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Arianism, Adventism and Methodism:
The Healing of Trinitarian Teaching and Soteriology*

 by Woodrow Whidden, PhD., Professor of Religion 
at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan

A Paper Presented to The Tenth Oxford, MI (USA) Institute of Methodist Theol. Studies Working Group: History of Wesleyan Traditions: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries August 12-22, 1997 Oxford University Somerville College


It is only in recent years that the Wesleyan/Methodist rootage of Seventh-day Adventist soteriology and ecclesiology has been explicitly demonstrated.(1) The Wesleyan aspiration to achieve a balanced understanding of justification and sanctification, leading to a dynamic experience of perfection and the positive use of the moral law in the formation of the sanctification experience have certainly carried over into the Seventh-day Adventist theological pilgrimage. There is little doubt that the special agent of this Wesleyan influence was Ellen G. White (1827-1915), the founding prophetess of the Adventist movement.

What, however, has not been adequately explored is the role that developing Trinitarian impulses played in the movement's gradual emergence out of a rather pervasive Arian, semi-Arian, and legalistic mindset. This paper will seek to identify what if any causal relationships existed between emerging Trinitarian impulses and the healing of legalistic soteriological trends.

Early Adventist Doctrinal Developments

Arising out of the shambles of the Millerite Movement's Second Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844, it is understandable that the Millerite splinter group that would evolve into what became known as the Seventh-day Adventist branch of Adventism had a very eschatological doctrinal preoccupation. Such concerns very much flowed out of their interpretations of the apocalyptic portions of the Scripture, especially the books Daniel and Revelation, Jesus' Olivet Discourse, and Second Thessalonians.

The key doctrines which comprised the core of what became known as "Present Truth" were:

1)The imminent, literal, cataclysmic and pre-millennial Second Coming.

2)The Pre-Advent "Investigative Judgment."

3)A millennial reign of the redeemed with Christ in heaven, the earth being desolated during this millennial night, followed by the establishment of the everlasting kingdom on a recreated earth at the end of the thousand years.

4)Recovery of the moral authority of the ten commandments and especially the requirement that the people of God keep the Fourth Commandment of the Ten commandments as a sign of sanctification and the eschatological "seal" of their loyalty to God in the last great crisis of earth's history.

5)An emphasis on conditional immortality which grew out of a renewed appreciation of anthropological monism, with its concomitant doctrines of "soul-sleep" and annihilationism.

6)And finally, the rediscovery of the prophetic gift, especially as it was manifest in the ministry of Ellen G. White.

What is fascinating about these developments was that there was not much detailed consideration of either Christology, Pneumatology, or soteriology.

What Christological developments there were largely dealt with widespread Arian impulses and a denial of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Between 1844 and 1890 there was a general move away from a rather classic Arian Christology to a more semi-Arian position. One searches in vain, however, for any really clear cut Athanasian or Nicean developments before the late 1870s. Furthermore, it was only with the events that more immediately preceded and followed the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference Session, that more orthodox Trinitarian developments got underway with noticeable clarity.

Soteriological developments followed much the same pattern, with a noticeable lack of detailed consideration given to the doctrine of justification. This was due to two major reasons:

1)Most Seventh-day Adventist thought leaders felt that the movement did believe in justification by faith alone and since this was not a strongly controverted issue in 19th Century American Protestantism, they felt they needed to get onto what appeared to be more serious errors which needed reforming attention.

2)These errors had to do with what Adventists ministers perceived to be widespread antinomian attitudes in not only Roman Catholicism, but also in the dominant Protestant evangelicalism of the day. What appeared to demand the greatest attention was the law and obedience to its just demands.

It is therefore quite theologically understandable as to why Adventism gave such great emphasis to the on-going authority of the law of God, especially the ten commandments and the importance of sanctification and obedience. Without a carefully construed doctrine of justification by faith and with the strong emphasis on the law and sanctified obedience, it was inevitable that the denomination would descend into a rather dismal period when legalistic emphases were quite evident.

By the late 1870s and the early 1880s, both James White (1821-1881) and his wife Ellen White were becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of Christ-centered preaching and a pervasive atmosphere of spiritual dryness. In the months just before James White's death in 1881, he had made renewed commitments to seek to lead the denomination back to a much more Christ-centered proclamation of "present truth."

It is also quite instructive that Ellen White shared this deepening concern. It was during this period that she too embarked on what became a sustained attempt to revive an interest in making the evangelistic proclamation of the eschatological "truths" of Adventist much more Christ-centered. Furthermore, she was the main person who called for a more self-conscious reflection on such issues as the primacy of objective justification by faith alone and Gospel assurance.

Such reflection was especially apparent in her presentations at the 1883 General Conference Session in Battle Creek, MI. Here she spoke directly to the need of the Christian's assurance of salvation (and the avoidance of the Pharisaism and spiritual despair that seemed to always accompany an emphasis on sanctification and obedience that is not based on a clear concept of justification by faith). In fact, it can be quite clearly stated that until 1886, Ellen White was the only person in Adventism that manifested any noticeable apprehension about the growing legalistic aridity among both the ministerial leadership and the rank and file of the burgeoning denomination. All of this, however, was destined to markedly change in the late 1880s and the early 1890s.

1888, Its Background and Subsequent Developments

The date 1888 and the city of Minneapolis, Minn. have become synonymous in Seventh-day Adventist history with the recovery of a marked emphasis on the primacy of justification by faith alone in church doctrinal teaching, growth in personal spirituality and a deepening commitment to Christian service and witness. 1888 and Minneapolis were the date and the place for the emergence of a remarkable revival of what Seventh-day Adventists refer to as the beginning of a genuine and sustained interest in the subject of "righteousness by faith."

As she continued to build upon the earlier concerns which had been expressed by her and her late husband in the 1870s and early 1880s, Ellen White was repeatedly calling for revival and reformation as the troubled denomination came to the borders of the city of Minneapolis in October of 1888.

The key players in this remarkable revival of interest in justification, both in leading up to Minneapolis and in its stirring aftermath, were Ellen G. White and two young Adventist editors based in California named Ellet J. Waggoner (1855-1916) and A.T. Jones (1850-1923). Opposed to them was a rather entrenched "Old Guard" of establishment administrators and editors located at church headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan. The major antagonists of White, Jones and Waggoner were Uriah Smith (1832-1903), the venerable editor of the official church journal, the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald and George I. Butler (1834-1918), the incumbent President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Space does not permit a detailed review of the events which transpired at Minneapolis and its aftermath. Suffice it to say that the opposition to the new emphasis on justification by faith and the righteousness of Christ was very strong--and also very subtle and pernicious. Ellen White saw the whole development as a terrible crisis and felt that the very soul of the denomination was at stake. She confessed to loved ones that the opposition at Minneapolis involved the most severe struggle of her life.

While no official action was taken at Minneapolis to either affirm or deny the new emphases, the opposition was so severe and subtle that Ellen White felt that she needed to team up with Jones and Waggoner and mount an intense campaign of revival itinerations across North America. What ensued was one of the most concerted and remarkable revival efforts in the history of the denomination and in the long life and ministry of Ellen White.

During the next three years she, along with Jones and Waggoner, toured widely speaking at camp meetings, institutional weeks of prayer and revivals, local churches (especially major congregations in important institutional centers such as Battle Creek, MI and South Lancaster, Mass.) and conducted numerous, lengthy ministerial institutes for the instruction of the ministers. All of this was undertaken with the obvious intent to impart a clearer understanding of the dynamics of personal salvation.

While there was no diminishing of emphasis on the importance of obedience to the law and the Sabbath by White, Jones and Waggoner (what such stout opponents as Uriah Smith and George Butler had feared), there was a great emphasis on the primacy and importance of justification by faith alone as the bedrock of any vibrant Christian experience.

One of the most remarkable indicators of such an emphasis is, that during the four years that followed Minneapolis (in a seventy year public career), roughly forty percent of all that Ellen White would ever have to say about justification by faith and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, she said and wrote during this intense revival period.

It is not just the amount of material that flowed from her lips and pen, but it is the quality and remarkable clarity of the material that is also arresting.(2) This period was the time when she produced what is patently the most Pauline/Lutheran expressions on Justification by faith alone in her entire ministry.

Despite all of the efforts of Ellen White, her two chief associates and their allies, the reception was somewhat mixed. There was continued opposition from Uriah Smith and his supporters. Then in the early part of 1890s, for no really obviously compelling reason, Ellen White was sent for nearly a decade of ministry in Australia while Waggoner spent most of the rest of the same decade in Europe. Jones was the only major "righteousness by faith" protagonist left in the states and his ministry became somewhat problematic as the decade of the 1890s rolled by.

Most certainly Wagoner and White continued to have ready access to the pages of the key periodicals of Seventh-day Adventism in North America, but there was definitely a recession of emphasis on justification by faith alone as these years rolled by.

Despite this spparent recession of emphasis, probably the greatest influence that Minneapolis and its more immediate aftermath have had on subsequent soteriological developments has been its ability to inspire renewed interest in searching out more clearly the theological and practical spiritual meaning of the doctrines and experience of salvation. Interest in these matters has continued unabated in Seventh-day Adventism to this very day.

Corresponding Christological and Trinitarian Developments

As was mentioned earlier, Arian views were quite pervasive in the writings of early Seventh-day Adventism. In fact, it was possibly almost as widespread as convictions regarding the imminence of Christ's return. It has been hard for many 20th Century Adventists to grasp this fact in the light of the complete and official triumph of Trinitarianism in the movement in this century. Some, such as prominent Adventist historian/apologist Leroy Edwin Froom, have been so embarrassed that they have even sought to distort the Arian historical record by making it appear that such views were something like an "encapsulated cancer"--certainly there, but not very widespread.(3) Furthermore, what has often not been clear in Adventist historical treatment has been what the factors were which motivated such a fascination with Arian thought categories. It is only in recent years that Adventist historiography has been able to get at this. More on this later.

For our purposes, it is important to focus on the Christology of Jones, Waggoner, Ellen White, and Uriah Smith.

First of all the case of A.T. Jones. By the time of the Minneapolis revivals, Jones was quite forthrightly Trinitarian, emphasizing the full deity of Jesus Christ.(4)

The thought of E.J. Waggoner is more problematic. Like many in the Adventism of his day, he had moved from the earlier predominant Arianism to a semi-Arian position. While the classification of Waggoner's Christolgy is still somewhat controversial among the interpreters of the "righteousness by faith" developments of the last two decades of the 19th Century, it is quite apparent to this writer that Waggoner never moved beyond semi-Arianism. He is very intriguing in that he seemed to come to the very borders of a fully Athanasian Christology, but just could not bring himself to fully cross over.

It might prove helpful in this context to clarify terms. In the 19th Century Adventist context, full-blown Arianism taught that Christ was a created "god" and it was clearly said that there was a time when He did not exist. The semi-Arian position held that while there was a time when Christ did not exist as a separate person, He shared the same substance as the Father and was "begotten" by the Father, rather than being created. It is what could be characterized as the amoebic split of Christ out of the cell of the Father: Christ emerged out of the Father's person as a separate divine being. Waggoner could speak in terms that would seem to betray what appeared to be an Athanasian and Trinitarian Christology, but he could also speak in quite problematic ways that still evidenced semi-Arian patterns of thinking. His most notorious expression of the deity of Christ (which he never repudiated) goes like this:

The Scriptures declare that Christ is "the only-begotten Son of God." He is begotten, not created. As to when He was begotten, it is not for us to inquire, nor could our minds grasp it if we were told . . . . [Micah 5:2 quoted.] There was a time when Christ proceeded forth and came from God, from the bosom of the Father (John 8:42; 1:18), but that time was so far back in the days of eternity that to finite comprehension it is practically without beginning.

But the point is that Christ is a begotten Son, and not a created subject. He has by inheritance a more excellent Name than the angels.(5)

It is not the purpose of this paper to fully assess the Christology of Waggoner, but it is quite apparent that Waggoner's position was semi-Arian, though straining as it were to move into a full-blown Trinitarian confession. He could probably be best classified as a "semi-Arian" with a definite emphasis on the small "s" in the prefix "semi". What is germane to the purposes of this paper is that while Waggoner did not give a full-blown explication of the ways his semi-Arian position was informing his developing views on a more objective, less legalistic soteriology, he was clearly moving away from a crassly Arian position and to a much stronger emphasis on objective justification. As to how such developments informed each other, we will seek to assess later.

The Christology of Ellen White is also a bit problematic, but more evidently Trinitarian and Athanasian than that of either Waggoner or Jones. The mature Ellen White can be declared to be unequivocally Trinitarian in her convictions regarding the full deity of Christ. But such mature and unequivocal clarity of expression did not come until after the Minneapolis General Conference.

While there has been a rather limited debate among Adventist scholarship over developments in her Christology, it appears that there were three main periods in her Christological unfolding.

The first is from 1850 to 1870. Eric C. Webster has referred to the emphasis of this period as visionary and descriptive, presenting Jesus in "graphic, literalistic and anthropomorphic" modes. Jesus was certainly featured, but "mostly within the framework of her eschatological visions." The presentation of Christ's pre-existence during this period "appears to present Jesus Christ as subordinate to the Father."(6)

The period from 1870 to 1890 evidences a definite broadening of her Christology. Jesus was clearly presented as "equal with the Father and eternal."

The third period was from 1890- 1915 and is clearly the period of Christological dominance . . . During this last period Christ is presented as of the same substance and essence as the Father and one in whom is life original, unborrowed, underived . . . It is difficult to differentiate between the actual Christology of the second and third periods: the content is very similar but the volume is greater in the third.(7)

This is truly a remarkable development, especially given the strongly Arian and semi-Arian views that were so dominant in the Adventism of her day. Such views were even held by her strong-minded, forthright husband, James White, until fairly late in his life. What was somewhat curious (and in need of some further explanation) is why she never directly attacked anyone who held to this dominant Arian expression, but then seemed to be willing to go against such a grain with her own positive testimony to the full deity of Christ. Most certainly, by the time of the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference, she was clear in her understanding of the full deity of Christ and her affirmations of the Trinity. Her understanding included the clear affirmations of the eternity and equality of the Son with the Father.

It is furthermore instructive that the main opposer of the soteriological initiatives of Waggoner, Jones and White--Uriah Smith--was forthrightly Arian. He then evolved into a semi-Arian view which he maintained until his death.(8) Although he later repented of his pernicious opposition to the emphases of Ellen White and her cohorts, he never fully came out strongly for a clear doctrine of objective justification by faith alone. For our purposes, it is instructive that the main opponent of the soteriological healing going on within Adventism was also clearly semi-Arian (quite similar to Waggoner), but never fully convinced of the efficacy of the new soteriology.

What is to be made of these developments? What was it that motivated the Arian impulses of Adventism from the 1840s until the 1890s? Were Jones, Waggoner and White self-consciously feeding off of their Christological advances to aid and abet their attempts to heal Adventist soteriology? Or was the whole development merely coincidental? Or maybe the whole cause effect relationship between Christology and Trinitarian developments is mainly imperceptible, but influential and unacknowledged.

What is to be made of these developments?

What Caused the Healing of Soteriology?

Whence the Arianism?

Before the question can be answered as to the relationship between developments in Christology and the healing of a very legalistic Adventist soteriology, we should first seek to identify what motivated the adoption of Arian concepts in the first place.

Undoubtedly, the main conduit of Arianism and anti-Trinitarianism into early Seventh-day Adventism was the Restorationist backgrounds of numerous Sabbatarian Adventist founding fathers (referred to as the "pioneers"). The most prominent were James White and Captain Joseph Bates (1792-1872). These men had been ministers in the Christian Connection Church, which was the back country version of Boston Unitarianism, but with a much more evangelical bent. Developments in New England restorationism in many ways paralleled what was going on among the Campbellites and Stonites out in the Ohio River Valley. The key credo of these movements involved a rationalistic, anti-creedal, reductionistic view of Christian doctrine. The anti-creedal claims were backed up with the slogan that "we have no creed but the Bible." Such sloganeering betrayed a hearty suspicion of anything that could not be rationally explained and the key test of doctrine was: did it conform to the most obvious and literal reading of the Bible?

Many Seventh-day Adventist pioneers drunk deeply at he well-springs of this Restorationist mind-set.

The proclivity for a very literalistic reading of Scripture, in the setting of such an anti-creedal bias, requires further comment. This anti-creedal spirit seemed to induce a deep suspicion of any of the great ecumenical creeds; furthermore, the Restorationist idea that we get back to the Biblical fountainhead of all Christian doctrine (and thus avoid the contaminating influences of mystifying, pagan induced "traditions" of men) was what seemed to predispose them to the most obvious and literalistic readings of the English Bible. Thus such Biblical expressions as "first born of every creature," "Only begotten Son of God" and so forth were seen to apply to the deity of Christ, not His humanity.

Furthermore, many felt that the profound unity of the Godhead, inherent in Trinitarian thought, was not only irrational, but that it did away with the personality of both the Father and the Son by blurring the distinction between them. They also thought that the Trinity came to the very edges of teaching pagan tri-theism. The Seventh-day Adventist reserve about the Trinity, however, had a further motivation which was informed by its theological anthropology.

Influenced primarily by the Millerite George Storrs, most early Seventh-day Adventists had been converted to conditionalism (including Ellen White and her family during their Millerite experience). Such views were fervently held--in clear opposition to the regnant immortal soulism. This monistic, more unitive understanding of human nature caused a somewhat complex reaction to Trinitarian emphases, especially as it related to their understanding of the nature of Christ and the meaning of His atoning death.

Among these early Adventist anti-Trinitarians, J.M. Stephenson was not only typical, but also quite influential in his views. Mervyn Maxwell has succinctly laid out this anti-Trinitarian, Arian rationale:

Stephenson dealt with Trinitarianism when he discussed Christ's fitness to offer God an adequate atonement. Trinitarians, he charged, "claim that the Son of God had three distinct natures at the same time: viz., a human body, a human soul, united with his Divine nature: the body being mortal, the soul immortal, the Divinity co-equal, co-existent, and co-eternal with the everlasting Father. Now, none of the advocates of this theory claim that either his soul or Divinity died, that the body was the only part of this triple being which actually died `the death of the cross;' Hence, according to this view (which makes the death of Christ the grand atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world) we only have the sacrifice of the most inferior part--the human body--of the Son of God.

In place of so inadequate a sacrifice as a mere human body, Stephenson (and other early Sabbatarian Adventists) taught a Christ who was able to offer God the death of a whole man, body and soul--yet not of an ordinary man by any means. Christ, in Stephenson's thought, was created somewhere in eternity in the special sense of being "only begotten." He was deathless, divine, and son of God before His incarnation. At His incarnation, His divinity did not take on humanity, as Trinitarians claimed: it was exchanged for humanity while Jesus nonetheless remained the Son of God. He "did not lose his personal identity in his transition from God to man." Said Stephenson, commenting on John 1:14, "`The Word was made flesh.' The natural import of this language is, that the only begotten of the Father, was actually converted into flesh, . . . that the Divine nature was made human; nay, that the very substance of which he was originally composed was converted into flesh."(9)

Although the theology of Stephenson and the many who agreed with him appears to us today to be quite idiosyncratic, even confusing, it does help us to understand some of the anti-Trinitarian motives of early Adventist thinkers. It could well be that when their thinking clarified on the Atonement, it is one key factor that cleared the way for the healing of Trinitarian views. This could also explain some of the lack of forthright Trinitarian testimony from Ellen White in the early years: she did not want to give the appearance of attacking either the firmly held doctrine of conditionalism or the truth that Christ as a human soul really did die an atoning death on the cross; His death was not the expiration of a mere physical body.

Beyond such concerns with how the person of Christ affects the meaning of His atoning death, the Adventist pioneers do not reveal a very self-conscious attempt to see the relationship of the full deity of Christ to such issues as justification by faith alone. I find it interesting, however, that Arianism, in its classic expression, felt the need to give primacy to the concept of Jesus as humanity's Example.(10)

This classic development certainly was replicated in and resonates with early Adventism's understanding that obedience to the law, inspired by Christ's example, is the key issue for their attempts to reform a soteriology which appeared to them as about to break up on the rocks of antinomianism. Could it be that Arianism seems to have a natural attraction for religious movements which concentrate on concerns with obedience--concerns which have seemed to inevitably downgrade considerations having to do with justification by faith in Christian experience?

The Factors Leading to Trinitarian Healing

What then is to be made of Adventism's simultaneous emergence out of both unwitting legalism and a rather strongly held Arian stance? Clear-cut answers are a bit hard to come by in this area of Adventist history, but it does appear that the following factors were the most decisive:

1)The obvious spiritual needs of the church: here both James and Ellen White, later supported by Jones and Waggoner, took the lead. We have no record that they sat up one day and said: "This Arianism business is simply killing our people with legalistic attitudes that are bringing on a terrible spiritual condition in the church!" What seems more apparent is that they sensed the severe dangers inherent in the obviously legalistic trends within the movement, began to study more carefully the causes of the condition and then began to instinctively sense the need for a more Trinitarian undergirding of soteriology.

This basic phenomenon is especially evident in Ellen White. I have simply not found any instances where she self-consciously set out to reflect on the soteriological implications of the full deity of Christ and the personhood of the Holy Spirit. She, however, seemed to be able to draw not only on Scripture, but also on the resources of her Methodist matrix. While she never admitted any direct debt to the Wesleyan/Methodist Tradition for her soteriology, it was clearly her baseline in her ministry from the very beginning. This is especially true of her attempts to keep a balance between the primacy of justification by faith, while at the same time giving great emphasis to sanctification and Holiness of heart and life. It appears that the same might be said for the Trinitarian consciousness raising power of her Wesleyan/Methodist background.

2)The church's worship, especially its hymns. It is interesting that as the movement began to take on the trappings of a denomination, it had to develop the resources for ecclesiastical order and worship--such as formal organization, a statement of belief, ministerial credentials, and a hymnal. Even though Arianism was quite widespread, when the early Adventists began to plan for worship, they included Trinitarian hymns in their early hymnals: the very first hymnal of 1849, compiled by James White, contains the doxology, "Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."(11)

3)When early Adventism finally began to get out of its "shut door" phase,(12) the movement commenced to reach out to other Christians with a renewed sense of mission to a wider audience. This audience, at first, was mainly defined as Christians in North America. This new outreach, which began in the early 1850s, resulted in a growing influx of Trinitarians from other Evangelical bodies into Adventism. These proselytes were attracted to the prophetic teachings and other strongly Biblical doctrines and practices of Adventism; they, however, were not prepared to give up their Trinitarian heritage of doctrinal confession.

As has been mentioned earlier, while Arianism was quite widespread in early Adventism, it also needs to be understood that there was never any formal action taken to officially adopt it. This lack of formal action can be best understood in the light of the movements anti-creedal stance. Because of their vivid memories of the ill-treatment given them by the creedal churches of "Babylon" (in the heated days of last stages of Millerism) there developed a rather strong "live and let live" attitude on a number of doctrinal issues. In other words, there was a very strong resistance to creeds of any form and these rugged theological individualists were not about to be getting up anything like a new creed; after all, "the Bible was their only Creed". Thus any new convert could be a Seventh-day Adventist and still hold Trinitarian views. It could very well be that this growing number of Trinitarians were simply making their presence felt in their desire to worship and sing praises to Jesus who was conceived to be fully divine.

4)There was also the continuing emphasis by Ellen White on Christ as the believer's constantly interceding mediator. This developing strain of emphasis in her unfolding soteriology was accompanied by further, careful reflections on the substitutionary meaning of Christ's death and its implications for justification by faith alone. The more she reflected on the meaning of Christ's death as a Sacrificial Atonement and His closely related office of interceding High Priest, the more she evidenced a sense of the necessity of a sacrifice and Intercession that was given by One who is fully divine; some sort of semi or demi-god would not do.(13)

It also became obvious that when their views on Conditionalism were more carefully sorted out in relationship to a clearer understanding of the Person of Christ, they came to see that Christ could be both fully human (with not only a body, but a unitive soul) in His real, sacrificial death and still be seen as fully divine.

This almost instinctual appreciation of Christ's full deity again seems to replicate the classic Christological developments. It was no mere historical happenstance that Athanasius would oppose Arius. Carefully ponder the observations of Kelly:

In his anti-Arian treatises, Athanasius was to deploy a triple onslaught based on the Church's living faith and experience. First, he argued that Arianism undermined the Christian doctrine of God by presupposing that the divine Triad is not eternal and by virtually reintroducing polytheism. Secondly, it made nonsense of the established liturgical customs of baptizing in the Son's name as well as the Father's, and of addressing prayers to the Son. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it undermined the Christian idea of redemption in Christ, since only if the Mediator was Himself divine could man hope to re-establish fellowship with God.(14)


While it is hard to be dogmatic about the cause/effect relationships between the healing of Adventist Arian and anti-Trinitarian expressions and soteriological imbalance, there are a number of factors that seem to come into play.

First of all, one does not get the feeling that there was a lot of self-conscious theological reflection which transpired in any scholastic/systematic way. It appears that these developments were really quite ad hoc, almost to the point of seeming "providential." What is clear, is that the Whites took the lead and they mainly seemed to draw their theological cues from their pastoral concerns regarding the low estate of the perceived spiritual experience of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. As they began to perceive that legalistic concerns had quite obscured the primacy of Christ as atoning sacrifice and justifying Saviour, they began to reflect practically on how to bring the movement back into a greater emphasis on the centrality of Christ and His atoning sacrifice. In other words, it was practical/theological concerns, primarily having to do with an out-of-balance theology, that seemed to draw them to a more critical reflection having to do with the full deity of Christ. This became especially evident in the thought of Ellen White as she gave more careful, intentional, and sustained attention to the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the office of Christ as a constantly Interceding high Priest. Such an Intercessor not only reckons the faithful as forgiven for the sins of the past, but ministers moment by moment reckoning that they have a just standing before a righteous and Holy God. Such a justifying accomplishment could only be made effectual by One Who was fully divine. Here, she very much paralleled the classic opposition of Athanasius to Arius. The theology was not only very similar, but the method of arriving seems also very similar: both were dealing with the practical impact of heresy in the setting of worship and the personal experience of salvation.

On another level, there is good circumstantial evidence that the evangelistic/proselytizing success of the movement brought in a harvest of Trinitarians who simply were not persuaded by the Arian influences that continued to inform Adventist doctrinal development. In an odd sort of way, the somewhat isolated, anti-ecumenical Adventists, thanks to their proselytizing success, became ecumenical in the sense that they were able, through these converts, to tap into the great tradition of the ecumenical creeds of the first four centuries.

Finally, it does appear that the acts of worship, especially in the hymnody, provided an interesting theological tutorial for a somewhat unwitting company of worshipers.

This feels very much like the unfolding of a very "occasional" theology, hammered out in the ebb and flow of a burgeoning evangelistic movement that badly needed both its soteriological and Trinitarian perspectives brought into a more classic and evangelical balance. It is in the setting of revival, outreach, sustained study of Biblical themes, and worship that the movement moved towards a Nicean orthodoxy in the theological integration of these great verities of the faith. Feels quite classically Wesleyan to me!!

* Woodrow Whidden: Andrews University Berrien Springs, MI (USA) A Paper Presented to The Tenth Oxford Institute of Methodist Theol. Studies Working Group: History of Wesleyan Traditions:  Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries  August 12-22, 1997 Oxford University Somerville College

1. A. Gregory Schneider, "The Methodist Connection to Adventism," Spectrum 25 (September 1996), pp. 26-37; Woodrow W. Whidden, "Ellen White and John Wesley," Idem., pp. 48-54; "Adventist Soteriology: Wesleyan Connection," Wesleyan Theological Journal 30 (Spring 1995), pp. 173-186; and Ellen White on Salvation: A Chronological Study (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1995), pp. 15-22.

2. These somewhat startling (at least to the Adventist ears of that period) and marked expressions of objective justification can be most readily found in the books Faith and Works (Nashville: Souther Pub. Assoc, 1979) and Selected Messages, Book One (Washington: Review and Herald Pub. Assoc., 1958), see especially pp. 300-400. Probably the most forceful expression of this more Pauline/Lutheran understanding of justification by faith alone came in her Manuscript 36, 1890 (here cited from Faith and Works, pp. 19, 20): "Let the subject be made distinct and plain that it is not possible to effect anything in our standing before God or in the gift of God to us through creature merit. Should faith and works purchase the gift of salvation for anyone, then the Creator is under obligation to the creature. Here is an opportunity for falsehood to be accepted as truth. If any man can merit salvation by anything he may do, then he is in the same position as the Catholic to do penance for his sins. Salvation, then, is partly of debt, that may be earned as wages. If man cannot, by any of his good works, merit salvation, then it must be wholly of grace, received by man as a sinner because he receives and believes in Jesus. It is wholly a free gift. Justification by faith is placed beyond controversy."

3. C. Mervyn Maxwell, "Sanctuary and Atonement in SDA Theology: An Historical Survey," Arnold V. Wallenkampf and Richard W. Lesher, eds. The Sanctuary and the Atonement (Washington: Review and Herald Pub. Assoc., 1981), p.530.

4. Merlin D. Burt, "Demise of Semi-Arianism and Anti-Trinitarianism in Adventist Theology, 1888-1957" (A Paper prepared at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Course GHIS 974, Development of Seventh-day Adventist Doctrines, December 1996), pp. 7,8.

5. Cited in L.E. Froom, Movement of Destiny (Washington: Review and Herald Publishing Assoc., 1971), p. 291.

6. Eric C. Webster, Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology (New York: Peter Lang, 1984), pp. 142, 143.

7. Ibid.

8. Burt, pp. 2, 3, 9.

9. Maxwell, p. 531.

10. See Linwood Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 63.

11. Burt, p. 2.

12. It should be noted that the term the "shut door" refers to the convictions of the vast majority of sabbatarian Adventists during the early years. The "shut door" view held that only those who maintained faith in the Millerite Movement as a truly providential movement could be saved. All others in the world had become Babylon because of their rejection of the truth of the Second coming and had evidenced their rejection by God through the persecutions they heaped on the faithful "little flock" of Millerites that kept the faith. In other words, there was not much of a mission to the Babylonian world, since the door of mercy had been shut on them. It took nearly a decade for the "Shut Door, Sabbatarian" Adventists to be able to gain a renewed sense of mission to the broader world.

13. One of the most important developments of the era after Minneapolis and 1888 was her further elaboration of the theme that both humanity and deity were essential to the saving work of Christ. In a sermon given on June 19, 1889, she proclaimed that "Christ could have done nothing during His earthly ministry in saving fallen man if the divine had not been blended with the human." She further declared that "man cannot define this wonderful mystery--the blending of the two natures." This was a theme that was first introduced in 1872: "There could be no sacrifice acceptable to God for him (fallen man), unless the offering made should in value be superior to man as he was in his state of perfection and innocency . . . The divine Son of God was the only sacrifice of sufficient value to fully satisfy the claims of God's perfect law" (cited in Woodrow W. Whidden, "The Soteriology of Ellen G. White: The Persistent Path to Perfection" [Ph.D. Dissertation, Drew University, 1989], p. 188; for further statements from Ellen White, see footnote 3, p. 187 of this dissertation).

14. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (Revised Edition; New York: HarperCollins, 1978), p. 233.

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