Messenger of the Lord


Leaders With Secular Motives

Down under in Australia, in 1896, Ellen White was appalled by the over-centralization of power and the huge increase of debt that all this expansion reflected. For her, adding building to building did not give the right “character to the work.” What was needed was not more power and buildings in Battle Creek but for church leaders to realize that “their own characters needed the transforming grace of Christ,” 1 which would enable them to represent Christ. Two leaders, A. R. Henry, treasurer of the Review and Herald Publishing Association, and Harmon Lindsay, treasurer of the General Conference, were her chief concern. Both were highly influential in making denominational decisions. MOL 228.4

Henry, a banker before he became a Seventh-day Adventist, was invited to Battle Creek in 1882 to assist in the development of the publishing house. In 1883 he also was asked to be the treasurer of the General Conference, a post he held until 1888 when Lindsay became treasurer. Simultaneously during this period, in addition to these two major responsibilities, Henry was a member of the governing boards of nearly all the denomination’s medical and educational institutions in the central and western states. 2 MOL 228.5

Lindsay, though shrewd in business matters, had a less forceful personality than Henry. O. A. Olsen, General Conference president, described him as one who “says but little openly but mutters a great deal.” However, he had been treasurer of the General Conference as early as 1874-1875. His unbroken years of involvement in developing both the sanitarium and the college, as well as control of denominational finances while other General Conference personnel came and went, gave him an understandable reason for sensing his power. 3 MOL 228.6

When new presidents assumed office, it was only natural for them to turn to the “experienced” treasurers for counsel. Elder Olsen, a forbearing, gentle spirit, tried to alleviate the “un-Christian speeches” and hard bargaining that characterized denominational business. Not until some very forceful statements from Ellen White arrived did he separate himself from Henry and Lindsay and call other men to take their places. Many letters to Olsen from Mrs. White in Australia emphasized and warned against the secular principles that dominated the business affairs in Battle Creek institutions. She wrote: “I fear and tremble for the souls of men who are in responsible places in Battle Creek.... If their works had no further influence than simply upon themselves, I could breathe more freely; but I know that the enemy is using men who are in positions of trust, and who are not consecrated to the work and who know not what manner of spirit they are of. When I realize that men who are connected with them are also in blindness, and will not see the harm that is being done by the precept and example of these unconsecrated agents, it seems to me that I cannot hold my peace. I have to write, for I know that the mold that these men are giving to the work is not after God’s order.” 4 MOL 228.7

Although Ellen White’s sympathies were with Elder Olsen, she did not spare words: “I felt that you were being bound hand and foot, and were tamely submitting to it.” Because God was illuminating her mind, she saw what others could not see clearly: “Things are being swayed in wrong lines.” She saw, behind the surface reasonings, that leading men were acting “as though they were in God’s place, ... deal[ing] with their fellow men as if they were machines. I cannot respect their wisdom or have faith in their Christianity.” MOL 229.1

Then, writing specifically: “The Lord has presented to me his [Henry’s] dangers. I expect nothing else but he will say, as he has always done, ‘Somebody has been telling Sister White.’ This shows that he has no faith in my mission or testimony, and yet Brother Olsen has made him his right-hand man.” 5 MOL 229.2

In 1896 Elder Olsen made a serious effort to change the widespread secularism prevailing among Adventist workers in Battle Creek. In the publishing house were A. R. Henry, Clement Eldridge, and Frank Belden, and others who pressed their secular ideas. Along with the secularism, Olsen was “exercised” over the “disbelief, skepticism, and indifference that are manifested by our people with reference to the gift of prophecy.” 6 MOL 229.3