“In reviewing our past history, having traveled over every step of advance to our present standing, I can say, Praise God! As I see what the Lord has wrought, I am filled with astonishment, and with confidence in Christ as leader. We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, 196.
During a visit with fellow Christians who had escaped severe persecution under Communist controlled Eastern Europe, a discussion came about as to the purpose of the 1901 plan that provided for the European General Conference. Because the plan failed, these people suffered great religious persecution and hardship. To them, the 1901 plan was a call for God’s people to “turn (their) eyes upon Jesus.”
During the opening session, Ellen White said that God’s people must be “born again.”
“There must be a renovation, a reorganization; a power and strength must be brought into the committees that are necessary. Let every one of you go home, not to chat, chat, chat, but to pray. Go home and pray. Talk with God. Go home and plead with God to mold and fashion you after the divine similitude.” The General Conference Bulletin, 1903.
A “renovation” was essential for the 1901 plan of reorganization to function. The call to look to Jesus is the very meaning of the Third Angel’s Message. (Testimonies to Ministers, 93.)
“But the work that all heaven was waiting to do as soon as men prepared the way, was not done; for the leaders closed and bolted the door against the Spirit’s entrance. There was a stopping short of entire surrender to God. And hearts that might have been purified from all error were strengthened in wrong doing . . . and said to the Spirit of God, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will call for thee.” Letter to J.H. Kellogg from Ellen White, August 5, 1902.
When there was no renovation, the plan of reorganization could not be implemented. The 1901 plan was rejected and it had to be replaced with A.G. Daniells’ plan: “a World General Conference” that destroyed the European General Conference. At a time when our people are suffering great persecution in Eastern Europe, there is a call to look to Jesus with the 1901 plan.
The 1901 Plan of Reorganization of the General Conference
When Ellen White stepped to the podium on April 2, 1901 on the first day of the General Conference session, she wasted no time in calling for a reorganization.
“What we want now is a reorganization. We want to begin at the foundation, and to build upon a different principle . . .
“According to the light that has been given me—and just how it is to be accomplished I can not say—greater strength must be brought into the managing force of the conference.” The General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 25.
Just how greater strength within the organization was to be accomplished was not understood until two days later when the Committee on Plans presented the formation of a separate Union Conference for the work of the South. The work in the South had unique requirements and a multitude of problems because of the illiteracy, poverty and racial difficulties still being experienced in the post Civil War period. The Committee on Plans felt that the uniqueness of the work would present special management problems making it desirable for the South to organize into a Union Conference. They had also discussed the formation of the American Union Conference, which had been sanctioned and approved by the General Conference in 1897. The European Union Conference had already been formed in 1898. (The General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 67.) In this discussion, it was assumed that both of the conferences would return a tithe to the General Conference. (The General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 67.)
At this time in history, the Australasian and European Union Conferences were under the administration of the General Conference in Battle Creek. The new proposal would bring two additional Union Conferences in America under the General Conference at Battle Creek.
It was during this meeting, that Mrs. White was given the actual plan of reorganization: “I am thankful that there is to be a time when the mists will be cleared away. I hope that this time has begun here. We want the mists here to be cleared away. I want to say that from the light given to me by God, there should have been years ago organizations such as are now proposed. When we first met in Conference, it was thought that the General Conference should extend over the whole world. But this is not in God’s order.” The General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 68.
Heretofore, it was thought that all territory organized into the conferences would be under the administration of the General Conference at Battle Creek. At that time the Foreign Mission Board was still a separate organization from the General Conference and had the responsibility of the mission fields. Many messages had been given in the prior decade on the decentralization of the work at Battle Creek, but it was not understood until this meeting just how this was to be accomplished. Now it was clear [that] the field was to be divided so that the administrative responsibilities would not be centralized in one General Conference committee. To expect one group of men, regardless of the size of that committee, to grasp the problems and supervise the entire organized world field was beyond the capabilities of finite minds.
Ellen White continued: “Conferences must be organized in different localities, and it will be for the health of the different Conferences to have it thus. This does not mean that we are to cut ourselves apart from one another, and be as separate atoms. Every Conference is to touch every other Conference, and be in harmony with every other Conference. God wants us to talk for this, and He wants us to act for this. We are the people of God, who are to be separate from the world. We are to stand as representatives of sacred truth.” The General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 68–69.
The problem of a General Conference that attempted to extend over the whole world was then illustrated by Mrs. White noting several instances of mismanagement she observed on her trip to Battle Creek. There were delays as well as problems resulting from decision making by those without first-hand knowledge of the issues. Also, the centralization of the work had created a dependency at the local level which caused weakness in the work of God. There was a loss of urgency in giving the Three Angels’ Messages, the most important work ever entrusted to a people and the only hope for a perishing world.
The work of the church was not to utilize the management principles of the world by centralization in finite human beings. The work of God was to centralize in Christ, the great General He would direct the various fields of labor “through the Holy Spirit.”
“We want to understand that there are no gods in our Conference. There are to be no kings here, and no kings in any Conference that is formed. ‘All ye are brethren.’ . . . The Lord God of Israel will link us all together. The organizing of new Conferences is not to separate us. It is to bind us together. The Conferences that are formed are to cling mightily to the Lord, so that through them He can reveal His power . . .
“Remember that God can give wisdom to those who handle His work. It is not necessary to send thousands of miles to Battle Creek for advice, and then have to wait weeks before an answer can be received. Those who are right on the ground are to decide what shall be done. You know what you have to wrestle with, but those who are thousands of miles away do not know.” The General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 68–69.
Decentralization was the theme of the reorganization of the General Conference in 1901. The call for “a renovation, a reorganization on an entirely different principle” on April 2, was now made clear on April 4. Christ was to link heads of conferences and institutions. He would do the binding. The 1901 plan was a call to look to Christ.
The clarification of basic principles of organization on April 4, 1901 resulted in the division of the field and the supervision and management of the work of God being placed in different locations. The European General Conference was formed in July, 1901 with L.R. Conradi as the President. A. G. Daniells became president of the General Conference in America. Our most dedicated Adventist Church history substantiates this fact: “Hence, the European field came to be regarded as a self-sufficient continental unit, and it was called ‘The General Conference in Europe,’ while the organization in the land of origin was called ‘The General Conference in America.’ And there was, besides, the Australasian Union Conference.” Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists, vol. 3, 348.
The action taken at the 1901 session in limiting the General Conference geographically received the approbation of “the God of heaven and His angels” who “walked up and down the aisles” during that meeting. (The General Conference Bulletin, 1901, 463.)
There was no suggestion of a “World General Conference” in the 1901 plan for reorganization.
“The question to be settled is who is God? . . . In his efforts to dethrone God and to put himself in the place of God, Satan has deceived man in the rebellion . . . When the true God is known and acknowledged for what He really is, when He is given the place which belongs to Him in all things, and we take the place which belongs to us, then He is glorified and we are glorified in Him. This means our salvation from sin now and eternally.” The General Conference Bulletin, 1898, 221.
The geographical limitations of the General Conference in Battle Creek were also in alignment with counsel from the servant of the Lord given in August, 1896: “As a people we should study God’s plans for conducting His work. Wherever He has given directions in regard to any point, we should carefully consider how to regard His expressed will. This work should have special attention. It is not wise to choose one man as president of the General Conference. The work of the General Conference has extended, and some things have been made unnecessarily complicated. A want of discernment has been shown. There should be a division of the field, or some other plan should be devised to change the present order of things.” Testimonies to Ministers, 342.
This counsel appeared in The General Conference Bulletin, 315, in 1897 and said our world work should be divided up into three divisions: “The presidency of the General Conference Association, the presidency of the Mission Board, and the presidency of the General Conference work in North America, should be placed on three different men.”
The brethren honestly attempted to respond to this counsel at the 1897 General Conference session by electing three presidents who presided over the General Conference Committee, and the Foreign Mission Board.
In the 1901 plan of reorganization, Christ was to be the “greater strength” to direct and unify the different General Conferences. Mrs. White was elated. The 1901 plan was the very essence of the Third Angel’s Message applied to church government. Leadership was to look to Christ instead of man. Heads of large conferences and various institutions were to stand as equals under Christ in an apostolic form of church government. However, only a few months after the 1901 session problems erupted over management. Edson White’s ministry in the South caused some difficulties with the administration. Nevertheless, his mother was confident that the problems would be resolved. A portion of a letter from Ellen White to her son Edson has been released for publication: “Your course would have been the course to be pursued if no change had been made in the General Conference. But a change has been made, and many more changes will be made and great developments will be seen.” Letter 54, 1901.
Unfortunately, as the months passed by, leadership’s failure to implement the 1901 plan became evident. Her confession is written in a private letter to a friend and confidant: “The result of the last General Conference has been the greatest, the most terrible, sorrow of my life. No change was made. The spirit that should have been brought into the whole work as the result of that meeting was not brought in because men did not receive the testimonies of the Spirit of God. As they went to their several fields of labor, 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.” Letter to Judge Jesse Arthur from Ellen White, Elmshaven, January 15, 1903.
What happened? The cause was revealed to her ten days prior to writing the letter to Judge Arthur. On January 5, 1903 she was considering what might have been done at the last General Conference when she lapsed into a dream.
“The speaker turned to those who had been praying, and said: ‘We have something to do. We must confess our sins, and humble our hearts before God.’ He made heartbroken confessions and then stepped up to several of the brethren, one after another, and extended his hand, asking forgiveness. Those to whom he spoke sprang to their feet, making confession and asking forgiveness . . . The spirit of confession spread through the entire congregation. It was a Pentecostal season . . . Then I aroused from my unconsciousness, and for a while could not think where I was. My pen was still in my hand. The words were spoken to me: ‘This might have been’ . . . disappointment came over me as I realized that what I had witnessed was not a reality.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 104–106.
Pride prevented certain men in responsible positions at the 1901 session from settling their differences so they could look to Christ. As a result, “What Might Have Been” (The 1901 plan of reorganization) was lost to Seventh-day Adventist Church and to the world. Without an upper room experience, the could be no Pentecost. Pride, presumption, and the love of position prevented Christ from leading a people in an apostolic form of church government. The brethren preferred to be like the “Gentiles” who have “their great ones” exercise “lordship” and “authority upon them.” (Mark 10:42.) Christ was rejected as the “Captain” and the “greater strength” of the 1901 plan. A fundamental principle of “the Third Angel’s Message” was disregarded when the delegates were determined to “look to man and expect much help from man.” (Testimonies to Ministers, 93.) The 1901 plan did not fail, but men failed the plan when they failed to look to Jesus as their Captain.
Taken from the book 1901 Rejected by Deone Hanson, pages 2–7.