Donald K. Short
A Paper Presented at the Third National 1888 Message Conference, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan
After nearly a century the truth of the 1888 General Conference session continues to elude us and is largely unknown in our church or else where known is a "stone of stumbling." This is a baffling situation. During this l00-year-confrontation, many members have become bewildered and confused. The enticements of the world loom large and the expectation of Christ’s imminent return has grown dim. The hallmarks of Adventism have become tarnished. The truth of the message we have been given has not been applied to cure the terrible problem of sin. It is a sad fact that we as a people have only a vague idea of our high calling and what the final atonement is to accomplish. Many are in the church as passengers on a bus hoping that soon the trip will be over and they will reach their destination. They are unaware the bus is on an extended detour.
This detour began 100 years ago. The time has come for the world church to know the truth about this prolonged journey, this history of wandering. Only then can we be led to the humble confession and repentance required in the end-time by the True Witness.
But many will ask, ‘What does an event in our church many decades ago really have to do with us now? Let that generation rest. Our task is to finish the work."
However the significance of that 1888 session continues large in our consciences and haunts us to this day. The 1988 Annual Council in South America voted to have a Centennial Commemoration at Minneapolis in November, 1988. A unique proposal indeed. The church has had over 50 General Conference sessions since it was first organized, but here is one that is different from all others. It was here that the Lord sent the "most precious message" to His people which was the ‘beginning" of the solution to Laodicean lukewarmness and held the key to preparing a people for translation.
Every Adventist knows the work is not finished yet. What they do not know is that it cannot be finished until the truth of our past is understood, no matter how terrible the implications. We stand by as the world is swallowed up in turmoil, crime, poverty, disease and every kind of degradation the human mind can invent. But all this only dimly compares with the issues now facing our church. Truly Modern Israel is at the crossroads.
The very existence of the Remnant Church is built upon a written record. Without "history" as found in the Bible, the Seventh-day Adventist denomination would have no reason to exist. This Record defines the truth of righteousness and the death inherent in sin. It portrays a divine plan for a mutual union between God and man, and man and God. The belief that this union can be perfect now and throughout eternity, is the truth that is to gather out a distinctive spiritually mature people from all the earth.
That Book is the record of men’s lives. It is a record that claims to have been "given by inspiration of God" even though-the record is filled with every shade of human misdemeanor and gross sin. That history has an irrevocable finality about it that is most serious. It is impossible to undo or change in any way the facts that make that history- not even the sovereignty of God can do so. This leaves us to accept that history for just what it says. The Lord has seen fit to use this record and build His case on this history of rebellion and enmity towards Himself. NO matter how shameful that history is. we accept this Word as His word of truth which must eventually win the battle over sm.
Seventh-day Adventists claim to be the guardians of this truth and to have a solution for the sin problem. For well over a century we have been making this claim. But we have been content to ignore or overlook our own history as a people. We cannot continue to do this and at the same tune profess we hold to truth anymore than we can discount and ignore the record of His Word and remain in union with the Lord. When our history is known, understood and accepted for just what it says, it will accomplish exactly what this generation is called upon to attain. It will also unfold the future.
Seventh-day Adventists do not believe the Bible because they were present when it was written or because they know eyewitnesses who saw the prophets write it. Neither do they believe it because they knew the authors personally and can vouch for their characters, or because the record is flattering. They believe it out of conviction that it is the truth God gave to His people and that it has in it the power to destroy man’s deep-rooted sin- his enmity toward God. The Christ of this Book proved that there is power in the Word and He did that which Satan said fallen man could not do. The basic spiritual equipment that enabled Jesus to triumph is available to the last generation who are likewise called to live without sin. Inherent in this must be the belief that the history portrayed in the Book is true.
By the same guarantee the history of Seventh-day Adventists must be known, be understood, believed and be accepted for just what it is. Anything less than this "is not of faith" and the Word says, "whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (Rom. 14:23)
If the Hebrew nation could grasp the whole truth of the Old Testament, they would find Christ the promised Messiah clearly presented and verified in the New Testament. Because they failed to read their history with spiritual insight, they failed to recognize the Chief Character which their history reveals. The tragedy of this blindness can be overcome by any Hebrew who rereads the Record and understands and accepts just what that history really says. Honesty will require a heart-felt acceptance of Jesus as Messiah. If the Jews could see Gods real purpose and glory in their history it would have world-wide repercussions. The effects would be felt among all nations. The denial of their history over the centuries would be changed into deep repentance with amazing consequences. But not all the Jews would accept the truth of their history for what it says and the nation would be polarized. In Adventist parlance there would be a "shaking" because of the "straight testimony" with terrible, far-reaching results.
If, however, the Spirit of God could reach a segment of the nation and they by faith find salvation and bring to God the glory He deserves and vindicate His name, then surely the travail of the "shaking" would be worth all that was involved. The result of this genuine faith in the Bible, the history of their nation, would bear the fruit of conviction and repentance. It would be as if that "other angel came down from heaven, having great power: and the earth was lightened with His glory." (Rev. 18: 1) Such a result could happen any time they are willing to accept the Record for what it says.
Modern Israel, the Remnant Church, our church, has been making history for only a brief century compared to the Hebrew nation’s millenniums. But our history is being made in the end-time and has special significance for the whole universe to read. The latent genius of Adventism, now but dimly perceived, must come to be understood and take its place, Invincible before the ramparts of sin. The question is, how much longer before Adventists will be able to "see" and "know" their history any better than their spiritual forefathers? This history could have closed long before now except we insist that we "see" and therefore we are proving that not only the Jews of old can be blind. Our on-going history becomes more perplexing with each passing year. If the "oracles of God" which the Jews held and which have been passed on to the Remnant are to be accepted at face value, sooner or later the divine purpose must be carried out in every detail no matter how humbling the experience may be for us. The final atonement must be made, "then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." (Dan. 8: 14)
In sacred history there is a great mystery that stands out when the life and work of Christ is considered. For centuries God’s chosen people had been looking for Messiah to come. But when He came He was rejected. He did not fit the preconceived ideas of what Messiah ought to be and do. He did not dress right. He did not know the right people. His message was too humbling.
However, the Book says, "the common people heard Him gladly." The problem was not the people. The inspired record of Luke affirms."the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and have crucified Him." (Luke 24:20) Why did it turn out this way? It need not have been so, for Jesus said, "0 fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken." (Luke 24:25) Those who should have known, those who should have believed- the leaders-were the very ones who were blind and unbelieving, ignorant of the real meaning of scripture.
From that day to this there has been debate about this historical event. Jews, atheists, agnostics, deists, Muslims, and a host of others including Christians, have ail been involved. But it need not be so- if only we would believe the historical record.
In a similar way, terrible to contemplate, we as a people have built up an array of ideas as to what happened at that remarkable meeting known as the Minneapolis Conference of 1888. It is this event that we are to commemorate in 1988. This century-old 1888 meeting has caused two views to be published that are diametrically opposed to each other. How could Gods people get so ensnared—when there is a written record? As time has gone on this dichotomy has become increasingly worse and now has reached vexing proportions. Unfortunately there can be no compromise between the two views. One or the other is terribly wrong. It is a grievous thing that a people who talk much of the second coming of Christ could find themselves in a position so completely untenable. The need to know and understand our history is imperative. Truly Modern Israel has reached the crossroads. It is time to choose the right way and get off the detour. This will be the most challenging decision of all the ages.
Is it not plain to see the enemy will continue to do everything possible to delay that decision which signals his doom? Until that right choice is made, all the strategy in the world will avail nothing and the detour must continue.
It is now more than thirty-five years since the document 1888 Re-Examined was presented to Seventh-day Adventist church leaders. For all these years this manuscript has been circulating in the world field in various forms, complete or incomplete, but always in limited quantity. That has now changed. The authors have now published this book for the first time and it is available to the world church. The historical evidence with complete documentation and hundreds of Ellen White citations. establishes the 1888 event in our history as a battle which the enemy won—but the war is not over. Though the "enemy prevented" us "from obtaining that efficiency which might have been" ours, yet the True Witness continues to plead and knock at the door for entrance. The Lord’s messenger states categorically that, "the light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world." (See 1 SM 234, 235.) This is a tragedy which only eternity will fully reveal. In it is to be found the root of current spiritual impotence and wide-spread apostasy. One hidden result is the growing credibility gap between laity and leaders.
Notwithstanding all that Ellen White has said to the contrary, the official position of the church persists in calling the 1888 session a "victory." If this is true and the message was truly accepted, then it becomes obvious that the Lord is responsible for the delay in finishing the work. If the message was not accepted, which is the appraisal the Lord places on our history, then the church is responsible for the delay. This means that until this matter is put right, there is no way that we can seriously expect Heaven to try again to give us the latter rain.
The official position has been set forth clearly in the following three books: By Faith Alone (1962), Through Crisis to Victory (1966), and Movement of Destiny (1971).
Since these 1500 pages were published, further attempts have been made to tell the church that the message was "generally accepted." A more recent denial of our history is found in The Australian Years (1983) page 11, and reads: "The crisis at the General Conference session of 1888 at Minneapolis and the resistance on the part of some church leaders to the wholehearted acceptance of the message of righteousness by faith had, upon the confessions of certain key men, largely subsided. In her oral ministry and writing Ellen White had for much of two years helped to stem the tide of negative reaction, and the Bible-based doctrine of justification by faith was by 1891 generally accepted."
Indeed, Ellen White did try "to stem the tide of negative reaction" but all these published claims of acceptance are in sharp contrast to the emphatic statements she made which declare the exact opposite. We have already referred to the one she made in 1896. She plainly said "the light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world." (1 SM 234, 235)
It is impossible to evade the seriousness of this charge against "our own brethren." In contrast to the idea the "resistance … largely subsided" in two years, it must be especially noted that her statement of continuing opposition and resistance was brought to the attention of the church eight years after the session. From that day to this there has not been a single word from the pen of inspiration giving any other interpretation of the 1888 crisis. The evidence demands that we begin to read our history for what it says. With grief it must be noted that there was still another denial to be published in 1984.
The biographer of Ellen White tells us in The Lonely Years, 1876-1891, page 398, "the concept that the General Conference, and thus the denomination, rejected the message of righteousness by faith in 1888 is without foundation … contemporary records yield no suggestion of denominational rejection. There is no E.G. White statement anywhere that says this was so."
How can such a statement be made? It is the contemporary records that give the history of the 1888 rejection of the latter rain and loud cry. It is the 1893 General Conference Bulletin that makes this very clear. It is the E. G. White statements over a period of years that make the tragedy so evident. This is documented in full and explained in the publication, 1888 Re-Examined. It need not be pursued here.
Many Seventh-day Adventists sense that something in the church is restraining the fulfillment of its divine calling and destiny. Things are not going well in Israel, notwithstanding proclamations to the contrary and all the strategy programs. In seeking a resolution many will suggest, "As a church we understand righteousness by faith and we preach it clearly: our problem is simply that we don’t live it as we should." (Cf. Origin and History, Vol. 2. p. 281; also The Lonely Years, p. 415).
Such a statement indicates a serious misunderstanding. It cannot bear careful analysis. If we agree "righteous" is by "faith," then obviously if one has "faith" it follows that "righteousness"wil1 be manifest in the life. Such a one will live it. If this is not true, then the term is nothing but semantic nonsense. To Seventh-day Adventists "righteousness by faith" is most certainly a preparation of character for the coming of the Lord. The messenger of the Lord understood this clearly. Speaking of the power and glory of the 1888 message she proclaimed: "The enemy of man and God is not willing that this truth should be fully presented; for he knows that if the people receive it fully, his power will be broken." (RH, Sept. 3, 1889)
This should open our eyes as to why there is the terrible dichotomy in our church. As long as there is confusion over the "precious message" the Lord sent to His people, just so long the enemy can hold the church subservient. But for now we must ask, is the enemy’s power broken in our lives as a church? When his power Is truly "broken," will not the Lord’s people be ready for His coming, for translation? And if we are not ready, and have not been ready for a century, either we do not "fully" understand the truth of righteousness by faith and have not received it—or else the Lord is to blame for the long delay in His return. If we understand it but do not "receive it fully," then we are most truly rejecting it!
The "light" given to Seventh-day Adventists is not merely to get a people ready to die. we are responsible for preparing a people to live, now and for eternity. This means translation. If this is not true, no one knows how many more decades must elapse before the world’s burden of sorrow, pain and sin can be lifted. "Righteousness by faith" is just what it says—right living by faith. Therefore it is impossible to understand it truly and preach it clearly without living it! It is the proper understanding of this truth that brings Modern Israel to the crossroads.
It would seem clear that the essence of the new covenant is to provide a forgiveness that remembers sin no more. It blots it out from the heavenly sanctuary with a complimentary work in the hearts of God’s people. It is a forgiveness that does not cover imperfection but rather removes it. The very term ‘righteousness by faith," must mean Christ’s righteousness and it is this He desires His people to have. Thus before He arrived in this world it was proclaimed. "thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21) The meaning of perfection must therefore be inseparable from that perfect faith in the righteousness of Christ. An unwillingness to accept this truth has kept away from our people the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longed to impart to them.
The generation that witnessed this rejection is at rest. But in recent years the importance of the 1888 General Conference has by force of circumstances been thrust upon the church. There are simply too many deviations from the landmarks to go unnoticed. If the official position would change and the historical evidence as given by the Lord through His messenger, be accepted as the truth, then the detour could end and the "stone of stumbling" be removed from the road. The light that is to lighten the whole world would break forth.
If the leadership persists in rejecting the truth of our own history, we face a further long journey and will follow ever more closely in the footsteps of ancient Israel. This is a path that we have been warned specifically, repeatedly and emphatically to shun. The result of such a tragic course is terrible to contemplate. It means that the continued reign of sin becomes an ever larger responsibility of the church.
But more than this. The Lord has given us a chilling, startling documentary of pending awful consequences if we persist in demanding our own way in opposition to His counsel and light. In the context of rejecting the 1888 message the Lord has told us:
"There is less excuse in our day for stubbornness and unbelief than there was for the Jews in the days of Christ. They did not have before them the example of a nation that had suffered retribution for their unbelief and disobedience. … In our day greater light and greater evidence is given. We have also their example, the warnings and reproofs that were presented to them, and our sin and its retribution will be greater, if we refuse to walk in the light. … If with all the light that shone on His ancient people, delineated before us, we travel over the same ground, cherish the same spirit, refuse to receive reproof and warning, then our guilt will be greatly augmented, and the condemnation that fell upon them will fall upon us, only it will be much greater as our light is greater in this age than was their light in their age." (R&H, April 11, 1893)
When the Lord has to stoop to the word "retribution" to try and awaken His children to their stubborn blindness, surely a crisis is pending. One thing is certain- at this date we have done no better than the Jews. How much longer before "retribution" falls upon us remains to be seen. Some might suggest that recent financial disasters are anything but blessings. When it is borne in mind that the entire context and thrust of this warning deals with the 1888 failure, we can but stand amazed at the long suffering of our Lord. How much longer will Modern Israel live under the illusion that all is well and continue to spurn reality, ignoring Gods counsel, His purpose and His attitude? If it were not for the example of Ninevah and the certainty that a nation can repent—there would be reason for despair.
The history of the Jews is a parable for us today to be read and understood. The parallels that the Lord’s messenger draws are too plain to be ignored. We are conscience-bound to accept this council as from the Lord. Therefore certain facts stand out in summary:
1. The final solemn call to the seventh church, the last church, the Laodicean church. is a call to the leadership, the ministry of that church. It is the leadership which the True Witness charges with a false understanding of their condition. Being "rich, and increased with goods," does not refer to material wealth, The accusation is against our pride in our supposed knowledge of the gospel, our vaunted assumption that we understand "righteousness by faith."
2. Equally serious is the clear inference in published denominational material that charges the laity with ignorance and blames them for the delay while exonerating the ministry. (Cf. Through Crisis to Victory. pp. 233-239; Movement of Destiny, pp. 317, 582, 613) If after a century of waiting the leaders are right, "there was no rejection," and the church members are wrong, they will not follow the light, what hope is there that the church will ever get ready for the coming of the Lord? The full truth will clear the minds of our ministry. our laity and the minds of our youth. All will know that the Lord is not unresponsive to our prayers and repentance. We will all know that it is our own unfaithfulness that delayed His return.
3. The call of our Lord to ‘be zealous therefore, and repent," needs to be understood as a clear call to denominational repentance. The message is to the angel of the church, therefore it is directed to the leadership of the church. We honestly do not know our destitution. We are sincere in our ignorance. What we proudly assume is the genuine article, actually consists of themes and concepts borrowed from the sixteenth century Reformers or from modern Evangelicals. The proof of this can be found in the history of the Jews which serves as a parable. They "had" the Sabbath for millenniums but it is obvious from the words of our Lord that they did not understand it, or appreciate its true significance or In any way truly "keep" it. Our spiritual ignorance parallels theirs. Jesus says, "thou knowest not."
4. Christ’s call to the leadership to"repent." may appear as an affront and demeaning. He says, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten." Such chastening will come in seeing with horror and dismay our past rejection and complacency and then come to know the full, unvarnished, whole truth of our denominational history. Honest hearts will respond and be revitalized. Such repentance will restore the respect due the official church leadership. When the leaders lead in repentance and confession of our past insult to the Holy Spirit. the world-wide church will honor the General Conference and the widening credibility gap will cease to exist. Financially a new day will dawn.
5. The call to this generation to repent for the failures of our church forefathers is in order. Sacred history is replete with acknowledgments and confessions for the "iniquity of their fathers." There are many Old Testament examples. "Denominational repentance" is the call of the Lord throughout His word. The final atonement comes from recognizing the full truth of "our" position before the Lord. It is this group that is the "woman" who is prepared to be the Lamb’s "wife." Christ’s last public discourse was a final appeal to the Jewish leadership at Jerusalem to repent, and a heart-broken lament for their refusal to do so. Ninevah is.a "model" that Jesus used for the Jewish leaders to follow in repentance. This repentance was "from the greatest of them to the least of them," from the king to the street sweeper, or as we know it, from the General Conference to the most recently baptized church member.
6. The sin of rejecting the "beginning of the Latter Rain" at and after 1888 must be seen for what it really is—an insult to the Holy Spirit. Time can never cancel an insult. Ordinary common ethics demand that an insult be acknowledged and that forgiveness be sought. As long as the insult is denied, there is no way for reconciliation to take place. Thus the 1888 event must continue as an insult to Deity. No matter how many prayers there may be for the Latter Rain, there is no way for Heaven to accommodate until the insult is acknowledged and repentance is genuine.
7. Finally—the sin of Calvary and the sin of 1888 are both revelations of the deep sinfulness of the human heart—our own hearts. If the Jewish nation could "see" the sin of Calvary, honesty would demand they accept Jesus as Messiah. If the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist church could "see" the sin of 1888 for all it really is—an insult to the Holy Spirit and a re-enactment of Calvary—then the earth would be "lightened with His glory," and Babylon the great would be known for what it really is, "the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit." Genuine denominational repentance will recognize and acknowledge our true position as we stand "miserable" and "naked" before the watching eyes of the universe.
And so today there looms before our church the century of confrontation between God and His people. The delegates to the Annual Council in 1986 have gone on record to commemorate the tragedy of 1888. According to the Adventist Review, October 30, 1986, there will be a "dramatic re-enactment of the 1888 session." Truly there was drama in 1888! "Satan succeeded In shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longed to impart to them." (1 SM 234, 235) This notable meeting, "was the only General Conference session where Ellen G. White was publicly defied." (AR, Oct. 30, 1986)
The plans are large for the meeting at Minneapolis in November, 1988. These plans include searching for answers: What really happened? What were the doctrinal issues? Who were the personalities involved? What were the results?
These facts have been known for over thirty-five years. These facts have been the reason to produce three books of rebuttal to our history plus other strong denials. Not only Ellen G. White has been defied, but the history of our church has been defied. We already know what happened. We already know the doctrinal issues. We already know the personalities involved and we know the terrible results. What we don’t know is how much longer we will continue to try and cover up our history.
The sacred Record makes it plain that it was the leadership, the priests and rulers who rejected Christ at His first corning and thus deceived the people and led to their rejection of the Saviour. When the tragedy of that experience dawned upon the hearts of Gods people, they were pricked and they cried. "What shall we do?" The answer was clear, "Repent!" The heavenly illumination and divine power that followed made hearts understand truths that heretofore had been uncomprehended. Can we expect any less in the end-time?
If the 1988 Centennial Commemoration proves to be a season of fasting and prayer without any dramatic enactment"; if it is a solemn proclamation of the truth of our history: if it brings us to have the "faith of Jesus" and to stand for the right though the heavens fall: then the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Saviour of Israel will be able to do for His people now what He has longed to do for a century. Growing out of this centennial there could be a sanctified understanding of our sin, a blessed humble repentance that would make the General Conference of 1990 a genuine day of atonement for Modern Israel.
Modern Israel stands at the crossroads. Which road will we take?