ.
Elevating the Moral Standard
As a result of the studies presented, the delegates understood that what we actually need is more consecration and sanctification. We must elevate the moral standard in all our churches before we can see greater results.
The Lord explained to His disciples that they would always "see true and false believers mingled in the church" (). Read —30, 37—43. "There are two opposing influences continually exerted on the members of the church. One influence is working for the purification of the church, and the other for the corrupting of the people of God" ( ). It was understood that erring souls, who are honest and actually want to be saved, cannot be converted by rules of discipline. They will change only if a special work is done in their behalf under the influence of the Holy Spirit ( ; —20; ). Read , 46.
On the other hand, however, it was also understood that we are not to tolerate those who persist in open sin. False-hearted believers, as tares among the wheat, will not be easily converted by the love of Christ or by the message of Christ’s righteousness. To keep spurious Christians from multiplying in the church, we must apply the rules of discipline. Read—17; ; —17; —18; ; ; ; , 648; .
Testimony of Two Pioneers
During the session, two of our pioneers (Andrei Cecan and Pavel Tuleu) shared their experiences with the delegation. They praised the Lord for His evident guidance in the Reform Movement and for the many victories that He has granted us. Telling us some of their early experiences in connection with the message of reformation, they encouraged the delegates to press forward in singleness of mind and purpose.
New GC Officers
After several days of deliberation, the Nominating Committee brought the following list of recommended names, which were accepted by the delegation: president, J. Moreno; vice president, D. Dumitru; secretary, A. C. Sas.
The Great Need of the Hour
Brother Moreno thanked God for His mercies and the delegation for the confidence bestowed upon him. He read from(first part) and and invited the delegates to make a covenant with God. Further, he requested the cooperation of all his fellow workers and of the churches.
The delegation gave serious consideration to our great spiritual needs and to this vital question: How are we to act so that, by the help of God, we will be prepared for the outpouring of the latter rain, the finishing of the work, and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ? The delegates were convinced that, if we seek the Lord in prayer, examining our hearts and confessing our faults, and if we work wholeheartedly for the salvation of souls, we will achieve perfect unity in the spirit and in the truth, and our Saviour will work powerfully in our behalf. Therefore, the following appeal was directed to our people:
"We appeal to all for close cooperation and a more active role in carrying out the gospel commission that was given to all of us. As workers together with God, brothers and sisters, let us lean heavily upon the arm of the Mighty One. Let us labor for more love and unity, and we will become a power in the world."
Before our brethren came to the conference of 1925 and reached an agreement about the name to be adopted for our church, they used different local names. In Scandinavia: Adventists of the Original Faith; in Czechoslovakia: The Seed of the Woman; in Transylvania: Adventists of the Ancient Faith; in Yugoslavia: Remnant Adventists; in South Romania and Bulgaria: Adventists Standing on the Basis of the Faith of 1844; in Hungary: Seventh Day Adventists Standing on the Old Platform of 1844. In Germany, at first they called themselves International Missionary Society of Seventh Day Adventists–German Union (Internationale Missionsgesellschaft der Siebenten-Tags-Adventisten–Deutsche Union). This can be seen from a circular letter issued in February 1919. The German brethren showed the same name, except German Union, in the magazine Watchman of the Truth (Waechter der Wahrheit) published before July 1919. Beginning with the issue of July 1919, however, they put an addition to the name in use so far: International Missionary Society of Seventh Day Adventists–Standing on the Old Platform of 1844 (Alte, seit 1844 stehengebliebene Richtung). The German Union was incorporated, December 23, 1919, under the name: International Missionary Society of Seventh Day Adventists–Standing on the Old Platform of 1844–German Union. At the end of 1921, as can be seen from the Watchman of the Truth, they preferred to be known as International Missionary Society of Seventh Day Adventists–Reform Movement (Internationale Missionsgesellschaft der STA Reformations-bewegung). After the return of our two delegates from S. Francisco (1922), where they were not given any hearing, our brethren published, under the name International Reform Movement of Seventh Day Adventists (Internationale Reformbewegung der Siebenten-Tags-Adventisten), the booklet Revival and Reformation among the Seventh Day Adventists–Our Experience during the General Conference Session in San Francisco, May 1922. But, afterwards, their Sabbath Watchman (Sabbat-Waechter), a monthly paper, was published under the name Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement. Later on they added the designation German Union.
At our first General Conference session, 1925, the delegation adopted the name, Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement General Conference (Generalkonferenz der Siebenten-Tags-Adventisten Reformations-Bewegung) for “the joint connection of all Union Conferences,” namely, “the entire denomination in general,” according to the Minutes of the General Conference delegation session(1925 session, resolution 11). Resolution 11 also says that the Principles of Faith should be published under this name.
It was agreed in 1925 that the General Conference should be incorporated separately from the German Union. But this was not done immediately. After a few years, due to circumstances mentioned below, the registration of the General Conference became an urgent need, and it was carried out under the name, International Missionary Society of Seventh Day Adventists, Reform Movement, General Conference (Internationale Missionsgesellschaft der Siebenten-Tags-Adventisten Reformations-bewegung, Generalkonferenz), and not under the name that had been adopted by the General Conference delegation in 1925.
When the statutes were ready for the incorporation of the General Conference, with the signatures of the Board of Directors, Brother Otto Welp, the reelected General Conference president, signed as representative of the Seventh Day Adventist Church–Reform Movement–German Union.
According to the laws then in force in Germany, a corporation must own property in order to qualify for registration, and the General Conference owned no property at that time. Therefore, its registration was delayed. During the General Conference Committee meeting held in the mission house of the German Union, June 29 through July 4, 1927, it was resolved:
“That the General Conference be registered in the same way [as the Union Conference], so that the same statutes filed at the registration of the Union may cover also the General Conference; and that in future the German Union operate under these statutes, under the name of the General Conference” (Resolution 8).
The main reason for this resolution was that the property at Isernhagen, near Hannover, used by the German Union, had been purchased with a loan taken from the General Conference, and that the Union president, Brother W. Richter, had a serious difference with the General Conference administration. It was certainly wise, on the part of the General Conference leading brethren, to take precautions for the protection of the properties and interests of the work.
The registration of the General Conference at Burgwedel, near Hannover, Germany, January 11, 1929, in that emergency situation, was done on the initiative of the Executive Committee. Both names–the one agreed upon by the General Conference delegation in 1925 and the one registered in 1929–were used for some time, even on the same documents, although the General Conference delegation in session never authorized the change. It was wise at that time to use both names in order to prevent splinter groups from legally taking any of the names once used by the Reform Movement. The registration of January 11, 1929, was canceled by the secret police (Gestapo) on May 11, 1936.
Under the name that was adopted by the General Conference delegation in session, in 1925, and that was always maintained by the General Conference delegation, the General Conference was registered in the state of California, USA, by Brethren C. Kozel and D. Nicolici, respectively president and secretary of the corporation, April 8, 1949, in harmony with a decision made by the delegation at the 1948 General Conference session. When this was done, Brother Kozel wrote in his circular letter of April 18, 1949:
“We were able . . . to have our General Conference registered a few days ago. The Lord helped us wonderfully in all these things. The name of our General Conference is as follows: Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement General Conference, P. O. Box 234, Oak Park, Sacramento, California, USA.”
The Union Conferences and Fields were notified about this registration, which they ratified by letter.
In May 1951, when Brother C. Kozel and his supporters still were united with us in one religious body, of which he was the president, the General Conference delegates met in Holland, under the umbrella of this registration, and under this name. And it was under this name that the polarized leaders and delegates, unable to settle their differences, reorganized themselves into two separate General Conference Committees, each claiming to be the continuation of the original General Conference organization, with the original name adopted by the General Conference delegation in July 1925. Brother Kozel and his newly elected General Conference Committee still recognized the bylaws that went along with the registration of April 8, 1949. They called them “our bylaws” in their declaration of May 24, 1951.
In spite of the split, for one year both parties of the divided General Conference brethren claimed to belong to the corporation carrying the original name, Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement General Conference, registered in the state of California, USA, with headquarters in the city of Sacramento. They even signed an agreement on May 7, 1952, recognizing each other as members and leaders of this corporation, under this name. That was the only corporation and the only name officially recognized by both sides. In those days there was absolutely no controversy over the official name used by the Reform Movement.
The two parties continued within one and the same body, with the same name, the same registration, the same headquarters, until June 6, 1952, when Brother Kozel and his supporters decided to reorganize themselves separately from us, but together with the Denver brethren, who had been disfellowshiped in the presence and with the approval of Brother Kozel on March 4, 1949. It was only then, and not at an earlier date, that they formed their own General Conference corporation with headquarters in Denmark and later in Germany.
In a pamphlet published in Latin America by the leaders of the separated brethren, they explain why Brethren Kozel, Mueller and Ringelberg (their highest leaders at that time) decided to make their own reorganization (June 6, 1952):
“In 1951 . . . Nicolici retained the name of the church, the properties, and the headquarters, exactly as the big church had done. For this reason, the brethren . . . were forced to organize themselves without, however, giving up the true name of the church –Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement. In front of this name they only added the words, International Missionary Society. . . . This they did only to distinguish themselves from Nicolici’s organization, which retained the name, the properties, and the headquarters, exactly as the big church had done.”–Breve historia de la iglesia en la tierra, p. 2.
In a nutshell: The name that we have retained is the name that was adopted at the first General Conference delegation session in 1925 and that was registered in 1949. That name has never been changed by the General Conference delegation in session.
Throughout our history since 1914, we have seen the merciful hand of God with us in every crisis. He has given us many victories. Hereunder are the most noteworthy events which transpired since 1921.
|Some of the first Sabbath School quarterlies printed by our pioneer brethren deal with the book of Revelation. From top to bottom: Romanian (1922), German (1923), Russian (1924).|
Before the organization of the SDA Reform Movement in 1925, and especially before the meeting in Wuerzburg (1921), Reformers and so-called Reformers did a great deal of unofficial publishing. But we can identify some official publications, too.
Local Sabbath School lessons began to come out already in 1915. However, the earliest lessons we have in our library were published in 1922. Beginning with the fourth quarter of 1922, the first two quarterlies dealt with the book of Revelation.
The Sabbat-Waechter (Sabbath Watchman), a monthly magazine, appeared in 1920.
In 1923, Carl Spanknoebel was sent as a missionary to USA. Also Willi O. Welp, the son of Otto Welp, immigrated to America in the same year. Arthur W. Doerschler, the son-in-law of Otto Welp, arrived a little later. Oscar Kramer arrived in the United States in 1925.
Andrei Lavrik, from Bessarabia, Romania, went to Brazil in 1924 to do pioneering work.
The great concern of the Reform brethren in those days (1925–1928) was to send out missionaries and to occupy new territories.
Andrei Cecan from Bessarabia, Romania, went to Brazil in 1926 with his parents. He was a great help to Brother Lavrik. Karl (Carlos) Kozel from Germany, and Iefteni (Eugenio) Laicovschi from Bessarabia, Romania, immigrated to Argentina in 1927.
As far as the international center of operations was concerned, it was decided that the General Conference should, for the time being, share the same building where the German Union had its headquarters, in Wuerzburg. In 1926 the General Conference office was moved from Wuerzburg to Isernhagen, near Hannover, Germany, together with the German Union headquarters.
|Since the General Conference of the Reform Movement was organized, our Sabbath School quarterlies were edited in the name of the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement General Conference and printed by the German Union. Translations from German were made into many other languages. From the time that our GC headquarters were established in USA, translations have been made from English originals.|
As a bigger and much more suitable place had been secured for the two headquarters (General Conference and German Union), a print shop was also set up on the same property. The establishment of the Religious Liberty Publishing Association (Missionsverlag fuer Glaubens-und-Gewissensfreiheit) permitted the development of the colporteur work, which became a very active enterprise.
After so many years have elapsed, we cannot easily distinguish between the work of the General Conference and that of the German Union in the early days of our history.
The first number of the official organ of the SDA Reform Movement General Conference–Der Adventarbeiter (The Advent Worker)–appeared in October 1928.
Reform publications that had been sent overseas and had been scattered in many places generated some response. The seed was already springing up and it was necessary to send workers to answer the Macedonian calls coming from different areas. And there were courageous men who said, through their attitude, "Here am I; send me," showing their willingness to do pioneering work in faraway countries, where they would have to learn a new language and adapt themselves to different living conditions.
|Publication of Der Adventarbeiter (The Advent Worker), organ of the SDA Reform Movement General Conference, began in October 1928.|
Soon after the first General Conference session (1925), internal difficulties began to arise; 1928 was a particularly difficult year for the work in Germany and for the General Conference administration. Wilhelm Richter, president of the German Union, was in opposition to Otto Welp, the General Conference president. During the second General Conference session (1928), the whole committee of the German Union, under the influence of Brother Richter, stood up against the General Conference administration. Albert Mueller, Joseph Adamczak and Kasper Kissener sided with Brother Richter. Brother Richter was removed from his office as president of the German Union, but his committee supported him against the decision of the General Conference. Special efforts were made to convince the German leaders to change their attitude and, after a long discussion, they finally admitted that they were in error. The leadership of the German Union was then given to Brother Mueller. But that was not the end of the trouble. The next day, Brother Richter recanted his confession and continued his opposition. He, together with some of those who continued supporting him, were disfellowshiped. For years he tried to establish his own group but was unsuccessful. During World War II, for some time, he seemed to be reconciled with the leading brethren. But toward the end of the war he fell out with the leadership again. Disgruntled, he went back to the Adventist Church in 1945.
|Articles for the Week of Prayer have been supplied internationally by the SDA Reform Movement General Conference ever since the organization was completed (1925).|
The General Conference was incorporated January 11, 1929. Some of our leaders wanted to know what had become of that registration. So, in 1963, D. Nicolici, plus the author of this book and one more brother went to the registration office at Burgwedel, near Hannover, Germany, and this is what they learned: The German Union was incorporated on March 21, 1927 (this was a second incorporation); and it was dissolved by the Secret State Police May 12, 1936. The General Conference was incorporated January 11, 1929, and dissolved by the Secret State Police May 11, 1936.
The work of reformation had already gained a good foothold in Europe, and, with the help of human and financial means coming from the European countries, Reform missionaries were already working in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. Now it was necessary to answer some urgent calls coming from other parts of the world. According to a report presented by T. T. Ndhlovu, from Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), at the 1931 General Conference session, a European missionary was needed to help in the work in the southern parts of Africa. Eugen Frick and his wife, from Germany, accepted the call. Arrangements were made by the General Conference Executive Committee (meeting at Isernhagen, Germany, August 1931) for Brother and Sister Frick to move to South Africa by the end of September 1931.
Prophetic charts were needed for the work in several places. Martin Hunger, from Germany, was entrusted with the task of preparing these missionary materials.
A small missionary school had already been started at Rama, near Wuerzburg, Germany, in 1920. Yet this was a local initiative. So, during their meeting in August 1931, the Executive Committee of the General Conference decided to establish, in Schwaebisch Hall, Germany, a missionary training center on an international basis for the preparation of workers for the worldwide field. The date for the beginning of the school year was set for April 1, 1932.
|These are some of the publications prepared in Germany in the early days of Reform, explaining why, how, and when the SDA Reform Movement came into existence. A few of these booklets were translated from German into other languages.|
The Executive Committee was filled with concern regarding the preparation of young people for the work. It was evident that each Union was not in a position to establish its own missionary training center. So the Committee decided (July 1932) to recommend the following plan to all Union Conferences: Each local church and group should function as a little school where young men and women should receive a theoretical and practical training for the work.
The Executive Committee (July 1932) still had to deal with one of the questions that had come up during the delegation session in 1931, namely, the latter rain and the loud cry. In one of their resolutions, they declared with reference to the last stage of the work of
"On the basis of the Holy Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy writings concerning the meaning of the loud cry, and the way in which the loud cry is to come, it is our knowledge and conviction that we are not in the loud cry at this time. According to, it is evident that the loud cry will come together with the latter rain. However, we believe that this work of reformation is a fulfillment of in the sense that it is preparing the way for the loud cry."
The next General Conference Executive Committee meeting took place in Heerlen, Holland, December 1933. Still greatly concerned with the need to enter new fields, the Committee sent the following recommendation to all Union Conferences: The leaders of the different Unions should select the most faithful and capable young men, who have already proved that they have a burden for souls and who already have a good experience in the colporteur work, and encourage them to learn foreign languages. If necessary, under special circumstances, the General Conference will cover the expenses involved in this program. As the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy say that workers are to be sent out two and two, this plan must be taken into account by our young men when they make up their mind to start learning a language, in agreement with one another, under the guidance of the Union Committee. Then they can be sent out as colporteurs, two to one country, two to another country, and so on. Pioneering work is to be done through colporteurs.
Our brethren in Europe had to go through fiery trials for a period of approximately ten years (1936–1945).
To flee from religious persecution that was gaining momentum in Germany, Brethren W. Maas and O. Welp went to Holland, A. Rieck to Portugal, A. Mueller to Switzerland, and E. Stark to Denmark.
|In 1926, the General Conference office was installed in this building (Isernhagen, near Hannover, Germany), which was sold shortly before the Reform Movement in Germany was dissolved by the authorities (May 11 and 12, 1936).|
Besides the external problems, which were serious enough, there were also internal problems, as there had been in every period of the church of God. The Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, as well as the history of the church, show that the presence of such things is one of the characteristics of the church militant. Our narrative is not what some people might call "an Egyptian story" (the Egyptian historians would narrate only their victories and say no word about their defeats). If we tried to give the impression that crises never occurred in our history, some of the brethren might object: "The prophesied reformatory movement, according to the Spirit of Prophecy, must face serious internal problems, such as contending against apostasies and apostates, combating dictatorship and the spirit of supremacy, and meeting fanaticism. These problems belong to the prophetic picture of the movement for revival and reformation. Where are they?" Such an objection would be perfectly warranted. We will deal with this question in detail further ahead.
One of the first problems arising in the General Conference administration was that Otto Welp, his son (W. O. Welp), and his son-in-law (A. W. Doerschler) had a serious disagreement with W. Maas, the new president elected in 1934. An atmosphere of tension existed until a reconciliation took place in 1944.
Brethren W. O. Welp, A. W. Doerschler and O. Kramer, who were also called "Denver leaders," were partially satisfied when they realized that at least one aspect of their complaints was not in vain. But they also complained against authoritarianism, as their letters reveal. And this evil, they said, was not removed under the administration of Brother Maas; rather, it was transmitted to the next administration. They stated in one of their letters: "And those who rightfully protested against the [arbitrariness] of the leaders were branded as being in rebellion."
The internal crisis persisted for a long time. External difficulties, instead of being instrumental in settling problems expeditiously, hampered the required solution year after year. Developments in the political world discouraged the idea of convening a General Conference session in those hazardous days.
The situation in Europe was a matter of great concern to our leading brethren. They could see that our people would soon have to go through fiery trials. It was evident that an international conflict was forthcoming. When a new wave of persecution should burst upon them–and when, standing before the authorities, they would be brought face to face with loss of income, loss of property, imprisonment, torture, and even death for the truth’s sake–they should be prepared to give a uniform answer. Therefore, during a meeting held in Budapest, Hungary, June 1938, the General Conference Executive Committee decided, among other things:
"That a declaration be prepared concerning the principles of our faith, which is to be presented to the authorities in countries where difficulties shall arise for our churches."
It was also resolved at that meeting,
"That the next General Conference session be prepared for 1940."
But this decision was not carried out. The tenseness of the international political situation delayed the calling of another General Conference session until 1948.
In 1942 Brother Maas became very ill and passed away on March 12, 1944. Those who were with him the last few days of his life testified that he felt the assurance of sins forgiven and that he was at peace with the Lord and also with his brethren.
A. Mueller, who was living in Switzerland, was appointed by the General Conference Committee to carry the responsibility of the work until the convening of the next General Conference session. So, the General Conference office was transferred from Geulle, Holland, to Basel, Switzerland, and Brother Mueller served the Reform Movement as the General Conference president from 1942 to 1948.
While the war was raging in Europe, the spirit of independence, overzealousness, and fanaticism on the one hand, and the spirit of arbitrariness, with a certain amount of inconsistency in the administration of the new General Conference president on the other hand, tended to upset the work in many places. But by the help of God, "in all these things" those who stood for the truth were "more than conquerors through Him that loved us."
During that gloomy period of persecution and terror, many believers in Europe died as martyrs for the truth’s sake. Others suffered imprisonment, encampment, hunger, cold, and distress. Only by the grace of God were these souls able to remain faithful to the end.
One of the first efforts of the leading brethren right after the end of World War II was to gather information about the condition of our people around the world. Through the postal service it was soon possible to evaluate the situation and form a general picture of the state of things in each country. Hereunder we summarize a report which was published in the Sabbath Watchman, fourth quarter of 1946:
Australia: In but a few years the Lord has brought a fine work into being. The Hebron Missionary College was established, where young men and women are getting a training for the work of the Master. The message of reformation is now spreading to Queensland and Victoria, as well as to New Zealand.
Austria: A number of brethren loved not their lives unto death. The majority of our believers stood faithful, in defense of the truth, during the time of persecution.
Czechoslovakia: The powers of darkness apparently obtained a victory; but the faithful souls have stood firm, holding aloft the banner of the gospel.
Denmark: After the political storm, life is again returning to normal. Our minister there has permission to visit internment camps and hold Bible readings. Sometimes the number of those in attendance amounts to 100.
Finland: In spite of the war, the brethren were able to work for the Lord. A number of souls took their stand for the truth. A good number of workers and colporteurs are now spreading the message.
France: The notorious camp of Gurs lodged many of our brethren, under the most horrible conditions, during the war. But not one of them lost his life. The work of the gospel has been resumed and a number of new souls are ready to make a covenant with the Lord.
Germany: Of a certain number of martyrs it can be said: "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord . . . that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them" (). Brethren J. Adamczak and O. Luft are standing on the walls of Zion together with other brethren to restore that which was torn down. The work of God is growing again. While the storm was raging upon our people in this country, the Lord wrought many miracles in their behalf. Today, songs of praise and thanksgiving ascend again from places where, during the time of persecution, our churches were emptied as brothers and sisters went to prison, leaving their children behind.
Hungary: Our ministers and workers were in prison during the war, and not all of them came out alive.
Italy: Although there were external and internal difficulties, most of our brethren remained firm in the truth. There is much interest in the message of reformation. Over 20 new souls are prepared to join the Reform Movement.
The Netherlands (Holland): The brethren in this country suffered a great deal. Many of them went through concentration camps because of their faith. A few of them are no longer among the living. O. Welp, one of the survivors of the horrors of the concentration camp, is now working with other brethren in the cause of the Lord. The canvassing work has made a new start, and quite a number of souls were added to the church after the war.
North America (United States and Canada): The message of reformation is shining in many places in this vast territory.
Norway: Also in Norway our people went through great trials and survived only by the grace of God.
Poland: Our believers had to suffer very much during the war, and a considerable number of martyrs passed through the valley of death as victors over the powers of darkness.
Portugal: The Lord has blessed the work of A. Rieck. In a few years, seven churches were organized.
Romania: The fires of tribulation did not spare our brethren in Romania. There was an official plan, adopted by the Romanian authorities, not only to destroy our church, but to exterminate all our members. But the Lord did not forget His people. When the fatal blow was about to be struck against them, similarly to what was about to happen to the Jewish people in the days of Queen Esther, God came to their rescue in a miraculous way. A leading brother wrote: "Our brethren have remained faithful in the truth, in this message of reformation. After the war, the Lord made it possible for us to hold large conventions in many places. Hundreds of thousands of tracts were printed, which are now being distributed. Our membership has grown in spite of the war. Praise the Lord for everything."
South American countries: The message of reformation is spreading rapidly. Even among the natives living in the high mountains, in the Andes region, the light has reached many hearts.
Sweden: By the providence of God, Sweden was not involved in the war, and it became an island of refuge for some of our people. W. Korpmann, by the grace of God, managed to escape from Estonia to Sweden to help the cause of God there.
Switzerland remained neutral in face of the international conflict, and it also afforded shelter to some of the brethren who had fled from other countries. Brother A. Mueller found refuge in Switzerland, where the believers were very cooperative, making it possible for him to maintain connections with the work of the Lord in other countries. It was from there that manuscripts for Sabbath School quarterlies were sent out during the troublous years of the war.
Trans-Africa: According to reports received from our leading brother there, twelve African workers are engaged in spreading the message of reformation, which is shining in many places.
Yugoslavia: The cause of God is making good progress. Twelve workers and 46 colporteurs are spreading the message. In 1945, 140 new members were added to the church. Our people went through the "fiery furnace" of persecution in many places, but the merciful hand of God was with them, giving them courage and power to bear the test.
The followers of Christ were called to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (). This verse has played an important role in the Reform Movement from the beginning. We have witnessed a great deal of contention whenever it became necessary to uplift the truth. Why should the SDA Reform Movement claim to be an exception to this rule? The idea of a strifeless reform–an idea which has probably been derived from a misinterpretation of a statement inTestimonies, vol. 8, p. 251–is contrary to what is written in the Bible and in the Spirit of Prophecy. Read The Great Controversy, pp. 397, 398; –413; Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 594, as well as other statements, and you will see that there is no such thing as a reform without obstacles. We can only say: Praise be to God for His mercy, His guidance, and His protection!
The 1948 delegation session was expected to settle most of the problems that had accumulated in the church around the world since the previous session (1934) and especially during the difficult years of the war (1939–1945). However, some of these problems, instead of being solved during the session, were rather aggravated. There was discord in several places and, to some of the brethren, the very survival of the Reform Movement seemed to be threatened. The Denver leaders frankly admitted:
"Never in the experience of this divine work of Reformation was there a crisis of so tremendous an importance as in these days. The enemy of all truth and righteousness is trying to strike a decisive blow against the faithful few in our church in an attempt to destroy the true reformatory spirit among us."–Circular letter of January 9, 1949.
The facts mentioned hereunder set a historic pattern which should not be overlooked.
There was apostasy at Sinai when even Aaron’s eyes were blinded to the enormity of the transgression that he had sanctioned. Sin had to be promptly dealt with. And why was the problem recorded in the history of Israel? "By executing justice upon the guilty, Moses . . . must leave on record a solemn and public protest against their crime. As the Israelites should hereafter condemn the idolatry of the neighboring tribes," they would "acknowledge the disgraceful truth," the shameful apostasy that had occurred in their own camp, but would also "point to the terrible fate of the transgressors" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 325).
"Again and again was ancient Israel afflicted with rebellious murmurers. . . . In many cases, men of renown, rulers in Israel, turned against the providential leading of God and fiercely set to work to tear down that which they had once zealously built up. We have seen something of this repeated many times in our experience."–Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 594.
Consider what happened in the days of Christ and the apostles. Many of the disciples turned against Christ and became His enemies (). "As those disaffected disciples turned away from Christ, a different spirit took control of them. They could see nothing attractive in Him whom they had once found so interesting. They sought out His enemies, for they were in harmony with their spirit and work. They misinterpreted His words, falsified His statements, and impugned His motives. They sustained their course by gathering up every item that could be turned against Him; and such indignation was stirred up by these false reports that His life was in danger" (The Desire of Ages, pp. 392, 393). The distress which that crisis brought to the loyal believers in those days must have been much greater than the distress caused by all the crises that the SDA Reformers have had to go through.
There was a serious disagreement among the delegates at the first general assembly held by the early Christian church in Jerusalem (in the year 51 a.d.?). A decree was formulated with reference to the ceremonial law and the converts among the Gentiles. And what happened? "Not all . . . were pleased with the decision; there was a faction of ambitious and self-confident brethren who disagreed with it. These men assumed to engage in the work on their own responsibility. They indulged in much murmuring and faultfinding, proposing new plans, and seeking to pull down the work of the men whom God had ordained to teach the gospel message. From the first the church has had such obstacles to meet and ever will have till the close of time" (The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 196, 197). It is probably these people that are mentioned in such warnings as recorded in; ; .
The same type of warfare, with the same tactical methods that Satan used in the days of ancient Israel and in the days of Christ and the apostles, he also repeated in the time of Luther, and in the early years of the SDA Church. The servant of the Lord wrote:
" ‘God is sifting His people. He will have a clean and holy church. . . . A corrupt people have arisen who could not live with the people of God. . . . We all have reason to thank God that a way has been opened to save the church; for the wrath of God must have come upon us if these corrupt pretenders had remained with us.’"–Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 99.
"God’s frown has been brought upon the church on account of individuals with corrupt hearts being in it. They have wanted to be the foremost, when neither God nor their brethren placed them there. Selfishness and exaltation have marked their course. . . . And we should praise God that in mercy He has rid the church of them."–Ibid., p. 122.
In the prophesied Reform Movement we had and still expect similar battles. The Spirit of Prophecy warns us:
"The church will yet see troublous times. She will prophesy in sackcloth. But although she must meet heresies and persecutions, although she must battle with the infidel and the apostate, yet by the help of God she is bruising the head of Satan. The Lord will have a people as true as steel, and with faith as firm as the granite rock. . . . Ministers who have preached the truth with all zeal and earnestness may apostatize and join the ranks of our enemies, but does this turn the truth of God into a lie? . . . The faith and feelings of men may change; but the truth of God, never. The third angel’s message is sounding; it is infallible."–Ibid., vol. 4, pp. 594, 595.
"Let the people of God arouse out of sleep and begin in earnest the work of repentance and reformation; . . . and evidence will not be wanting that Satan is still active and vigilant. With all possible deception he will manifest his power, calling to his aid all the fallen angels of his realm."–The Great Controversy, p. 398.
"There never will be a time in the history of the church when God’s worker can fold his hands and be at ease, saying, ‘All is peace and safety.’ . . . As the work of God’s people moves forward with sanctified, resistless energy, planting the standard of Christ’s righteousness in the church, moved by a power from the throne of God, the great controversy will wax stronger and stronger, and will become more and more determined. . . . Truth in its varied phases will be in conflict with error in its ever-varying, increasing forms."–Testimonies to Ministers, p. 407.
In these quotations the reader can see how history has been and will be repeated also in our ranks. The Bible and the writings of E. G. White do not warrant an exemption for the prophesied SDA Reform Movement. Therefore, we praise God for His mercy, guidance, and protection! Throughout our history as a Movement, since 1914, the helping hand of God has been with us in every crisis, and our march has been forward and upward, from victory to victory.
One of the basic characteristics of the Reform Movement is that we do not tolerate open sin. "Christ has plainly taught that those who persist in open sin must be separated from the church" (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 71). "When this instruction has been followed, the church has cleared herself before God. The evil must then be made to appear as it is [it is not to be covered up], and must be removed, that it may not become more and more widespread. The health and purity of the church must be preserved, that she may stand before God unsullied, clad in the robes of Christ’s righteousness" (Testimonies, vol. 7, pp. 262, 263). This work cannot be done without hard struggles, especially when leaders are involved.
From this standpoint, we sympathize with all faithful believers who are sighing and crying for the conditions that they can see in the SDA Church just prior to the close of probation. The Spirit of Prophecy informs:
"Many who once were earnest Adventists are conforming to the world–to its practices, its customs, its selfishness. Instead of leading the world to render obedience to God’s law, the church is uniting more and more closely with the world in transgression. Daily the church is becoming converted to the world."–Ibid., vol. 8, p. 119.
"Pride, avarice, selfishness, and deception of almost every kind are in the church. The Spirit of God, which prompts to reproof, is trampled underfoot, while the servants of Satan triumph. God is dishonored, the truth made of none effect."–Ibid., vol. 5, pp. 210, 211.
"Those who receive the pure mark of truth, wrought in them by the power of the Holy Ghost . . . are those ‘that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done’ in the church."–Ibid., vol. 3, p. 267.
"The abominations for which the faithful ones were sighing and crying were all that could be discerned by finite eyes, but by far the worst sins, those which provoked the jealousy of the pure and holy God, were unrevealed. . . . But He will detect their hypocrisy and will open before others those sins which they were so careful to hide."–Ibid., vol. 5, pp. 211, 212.
There are only two alternatives: If we want to avoid strife, we must allow apostasy to take over, as we read in the above prophetic statements. If we do not want these statements to apply also to the Reform Movement, we must "contend for the faith." These remarks should enable the reader to view our struggles and victories in the right perspective. With this hope we will list problems that we had to overcome during the ten-year period (1945–1955), some of which started even before 1945.
England: After F. Charles was discharged from his leading responsibility in 1935, and after he received unfavorable information about the new General Conference president, W. Maas, he rejected the authority of the General Conference. The consequent division resulted in the formation of two groups, one under the influence of A. Rieck, and the other under the direction of A. W. Doerschler. Brother Nicolici wrote to both parties, advising them to seek a reconciliation and work together. They seemingly agreed. But the separation still lasted for a number of years.
The Netherlands: O. Kramer reported about the problem in Holland as follows: "Matters seemed to have become rather doubtful and intolerable among our top leaders [after Brother Maas had taken refuge in Holland, 1937]. . . . No conferences were held any longer, no reports were rendered, no . . . orderly elections [of General Conference officers] took place. The leading brethren [of the General Conference] simply stayed in office beyond their allotted term. . . . Those who insisted [on the proposal to hold a General Conference session in Holland], sad to say, were unjustly disfellowshiped as rebels. . . . It was evident that the top leaders were using a rather dictatorial attitude." (From a tape.) A division took place which continued after the death of Brother Maas (March 12, 1944) and even after the end of World War II.
Germany: J. Adamczak, president of the German Union, who had been the chairman of the 1948 General Conference delegation session, had a disagreement with C. Kozel and A. Mueller, respectively president and vice president of the General Conference. In 1949, with the support of a certain number of brethren, he began to show these two brethren where he disagreed with them. In 1950 he wrote:
"Since the conference at The Hague [Holland], 1948, I have had the most terrible conflicts with myself. I have spent many sleepless nights for the sake of the cause of God. . . . The thought that there could eventually be a split aroused in me the greatest fear and disgust. . . . Resolutions and principles are being applied at will. . . . There is a little group of men who act exactly like the Pharisees in the days of Christ."–Adamczak’s circular letter of April 5, 1950.
New Zealand: Fred Williams, from New Zealand, started an agitation against the Australasian Union, because at the Union delegation session (1947) he did not get what he wanted. And he had a group of supporters. It was their purpose to separate the New Zealand Field from the Union, together with a building which was owned by the Union in New Zealand. Through a lawyer, the Union warned them that they could not legally take possession of the property. There was no court action. Shortly before the 1948 General Conference session, the Lord put an end to the trouble. Some of the men who were implicated in the difficulty joined the Adventist Church, while others confessed and returned to the Reform Movement. Even Fred Williams, who carried the main responsibility in that agitation, admitted that he had done wrong. Later he became reconciled with the brethren and died as a faithful member of our church.
Portugal: A. Rieck, who had been the General Conference secretary from 1934 through 1948, and who was the leader of the work in Portugal when trouble started in Germany, sided with Brother Adamczak in his opposition to Brethren Kozel and Mueller. Brother Kozel went to Lisbon, Portugal, to try and correct Brother Rieck, and, if possible, remedy the situation. An interview took place August 4, 1949. Brother Kozel had no success. This division continued until the death of Brother Rieck (1960?).
Romania: Before the General Conference session in 1948, the enemy caused some disturbance among our brethren in Romania. There was an accusation against the Union president. Albert Mueller, the General Conference president, accepted the findings of the other leading brethren of the Romanian Union, who were not able to convict their president. Brother Mueller believed the claim of innocence of that brother and never bothered to investigate the matter. For this cause, a group of protesting brethren separated themselves from the church. There were two parties since l946. Brother Kozel was informed about it, as one of his letters shows (Nov. 11, 1946). The problem remained unsolved until 1956, when Brother Nicolici was able to visit Romania. Although the accused leader never admitted the charge brought against him, there were other reasons which required or justified his disfellowshipment.
South Africa and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe): The Union president violated point 18 of ourPrinciples of Faith (1925), becoming unfit, not only for the ministry, but also for membership. To settle the problem, A. Mueller, the General Conference vice president, accompanied by S. Eggarter, was sent to that area in 1950. Brother Mueller only removed the guilty man from the presidency, not withdrawing his ministerial credentials. And those who protested against this "solution" were disfellowshiped. In spite of repeated appeals, the problem was left uncorrected by the General Conference president. Result: Separation in South Africa and growing tension among some of the leaders of the Reform Movement.
United States: The leaders of the American Union had serious objections against the methods of three successive General Conference presidents, Brethren W. Maas, A. Mueller, and C. Kozel. They complained especially about the bureaucracy, the authoritarianism, the kingly power, which they said was evident in the brethren in high offices. Finally, Brother Kozel decided to take action against them. They were disfellowshiped in the presence and with the approval of Brother Kozel (March 4, 1949). Concerning this unfortunate experience, the leaders of the American Union wrote in their circular letter of April 12, 1949:
"As Brother Kozel has repeatedly demanded ‘unconditional submission’ as the only way to unity, without the slightest hint of a possible agreement, we ask: Is this procedure based on a Christian and democratic principle? Or does this remind us of the spirit which is predominant in worldly dictatorships? . . . It is apparent to us that, because of selfish interests, the work of God is now going through a serious crisis. . . . Without any investigation of the difficulties, we have been separated from the Reform [Movement] through an arbitrary act."
These were the major local divisions that existed under the administration of Brethren Mueller and Kozel.
|Resolution adopted by the GC delegation in session, 1948, about the establishment of the GC headquarters in the United States.|
|Decision about acceptance of the Constitution and Bylaws for the incorporation of the SDA Reform Movement General Conference in the United States (From the GC minute book, April 4, 1949).|
The fifth General Conference delegation made the following resolution (July 15, 1948):
"We the undersigned delegates of the General Conference empower the Executive Committee–the president, vice president, and secretary–to revise the Constitution of our Movement in harmony with the law and the Testimonies, and also to respect and include the points of doctrine upon which we agreed at this conference, and also to formulate the Constitution Rules and Regulations upon which our Movement is to function, and also to express clearly the way of our organization as a Movement."
During the 1948 General Conference session, the delegates, assembled in the name of the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement General Conference, also decided to transfer the General Conference headquarters to the United States, as previously mentioned. The Reform Movement, as a worldwide organization, was incorporated in Sacramento, California, USA, on April 8, 1949. The General Conference office was established at 3031 Franklin Boulevard, Sacramento, California.
For one year after the disagreement which occurred in May 1951, there was a peculiar situation which does not exist today: There were two groups of leaders in conflict with each other, but only one denomination, the SDA Reform Movement General Conference, with headquarters in Sacramento, California, USA, with which both groups professed to remain affiliated until May 1952. And, according to an agreement signed by both parties right after the second lawsuit (May 7, 1952), both sides recognized each other as members and leaders of only one and the same corporation, as just mentioned, one year after the conference of May 1951.
There have been two corporations only since June 6, 1952, when Brethren Kozel, Mueller and Ringelberg reorganized themselves separately from our Unions and Fields, without any delegation, but together with the disfellowshiped Denver leaders. This is what led to the formation of a separate corporation, the International Missionary Society with worldwide headquarters in Denmark and later in Germany. Through the shaking that took place in those days, the SDA Reform Movement lost a little over 2,000 souls.
After the disagreement of May 1951, we thought that the election of two separate General Conference Committees, under the same name, within the same corporation, would be regarded as only a temporary measure until the convening of a new delegation session, with a legal majority of representatives of the membership from both sides, for a joint election of only one General Conference Committee, as required by principle (Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 237). But the leaders of the separated brethren did not take that for granted. They decided that their decisions and actions, though one-sided and based on a minority of the membership, were to be definite and irrevocable, regardless of the principle which says that "the entire body of believers," through its legally appointed delegates "from all parts of the earth" (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 96; Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 261), is the voice of God, the highest authority on earth.
|General Conference headquarters of the SDA Reform Movement, Sacramento, California, USA (1949-1969).|
Therefore, the impasse between the two parties has hinged on the following question which we have often put to the leaders of those brethren: Do you agree that all the Unions and Fields together, through their legally elected representatives, respecting the principle of equal rights and duties (; Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, pp. 134–137), have had authority, from the beginning of the crisis, to revise and correct the decisions and actions of the divided leaders (both sides) who could not come to an agreement in 1951? Or do you expect us to recognize as final authority the unilateral resolutions and actions of those leaders (Brethren Kozel, Mueller, and their supporters and successors) who could not see the need to "labor in harmony with the decisions arrived at by the general body of believers in united council" (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 199)?
|Constitution, Bylaws, and Fundamental Beliefs of the SDA Reform Movement General Conference (beginning of first page and end of last page), signed April 8, 1949.|
|Certificate of Incorporation of the SDA Reform Movement General Conference, April 8, 1949, issued by the state of California, USA.|
The fact that the first alternative has been rejected, as if our Unions and Fields had no voice in the solution of the crisis, and that the second alternative has been maintained since May 1951, is the reason why, until now, there has been no solution to the impasse.
However, we have not remained indifferent toward our separated brethren. Again and again we assured them that we still love them and that we are seriously interested in a genuine reconciliation and reunification on the basis of the truth, and in the way ordained of the Lord, namely, through a joint election of the General Conference officers (Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 237), at a legal General Conference delegation session. Dating from October 10, 1951, our position was made clear to them, repeatedly, as follows:
The highest authority of God on earth–an assembly of legally elected representatives from all the Unions and Fields (both sides together)–should examine the facts that caused the division for which both sides blame each other and withdraw the "thorns" from the "wound." Corrections must be made wherever needed. Right principles must be restored and wrong principles must be discarded.
Since the great shaking (1948–1952), which was deplored by some and applauded by others, it has been our great concern to restore fundamental principles which belong to the people of God, such as: the moral integrity of the ministry, which had been unfortunately neglected for years before 1951; the unity of the faith (if anyone advocates divorce and remarriage, for example, he cannot occupy a position in the leadership); the true concept of "General Conference" and the authority of the church (according to Principles of Faith, part III, section D; Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 26, and vol. 3, p. 451; The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 96, 199, 200;); the golden rule ( ; Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pp. 134–137; The Desire of Ages, p. 414; Sketches from the Life of Paul, p. 69); elimination of all traces of authoritarianism or Romanism (Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 361, 362).
By the help of God, we obtained specific answers to these questions: Do delegates have authority to disfellowship delegates from the church at a General Conference session (The Desire of Ages, pp. 441, 805, 806;Testimonies, vol. 7, pp. 263, 264; Early Writings, p. 100)? Do a few delegates, representing only a small minority of the membership, have authority to form an exclusive group and organize themselves separately by refusing a joint reorganization (Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 237; Selected Messages, bk. 2, p. 374)? When there is a serious disagreement at the General Conference level, do a few leaders have authority to refuse to submit the problem to the legal authority of the church by refusing to listen to the voice of the whole body of believers in a general assembly of representatives (The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 96, 199, 200; Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 261) and bring the matter before a worldly court (Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 248, 249; Manuscript Releases, vol. 5, pp. 296, 413, 415, 418; Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 7, p. 27)? These are some of the controversial issues which also involve principles and which lie at the cause of the division.
The leadership of the separated brethren, also, defined their position on the basis of Brother Kozel’s letter of March 16, 1955, in answer to our renewed appeal for a settlement of the impasse:
"If they want peace, then there is only one way: They must dissolve their General Conference and their churches; give back to us the properties that they have stolen; and send back to our churches the honest members who are imbued with a spirit of sincere repentance. Then, after a long period of probation, they may be accepted back into the church, but without offices. Of course, they will not go this way of humiliation through the desert."
This stand has been taken by the leaders of the separated brethren, officially, from the very beginning of the crisis, when both sides still formed one and the same denomination, when they still professed to belong to one and the same corporation together with us (agreement signed May 7, 1952). Although the majority of their most responsible leaders have confirmed this position again and again, even in writing, some of their leaders have admitted to us their disappointment. They can see that this attitude does not have the approval of God, who warned us through His servant:
"Is the president of the General Conference to be the god of the people? . . . The Lord has a controversy with His people over this matter. Why have they left the Lord their God . . . ? Just as soon as man is placed where God should be . . . his powers become unsanctified and perverted. He feels competent to judge his fellowmen, and he strives unlawfully to be a god over them. . . . Men, saved only by the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus, have no right to seek to exalt themselves above their fellowmen."–Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 375–378.
"To no man has been appointed the work of being a ruler over his fellowmen."–Ibid., p. 495. Read also pp. 279, 280.
"That which makes me feel to the very depths of my being, and makes me know that their works are not the works of God, is that they [finite men] suppose they have authority to rule their fellowmen. The Lord has given them no more right to rule others than He has given others to rule them. Those who assume the control of their fellowmen take into their finite hands a work that devolves upon God alone."– Ibid., p. 76.
The spirit which engendered this type of difficulties in the Reform Movement did not begin its work in 1951; it existed much earlier. The leaders of the American Union (Brethren Welp, Doerschler, Kramer) were the first to denounce this form of "corruption" (this is the term that they used) in their letters and circular letters (from the second half of 1948 to the beginning of 1952). This strange spirit was gaining ground much earlier, in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, when God used His servant to sound the alarm: "The General Conference is itself becoming corrupted with wrong sentiments and principles. . . . Common fire has been used in place of the sacred. . . . Men have taken unfair advantage of those whom they supposed to be under their jurisdiction. They were dertermined to bring the individuals to their terms; they would rule or ruin. . . . The highhanded power that has been developed, as though position has made men gods, makes me afraid. . . . It is a curse wherever and by whomsoever it is exercised."– Ibid., pp. 359–361.
Since the beginning of the great shaking, we have realized that we were not the only ones who were struggling to see strange principles discarded and holy principles restored. And today (1996) we are more hopeful than ever, because many of the separated brethren, with whom we stand on good terms, assure us that they, too, are doing their part. Sooner or later, the honest and faithful SDA Reformers from both sides, who have the principles of Christ’s kingdom restored in their hearts, together with all other sincere and reform-minded Adventists, who are also lifting up the standards of truth, will be united in one fold ().
As the work was growing, new steps had to be taken in the interest of the furtherance of the message of reformation.
During a General Conference Executive Committee meeting held in Sacramento, California, USA, in March 1958, an important decision was made. It was agreed that, in our future Sabbath School quarterlies, we would use only the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. And this method has had the wholehearted approval of our brethren in general and of many reform-minded Adventists who study our lessons.
Another point on the agenda was the need to attend Union Conference sessions in several countries and to visit new fields in answer to repeated Macedonian calls. It was decided that A. Lavrik would go to Europe to conduct conference sessions in Germany, Yugoslavia, and Austria, and to follow up interests in other countries, particularly Spain and Portugal, while D. Nicolici would go to such countries as Nigeria, South Africa, India, Philippines, and Australia.
Early in 1958 there was some agitation in the SDA denomination because of the ideas brought out in the book Questions on Doctrine. Seeing the need, we printed and distributed on a large scale the pamphlet After Seventy Years, which awakened widespread interest and met with a wonderful response from many Adventists in different places. This increased not only the office work of the responsible brethren but also their traveling.
While Brother Nicolici was in Nigeria, he was in continual contact with the General Conference office, keeping us informed of the development of the work there. And many of us thought that a wonderful work had been started in that country. But that which seemed to be a great success was not a success at all. The men who Brother Nicolici thought could be trusted proved to be untrustworthy. Through our disappointment we learned one more lesson–the need for much more caution.
When Brother Nicolici arrived in South Africa, he had to face a crisis. Under the influence of E. Jans, the brethren there were divided. A few days later, we received official news at the General Conference office that unity had been restored, and that Brother Jans had apologized for his unsuccessful management of church affairs and for the way he and his father-in-law, O. Schallge, had dealt with the members. Brother Jans, who seemed to be reconciled with the leadership of the Reform Movement, was nevertheless separated from the church, but he found his way back after a few years.
While Brother Nicolici was still in South Africa, a telegram arrived at the General Conference office saying that he was critically ill. He was down with malaria, with which he had been infected in Nigeria, and had to be taken to the hospital. With sorrowful hearts this news had to be imparted to the new fields that were anxiously awaiting his arrival. All our Union Conferences were informed about Brother Nicolici’s condition, and prayers were offered by our believers everywhere in behalf of his restoration. With great anxiety the brethren at the General Conference office waited for further news day after day. As no news came, they made a phone call to find out how Brother Nicolici was doing, and, on hearing his voice, they were assured that he was on the way to recovery.
When his work in South Africa was finished, Brother Nicolici was able to continue his trip as scheduled. In the same year, 1958, he visited India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. That was the first time that these countries received the visit of one of our workers. In India, some contacts were made and the precious seed of the present truth was sown, but a major harvest did not appear until many years later. In the Philippines, immediate results were seen.
In Europe, Brother Lavrik made important contacts in Portugal and Spain. In Barcelona, Spain, he organized a little group of Reform believers. The question, Who will be sent to several new fields in answer to the call for workers? was left for the prospective General Conference session to be held in 1959.
During the General Conference session, 1959, an agreement was made that the General Conference Executive Committee would be responsible for appointing the missionaries to be sent to the new fields. Accordingly, Alex N. Macdonald accepted the call to go to Nigeria and Joao Devai volunteered to go to Portugal.
The call for a missionary to the Philippines became very urgent. So the General Conference Executive Committee asked I. W. Smith if he would be willing to go there for a period of time. He and his wife accepted the call. They made nearly all the preparations necessary for their journey. They sold their furniture and their car. Their passage was booked and paid for. And they were prepared to sail shortly after the conference in Sacramento, June 1960. At the conference, however, Brother Smith was asked to take charge of the American Field. He said he accepted that responsibility with great reluctance because his heart was in the Philippines.
Under those conditions, the sending of a missionary to the Philippines was delayed for one more year, until John Nicolici and his wife offered themselves to go there for two years.
To develop the work in Central America, the Executive Committee appointed a minister from Argentina, Carmelo Palazzolo. He settled down with his family in Guatemala City, Guatemala, in 1962. Before their arrival in Guatemala, colporteurs from Argentina and from Peru had already done a good deal of pioneering work in several Central American countries for three years.
Since the arrival of Brother Lavrik in the United States, in 1959, to assume his new responsibility, there was a tense atmosphere in Sacramento, California. The problem, which involved both the General Conference administration and the American Field Conference, had its origin in a decision made at the General Conference session of 1959, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, establishing the merger plan.
In 1960, the work in the United States was reorganized on an experimental basis, which at that time was called "the merger."
Soon after Brother Lavrik arrived in USA, the General Conference Executive Committee began working to formulate a plan for the merger of the American Union Conference with the General Conference. The hope of the brethren was that this plan would give greater force to the work in the United States and that our membership would be built up both to the benefit of the local interests and of the General Conference administration.
In their first efforts to carry the plan through, they saw good possibility of success, as all had given their agreement to the general idea of a merger, but it was in the implementation of this plan that differences began to take shape.
In the merger plan, one of the first decisions made for the development of the local work was to form an Education Department and to start missionary training classes, as well as an elementary school. This project was started at the beginning of 1960. Brother Smith was appointed to be one of the teachers in the missionary training course which lasted over six months.
To implement the merger plan, a combined form of organization and administration was adopted by the delegation at the conference in Sacramento (June 1960). It was agreed that this arrangement would be kept up until the next General Conference session, 1963, when a final decision would be taken on the matter. Under this temporary plan the General Conference was to take the responsibility for the state of California excepting two counties, while all the rest of the territory of the United States would form the American Field Conference. The experimental period proved that the merger plan was not viable.
In 1960, letters and reports received at the General Conference office showed that the worldwide interest in the message of reformation was growing continually, and our ministers, workers, as well as many lay members felt the burden of bringing the message to those who were hungering and thirsting for the truth.
The brethren at the General Conference office continued to keep in contact with the new fields, to maintain the work and interest that had been started; but, alas!, there were no missionaries available to locate in those places. Another handicap at that time was that of insufficient funds for the work in foreign missions. Our native pastors and evangelists, who were doing their best to carry on the work in their respective countries, were in great difficulty because they had very little means of support or transportation facilities. Some money was sent to them from the General Conference office, as well as clothing, Bibles, and other literature. Forty-five parcels were sent out in one of the shipments from Sacramento. But what the brethren had been able to do from the USA was almost like a drop in a bucket compared with what it would have taken to firmly establish the work in those countries.
Special mention should be made of the sacrifices of our brethren in Canada, Germany, and other Unions to support our new missionary fields. Considerable sums of money, as well as clothing, books, and tracts were sent to Africa, India, and the Philippines.
We came to the end of the administrative period 1959–1963 with thankful hearts, because we had new evidences that the merciful hand of God was with His people.
During the administrative period 1963–1967, closer contacts were established with our brethren in Romania and Bulgaria under severe political restrictions and great risks of imprisonment and increased persecution. In 1964 Brethren A. Lavrik and W. Volpp visited Romania and contacted some of our leaders. Several brethren, mostly ministers and workers, were still in communist prisons. The report that the two visiting brethren brought back told of many hardships and much oppression. Nevertheless, underground visits were carried on throughout the following years. And our Sabbath School quarterlies which were put into their hands were instrumental in keeping our people united.
In 1963, the General Conference delegation voted to dissolve the merger and restore the American Field Conference, which was done at a conference held in Sacramento, July 20–26, 1964. Concerning this administrative step, Brother Smith wrote in his circular letter of August 4, 1964:
"As most of you will recall, the work in the United States has existed, particularly since 1961, under an unusual form of organization, partly under the direct administration of the General Conference and the remaining portion under a Field Conference organization. This experiment, as we might call it, was entered into with the best interests of the work in view, but unforeseen and unwelcome difficulties arose which made it evident to all that it was impracticable; hence, after requests made from the membership here (i.e., from the United States), a resolution was made by the General Conference session of 1963 that the regular form of organization be restored. It was at this recent conference (held in Sacramento, California, USA, July 20–26, 1964) that the restoration was brought into effect."
Although the former and regular form of organization was restored, the tension between the two constituencies, or rather, between the Field leader and the General Conference president, continued to grow until the General Conference Executive Committee was forced to intervene. The result was that the American Field Conference was dissolved June 16, 1965.
Harmony between the Field and the General Conference administration was restored when the representatives of the Field, who refused to accept the decision of the General Conference Executive Committee, appealed to the General Conference delegation during the session held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1967. J. Nicolici, the Field president, was then given a hearing and, as far as past disagreements were concerned, the matter was settled.
During that same period (1963–1967) there was a crisis in South Africa. The leader of the brethren of European ethnicity, together with the majority of the members of that group, decided to return to the Adventist Church. When Brother Smith and his wife arrived there in 1964, it was too late to help them. They had left us. For a good number of years, however, the self-denying service rendered by Brother and Sister Smith in South Africa was a substantial help to the Trans-African Union. The little health food industry that they established, called "Mission Health Foods," proved to be an asset to the work at the beginning. Later on, when competition increased and threatened to stifle the project, it was deemed advisable to sell it.
Due to the fact that the area where the General Conference office was located (3031 Franklin Boulevard, Sacramento, California, USA) was becoming more and more deteriorated, the office was temporarily moved to Los Angeles (1969) and then to Blackwood, New Jersey (1970).
|General Conference headquarters, Blackwood, New Jersey, USA (1970–1984).|
A parcel of land (30 acres with several buildings on it, plus two more buildings added later) was purchased by the Eastern US Field in the area of Franklinville, New Jersey, about 20 miles from Blackwood. For a number of years, the offices of the General Conference operated from that property. It was thought, at first, that these two properties would satisfy the needs of our General Conference administration. But, after a few years, the increase in industrial pollution and the deterioration of the area showed the need to find a better place.
Workers transferred during the quadrennium 1967–1971: A. N. Macdonald moved from Nigeria to USA in 1967; F. Devai and family, from Argentina to USA in 1968; and A. C. Sas and family from Brazil to Australia in 1969. At first Brother Sas worked only for the Australasian Union; later his services were required in the new Fields which were opened in the Asian-Pacific Region.
Three new Fields were opened during the period 1971–1975–Zaire (1972), Indonesia (1973), and South Korea (1975–1978).
In 1972, A. Balbach and family were transferred from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Sacramento, California, USA, where he was given ministerial and editorial responsibilities. J. Devai and his family were transferred from Portugal back to South America. F. Devai Papp and family were sent from Uruguay to Portugal to take the place of J. Devai. In 1974, Noboru Sato was sent from Brazil to Japan to start the work in his native country.
By a decision of the General Conference Executive Committee (1972), the editorial work in connection with the Standard Bearer, a magazine of general interest, was given to Brother Balbach. He was also requested to prepare a series of studies for SDAs. After all the improvements recommended by the Literature Review Committee had been made, the Good Way Series, comprising 13 studies, were finally given to the Publishing Department at the end of 1988.
Brethren A. C. Sas and C. T. Stewart were given the responsibility of preparing a draft for two publications (1974)–The Ministerial Guide, setting forth the duties of ministers, and The Church Officers’ Guide, dealing with the duties of church officers. The manuscripts were submitted to the General Conference session in 1975. The delegation placed them into the hands of a special committee for improvement. These two materials were printed and sent to the Unions and Fields in 1982.
From 1975 through 1979 the Lord helped us organize the work in three new fields–Dominican Republic (1976), South India (1976), and South Korea (1978).
The need for a book dealing with the history of the Reform Movement had often been mentioned. For the first time (November 1975), the General Conference Executive Committee took a positive step in this direction and resolved that the General Conference secretary be authorized to collect from the Unions and Fields as much data as possible concerning the history of the Reform Movement. Unions, Fields and individual persons were approached for this purpose. Information and pictures were collected little by little, and the brother in charge started writing the book (this present book) in 1986.
The General Conference Executive Committee discussed (March 17, 1976) the possibility of establishing a missionary training center in Europe. In this connection, the German Union submitted a plan which was to answer the needs of the European countries as follows: A nine-month training program to be divided into three parts–three months of theoretical instructions, three months of practical work, and again three months of theory. This work began in Hofheim, near Frankfurt, on May 16, 1976. A minister (Gabrijel Popek) from Yugoslavia was invited to attend so that he could later organize and conduct a similar training program in his country. The plan was carried into effect with success. There was an attendance of about 15 students. It is to be regretted that this plan was not continued.
In harmony with a decision of the General Conference Executive Committee (March 1976), Daniel Dumitru spent about two months in Southern Africa (end of July through end of September 1976) training colporteurs and testing the market for our books. That was to be a preparatory step for the sending of colporteurs from Brazil to South Africa at that time. For several reasons, however, the carrying out of the plan was delayed until 1986, when the first Brazilian canvassers arrived in South Africa and began to work with much success.
In view of the reasons for our existence as the prophesied Reform Movement, the General Conference Executive Committee decided (September 20, 1977) to instruct our editors and preachers to put more emphasis on the message of Christ’s Righteousness and to show more clearly the relationship between faith and obedience.
In 1979, immediately before the General Conference session, an international youth congress took place at Bushkill, Pennsylvania, USA, August 31 through September 2, 1979.
The following workers were transferred during the administrative period 1975–1979: Pablo Briones, from Peru to Mexico (1978); Milivoj Dimitrijevic, from the Philippines to Australia (1979); Francisco Devai Papp, from Portugal to Argentina (1979).
In 1975 our Publishing Department (Reformation Herald Publishing Association) printed large quantities of the following paperbacks for distribution:
The Great Controversy (also in Spanish)
The Desire of Ages (also in Spanish)
Health and Happiness (The Ministry of Healing)
Steps to Christ (also in Spanish)
Calls from Sri Lanka were answered, and a little group of Reform believers was established in 1980–1981.
In 1982 the Central American Field was reorganized as follows: Guatemala and El Salvador became one Mission (the Guatemalan Mission), and Honduras became a Field by itself (the Missionary Field of Honduras).
In 1982–1983 the work of Reform was established in French Polynesia.
Until 1983 we had only one missionary school in South America–the one in Brazil–where also some students from other countries received a training. The need for a missionary training center in a Spanish-speaking area, for young men and women from all Hispanic countries, was often considered. Such a school was established, with the help of God and the assistance of the General Conference, at Puente Piedra, near Lima, Peru, in 1983.
In 1979, N. S. Brittain, with his family, was transferred from Australia to South Africa, and I. W. Smith from South Africa to USA. Moises Quiroga, from Brazil, worked in Iberia (Portugal and Spain) for one year (1980–1981). Pablo Briones could not get a resident visa in Mexico; so he moved to Honduras (1981). Esmeraldo Heredia was transferred from Chile to Portugal (1982), and Jung Kum Bai from Korea to the United States (1982).
|Temporarily (1984–1995), the General Conference used several small buildings on a 10-acre lot that was secured for the building of the GC headquarters (Roanoke, Virgina, USA). In front of one of these buildings are the members of the GC Council elected in 1983.|
Until 1983 we did not have any members in Northeast India. But, toward the end of 1983, the Lord opened the way and the message found access to that area.
Early in 1983, one more country was reached by the message of reformation. W. Volpp, and later N. S. Brittain, visited Kenya, East Africa, and confirmed the souls that were waiting for our representatives. A. C. Sas was there in 1985, when a substantial number of souls were added to the church. In 1995, we had over ten workers spreading the message in Kenya.
For many years we had interested people in Burma, but were not able to get a visa to visit them. A door was opened for the first time in 1985, when a minister from North India Mission, who has no problem getting across the border, spent over two months with them, baptized those that were ready, and organized a group.
Also, in 1984, the General Conference headquarters were transferred from Blackwood, New Jersey, to Roanoke, Virginia.
The following workers were transferred during the quadrennium 1983–1987: Brethren Chang Chong Kyu, from the Philippines to the USA (1985); Kim Jung Shin, from Korea to Japan (1984); Herinaldo Gomes, from Brazil to Venezuela (1985) and later to Ecuador; Dorival Dumitru from Brazil to Puerto Rico (1985).
The work in Martinique and Guadeloupe, overseas departments of France, in the West Indies, was started in 1987, when Edgar Mariassouce, from French Polynesia, accepted the call to locate in Martinique.
The Samoan Islands, in the Pacific Ocean, were reached by the message of reformation in 1988, when A. C. Sas baptized a few souls and organized a group.
Angola, West Africa, received our visit for the first time in 1990. A group of reform-minded Adventists were baptized and organized by Jorai P. da Cruz from Portugal (January–February 1990).
In Mozambique, East Africa, the first group of Reformers was organized by Rubens de J. Araujo in 1990.
Important contacts were made in mainland China, Taiwan, Ghana, Malawi and French Guyana. The most promising of these missionary fields, in 1991, seemed to be China.
The Andean Union was dissolved in September 1988, and the three countries which formed that Union (Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela) were reorganized as Fields directly attached to the General Conference, with the agreement that they would work to become Union Conferences as early as practicable.
The Danube Union was dissolved in September 1990, and the three countries that integrated that Union were reorganized as follows: Hungarian Field and Poland-Czechoslovakia Field.
The Trans-African Union Mission was dissolved in March 1991, and its constituent Fields (Botswana, Zaire, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Natal-Transvaal, and Resda) were directly attached to the General Conference as autonomous Fields.
In January 1990, while Brethren W. Volpp and A. N. Macdonald were visiting Ghana and Nigeria, West Africa, Brother Macdonald became ill. Feeling better, he decided to go on a local trip, while Brother Volpp proceeded to Kenya. Upon his return from his trip, Brother Macdonald felt suddenly worse and died in the home of G. R. Harrison, our leading brother in Nigeria.
In compliance with a resolution made by the General Conference Council in 1988, a missionary course was conducted in Graz, Austria, from November 14, 1989 through June 20, 1990. There was an attendance of nine students from different countries. It was planned that this seminar would be a preliminary step in the establishment of a missionary school in Europe. Of those nine students, four were employed in the work of the church after the seminar.
|Presidents of the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement General Conference: Otto Welp (1925–1934), Wilhelm Maas (1934–1942), Albert Mueller (1942–1948), Carlos Kozel (1948–1951), Dumitru Nicolici (1951–1959), Andrei Lavrik (1959–1963), Clyde T. Stewart (1963–1967), Francisco Devai (1967–1979), Wilhelm Volpp (1979–1983), Joao Moreno (1983–1991), Neville S. Brittain(1991–1995), Alfredo C. Sas (1995– ).|
In the early part of 1990, an important problem was settled among the Romanian brethren. A large portion of the membership, forming three Field Conferences, complained that they were not integrated, as they had no representation, when the Romanian Union Conference was reorganized in 1984, under prohibitive circumstances. After the revolution in Romania, when religious liberty was granted to the people, a special effort was made to reconcile those Fields with the Union. By the grace of God, unity was restored in April-May 1990.
During the period 1987–1991, transfers of workers occurred as follows: Brethren N. S. Brittain, from South Africa to Australia (1988); Rubens de J. Araujo, from Brazil to South Africa (1988); A. C. Sas, from Australia to USA (1989); Jorai P. da Cruz, from Brazil to Portugal (1989); Esmeraldo Heredia, from Portugal to Chile (1989); Jose Angel Senior, from the Dominican Republic to Spain (1989); Emilson Motta, from Chile to Italy (1990).
In coordination with each other, the North American Fields, the German Union, and the General Conference sent 10,000 Bibles to Romania in 1990; 2,000 of these Bibles were designated for our Romanian-speaking brethren in Moldavia.
During the same administrative period (1987–1991), our colporteurs (in 22 countries) sold about 2,500,000 books worth about 12 million dollars.
Thanks to the political changes that took place in Europe from 1987 through 1991, religious freedom was restored in Romania, Russia, and Bulgaria. In these countries, our people are now free to hold their meetings and services openly and legally. But the question is: for how long?
Blessed be the Lord for His help! We have often seen the presence of His merciful hand with us. The cause is His, and He will take care of His work.
In the early part of 1991, the SDA Reform Movement with headquarters in Roanoke, Virginia, USA, and the International Missionary Society with headquarters in Mosbach, Germany, appointed representatives from each side for the so-called Unification Committee. Peace dialogues were started and a unification plan was adopted on the basis of three agreements signed in 1991. But, during the IMS delegation session held in Ecuador, March–April 1993, the hard-liners carried the majority of votes; and the unification plan already accepted by both General Conference Councils, according to the three agreements, was rejected.
Our second international youth congress was held in the beautiful Waldensian valley, at a place called Bobbio Pelice, near Turin, Italy, in August 1994. There were attendants from many Unions and Fields, even from distant countries, such as Australia, Brazil, India, Korea.
|Temporarily (1984–1995), the General Conference used several small buildings on a 10-acre lot that was secured for the building of the GC headquarters (Roanoke, Virgina, USA). In front of one of these buildings are the members of the GC Council elected in 1983.|
Workers transferred during the quadrennium 1991–1995: Chang Won Jun (Nehemiah), from the United States to Japan (1991); Herinaldo Gomes, from Ecuador to Brazil (1992); Luiz Araujo, from Brazil to Portugal (1994); Emilson Motta, from Italy to Brazil (1995).
|General Conference headquarters, Roanoke, Virginia, USA, dedicated in 1995.|
An important feat which was accomplished in 1994 was the distribution of two challenging books, The Great Controversy (over 300,000 copies) and The New World Order (over 4,000,000 copies), in cooperation with an independent Adventist ministry of reform-minded brethren, in twelve or more countries. The results were encouraging. While there were some negative responses from bigoted individuals who were enraged at the contents of these books, a great number of letters were received from people who wanted to know more about the truth and especially about the impending crisis which is coming upon the world. Many doors were thus opened for Bible studies.
Another important accomplishment during this administrative period was the building of the edifice for the General Conference headquarters in Roanoke, Virginia, USA, in l994–l995.