The 1903 General Conference session convened in Oakland, California, on March 27, 1903. This would be the most important point in the reorganization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, for at this General Conference a “new” constitution would be voted that would forever establish one man at the head of the Church!
The Chairman, Elder Arthur G. Daniells, called the thirty-fifth General Conference session to order at two-thirty, Friday afternoon, March 27, 1903. One hundred and thirty four delegates were seated at this 1903 session. (General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 1.)
“Since the last meeting of the General Conference we have organized twelve union conferences and twenty-three local conferences,” Daniells stated. “Most of these local conferences are within the territory of the union conferences.” Ibid.
It should be noted that the 134 delegates seated at this 1903 session were 133 short of the 267 delegates seated at the 1901 General Conference session. This was a curious aspect of the 1903 session. The membership of the Church was now larger than it had been two years earlier, but the number of delegates was smaller! Why?
Arthur G. Daniells, General Conference chairman, was about to introduce still another Constitution, which he had written, a Constitution that would establish him in the office of General Conference President. “The business of the conference proper began Monday morning at nine-thirty,” Arthur White stated. “After a roll call of the delegates, the chairman, Elder Daniells, gave his address.…” The Early Elmshaven Years, vol.5, 243. [All emphasis supplied unless otherwise stated.]
Notice that in this statement Arthur White admits that A.G. Daniells was “the chairman,” and not the president of the General Conference. Why was Daniells still the “chairman” after two years, when the delegates, two years prior in 1901, had voted that the office of chairman was to continue only one year?
On Monday morning, Ellen White spoke to the delegates instead of the regular business meeting. She had received a vision the night before and wished to convey the message to the church leadership. She stated in part: “Today God is watching His people. We should seek to find out what He means when He sweeps away our sanitarium and our publishing house. Let us not move along as if there were nothing wrong.…God wants us to come to our senses, He wants us to seek for the meaning of the calamities that have overtaken us, that we may not tread in the footsteps of Israel, and say, ‘The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord are we,’ when we are not this at all.” General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 31.
What Might Have Been
In her morning talk, Ellen White made reference to a vision she was given in regard to the past 1901 General Conference session: “The Lord has shown me what might have been had the work been done that ought to have been done. In the night season I was present in a meeting where brother was confessing to brother. Those present fell upon one another’s necks, and made heart-broken confessions. The Spirit and power of God were revealed. No one seemed too proud to bow before God in humility and contrition. Those who led in this work were the ones who had not before had the courage to confess their sins.” Ibid.
“This might have been,” Ellen White continued. “All this the Lord was waiting to do for His people. All heaven was waiting to be gracious.” Ibid.
(The complete vision Ellen White referred to is found in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, 104–106, under the title, “What Might Have Been.” The testimony was sent to the Battle Creek Church from St. Helena, California, January 5, 1903.)
Debate Over A New Constitution
“The second major debate of the 1903 General Conference session, which came toward the end of the meeting, was centered upon the new constitution, specifically the provision for the election of a president.” The Early Elmshaven Years, vol. 5, 256. This was a major step backward! Two years prior, the 267 delegates had voted unanimously that there would be no president of the General Conference, but merely a new chairman to be elected each year. Now the proposed “new” Constitution would reinstate the office of president of the General Conference. “But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us.” I Samuel 8:6a.
“Two reports were filed with the session from the Committee on Plans and Constitution,” Arthur White wrote. “The majority report supported the new constitution, which would provide for the leading officers of the General Conference to be chosen by the delegates, thus giving them a mandate from the church.” Ibid.
In this “new” Constitution, Arthur White referred to the “leading officers,” but the central issue was the provision for a new General Conference President, and it was this new General Conference President who would be given “a mandate from the church.” Arthur White had stated before that A. G. Daniells, the General Conference “chairman,” did not have a mandate from the church. Today, in political circles of the United States Congress we hear much about “mandates,” and “term-limits.” The political leaders and church leaders indeed claim a “mandate” from the people that would give them complete authority to enact what they think the people should have. But what does God say about this worldly policy in the church? “Vengeance will be executed,” Ellen White warned, “against those who sit in the gates deciding what the people should have.” Manuscript 15, 1886.
Obviously, political and church leaders want a “mandate” of authority. However, neither political nor church leaders want “term-limits.” Why is this? Because “term-limits” would put them out of power and out of office in a relatively short period of time.
“Christ foresaw that the undue assumption of authority indulged by the scribes and Pharisees would not cease with the dispersion of the Jews. He had a prophetic view of the work of exalting human authority to rule the conscience, which has been so terrible a curse to the church in all ages. And His fearful denunciations of the scribes and Pharisees, and His warnings to the people not to follow these blind leaders, were placed on record as an admonition to future generations.” The Great Controversy, 596.
The Minority Report
“The minority report, signed by three men [E. J. Waggoner, David Paulson, and P. T. Magan] largely connected with institutional interests, claimed that the proposed new constitution would reverse the reformatory steps taken at the General Conference of 1901.” Arthur White wrote, “These men argued that the constitution of 1901, which provided that the General Conference Committee could choose its officers, should not be ‘annihilated’ without giving it a fair trial.” These men on the minority committee did indeed argue that “the constitution of 1901…should not be ‘annihilated’ without giving it a fair trial.” However, the 1903 General Conference Bulletin reveals that “these three men” did not object to the new plan that the delegates at large should elect the General Conference committee members. What they did object to was the establishment of a permanent General Conference “President,” instead of a temporary General Conference Chairman. They also objected to the fact that the 1901 Constitution had only been tested for two years.
Actual Words Of the Minority Report
“The minority of your Committee on Plans and Constitution beg leave to submit that the Constitution proposed by the majority of the Committee appears to us to be so subversive of the principles of organization given to us at the General Conferences of 1897 and 1901 that we can not possibly subscribe to it.
“The proposed new Constitution reverses the reformatory steps that were taken, and the principles which were given and adopted as the principles of reorganization, in the General Conferences of 1897 and 1901, and embodied in the present Constitution; and this before that Constitution or the organization according to it, has ever had adequate trial.
“We therefore recommend that the Constitution of 1901 be given a fair trial before it be annihilated.” General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 146, 147.
Notice that the major contention of the Minority Committee was that the first constitutional revision in the history of the church, that had been voted two years prior in 1901 by 267 delegates, had not been in effect long enough for a just evaluation.
The “new” Constitution proposed by the majority of the committee reinstated the office of “President” of the General Conference. The new president would serve as chairman of the Executive Committee, and would continue in office for years. (A. G. Daniells, who was elected president at this 1903 General Conference, served as president for over twenty years). The Majority Committee Report on this point was as follows:
“Article iv—Executive Committee, Section 1. At each session the Conference shall elect an Executive Committee for the carrying forward of its work between the sessions.
“The Executive Committee shall consist of the president, two vice‑presidents, the presidents of Union Conferences, the superintendents of organized Union Missions, and twelve other persons, among whom there shall be representatives of all the leading departments of conference work, including the publishing, medical, educational, Sabbath‑School, and religious liberty.
“Article ii—Executive Committee, Section 1. During the intervals between sessions of the Conference, the Executive Committee shall have full administrative power, and shall fill for the current term any vacancies that may occur in its offices, boards, committees, or agents, by death, resignation, or otherwise, except in cases where other provisions for filling such vacancies shall be made by vote of the General Conference.
“Section 2. Any five members of the Executive Committee, including the president or vice‑president, shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of such business as is in harmony with the general plans outlined by the Committee, but the concurrence of four members shall be necessary to pass any measure before the Committee.
“Section 3. Meetings of the Executive Committee may be called at any time or place, by the president or vice‑president, or upon the written request of any five members of the Committee.” Ibid.
The Majority Committee Report was signed by ten men:
H.W. Cottrell, E. T. Russell, C. W. Flaiz, W. C. White, W. T. Knox, E. H. Gates, G. E. Langdon, C. N. Woodward, Smith Sharp, S. B. Horton
The next action was that W. T. Knox made a motion for the “adoption of the majority report.” D. E Lindsey seconded the motion. (See Ibid.)
“Now, if it is the wish of the delegates, this report may be read through entirely; or, if you desire, it can be taken up one section or article at a time,” said the Chairman, H. W. Cottrell. “If this be the mind of the delegates, the secretary may read the first article.” Ibid., 147.
Percy T. Magan Speaks
“The congregation will all see that the minority report deals only with certain general vital principles, which we believe are transgressed in the proposed new constitution,” P. T. Magan stated, “and therefore, in order that that matter may be brought before the house, as it is the vital thing in the consideration of the whole subject, I move that the report of the minority be substituted now for consideration in place of the report of the majority.” Ibid. E. J. Waggoner seconded the motion.
The motion for the minority position was put, and was lost!
E.J. Waggoner Speaks
“My dissent from the report of the majority of the committee is on two lines,” Waggoner stated. “I will give those two lines as briefly and concisely as possible, and dispassionately.”
“The first objection I have to the report is that it is fundamentally and diametrically opposed to the principles of organization as set forth in the Bible,” Waggoner continued, “and as, up to the present time, adhered to in the main by this body. This being so, I regard the [majority] report as revolutionary and inconsistent.” Ibid.
Waggoner Defines the Concept of Who and What Is the Church
“I think we are all agreed in this, that the church, the local body of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, in any place, is the unit of organization and the standard,” Waggoner stated. “Thus in any company of believers, wherever they may be, in whatever city, we have there the epitome of the whole body of believers throughout the world.”
“Now the movement, although I am sure unconscious and unintentional on the part of the brethren, toward the adoption of this [majority] report does essentially lie in the line of the adoption of a creed,” Waggoner continued, “and that, although the churches of the world and the people of the world regard as essential to organization, we who know the Scriptures and know the falling away that came in the early days and has been perpetuated until this present time, —we know is essentially disorganization.”
“The Bible organization is opposed to the exaltation of any person over others,” Waggoner said. “Now the question will arise and be presented to me: ‘Why, then, do you sign this report, which recommends that we maintain the present constitution?’”
“I am not inconsistent,” Waggoner concluded. “My second objection is to this constitution itself, which, in some of its particulars, I regard as the worst constitution ever devised among Seventh-day Adventists.” Ibid.
Percy T. Magan Speaks
“As a member of the minority of the Committee on Plans, and as a man, if I had not been on the Committee on Plans at all, I am conscientiously opposed to the proposed new constitution,” Magan stated. “I have always felt that the hardest place that any man could be put in this life is to have to stand conscientiously opposed to what the majority of his brethren believe to be right.” Ibid., 150.
“To me it has always appeared to be a much easier thing to stand in a position of opposition to the world, and even to have to face a court of justice in the world, for your faith, than to have to face your brethren for your faith,” Magan continued. “And therefore I shall say today, as briefly and modestly as I know how, what I have to say.” Ibid., 159.
“The minority report expresses in a word the feelings which actuated the minority in making the report, because we believe that the constitution proposed by the majority of the committee appears to us to be so subversive of the principles of organization given to us at the General Conferences of 1897 and 1901,” Magan continued. “Those principles were given to us by the Spirit of God. In my judgment, and in the judgment of the minority of the committee, this constitution is absolutely subversive of those principles.” Ibid., 150.
“It may be stated there is nothing in this new constitution which is not abundantly safeguarded by the provisions of it,” Magan concluded, “but I want to say to you that any man who has ever read ‘Neander’s History of the Christian Church,’ Mosheim’s, or any of the other of the great church historians,—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, and in the way in which they are brought in, are the same principles, and introduced in precisely the same way, as they were hundreds of years ago when the Papacy was made.”
“Further,” Magan emphasized, “this whole house must recognize this, before we are through with this discussion, that the proposed new constitution, whatever improvements may be claimed for it, whatever advantages it may be stated that it contains, that, in principle, as far as the head of the work is concerned, it goes back precisely where we were before the reformatory steps of two years ago.” Ibid.
“Ellen White did not enter into the debate on the question of the constitution,” Arthur White wrote. “W. C. White spoke strongly in support of the changes proposed, as did some of the other respected leaders, such as Loughborough and Butler.”
“The opinions of learned men…the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastic councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority—not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith,” Ellen White wrote. “God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms.” The Great Controversy, 595.
The New Constitution Voted and Ratified
That very evening, April 9, 1903, the vote was taken. The new Constitution was ratified. The minority report was rejected. The plea by P. T. Magan that the principles of the new Constitution, “are the same principles, and introduced in precisely the same way, as they were hundreds of years ago when the Papacy was made,” was also ignored. At that very hour, an image to the Papacy was established in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. For ninety five years that image has prospered and increased until institutions of the SDA Church are merging with those of the Roman Catholic Church.
“The matter was not settled quickly,” Arthur White stated. “A vote with a three‑fourths majority was needed.” One hundred and eight delegates were present. Eighty-five voted for the new Constitution, “carrying the action by a majority of four.” Early Elmshaven Years, 257. How sad that an image to the Papacy was carried by a slim margin of only four votes.
“When men who profess to serve God ignore His parental character, and depart from honor and righteousness in dealing with their fellow‑men, Satan exults, for he has inspired them with his attributes,” Ellen White stated. “They are following in the track of Romanism.” 1888 Materials, 1435.
“We have far more to fear from within than from without. The hindrances to strength and success are far greater from the church itself than from the world.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 122.
Notice that Ellen White did not say, “We have more to fear from within.” What she said was that we have “far” more to fear from within than from without. How sad it is that “the hindrances to strength and success are far greater from the church itself than from the world.”
Daniells’ Later Confession
“In 1946, I was in the U.S.A. and the General Conference asked me to take meetings at various Camps,” George Burnside, noted Australian SDA evangelist stated . “I roomed at two camps—New Jersey and East Pennsylvania—with Pastor Meade MacGuire and we chatted much about the old days.”
“He had known A. T. Jones,” Burnside continued. “Pastor MacGuire spoke highly of Jones, especially of his knowledge of Church history.”
“His [Jones’] big concern was the trends in SDA organization,” Burnside recalled. “Jones opposed A. G. Daniells (then Gen. Conference president) on church organization as Jones felt it was drifting Romeward. Finally Daniells broke Jones, with the result that Jones finally left the church.”
“Years later, Daniells and Pastor MacGuire were attending Camps in California. They were returning to Washington D. C. by train. Pastor MacGuire said Pastor Daniells was sitting looking out of the carriage window thinking. He [Daniells] looked up and said, ‘You know, Meade, I believe Jones was right and I was wrong.’ He was referring to the question of organization.
“Pastor MacGuire said that Pastor Daniells did all he could to rectify things, but as he was then out of the presidency no one paid much attention to him,” Burnside concluded. “This is the account as I recall it.” The document was dated February 7, 1987, and signed, George Burnside, Wahroonga, N. S. W. Australia.
Testimony Given Immediately Following the 1903 General Conference
“Ellen White returned home to Elmshaven from the  session some time between April 10 and 12,” Arthur White wrote. “Of the significant and far-reaching events in the early summer of 1903 she wrote: ‘My strength was severely taxed while at the conference, but the Lord sustained me through the meeting, and by His blessing, I am recovering from the strain.…’” The Early Elmshaven Years, vol. 5, 259.
One week after returning home from the 1903 General Conference session, Ellen White wrote the following testimony dated at St. Helena, California, April 21, 1903: “In the balances of the sanctuary the Seventh-day Adventist church is to be weighed. She will be judged by the privileges and advantages that she has had. If her spiritual experience does not correspond to the advantages that Christ, at infinite cost, has bestowed on her, if the blessings conferred have not qualified her to do the work entrusted to her, on her will be pronounced the sentence: ‘Found wanting.’ By the light bestowed, the opportunities given, will she be judged.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 247.
How does the contemporary Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1999 measure up to “the privileges and advantages that she has had”? How does the corporate church measure up to “her spiritual experience”? How does the church measure up to “the advantages that Christ…has bestowed on her”? How does the church measure up to “the blessings conferred” upon her? Has the SDA Church been faithful to the truth that would “qualify her to do the work entrusted to her”? And the most important questions of all—Has the contemporary Seventh-day Adventist Church already been judged? And if so, has she been found wanting?