Messenger of the Lord


Organization and Unity

Being the messenger, however, meant that she was often ahead of the church’s leaders, not only in theological insights and their practical applications, but also in her continual insistence on unity and organization. In comparing other contemporary millenarians such as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, historians and sociologists consider “remarkable” the rapid transition from the post-Millerite instability to the “largely stable, uniform organization” achieved by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. MOL 183.1

Five reasons are suggested for this phenomenon in the development of Sabbatarian Adventists: (1) they separated themselves from other post-Millerite groups and millenarians “after the reformulation of ideas“: (2) they “not only preached the Advent but the conditions for it“: (3) “these conditions were validated by divine inspiration, whereby the group acquired an independent source of inspiration, apart from the Scriptures“: (4) they “established a professional ministry which opened the way to other specialized agencies“: and (5) they developed an “accretion of concerns for education, diet, medical care, religious liberty, and Sabbatarianism [that] further advanced its denominationalization both ideologically and institutionally.” 8 MOL 183.2

None of these five components would have resulted in a worldwide religious movement without Ellen White’s presence and messages. Her messages to the church were far-reaching. On one hand, she covered the whole range of the salvation story; on the other, she dealt with civil government, the home, and questions of race relations, health, and education. The striking point is that all this instruction was creative: whenever followed faithfully, schools and hospitals, publishing houses and ministerial institutes, temperance and welfare societies sprang up worldwide. Even more striking is that this woman, without a church office and without formal training in any one of the many areas of her profound instruction, was the leading inspiration in molding all these various interests into a united organization. MOL 183.3

The Seventh-day Adventist Church did not develop out of a crisis in some previous church wherein a charismatic leader arose to lead his/her followers into a new organization, such as John Wesley and the Methodists. Nor did it arise because of a doctrinal quarrel, similar to the beginnings of the various Lutheran or Presbyterian churches existing today. MOL 183.4

The Seventh-day Adventist Church was born in a profound spiritual awakening known as the Millerite movement. Fellowship created by belief in the “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), one of the central New Testament themes, held the young group together. This fellowship, this sense of “family,” is the open secret of the church’s worldwide cohesiveness. With its leaders and members under conviction that the movement was raised up to prepare the way for the return of Jesus (Revelation 14), sinners were rescued, backsliders were reclaimed, and young and old were motivated to realize their potential as they joined in a worldwide evangelistic movement. MOL 183.5

Beneath all this motivation and the sense of belonging to a worldwide “family” has been the inspiring challenge and clear direction of Ellen White. She and her husband knew early that motivation and fellowship had to be unified and organized. Without a unifying organization, the warmest feelings soon fray out into frustration and tangled relationships. Throughout her writings, Ellen White made clear that personal religion and organized religion are the two sides of a coin that we call “the church.” 9 MOL 183.6

In the early years of the Adventist experience, the lack of organization led to various problems and disillusionment. Self-appointed ministers preached what they pleased; even the “appointed” traveled without salary or paid expenses. Divisions arose in the scattered groups of believers, and no method for dealing with divisive heresies existed. 10 Whatever church properties they used were held in the name of some individual member; when the member died, the property passed to relatives, some of whom were not church members. By 1853, James and Ellen White were urging church organization to eliminate “uncredentialed” ministers and to establish a stable basis for owning church property. MOL 183.7

But this plea for organization was met with strong resistance. Organization for many was a “return to Babylon.” 11 Opposers to organization still felt the sting of the organized churches that refused the Millerite call. The religious freedom that Adventists had been enjoying for a few years, they did not want to exchange for the cold blanket of an organized church. Organization, for them, was inconsistent with the freedom of the gospel. 12 MOL 184.1

In 1853, James White, the “father of our present church order,” 13 wrote five editorials in the Review and Herald 14 on organization, with little or no positive response. But Ellen White’s quiet, firm, counsel eventually caught the attention of church leaders and they were led to see the common sense and urgency of her husband’s call for organization. 15 MOL 184.2

Many meetings were held as leaders studied the need and method of organization. One of the first considerations was a name for this new body of Adventist believers. On October 1, 1860, the name finally chosen was, “Seventh-day Adventists.” 16 MOL 184.3

But that act appeared to be the most that could be decided on at the time. Now that they had a name, the leaders found it easier to incorporate the Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association on May 3, 1861, than to organize churches! However, the manner in which local churches would organize and unite in some kind of federation was finally settled on October 4 and 5, 1861, at least for Battle Creek and the newly formed Michigan Conference, the first conference to be organized. In 1862 six other state conferences followed. One year later the General Conference was organized, on May 20-23, 1863. 17 MOL 184.4