When Nimrod and his followers declared their independence from the Lord, Nimrod became the first King of Babylon and eventually built the tower of Babel.
“The tower had reached a lofty height, and it was impossible for the workmen at the top to communicate directly with those at the base . . . Confusion and dismay followed. All work came to a standstill . . . in their rage and disappointment they reproached one another . . . Men were made to feel that there is a God who ruleth in the heavens and that He is able to confuse and to multiply confusion in order to teach men that they are only men.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 214.
When the 1903 General Conference adopted a plan for a “World General Conference” with one General Conference President, Ellen White used this tower to illustrate the problems of centralization” as a “confederacy” born of “rebellion against God.” (Testimonies, vol. 8, 213.)
When Israel rejected the Lord as their King, and asked Samuel for a king, this form of centralized government under men eventually led to the division of the nation and destruction of Israel. Men had failed to learn from the tower of Babel that man cannot stand where God is to stand. The same discord generated at the tower of Babel was not comprehended by God’s people. Just as the tower led to confusion, Jerusalem eventually became “the city of confusion.” Isaiah 24:10. Choosing a king only deepened an apostasy into a “conspiracy” that broke the covenant, making Jerusalem a curse. The Lord had to destroy Jerusalem because of a false witness to the world. The prophecy of Isaiah 24:10 is a final day prophecy that applies to spiritual Jerusalem in the final days of earth’s history when the “gleaning grapes” (remnant) “lift the voice” against “the treacherous dealers” which causes “the shaking.” Isaiah 24:13, 14.
Centralization of powers in an hierarchical system in the days of Israel compounded abuses which were considered as treachery against the Lord and a backsliding to the gods of “strangers.” (Isaiah 1:7; Jeremiah 2:11, 25.) The treacherous dealers, according to Scripture, are those who “as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so ye deal treacherously with Me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.” Jeremiah 3:20.
What Might Have Been
It was the Lord’s plan in 1901 to spare the Church from repeating the history of Israel by a knowledge of their mistakes. But warnings from the messenger in 1901 and at the beginning of the 1903 session were not heeded. (General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 26; 1903, 29–30.)Decentralization had been stressed during the 1890s in an attempt to direct the Church away from a layer system of government. Decentralization was the theme of the 1901 plan of reorganization, which provided for the division of the field into the American General Conference and the European General Conference. The presidents of these conferences were to serve under Christ, the Captain of the 1901 plan. But since the brethren failed to come into unity in an upper room experience, “What might have been” (Testimonies, vol. 8, 104–106), was an impossibility. “Men did not humble themselves before the Lord,” and the presence of the Holy Spirit which was essential to unite men under Christ as “Captain” of the 1901 plan, was “not imparted.”(Testimonies, vol. 8, 104.)
Because men refused to unite under Christ in the 1901 plan, the 1903 plan of centralization under man became a necessity to prevent total fragmentation of the work. To maintain any semblance of organizational unity, the American General Conference transformed itself into “a World General Conference,” and coerced the budding European General Conference to revert to the European Union Conference. The delegates chose one man as General Conference President just as Israel chose a king; and the 1903 plan of centralization under man replaced the 1901 apostolic plan under Christ. This was an hierarchical plan of church organization in which man would rule over man in a layer system of organization. This plan was introduced on April 6, 1903 and was accepted on April 9, 1903.
The Most Terrible Sorrow of My Life
Prior to the 1903 General Conference, Ellen White had doubts about attending the session because of her disappointment over the results of the 1901 conference.
“I do not now expect to attend the General Conference. I should not dare to go; for I am very much worn with the responsibilities . . . I feel very intensely, because I understand the peril of those who as blind men have followed their own counsel. Were I to go to the Conference, I should be compelled to take positions that would cut some to the quick . . .
“The result of the last General Conference has been the greatest, the most terrible sorrow of my life. No change was made . . . they did not walk in the light that the Lord had flashed upon their pathway, but carried into their work the wrong principles that had been prevailing in the work at Battle Creek.
“The Lord has marked every movement made by the leading men in our institutions and conferences. It is a perilous thing to reject the light that God sends.” Letter from Ellen White to Judge Jessie Arthur on January 15, 1903.
Thus, in less than two years, the test of time revealed that “wrong principles” had been carried into the work and “no change” was made after the 1901 session. In spite of her disappointment, Mrs. White arranged to attend the 1903 session which convened March 27, 1903, at Oakland, California.
Brethren Cautioned to Look Beneath the Surface
At the April 5 meeting, she expressed deep concern over the decisions of the delegates that would influence the work of God.
“I have been carrying a very heavy burden. For the last three nights I have slept very little. Many scenes are presented to me. I feel an intense interest in the advancement of the work of God, and I say to our leading brethren, As you consider the questions that shall come before you, you are to look beneath the surface. You are to give careful consideration to every question discussed.” General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 104.
Elder Daniels’ Proposal
The Foreign Mission Board, chaired by A.G. Daniels, was still an international organization between 1901 and 1903, which provided the wedge to introduce the new plan of organization.
On April 6, 1903, one day after Ellen White warned the brethren to look beneath the surface, Elder Daniels made his proposal:
“Now, with reference to making the General Conference Committee the Mission Board: As the work is now shaping, the province of the General Conference Committee is of an advisory character to a large extent—not altogether, by any means—and is of a missionary character or phase.
“One who has not been in our office can scarcely realize what a complete change has been wrought at the headquarters of the General Conference . . .the administration in the United States has all been taken away, and is now placed in the hands of scores of men. But while that has been going on, our missionary problems have been greatly increasing . . .
“I have become convinced that one of the great purposes of the General Conference Committee would be to deal with these world-wide problems everywhere.” General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 100, 101.
Elder Daniels’ proposal was actually a cry for help for a human method to give unity of action within the organization. Men in authority could not work under Christ in the 1901 plan because they failed to come into “working order.” (General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 23.) Without Christ as “the Captain,” the only alternative was a strong central committee under man. A world Conference Committee chaired by one president, a concept foreign to the principles of the 1901 plan, was now proposed to manage “world-wide problems everywhere.”
Elder Daniels continued: “I believe that the Committee ought to be composed something like this: That the president of every Union Conference and the chairman of every Union mission field in the world ought to be a member of that committee. This will give us a larger and more representative committee, even, than we have today. We get the whole world directly represented on the General Conference Committee. Then add to that the heads, the leading men in special departments, such as education, publishing, and medical, and put on a few men of special experience, and special ability from their experience, and you have a thoroughly representative committee, representing all interests of this great work in all parts of our little world. And that will give us a truly representative and General Conference Committee, a World’s Conference Committee.
“Now, that, to my mind, brethren, is what should be the Mission Board of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination . . .Then the members of the committees can go to different parts of the field working harmoniously, every one, though separated, to carry out this policy. Now, there must be some executive body appointed to carry out the policy.” General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 100, 101.
Strong Objections From the Minority
The Mission Board, which was still an international organization, became the vehicle for the American General Conference at Battle Creek to grow into a super conference, a World General Conference.
Acceptance of Elder Daniels’ plan did not come easily. The strong objections of the minority report were supported by the plea of Percy T. Magan claiming the new plan swept away the reorganizational principles of the 1897 and 1901 Conferences and opened the way for the papal form of church government.
“But I want to say to you that any man who has ever read those histories, Neander’s History of the Christian Church, Mosheim’s or any other of the great church historian—any man who has ever read those histories can come to no other conclusion but that the principles which are to be brought in through this proposed constitution, . . . are the same principles, and introduced in precisely the same way, as they were hundreds of years ago when the Papacy was made . . .
“I do not deny for a moment but what improvements have been made in the distribution of administrative power. I am heartily in favor of all that has been done in regard to Union Conferences, but I say that, as far as the head of the thing is concerned, . . . the moment you vote it you vote yourselves right back where we were two years ago and before it.” Percy T. Magan, General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 150.
E.A. Sutherland stated that it was his impression that the General Conference was to be broken up into three parts: “I understood six years ago, when they elected their president of Europe, and also of Australia, and of this country, that those three men were supposed to be on the same plan . . . and that, when the General Conference should be called, it would be the calling of all of these men from these three parts, and that no one of these presidents would be supposed to occupy any greater position than either of the others . . . I know that it was talked at that time, that it should be so, and this country was divided up into Union Conferences, or we called them districts at that time; but the plan was the same as we are following at the present time.
“I believe, brethren, the thing to do is to go back where we were two years ago in the matter of reorganization, and take it up, and carry it out, and give it a fair trial, because those who have been in the responsible places have admitted that they did not carry out the letter of that,because they did not believe that it was possible. I believe that it is possible.” E. A. Sutherland, General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 168, 169.
Unbelief Gives Birth to 1903 Plan
The majority of the brethren simply “did not believe it was possible!” The same unbelief that prevented the Israelites from entering the promised land, permeated the General Conference and prevented the “Captain” of the heavenly hosts from leading His people into the heavenly Canaan. In spite of many hours and days of deliberations, the 1903 plan of centralization gathered support. Elder G. I. Butler exerted a strong influence for centralization.
“We are talking now on principles, brethren, and you will pardon one of the old hands, who has been in the work for so many years, and who has had the presidency of the General Conference for thirteen terms, for saying that he fails to see that anything of a kingly nature can be brought into it. I do not believe there can . . .
“The difficulty in all these things, I believe, is in regard to the principles being put in practice by the men that are placed in office . . . I cannot see a particle of danger in our old system of organization . . .
“If men will walk humbly before God, and remain willing to be instructed by the Testimonies of His Spirit, they will never find anything wrong in the old system of organization brought under the express influence of the Spirit of God . . .
“As one of the old hands, I see in this new constitution the same principles that we had in the beginning, that were endorsed by Sister White at the first. This is why I favor the new constitution.” G. I. Butler, General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 163.
James White’s Position on Organization
- I. Butler was a known advocate of “centralization.” He propounded his position to the General Conference in a paper on “Leadership” in 1873. (Review and Herald, November 18, 1873.) His position was endorsed by the delegates at that conference which stirred James White to write an editorial on the dangers of centralized leadership as best understood by the “prophetic eye of the Son of God” when he indicated “all ye are brethren.”
“And at no time during his public ministry does Christ intimate that anyone of his disciples should be designated as their leader . . .
“And there is no intimation that the apostles of Christ designated one of their number above another as their leader . . .”The apostle exalts Christ as the great head of the church, and the only one to whom she should look for leadership, in Hebrews 12:1, 2.
“Moses was simply a faithful servant in the Jewish house, while Christ is a son over his own house. Moses was not a lord in the Jewish house. He was servant, while Christ was lord . . .
“Christ, then, is the leader of His people in all the ages . . .
“But here we wish it distinctly understood that officers were not ordained in the Christian church, to order, or to command the church, and ‘to lord it over God’s heritage’ . . . Christ will lead His people, if they will be led.” James White, Review and Herald, December 1, 1874.
In 1875, G. I. Butler’s position on leadership was considered “incorrect” and was “rescinded” as recorded in the Conference Constitution (August 1875). Elder White later emphasized in an editorial in 1881 that no one “can properly represent Christ who surrenders his judgment to his fellowmen.”
“It was not the design of God that any system of organization should exist in the Christian Church that would take the leadership from Christ.
“The minister who throws himself on any Conference Committee for direction, takes himself out of the hands of Christ. And that committee that takes into its own hands the work of directing the ambassadors for Christ, takes a fearful responsibility. ‘One is your master [leader], even Christ, and all ye are brethren.’ Matthew 23:8. May God preserve to us our organization and form a church discipline in its original form.” Review and Herald, January 4, 1881.
Unfortunately, James White had been laid to rest years previously and he could offer no rebuttal to G. I. Butler’s position. The majority of the delegates were charmed into voting for a World General Conference on April 11, 1903 in the most controversial session in the history of the denomination. Eighty-five delegates gave an affirmative vote, twenty delegates were opposed, and three abstained. (General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 73.) A layer system of authority under man in 1903 replaced the 1901 plan of Jesus given through the Lord’s messenger and supported by the teachings of Jesus.
“Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be among you.” Mark 10:42.
The Europeans are Forced to Submit
After the 1901 plan was officially rejected at the 1903 Session, President L. R. Conradi went home as “First Vice-President . . . to labor in the European Union Conferences and Missions, as the Executive Committee (in Battle Creek) may advise, and to preside at the councils of the members of the Executive Committee, which may be held in Europe, in the absence of the president.” General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 145. The majority were determined to have a “one-man president” over the whole world. Although the Europeans objected, they were finally forced to their knees at Friedensau in 1907 to accept their position as a Union Conference. World control of the ministry, the Sabbath school, the publishing work, the educational, and medical work by the General Conference Committee headquarters in America was now undisputed.
The Stone which was to be the Head of the corner, was set at naught by the delegates of the 1903 session. Nevertheless, Ellen White supported Elder Daniels just as Samuel supported King Saul.
A Pretense of Building on the Right Foundation
Ellen White had absented herself from the discussion of the 1903 plan, but a few days after the 1903 session was adjourned, the Lord gave her a special message for the Church. Two years previously when planning for the reorganization in 1901, she had made it clear that the brethren were to go back to the “foundation” and “build on a different principle.” General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 25. The Lord revealed the truth about the 1903 plan on April 21, 1903.
“The heavenly Teacher inquired: ‘What stronger delusion can beguile the mind than the pretense that you are building on the right foundation and that God accepts your works, when in reality you are working out many things according to worldly policy and are sinning against Jehovah.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 245.
They Have Chosen Their Own Ways I Will Choose Their Delusion
The delegates at the 1903 session got off the “foundation” when they failed to “look beneath the surface.”
“One who sees beneath the surface, who reads the hearts of all men, says of those who have had great light . . . ‘Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. I also will choose their delusions…’ ‘God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie,’ ‘because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved,’ ‘but had pleasure in unrighteousness.’ Isaiah 66: 3, 4; 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 10, 22.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 249.
Problems in Managing A Great Business
The difficulty in administrating a World General Conference is best illustrated by Elder Daniels himself who referred to this experience as being “pressed by seemingly endless problems . . . and succession of crises. Extensive travel . . .necessary that he might have first hand knowledge . . . crowded him for time. He failed to ‘tarry’ he said, until he was endued with ‘power from on high’. . . He had been much like the busy conductor of a transcontinental train, the captain of a great ship, or the manager of a great business concern. He called it the ‘peril of sheer activity of God’—the encroachment of the mechanical, and the submergence of the spiritual. That he said, was where he had erred.” Movement of Destiny, 25.
Saddled with the system that replaced the 1901 plan, A. G. Daniels misinterpreted its pitfalls as his own shortcomings. How many World General Conference Presidents with finite minds could share his frustrations in attempting to fulfill a position requiring the One with infinite capacity?
When the 1901 plan was rejected, Battle Creek could not be preserved. But the denominational pillars of faith had to be saved from pantheistic heresies described as “the alpha of deadly heresies.” Series B, No. 2, 50. The 1903 hierarchical plan became necessary. Although the 1903 plan could not bring men into one accord, the presence of Elder Daniels as “the right man in the right place” (Series B, no. 2, 41) preserved the denomination from falling to pantheistic theories that infiltrated our ranks through the influence of liberal Protestants visiting Battle Creek. A Seventh-Day Baptist educator may have been instrumental in undermining the faith of Kellogg and many others at Battle Creek. (See Movement of Destiny, 351, 352.)
An hierarchical form of church government was required by default. When the brethren failed to enter into an “upper room” experience, thy also failed to see “a particle of danger in the old system of organization” and the “new constitution.”
The 1903 plan that allowed a powerful personality like Daniels to meet the Alpha would permit the Omega to follow (Series B no. 2, 50); because, the 1903 plan based on human power allowed “self” to be exalted. Self-exaltation was the basis of the Alpha. (Ibid. 91.) It is certainly a problem in an hierarchical form of ecclesiastical rule. Placing the entire denominational leadership under an hierarchical plan would affect the attitude of every worker. Therefore the entire Church leadership would be threatened by the Omega.
Will a “one man president” of “a world General Conference” be preserved from the Omega (pantheistic theories) that are rampant among other denominations today?
Will a “one man president” meet the deadly heresies of the Omega “with full steam ahead”? Or, will he fail with it?
Will the delegates at G. C. ’85 consider the 1901 apostolic plan, a plan designed by Jesus prior to His ascension, and given again to His people at the 1901 session?
Will the Lord raise up delegates who will stand as Sutherland “and take it up, and carry it out, and give it a fair trial?”
Will the delegates present a resolution to reconsider the 1901 plan?