The Introduction of the Trinity Doctrine into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.


Section five


The views on the trinity of the early pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (part two)



We begin part two of the ‘trinitarian’ views of the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church with one of the most famous names of our history. That man is E. J. Waggoner.


E. J. Waggoner (1855-1916)


Ellet J Waggoner was the son of Joseph Waggoner whom we spoke of in section four.


Ellet J. Waggoner, the son, played a prominent part in the famous Minneapolis General Conference session of 1888. At that time (as there still is today), there was division in the church about what constituted ‘righteousness by faith’.


The time had come in God’s order of events to set the matter straight. At the Minneapolis conference (1888), God moved upon the hearts of two men to preach a message for the hour. These two men were E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones.


At the time of this conference, Waggoner and Jones were joint editors of ‘Signs of the Times’. Four years later, in the spring of 1892, Waggoner travelled to England and became the editor of ‘Present Truth’. Between the years 1899-1900, both he and W. W. Prescott conducted a training school for workers in England. Two years later in 1902, Waggoner became the very first president of the South England Conference.


In the three years following the Minneapolis Conference (before Waggoner left for England), Ellen White toured extensively with Waggoner and Jones, promoting the 1888 message of ‘righteousness by faith’. They attended camp meetings, weeks of prayer and revivals, as well as attending local churches, particularly those with large congregations.


Waggoner’s messages at the Minneapolis Conference was recorded by a stenographer. Beginning in January 1889, it was then presented in articles in the ‘Signs of the Times’. These same articles were then produced in a number of books, one of which was called ‘Christ and His Righteousness’. This book came off our press in 1890.


On page 8, there is a section called ‘How shall we consider Christ? Waggoner says


“To Christ is committed the highest prerogative, that of judging. He must receive the same honor that is due to God, and for the reason that He is God. The beloved disciple bears this witness: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1. That this Divine Word is none other than Jesus Christ is shown by verse 14: “and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.”


He then says


 “The Word was “in the beginning”. The mind of man cannot grasp the ages that are spanned in this phrase. It is not given to men to know when or how the Son was begotten; but we know that He was the Divine Word, not simply before He came to this earth to die, but even before the world was created”


He concludes the section by saying


“We know that Christ “proceeded forth and come from God” (John 8:42) but it was so far back in the ages of eternity as to be far beyond the grasp of the mind of man”.


Realising that some might think that he was saying that Christ was a created being, he includes on pages 19-20 a section called ‘Is Christ a created being?’ Waggoner totally denies the belief that Christ is a created being. He says


“It is the idea that, Christ is a created being, who, through the good pleasure of God, was elevated to His present lofty position. No one who holds this view can possibly have any just conception of the exalted position which Christ really occupies”.


In making this statement, Waggoner confirms his belief that the Son of God was begotten but definitely not created and that this act of being ‘begotten’ was so far back in the days of eternity that it is totally beyond human comprehension. He confirms this belief on page 21 when he says


“There was a time when Christ proceeded forth and came from God, from the bosom of the Father (John 8:42 and 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”


Waggoner then continues


 “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. He is “a Son over His own house.” Heb. 1:4; 3:6. And since He is the only-begotten Son of God, He is of the very substance and nature of God, and possesses by birth all the attributes of God; for the Father was pleased that His Son should be the express image of His person, the brightness of His glory, and filled with all the fullness of the Godhead. So He has “life in Himself;” He possesses immortality in His own right, and can confer immortality on others. Life inheres in Him, so that it cannot be taken from Him; but, having voluntarily laid it down, He can take it again. His words are these:


“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” John 10:17-18”.


He then deals with the ‘problem’ of how a divine person could die. He says


“If anyone springs the old cavil; how Christ could be immortal and yet die, we have only to say that we do not know. We make no pretensions of fathoming infinity. We cannot understand how Christ could be God in the beginning, sharing equal glory with the Father, before the world was, and still be born a babe in Bethlehem.” The mystery of the crucifixion and resurrection is but the mystery of the incarnation. We cannot understand how Christ could be God and still become man for our sake.”


Waggoner then goes on to say that we cannot understand how God could create this world from nothing, nor raise the dead, nor how the spirit works in our hearts, yet we believe these things. Therefore He says it should be sufficient for us to accept what God has revealed and not stumble over the things that even angels cannot understand. He concludes that the finite cannot understand the infinite.


In the section called ‘Is Christ God?’ (page 9) he says that in many places in the Bible, Christ is called God. He then quotes Psalm 50:1-6 supported by many other texts to prove his point. He then goes on to say that when Jesus returns it will be as the ‘mighty God’ and that this is one of His rightful titles. The whole of this section is taken up with the fact that the Bible calls Christ God and that in Hebrews 1:1-8 even God calls His Son God. Waggoner makes this abundantly clear.


Waggoner then shows by quoting Hebrews 1:4 that the power and greatness of Christ was His by inheritance. He says this on page 12


“A son always rightfully takes the name of the Father; and Christ as ‘the only begotten Son of God’ has rightfully the same name”.


Waggoner then goes on to explain that normally within humanity, a son is the reproduction of the Father, but not perfectly because with mankind there is no perfection. He then says that with God it is different and that His begotten Son is a perfect reproduction of Himself hence the Bible says that the Son is the ‘express image’ of God.


On page 14, Waggoner then says this


“So truly was Christ God, even when here among men, that when asked to exhibit the Father, He could say, Behold me. And this brings to mind the statement that when the Father brought the First-begotten into the world, He said, “and let all the angels of God worship Him” Hebrews 1:6”.


So, as far as Waggoner is concerned, Christ is truly God, yet a distinct and separate being than the Father. Waggoner cannot exalt Christ any higher than he does. He says that Christ is God Himself and that as the scriptures reveal, even God called Him God. Yet Waggoner also holds to the belief that as the Bible says the Son was begotten of the Father but that this begetting was so far back in time that it is impossible for the human mind to comprehend or grasp.


On page 23 Waggoner makes this one statement that perhaps says it all. He says


“He (meaning Christ) is properly called Jehovah, the self existing one”.


How much higher could Waggoner have exalted Christ and yet his sermon was definitely non trinitarian.


I have taken a long time with quotes from Waggoner. For this there is a definite reason.


This is because the message that Waggoner preached at the Minneapolis conference concerning the relationship between the Father and the Son, was, at that time, the denominational stance of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. On this their views by 1888 had not changed.


Remember what R. F Cottrell said almost 20 years earlier in the Review and Herald in 1869 concerning the trinity. He said, “For myself, I have never felt called upon to explain it, nor to adopt and defend it, neither have I ever preached against it. But I probably put as high an estimation on the Lord Jesus Christ as those who call themselves Trinitarians”


That was the same that James White said in 1876 in the Review and Herald of Oct 12th


‘‘The principle difference between the two bodies (meaning Seventh-day Adventists and Seventh-day Baptists), is the immortality question. The S.D. Adventists hold the divinity of Christ so nearly with the trinitarians that we apprehend no trial here.’’


The next year, also in the Review and Herald, James White in an article called ‘Christ equal with God’ said


“The inexplicable Trinity that makes the Godhead three in one and one in three, is bad enough; but that ultra Unitarianism that makes Christ inferior to the Father is worse. Did God say to an inferior, “Let us make man in our image?” (November 29th 1877)


So you can see that by 1888, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with its then 26,000 membership, had not yet changed it’s non trinitarian stance neither had it changed its theology concerning the equality of the Father and the Son.


Without doubt, Waggoner’s sermon was, just like the views of the other pioneers, non-trinitarian and yet exalting Christ as God. There was no disagreement within the denomination concerning the relationship between the Father and Son, none whatsoever.


Ellen Whites comments on E. J. Waggoner’s Minneapolis (1888) message of ‘Righteousness by Faith’


By the time of the Minneapolis conference, Ellen White had been called to the prophetic office for 44 years. She had this to say about Waggoner’s sermon. This was printed in pamphlet form in a special testimony to the Battle Creek Church in 1896 and also included in Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (page 91)


“The Lord in his great mercy sent a most precious message to his people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. 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. All power is given into his hands, that he may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of his own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel's message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of his Spirit in a large measure”.


If Ellen White had thought that there was anything wrong with Waggoner’s message she would never have given it such glowing praise. That would have been so misleading.


In 1889, the year after the Minneapolis Conference in a sermon in Rome, New York, Ellen White said this concerning Waggoner and Jones


“I have had the question asked, What do you think of this light that these men are presenting? Why, I have been presenting it to you for the last forty-five years--the matchless charms of Christ. This is what I have been trying to present before your minds. When Brother Waggoner brought out these ideas in Minneapolis, it was the first clear teaching on this subject from any human lips I had heard, excepting the conversations between myself and my husband. I have said to myself, It is because God has presented it to me in vision that I see it so clearly, and they cannot see it because they have never had it presented to them as I have. And when another presented it, every fiber of my heart said, Amen”.--Ms 5, p. 10. (Sermon, Rome, New York, June 19th 1889)


Three years later in 1892 she said in a letter to Uriah Smith


“It is quite possible that Elder Jones or Elder Waggoner may be overthrown by the temptations of the enemy; but if they should be, this would not prove that they had had no message from God, or that the work that they had done was all a mistake”. Letter 24, 1892, p. 5. (To Uriah Smith, September 19, 1892.) {1MR 143.1}


Well there we have it. That was what Ellen White thought and said about Waggoner’s message at Minneapolis. It was a message that she said was from God Himself. As I said previously, following Minneapolis, she spent three years touring with Waggoner and Jones promoting the 1888 message.


The non trinitarian aspect of Waggoner’s presentation was not incidental. It was a major part of his message. Ellen White did not say that there was anything wrong with Waggoner’s message. She only had praise for it.


Waggoner had made it clear that the Son was begotten of the Father. If on that point the message had been wrong, then would Ellen White have said so? Could Ellen White have stayed silent on this matter and have let our people be deceived?


If you are conversant with the ways of Ellen White, you know that she would have not allowed a false representation of this nature to go unchallenged, let alone praise it and say that it was from God.


E. J. Waggoner championed the faith of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He saw Christ as a separate person from God, but also said that Christ was Jehovah. To Waggoner, Christ was not the Father, He was the Son of the Father.


This was not just a personal view of one man. It was the denominational stance of that time, which we shall see was well supported by Ellen White.


W. W. Prescott (1855-1944)


W. W. Prescott was an educated man who taught Latin and Greek. In 1884 he accepted the presidency of the Battle Creek College. Whilst still holding this position, he founded the Union College in 1891 and became its president. The next year he became president of the Walla Walla college, thus holding the presidency of 3 colleges, all in one year. He was a renown Bible scholar, who because of this reputation, was called upon during the years between 1894-1894 to conduct world tours to hold Bible institutes around the world. It was during this tour that he helped found the Avondale school in Australia. Soon after this he took charge of the denominational work in England and then went on in 1901 to become the Vice president of the General Conference, chairman of the Review and Herald Association Publishing Board and editor of the Review and Herald.


Now that was not the end of Prescott’s valuable service to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, far from it, but it is enough to show you that this man was someone who was at the helm of the work and knew exactly what the denomination believed and taught.  In the Review and Herald of April 14th 1896 (8 years after the Minneapolis Conference) he says


‘‘As Christ was twice born, - once in eternity, the only begotten of the Father, and again here in the flesh, thus uniting the divine with the human in that second birth, - so we, who have been born once already in the flesh, are to have the second birth, being born again of the Spirit, in order that our experience may be the same, - the human and the divine being joined in a life union”.


Now remember, this was in 1896 and Ellen White was still alive. Seventh-day Adventism had been on its feet now for 52 years and here was a man, not an ordinary layman, but a renown biblical scholar and educator, saying that Christ was as he puts it ‘twice born’, once in eternity, the only begotten of the Father and once here on earth in the flesh. So for this man, who held such a prominent and eminent position within Seventh-day Adventism as Biblical scholar and teacher, Christ was ‘born’ at some point in eternity.


Just as she did with all the non or anti trinitarian articles that had been published either in the ‘Review and Herald’ or the ‘Signs of the Times’ or in any other of our publications, Ellen White never made any protest.


There are those who say that as we approached the 1930’s Prescott changed his views and became trinitarian. I am not denying this but because I have found no real evidence of this, I am not going to comment. Not that this would make any difference as this was the time that the trinity doctrine was introduced by our leadership.


M. C. Wilcox (1853-1935)


Milton Wilcox accepted the Seventh-day Adventist faith at the age of 25 years. During 1882-1883 he was assistant to Uriah Smith who was then editor of the ‘Review and Herald’. In 1884, M. C. Wilcox became the first editor of the ‘Present Truth’ magazine published in Grimsby, England. Three years later he returned to America as assistant editor of the ‘Signs of the Times’. From 1891 until 1913, a time span of 21 years, he was editor in chief of the same publication. For twenty years following, from 1913 until 1933, just two years before his death, Wilcox was book editor of the Pacific Press, excepting for one year when he took leave to act as Dean of Theology at the College of Medical Evangelists. This far from summarises his work for the Seventh-day Adventist Church but it is enough to show that he was a well respected man who obviously knew the message of the denomination.


In 1911, when he was editor of the Signs of the Times, Wilcox said in the publication


“… the Spirit (meaning the Holy Spirit) is personified in Christ and God, but never revealed as a separate person. Never are we told to pray to the Spirit; but to God for the Spirit. Never do we find in the Scriptures prayers to the Spirit, but for the Spirit”.


Here was another totally non trinitarian statement which was once again. the denominational view. It was not just the isolated views of one person.


This was as late as 1911, 4 years before the death of Ellen White. What amazes me is that if what is now being said is true, that God wanted the trinity doctrine be brought into the teachings of the church, then why, up to four years before her death had Ellen White not said anything about it.


It also strikes me as strange that if as people are saying, that it was statements from Ellen White during 1890 onwards that brought the church to adopt the trinity, then why do we find Wilcox making this totally non trinitarian statement in 1911? Surely if the editor of ‘Signs of the Times’ himself was printing error, a distinguished man who held such responsible posts, then Ellen White would have said something about it.


The question always remains, “If Ellen White did believe in the trinity and if she knew that it was God’s will that this teaching be adopted by the church, then why all this time did she remain silent?


Remember, many of these statements that supposedly changed the thinking of the church to become trinitarian, are said to come from the book ‘Desire of Ages’. This statement of M. C. Wilcox was made 13 years after ‘The Desire of Ages’ was released. No objection to this statement was made by Ellen White or anyone else.


Time had not changed the views that our pioneers had held concerning the doctrine of the trinity.


D. M. Canright (1840-1919)


Another famous name in Adventist history was Dudley Canright. He was an anti-trinitarian all the while he was a Seventh-day Adventist but when he left the church and became a Baptist minister he accepted the doctrine that he had spoken out against so often. Canright came into contact with our church in his late teens in 1859 when he met Ellen and James White. He was licensed to preach in 1864 and was ordained to the ministry the next year.


Eleven years after he became a Seventh-day Adventist minister, Canright, in the Review and Herald of August 29th 1876 wrote an article called ‘The Personality of God’. On page 73 he says


‘‘And every argument of the Trinitarians to prove three Gods in one person, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, all of them of one substance, and every way equal to each other, and all three forming but one, contradicts itself, contradicts reason, and contradicts the Bible.’’


Two years later in an article called ‘The Holy Spirit’ printed in the Signs of the Times July 25th 1878 Canright says


‘‘All trinitarian creeds make the Holy Ghost a person, equal in substance, power and eternity, and glory with the Father and the Son. Thus they claim three persons in the trinity, each one equal with both the others. If this be so, then the Holy Spirit is just as truly an individual, intelligent person as is the Father or the Son. But this we cannot believe. The Holy Spirit is not a person.’’


The only thing that I can say to you here is to be careful what you think that Canright meant when he said that the Holy Spirit was not a person. It may not be as clear as one may first believe. I will come back to that later in the presentation.


After Canright had left the church, he wrote a book called ‘Seventh-day Adventism Renounced’. In this book, he completely denies belief in many, if not most, of the basic teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.


Russell Holt in his term paper says that some of the leadership, namely G. I Butler and Uriah Smith, attempted to vindicate the church from all the attacks that Canright had made on the church in his book, but they made no effort whatsoever to refute Canright’s charge of their ant-trinitarian stance.


Before leaving Canright, there is something very interesting that I would like to share with you. Canright first wrote his book in 1889. Now I have not seen the very original edition but I have seen one with 1894 credits at the beginning of the book. I also have a copy on my computer of the 14th edition of his book which was issued in 1914. As you can tell, this was a well published book.


On page 25 of each edition, Canright lists many of the doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that disagree with the evangelical churches of that time. Now I am not going to list all of his objections, suffice to say that I find it amazing that Canright, after being a Seventh-day Adventist for 28 years, suddenly finds himself at variance with the vast majority of our beliefs and teachings.


In that edition with the 1894 credits he says that in doctrines, Seventh-day Adventists differ radically from evangelical churches. He then lists the main points as being these. He says


“They reject the doctrine of the trinity, hold to the materiality of all things, believe in the Sonship of Christ”


Now this was in 1894 and Canright is saying that Seventh-day Adventists are still rejecting the trinity. Notice that he says also that we believed in the ‘Sonship of Christ’.


Now that really is an interesting statement isn’t it? According to Canright, ‘mainstream Christianity’ DID believe in the trinity, but NOT in the ‘Sonship of Christ’. Interesting isn’t it.


Now let me tell you something else that is interesting. In the 1914 edition, Canright removes the words “they reject the doctrine of the trinity” but he does leave in the words, “They believe in the Sonship of Christ’. Whatever his reason for removing the reference to the trinity, he still says in 1914, that we differed radically from the evangelicals because we believed in the ‘Sonship of Christ’.


Why did Canright remove his remarks about the trinity? That I do not know.


Was he challenged on this statement by some of our leaders? Did he realise that our views concerning God and Christ were so near the trinitarian view that he decided to remove the statement? Was he urged to remove this comment by some of our leading brethren because of our progressed understanding of the relationship between the Father and His Son?


Whatever his reason, Canright must have realised that we still taught that the Son was begotten of the Father. That is why he said in 1914, that unlike the evangelicals who did believe in the trinity, Seventh-day Adventists still believed in the ‘Sonship of Christ’.


By 1914, there was still a marked and significant difference between Seventh-day Adventists and the evangelicals. Canright still held that the ‘Sonship of Christ’ was a teaching which the Seventh-day Adventist Church still taught as ‘error’ and that the ‘evangelicals’ who believed in the trinity did not believe in this ‘Sonship’.


Conclusion of sections three, four and five.


What I believe has been done so far in this presentation, is to show that without a doubt, the Seventh-day Adventist Church during the time of the pioneers, right through to the death of Ellen White was totally non trinitarian. I can find no evidence that there were any who were trinitarian in any sense that we use the word today.


Through the writings of Ellen White, I do believe that our understanding of the Godhead did increase. More and more emphasis was placed on the divinity of Christ and the personage of the Holy Spirit, yet this revelation from God was never trinitarian.


Our next section deals with the problem of John Harvey Kellogg and his so called ‘pantheistic’ teachings. In the early 1900’s these teachings, reproduced in a book called ‘The Living Temple’, were the cause of an extremely serious crisis within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It was a crisis that was to produce some strong council from Ellen White, particularly as to regards the presence and the personality of God.  We shall see that there was much more involved in this book than just pantheism.


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Terry Hill

Bristol England