1888—Issues, Outcomes, Lessons

Seven lessons for our day

We must not end with a narration of the evils and the virtues of the Minneapolis meeting. We need to learn important lessons from the experience of our forefathers. These lessons need to be pointed out, meditated upon, and acted upon, or we will be in danger of repeating the mistakes they made a century ago. 88IOL 6.7

First, “we must individually humble our souls before God and put away our idols.” 41 Some have wondered whether the Seventh-day Adventist Church today should, in a General Conference action, make a formal apology to the Lord for the sins of our brethren at Minneapolis. Ellen White recognized the responsibility of leadership in correcting evils and in setting the proper spiritual tone in the church. But in the 27 years she lived following the Minneapolis meeting she never once suggested that we should pass an official action in which we would formally dissociate ourselves from the unChristlike attitude manifested by so many at Minneapolis. She did, however, urge the individuals involved to confess their own sins. She warned, “The words and actions of [all] who took part in this work will stand registered against them until they make confession of their wrong.” 42 “Repentance,” she said, “is the first step that must be taken by all who would return to God.” And “no one can do this work for another. We must individually humble our souls before God and put away our idols.” 43 88IOL 6.8

Second, we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We cannot afford to neglect our prayer life, even for a day. Elder C. C. McReynolds described the prayerless spirit at Minneapolis: “In our lodging house we were hearing a good many remarks about Sister White favoring Elder Waggoner, that he was one of her pets. The spirit of controversy was up, and when the delegates came in from the last meeting of the day there was simply babble, with much laughter and joking and some very disgusting comments were being made, no spirit of solemnity prevailing. A few did not engage in the hilarity. No worship hour was kept, and anything but the solemnity that should have been felt and manifested on such an occasion was present.” 44 88IOL 7.1

Because many delegates did not maintain constant connection with God, the door was opened for Satan to control their thinking for a time. We must not allow such a sad chapter to be repeated. 88IOL 7.2

Third, we should learn to love all our brethren, including those who do not share our individual interpretations of Scripture. Referring to Minneapolis, Ellen White lamented: “A difference in the application of some few scriptural passages makes men forget their religious principles. Elements become banded together, exciting one another through the human passions to withstand in a harsh, denunciatory manner everything that does not meet their ideas. This is not Christian, but is of another spirit.” 45 88IOL 7.3

She admonished the brethren: “A. T. Jones and Dr. Waggoner hold views upon some doctrinal points which all admit are not vital questions.... But it is a vital question whether we are Christians, whether we have a Christian spirit, and are true, open, and frank with one another.” 46 88IOL 7.4

The law in Galatians and the 10 kingdoms of Daniel 7 were not “vital questions”—non-negotiables, such as the Sabbath and the investigative judgment doctrines. They were in that class of biblical interpretations where some latitude of belief must be tolerated. On issues that all agree are not vital, is it right to be cool toward our brethren and sisters whose views are not identical with our own? To manifest an un-Christlike spirit toward those in the church who differ with us on these or similar issues is to repeat the spirit of Minneapolis. Just before the Minneapolis meeting Ellen White exhorted the brethren: “Heaven’s enlightenment is what is needed, so that when we look upon the faces of our brethren, we may consider: These are they that have been purchased by the price of the blood of Christ. They are precious in His sight. I must love them as Christ has loved me.” 47 88IOL 7.5

Surely this is good counsel for us today. 88IOL 7.6

Fourth, we should search the Scriptures for ourselves and not allow others to do our thinking for us. At Minneapolis Ellen White could see that many of our ministers were simply following the lead of Elders Butler and Smith in their understanding of Scripture. They were not doing their own thinking Loyalty to Leadership—a commendable virtue—became a serious weakness when it led to following leadership blindly. 88IOL 7.7

On October 19 Ellen White cautioned the delegates: “Do not believe anything simply because others say it is truth. Take your Bibles, and search them for yourselves.” 48 88IOL 7.8

Again, on October 24, she entreated: “I want our young men to take a position, not because someone else takes it, but because they understand the truth for themselves.” 49 88IOL 7.9

And on November 3, the last Sabbath of the conference, she once more appealed to the brethren: “We should be prepared to investigate the Scriptures with unbiased minds, with reverence and candor. It becomes us to pray over matters of difference in views of Scripture.” 50 88IOL 7.10

The following day, November 4, Ellen White wrote her daughter-in-law: “The ministers have been the shadow and echo of Elder Butler about as long as it is healthy and for the good of the cause.... [Elder Butler] thinks his position gives him such power that his voice is infallible. To get this off from the minds of our brethren has been a difficult matter.” 51 Let us not fall into the trap of putting any man where God alone should be. 88IOL 8.1

Fifth, we should emphasize righteousness by faith in our preaching, we should make the subject as clear as crystal to our people, and we should be sure that we ourselves enjoy a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Ellen White urged: “Faith in Jesus Christ’s righteousness in the behalf of every individual soul should be held before the people for their study and for them to contemplate thoroughly. This theme cannot be dwelt upon too often and too earnestly.” 52 88IOL 8.2

Probably all the delegates at Minneapolis would have insisted that they believed in the doctrine of righteousness by faith in Christ. However, many did not act or sound that way, either at the 1888 conference or in the months following. In addressing the 1889 General Conference session, Ellen White stated: “The true religion, the only religion of the Bible, that teaches forgiveness 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. It has been denounced as leading to enthusiasm and fanaticism.” 53 88IOL 8.3

Even Uriah Smith’s thinking on the subject appeared to have been fuzzy at times. For example, he editorialized in the June 11, 1889, Review: The law is spiritual, holy, just, and good, the divine standard of righteousness. Perfect obedience to it will develop perfect righteousness, and that is the only way anyone can attain to righteousness.... 88IOL 8.4

“There is a righteousness we must have, in order to see the kingdom of heaven, which is called ‘our righteousness,’ and this righteousness comes from being in harmony with the law of God. In Deuteronomy 6:24, 25, we read: ‘And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us.’ The Lord would not command them to do what He had not made adequate provision for them to do; and if they did do it, it would be their righteousness.” 54 88IOL 8.5

A week after this editorial was published someone asked Ellen White, “What does Brother Smith’s piece in the Review mean?” She responded publicly, “He doesn’t know what he is talking about; he sees trees as men walking.... It is impossible for us to exalt the law of Jehovah unless we take hold of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” 55 88IOL 8.6

In a manuscript “Looking Back at Minneapolis,” written a few weeks after the conference closed, Ellen White stated: “I bore testimony that the most precious light had been shining forth from the Scriptures in the presentation of the great subject of the righteousness of Christ connected with the law, which should be constantly kept before the sinner as his only hope of salvation.... 88IOL 8.7

“It is a study that can tax the highest human intelligence, that man, fallen, deceived by Satan, taking Satan’s side of the question, can be conformed to the image of the Son of the infinite God—that man shall be like Him, that, because of the righteousness of Christ given to man, God will love man, fallen but redeemed, even as He loved His Son.... 88IOL 8.8

“This is the mystery of godliness. This picture is of the highest value. It is to be meditated upon, placed in every discourse, hung in memory’s hall, uttered by human lips, and traced by human beings who have tasted and known that the Lord is good. It is to be the groundwork of every discourse.” 56 88IOL 8.9

Sister White could hardly have expressed herself more plainly and more decidedly than when she said: “The point which has been urged upon my mind for years is the imputed righteousness of Christ.... 88IOL 8.10

“There is not a point that needs to be dwelt upon more earnestly, repeated more frequently, or established more firmly in the minds of all, than the impossibility of fallen man meriting anything by his own best good works. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone.” 57 88IOL 9.1

Sixth, we should “despise not prophesyings” (1 Thessalonians 5:20). If Uriah Smith had only heeded this admonition at Minneapolis he would have saved himself and many others much heartache. But the devil convinced Smith that Ellen White had contradicted herself. She had told J. H. Waggoner in the 1850s that his view of Galatians 3 was wrong. Now in 1888 she appeared to support the younger Waggoner, who had essentially the same view as his father. 88IOL 9.2

Actually, Ellen White did not take a position on Galatians 3 at the Minneapolis conference. She carefully avoided taking sides on this issue. She pointed out, in fact, that her understanding of this passage was different in some respects from that of Dr. Waggoner. 58 88IOL 9.3

But Smith was not listening. He allowed himself to brood over what he thought were Ellen White’s mistakes. His coolness toward God’s prophet continued for more than two years. Finally, on January 7, 1891, he made a full confession. Of this Ellen White wrote: “[Brother Smith] took my hand as he left the room, and said, ‘If the Lord will forgive me for the sorrow and burdens I have brought upon you, I tell you this will be the last. I will stay up your hands.’ ... It is seldom that Elder Smith sheds a tear, but he did weep, and his voice was choked with the tears in it.” 59 88IOL 9.4

This temporary rejection of the prophetic voice was harmful not only to Uriah Smith’s Christian experience but to the confidence of others as well. Ellen White reminded him that he could not recall the ever-extending consequences of his influence. She appealed, “After your course of action has unsettled the minds and faith in the testimonies, what have you gained? If you should recover your faith, how can you remove the impressions of unbelief you have sown in other minds?” 60 How much better for us to be immovable in our acceptance of the evidence God has given that Ellen White was His prophet. 88IOL 9.5

Seventh, let us maintain our confidence in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This is the church organization referred to in Revelation 12:17. There is no other. Even though Ellen White entertained doubts about this fact at Minneapolis, she did not entertain those doubts for long. Before she left that city she wrote her daughter-in-law: “I tremble to think what would have been in this meeting if we had not been here.... God would have worked in some way to prevent this spirit brought to the meeting, having a controlling power.... But we are not the least discouraged. We trust in the Lord God of Israel. The truth will triumph and we mean to triumph with it.” 61 88IOL 9.6

Throughout the rest of her life Ellen White continued to sound this same note of confidence in the Advent movement. In the 1890s “kingly power” in our General Conference administration drew from her the scathing words “The voice from Battle Creek ... is no longer the voice of God.” 62 “The church is in the Laodicean state. The presence of God is not in her midst.” 63 Yet at the same time she was able to say: “God is at the head of the work, and He will set everything in order. If matters need adjusting at the head of the work, God will attend to that, and work to right every wrong. Let us have faith that God is going to carry the noble ship which bears the people of God safely into port.” 64 88IOL 9.7

“The bulwarks of Satan will never triumph. Victory will attend the third angel’s message. As the Captain of the Lord’s host tore down the walls of Jericho, so will the Lord’s commandment-keeping people triumph, and all opposing elements be defeated.” 65 88IOL 9.8

“I am encouraged and blessed as I realize that the God of Israel is still guiding His people, and that He will continue to be with them, even to the end.” 66 88IOL 9.9