XIV. Analysis at 1973
Why So Little Growth?
Seventh-Day Adventists are quick to point out the steady growth and success of their movement as a strong indication that their work is that of God. Today they number several million members worldwide.
The Seventh Day Baptists have steadily declined since the early 1900's. The president of the Seventh Day Baptist Milton College, a former Seventh Day Baptist pastor, admits that Seventh Day Baptists are a dying church. This was even apparent in the early days of the Adventists, before 1860. O.P. Hull, a Seventh Day Baptist minister, attended an Adventist conference in Albion, Wisconsin and was greatly impressed by the fervor of the Adventists. He told Bates that Seventh Day Baptists could convince people of the legality of the Sabbath, but "they could not get them to move as the Sabbath Adventists did."1
The splits and schisms of the Church of God, Seventh Day, in the United States has, as its ministers admit, hindered growth. The largest (and most organized group, headquartered out of Denver, reported only 5,500 members in 1964.2
In 1971, a young ministerial student of Stanberry admitted that the member figure of the Merger Group was closer to 4,500. Other groups have far less. In November of 1969, the Bible Advocate went to only 2,225 paid subscribers. Despite the free Advocate program instituted in 1970, the 1973 figure was hardly up to 10,000 copies. This free magazine was published monthly, but in the 1920's the Advocate was weekly. The 1,000 new members added in 1923 has never been repeated. Divisions have caused many to leave the church altogether. The town of Stanberry itself shows the decline. In 1914, it had 2,200 inhabitants; in 1920, only 1,864; and in 1973 had about 1,400.
Seventh-Day Adventist historian Loughborough presented a challenge to the Church of God, that must be answered. He maintained that the opposition to Ellen G. White came mostly from "those who have been reproved for defects in character, for wrong habits, or for some wrong course in their manner of life." They left the ranks, protesting that they were not as bad as her testimony said. At his writing (1892), Loughborough stated that the breakaway groups had made no success in spreading Sabbath truth. "If those opposing this gift are led by the Lord, why should they lose their spirituality, and backslide from God? . . . a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit."3 Later (1909), Loughborough stated that the organized opposition to Ellen G. White's testimonies had met "utter failure." And "after years of battling they have given no more evidence of spreading the Sabbath truth before the world than those of their kindred did 49 years ago [Messenger Party]. If theirs was the special work of the Lord, why has no more prosperity attended their message?"4
Grew Up on Dead Soil
The period of the crystallization of the Church of God (Seventh Day) was from about 1840 to 1860. What was this period like religiously? "Toward the latter part of the 18th Century there was much spiritual unrest and the churches of America were dead in religious formality and certain Bible truths seemed all but lost."5
Ellen G. White noted that "the state of the churches at this time is pointed out in the Savior's words in the Revelation: 'You have a name that you livest, and art dead'."6
To awaken them, she believed, God sent "an American reformer," William Miller. What were the results of this "reformer"?
Miller and the "Burned Over District"
Churches during Miller's time generally believed (according to the contemporary theologian Bush) that the millennium would come not with a divine intervention and the return of Christ, but through "gradual steps" and the "moral regeneration" and conversion of the world. In other words, Christ would come after the millennium had been set up in the hearts of men.7
Miller's movement held that the return of Christ preceded the millennium. His date setting and fanatical supporters "turned off" great numbers of people to the truth, when the date he set failed to materialize. The period of religious enthusiasm had lasted from about 1800 and was centered in western New York (Rochester being the home of James White's paper, the Advent Review). After 1844, there was a noticeable decline of conversions, and the period of revivals came to an abrupt end.8 One historian notes that "For years [after 1844] the spiritual condition in some parts of the State of New York was not unlike that of a prairie after it has been swept by fire. All was blackness and desolation and death."9 It was, as Whitney Cross' book is entitled, a "Burned Over District."10
Western New York, and Ohio and Michigan, first on the westward road of migration, were the centers of this "Burned Over District," and were the birthplaces of the Church of God (Seventh Day).
Seventh Day Baptist Legacy
The Seventh Day Baptists, originally called the Church of God or the Church of Christ, were ancestors of the Church of God (Seventh Day). What were they like at the birth of The Messenger of Truth, and later, The Hope of Israel? As Dugger notes, "some among the oldest of these congregations . . . have, like Israel of old, departed, to some degree, from the old paths in which their forefathers trod. Whole they still hold to the true Sabbath and baptism these certain congregations have taken an unscriptural gospel, and several other important tenets of faith."
Further, they "were growing cold and indifferent toward the truth, drifting toward the world, and becoming like the Gentiles around them . . . ." As a result, "some began gradually drifting away from the former piety and love for the Bible, and the Bible only, for their faith and practice, and took upon themselves another name besides the one divinely given of God."11
Seventh Day Baptists forgot the annual Passover that the original London church had observed. They forgot the conditionalist beliefs of their forefathers, and came to believe in the immortal soul. They neglected the Sabbath, the only sign demonstrating that they did keep the commandments of God. They began to compromise as to keeping the Sabbath. The President of the Seventh Day Baptist Conference, Dr. George W. Post, said in 1904: "For a man to starve his family in order to keep the Sabbath is unnatural under existing conditions. It is also unnecessary."
In matters such as smoking and drinking and the Old Testament dietary laws, the Seventh Day Baptist church in the later period failed to legislate, leaving the matter to "the judgment of the individual."12
The trend of "watering down" of religion had already far advanced among Seventh Day Baptists by the 1840's. Yet Samuel Davison initiated an appeal for the church to stir itself up. He was instrumental in pushing through a Conference resolution setting aside November 1, 1843 as a day of fasting and prayer that God would "arise and plead for his holy Sabbath." Another day in January, 1845 was also set aside for fasting. Earnest editorials in the Sabbath Recorder, such as the one entitled, "O Lord, Revive Thy Works," in the August 7, 1845, issue, tried to stir up the church, but to no avail.
Davison, Cottrell, Sheffield and a few other Seventh Day Baptists were used to carry on the Church of God work, but there were few zealots during this time. The sleepy "small town syndrome," instead of big city evangelism, was a legacy the lethargic Seventh Day Baptists handed to the Church of God.
Seventh-Day Adventist Legacy
Starting on the blackened soil of Millerism and the lethargy of Seventh Day Baptists, Sabbath Adventists were faced with a greater threat from within: the visions of Ellen G. White and the harsh dictatorship of her husband. Feigned or not in her power to control, the visions turned many against the Sabbath and religion altogether. As Canright laments, "The natural rebound from fanaticism and superstition is into infidelity and skepticism . . . the ripe fruit of [Seventh Day] Adventism in the years to come will be a generation of infidels."13
This was to hold true in too many cases. William Brinkerhoff, B.F. Snook, Moses Hull, H.S. Dille and other early leaders in the Church of God fell away. For many, even contact with the Whites often proved to be spiritual poison. The legacy of the Seventh-Day Adventists to the Church of God was to prove far more deadly than either Millerism or Seventh Day Baptists.
Joseph Marsh and the "Independent View"
Since the Seventh-Day Adventists organized and changed their name from Church of God, those who would not go along with the White Party often were entirely against all forms of organization. Some Adventists could see that the name Church of God was scriptural, but could not come around to the Sabbath, probably because to do so would mean that there was only the vision-inspired White Party to ally with. Thus, the Age-to-Come group, calling themselves the Church of God, came into being as a very loose and unorganized church that did not formally organize until the 1920's.
Joseph Marsh, predecessor of the Age-to-Come Church of God, wrote in his paper, The Voice of Truth and Glad Tidings in May 21, 1845, that the name Church of God is the only name that the true body can be called. He wrote strongly against organizing with a statement of beliefs, which he felt was the first step towards religious persecution.
Marsh's view was apparently picked up by many of the Hope of Israel party, as it wasn't until 1884 when the Church of God General Conference was organized, and 1900 when the church became incorporated. Still, "independent views" were allowed and in 1929 when some attempt to enforce unanimity was instituted, it was to no avail, and actually precipitated the 1933 division.
The "I'll let no man or organization tell me what to preach" syndrome insured a disunited Church of God and precipitated recurrent splits which exemplify Church of God history.
A Dying Church
The decline of the Church of God (Seventh Day) is not as apparent as the Seventh Day Baptists because there are so many groups to keep track of and membership figures are inaccurate or unobtainable. Certainly the widespread home and foreign missionary activity extant in the 1920's is no longer taking place. Few, if any, outside the Church of God (Seventh Day) or its Sabbath-keeping cousins have ever heard of the group.
An interesting article in a Bible Advocate sometime in the early 1920's is entitled "A Dying Church." Written by O.R. Osman, then Secretary of the General Missionary Department, it states: "A Church that is doing nothing for the public is on its way to the cemetery. All its members who are doing nothing are acting as pall bearers. All who are so busy with their own affairs that they've no time to devote to the Lord's cause are making the mourning wreath. The brother who says noting at all is driving the hearse. The ones who are constantly drawing back when moves are to be made are throwing the flowers on the grave . . . . Brother, which of these acts are you performing?"
Leadership can often offset serious problems. The dead soil - Millerism, Seventh Day Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists and Age-to-Come "independents" - upon which the Church of God (Seventh Day) grew might have been overcome had the church produced firm leaders who would lead the people in the right direction. When A.C. Long, Jacob Brinkerhoff, A.F. Dugger and others died, they had no dedicated replacements. A.F. Dugger's son, Andrew N. Dugger, was a horse of a different color. He admitted twice (in 1912 and again in 1929) that a certain doctrine - Anglo Israelism - was true, but refused to preach it because he felt the church would not accept it. The question of whether this doctrine is true or not is irrelevant; the point is that Dugger was not an honest and sincere leader. Religious hypocrisy in the top leadership certainly led to the downfall and splintering of the church.
Individual hypocrisy had not been absent from the church either. Many continue to believe in Feast Days, Anglo Israelism and other doctrines yet continue to be a part of a church which publishes articles against these beliefs. An article in the November-December, 1971 Messenger (Merger group paper) states: "The Church of God (Seventh Day) has always been a church with 'an open creed.' By that we mean we are ready to accept new light on the Scriptures and that our doctrines are subject to change at any time when Biblical evidence proves the need for such change."14 It is ironic that some in the Seventh Day Church of God have admitted that such and such a doctrine is true, but do not live by it.
Call it personality conflict, call it doctrinal disputes, call it "independent spirit," the 1933
division marked a definite change, a downward thrust in the church, from which it has never recovered.
Church of God historian Charles Monroe states, "The division [of 1933-1949] had hindered growth in the Church of God, and it was as if the Sardis church described in Revelation 3:1 could be describing the Church of God! It was alive, yet dead!"15 W
Giving & Sharing, PO Box 100, Neck City, MO 64849