Our Institutions: Denominational or Undenominational?
Before the issue had been openly joined over the question of teaching, there had been
no little counsel from the Spirit of prophecy about the matter of the organization of our
oldest health institution under a law that provided the institution could not expend any
of its funds outside the State of Michigan. While in Australia, in the nineties, Mrs.
White had called earnestly on the old institution to help in planting the first sanitarium
in Australia. As the issue was developing, in the Autumn of 1902, one complaint against
the Spirit of prophecy was over this insistent call that had come for the old bas to help
in establishing new plants, whereas the law under which the institution was incorporated
forbade such sending out of funds.
Messages such as the following had been sent from Australia to the General Conference
of 1899, held at South Lancaster, Massachusetts, appealing for help for Australia:
"The Battle Creek Sanitarium has received thousands of dollars in donations which
should be passed over to institutions in other countries, which are struggling for an
existence. And more than this, the profits of the sanitarium should be largely used in
helping similar institutions in needy circumstances."Bulletin," 1899, p. 131.
Along with the appeal for help for new fields from the old institution, the same
message repeated the counsels against the tendency among our institutions to keep on with
increasing enlargements in old centers:
"The Lord has presented to us that the enemy is still seeking with all his power
to center the work the work in Battle Creek, contrary to the word of God. A movement to
erect more buildings there, and to gather in more people, will bring results for evil that
are not now foreseen.
"Not all the institutions now at Battle Creek should have been there. Our people
have found excuse after excuse for establishing new enterprises and erecting more
buildings.""Bulletin," 1899, p. 131.
In the meantime, Mrs. White had returned from Australia. The burning of
institution in early 1902 had raised the question of finance for rebuilding, and Mrs.
White had repeated the plea of not so much building in one place.
Before the issue of teaching had involved the medical management and the General
Conference in serious discussion of these thingswhile most of the leaders were in
EuropeMrs. White spoke at length on the question of older institutions helping new
plants. It was the chapel of the St. Helena (California) Sanitarium, adjoining her home.
The attorney of the Battle Creek institution, Judge _________, was present. He was a
member of our church then. The meeting was held June 22, 1902 (while the old institution
was rebuilding). The report of the meeting was sent to headquarters in those days, and I
venture to quote a few paragraphs from it, as it introduces the matter of denominational
Speaking of the restriction preventing giving aid to new enterprises, Mrs. White said a
view had been given her:
"One of authority stood before the company, and spoke words....he said that these
restrictions were not inspired by God, but were of human devising. The means coming to the
sanitarium were brought by people from all parts of the world, and should not be used in
one state only."
"In the providence of God, my husband and I were largely responsible in founding
the Battle Creek Sanitarium first called the Health Reform Institute. The Lord instructed
us to establish this institution. ...We were led to encourage the people to believe that
after they had helped to establish the Battle Creek Sanitarium it would in time repay them
by assisting them to establish similar institutions in different parts of the country.
Time and again we have stood before congregations and made this promise, pleading with
them to help us firmly establish this institution, and assuring them that in turn it would
help them when they were ready to establish institutions in other places."
Thus speaking of the founding days, it was explained why the calls were so insistent
when Australia needed helphelp being called for, not from individuals but from the
Then Mrs. White's son called her attention to the provisions of the law, under which
the institution was later organized, forbidding the sending of money beyond the state.
In reply Mrs. White said: "Did God devise these restrictions?... The
Lord is not
pleased to have His people bound by any such yokes."
Then the attorney for the institution, Judge __________, remarked:
"I do not think the brethren understood, when they incorporated the Association,
that the Act under which it was done provided that its means should not be used outside
Mrs. White: "Is not that a yoke?"
Judge __________: "I think __________ now recognizes the fact that it ought to be
reorganized. I am strongly in favor of reorganizing it.... I recognize the evil , and I
think we ought to try to remedy it.... In times past I have had several talks with
__________ on the advisability of such reorganization, so that it might be free from some
of these restrictions. Until recently he has not been able to see the necessity for doing
so.... I am sure he has begun to realize the necessity of such reorganization."
Mrs. White: "I hope it will be reorganized, because it does not now stand right in
the sight of God."
Judge __________: "I am satisfied myself that you are right."
Denominational or Undenominational?
In connection with instruction as to desirability of organizing our institutions so
that they might contribute to the work of the denomination wherever help was needed, the
question of relation of our oldest medical enterprise to the denomination was raised among
us. It began to be urged that the plant was not a denominational institution. Mrs. White,
who was at the founding of the first medical institution, wrote:
"If ever a sanitarium was established to be denominational in every sense of the
word, this sanitarium was.... In the name of the Lord, we are to identify ourselves as
Seventh-day Adventists. If anyone among us is ashamed of our colors, and wishes to stand
under another banner, let him do so as a private individual, not as a representative of
Seventh-day Adventist medical missionary work."(Undated statement, of 1902).
Sure enough, however, as our crisis developed it appeared that in the latest
organization of the institution it was provided that it should not be denominational. A
journalist, the assistant editor of the Pilgrim Magazine, gave us and the public, this
information in reporting an interview with our former medical leader. The interviewer
"One year ago the Sanitarium in this city, generally believed and by Adventists
quite as much as by the public at large to be a denominational institution, was burned
to the ground. It is now nearly rebuilt."
As the journalist sought information, he was told:
"The sanitarium of which I have charge has no more connection with the Seventh-day
Adventist denomination, as such than you have.'
"Believing that I had not heard correctly I asked the doctor to repeat the
expression, which he did, precisely as quoted.
"'Who, then, is it that owns it or runs it, or holds it in charge?' I asked.
"A private association, he replied. . . .
"The doctor continued:
"'I myself drew up the institution's articles of association. I saw to it that it
should be absolutely unsectarian. Membership in the association governing it as open to a
Catholic as to a Seventh-day Adventist."Kalamazoo Telegraph, January, 1903.
Groping for an understanding, the interviewer referred to the Review and Herald
publishing house, the main building of which had been burned a week before. "That is
a church institution?" he said. "It is not," was the reply. "The
Review and Herald concern is owned by a private stock company." But the essential
difference was that the brethren who held the non-profit yielding stock in the printing
house saw to it that when that corporation was reorganized, it was under articles that
made the governing constituency altogether denominational. That was the difference.
In later years the original denominational character of our first medical work was
minimized in vigorous terms. A highly placed member of the British government, Sir Horace
Plunkett, had become a patron of the institution while holding some office in Canada, I
believe. He gave an address at the institution. He told how a "little band of
altruists" had begun the work in 1866. "The founders were Seventh-day
Adventists. But he explained that the sect had no connection with its management now. That
was the way in which the average man of the world would want to recognize the founders of
a worthy enterprise. But the management, using this address as a publicity document,
inserted the following paragraph at this point:
"(The institution was from the start a private enterprise and was never under the
control of any denomination or sect, though for some years affiliated with the church of
its founders. All such affiliation ceased years ago. The management have no connection
with the religious organization referred to and no sympathy with the fanatical beliefs and
practices which pertain to it. Neither had the Battle Creek Sanitarium any connection
whatever with the numerous small religio-medico-sectarian institutions established by this
sect in various parts of the world. The prestige of the Battle Creek Sanitarium System has
suffered greatly because of the unauthorized claims of some of these church-controlled
concerns. Hence this explanatory note.Publishers.) " Battle Creek Idea, "
Sept. 15 1913.
Years before this, and before the undenominational issue had ever been thought of by
our people, I would say, the messages of the Spirit of prophecy pointed out to our former
associate the danger in a possible tendency toward the undenominational position. This
appeared in copies of the instruction of years before, placed in hands of General
Conference officers after it became apparent that we were in a real crisis over the
teaching. From Cooranbong, Australia, February 27, 1900, the message had been sent:
"You may think that you can discard the name of Seventh-day Adventist, and make a
name for yourself because of your supposed prosperity. But just as surely as you yield to
this temptation, you will understand what the warnings mean that God has been sending you
for years....O John, for Christ's sake do not spoil your record."
We think of this admonition now, when we see the institutions built larger and larger,
to really mammoth proportions, and standing as a monument to the warning messages sent
through the years. These messages indicated the way even of business success. But men
rejected the counsel and had their own way. And, as I write, we know that the great
institution has passed into the hands of a court, and is directed by the court in the
interests of the bond holders.
What the future may hold we do not know, and we point no finger of reproach at former
associated; but we must recognize a voice that bore true witness and gave wise counsels
all the way along.