The Significance and Meaning
of Minneapolis and 1888
Because of the controverted nature of the meaning of
Minneapolis, I feel that a separate chapter is needed to present
evidence for what this momentous General Conference session meant to
Ellen White and her ministry. I know that volumes have been devoted to
this subject, but I ask the reader to indulge me this review, because it
is crucial if we are to get a clear grasp of Ellen White's balanced view
For Ellen White, Minneapolis was not primarily about perfection,
better relations among ministers, points of prophetic interpretation, or
even the nature of Christ's humanity. Minneapolis was primarily a great
turning point in the intensity and further clarity of her expressions of
justification by faith.
But once again I must emphasize that there were no
major reversals of her previous teaching. It is not that she came to
Minneapolis and admitted to the assembled brethren that she had been
tragically legalistic in her ministry for the previous 45 years. To the
contrary, she claimed to have preached the "matchless charms of
Christ" all those years. But she did say that there was an urgent
need to uplift (for special consideration) the subject of justification
by faith in Christ's saving merits. This subject needed special
attention not only because of the spiritual needs of God's people but
also because of doctrinal confusion as to the real meaning of
justification by faith.
I realize that this interpretation is a conclusion about 1888 that
has not had wide support. Therefore it behooves one to
present some rather compelling evidence to sustain a position that flies
in the face of long-head, seemingly established interpretations. What is
the evidence that in Ellen White's thinking Minneapolis was primarily
Ellen White and 1888
What did Minneapolis mean to Ellen White? The answer
to this question is not easy to find. Two further questions arise at
this juncture: 1. Is Ellen White's reaction to Minneapolis to be judged
by the more immediate impact it had on her preaching and writing, or by
the way it affected her thinking during the balance of her career? 2.
What was her relationship to the views and teachings of Jones and
The Long or the
Short View of 1888?As becomes evident in this study, the 1890s
presented two major emphases: the strong accent on justification in the
three to four years immediately following 1888, and the strong emphasis
on perfection during the last half of the 1890s. Which is the "1888
It should already be abundantly evident that Ellen White
did not want to deny either side of the justification-sanctification
balance. It is also clear from her own writings that she commented on
the Minneapolis crisis for the rest of her life.
When all factors are considered, however, the bulk of
the evidence strongly suggests that the main message of Minneapolis had
special application to the immediate aftermath of the conferencethe
following three years of her ministry before her departure for
Australia. It is quite evident that Ellen White saw the church in a
great crisis. This crisis had its roots in both doctrinal misconceptions
about justification and an obvious failure to experience what the
doctrine sought to describe.
As becomes abundantly clear in succeeding sections of
this chapter, the immediate impact of Minneapolis on Ellen White
resulted in the most intense period of emphasis on justification by
faith in her entire career.
Following Minneapolis, Ellen White never denied the high
goals of sanctification and perfection. But the major theme of her
a message to the church that believers were to quit
trying to merit salvation by good works and obedience to the law and
accept the wonderful forgiveness of Jesus that "is made manifest in
obedience to all the commandments of God."
She would go on to contend that "many had lost
sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine
person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family"
Doctrinal Confusion Over JustificationThere was
definite doctrinal confusion about salvation that had led to a period of
spiritual dryness and unintentional legalistic discouragement. The
problem clearly involved doctrinal dispute, not just deficiencies in personal
Christian experience. This understanding, I recognize, goes against some
of the conclusions of R. J. Wieland, one of the major interpreters of
Minneapolis. Wieland declares that the issues of 1888 were certainly
doctrinal, but the evidence, as I read it, suggests that he identifies
the wrong doctrines. While he has acknowledged that justification was a
major emphasis, the thesis that receives his major accent seems to go
like this: 1888 represented a great emphasis on the truth that Jesus had
a sinful nature, just like fallen humanity, and this deep identity with
sinners enables them to reproduce His character in a profound experience
of sanctification (Wieland, Introduction 19-54). Such a position might
be attributed to Jones and Waggoner, but this was not what 1888 moved
Ellen White to emphasize.
Wieland's position on the nature of Christ as a central
emphasis of 1888 is seriously undermined by the very stubborn fact that
in all the 1888 Materials recently published by the Ellen G. White
Estate, only three or four isolated references to the nature of Christ can be
found. George Knight is right on target when he contends that none of
the records of Minneapolis "demonstrate that the divinity of
Christ, the human nature of Christ, or 'sinless living' were topics of
emphasis or discussion at the 1888 meetings. Persons holding that those
topics were central to the theology of the meetings generally read
subsequent developments in Jones and Waggoner's treatment of
righteousness by faith back into the 1888 meetings" (Knight 37).
In essence it appears that the positions of Wieland and
his admirers have missed the central point of the whole 1888 emphasismaking sanctification and the nature of Christ the major
thrusts, rather than justification.
1888, Jones and Waggoner, and Ellen WhiteRegarding the
question of her relationship to the ministry of Jones and Waggoner, it
is also interesting that Wieland and Short contend that the 1888 message
is what Jones and Waggoner defined
it to be (not Ellen White). But they then go to great pains to seek to
prove that Ellen White was in full agreement with Jones and Waggoner
(Wieland and Short 63).
The question then becomes Did Ellen White agree with
Jones and Waggoner enough on the issues of 1888 so that it can be said
that they were in substantial agreement?
Ellen White's hearty support of Jones and Waggoner is
unquestioned. The key issue, however, seems to be whether this strong
support meant total support for all their theological positions. For
instance, did she support their view that Christ was a created god
(Arianism)? Did her support of Waggoner mean that she agreed with his
later views on "spiritual affinities," a doctrine which taught
that one could have a "spiritual" relationship to someone not
his or her spouse, but be married to that person in heaven? I think the
answer is obvious.
But it might be argued that it was her support of their
views on salvation that was clear, not these other issues. Even here,
however, it is evident that her support was not some sort of blank check
(Knight 72). Ellen White was indisputably clear when she told the
delegates assembled at Minneapolis that "some interpretations of
Scripture, given by Dr. Waggoner, I do not regard as correct" (MS
15, 1888, in Knight 72). Fifteen months later she declared:
"Without a doubt . . . God has given precious truth at the right time
to Bro. Jones and Bro. Waggoner. Do I place them as infallible? Do I say
that they will not make a statement, nor have an idea that cannot be
questioned? or that cannot be error? Do I say so? No, I do not say any
such thing" (MS 56, 1890, in Knight 72).
It thus clearly becomes an open question whether she
held similar views on perfection and Christ's humanity. One cannot
simply say, "Ellen White gave great and extended endorsement to
Jones and Waggoner, and thus everything that they said on the nature of
Christ, justification, and perfection was her position and the
infallible message of the Holy Spirit!"
Again, it must be emphasized that the central concern of
this study is What did 1888 mean to Ellen White's understanding of
salvation (not to Jones and Waggoner's) ?
In the entire scope of Ellen White's ministry, the
nature of Christ and sanctification were of central importance, but the
urgent need of Seventh-day Adventists in 1888 (and its immediate
aftermath) was to understand that they were accepted by faith in the
accounted merits of Christand not because of their good works. Only as
they shed this unwitting legalism (and its false doctrinal basis) could
they make any significant progress in the life of holiness and
Interpretation of 1888On the other hand, some have contended that the
"main issues in the 1888 righteousness by faith meetings were not
doctrinal but experiential" (Knight 65). These interpreters seem
to be following in the wake of A. G. Daniells' interpretation of 1888
(in Christ Our Righteousness).
Daniells, a longtime associate of Ellen White's and a
former General Conference president, claimed that "the essence of
Ellen White's concern regarding 1888" "was not doctrinal but
experiential" (Knight 67; Daniells 21, 11). This position is
demonstrably not supported by the primary documents of Ellen White
during the three or four years immediately following 1888.
It is abundantly clear that Seventh-day Adventist
ministers were not conducting their doctrinal discussions in a very
charitable spirit, and there was an apparent need for a deeper level of
spirituality to be manifested in their ministry as a whole. But this did
not deny Ellen White's forcefully insistent call for doctrinal
clarification, especially on objective justification.
For Ellen White there was undoubtedly more involved than the mere
"subjective application of an undisputed doctrine" (Haloviak,
of Knight" 24). There was important doctrinal
dispute, and she was a disputant, albeit one who called for charitable
Ellen White: The Unique Champion of Justification?Further evidence that
there was doctrinal confusion in the church was Ellen White's
declaration that what Waggoner presented at Minneapolis "was the
first clear teaching on this subject from any human lips I had heard,
excepting the conversations between myself and my husband" 1888 Materials 349). Was she the only person in Seventh-day Adventism who had had a clear conception of justification by faith?
Careful research by Bert Haloviak has not been able to
uncover anything in Adventism before 1888 that came close to Ellen
White's clear teaching of objective justification, and he has concluded
that she was indeed the unique champion of objective justification in
Adventism before 1888.1
Consistent with the evidence presented in successive
sections of this chapter, Haloviak persuasively contends that
"Christ's work as mediator is always implicit in Ellen White's
concept of acceptable obedience. Christ's mediation makes our imperfect,
but sincere, works acceptable. It is here where Ellen White far
transcended the theological system of both the pioneers2
and Jones and
Waggoner" ("From Righteousness to Holy Flesh: Judgment at
The evidence thus strongly suggests that the crisis of
1888 definitely involved doctrinal confusion on subjects that had to do
with salvationespecially justification. And Ellen White would spend the
next three years in extensive travels, seeking to clarify the issues of
The Four Years After 1888
The clarity and intensity of her expression on
justification was evident in a number of striking ways. The rest of this
chapter will seek to document this remarkable emphasis on justification
by faith. It will also demonstrate not only her efforts to relieve the
arid spiritual conditions in dry hills of the Adventist Gilboa, but also
her attempts to clear up doctrinal confusion.
The Great Mass of Material on JustificationOf the body of
material on justification by faith gathered for this book (what she
wrote from 1844 to 1902), roughly 45 percent of
the entire mass was recorded between
December 1888 and December 1892. Let that sink in for a moment! In other
words, nearly half of all her writings on this aspect of salvation was
recorded in one four-year span of a 58-year ministry (1844-1902).
Think of it this way. What if you had a pastor for four
years in your church and nearly half the sermons he preached during that
time were on justification? Would you not remember this preacher as the
"justification by faith" pastor?
Furthermore, this astonishing mass of material on
justification came forth from her pen and preaching with constant
regularity during this entire, critical four-year periodnot just the
few months after November 1888.
Strenuous Preaching Tours
in Support of JustificationHer
travels during the three years between Minneapolis and her departure for
Australia were largely given to tours around the United States in
support of a clearer understanding of justification by faith and a
deeper experience of the love and acceptance of God. Approximately the
first year and a half after Minneapolis were particularly intense (ALW,
Ellen G. White: The Lonely
Years 417, 418).
In just about every meeting she attended across North
America, her burden was pardon through faith in Christ's imputed merits.
Note the impressive sampling that follows.
Battle Creek, Michigan, December 8-22, 1888. During a
sermon she urged the people to "plead the blood of a crucified and
risen Saviour by living faith, that pardon may be written opposite our
names" (RH, Dec. 18, 1888).
South Lancaster, Massachusetts, January 11-19, 1889. After exhorting
the people on the "necessity of obeying the law of God," she
went on to observe that "many, even among the ministers" were
understanding the truth "as it is in Jesus in a light in which they
had never before viewed it." Jesus was seen to be "a
sin-pardoning Saviour." Many were struggling with the idea that
they had a "great work to do themselves
before they can come to Christ," thinking
"that Jesus will come in at the very last of their struggle, and
give them help by putting the finishing touch to their life-work."
Ottawa, Kansas, May 7-28, 1889. In a sermon preached to the ministers of
the Kansas Conference she defined "belief" as fully accepting
"that Jesus Christ died as our sacrifice; that He became the curse
for us, took our sins upon Himself, and imputed unto us His own
righteousness" (FW 63-79).
In a report of the camp meeting that followed the ministers' meeting,
she told of "light" flashing "from the oracles of God in
relation to the law and the gospel, in relation to the fact that Christ
is our righteousness." That this was not primarily sanctifying righteousness
was made clear when she spoke of one of the "young ministering
brethren" who testified that "he had enjoyed more of the
blessing and love of God during that meeting than in all his life
before. . . . He saw that it was his privilege to be justified by faith; he
had peace with God, and with tears confessed what relief and blessing
had come to his soul."
Ellen White sensed a large, collective sigh of relief spontaneously
coming forth from Seventh-day Adventist souls as they received the
"tidings that Christ is our righteousness" (RH, July 23,
This same theme runs through the sermons and reports of numerous other
camp meetings, the 1889 General Conference Session, and the important
Bible School for ministers held in Battle Creek during the first half of
1890 (ALW, Ellen G. White: The Lonely Years: 453).
Seventh-day Adventism was alive with interest in the subject of
"justification by faith." Ellen White was uniting her efforts
with Jones and Waggoner in strenuous tours to promote the good news of
the sin-pardoning Saviour. While these tours began to slacken in 1890,
the basic theme of justification continued to find forceful expression
in her writings (published and unpublished) until her departure for
Australia in late 1891.
"The Matchless Charms of Christ"Ellen White
declared that the ideas which Waggoner presented at Minneapolis were
"the first clear teaching on this subject from any human lips I had
heard, excepting the conversations between myself and my husband."
There is good evidence for the truthfulness of her claim, especially
among Seventh-day Adventist leaders. But what is not clear from her
testimonies about 1888 were her time referenceswhat she meant when she
declared that what she had been "presenting" to the people
"for the last 45 years" (italics supplied) was "the
matchless charms of Christ"a clear reference to Waggoner's
presentations on justification at Minneapolis (1888 Materials 348, 349).
It is obvious that she had understood justification by faith from her
early days and that during the 15 or so years previous to Minneapolis
she did present some excellent material on justification. But I was hard
pressed to find such an accent on objective justification in the time
frame of "the last 45 years" to which she referred. This is
especially evident when compared to what she began presenting in the
late 1870s, the 1883 General Conference session presentations, and the
flood of material that came after 1888.
She felt she had uplifted Christ, and certainly the
statement which declared that "for years" "the matter has
been kept so constantly urged upon me" (ibid. 810) has more
special reference to the 1883-1890 period. In the light of this
statement, what is to be made of the claim that she had emphasized
justification since the beginning of her ministry?
Some might suggest that she was simply given to exaggeration in her
claim. But a better explanation seems to go more along the following
First, we need to recognize that an explicitly doctrinal
reference to justification by faith (using technical terms such as
justification and imputation) is almost impossible to find before 1868.
But what she seemed to have had in mind in claiming to present "the
matchless charms of Christ" "for the last 45 years" was
her overall Christ-centered ministry.
Undoubtedly she was referring to the sum total of her doctrinal and
spiritual impact, not just the technical precision of her theological
expression on justification.
Even in her early ministry she often spoke of pardon and forgiveness,
expressions of justification that were less theological than such terms
as imputation and justification. Haloviak is helpful at this point:
"It should be observed that Ellen White did not present the points
alluded to (objective justification) in a conscious theological manner.
. . . Her conclusions
seemed to spring from an objective view of Christ
that she maintained from the earliest days of her ministry" (Haloviak,
"From Righteousness to Holy Flesh: Judgment at Minneapolis,"
This concept of an "objective view of Christ"
advocating for us as our high priestly mediator was explicit in
Adventist theology from the very beginning. But among Seventh-day
Adventists it appears that only Ellen White was exploiting its possibilities to the fullest
for the expression of objective justification.
What is most striking about these testimonies to her past, professedly unique understanding of justification (among
Seventh-day Adventists) is that they were all in the immediate aftermath
of 1888. Nothing like them is found in any other period of her ministry.
Minneapolis was certainly an inspiration to a great call for
Christ-centered ministry in the setting of justification by faith.
"Let the Law Take Care of Itself "The
charge that this great emphasis on justification by faith would destroy
the authority of God's law was particularly intense during the early
months of 1890. This probably arose from the presentations that were being made at the
lengthy "Bible School" in Battle Creek that had been called to
promote the understanding of justification by faith. It was quite likely
that most of these charges were generated by such persons as Uriah Smith
and his supporters, who had been the main opposers of Jones and Waggoner
(and, more subtly, of Ellen White) at Minneapolis and afterward.
It is significant that Ellen White (no mean defender of
the law herself) was not deterred by such suspicions of anti-law
sentiments. It was in this context that she made her startling challenge
to the law partisans to "let the law take care of itself. We have
been at work on the law until we get as dry as the hills of Gilboa. . . .
Let us trust in the merits of Jesus" (1888 Materials 557).
She went on to amplify this response: "Some of our
brethren have expressed fears that we shall dwell too much upon the
subject of justification by faith, but I hope and pray that none will be
needlessly alarmed; for there is no danger in presenting this doctrine
as it is set forth in the Scriptures. If there had not been a remissness
in the past to properly instruct the people of God, there would not now be a
necessity of calling especial attention to it. . . .
"Several have written to me, inquiring if the
message of justification by faith is the third angel's message, and I
have answered, `It is the third angel's message in verity"' (1SM
To many Seventh-day Adventists, especially the partisans
of the Battle Creek establishment preachers, these words must have
seemed rather shocking. But Ellen White was not to be deterred. She kept
moving ahead in her strong advocacy of justification with the bold
declaration that she "could see no cause for alarm" and that
"this fear [of destroying the law] was cherished by those who had
not heard all the lessons given." She continued: "Many remarks
have been made to the effect that in our camp meetings the speakers have
dwelt upon the law, the law, and not on Jesus. This statement is not
strictly true, but have not the people had some reason for making these
remarks?" (1888 Materials 890,
This strong denial that justification by faith would
downgrade God's law is potent evidence of the forcefulness with which
she and others were promoting justification in this period immediately
As was noted at the beginning of this section on
justification, when the gospel is preached in all its power, it will
sometimes sound like an attack on the law and true obedience. But for
Ellen White it really was not an attack on the law. For her, in the
legalistic setting of late nineteenth-century Adventism, it was an attack
on the misuse of the law as a means of gaining merit for salvation.
Ellen White can never be accused of improperly
downgrading the essential importance of sanctification, perfection, and
character transformation. She can in no wise be charged with doing away
with the authority of God's law and the redeemed person's obligation to
obey it in grace. But there is abundant evidence that the great need of
God's people during the years around 1888 was a clearer understanding of
the much neglected subject of justification by faith.
For Ellen White, Minneapolis was a great incentive to
uplift Christ as the sin-pardoning Redeemer. She did not denigrate subjects related to obedience. But she clearly sounded a clarion note
that God's people will not be able to move forward in their Christian experience
unless they have a clear view of the assurance of His
marvelous acceptance through Christ's justifying merits.
1 This conclusion has been reached by Haloviak in "From Righteousness to Holy Flesh: Judgment at Minneapolis." His presentation in chapter 5 is especially informative.
2 Here Haloviak uses the term pioneers to refer to the established ministers at Battle Creek headquartersespecially Uriah Smith and G. I. Butler. [back] [top]