(Note: This is the third and final part of Part 3 of a 3-part series I’m doing on “Three Wrong Views of Minneapolis,” which discusses three of the most prevalent wrongly-held views among Adventists about what happened at the 1888 General Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For my introductory thoughts on this entire topic, click here. For Part 1, entitled, “Too Much Jesus?” click here. For Part 2, entitled “Sanctification by Faith,” click here. For the first part of Part 3, click here. For the second part of Part 3, click here.)
So now we’ve come to the last part of the last part in my series on “Three Wrong Views of Minneapolis.” In this last part, we have looked at the various reasons why most Seventh-day Adventists – either unwittingly or otherwise – essentially think that there is not much to gain from examining both the history and theology of the 1888 General Conference.
Before wrapping it up, there is one more thing I wanted to add about the last part – which highlighted the ad hominem approach that people take with the “1888 message” (meaning, they attack the people as a way of discrediting the message). It’s this: there are some who have a “heyday” with the fact that Jones and Waggoner somewhat lost their way later on in their ministries. Without going into all the details (some of which I may return to in a future post), both men did – around the turn of the century – get off track either morally or theologically. There is, not surprisingly, disagreement about the extent to which they did lose their way, but I don’t think anyone would deny the fact that they did in fact lose their way on some level.
Thus, many people – again, perhaps unwittingly – discount their earlier contributions because of their later errors. This is understandable to a large extent. It’s human nature to look skeptically upon one’s earlier work when one’s later work is laced with error. We assume – wrongly – that the later events were the logical conclusion of the earlier ones.
Again, this deserves further reflection, but I just wanted to allow Ellen White to speak to such a thought – because she’s quite clear on this. Anticipating the possibility of just such a thing happening, she wrote to Uriah Smith in 1892:
It is quite possible that Elder Jones or Waggoner may be overthrown by the temptations of the enemy; but if they should be, this would not prove that they had had no message from God, or that the work that they had done was all a mistake. But should this happen, how many would take this position and enter into a fatal delusion because they are not under the control of the Spirit of God. . . . This is the very position many would take if either of these men were to fall, and I pray that these men upon whom God has laid the burden of a solemn work, may be able to give the trumpet a certain sound, and honor God at every step, and that their path at every step may grow brighter and brighter until the close of time (1888 Materials, p. 1044).
So Ellen White is clear. Later failure would not mitigate earlier contributions. And, as I noted yesterday (and can be further considered here), Ellen White so often blamed Jones and Waggoner’s missteps not on them, but on church leadership for the way they treated the two young men.
So, again, the ad hominem approach to Minneapolis falls short on all fronts.
Now, let’s consider one final way in which people try to minimize the significance of what happened in 1888.
3. The “Superfluous” View. This is a biggie. Many historians would have us believe that there was nothing unique about Jones and Waggoner’s message. On the one hand, it is proposed, they were merely parroting the gospel that Luther, Wesley, and the holiness preachers of their day were proclaiming. Indeed, they were just re-introducing Adventism to “basic Christianity.”
On the other hand, even if it is granted that Jones and Waggoner did present a message that went beyond the Reformation gospel, the other side of the coin is that they had nothing unique to say that we couldn’t already get from Ellen White. So instead of bothering with their material, we should just stick to Steps to Christ and kindred material.
With these two perspectives to choose from – either the Reformation gospel or Ellen White’s gospel – why would we concern ourselves with Jones and Waggoner? All we really need, after all, is the Bible or Ellen White, or maybe even Luther or Wesley, and we’re all set. Further, reading evangelical authors of our day (which I am not necessarily discouraging) can be just as productive as reading those guys – who wrote with antiquated 20th-century English anyway.
Such an attitude is epitomized by something I came across recently as I was shuffling through an issue of the Adventist Review from 1968. It featured a two-page article on 1888 and to my utter shock, not once did the article even mention Jones or Waggoner’s name. It was as though they weren’t even a part of the 1888 General Conference! In fact, the first paragraph highlighted the role and importance that Ellen White played at the Conference – which was significant, to be sure, but not all of it – as though she was the sole contributor to Adventism’s understanding of righteousness by faith.
So what are we to do with these two attitudes? Let’s deal with each of them separately, considering the extent to which they have validity.
a. The Reformationist argument. So what are we to make of this argument? After all, isn’t there only one gospel – the everlasting gospel? Further bolstering such a claim is the evidence of Jones and Waggoner themselves, who at various times proclaimed that what they were teaching was no different than the Reformers.
Furthermore, Ellen White on a number of occasions said that Jones and Waggoner’s message was not “new light” (see 1888 Materials, pp. 140, 211, 432). Elsewhere, some historians claim that she says the message of justification by faith that Jones and Waggoner preached was the same as what the “Holiness people” of their day were proclaiming (see Review and Herald, August 13, 1889).
What are we to make of this?
First, regarding the latter thought: as with everything, context is vital. I have already addressed this in the past, but when one examines the context of what she says about the “Holiness people” it is clear that she was saying the exact opposite of what modern historians claim. Notice the full quote in context:
The doctrine of justification by faith has been lost sight of by many who have professed to believe the third angel’s message. The Holiness people have gone to great extremes on this point. With great zeal they have taught, ‘Only believe in Christ, and be saved; but away with the law of God.’ This is not the teaching of the word of God. There is no foundation for such a faith. This is not precious gem of truth that God has given to his people for this time. This doctrine misleads honest souls.
Can it get any plainer? Those “Holiness people” were not proclaiming the same light that Jones and Waggoner were proclaiming. (To fully appreciate the extent to which such a thought has been wrested from its context, perhaps it would be well to quote how one historian has interpreted Ellen White’s sentiment about the “Holiness preachers” and their understanding of justification by faith. The author, in A User-Friendly Guide to the 1888 Message, p. 113, writes that Jones and Waggoner “had united those aspects of Adventist theology that were distinctively Adventist to the great theme of justification by faith that, as Ellen White put it, was being taught by the holiness preachers (RH, Aug. 13, 1889).” So I ask: does this historian’s description of the quote even remotely reflect the context of the quote? It is plain: the “Holiness preachers” had an “extreme” view of justification by faith; thus, Jones and Waggoner couldn’t have simply added distinctly Adventist theology to the Holiness preachers’ “extreme” views on justification by faith and come away with an intelligible message.)
Secondly, as to the idea that Jones and Waggoner did not bring “new light”; when one considers all of Ellen White’s testimony on the matter, it is strange how anyone could ever come away with the impression that they were just regurgitating the gospel of Luther’s day or theirs. Notice, for example, her recollection of the experience she had at Minneapolis:
Questions were asked at that time. ‘Sister White, do you think that the Lord has any new and increased light for us as a people?’ I answered, ‘Most assuredly. I do not only think so, I but can speak understandingly. I know that there is precious truth to be unfolded to us if we are the people that are to stand in the day of God’s preparation.” (1888 Materials, p. 219)
Indeed, she later clarified, “truth will be continually unfolding, expanding and developing, for it is Divine, like its Author” (Ibid., p. 434). She further pointed out how “there never was any new light that came from heaven but that Satan could find something in it to pick at. And so it is with some of the people of today—they will pick at little things” (Ibid., p. 302). Asking the rhetorical question, “What is God going to do for His people—leave them with no new light?” she responded that “we are to get more light from the throne of God, and have an increase of light” (Ibid., p. 341). Further, “the light will continue to shine from the Word of God . . . in brighter and still brighter rays, and reveal more and more distinctly the truth as it is in Jesus” (Ibid., p. 827). In fact, “That which God gives His servants to speak today would not perhaps have been present truth twenty years ago,” she wrote, “but it is God’s message for this time” (Ibid., p. 133). Indeed, she proclaimed at the Minneapolis session that “there is much light yet to shine forth from the law of God and the gospel of righteousness. This message, understood in its true character, and proclaimed in the Spirit, will lighten the earth with its glory” (Ibid., p. 166).
Such was her common refrain. She repeatedly affirmed that God was, indeed, bringing His people new light, that truth was continuing to unfold and shine brighter.
Of course, there is no doubt that she did say on a few occasions that what Jones and Waggoner preached was not “new light.” But this sentiment was in response to the concern that what they were preaching undid the “pillars” of Adventism, which was a frequent concern of many. They feared that Jones and Waggoner’s message undermined the foundational truths of Adventism – like the law, the Sabbath, etc. No, Ellen White said, Jones and Waggoner’s message was not some “new light” that undid those truths, it was simply an expansion and re-framing of them.
Thus, she could say on the one hand that their message was not “new light,” while at the same time calling it “new light.”
It takes little thought, of course, to realize that their message simply couldn’t have been the same thing the Reformers were preaching – except with the Sabbath tacked on. Though Jones and Waggoner stood on their shoulders, they went much beyond them and reframed the gospel considerably.
This topic deserves a thorough analysis in its own right, but a few highlights will be sufficient to show the disparity between Jones and Waggoner’s Adventist gospel, and the gospel of Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and the “Holiness people” of their day.
1. The Great Controversy motif. Simply put, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, et al, did not understand the great controversy motif, from which it is understood that every teaching in scripture derives from the grand reality that “God is love.” When this teaching is not foundational, it leads one to some seriously destructive theological concepts and views on salvation – like the idea of predestination (Luther and Calvin).
2. The nature of man. Any person who does not have a proper understanding of the nature of man – i.e., that of man’s conditional immortality – cannot have a complete picture of what Christ experienced on the cross – that is, the second death. This cannot be underscored enough because recognizing the truth about the second death adds unparalleled depth to Christ’s sacrifice. And such depth, when understood, leads to unparalleled appreciation for Christ’s sacrifice, resulting in unparalleled obedience. Thus, this is not trivial matter – nor a side-doctrine that has no significance for the very gospel itself.
3. The law of God. It’s not simply that Jones and Waggoner believed the law was still binding or that the seventh day was still the Sabbath; Ellen White repeatedly mentioned how the “law and the gospel” must go hand-in-hand. This meant that the law pointed out one’s need for a Savior, and the gospel provided it. When the law is done away with altogether, however, the gospel loses its force and, in fact, its purpose.
4. The two covenants. As far as I can tell, the Reformers didn’t have the foggiest clue about the two covenants – i.e., that the two covenants (old and new) were not about time periods, but about experiences. The significance of this teaching cannot be underscored enough as it largely serves as a foundational teaching of the gospel – which, sadly, most Adventists are still largely ignorant of.
5. The sanctuary and investigative judgment. To some extent, this goes together with the law of God. Indeed, as I’ve been reading some of the testimonies from the revivals that took place in the years that followed after 1888, one thing that has particularly struck me is how Jones and Waggoner’s message of Christ’s imputed righteousness was so refreshing to people because they realized that, in the judgment, it was no longer their own righteousness that they were dependent upon, but Christ’s.
Thus, I’ve realized that the message of Christ’s imputed righteousness is most heartening to those who realize that they are involved in some type of judgment right now. Simply put: if there is no investigative judgment, the news of Christ’s righteousness lacks much of its punch. (I think there are lessons for us today with this: perhaps one of the reasons the message of Christ’s righteousness is not as effective today is because we don’t talk about the investigative judgment anymore. Then again, quite ironically, the reason we probably don’t talk much about the investigative judgment much anymore is because we as a church never fully embraced the teaching of Christ’s imputed righteousness introduced by Jones and Waggoner. After all, depending on my own righteousness in the judgment is a very scary thing, and better to throw the whole teaching out altogether than to be assaulted by the fear that derives from thinking about such a judgment. It’s thus like a chicken or an egg type scenario.)
Of course, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley hadn’t the foggiest clue about the investigative judgment – which was not their fault, since it was not “present truth” until 1844.
But beyond this, the sanctuary doctrine also provides more robust understandings of what Christ is trying to accomplish in the lives of sinful people. Justification by faith is thus not simply something Christ does for you, but what He does in and through you. No doubt, Wesley was heading in that direction with his understanding of perfection, but Jones and Waggoner brought it home as they understood these concepts within the framework of the sanctuary.
Of course, it needs to be plainly stated: this is a very quick analysis of the differences between the Reformer’s gospel and Jones and Waggoner’s. And, indeed, each of the Reformers varied in the extent to which they would agree or disagree with the “present truth” of Jones and Waggoner. But, suffice it to say, none of them, nor any of the “Holiness people” in Jones and Waggoner’s day, would agree with all of Jones and Waggoner’s uniquely-Adventist gospel.
Thus, to simply say that Jones and Waggoner reintroduced Adventism to the “basic Christianity” that the Reformers taught is a very simplistic attitude. More than that, it leads to the erroneous attitude that there is no greater value in studying what Jones and Waggoner taught than what Luther, Calvin, Wesley, or contemporary evangelicals taught and teach.
And this is an entirely unfortunate perspective because it undermines what God is really eager to do for us at this important juncture in earth’s history: help us see the most grand and glorious presentation of truth that any group of people have ever had the privilege of witnessing.
b. The Ellen White argument. I don’t find this argument explicitly expressed too often, but it nevertheless seems to be implicitly suggested: let’s just stick with Ellen White. We know she’s inspired, we know she understood justification by faith, so let’s not bother ourselves with Jones and Waggoner who, at the very least, had a bit of error mixed in with their truth.
But once again, such a perspective is fairly simplistic. To begin with, such a thought would seem to contradict Ellen White’s own attitude and practice. For example, speaking at the 1888 General Conference itself, she expressed her attitude toward Jones and Waggoner: “I would have humility of mind,” she proclaimed, “and be willing to be instructed as a child. The Lord has been pleased to give me great light, yet I know that He leads other minds, and opens to them the mysteries of His Word, and I want to receive every ray of light that God shall send me, though it should come through the humblest of His servants” (1888 Materials, p. 163).
Don’t miss this thought. It’s big. Ellen White declared that God graciously gave her “great light” directly, but she also recognized that God used other human channels to share light with her as well. Indeed, God “leads other minds,” which is why she resolved to have “humility of mind, and be willing to be instructed as a child.”
Two years later, writing to Uriah Smith (who else?), she also shared this revealing thought:
The question is, has God sent the truth? Has God raised up these men to proclaim the truth? I say, yes, God has sent men to bring us the truth that we should not have had unless God had sent somebody to bring it to us. God has let me have a light of what His Spirit is, and therefore I accept it, and I no more dare to lift my hand against these persons, because it would be against Jesus Christ, who is to be recognized in His messengers (Ibid., p. 608).
This quote is loaded. She makes it very clear that Jones and Waggoner brought “truth that we should not have had unless God had sent somebody to bring it to us.” Apparently, God gave them a special and unique message that not even Ellen White had been fully presenting. And it was a message that was for “us,” which included Ellen White (not that she was wrong in her theology; but she didn’t have all the light on every subject – as though her knowledge was exhaustive). Revealingly, she also said that to “lift my hand” against Jones and Waggoner would be to lift her hand against Jesus Christ – who was “recognized in His messengers.”
What I also find intriguing about this thought is that the message they bore was necessary for the church. This stands in juxtaposition to the attitude of some who postulate that since Ellen White said on a number of occasions that Christ could have and would have come prior to 1888 (see, for example, Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 115), then Jones and Waggoner’s ministry was superfluous.
But that misses the point. Christ didn’t need Jones and Waggoner in order to prepare the church and the world for His second coming, but He did need their message. Again, Ellen White could not put it in any clearer terms: “The Lord has raised up Brother Jones and Brother Waggoner to proclaim a message to the world to prepare a people to stand in the day of God” (1888 Materials, p. 1814). So, although it would not have been Jones and Waggoner prior to 1888, it would have been someone proclaiming that message that would “prepare a people.” We can thus rightly assume that if Christ had come prior to 1888 it would have been as a result of someone proclaiming that message that would “prepare a people.”
So let’s think about all this testimony logically. Saying that Jones and Waggoner had a special message that not even Ellen White was proclaiming in its fullness in no way undermines Ellen White’s ministry or authority. It simply acknowledges that she did not have all the light on every subject and that her knowledge was not exhaustive. Indeed, she didn’t preach, teach, or write about every subject – nor did she claim to. Nor should we have expected her to. She was a finite human being!
This is not to say that Jones and Waggoner’s teaching contradicted Ellen White, nor that we should choose them instead of her if there is a conflict. It’s that their message complemented hers and filled out the picture. This is why she was so adamant in her promotion of them and was deeply distraught whenever they were not given an audience – even though she was.
For example, on at least two occasions in the immediate aftermath of the 1888 General Conference session, she went to great lengths to insist that A. T. Jones be given the pulpit. First, in Battle Creek, immediately after Minneapolis, she was invited to speak; but when she asked the elders of the tabernacle to allow Jones to preach and they refused, she was deeply distraught and pressed the matter until they relented.
Later, when it came to the Iowa Conference – a place that was being starved of the message of righteousness by faith because of its leadership – Ellen White shared with her son Willie that she was desperately trying to figure out a way to gets Jones an invitation to speak there – perhaps even traveling there stealthily and under the radar so the Conference leadership didn’t know. “Willie,” she wrote, “I am in distress for the poor sheep in Iowa. What have they done that they must be left unvisited? The sin of the shepherd should not be visited upon the sheep. I am pained at heart to think of those who are laboring for the churches in Iowa. Could not the camp meetings be arranged so that Brother A. T. Jones could go with me to Iowa? We could go without the waiting for these blind shepherds to signify their wishes to have us come. You know I told you that the people gave an invitation by a rising vote for me to attend the Iowa camp meeting. I will go if it can be arranged so that Brother Jones can accompany me” (1888 Materials, p. 290).
Indeed, she wrote in the next paragraph, “I think that Elder A. T. Jones should attend our large camp meetings, and give to our people and to outsiders as well the precious subject of faith and the righteousness of Christ.”
So the question reverberates: why was she so insistent that Jones and Waggoner be given these opportunities if their teaching was merely superfluous? Why was she so willing to have her own ministry jeopardized for the sake of propping up Jones and Waggoner, if what they were sharing was simply redundant? It was plain that she was welcome to preach at these places. Shouldn’t that have been enough?
Apparently not. This is because she knew that they had a special message to share that complemented the message she bore, both filling out the picture and articulating it in ways she did not.
Interestingly, J. S. Washburn, who attended the 1888 General Conference session, perhaps sheds some light on Ellen White’s thinking. Reflecting on a conversation he had with her, he recounted this poignant exchange:
E.J. Waggoner can teach righteousness by faith more clearly than I can,’ said Sister White. ‘Why, Sister White,’ I said, ‘do you mean to say that E. J. Waggoner can teach it better than you can, with all your experience?’ Sister White replied, ‘Yes, the Lord has given him special light on that question. I have been wanting to bring it out more clearly, but I could not have brought it out as clearly as he did. But when he brought it out at Minneapolis, I recognized it.” (J. S. Washburn to Robert J. Wieland, June 4, 1950 – quoted here).
In many ways, sticking with an “Ellen White is all I need” attitude is like a Christian saying in the first century “I’m not going to listen to the apostle James because all I need is Paul.” While a prophetic voice always holds pre-eminence when it comes to matters of truth, God also gifts others with a burden and a message.
Such was the case with Jones and Waggoner, of whom Ellen White said over and over and over again that they had a special message to bear, they possessed heavenly credentials, they were Christ’s delegated messengers, and, indeed, Christ was to “be recognized” in them.
Thus, when all the evidence is considered, it is apparent that A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner had a message that not only went beyond the Reformer’s gospel, but also complemented Ellen White’s own teaching and filled out the picture, rather than merely parroting it. There is thus much to be gained by studying their message. Indeed, there is “much to see” when we turn our eyes and minds to Minneapolis.
So let us do that very thing.