“We must keep before the world a united front. Satan will triumph to see differences among Seventh-day Adventists.” -Ellen White
I wonder what the climate of the Seventh-day Adventist Church would look like if we paid heed to this counsel? I wonder what the tone and content of our blogs, articles, books, and sermons would be if we understood the critical principles that Ellen White sets forth.
The following is an excerpt from a letter she wrote to E.J. Waggoner and A.T. Jones in 1887. Even though she later closely aligned herself with their ministry, she urged much caution prior to 1888 and pled with them not to publish their disagreements and differences of opinion any more. It’s not that they were necessarily wrong; it’s that disagreeing – and calling other brothers out – in a public manner is not of the Lord’s doing.
Thankfully, they repented of their sins and – at least for a number of years – refused to air their grievances any further in a public manner.
I have a lot to learn from her counsel. Would that we all learned it.
Letters came to me from some attending the Healdsburg College in regard to Brother E. J. W.’s [Waggoner’s] teachings in regard to the two laws. I wrote immediately protesting against their doing contrary to the light which God had given us in regard to all differences of opinion, and I heard nothing in response to the letter. It may never have reached you. If you, my brethren, had the experience that my husband and myself have had in regard to these known differences being published in articles in our papers, you would never have pursued the course you have, either in your ideas advanced before our students at the college, neither would it have appeared in the Signs. Especially at this time should everything like differences be repressed. These young men are more self-confident and less cautious than they should be. You must, as far as difference is concerned, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Even if you are fully convinced that your ideas of doctrines are sound, you do not show wisdom that that difference should be made apparent.
“I have no hesitancy in saying you have made a mistake here. You have departed from the positive directions God has given upon this matter, and only harm will be the result. This is not in God’s order. You have now set the example for others to do as you have done, to feel at liberty to put in their various ideas and theories and bring them before the public, because you have done this. This will bring in a state of things that you have not dreamed of. I have wanted to get out articles in regard to the law, but I have been moving about so much, my writings are where I cannot have the advantage of them.
“It is no small matter for you to come out in the Signs as you have done, and God has plainly revealed that such things should not be done. We must keep before the world a united front. Satan will triumph to see differences among Seventh-day Adventists. These questions are not vital points. I have not read Elder Butler’s pamphlet or any articles written by any of our writers and do not mean to. But I did see years ago that Elder [J. H.] Waggoner’s views were not correct, and read to him matter which I had written. The matter does not lie clear and distinct in my mind yet. I cannot grasp the matter, and for this reason I am fully convinced that presenting it has been not only untimely, but deleterious.
“Elder Butler has had such an amount of burdens he was not prepared to do this subject justice. Brother E. J. W. [Waggoner] has had his mind exercised on this subject, but to bring these differences into our general conferences is a mistake; it should not be done. There are those who do not go deep, who are not Bible students, who will take positions decidedly for or against, grasping at apparent evidence; yet it may not be truth, and to take differences into our conferences where the differences become widespread, thus sending forth all through the fields various ideas, one in opposition to the other, is not God’s plan, but at once raises questionings, doubts whether we have the truth, whether after all we are not mistaken and in error.
“The Reformation was greatly retarded by making prominent differences on some points of faith and each party holding tenaciously to those things where they differed. We shall see eye to eye erelong, but to become firm and consider it your duty to present your views in decided opposition to the faith or truth as it has been taught by us as a people, is a mistake, and will result in harm, and only harm, as in the days of Martin Luther. Begin to draw apart and feel at liberty to express your ideas without reference to the views of your brethren, and a state of things will be introduced that you do not dream of.
“My husband had some ideas on some points differing from the views taken by his brethren. I was shown that however true his views were, God did not call for him to put them in front before his brethren and create differences of ideas. While he might hold these views subordinate himself, once they are made public, minds would seize [upon them], and just because others believed differently would make these differences the whole burden of the message, and get up contention and variance.” (1888 Materials, pp. 21-24)