The Two Faces of Adventism: Roots, Unresolved Tensions, Growing Conflict


1. Although early Adventism, seeing itself as God’s “Remnant”, rejected Protestantism, EGW plagiarized their books. From this emerged two faces within her writings: e.g., Early Writings and The Great Controversy represent the sectarian EGW and Desire of Ages and Steps To Christ represent the mainstream.
While she seems to have felt no great pressure to consistency here, she did grow towards the mainstream (especially after the 1888 Righteousness by Faith debate). Nevertheless, if what she saw as the roots of Adventism, and her own authority, were challenged (as, e.g., by Ballanger), she continued to bitterly defend sectarianism. Consequently, both sides continue to find support in the writings of EGW.

2. The two faces were maintained by not resolving tensions (see below). They continue to be maintained by internal/external (public relations) foci, where again both sides find support. The best examples are the alternating emphases of Ministry (every other issue of which is sent to large numbers of non-Adventist clergy, and therefore have a mainstream look as compared with
the sectarian tone of the other issues [check this]), and the Martin conferences during the 1950s (see below).

Unresolved Tensions

These keep reappearing because they have not been resolved. And this is so because the two faces of Adventism have been retained. Despite apparent shifts by default, the sectarians remain strong – they have great power in confrontations because of a great nervousness about rejecting Adventist roots. Nevertheless, the appearance of each new issue, and the failure to quash it, represents greater doctrinal diversity and a strengthening of the mainstream forces.

1. Perfectionism vs Righteousness by Faith (1888)

2. Authority of EGW (1919)

3. 1931 Statement of Belief. (Adventist theology had room initially for only Catholics, Protestants and the Remnant. Because SDAs saw themselves as taking a special [sectarian] message to persons who were already Christians, they had not resolved many of the basic Christian issues themselves, and therefore their missionaries found themselves at a loss when unexpectedly non-Christians came wanting to be baptized, so that they wrote asking what to teach. F.M. Wilcox and his committee thereupon drew up a mainstream-looking basis of belief. However, because they realized that this would not survive deliberations at a General Conference session because of the divisions within the church [its two faces], Wilcox surreptitiously had it published in the Year Book and then the Church Manual, thus giving it legitimacy without it being voted upon.) (Oosterwal)

4. Problems with the Sanctuary doctrine – from Canright to Ford. [1942, M.L. Andreason of the Seminary wrote to GC Pres. McElhany: “I doubt that we fully appreciate how much these heresies [Ballanger, Fletcher, Conradi] have undermined the faith of the ministry in the doctrine of the sanctuary. If my experience as a teacher in the Seminary may be taken as a criterion, I would say that a large number of our ministers have serious doubts as to the correctness of the views…it has little vital bearing, either on their lives or theology” (Cottrell [Ford], 6)].

5. The emphasis by evangelistic and missionary magazines on prophecy, and the interpretations put forward, around World War II created discomfort among biblical scholars. Consequently, they formed the “Eschatology Society” at PUC in 1943, and this later became the Biblical Research Fellowship. It allowed the scholars to get feedback, and helped build a communications network. However, in 1952 this was terminated at the instigation of GC President Branson, who distrusted it because of the in-depth study, the weighing of alternative interpretations, and its independence from control. (Cottrell)

6. The SDA Bible Commentary (1953-7), with its acknowledgment of an array of alternate interpretations within the SDA tradition, represented an advance towards the mainstream – even though the editors felt that they could not include all the positions they themselves held to, and felt obliged to acknowledge traditional interpretations they felt were without biblical basis. In this way they endeavoured to make the Commentary belong to all groups within Adventism. (Cottrell interview)

7. The Martin conferences (1957-58). The 3 main participants, there with the blessing of the GC, were “ahead of their time” (Cottrell interview)—real mainstreamers, with, for SDAs, a great deal of ecumenical contact behind them.
Their presentations were given credibility by the 1931 statement of belief (which had finally been passed by a GC session after World War II; however the Questions On Doctrine saga was about to cast doubt on the consensus that had been won at that time), in spite of the conflicting views in Adventist publications that Martin could point to. Although QOD came out for Christ having been born with a sinless nature (thus disowning the sinful nature bulwark of last generation perfectionism), EGW writings that were not free of error, and a brotherhood of Christians that denied that SDAs alone were the Remnant [when the latter answer was okayed, Anderson came out exhuberantly saying “thank God, there goes the Remnant!” (Cottrelll interview)], it won, with the support of GC President Figuhr, the consensus of 250 world leaders.
(Although Cottrell claims that only about 7 responses were received, and that the Seminary professors, who never got on with Froom and perhaps feared an explosion because of the radical nature of the document, boycotted the exercise.) The positions adopted by QOD received a real sales job in advance of publication, with supporting EGW statements in the Ministry (edited by R.A. Anderson, one of the three principles with Martin), an addition to the Commentary, and in an appendix to QOD itself. Nevertheless, it was attacked immediately (led by M.L. Andreason, who had retired by then); then the church reneged on its promise to sell Martin’s The Truth About Seventh-Day Adventism in its book centers, it published a reply to Martin, and QOD was eventually withdrawn. (See more on QOD below.) (Unruh, Martin interview)

8. Questioning of the biblical basis for the sanctuary doctrine intensified. R&H was revising Bible Readings for a new edition, and was seeking to bring it in line with the Commentary [this is a measure of the doctrinal shifts between the publication of the two – when, and what exactly?] Cottrell, who was revising the prophetic chapters, with the Martin/Barnhouse criticism of the lack of biblical basis for the sanctuary doctrine in mind, set out to show that one existed – and failed to do so. On taking the matter to F.D. Nicol, he was encouraged to send a questionnaire to the biblical scholars (1958)—and found that they were unanimously with him. This led Figuhr to create the Daniel Committee (1959-66), which eventually could only agree to disagree. (Cottrell, Neufeld and Horne would not allow the other members to issue an “encouraging report” that glossed over the problems; the others would not agree to issuing majority and minority reports, which would have announced the two faces to the church.) (Cottrell/Ford; Cottrell interview)

The Sources of Conflict

[Conflict is here defined as that over issues that were raised through contact with the Christian mainstream – that is, sectarian/mainstream conflict. Adventism, like all sects, had been prone to divisions and conflict during its early decades. Lacking trained biblical scholars, but having great enthusiasm for amateur bible study, differing interpretations of sectarian issues were rampant. EGW, because of her authority and a good ear for discerning the way the wind was blowing, became the key arbiter of conflict – and probably reduced the damage of sectarian divisions considerably. Two issues were more difficult to manage: the sanctuary, because of its centrality to overcoming the 1844 fiasco and its weak biblical foundation, and the authority of EGW herself. The one early conflict that was less sectarian was that involving Kellogg, who was less concerned with the sectarian issues and more with justice issues. Because of his medical role and his consequent contacts beyond Adventism, he represented some of the later issues.]

1. 1919: scholars were uneasy re. the authority being accorded EGW. While the administrators who knew her agreed, it was feared that the members at large would be too disturbed by the news of such a critique, and it was kept quiet. Instead, with no scholars to exegete and EGW dead, her writings became relied on more and more heavily as interpreters of the scriptures.

2. 1920s: already expressions of fear that the church was training professionals rather than missionaries, that the imminence of the 2nd Coming was being lost, with a “settling down”, with young people looking increasingly to “sure and steady avenues of employment,” to a comfortable standard of living; already a separate, higher, payscale for doctors. (Davis, quoting

3. 1931: statement of belief, though not voted a a GC session, gives mainstreamers a stronger base.

4. 1930s: beginning of accreditation of colleges – graduate education for trusted members of college faculty (mostly summer leaves).

5. 1937: creation of seminary. Beginning of graduate education for trusted Bible teachers – only “tool subjects” (biblical languages, history, archeology) acceptable so far (theology would open students to error). Nevertheless, the emergence of careful study followed, with the use of the historical-critical method – the era dominated by the proof-text method is over.

6. 1942: Andreason admits fairly widespread doubts re sanctuary doctrine, and no good answers – “I dread…to see the day when our ministry will begin to raise questions.”

7. 1943: Scholars, uneasy over preaching and publishing of prophetic interpretations inspired by war, form Eschatology Society then Biblical Research Fellowship. Very local to church, and sectarian in issue (though seemingly, because inspiration, less so in conclusions). Learn the value of receiving feedback, begin to create networks and probably to form some degree of scholarly consensus.

8. 1952: GC Pres. Branson, suspicion of the delving and independence of the BRF, forces its termination. In an effort to regain central control of scholarship, its functions are given to a GC office, which is launched with a massive Bible Conference, where the agenda is centrally set, questions are carefully screened, and there is no floor discussion. (While members of other
professions within the church are encouraged to form organizations, any such efforts by biblical scholars are suspect – even though the church could sorely do with the consensus which such could generate.)

9. 1953-57: the SDA Bible Commentary treads new ground by reflecting scholarly debate and more mainstream hermeneutics, and especially by giving alternative interpretations.

10. 1954-66: a period of greater openness under the presidency of Figuhr, who left theology to the scholars. Moves towards the mainstream both because of serious scholarship based on scholarly training and because, with what was seeming more and more like the indefinite delay of the 2nd Coming, a greater concern for the issues of mainstream Christianity.
11. 1957-58: the Martin/Barnhouse conferences are taken seriously, and with Pres. Figuhr giving support, look like a victory for the mainstreamers. However, the GC leadership later backed away, not selling Martin’s book and eventually withdrawing QOD.[The Martin/Barnhouse conferences, attendance of SDAs at Vatican II, dialogue with the World Council of Churches, participation in ecumenical conferences, graduate degrees at famous seminaries, all point to the impact of ecumenism on sections of Adventism – as do the backing away from preaching traditional anti-RC and anti-Protestant interpretations of Daniel and Revelation and the admission by QOD that the Remnant extends beyond Adventism.]

12. 1958-66: biblical support for the sanctuary doctrine proves difficult to find, and consensus impossible (in the questionnaire to scholars and the Daniel Committee).

13. 1960s: Since the Seminary and colleges are expanding to accommodate the baby-boom generation, the need for more teachers also expands, so that large numbers are now sent to graduate schools. For the first time they are not trusted teachers, but are young; they attend full-time, usually in clusters together; and it is now okay to study such previously prohibited disciplines as theology and ethics. They have already been alerted to many of the issues facing Adventism in the Seminary, but now they are moved further by their training and the issues of the 1960s. Consequently, they organized Forum chapters (1967), and began publishing Spectrum (1969). They returned to teach in the Adventist colleges with strong networks that enabled them to build on the work of one another.

The Emergence of Conflict

1. Pearson elected pres. of GC – soon showed he is determined to stop the erosion of traditional Adventism, which he saw as being led by the scholars using the historical-critical method. The stage is set for conflict. [Question: had Figuhr reached retirement age, or was the election of Pearson a coup? Were his goals known before his election – that is, did he have the support of the sectarians? Also, when and how was Wood chosen as editor of the REVIEW? – was this a political choice?]

2. 1969: Pearson, declaring that theology should be done by administrators, not scholars, tried to exclude scholars from the Biblical Research Committee. Resistance from the scholars thwarted him, so in 1970 the Committee was packed with administrators. Hyde, Pearson’s man, was dominant there.

3. 1972: Hyde also took control of the meetings of scholars that had preceded the meeting of the Society for the Study of Biblical Literature [name?] since the late 1950s (Cottrell had again taken the initiative here.) The scholars resented this, and late [1978?] in the decade formed the Andrews Society, which they controlled themselves.

4. 197?: Merikay Silver/Lorna Tobler suit – attempts to report this (it had been kept secret) brought a major clash with AAF, with threats to Gerraty’s position at Andrews, his resignation as president of AAF, and the publishing of the story by a president not employed by the church. Later, the church brief asserted that the church was hierarchical, and that doctrines such as anti-Catholicism had been abandoned!

5. 197?: loyalty oaths – a further effort to control the scholars, produced such a great mobilization that the idea had to be dropped.

6. 1970s: the church moved back towards perfectionism (see Paxton). 1976(?), Wood and Douglas published an issue of the Review which affirmed the sinless nature of Christ, thus refuting the QOD position. Ford’s articles, submitted as a response, were not printed, and when he appealed to the GC, the administration stood with Wood.

7. 1970s: Cottrell did a paper on the historical conditioning of EGW for the Biblical Research Committee, pointing out her use of sources – very poorly received, and the controlling group there did not thereafter trust him. (1972) Spectrum published two pieces on EGW sources (one by Petersen), and later the minutes of the 1919 Bible Conference; McAdam also researched sources, and was not allowed to publish. Numbers was published. Both Petersen and Numbers were pushed out of church employ. The White Estate and church leaders admitted to nothing yet. When it became known that Rea was working on the same topic, a committee met with him at Glendale, was blown over by his data, and recommended that he be invited to further his research at the White Estate – however, the church went back on this, and as a result the media publicity which came to his findings suddenly informed SDAs in a most unwelcome way. THE WHITE TRUST turned out to be a whitewash. Meanwhile, belief in EGW’s authority was used more as a test of fellowship.

8. 1970s: Ford, when called to PUC from Australia, had been promised that he would be appointed to a committee working on the sanctuary question. This promise was also not kept. His attack on the sanctuary doctrine and on the authority of EGW to interpret scripture revived support for a doctrine that had been passing away through default. At Glacier View, the GC leaders did not seem to hear the wide support given Ford’s view by the scholars that biblically Christ could have returned in the first century, and instead insisted that 1844 was the only possible interpretation of Daniel – a very sectarian position. Ford lost his job and his ordination.

9. 1980s: Widespread alienation among scholars – afraid to speak, to support one another. Attacks on scholars at the Seminary, PUC, SMC. Firings of clergy. Some attempts at healing between administrators and scholars at Consultation I and II. Leadership lost a great deal of credibility among educated laypersons as a result of the Davenport affair.

10. Meanwhile, the tension continued to grow between what was preached concerning the 2nd Coming and the lifestyle of many Adventists, between sectarianism and professionalism, between separation from the world and professional acceptance, between missionary sacrifice and prosperity.

The clash between sectarians and mainstreamers, between followers of the prooftext and historical-critical methods, had become very clear. Moreover, there does not seem to be much room for a middle ground: Christ had either a sinless or a sinful nature; we either can or cannot hope to attain to perfection in this life; the SDA church is either coterminous with the Remnant or it is not; Dan 8:14 points to 1844 or it does not; Catholicism is the fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation or it is not; etc. Even for an issue, such as the authority of EGW, where there seem several possibilities, the sectarians want to turn it into an either/or: either she was moved as were Bible writers, and so has the same authority, or she was not.

One thought on “The Two Faces of Adventism: Roots, Unresolved Tensions, Growing Conflict

  1. Professor Ronald L. Lawson,

    Congratulations on your contribution to the proposed study. Unfortunately such themes are no longer developed in many places (especially South America), here virtually no such openness to study, Adventist fundamentalism is more alive than ever and persecution begins to exist on topics. polarized overalls.
    Sorry if any sentence is meaningless, but I don’t speak English.

    A big hug from a reader of Brazil.

    Att: Leandro Henrique Nogueira


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