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By Bert Haloviak


Claude E. Holmes, 1881-1953, linotype operator and Washington correspondent of Southern Watchman, was among the informal attendants at the 1919 Bible and History Teachers' Conference. Raised as an Adventist, Holmes grew up in the West Union, Iowa, church, most of whose congregation consisted of "pioneer" Adventists. Holmes declared that the spirit of prophecy "was the word of God to them." He noted:

As I associated with these staunch old patriarchs Sabbath after Sabbath I imbibed some of their love and zeal for the truth. . . . Such an environment was not conducive to theoretical jangling over the authority and necessity for the spirit of prophecy; for to those brethren and sisters the testimony of Jesus was to be implicitly followed without question. . . . I spent whole winters studying the testimonies and studying Daniel and Revelation by Smith until I could almost repeat them by heart. . . . When I see men coming in who seek to discredit the sacred teachings of the spirit of prophecy my righteous indignation arises and I feel stirred to contend for the faith once given to the saints.52

Holmes' extensive knowledge of the spirit of prophecy writings gave him a reputation, in the days prior to available indexing, of being an authority on the writings. Review editors frequently called upon him to provide references and quotations from the writings. In addition to his memory and intense study of the writings, Holmes acquired probably the largest private collection of Ellen White writings, published and unpublished, within the denomination. Holmes' skill as a linotype operator enabled him to prepare a multitude of private spirit of prophecy compilations in type form and then pull proofs of the galleyed type at practically no expense. After W. A. Colcord left the church in 1914, Holmes borrowed and copied over 300 typewritten pages of unpublished testimonies from him. As A. G. Daniells was travelling in the Far East in 1917, Holmes convinced someone that he had Daniells' permission to copy the bound volumes of unpublished Ellen White testimonies housed in the General Conference vault. Although it resulted in his dismissal from the Review, he thereby attained possession of hundreds of personal testimonies. This access to some of the personal testimonies sent to Prescott and Daniells greatly inflamed relationships.53

One of the reactions of Claude Holmes to the 1919 Bible Conference consisted of his publishing an open letter in pamphlet form. Holmes decried the statements he heard at the Conference "again and again by a number of our Bible and history teachers that Sister White is not an authority on history." He considered that position as the ultimate evil since those views would be "poured into the receptive minds of our young people to undermine their faith in the spirit of prophecy." Holmes interpreted the positions taken in 1919 to mean that the Conference concluded that Mrs. White selected relevant historical materials just as any researcher would. If the facts selected happened to be erroneous, they should be rejected. Holmes' view of the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy totally rejected that concept. He believed that Mrs. White selected from divergent historical sources those items that she recognized as truth and thereby those items became authoritatively and infallibly true. According to Holmes, everything dealt with by a prophet became authoritative. He believed that as much inspiration was required to distinguish truth from error as was required to present original truth. He continued:

If her historical writings are to be discredited because she is not an "authority on history," then the logic of the situation forces us to the conclusion that all her writings must be thrown overboard, for historical facts are inextricably interwoven in all her messages. . . . One tells me her books are not in harmony with facts historically, another that she is wrong scientifically, still another disputes her claims theologically, and another questions her authorship, and others discredit her writings grammatically and rhetorically. Is there anything left? If these claims are all true, how much spirit of prophecy does the remnant church possess?

Holmes concluded this 11-page open letter to J. S. Washburn by emphasizing his uncompromising stance on the absolute inspiration of the spirit of prophecy. He affirmed that he drew no line "between the so-called human and divine; they are all Scripture to me."54

Years later, Holmes again referred to the Conference in a protest he registered to the president of Emmanuel Missionary College, A. W. Johnson, and to E. R. Thiele, chairman of the Bible department. In his capacity as local elder of the West Central Church of Chicago, Holmes, in a round-table discussion in Berrien Springs in 1948, opposed the "strange and conflicting views of the prophesies," that he believed were being taught to some of the members of that church. He asserted that "when Bible teachers present views contrary to established positions, students and preachers are encouraged to do the same." He stated that the door that permitted such new views to be presented was opened during the 1919 Bible Conference.55

An additional response of Holmes to the Conference consisted of his issuing a protest against the teachings of E. F. Albertsworth and H. C. Lacey, two of the three teachers from Washington Missionary College who attended the Conference. Besides issuing his own protest, Holmes advised certain students to do the same. Although the student protests initially involved only Professor Albertsworth, because of the alleged "light esteem" that he exhibited toward the spirit of prophecy, the upshot of the episode resulted in the severance, by mid-1920, of all three of the WMC representatives at the 1919 Conference and further problems between the General Conference and the Columbia Union.56


J. S. Washburn, 1863-1955, wrote A. G. Daniells in 1912:

Truly I have reason to regard you as one of the best friends I have on earth. . . . May God grant that nothing may ever sever the bonds of brotherly trust and confidence between us. An old friendship wrecked is worse than a funeral.

Daniells responded:

All you say strikes a responsive chord in my heart. I have known you from a boy on the farm, and have always felt a sort of a brotherly feeling for you.

In 1922, in an open letter to the General Conference session in San Francisco, Washburn wrote the following to A. G. Daniells:

For years my confidence in you has been slowly dying until now it is dead beyond recall, beyond the hope of a resurrection. I am sadly forced to acknowledge that the astounding change in your attitude toward the spirit of prophecy and the message, and toward your most loyal friends and workers has so completely destroyed the trust I once had in you that it can never be restored, except by a direct miracle of God.57

Washburn claimed a rich SDA heritage. He was converted by J. N. Andrews at 11, baptized by James White at 12 and began preaching Adventism at 21. In a state of confusion and dismay after the 1888 General Conference session that he attended, Washburn, who was a nephew of George Butler, had an interview with Mrs. White at Ottawa, Kansas. Washburn considered that interview a turning point in his life. From that time onward he maintained complete confidence in the inspiration of Mrs. White. He wrote Mrs. White in early 1915:

I truly believe it is the complete faith in the spirit of prophecy and the study and obedience to the Testimonies that will bring the latter rain. I believe the complete acceptance of the gifts of the spirit of prophecy is the key to the situation in the last great crisis, and I do pray God that the brethren in Washington and all over the world may be faithful to the great light that God has sent to His people through the Testimony of Jesus Christ.

In addition to his intense study of the spirit of prophecy and desire to obtain "everything that Sister White wrote," Washburn's amazing memory enabled him to memorize much of the Bible and spirit of prophecy writings. By 1918 he claimed to have memorized Revelation, Romans, James and Second Peter. He noted that his memory improved "with the study of the Bible and spirit of prophecy." By 1948 he claimed to have memorized the entire New Testament and was working toward committing Isaiah to memory.58

Although Washburn entered the debate on the "daily" somewhat humorously by writing S. N. Haskell that he was thinking of the "daily" "continually," in actuality he did not consider the "new view" at all amusing. He believed that it was ushering in the "greatest shaking our people have ever had," by causing doubt and disbelief in the spirit of prophecy and by moving the firm "prophetic framework" upon which the message was constructed.59

Washburn heard Daniells present the "new view" at the 1910 Southern Union Conference meetings. In an all-night conversation shortly thereafter, Daniells raised some questions that, to Washburn, indicated that the president of the General Conference was seeking to destroy the spirit of prophecy. Washburn asserted that he was "simply horrified," to hear Daniells assert that Ellen White's statement on the "daily," was an "imperfect statement," and also that she had made other statements that were accepted as testimonies that likewise were "imperfect." Daniells also stated, according to Washburn, that Mrs. White had erred in sending letters encouraging J. E. White to accept tithe funds for his work in the South. Washburn also bristled that Daniells allegedly considered A. T. Jones' attack on the "Sunday Labor" section of Volume 9 of the Testimonies as an attack that was the "hardest thing to answer" that the GC had to respond to. To Washburn, that assertion seemed to indicate that perhaps Mrs. White was in error. Washburn claimed that Daniells took the preceding positions specifically to avoid the need to accept the plain statement in Early Writings concerning the "daily." He stated:

I say brother White, in all sincerity, that the view which leads any one of our brethren to take such a position on the Testimonies is condemned by this attitude, if for no other reasons whatever, and is entirely unsafe to be held by the leaders of our work. To defend the "new view" of the "daily," he must destroy the spirit of prophecy."60

J. S. Washburn saw the 1919 Bible Conference as the continuation of a "terrible controversy." In 1921 Washburn wrote F. M. Wilcox that he had lately feared that the latter was losing faith. He noted, "You were in that secret Bible Council which I believe was the most unfortunate thing our people ever did, and it seemed to me you were losing the simplicity of your faith." He also noted that Wilcox defended the three WMC representatives at the Conference when their teachings were brought into question before the College Board. He brought the issues of the "daily," Washington Missionary College teachers, and 1919 Bible Conference together in a 16-page open letter to Claude Holmes dated April 18, 1920. He implied that the consensus from the Conference considered that the spirit of prophecy was not inspired on history, while some considered the writings uninspired regarding theology and health reform. He alleged that the position led "inevitably to infidelity, as was demonstrated by Dr. Albertsworth, recently dismissed summarily from the faculty by the College Board of Washington College." Washburn published the information that the Columbia Union president, a year previous, attempted to rid the college of the three "infidel" teachers, but that the General Conference came to their assistance and instead "forced out of office," that president. He noted that, although the three teachers differed in other beliefs, all three united in advocating "the new doctrine of the daily as taught by Professor Prescott" and others. Washburn identified the denominational origins of the "new view" with E. J. Waggoner, A. T. Jones, and J. H. Kellogg, and thence to W. W. Prescott. He additionally attributed the decline in enrollment at WMC to the teaching of the "new view" there. He pictured that view as

besieging and threatening to desolate and destroy the work of God's last message at its headquarters, at its very heart. . . . Here is a remnant of the new phase of the world-old apostasy at our headquarters and in our principal Bible School.

Washburn assured the readers of his pamphlet that the three teachers would not be teaching at the college the next year. The "Omega apostasy" had received a setback at Washington Missionary College, he affirmed.61

While the controversy intensified from that point onward, it was to reach a still more volatile point at the 1922 General Conference session. Washburn offered hints of his future intentions a year earlier in correspondence with F. M. Wilcox:

You say again, "If you feel that the cause of truth is jeopardized by men occupying positions of responsibility, then it would be proper for you to state your convictions that the wrong may be righted." I do truly feel, I am certain that it is so, and I must say so at the proper time. . . . The time is surely coming soon when these questions will go before a wider tribunal than the General Conference Committee.62

Two open letters to A. G. Daniells, dated May 1, 1922, were among the items circulated to the delegates at the San Francisco General Conference session in 1922. Claude Holmes began his letter by recalling a previous sermon by Daniells where the latter denied the accusation that the leadership of the GC "did not believe and follow the spirit of prophecy." Holmes then listed 12 specific areas wherein he believed that Daniells ignored or subverted spirit of prophecy counsel. Holmes concluded:

I firmly believe that the deplorable conditions found in the church today are due largely to the course you have followed. In all seriousness I ask: Should men be leaders in our work year after year who neglect to follow God's counsel and persist in following their own way?63

Washburn's 36-page open letter was even more comprehensive in its accusations. He again accused Daniells of seeking to destroy the spirit of prophecy in order to uphold his teaching on the "daily." He recalled the all-night 1910 talk that shattered his faith in Daniells. Washburn stated that those "criticisms" were "burned into my very soul, and have been from that very moment and will be there till the day of judgment." The roots of the "daily" theology and the Washington Missionary College episode were discussed. He noted that, in his defense before the WMC Board one of the teachers considered that "he was teaching in harmony with the Bible Institute that had been held in Washington during the summer of 1919." That teacher, according to Washburn, stated that the Institute "taught that the spirit of prophecy was not inspired on history," while some at the Institute believed it also was not inspired on questions of health reform or theology. Washburn considered the Conference as representing a meeting of "doubters":

Two of our best writers told me that articles on the Turkish question were kept out of our papers since that secret council had thrown doubt on that question and many others. So while Islam is gathering her millions for the last great fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 11th and 12th chapter, our papers, our ministers, our sentinels are chloroformed to sleep, are muzzled into silence by this Council of Darkness, this Diet of Doubts. Was not this secret council a crowning act in the program of doubt and darkness and criticism that has been enveloping Washington recently? Will this bring the latter rain, the full assurance of faith and the victorious life? And you and Professor Prescott were the leading figures in that Institute. No doubt you found it impossible to agree with all the new chaotic theology of that council, but Elder Daniells, how could you permit such a dangerous parade of doubts, and preside over such a cloud of misty higher criticism? Did that institute cure the the criticism you tell me is destroying our work? No, it multiplied it a hundred times. And you more than any other man are responsible.

Washburn concluded by appealing to the delegates for an investigation of all his charges. He stated that he was not fearful "that the representatives of our people will turn me down or out for standing for the original message and the spirit of prophecy." He was appealing, Washburn said, "not to any small committee or to a secret Council like that of the summer of 1919, but to the representatives of God's chosen people in open session assembled."64

Washburn claimed that his "Open Letter" was largely instrumental in defeating Daniells' opportunities for reelection to the GC presidency in 1922. Indeed. San Francisco newspaper accounts depicted Daniells emotionally defending his leadership, but decrying the bitter attacks against him and holding a "handful of written documents, which he said were the proofs of his charges of propaganda and villification."65

The defeat of Daniells in 1922 did not end the basic alignments that had begun to solidify much earlier. The Bible versions controversy, the Columbia Union-General Conference friction, the reorganization battles over the 1931 Omaha Fall Council decisions, and even the manual used by the Young People's Missionary Volunteer Society, all resulted in conflict during the 1930s, and all directly related to a basic difference of interpretation over the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy. After the Omaha Council, Washburn identified another believer in the "new view" of the "daily" who apostasized: L. R. Conradi. He noted:

Many who are counted leading men, writers and editors among us teach this same doctrine. . . . For many years the Columbia Union has been engaged in a great fight of faith, a fight to preserve the original teachings of our great Message and confidence in the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the spirit of prophecy. . . . Thank God for the spirit of prophecy.66

By 1932, F. M. Wilcox noticed disastrous consequences from the alienation. He noted that entire churches were stirred up and that college students were lining up their teachers as to whether they were "fundamentalist" or "modernist." Wilcox wrote C. H. Watson, president of the General Conference, that he believed it was necessary for the General Conference to "re-establish itself in the confidence of our people against the onslaughts which have been made upon [it] . . . by misguided individuals for a series of years."67

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