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Ellen White on Salvation

A Chronological Study by Woodrow W. Whidden II


Chapter Ten

Ministry After Minneapolis

This chapter is a continuation of section l, except it focuses on Ellen White's ministry after 1888. The goal is to describe the historical setting for the important developments during this most critical period of her teaching about salvation.

In this significant 15-year period (1888-1902) we find three important episodes that powerfully shaped the meaning of salvation in Ellen White's ministry: (1) the Minneapolis General Conference session (especially its aftermath), (2) the "Life of Christ" writing project, and (3) the "Receive Ye the Holy Ghost" movement of the latter part of the 1890s and the first two years of the new century.

This remarkable period was certainly the most productive and critical for her writings on salvation during her entire ministry. It was not that there were radically new directions or repudiations of old positions in her understanding, but the years following 1888 witnessed extraordinary emphasis, refinement, and clarification.

Minneapolis and Its Aftermath

This important and controversial conference has stirred heated debate and discussion during the course of the past 100-plus years. Basically two issues in 1888 complicated the well-known discussion of salvation.

1. For at least two years prior to the 1888 session, there had been a smoldering controversy over the interpretation of Galatians 3:19-25.


The leaders in Battle Creek (led by the president of the General Conference, G. I. Butler, and the revered editor of the Review, Uriah Smith) had taken the position that the law in Galatians was the ceremonial law, not the moral law (the Ten Commandments). A group led by E. J. Waggoner (and including W. C. White and A. T. Jones) believed that the "added law" was indeed the moral law.

This was a critical issue for the established ministerial leaders, such as Butler and Smith, who had become able defenders of the authority of the law and the Sabbath. Many Seventh-day Adventist evangelists, following the leadership of Butler and Smith, had been quite successful in defending the law with their position on Galatians against real and perceived opponents of the law.

2. The second issue between the same two groups involved the interpretation of one of the 10 horns of the fourth symbolic beast of Daniel 7.  The established General Conference leadership held that this horn symbolized the Huns, but the "progressives" held that the more historically accurate fulfillment was to be found in the Alemanni.

All this must have seemed a bit picky to the observation of non-Seventh-day Adventists during this period, but the atmosphere was such that these issues loomed large in the perspective of the established, older Seventh-day Adventist ministers.

It is probable that the main contributing factor to this charged atmosphere was the heightened sense that something of epic proportions in prophetic fulfillment was about to happen. Movements were under way to make the United States of America a "Christian" nation, and on May 21, 1888, Senator H. W. Blair, of New Hampshire, had just introduced a national Sunday law into Congress. For some years a number of Seventh-day Adventists had been periodically arrested for working on Sunday in different states.

In the view of the Battle Creek leadership, it was no time to be changing interpretations on texts (especially Galatians 3) that might threaten the authority of the moral law with its holy seventh-day Sabbath and prophecies (Daniel 7) that were essential to their mark of the beast interpretations.


This sense of approaching crisis, a sense that Seventh-day Adventism's prophetic interpretations regarding the moral law and the mark of the beast were about to be vindicated in a manifest way, created a strong undercurrent of resistance to younger progressives—Jones, Waggoner, and their West Coast associates. And the established preachers especially targeted Waggoner's presentations on salvation and justification for stiff resistance.

The controversial atmosphere of Minneapolis was further aggravated by personality conflicts and unfortunate conspiracy rumors. These rumors claimed that Ellen White (supposedly influenced by W. C. White, Waggoner, and Jones) was supporting the positions of the young men from the West Coast (1888 Materials 186-189). Such whisperings created a serious crisis of confidence in Ellen White's prophetic authority, especially in the eyes of the Battle Creek leaders.

To further complicate matters, the General Conference session proper was preceded by a 10-day ministerial institute, during which some of these issues were discussed, especially the interpretation of the horns of Daniel 7.

The debate became particularly testy, and this controversial atmosphere carried over from the ministerial institute into the General Conference session proper (Knight 36). Into this troubled setting came E. J. Waggoner as the chief devotional speaker, and he presented his emphasis on righteousness by faith at the General Conference session itself (ibid. 38).

It is not entirely clear what he did present, but whatever it was, it drew a strong, affirmative response from Ellen White, who heartily and publicly endorsed his presentations (much to the dismay of the Battle Creek leaders). And these presentations became the inspiration for the most significant and energetic writing about salvation during Ellen White's entire ministry.

Many questions have arisen among Seventh-day Adventists about the meaning of the 1888 experience, but the primary issue addressed in this book is What did Minneapolis and 1888 mean to Ellen White's ministry and her understanding of salvation? The crucial nature of this question has merited an entire chapter for its full consideration. The answers are not


easy to come by, but the evidence is sufficient to clarify the most pressing aspects of this question. More on that in the next chapter. Let us now move on to other important events that shaped her expositions of salvation after Minneapolis.

The "Life of Christ" Project 

Ellen White began in earnest her "Life of Christ" project soon after her arrival in Australia in 1892. This project was her major book writing effort during the next eight years and resulted in the publication of her three most important books on the life and teachings of Christ: Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (1896), The Desire of Ages (1898), and Christ's Object Lessons (1900).

This important enterprise was basically a team effort between Ellen White and her faithful literary assistant Marian Davis. Ms Davis' work was to search through previous writings (letters, periodical articles, and books) for appropriate material. She would then paste them up in "blank books." She organized this material, and when she would find a subject or narrative from the life of Christ not adequately covered, Ellen White "would fill in the gaps" (ALW, Ellen G. White: The Australian Years 383).

For the purposes of this study, two things need to be pointed out. First, because of Ms. Davis' gleaning work in previous writings, much of the material was not new. Second, most of the material of significance on salvation referred mainly to sanctification, putting great emphasis on character perfection. Justification was dwelt upon, but compared with sanctification and perfection, it was a minor theme as far as space and intensity of expression were concerned.

These facts raise three questions related to the concerns of the balance of this section: 1. Were there any new developments in her understanding of perfection manifested during this period? 2. What would account for the dominance of perfectionist materials during this time? 3. Did this perfectionist emphasis in any way modify her powerful emphasis and expression of justification found in the years immediately following 1888?


"Receive Ye the Holy Ghost"

The last half of the 1890s witnessed a remarkable perfectionist movement that involved many of the church's most sought after revival speakers. Knight refers to this revival as "The Adventist Holiness Movement" (167).

This crusade certainly had its main origins in the revival preaching and writing of A. T. Jones. Its proponents saw it as the climax of the Minneapolis righteousness by faith emphasis. It also was a conscious development in Seventh-day Adventism that was directly influenced by the broader Holiness movement of the late nineteenth century and its fledgling child the early Pentecostal movement (Knight 167-170; Schwarz 447). The major leaders, aside from Jones, were A. F. Ballenger, E. J. Waggoner, and Mrs. S. M. I. Henry.

The perfectionistic tone of the movement was evident in Jones' preaching by 1895, as he was preaching "translation faith" and "the power to overcome every tendency to sin" (Knight 170). A. F. Ballenger echoed these same sentiments as he proclaimed that righteousness by faith "was given us of God to stop our sinning. Let no man say that he has received righteousness by faith until he has stopped sinning."

This emphasis was related to the Holy Ghost theme, with the added declaration that "we are in the time of the latter rain, but the outpouring of the Spirit is withheld because of our sins." Personal holiness, however, was not the only object of this revival, as Ballenger proclaimed that this "baptism of the Holy Spirit" would "furnish . . . mighty power to" witness to "the world" (Haloviak, "Pioneers" 4).

In 1897 A. T. Jones added the "significant ingredient" that "perfect holiness embraces the flesh as well as the spirit; it includes the body as well as the soul" (ibid.). Thus "health reform with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was consistently emphasized in the Review between 1897 and 1900" (ibid.).

This was not, however, just preventive health reform, which had been consistently emphasized by Seventh-day Adventist health advocates. The "Holy Ghost" preachers also included faith healing.  Ballenger promoted "physical healing" as "now present truth to Seventh-day Adventists" (ibid. 4).


Haloviak points out that Ballenger's "theological base" for "physical healing" was his concept of the atonement, which included "more than Christ bearing the sins of the world in its behalf. It included, for Ballenger, Christ bearing the physical illnesses of the world upon the cross." Ballenger "reasoned that it required no greater miracle for God to save him from sins and keep him from falling than to heal physical ills." He then went on to stress "that anyone who could believe in the resurrection of the body could readily believe in the healing of the body" (ibid. 5).

The whole message certainly involved a very close brush with a concept that viewed God as mystically diffused throughout His universe. Already there were hints of pantheistic elements, which would later contribute to numerous prominent defections from the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The "Receive Ye the Holy Ghost" message was the popular expression of this mystical view of God. Philosophical pantheism (advocated most notably by Kellogg) was the more sophisticated version. But these two strands were closely connected, as both Jones and Waggoner harbored strong pantheistic tendencies along with their popular participation in the "Holy Ghost" movement (Knight 171).

Knight suggests that such mystical concepts were further accented in "the teaching of Jones, Waggoner, and [W. W.] Prescott on righteousness by faith" in that "they often overly literalized the Bible's teaching on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit" (ibid. 171).

The most spectacular manifestation of the "Receive Ye the Holy Ghost" movement was the "Holy Flesh" fanaticism in Indiana. Though Jones later repudiated this movement, it is clear that his preaching (along with Ballenger's) was one of the key sources of this manifestation of "Adventist Pentecostalism" (ibid. 169).

Indiana and "Holy Flesh"

Under the leadership of R. S. Donnell (the conference president) and S. S. Davis (the conference revivalist), the "Holy Ghost" movement


in Indiana advocated an emotional experience in which "both the mind and the body were fully cleansed and brought back to the condition of man before the fall, `so far as its life or actions are concerned"' (Haloviak, "Pioneers" 10).

Richard W. Schwarz reports that this sinless condition was achieved in an atmosphere in which "individuals frequently fell prostrate. . . . Once a stricken member revived, he was declared to have passed 'through the garden experience' which Christ had in Gethsemane. This experience demonstrated that a person was a 'born' son of God, fully cleansed from sin and sinful tendencies and released from the power of death; he was now ready for translation. Those who did not have the 'garden experience' might still be saved, but as 'adopted' sons of God they would have to go 'to heaven on the underground railroad'—that is, they must die first" (447).

As the 1890s progressed, there was a noticeable increase in emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the writings of Ellen White, but the excitable perfectionism of the holy flesh movement was too extreme. This manifestation of Adventist Holiness Pentecostalism was soundly, personally, and publicly rebuked by the prophet in a very pointed testimony given at the 1901 General Conference session in Battle Creek, Michigan: "All may now obtain holy hearts, but it is not correct to claim in this life to have holy flesh. . . .

"If those who speak so freely of perfection in the flesh could see things in the true light, they would recoil with horror from their presumptuous ideas. . . .

"While we cannot claim perfection of the flesh, we may have Christian perfection of the soul. Through the sacrifice made in our behalf, sins may be perfectly forgiven" (2SM 32).

It is interesting that when Ellen White was confronted with a serious variety of Holiness fanaticism, she instinctively embraced a more justificationist response. The entire testimony given at the 1901 session, rebuking the holy flesh advocates, was filled with concepts of perfection through the blood of Christ that cleanses and frees the "conscience . . . from condemnation" (ibid. 32).


We should note here, consistent with the years previous to 1888, that almost all Ellen White's references to Holiness teachings from 1889 to 1902 were negative. She consistently perceived Holiness teachings to be undermining the authority of God's law, extremely emotional, and bitterly opposed to the distinctives of Seventh-day Adventism.

For Ellen White, holiness and perfection continue to receive great emphasis, but holiness teachings and experience must always have the following characteristics: (1) They must not be excessively emotional; (2) they must always involve an understanding of objective justification by faith alone in the grace and merits of Jesus; (3) they must always be presented and promoted in the setting of Seventh-day Adventism's distinctive teachings; (4) they can involve perfection of "character" (though not instantaneously), but not of "flesh" or "nature" until glorification; and (5) it must always involve sober obedience to the Ten Commandments.


Through all the years, whether justification or sanctification was getting the accent or emphasis in her ministry, Ellen White always sought balance in her presentations. But for our purposes in this section, the most pressing question is How did Minneapolis affect her presentations on justification? It is to this question that we next turn.

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