The 1888 Problem
In the papal church, one central power decided who was called and who was not called, what should be preached and what should not be preached, what people could read and what they could not read, and what meetings could be held and what could not be held. The church was a controlling element, and it was being controlled by human wisdom, with “the eyes of a man.” Daniel 7:8. That was the same type of controlling element that ruled the church in Jesus’day. The people came to worship the system as their lord and master, rather than Jesus.
This false gospel of system worship, where the organization became the master rather than the servant, was what Ellen White recognized as the main problem of the General Conference of 1888. In talking about the problems of the church, she related the cause of these problems in the following letter: “This is largely due to the feeling of Elder Butler [the General Conference President] that position gave unlimited authority . . . God designs that men shall use their minds and consciences for themselves. He never designed that one man should become the shadow of another, and utter only another’s sentiments. But this error has been coming in among us, that a very few are to be mind, conscience, and judgment for all God’s workers. The foundation of Christianity is ‘Christ our Righteousness.’ Men are individually responsible to God and must act as God acts upon them, not as another human mind acts upon their mind; for if this method of indirect influence is kept up, souls cannot be impressed and directed by the great I AM. They will, on the other hand, have their experience blended with another, and will be kept under a moral restraint, which allows no freedom of action or of choice . . . If we would be wise, and use diligently, prayerfully, and thankfully the means whereby light and blessings are to come to his people, then no voice nor power upon earth would have authority over us to say, ‘This shall not be.’ ” 1888 Materials, 110–113.
In a letter to Elder Butler, Ellen White related what was shown her in vision: “My guide . . .stretched out his arms toward Dr. Waggoner, and to you, Elder Butler, and said in substance as follows: ‘Neither have all the light upon the law; neither position is perfect.’ ” 1888 Materials, 93.
The question was not simply theology—Elder Waggoner and Elder Jones’ positions were not perfect, but God had given them a message, even though still imperfect, to give to the church. But the leadership thought that every message should have to go through them for their approval. These young men from the West—Jones and Waggoner—had no right to work without the permission of the General Conference officers.
“Never, never feel the slightest disturbance because the Lord is raising up youth to lift and carry the heavier burdens, and proclaim the message of truth. It has been at this point that Elder Butler has failed, and he is a deceived man . . . I hope there will never be the slightest encouragement given to our people to put such wonderful confidence in finite, erring man as has been placed in Elder Butler, for ministers are not as God, and too much reliance has been placed upon Elder Butler in the past. Even the messages and testimonies were made of none effect through the influence of the words and ideas of Elder Butler. This sin has not been repented of by some of our people, and they will have to go over the ground again and again unless they cease from man, and put their whole trust in the living God.” 1888 Materials, 975.
There is a place for counsel, and even for warnings against false teachings, to be given by the leadership. But all such counsel and warnings are to be based upon sound, Biblical principle, not upon hierarchical authority. People are thus to be taught to depend upon the counsels and warnings of the Word, rather than that of man. We are to teach people to respect leaders, but not to depend upon human wisdom and leadership. “When our people in the different places have their special convocations, teach them, for Christ’s sake and for their own soul’s sake, not to make flesh their arm . . . To place men where God should be placed does not honor or glorify God. Is the president of the General Conference to be the god of the people? Are the men at Battle Creek to be regarded as infinite in wisdom? When the Lord shall work upon human hearts and human intellects, principles and practices different from this will be set before the people. ‘Cease ye from man.’ Isaiah 2:22.” Testimonies to Ministers, 375, 376.
As one reads through the over 1,800 pages of The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials and the book Testimonies to Ministers, he cannot help but be impressed with both the seriousness and the present prevalence of corporate independence. This was the chief problem in 1888, and it seems that it was never corrected. Supposedly a correction came in 1901, but two years later Ellen White commented: “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.” Manuscript Release, vol. 13, 122. It was in 1901 itself that she said, “We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel.” Evangelism, 696.
Two Kind of Kings
Kings are independent. That is why the messenger of the Lord associated independence with kingly power. In 1901, Ellen White warned our leaders against independence, insubordination and rebellion. At the same time she told how this had come into the church—through the exercise of “kingly power,” so that God’s rulership was replaced by human kingship. In her opening address to the delegates of the 1901 General Conference, Ellen White repeatedly stated that we were being governed by “kingly power.” (See Ellen White’s speech in Spalding and Magan, 162–174.)
But there are two kinds of kings, both of which lead to independence from the Lord. First, there are those kings who have enough charisma and influence to get followers. We call them the successful kings. There are also those kings that cannot get anyone to follow them, but they are, nevertheless, going to do whatever they want to anyway, as a king without any subjects, independent of the Lord.
Some individuals might wrongly suppose that because there are bad leaders, that gives them the right to become independent and do whatever they want to do. If they do this, they are no better off than the “bad” leaders they are critical of. God has not called anyone to be independent or to act independently. God has called us all to be servants of one another and to draw together in true unity and love. God is not calling for separationism, but for a purifying of the church, where all can work together in true harmony for the finishing of the gospel. It is true that truth must be paramount, but wherever truth and the salvation of souls are not at stake, we are to do everything we can to live peaceably with all men and to work together in unity and harmony. We are to consider others first and self last. The true following of the principles of God will not lead to disunity, but to the true unity that was manifested at Pentecost, where all “were with one accord in one place.” Acts 2:1.
God has a church, and it is the Seventh-day Adventist church. This is the church of prophecy and providence, and only God can start a church—it is to be built upon Him, not upon any human founder. (See Ephesians 2:20.) True, God’s remnant church is described as “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” in the Laodicean message of Revelation 3, but it is still God’s church. Leaders and members may not always exemplify God’s character, and for this reason we are still on earth. Whole congregations, institutions, or even conferences may apostatize —the organization itself may become so independent of God that He cannot use them any more, just as happened with Israel—nevertheless, God will always have true and faithful Seventh-day Adventist people, registered on the books of Heaven (Hebrews 12:22, 23), who will constitute His church and who will go through victorious to the end. God wants every conference, institution, and congregation to triumph with them, if they will be purified of every sin. Although we should strive to live peaceably with all men, nevertheless, when God sends His message to purify the church of sin and selfishness, it will cause a reaction. “Just as long as God has a church, He will have those who will cry aloud and spare not, who will be his instruments to reprove selfishness and sins, and will not shun to declare the whole counsel of God, whether men will hear or forbear. I saw that individuals would rise up against the plain testimonies. It does not suit their natural feelings. They would choose to have smooth things spoken unto them, and have peace cried in their ears . . .The shaking must soon take place to purify the church.” Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, 284.
The Lord is calling for individuals today to do the work of Elijah and John the Baptist, in all humility. But there are many who rise up to give a message on their own charge, without a commission from the Lord. There are many who would seek to steady the ark of God, as Uzzah did, with their own human wisdom and might. How can a person know whether he has been called of God or is simply motivated by feelings of importance?
Those who are truly called of God must be faithful, humble servants, not seeking for notice or first place. Moreover, whenever God calls for an individual to be His instrument, He always lays the burden upon more than that one. Even when Jesus began His ministry, though He was not recognized or acknowledged by the church leadership, He was, nevertheless, acknowledged by John the Baptist and by the Holy Spirit at His baptism. David was anointed by Samuel. The disciples were called by Jesus. Paul received a vision and was set aside by the church at Antioch. Timothy was called by Paul. Daniel and Joseph were set apart by a series of circumstances and providence called forth by the Lord—but both had been faithful in the little things of life before being called to positions of prominence.
A Day and Age of Independence
As never before, a spirit of independence from the Lord afflicts many, just as it did the Jewish church in the days of Korah and again in the days of John the Baptist. (See Selected Messages, vol. 1, 406.) We are living in a day and age of independence. When I was pastoring, I was talking to a conference president about the local Adventist hospital. It had become so large that it was only able to fill a small percentage of its job openings with Adventist help, yet they were building it still larger. In conversation one day, I kindly pointed out that the Spirit of Prophecy counsels against building large hospitals and staffing them with those not of our faith. His response was that those counsels do not apply today. In our educational work, our administrative work and our medical work, it seems that self-rule and independence has become the rule of the day. God’s counsels, they reason, do not apply any more. “Times have changed. These words strengthen their unbelief.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 211.
I was talking to a Union president once. He brought up the subject of tithing, and accused another ministry, that we at Steps to Life work with and support, of being a “thief” because they accept tithe. “Why,” I asked, “are they a thief? Who have they stolen from?”
The response was that all the tithe should go through the organization because it is the storehouse. I then asked, “What about Quiet Hour, Voice of Prophecy, and Amazing Facts, all of which accept tithe and always have. Are they thieves also?”
This was indeed hard to answer. He would not suggest that other ministries were stealing, but he still maintained that the ministry he was opposed to was stealing the tithe, even though this particular ministry was doing nothing different than most of the accepted ministries always have! The problem was that the ministry he was opposed to was preaching the straight testimony and that was what he was really opposed to—the tithe was only a smoke screen. Nevertheless, I pursued the issue.
“What about Ellen White’s example and counsel?” I asked. She paid her tithe directly to various ministers and women Bible workers who were not being paid by the conference. Moreover, she accepted other people’s tithe who gave it to her and who did not want it to go to the conference. “Was she a thief?”
“Well,” he wanted to know, “do you base your beliefs on the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy?””I thought they were the same,” I replied. But he then informed me that Ellen White did not understand tithing. So I asked him whether he understood the Biblical principles of tithing better than Ellen White did.
He responded, “Yes I do. I understand tithing better than Ellen White.” I thought I had misunderstood, so I asked him again just to make sure I had heard right, and I received the same assurance that he understood this principle better than Ellen White. I asked him for his Biblical references for his understanding, but he could produce none!
It is interesting that in 1905 when the Colorado Conference president tried to set up his will as the governing rule, stating that all tithe should come into the conference treasury rather than being sent directly to people who were not on the conference payroll, Ellen White warned him that if he agitated this question she would have to make known to others what she did with her tithe. In referring to disagreements with the management of the tithe by the conference, she said that we should make our complaints known but that we should not withhold our tithe. (See Testimonies, vol. 9, 249.) However, in the case of apostasy and false teaching by the ministry, and in the case of the conference neglecting or refusing to support those whom the Lord had called and chosen, Ellen White made it crystal clear that it was not only the privilege but the duty of herself and others to send their tithe directly to where they thought it would do the most good. (See Testimonies, vol. 1, 261, 262; vol. 2, 552; Spalding and Magan, 117, 215.) Moreover, she stated that those who simply trusted the conference to expend their means, without taking responsibility themselves as to the out-come of the money God had made them stewards of, would not be held “guiltless” before the Lord for their stewardship. (See 1888 Materials, 1443, 1444.) Some have formed such strong opinions and policies that they think they know more than the Spirit of Prophecy in these and other kindred areas.
Today, prideful independence from the Lord and His counsels has become the rule of the day.
Two Kinds of Independent Ministries
As there have always been, so today there are two kinds of independent ministries. We read about Jesus: “From childhood He acted independently of the rabbinical laws.” Desire of Ages, 84. John the Baptist had a ministry independent from the Sanhedrin. (See Desire of Ages, 132.) Elijah and Paul had independent ministries. Madison Sanitarium and school was ordained by the Lord with direct counsel from the messenger of the Lord that they were to become an institution independent from the General Conference. God has always had independent ministries.
Many of these ministries have not been appreciated. When Elder A.T. Jones was not allowed to speak in Battle Creek in 1891, Ellen White said, “We will secure a hall in the city and the words God has given Bro. Jones to speak, the people shall have them.” 1888 Materials, 847, 848. Jesus spoke by the seashore, Wesley in the fields, and William Miller in tents.
And so there is a healthy, God-ordained place for independent ministries. God has never tied His hands to any set counsel of men, but has always had the privilege of choosing whom and how He desires. God has always used independent ministries.
There is sinful independence today also, as there always has been. Any independence that puts human wisdom and authority above God’s wisdom and authority, making man independent of God, is sinful independence. This was what Eve was tempted to do. Whenever a Christian hospital rejects, either openly or in practice, the counsels of the Lord, it has become an independent ministry. Whenever a church school, union college or university accepts the standards of the world in the place of the standards of the Lord, it has become an independent ministry. Whenever a conference or a church receives counsel from psychologists and philosophers or from religious institutions that do not keep the Sabbath, as Ahaziah did when he sought the god of Ekron (2 Kings 1:2), and rejects the plain counsel of the Lord, it has become an independent ministry [A new organization]. Whenever a ministry, that is designated as independent because they are not under the conference structure, departs from the teachings and practices of the Lord, it has become independent in the wrong way. May the Lord save us from sinful independence.
A Reformation Needed
It is time to humble our hearts before the Lord so that He can send upon us the true revival and reformation that was displayed at Pentecost. It was there that unity was achieved through believing the truth, through humility toward self and love toward one another. There the full gospel was preached in all its purity and power; and there the principles of the government of heaven were followed, with Christ as the true head of the church and all its members were fellow servants.
Kingly power in the hands of religious rulers will never save or exalt the church. Unity through centralization will never exalt Christ. Blindly following religious teachers will not save a single soul. But humble cooperation, where every member is a fellow worker with Christ (1 Corinthians 3:9) and organized together in a body according to the call of God, and where dependence is placed first and foremost upon the revealed will of God, will bring the long sought-for blessings of the latter rain and the soon return of Jesus Christ. This is that primitive godliness that will be revealed among God’s people before the final visitation of God’s judgments upon the earth. (Great Controversy, 464).
The End of Series
“You who are finite, erring, and unsanctified, have supposed that God’s children were put under your jurisdiction, for you to plan for them, and bring them to your terms. The policy you have labored so hard to establish in your connection with the work is an offense to God. He has never justified any arrangement, through organization, discipline, or laws, whereby men who have evidenced that they are not susceptible to the Holy Spirit’s moving, shall use their power to sustain others in a like disregard of the Spirit’s work. But such has been the arrangement that has prevailed. You have made it hard for those whom you do not especially like, while others who are self serving have been favored and exalted. Partiality and hypocrisy have excluded the Spirit of God from many hearts, and left them as destitute of his grace as the hills of Gilboa were destitute of dew or rain.” Paulson Collection, 408.
“There are ministers’ wives, Sisters Starr, Haskell, Wilson and Robinson, who have been devoted, earnest, whole-souled workers, giving Bible readings and praying with families, helping along by personal efforts just as successfully as their husbands. These women give their whole time, and are told that they receive nothing for their labors because their husbands receive their wages. I tell them to go forward and all such decisions shall be reversed. The Word says, ‘The laborer is worthy of his hire.’ When any such decision as this is made, I will in the name of the Lord, protest. I will feel it in my duty to create a fund from my tithe money, to pay these women who are accomplishing just as essential work as the ministers are doing, and this tithe I will reserve for work in the same line as that of the ministers, hunting for souls, fishing for souls. I know that the faithful women should be paid wages proportionate to the pay received by ministers. They carry the burden of souls, and should not be treated unjustly. These sisters are giving their time to educating those newly come to the faith, and hire their own work done, and pay those who work for them. “All these things must be adjusted and set in order, and justice be done to all. Proofreaders in the office receive their wages, two dollars and a half and three dollars a week. This I have had to pay, and others have to pay. But ministers’ wives, who carry a tremendous responsibility, devoting their entire time, have nothing for their labor. This will give you an idea of how matters are in this conference. There are seventy-five souls organized into a church, who are paying their tithe into the conference, and as a saving plan it has been deemed essential to let these poor souls labor for nothing! But this does not trouble me, for I will not allow it to go thus.” Spaulding and Magan, 117.
The Use of the Tithe
Mountain View, Calif., Jan. 22, 1905.
“My brother, I wish to say to you, Be careful how you move. You are not moving wisely. The least you have to speak about the tithe that has been appropriated to the most needy and the most discouraging field in the world, the more sensible you will be.
“It had been presented to me for years that my tithe was to be appropriated by myself to aid the white and colored ministers who were neglected and did not receive sufficient properly to support their families. When my attention was called to aged ministers, white or black, it was my special duty to investigate into their necessities and supply their needs. This was to be my special work,
and I have done this in a number of cases. No man should give notoriety to the fact that in special cases the tithe is used in that way.
“In regard to the colored work in the South, that field has been and is still being robbed of the means that should come to the workers of that field. If there has been cases where our sisters have appropriated their tithe to the support of the ministers working for the colored people in the
South, let every man, if he is wise, hold his peace.
“I have myself appropriated my tithe to the most needy cases brought to my notice. I have been instructed to do this; and as the money is not withheld from the Lord’s treasury, it is not a matter that should be commented upon; for it will necessitate my making known these matters, which I do not desire to do, because it is not best.
“Some cases have been kept before me for years, and I have supplied their needs from the tithe, as God has instructed me to do. And if any person shall say to me, Sister White, will you appropriate my tithe where you know it is most needed, I shall say, Yes, I will; and I have done so. I commend those sisters who have placed their tithe where it is most needed to help to do a work that is being left undone; and if this matter is given publicity, it will create knowledge which would better be left as it is. I do not care to give publicity to this work which the Lord has appointed me to do, and others to do.
“I send this matter to you so that you shall not make a mistake. Circumstances alter cases. I would not advise that any should make a practice of gathering up tithe money. But for years there have now and then been persons who have lost confidence in the appropriation of the tithe who have placed their tithe in my hands, and said that if I did not take it they would themselves appropriate it to the families of the most needy minister they could find. I have taken the money, given a receipt for it, and told them how it was appropriated.
“I write this to you so that you shall keep cool and not become stirred up and give publicity to this matter, lest many more shall follow their example.”
(Signed) Ellen G. White.
Spaulding and Magan, 215, 216.