The thirty-fourth session of the General Conference convened at Battle Creek, Michigan, April 2 through April 23, 1901. This was an important General Conference session because it involved not only a major reorganization of the Church, but it was the first General Conference Ellen White had attended in 10 years.
“A feeling of exhilaration and excitement filled the air on Tuesday morning, April 2, as workers and church members began to assemble in the Battle Creek Tabernacle a little before nine o’clock,” Arthur White wrote. “This would be the largest General Conference session ever held.” Arthur L. White, The Early Elmshaven Years, vol. 5, 70.
There were 267 delegates at the 1901 General Conference session. The Church at that time had a membership of about 75,000: four-fifths of which were in the United States. The organization of the Church in 1901 consisted of only local Conferences and a General Conference. The “General Conference had remained unchanged from 1863 to 1901.” Ibid. It was time for a change, for a reorganization of the Church structure. Shortly after the “most precious message” was given to the Church by Waggoner and Jones in 1888, Ellen White stated that there was a wrong principle of power at the head of the Church and that this principle needed to be changed.
“For years the church has been looking to man and expecting much from man, but not looking to Jesus, in whom our hopes of eternal life are centered,” Ellen White wrote. “Therefore God gave to His servants [Waggoner and Jones] a testimony that presented the truth as it is in Jesus, which is the Third Angel’s Message in clear, distinct lines.” Letter to O. A. Olsen, dated at Hobart, Tasmania, May 1, 1895; 1888 Materials, 1338.
“The result of this has been in various ways. The sacred character of the cause of God is no longer realized at the center of the work. The voice from Battle Creek, which has been regarded as authority in counseling how the work should be done, is no longer the voice of God; but it is the voice of—whom? From whence does it come, and where is its vital power? This state of things is maintained by men who should have been disconnected from the work long ago. These men do not scruple to quote the word of God as their authority, but the god who is leading them is a false god.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 17, 185, 186. [Emphasis supplied.]
“As the institutional interests in Battle Creek grew, businessmen were drawn in to head them, and a strong center developed,” Arthur White wrote. “A General Conference Executive Committee, beginning with three members in 1863, some twenty years later was increased to five.” Arthur L. White, The Early Elmshaven Years, vol. 5, 71.
There were seven members on the General Conference Committee in 1887. Two more members were added in 1889, and two more in 1893. By the opening of the 1901 General Conference session the Executive Committee numbered thirteen. The last two had been added at the 1899 General Conference session. (See Ibid.)
Although the Church had grown in size, the number of leading men at headquarters had not kept pace with the growth. A small group of men controlled the Church at Battle Creek. The 1901 delegation was to move forward with the establishment of Union Conferences between the local State Conferences and the General Conference.
Guard Against Consolidating and Centralizing the Work
“Beginning with 1889 certain measures were strongly promoted to consolidate and centralize various features of the denominational work,” Arthur White wrote. “This would begin with the publishing interests and then reach out to the educational and medical lines.” Ibid., 72.
Although some wished to consolidate and centralize the work of the denomination, the counsel from Ellen White was against centralization. Testimony after testimony was given against centralization.
“It is not the purpose of God to centralize in this way, bringing all the interests of one branch of the work under the management of a comparatively few men,” Ellen White wrote. “In His great purpose of advancing the cause of truth in the earth, He designs that every part of His work shall blend with every other part.” Spalding and Magan Collection, 404.
“The workers are to draw together in the Spirit of Christ,” Ellen White concluded. “In their diversity, they are to preserve unity. . . . The work of direction is to be left with the great Manager, while obedience to the work of the Lord is to be the aim of His workers.” Ibid., 404.
Notice that their unity was to be in their “diversity.” No one was to rule over the other. Their unity was in Christ and the truth. Christ, not man, is the Head, “the great Manager,” of the work and the Church.
Not only were Adventists counseled not to centralize the work, it was also not God’s plan that the Advent people should centralize their homes in one place. The plan was to spread out, to take the Advent truth to all the world.
“It is not the Lord’s plan to centralize largely in any one place,” Ellen White counseled. “The time has passed when there should be any binding about of the work and confining it to a few places.” The Publishing Ministry, 146.
In 1901, the Review and Herald publishing house at Battle Creek was in dire need of a complete overhaul. The Press was involved in commercial printing and because of this policy the publishing and sale of message-filled books suffered during this period. The policy was that any material would be published that would bring a profit to the Review and Herald Publishing house.
“This included fiction, Wild West stories, Roman Catholic books, and works on sex and hypnosis,” Arthur White wrote. “When cautioned, men in positions of management at the Review office declared that they were printers and not censors.” The Early Elmshaven Years, vol. 5, 72.
The Adventist structure is in the very same situation today. The new Seventh-day Adventist publishing house in Russia is required by the State to publish the religious books of other denominations. Like the Review and Herald Publishing house in the 1890s, this includes, Roman Catholic books, Pentecostal, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even works of spiritualism! Not only that, but this new publishing house in Russia had to have the endorsement of Billy Graham before the Soviet government would permit the General Conference to build the publishing house. The Soviet government would also retain 51 percent of the publishing house; thus the Soviet government would have final control in any dispute.
The Cleansing Fire
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked,” the apostle Paul warned, “for whatsoever a man [or church] soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7. Is it any wonder that on December 30, 1902, the Lord sent His angels to torch the main building of the Review and Herald publishing plant.
“Before the fire came which swept away the Review and Herald factory, I was in distress for many days. I was in distress while the council was in session, laboring to get the right matter before the meeting, hoping, if it were a possible thing, to call our brethren to repentance, and avert calamity. It seemed to me that it was almost a life and death question. It was then that I saw the representation of danger,—a sword of fire turning this way and that way. I was in an agony of distress. The next news was that the Review and Herald building had been burned by fire, but that not one life had been lost. In this the Lord spoke mercy with judgment. The mercy of God was mingled with judgment to spare the lives of the workers, that they might do the work which they had neglected to do, and which it seemed impossible to make them see and understand.” General Conference Bulletin, April 6, 1903.
Have times changed? Will the Lord still visit His people again in judgement?
“And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem [the Church] with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil.” Zephaniah 1:12.
“He who presides over His church and the destinies of nations is carrying forward the last work to be accomplished for this world. To His angels He gives the commission to execute His judgments.” Testimonies to Ministers, 431.
“Let the ministers awake, let them take in the situation,” Ellen White warned. “The work of judgment begins at the sanctuary.” Ibid.
“Notwithstanding the condition of things at the publishing house, a suggestion had been made to bring still more of our work to the Review Office, still more power into Battle Creek,” Ellen White continued. “This greatly alarmed me, and when the fire came, I breathed easier than I had for a long time.” General Conference Bulletin, April 6, 1903.
“We were thankful that no lives were lost,” Ellen White stated. “There was a large loss of property. Again and again the Lord had shown me that for every dollar that was accumulated by unjust means, there would be ten times as much lost.” Ibid.
Ellen White’s Concern About the 1901 General Conference
The delegates gathered at the 1901 General Conference session with apprehension. They sensed that something important would happen at this session. Ellen White would be present at this General Conference for the first time in ten years .
“All were profoundly thankful that Ellen White was to be there, and she carried a heavy burden for the meeting,” Arthur White wrote. “It was this conference with its challenges and its opportunities that had in a large part led Ellen White to close up her work in Australia and hasten back to the United States.” Early Elmshaven Years, vol. 5, 73.
A New Constitution
At the 1901 General Conference session, a new constitution was voted by the delegates. The two most important changes in this constitution from the previous constitution was as follows:
No General Conference President
The first action established a twenty-five man General Conference Committee instead of a thirteen man committee. The constitution abolished the office of a General Conference President, and established in its place the office of a General Conference “chairman.”
Another important aspect was that no officer of the General Conference committee was to serve more than two years. This would do away with one man at the head of the Church. This was a major move away from the form of government retained by the Papacy for over six hundred years when in 533 a.d., Justinian, the Roman emperor, decreed that the Bishop of Rome was supreme over all other Bishops of the Church.
The second important change established Union Conferences. The Church prior to 1901 had only local State Conferences and a General Conference. This was still not perfect, but would decentralize ecclesiastical authority to a great degree. Under Article #2 it was stated that, “The object of this Conference shall be to unify and to extend to all parts of the world, the work of promulgating the everlasting gospel.” General Conference Bulletin, vol. IV, First Quarter, April 22, 1901. Extra No. 17, 378.
The New General Conference Executive Committee
Article #4, titled, “Executive Committee,” Section 1, stated in part: The Executive Committee of this Conference shall be twenty-five in number, and shall have power to organize itself by choosing a chairman, secretary, treasurer, and auditor, whose duties shall be such as usually pertain to their respective offices. It shall also have the power to appoint all necessary agents and committees for the conduct of its work.” Ibid.
The election of officers and the time they would serve was stated under Section #2: “The Executive Committee shall be elected at the regular sessions of the Conference, and shall hold office for the term of two years, or until their successors are elected, and appear to enter upon their duties.” Ibid.
Current Objection To the 1901 Constitution
Term-limits have never been popular by those holding office. This is true, not only in church offices, but also in the political debates of the day. In his history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Arthur White objected to this form of church government. He believed that the 1901 Constitution was “weak” on the point of a General Conference chairman versus a General Conference President, and the idea of term limits for those holding office. He wrote: “But there was one weakness in the new constitution that did not show up clearly when it was adopted,” Arthur White wrote. “It was to cause considerable concern in the months that followed. This related to the election of the officers of the General Conference.” The Early Elmshaven Years, vol. 5, 95.
This “weakness” however, was the opinion of Arthur White. Obviously, it was not the opinion of the duly authorized delegates of the 1901 General Conference session who voted the constitution into law. Neither was it the opinion of Ellen White who was present at that General Conference session.
“I was never more astonished in my life than at the turn things have taken at this meeting. This is not our work. God has brought it about. Instruction regarding this was presented to me, but until the sum was worked out at this meeting, I could not comprehend this instruction. God’s angels have been walking up and down in this congregation. I want every one of you to remember this, and I want you to remember also that God has said that He will heal the wounds of His people.” General Conference Bulletin, April 25, 1901.
“According to the new constitution, the delegates attending a General Conference session were empowered to elect the General Conference Committee; this committee in turn was to organize itself, electing its own officers,” Arthur White wrote. “It was recognized at the time that this could mean that a man might be chairman for only one year.” Early Elmshaven Years, vol. 5, 95.
Notice that Arthur White’s real objection to the 1901 Constitution centered on the part that “a man might be chairman for only one year,” and that a new chairman would be elected each year thereafter. This is still the objection of leadership today.
“Undoubtedly this provision came about as an overreaction to the desire to get away from any ‘kingly power’ (Letter 49, 1903),” Arthur White observed, “a point that was pushed hard by Elder A. T. Jones, a member of the committee on organization.” Ibid.
Arthur White suggested that the idea of a new General Conference chairman elected each year, “Undoubtedly…came about as an overreaction to the desire to get away from any ‘kingly power.’” Then he gives reference to a testimony from Ellen White, Letter 49, dated 1903, which was not written until two years later. If indeed there was overreaction to the “kingly power” stated in Ellen White’s testimony, then how could the delegates of 1901 overreact to a testimony that had not been given, indeed, that would not be written for two more years?
Notice also that once again Seventh-day Adventist historians, in their desire to alter history, try to attribute the responsibility or blame for an action they see as false on the shoulders of one man. Arthur White used this method when he stated that it was A. T. Jones who “pushed hard” for the idea of a new General Conference chairman elected each year, rather than a continual office of chairman that would keep one man in the office for years. Indeed, if it was A. T. Jones’ urging that caused the 267 delegates to see the wisdom that no one man should be the head of the church, and if his urging helped the delegates to vote it into the new Constitution of 1901, then A. T. Jones should be commended, not condemned. Did not Ellen White state that, “This is not our work. God has brought it about.” Are we not true Protestants? Do we still believe in a country without a king, and a church without a Pope? Are we like Israel of old, continually demanding a visible king over the Church?
“While this arrangement would clearly reduce the possibility of anyone exercising kingly power, it also greatly undercut responsible leadership,” Arthur White lamented. “It went too far, for it took out of the hands of the delegates attending the General Conference session the vital responsibility of electing the leaders of the church and instead placed this responsibility in the hands of the General Conference Executive Committee of twenty-five.” White added further that the new Constitution was “too unwieldy,” and, “There was no church leader with a mandate from the church as represented by its delegates.” Ibid.
The new Constitution did not take “out of the hands of the delegates attending the General Conference session the vital responsibility of electing the leaders of the church,” as Arthur White stated. The delegates elected the twenty-five members of the General Conference Committee. The twenty-five man Committee then chose their own “chairman,” this person to be replaced each year. Arthur White lamented the fact that the General Conference delegates could not choose who was to be the chairman of the General Conference Committee, and that this “chairman” could not serve for long periods of time. Of course, this thinking would only reestablish the old Constitution which provided for a permanent President of the General Conference.
Arthur White admitted that “this arrangement would clearly reduce the possibility of anyone exercising kingly power,” but he believed that the new Constitution “was too unwieldy.” Unfortunately, White then argued for a one-man ruler of the Church. He stated that with this new Constitution, “There was no church leader with a mandate.” That was the idea of the new Constitution, was it not? There was to be no one man at the head of the Church with a mandate from God or man. This would be establishing a Pope, an image of the Papacy!
“That some of the delegates attending the session of 1901 were not clear on this point is evidenced in the insistence that the Committee elect the chairman and announce their decision before that session closed,” White wrote. “A. G. Daniells was chosen as chairman of the General Conference Committee.” Ibid. White added further that, “He was the leader of the church and nearly all the delegates were pleased, but they did not discern at this point how he would be crippled in his work, having no tenure and no mandate.” Ibid.
Arthur White was correct in stating that Daniells was to have no “tenure or mandate.” It was the twenty-five man Executive Committee that was to have a “tenure” and a “mandate” to oversee the work. The chairman was merely to preside over the conference session. Daniells was never to be the leader of the Church; Jesus Christ is the leader of the Church. He was merely the chairman of the General Conference Committee, not the Pope of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
As stated before, the chairman was to hold this office for one year, after which a new chairman would be elected the following year. However, history reveals that Daniells assumed himself President of the General Conference and wrote a new constitution that was voted into law two years later at the 1903 General Conference session. This “new” 1903 Constitution officially established Daniells in the office of President of the General Conference, which office he held for over twenty years!
“He [Daniells] assumed the presidency of the General Conference in 1901 at a difficult period in the history of the church,” the SDA Encyclopedia states. “In 1922 he relinquished the presidency of the General Conference and held the post of secretary for four years.” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Second Revised Edition, 1995.
“To take the position that Ellen White’s urging that there be no kings meant, as interpreted by A. T. Jones, that the church should have no General Conference president was unjustified,” Arthur White wrote. “At no time had the messages from her called for the abolition of the office of president of the General Conference; rather her messages recognized such an office in the organization of the church.” Early Elmshaven Years, vol. 5, 95. To substantiate this claim, Arthur White directed the reader to Testimonies to Ministers, 95, 96. Again, this testimony rebuking “kingly power” was written two years after the 1901 Constitution was voted!
“An earlier statement indicated that she understood that the work devolving upon the president of the General Conference was too large for one man to carry and that others should stand by his side to assist (Testimonies to Ministers, 342, 343),” Arthur White wrote. “She did condemn the exercise of kingly power.” Early Elmshaven Years, vol. 5, 95, 96.
Arthur White tried to establish that A. T. Jones was the only one of the 267 delegates who believed that there should be “no kings,” no General Conference president. The 1901 General Conference Bulletin states that the Constitution was “voted unanimously” by the 267 delegates. A. T. Jones did not vote the new Constitution in by himself!
White stated that the idea that “the church should have no General Conference president was unjustified,” and that at no time had Ellen White “called for the abolition of the office of president of the General Conference.” Arthur White tried to establish that Ellen White endorsed the idea of a General Conference president by quoting an “earlier” statement. (Testimonies to Ministers, 342, 343). He stated that in this earlier statement Ellen White “recognized such an office in the organization of the church.”
Just because Ellen White recognized that there was a General Conference president at an earlier time, does not prove that she endorsed the idea. Indeed, she did state that “the president of the General Conference was too large for one man to carry and that others should stand by his side to assist.” This would have been true also of a General Conference chairman. Ellen White did acknowledge the office of president while it existed, but when the office was abolished at the 1901 General Conference session she stated, “This is not our work. God has brought it about.”
“The weakness, which soon became very apparent, was corrected at the next session of the General Conference,” Arthur White concluded, “the session of 1903.” Ibid.
We must now examine the 1903 General Conference Bulletin for ourselves to find out what was “corrected” at the next session of the General Conference.