Selected Messages Book 3


Chapter 21—Ellen G. White Reports on the Minneapolis Conference

A Statement Presenting the Historical Backgrounds

This chapter presents a statement by Ellen White prepared a few weeks after the close of the General Conference of 1888. She looks back upon the scene and describes what took place. The meetings at Minneapolis came into better perspective as the months elapsed, and Ellen White's statement is most enlightening and significant. A brief review of the historical setting is in place. 3SM 156.1

The Minneapolis General Conference was notable for the Bible studies and discussions on the law in Galatians and on the righteousness of Christ received by faith. 3SM 156.2

This session, attended by ninety-one delegates, was held October 17 to November 4 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in our newly built church. As is customary, a number of Seventh-day Adventists who were not delegates were also present. The session was preceded by a seven-day ministerial institute, which met from October 10 through October 16. The Bible studies commenced in the institute in some cases continued into the General Conference session, occupying the Bible study hour. 3SM 156.3

Ellen White was present and participated in both the institute and the nineteen-day session. The session itself was quite routine, but constructive. Reports were received and meetings of various associations, such as Sabbath School, Health and Temperance, and Tract and Missionary, were held. Fields of labor were assigned to the ministers, plans were laid for the advancement of the cause, officers were elected, and committees appointed. 3SM 156.4

An on-the-ground review of accomplishments and sentiments comes to us from the pen of W. C. White, who, two days before the close of the session, wrote to a fellow minister laboring in the Southern States: 3SM 157.1

“We are just at the close of another General Conference, and in a few days the delegates will be scattered to their respective fields, and another year's work begun. 3SM 157.2

“This has been a very interesting conference, and although not accompanied with all that peace and harmony that sometimes has been manifest, it is perhaps as profitable a meeting as was ever held, for many important principles were made prominent, and some conclusions arrived at, that will be of great value, as they may influence our future work. Many go forth from this meeting determined to study the Bible as never before, and this will result in clearer preaching. 3SM 157.3

“As you have no doubt noticed in the Bulletin, many advance steps have been taken as to our foreign missions, also some good moves for the advancement of the work in the South.”—W. C. White letter to Smith Sharp, written from Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2, 1888. 3SM 157.4

It will be observed that together with his report of progress, Elder White made mention of the lack of “peace and harmony that sometimes has been manifest” in our General Conference sessions. In this he was referring to the theological discussions that made the 1888 meeting different from any other General Conference in Adventist history. 3SM 157.5

These discussions began in the week-long ministerial institute, when, according to the agenda, such topics as the ten kingdoms, the divinity of Christ, the healing of the deadly wound, and justification by faith were to be considered. The discussion of the ten kingdoms grew bitter and consumed a disproportionate amount of time. Some topics scheduled were crowded out. Near the close of the institute Elder E. J. Waggoner, associate editor of the Signs of the Times, began a series of studies, on the law in Galatians, that merged into his presentation of the Christian's faith and the righteousness of Christ. These continued through the first week of the General Conference session. 3SM 157.6

It was this series of studies, especially those that touched on the divisive subject of the law in Galatians, that sparked the controversy that followed. No transcription of the discussions was made, but the sketchy notes of one or two delegates, Ellen White's records, and the recollections of many who were present reveal the bitterness of the controversy and the baleful effects of the negative attitude of several prominent church leaders. 3SM 158.1

Even before the delegates assembled at Minneapolis there had been dispute on the key theological topics for several years. There was also building in the hearts of some an attitude of resistance to and nonacceptance of Ellen White's messages of warning and reproof. She early observed a strange and antagonistic attitude manifested toward her by some of the leading ministers. 3SM 158.2

As E. J. Waggoner led into an examination of the law in Galatians and salvation by faith, a debating spirit dominated some in the discussions. This greatly troubled Ellen White. Although she was not ready to agree with Elder Waggoner on all the fine points of his presentations on the law in Galatians, her heart was warmed by his clear enunciation of the principles of justification by faith and of righteousness obtained through faith in Christ. She spoke twenty times in Minneapolis, and especially in the early morning ministers’ meetings she pleaded for open-minded Bible study. She herself did not speak on the topic of righteousness by faith. 3SM 158.3

The reactions to the emphasis on this vital truth were mixed. At the 1893 General Conference session, A. T. Jones, speaking of the reception of the truths set forth at Minneapolis, reported: “I know that some there accepted it; others rejected it entirely. You know the same thing. Others tried to stand half way between, and get it that way.”—The General Conference Bulletin, 1893, 185. 3SM 158.4

The discussions were at times heated. Some, fearing that the new emphasis would weaken the church's strong position on God's law, particularly the Sabbath truth, strongly resisted the message on righteousness by faith. No conference actions were taken on this point or any other point brought forward in the Bible studies. 3SM 159.1

Ellen White reported in a letter written on the closing day of the session, a letter appearing in this section, “My courage and faith have been good,” notwithstanding the almost “incomprehensible tug of war” they had been through, and she expressed the conviction, as she saw it at close range, that the “meeting will result in great good” (Letter 82, 1888). A few weeks later she wrote her statement looking back at the Minneapolis General Conference, a major portion of which is embodied in this section. 3SM 159.2

In the weeks and months following the session a hard core of opposition developed in Battle Creek, the church headquarters and the location of three of its major institutions. Ellen White frequently absented herself from Battle Creek, going into the field to carry the message to the churches. At times she worked with Elders Jones and Waggoner as all three engaged in presenting the precious truths of the gospel. She led out in an important and successful meeting of our ministers in January, 1889, in South Lancaster, where many were “greatly blessed.” A report is included in this chapter. 3SM 159.3

The Ellen G. White files carry a powerful address on the basic principles of salvation by faith as given at the Ottawa, Kansas, camp meeting, May 11, 1889. This and her report on the response appear in the E.G. White book Faith and Works, 63-84. 3SM 159.4

There was victory in Chicago, and at Denver, Colorado, where at the camp meeting held in September, 1889, she spoke to the workers on the need for a true concept of righteousness by faith. The Denver address appears in this section. 3SM 159.5

While attending the General Conference session of 1889, held just a year after the Minneapolis meeting, she reported: 3SM 160.1

“We are having most excellent meetings. The spirit that was in the meeting at Minneapolis is not here. All moves off in harmony. There is a large attendance of delegates. Our five o'clock morning meeting is well attended, and the meetings good. All the testimonies to which I have listened have been of an elevating character. They say that the past year has been the best of their life; the light shining forth from the Word of God has been clear and distinct—justification by faith, Christ our righteousness. The experiences have been very interesting.”—Manuscript 10, 1889 (published in Selected Messages 1:361). 3SM 160.2

On February 3, 1890, as she addressed the ministers assembled in Battle Creek for a ministerial institute, she reviewed her experiences in the field during 1889. Her statement forms an appropriate part of this introduction: 3SM 160.3

“We have traveled all through to the different places of the meetings that I might stand side by side with the messengers of God that I knew were His messengers—that I knew had a message for His people. I gave my message with them right in harmony with the very message they were bearing. What did we see? 3SM 160.4

“We saw a power attending the message. In every instance we worked—and some know how hard we worked—I think it was a whole week, going early and late, at Chicago, in order that we might get these ideas in the minds of the brethren. 3SM 160.5

“The devil has been working for a year to obliterate these ideas—the whole of them. And it takes hard work to change their old opinions; they think they have got to trust in their own righteousness, and in their own works, and keep looking at themselves, and not appropriating the righteousness of Christ, and bringing it into their life, and into their character. And we worked there for one week.... One week had passed away before there was a break, and the power of God, like a tidal wave, rolled over that congregation. I tell you, it was to set men free; it was to point them to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world. 3SM 160.6

“And there at South Lancaster, the mighty movings of the Spirit of God were there. Some are here that were in that meeting. God revealed His glory, and every student in the College was brought to the door there in confession; and the movings of the Spirit of God were there. 3SM 161.1

“And thus [it was] from place to place. Everywhere we went we saw the movings of the Spirit of God. 3SM 161.2

“Do you think, like the ten lepers, I shall keep silent, that I shall not raise my voice to sing the righteousness of God and praise Him and glorify Him? I try to present it to you, that you may see the evidence that I saw: but it seems that the words go as into empty air; and how long is it to be thus? How long will the people at the heart of the work hold themselves against God? How long will men here sustain them in doing this work? Get out of the way, brethren. Take your hand off the ark of God, and let the Spirit of God come in and work in mighty power.”—Manuscript 9, 1890. 3SM 161.3

Note the sentiment of the last paragraph just quoted. While the reception of the message of salvation by faith was resisted by some at the Minneapolis General Conference and accepted by others in the days that followed, resistance built up rapidly at the heart of the work. The reception among church members in the field, as reported by Ellen White, was quite different. The stubborn resistance participated in by “some” (see Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 363.) at the very headquarters of the church greatly retarded the work that the Lord intended should be accomplished. 3SM 161.4

Of this Ellen White wrote as the year 1890 came to a close: “The prejudices and opinions that prevailed at Minneapolis are not dead by any means; the seeds sown there in some hearts are ready to spring into life and bear a like harvest” (Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 467). 3SM 161.5

In this same connection she wrote: “Some have failed to distinguish between pure gold and mere glitter.”—Ibid. And she added, “The true religion, the only religion of the Bible, that teaches forgiveness only through the merits of a crucified and risen Saviour, that advocates righteousness by the faith of the Son of God, has been slighted, spoken against, ridiculed, and rejected.”—Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 468. 3SM 161.6

In his book Thirteen Crisis Years, Elder A. V. Olson recounts the history and documents the gradual change for better that ensued in the five or six years after Minneapolis. 3SM 162.1

Nonetheless, there was a tragic setback in the advancement of the cause of God. Ellen White recognized this and at times mentioned it, usually in incidental statements. At no time, however, did she intimate or declare that there was an official rejection by church leaders of the precious message brought to the attention of the General Conference in 1888. Rather, on December 19, 1892, just four years after that notable conference, in a letter addressed to “Dear Brethren of the General Conference,” she triumphantly declared: 3SM 162.2

“In reviewing our past history, having traveled over every step of advance to our present standing, I can say, Praise God! As I see what God has wrought, I am filled with astonishment and with confidence in Christ as Leader. We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history. We are now a strong people, if we will put our trust in the Lord; for we are handling the mighty truths of the word of God. We have everything to be thankful for.”—The General Conference Bulletin, 1893, 24 (see Life Sketches, 196; Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 31). 3SM 162.3

Again, in 1907 she wrote: “The church is to increase in activity and to enlarge her bounds.... While there have been fierce contentions in the effort to maintain our distinctive character, yet we have as Bible Christians ever been on gaining ground.”—Letter 170, 1907 (Selected Messages 2:396, 397). 3SM 162.4

With this background we introduce the historical chapter of this section.—Compilers. 3SM 163.1