Towards A Trinity (Part One)

by Terry Hill

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

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

Section Ten

Towards a trinity (part one)

In the second section of this presentation, I referred to a man by the name of Russell Holt who, in 1969, wrote a term paper for Dr Mervyn Maxwell. The term paper had the title ‘THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY IN THE SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST DENOMINATION: ITS REJECTION AND ACCEPTANCE’.

The way that Russell Holt chose to conclude his paper is very interesting. He made a statement concerning the period of our church history between 1900 and 1930 which said

"This period saw the death of most of those pioneers who had championed and held the anti-trinitarian position. Their places were being taken by men who were changing their thinking, or had never opposed the doctrine. The trinity began to be published, until by 1931 it had triumphed and become the standard denominational position. Isolated stalwarts remained who refused to yield, but the outcome had been decided".

It cannot be argued that by 1930, all the ‘original pioneers’ had been laid to rest (it is often said that J. N. Loughborough (1832-1924), was the last of the pioneers to die). As Russell Holt says, "This period saw the death of most of those pioneers who had championed and held the anti-trinitarian position". Even so, it must not be thought that these were the last of the anti-trinitarians within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. There were others, not pioneers, but they did uphold the same faith and beliefs as our church fathers.

It must be admitted though, that the places of those who had died (and had been the anti-trinitarians), were gradually being taken by those who were prepared to use the word ‘trinity’.

It is also true to say that in 1931, the word ‘trinity’ did for the very first time in our history, appear in our statement of beliefs, but I am not quite sure just what Russell Holt means when he says "The trinity began to be published, until by 1931 it had triumphed and become the standard denominational position".

Up to the time of writing this section, my research has not found any evidence (prior to the 1930’s), of any official attempts to ‘publish’ or ‘change over’ to a trinitarian theology, although it must be said that there were those who, on a personal level, did favour the term and were, as you will see, urging its use.

I also believe it is somewhat exaggerated to say that by 1931, the trinity doctrine "had triumphed and become the standard denominational position", even though it cannot be argued that our church was steadily moving in this direction. You will see more of my reasoning as we progress through this and the next section.

It is only reasonable to say that this changeover did not happen overnight. It did take time. Old views and attitudes had to die. New ones had to take their place. Mainly, this was accomplished because those who believed that the trinity doctrine was error were dying off, thus leaving the pro-trinitarians to take the advantage.

As a synopsis of my studies to date, I have not found any evidence to suggest that it was through a corporate church study of the Bible that the trinity doctrine became part of the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventism. I can only find that it was eventually accepted because those in authority were urging its adoption. As the years progressed, this urging gradually produced the desired result. The opportunity afforded by the deaths of the pioneers, undoubtedly paved the way to break down the once solid resistance to this doctrine.

We will now turn our attention to the time period in which this change over to the trinity doctrine developed. We will see the ‘thinking’ as well as the ‘attitudes’ of those in positions of authority and how some were urging upon the brethren the trinity concepts whilst others objected. I believe that to a great extent, the ‘thinking’ of their day is reflected in the ‘thinking’ of our day. The same arguments then applied to both sides of the trinity controversy, are the same as the arguments today. Nothing has changed in that respect.

Take time now to study the reasoning, as well as the attitudes, of those in authoritative positions within the Seventh-day Adventist Church of 1919.

1919 Bible Conference and Teachers Council

During the summer of 1919 (July 1st - August 1st), there was a Bible Conference and a Teachers Council held at Takoma Park Washington D.C. The conference had been originally planned for 1918 but the war had caused its postponement.

Stenographers faithfully recorded both the proceedings and discussions of this conference, yet strange as it may seem, these records were seemingly disregarded (or went unnoticed) until 1974 when they were ‘discovered’ in the General Conference archives. This was the year after the conference archives were established.

Now you may be asking why the reports of the 1919 Bible conferences remained hidden from public view for over 50 years?

This came about because of the reticence of a number of the leading delegates not to make generally public the discussions of the conference.

By July 16th (remember the conference had commenced on July 1st), a committee had been set up to decide what to do with the manuscripts which were being produced by the stenographers. A. T. Knox who was appointed chairman of the committee and A. G. Daniels, thought it would be a good idea to ask for suggestions from the main party of delegates.

We will see from the stenographers report that amongst the delegates there were those who were afraid that these discussions could be interpreted as though the church was divided on certain major issues. It was also feared that "immature minds" (Professor W. G. Wirth July 16th report) might not be able to cope with some of the things that had been said at the conference and thus divisions would ensue.

In the report for July 16th, it can be seen that the delegates were truly divided on this issue. Some did not want the discussions to be disclosed at all, whilst others wanted it all to be made known. Some wanted the manuscripts to be edited before they were released, whilst others wanted only the outlines of the presentations preserved. There was a whole mixture of views and suggestions as to what should happen to the finished manuscript.

F. M. Wilcox (not to be confused with M. C. Wilcox) was the first to respond with a suggestion. He said

"I have a suggestion. It seems to me that it would be practically impossible to reproduce all the papers and all the discussions, but it seems to me that if each one who has given a paper could present an outline of his study, and let that outline be duplicated and furnished to the members of the conference, that would be the best that can be done".

General Conference President A. G. Daniells replied, "Do you mean, have Brother Prescott take his studies and reproduce them as he wants to have them appear, and M. C. Wilcox the same, and Brother Lacey, and all the studies given?

F. M Wilcox replied, "That would eliminate all discussion".

F. M Wilcox who was at that time editor of the Review and Herald, had made it clear that he did not want the discussions to be made public. He suggested that each presenter could furnish an outline of his studies thus giving each the opportunity to put in the outline only that which they desired. This of course would have lent itself to the presenters omitting anything that they thought best to leave out, as well as totally eliminating all the discussions.

R. A. Underwood, president of the Central Union Conference, thought differently. He said

"I do not think there is very much question in regard to the presentation of some of these topics, but you take the Eastern Question, that is a vital question. You say it is going to cost something to reproduce this matter. It has cost us something to come here – some of us, large delegations have come from one end of this country – clear over from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and from the South and the North, and we are spending our valuable time, which represents not simply thousands of dollars, but a good many thousands of dollars in expense; and it seems to me that we should have this.

The cause cannot afford, and these men cannot afford to have these historical facts that have been presented in these papers for our study lost sight of. The matter furnished has been a help on both sides".

It appears from what he said that Underwood was not unduly concerned about the rest of the discussions, but particularly wanted to preserve the historical data as to regards the "Eastern Question". You can also see by the remark "on both sides" that there had been by this time (15 days into the conference discussions) a decided division on certain matters.

F. M. Wilcox, who was very much a supporter of the trinity doctrine said

"I think Brother Prescott’s studies will appear in the Review"

(Prescott’s studies were the ones concerning the person of Christ which in turn brought many objections by those who did not accept the trinity doctrine).

Edwin Palmer, who was then the general manager of the Review and Herald Publishing Association, then suggested that each presenter of the studies should reduce them as much as possible and then let them be preserved as such. He said

"How would this do: For those who have presented their studies to reduce them as much as they can, possibly, and preserve the clear lines of thought, and then put it on the linotype and pull simply galley proofs sufficient for a certain number of the committee, and not carry it any further from that point. I suppose you do not want it circulated as a book or pamphlet, because it does not agree with anything or anybody".

Palmer was quick to see why some did not want the whole of the discussions to be open to public view.

The discussions continued amongst the delegates. Conference President A. G. Daniells suggested "reduce it very much by rigid editing, so we could get all the facts stated and cut out a lot of unnecessary verbiage".

It was E. R. Palmer who then said that this was a matter that "we cannot afford to save money on". He added "It is worth more than money. And there are some of these things that I think we ought to have before us for study. It could be reduced half the material in hand, and make it a great blessing by doing so".

Walter Knox who was then the treasurer of the General Conference said

"Brother Palmer’s suggestion was to pull a few proof sheets. Are we clear as to how the matter of circulation is to be handled. If it is only to be furnished to a few, how are we to decide who should have it and who should not. I have no doubt that before we leave this room there would be many requests for a copy, and many more requests would come from people outside of this room".

There was obviously concern from Knox as to how it would be decided as to whom would be given a copy of the discussions.

F. M. Wilcox responded

"I would raise the question, if the report is to be published in that way, if it would be advisable to issue it to any but ordained ministers in this conference".

This of course would be a very restricted circulation, particularly if the discussions were edited to such a degree as some were suggesting. Wilkinson replied

"There is considerable agitation going on in the field, and when we go out to camp-meetings our ministers everywhere are clamouring for a report of these things, and it does seem to me that we should have something to answer them".

W. H. Branson (then president of the South-eastern Conference and later General Conference President) agreed with Wilkinson. He said

"That is the way I feel about it, because every minister is going to require of us at least a synopsis of what was discussed here".

He then said that it would be better to have the matter in printed form and circulated rather than people verbally telling what happened because that would not convey a clear vision of what had taken place. He concluded

"It seems to me the only way to help the brethren who are not here is to give them a clear statement of this whole situation in some printed form."

W. W. Prescott responded

"That would practically mean publishing it in book form. And if you publish it in book form, why did you object to anybody and everybody coming here? You were very insistent about that".

You will see shortly (as we review Daniells opening address), that there were very strict restrictions as regards to who was allowed to attend the conference.

Daniells replied to Prescott

"I do not think it was to keep the people from knowing what we said that we advised that, but in order that it would be manageable, and so that we could freely follow our studies without interruption, it was thought best to confine the number to a few".

Elder Prescott replied

"There is no objection to publishing everything that has been said here, as far as I am concerned, but it is a question of what it would mean".

He then said that the manuscript should not just show that were divided on certain issues but that were united on the fundamentals but added

"I think that we should be careful about how we handle the matter in any publications".

Underwood replied "I think if we publish this in pamphlet form it will be used against us, even though an explanation may be made".

Asa Tait, editor in chief of the ‘Signs of the Times’, responded with quite a long reply in which he said that he felt that as a group, they had not yet reached a place in the studies where the discussions should be put out "all through the field for general discussion". He said that the advice which came through the Spirit of Prophecy was that where there were questions of this kind, the brethren should come together in study and discussions, just as they had done here " and pray over them, until they are united, and then present a united report".

In response, Professor William G. Wirth, who was then religion teacher at Pacific Union College, said that before he came to the conference, his students wanted him to promise that when he returned he would tell all that had been discussed. He said

"We are going to be besieged with such requests. I am not going to tell them everything about it. I am going to ask the Lord to give me wisdom. Because I do not think they are ready. I shall feel very badly if they get hold of this thing. One would take one side and one another".

He went on to say

"While I would like to have this for myself, yet candidly I doubt the wisdom of letting immature minds get hold of this. I would like to guide these students, and use wisdom in handling the matter, and I do not think it would be well for them to get hold of the things in the free way they have been discussed here".

Professor Waldorf said that he suggested only "a limited number of copies be published and sent to each school, where the teacher can have them and refer to them".

At this point, the stenographer recorded that it was moved by Underwood and seconded by Tait that the subject of the Spirit of Prophecy be considered that same evening (July 16th). This was done because it was understood that some would not be at the conference the following evening.

The stenographer then records G. B. Thompson (field secretary for the General Conference) as saying

"I think that the publishing of this matter would sow seeds of division and discord, and as far as I am concerned, I am not in favour of sending out anything".

Without being able to establish one way or the other, I am assuming that this remark of Thompson’s was aimed at the whole of the conference discussions and not just the discussions on the Spirit of Prophecy that were due to take place that same evening. A. G. Daniells then said

"It is all right to throw things out in the field, and then try to smuggle them is another thing. I think that our brethren who have exercised so much freedom, and have cut away from their mooring places, ought to consider the trouble that it is going to make, and follow the council that is given. I believe when we get through with it all we shall find the council of the Spirit of God good wise council, that there is common sense in it, and we would do well to adhere to it. But I confess it is going to take more wisdom than we have to pilot our way through without damage to the work.

As has been stated, these are not the fundamental things. We can all get through to heaven if we never understand all these questions. All of us have had good Christian experiences and have led thousands of people into this truth. But now the result of such freedom which has been taken has brought us into a perplexing situation, and now we must have wisdom to go through. I sometimes think it would be just as well to lock this manuscript up in a vault, and have anyone who wishes to do so come there for personal study and research".

It must be remembered that there had been new views put forward on a number of issues. Discussions on the ‘daily’ (Daniel 8) and the King of the North (Daniel 11) were very much in focus as were many other aspects of Bible prophecy. These were major issues of concern to many of the delegates. Some wanted desperately to break away from the ‘old views’ that had been held by our church for so long whilst others wanted to hold on to them.

As these discussions on what to do with the manuscripts drew to a close Walter Knox said

"The committee will take into consideration the discussion which has been brought out, but I would like to express my feelings now: The reasons stated why this institute should be a strictly limited one, based on the instruction we have from the Spirit of God, considering that we were going to take up the study of questions that we were not agreed upon, then I hold that the same reasons would cause us to refrain from scattering the report of the conference. Now there will be enough feeling upon the part of our brethren who are not here, who feel that they have been excluded from this study, so we need not take any step in the future to intensify this feeling by withholding from them what they know will be put in some kind of a permanent form. I believe it would be better not to print it at all, or else we ought to be willing to face criticism and send it out to them. The latter, I am sure you will all agree with me, would be a wrong step to take".

Knox admitted that the conference had been originally called (and had been strictly limited to certain participants) to "take up the study of questions that we were not agreed upon". He also said that the reasons for limiting the participants should also be the same reasons for not "scattering the report of the conference". These reasons he said were "based on the instruction we have from the Spirit of God". I assume that he meant the Spirit of Prophecy.

F. M. Wilcox had the last say before the adjournment. He said

"I would like to make this further suggestion that there be gotten out a brochure containing the historical extracts alone, that have been read in this convention, and furnish this to anyone whom wishes it, but that all the discussion and the papers be not printed".

It does appear that this advice was taken. The meeting was then adjourned.

Some may regard it as being very significant that all these discussions took place following some heated debates concerning various topics which did include the subjects of ‘the daily’, King of the North’, the interpretation of Bible prophecy as well as the person of Christ and the trinity. Others may say that it was significant because it was discussed immediately before the subject of the inspiration of Ellen White.

Whatever the significance of these discussions concerning the disposition of the manuscripts, the end result was that the records remained ‘hidden’ from public view for over 50 years. This was until 1974 when a man by the name of Don Yost inventoried all the materials that were in the archives. He discovered 2400 pages of typewritten notes, transcribed from the stenographers original notes which were taken of the conference discussions. In 1975 when preparing articles for the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia, Don Mansell (book editor for the Review and Herald), was said to describe the manuscripts and their discovery this way

"The materials which Dr Yost found were wrapped in two packets approximately 9"x 12"x 4". He opened these packets and handed the materials to me. As I rapidly scanned the yellowed sheets of transcript and papers, I realized that we had found more than we had hoped to find. Since their discovery, I have examined the materials more closely, and I believe that they contain valuable materials of interest to SDA researchers and historians" (Adventist Today magazine Vol. 2 No. 6 November-December 1994).

Following its close, an article was written about the conference in the Review and Herald of August 21st 1919. A reference is made to this article in the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia (volume ten of the Bible Commentaries) under the heading of ‘Bible Conference’. If I had read this without any knowledge of what actually happened at the Bible Conference, then I would have a totally different concept of what had really taken place. In part the article in the encyclopaedia says

"The objective of the conference was "to unite in a definite, practical, spiritual study of the Word of God" in order "to gain more light and greater unity" (Review and Herald, 96:3,4 August 21st 1919)".

After listing the subjects discussed, the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia says (once again quoting the Review and Herald of 21st August 1919)

"The announced result of this conference was that:

"The Bible and history teachers, the editors, and the members of the General Conference Committee, who came together from all parts of North America, rejoiced to find themselves in agreement on all the great fundamental truths of the Bible"(ibid)".

You will need to formulate your own opinions as to the accuracy of this statement. It is important to bear in mind that when the article was originally printed in the Review and Herald (August 21st 1919), it had been decided not to make public the reports of the conference. It must also be borne in mind that 47 years later when the article appeared in the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia (1966 edition), the results of the discussions and the decisions of the conference were still not generally known because the manuscripts had not yet been ‘discovered’ (1974).

As reported in the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia, there was during the Bible Conference, a number of areas of discussion. These can be simplified into three main areas namely

(a) The person and work of Christ (including the Holy Spirit).

(b) Varied aspects of Bible prophecy.

(c) The inspiration of the writings of Ellen White

The ‘discovery’ of these manuscripts has shed a great deal of light regarding the understanding of the development of Seventh-day Adventist theology, particularly during the time period of which we are now reflecting. This includes the developing theology concerning the person of Christ and the trinity. These reports show conclusively that by the time of this conference (1919), the trinity doctrine was far from being the denominational stand.

Whilst it would be very interesting to spend some time here on each of the subjects discussed, I must reserve this space for our subject of the development of the trinity within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

A. G. Daniells opening address

The opening address of the conference was made on July 1st by A. G. Daniells, who, as previously noted, was then the president of the General Conference. This was a position held by him from 1901 until 1922. I believe it is beneficial to share some of his opening remarks, so that you have a background to the conference. Backgrounds are always very important to understanding any situation. I cannot quote here the entirety of Daniells address, but these are his opening remarks as reported in the July 1st account of the conference reports (emphasis supplied as usual).

"We have gathered for a Bible Conference to open the first day of July, and to continue until the 21st. This meeting was arranged by the General Conference Committee at its Spring Council. We had with us at that time several editors of our papers, and quite a number of the presidents of our Colleges. We had given this question a great deal of consideration. For some years there has been an earnest desire that we should have a special meeting for the study of various phases of our truth. When the question first arose, it was in the form of a proposal to meet and study some mooted questions, and for a long time that was the uppermost thought in the proposal. But there were difficulties in the way. One was the finding a time when those who ought to be at such a gathering could be present".

Notice that Daniells spoke of those who "ought to be at such a gathering".

He continued

"Another difficulty was the fear we had that in meeting to study controverted questions we might get into a controversy that would not be helpful to any of us nor to our people. And we hesitated.

As time passed and we gave the question more study, it shaped itself in our minds something like this,- that the great was not so much the study of questions concerning which there is a difference of view, or opinion, but the great need is a deeper and a more cooperative study of the Word of God. And it kept on shaping that way until I think the dominant thought in the Spring Council was that we should come together for a simple Bible Conference. That we would not spend our time magnifying differences and studying minor questions; but we would give first of all careful study to the major questions, the great essentials, the fundamentals, and that we would proceed along this line, and endeavor to bring forward light and truth as we can find it in the Word and in the history of the world that fulfils the prophetic part of the Word".

It is interesting to note that Daniells says in his opening address that they had come together as a group to study "the major questions, the great essentials, the fundamentals", yet fifteen days later when it had to be decided what to do with the records of the discussions he said "As has been stated, these are not the fundamental things. We can all get through to heaven if we never understood these questions".

It must be said that it is very significant that those invited to this Bible Conference were an extremely select body of people. All the delegates had been individually chosen by the General Conference. The ministry in general were not invited. In his address, Daniells referred to this issue when he said

"It was to be the members of the General Conference Committee in America who could attend; the Bible and history teachers in our colleges, junior colleges, and seminaries; and a number of our leading editors in this country. We felt that a body of men of this experience, and carrying these responsibilities would exercise care and good judgement and would press together, and be careful of the reports they sent out, and would so deport themselves that unseemly discussion and differences would not come in, and that they would endeavor to make the conference, through the blessing of God, a very great blessing to those of us who are here, and a real help to those who are not here in the days that will come".

Daniells was saying that a select body of experienced people was necessary to handle what obviously seemed to him to be a very delicate situation. Not only would those elected to attend need to "deport themselves that unseemly discussion and differences would not come in" but also to "be careful of the reports they sent out". Although Daniells had said that he wanted the conference to be of future help to those that were not in attendance, it does appear that fifteen days later he was (to a certain extent) having a change of mind. On July 16th at the time of the discussions as to what should be done about letting people know what had transpired at the conference he said "I sometimes think that it would be just as well to lock this manuscript up in a vault, and have anyone who wishes to do so come there for personal study and research". Needless to say that by July 16th, his opening address wishes that "differences" would not come into the discussions had not been realised.

He then went on to explain that although a great many other people wanted to attend the conference, the doors could not be open to them. He said

"Since the appointment a great many people have wanted to come to the Conference, and we have not been able to open the door. When people have approached me, I have said they would have to make application to the General Conference Committee, and some of them have done so. But we have not felt free to change our arrangements until we could get here in session. We have felt if there were persons here or elsewhere that we ought to invite, we could take the action here".

From what Daniells says, it can be seen that there were many (I assume from amongst the ministry more so than the laity) who were not very happy with the fact that only a very select body of people were invited to attend. Once again he refers to those "we ought to invite". He continued

"Another thing is that a good many people feel very much afraid of what we are going to do. They wonder if we are going to fix up a creed for them to subscribe to. They are much disturbed about it. The secrecy alarms them. We have never had anything like this before, and they are very fearful. Some almost felt we ought to abandon the plan, and stop because of this difficulty".

In his opening address, Daniells admitted that many people had very serious doubts about whether this conference should even take place. There obviously existed very serious forebodings about this conference, which in his position as General Conference president, he duly recognised and acknowledged. The fact that only a select body of people were invited to attend, alarmed many people. They thought that there was too much secrecy involved.

In an effort to help allay these fears Daniells said

"I felt we ought to go on with it, and so conduct this meeting, and bring such good out of it that our brethren will all feel glad that we have held it, and will consider that their alarm was all unnecessary".

It is well to remember that because of the positions they held, these delegates were influential, authoritative avenues through which access could be gained to the ministry. These in turn would reach the laity.

The delegates were high officials such as presidents, treasurers and field officers of certain conferences, Bible and history teachers, presidents of colleges, as well as editors of papers, some of whom were the members of the General Conference Committee. An influential group of delegates indeed.

The 1919 Bible Conference discussions (the person of Christ)

From the second day of the conference onwards, W. W. Prescott gave daily presentations concerning the person of Christ. We will now concentrate our attention to this part of the discussions.

As we progress through this section, we will see that amongst some delegates, Prescott’s presentations did promote the fear that there was going to be an attempt to introduce the trinity doctrine. This in itself will show that by 1919, we had still not by then adopted this terminology. Did Daniells opening remarks when he said that people were afraid that "we are going to fix up a creed for them to subscribe to", hold some hidden allusion to the trinity doctrine?

July 2nd discussions

The morning session of the second day consisted of Prescott’s first presentation on the person of Christ. This was followed by a presentation on Bible Prophecy. After an intermission, the afternoon session was opened by A. G. Daniells who said

"The way is now open for any who wish to do so to ask Professor Prescott questions concerning the topic of the morning".

This invitation began a lively discussion. The first to respond was W. E. Howell. (this was the man who was the chairman of the committee which in 1942 was appointed to rewrite Uriah Smith’s ‘Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation’. This revision was carried out so that amongst other things, the semi-Arian statements in his book could be removed. This was deemed (by our church leadership) to be ‘necessary’ because these statements were now at variance with the ‘new Adventist theology’ of the trinity whereas at one time they were in harmony with the denominational stand. This ‘rewriting’ was done 40 years after the death of Uriah Smith who had given over 50 years service to the cause of the Seventh-day Adventist Church).

Howell said in response to Elder Daniells invitation

"I would like to ask Professor Prescott if he is willing to enlarge just a little on the point of the "beginning" as he explained it this morning".

In his first presentation that morning, Prescott had referred to the term ‘the beginning of the creation of God’ as found in Revelation 3:14. He had said that " … some have used that text to prove that Christ was a created being …". He made no effort to explain who the "some" were but what we do know for sure is that a ‘created Christ’ was never the denominational stand taken by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Prescott replied to Warren Howell’s question by saying

"Taking the first chapter of John, the third verse: At a certain point where finite beings begin time, it does not mean that that is where the word began. When the scriptures says, "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God," it does not mean that when you get back to that point that we denominate the beginning, then looking back into eternity, you can point to the time when the word was".

Herbert Lacey replied, "Can we go one step further and say that the word was without beginning?

Prescott responded "I was going to raise the question. Are we agreed in such a general statement as this, that the Son of God is co-eternal with the Father? Is that the view that is taught in our schools?

C. M. Sorenson replied "It is taught in the Bible".

As you will see in the discussions that followed, not everyone in this elite gathering of delegates agreed with either Prescott or Sorenson.

W. W. Prescott responded "Not to teach that is Arianism. Ought we continue to circulate in a standard book a statement that the Son is not co-eternal, that the Son is not co-eval or co-eternal with the Father? That makes him a finite being. Any being whose beginning we can fix is a finite being. We have been circulating for 40 years a standard book which says that the Son is not co-eternal with the Father. That is teaching Arianism. Do we want to go on teaching that?

Prescott’s statement concerning Arianism is very misleading. Arianism is a term which is applied to those who believe that Christ was a created being. Prescott made it sound as though we as a church had been presenting Christ as having been created. The fact is that this has never been the denominational stand of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The ‘standard book’ that Prescott mentioned here was undoubtedly Uriah Smith’s ‘Thoughts on Daniel and Revelation’, which as I said was eventually rewritten to come into harmony with the ‘new theology’ of the trinity teaching. In his book, Uriah Smith presented what was then the denominational stand on this issue, that is that as the scriptures say, Christ was begotten of the Father. This is correctly referred to as ‘semi-Arianism’ and not ‘Arianism’.

What Prescott had said, seemingly brought a certain tension.

During the ensuing discussions between Prescott and Bollman, the latter objected to Prescott’s use of the words co-eternal and coeval (of the same age), saying "I would like to ask, Do you think it is necessary, or even helpful in the defining of Christian doctrine, to go outside of the New Testament for terms to use in the definition?"

Bollman (then associate editor of the magazine ‘Liberty’) also added "the scripture says Christ is the only begotten of the Father. Why should we go farther than that and say that He was co-eternal with the Father? And also say that to teach otherwise is Arianism?

Bollman was not very happy at Prescott’s attempts of using language not Biblical to describe the person of Christ. He also objected to Prescott’s conclusion, that to say Christ was not co-eternal or not of the same age as the Father was said to be teaching Arianism. He was obviously not very pleased either concerning the implication that the church had been teaching Arianism. These remarks of Bollman reflected exactly the same sentiment that I have just expressed. Bollman said to Prescott that we would be better off using scriptural terms.

It is cogent here to say that our church has always accepted the deity of Christ. This was not in question, even though Prescott’s remarks made it look this way.

Today, in an effort to justify the bringing in and the use of the term trinity, this self-same argument concerning the deity of Christ is still being used by the supporters of this doctrine. The fact is that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has always upheld the full deity of Christ. On a number of occasions, this was something that the delegates made very clear to Prescott. This was particularly so when Prescott stressed that if Christ was not presented as being co-eternal and coeval then this would be to doubt His deity.

In defence and explanation of his argument, Prescott replied to Bollman by saying that although there were not in the Bible expressions such as ‘co-eternal, he (Prescott) believed that expressions such as "I am" spoke of eternity. Prescott said

"I think the expression "I am" is the equivalent of eternity. I think these expressions, while they do not use the term co-eternal, are equivalent in their meaning. That brings up the whole question of the relation of the Son to the Father. There is a proper sense, as I view it, according to which the Son is subordinate to the Father, but that subordination is not in the question of attributes or of His existence. It is simply in the fact of the derived existence, as we read in John 5:26:"For as the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself." Using terms as we use them, the Son is co-eternal with the Father. That does not prevent His being the only-begotten Son of God. We cannot go back into eternity and say where this eternity commenced, and where that eternity commenced. There is no contradiction to say that the Son is co-eternal with the Father, and yet the Son is the only-begotten of the Father".

This of course is the language and concept of the original fourth century Nicaean creed which dealt with the personality of Christ. In turn, this creed became the basis of the original trinity doctrine which was later formulated during the same century at Constantinople.

The Nicaean creed, which was a human formulation to portray the relationship of the Son to the Father says that Christ was begotten, but that it was a begetting that had been from everlasting (i.e. from eternity). This ‘being begotten from everlasting’ is to convey the view that there never was a time that the Son had a beginning. In other words, according to the Nicaean creed, the Son was co-eternal and coeval (of the same age) with the Father, just as Prescott was saying. According to the Nicaean theology, this begetting of the Son is referred to as an ‘everlasting generation of the Father’.

In reply to Prescott’s remarks, C. P. Bollman curtly replied "I think we should hold to the Bible definitions".

To this Prescott responded "We take the expression co-eternal, and that is better".

Prescott was adamant about staying with non-scriptural language.

Bollman responded to Prescott’s remarks by saying "My conception of the matter is this; that at some point in eternity the Father separated a portion of Himself to be the Son. As far as the substance is concerned, he is just as eternal as the Father, but did not have a eternal separate existence. I do not think that approaches any nearer to Arianism than the other does to _____".

Unfortunately, the last word is missing from the report. In one sense I find this a little unusual. This is because mainly throughout the reports, whenever the stenographer did not catch the word of the speaker (except when Hebrew and Greek words were used), a note to that effect was entered in the appropriate place in the report. No such note was entered on this occasion.

There is a strong possibility that the missing word is Trinitarianism. This would fit perfectly. This could mean that Bollman was saying that to hold the view that the Son had a separate existence from the Father was no nearer to Arianism than saying that because the Son was of the same substance as the Father, that this was Trinitarianism. But this is only conjecture on my part. The fact of the matter is that although Bollman obviously said something along these lines to contrast with the word ‘Arianism’, we do not know the missing word.

There then followed a long discussion between Prescott and Lacey, too much to include her, suffice to say that Lacey concluded

"I think we ought not to teach that there was a time when He produced another being who is called the son. I want to know. The son is called eternal with the Father, another person living with him, a second intelligence in that deity. The relationship between them is expressed by our human words father and son. The one was first in rank, the second, second, and the third, third".

It appears as though Lacey was saying that the Father and Son were only role playing a relationship. This is a view taken by many Seventh-day Adventists today. Those who adopt this view are saying that Christ was not really the Son of God but that He was one of three separate equal beings. This view (that there are three separate Gods) was rejected by the early Christian church. It is known as ‘tritheism’.

Prescott then used the first chapter of the book of Hebrews as the proof of the exalted position of the Son and that the existence of the Son had been from an eternity. It is in this chapter that God calls His Son God (Hebrews 1:8 But unto the Son he (God) saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom).

The discussion continued at length. J. Anderson asked Prescott the question

"Did you state that he derived life from the Father?

Prescott replied "No. Simply is the fact that equality with the Father is derived equality but equality is the same"

Anderson persisted "I thought you said that he derived life from the Father?

Prescott continued to deny that he had said that the Son had derived life from the Father. Anderson did not have the stenographers notes as we have them today to show that Prescott had said that the Son had a "derived existence" from the Father.

The discussions continued with a debate on whether the Son should be called inferior to the Father. Lacey concluded

"Is not the thought, second in rank, preferable to the term "inferior"?

Prescott replied

"One with the Father, one in authority, in power, in love, in mercy, and all the attributes – equal with him and yet second in nature. I like the word "second" better than "inferior," second in rank"

C. P. Bollman responded

"Subject to the Father – is not that the meaning of the word?"

Prescott’s reply to Bollman ended that session. He said

" We might speak of many things beyond our comprehension"

It would be unfair here to say that the discussions that I have just quoted reflected everything that the speakers believed about the person of Christ. There were many other things that were said during the discussions of that day. To establish in your own mind as to what the speakers believed, you would need to read the whole of these discussions for yourself.

July 3rd discussions

Prescott’s presentation on the third day of the conference (July 3rd) was that, as a person, Christ was the central theme of Christianity. It could well have been titled ‘Life only in Christ’. There were also lively discussions on Bible prophecy.

The way that Prescott ended the third day’s discussions prior to the conference being adjourned until Sunday morning was very interesting. He said

"May I add a word on this general basis? I would like to be understood as being a conservative. I thought I would have to proclaim it to you myself"

According to the stenographer, this brought laughter from the delegates.

Prescott continued

"I do not think we should be looking around for opportunities to change what we have taught. We should start with the idea that this message is a true message, and we are not here to tear it down. That is my position. But I stand here; Because we have taught a thing that does not prove that it can not be changed; and when we see clear light, we should advance in the light.

There are many people who have taught that they were taking the Word of God for their belief in the return of the Jews, the Sunday Sabbath and many other doctrines. But we come around with a tent and tell them they must not hold those beliefs because their fathers did; and we ask them to change all their creed and tradition. I take my stand on the same platform".

Prescott obviously addressed the fears that he now realised that many of the delegates were now having concerning the conference. It was the fear of change. Prescott was obviously saying that the church fathers (our pioneers) could have been wrong in what they believed and taught.

In response, George Thompson said "Then you do not believe the fathers in this movement were any more infallible than the early fathers?"

Prescott’s reply implied much more than the words themselves actually convey. It also ended that days proceedings. He said "I believe they were godly men, and that they were led by God".

These words must have brought serious forebodings of ‘changes to come’ to many of the delegates.

July 6th discussions

Sunday July 6th brought more impassioned debate about Christ. Tension was obviously mounting. Throughout his presentation, Prescott was still stressing that the Son was co-eternal with the Father. The afternoon session began with a vote to allow the speakers to develop the theme of the person of Christ before there was any more discussion.

The discussions concerned time and eternity, Christ was once again presented as being co-eternal with the Father.

Herbert C. Lacey, the one time president of Newbold College (England) and who was then teacher of Bible and Biblical languages at the now called Columbia Union College still insisted the same view as he did a few days previous (and I quote here in part)

"There never was a time when the Son was not. If the word Son puzzles us, let us remember that that is God’s own sacred word to present His love for that second person of the deity".

Once again we can see here that Lacey is speaking of the Father and Son as not really being father and son but that they were only role playing. He was saying that the Word of God only calls Christ the Son to show the love that He had for the "second person of the deity". He then went on to say

"Jesus is the revelation. He is the Son of God, not meaning that He proceedeth forth and developed from him, nor is there another mother, -- I cannot help being precise, His existence spans eternity, and we cannot settle upon any point in eternity past when He began any more than we can settle upon any point in the future when He will not be.

He concluded

"When we raise the question of the origin of the Son, we say there is no origin to Him. He is the second person of the Godhead".

This view of Lacey’s is the view that many people have today. This is the view that there are three separate individual persons, all playing a different role in one Godhead. This of course is not borne out by a correct study of scripture.

It appears to me that Prescott was advocating a very similar view to the original trinitarian concept whilst Lacey was presenting a view that is today held by many Seventh-day Adventists. Whilst the two views are diametrically opposed to each other, they are both acceptable within Seventh-day Adventism because they are both termed ‘trinity’.

These remarks of Lacey brought L. L. Caviness to enter the discussion.

As a matter of interest, Caviness was then the associate editor of the Review and Herald. He had been a teacher of languages at Union College (1906-1913) and Professor of Greek at Washington Missionary Seminary (1913-1915). He later held the positions of departmental Secretary Latin Union (1920-1924), director of the Seminaire Adventiste du Saleve (1921-1922), Sabbath School and Educational Secretary of the European Division (1924-1928) and of the Southern European division (1928-1932). He then became professor of Biblical languages at Pacific Union College from 1932 until he retired in 1952.

Caviness, who had missed some of the earlier discussions said

"I missed a good deal of this discussion and I do not know whether the idea is that we are to accept the so-called Trinitarian doctrine or not". Personally, I have not been able to accept the so called trinitarian doctrine, that is, as generally presented, that there are three persons in the Godhead, and that there were always three". If that is the doctrine, I can not quite agree with it, because I was reading in the Bible yesterday, in the book of John, which is the book that reveals to us the deity of Christ and I read as far as I could everything that Christ said concerning himself. Without contradicting what he said about himself, I cannot agree with the doctrine. As I understand it, his statement of the deity rests upon his Sonship, and I do not think there is any one thing through the book of John that is more constantly referred than the Sonship. I cannot believe that the two persons of the Godhead are equal, the Father and the Son, -- that one is the Father the other the Son and that they might be just as well the other way around.

There is another statement he makes. He says that the Father who has life in himself, gave the Son to have life in himself. When that took place, I do not know, but I believe it took place somewhere away back in eternity. I have to take Christ’s word for it, that at sometime that was true, that the Father had life in himself, and gave the Son to have life in himself".

Caviness was repeating the stand taken by our pioneers. He also recognised that there was a ‘push’ being made to accept the trinity doctrine, which in itself would constitute a major change. He makes it very clear that he could not accept it. Notice here that Caviness says that he could not accept that there are ‘three persons’ in the Godhead (as the trinity doctrine purports) and also adds that he cannot accept that the two persons are equal (inasmuch as the Father and Son may as well be the other way around).

After explaining that the scriptures say that the Father gave life to the Son and that Christ had said that He had received glory from the Father, Leon Caviness said

"There is also that other statement, that he had received glory from his Father. In praying he said it was his wish that the disciples might see the glory which he had with the Father, and which the Father had given him. It was not something he had all through eternity, but the Father had some time given to him the glory of God. He is divine, but he is the divine Son. I cannot explain further than that, but I cannot believe the so called Trinitarian doctrine of the three persons always existing".

A. G. Daniells had now become very concerned as to the way that the discussions were progressing. We can see this because it was at this very point that he told the stenographer stops reporting the discussions. The stenographer reports

"Elder Daniells here made some suggestions as to the delegates not becoming uneasy because we are studying a subject that we cannot comprehend. He asked that these be not transcribed".

On Daniells own instructions, the words that he spoke to the delegates were not to be transcribed into the reports by the stenographers. This means that the words that Daniells spoke and any ensuing discussions that resulted from his remarks, is lost forever.

It is obvious that Daniells had become disturbed about the way the discussions were going and that certain delegates were becoming rather troubled. It is very unfortunate that we do not know what Daniells said as this would have given us a great deal more insight to the views and attitudes of the delegates concerning the trinity doctrine.

We are not privileged either to know for just how long Daniells spoke to the delegates, but the reports show that it was Prescott who was next to speak. From his remarks it is plain to see that it was the term ‘trinity’ that had caused the uneasiness that had led Daniells to call a temporary halt to the discussions. He said

"I shall be exceedingly sorry if any expressions that I have used shall turn our minds away from the vital truth that I tried to deal with. A mere discussion of terms to settle a theological question is not my point. My point is to strike the vital things of the gospel. When the spirit of prophecy used the expression, third person of the Godhead, I would think there were others. When expressions the same as are used in the spirit of prophecy are challenged as being unsuitable to use in the discussion, I may have to refer to the terms that are actually used in the spirit of prophecy in dealing with this matter. I deal with it because it has brought great personal blessing to me, and has given me a view of the gospel that I never had before, and not because I am trying to establish a theory of Trinitarianism, Unitarianism or any other ism.

Obviously referring to the trinity as well as the terms co-eternal and coeval, Prescott said that he was not concerned with theological terms. He was saying that it was the concept of Christ that concerned him more so than the terms used. Prescott continued to maintain that if Christ was not eternal then he could not be deity. He admitted that at one time he had taught that Christ was the beginning of God’s creative work and that to speak of the third person of the Godhead or of the trinity had been considered heretical. The whole tenor of his discourse was the intimation that as a church we had not been presenting Christ as deity, at least, not as it was presented in the scriptures (as seen by Prescott). He appealed for a deeper study into the scriptures and for the delegates to be led by the Holy Spirit.

This aggravated some inasmuch as they disagreed with him by saying that the deity of Christ was never in question. The stenographer reports that Wilcox responded to Prescott by saying

"We all believe the deity of Christ. It is not a question as to his deity or non-deity. In all this discussion there is no question regarding this".

The stenographer does not give the initials of Wilcox but this was possibly M. C. Wilcox who was book editor of the Pacific Press and not F. M. Wilcox who was editor of the Review and Herald. F. M. Wilcox was a supporter of the trinity doctrine whilst M. C. Wilcox was against it.

Wakeham replied by asking "Would you consider the denial of the co-eternity of the Father and the Son was a denial of that deity?

Prescott replied "That is the point I was going to raise: Can we believe in the deity of Christ without believing in the eternity of Christ?"

Bollman replied "I have done it for years".

Prescott responded by saying that as a church we had been saying that Christ was deity in an "accommodating sense" without being in harmony with scripture. He then said that as a church we had taught for a long time that Christ was a created being and also that we had been saying Christ was deity without saying that he was eternal. Prescott then said that not to present Christ as being eternal was not scriptural. He put it this way

"I think it falls short of the whole idea expressed in the scriptures, and leaves us not with the kind of a saviour I believe in now, but a sort of human view – a semi-human being. As I view it, the deity involves eternity. The very expression involves it. You cannot read the scriptures and have the idea of deity without eternity".

It was Walter Knox that responded to Prescott in saying

"I believe all the statements that were made this morning by Elder Prescott concerning the promises that are given to us through Jesus Christ – that is, the many Scriptures that were read; and I believe they are made sure to us because they are bound up in the deity of Jesus Christ".

Knox then said "I think that we are all agreed in the deity of the Son of God". The stenographer reported that in response to what Knox said there were "amen’s" from the delegation.

Knox continued to say " Now I can not but believe as Bother Prescott has said, the deity must be eternal. But the difficulty with me is that I can not believe that the deity of the Son as a separate existence is eternal. I believe in the trinity of God and that I believe that Jesus is God".

He also said that whilst he did not believe in the eternal separate existence of the Son, neither did he believe that he was created, but rather that the scriptures "speaks of Him as having sprung from the bosom of the Father".

As you can see, Knox was not adverse from using the term ‘trinity’ as long as it did not deviate from what the scriptures say concerning Christ as he puts it "as having sprung from the bosom of the Father". He went on to say that the scriptures speak of Levi paying tithes whilst he was in the loins of his father Abraham. Knox said

"From God’s viewpoint, Levi had existed in the loins of his forefathers from the very beginning of time, but he did not have a separate existence until he was born."

And so Christ, was with the Father, and of the Father – and the Father – from eternity; and there came a time – in a way we cannot comprehend nor the time that we cannot comprehend, when by God’s mysterious operation the Son sprung from the bosom of his Father and had a separate existence".

Prescott responded by saying

"I would like to call Brother Knox’s attention to this, and ask how on that basis he would deal with John 8:58 "Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was born, I am". What does "I am" as to our conception of time, mean?"

Knox replied, "His personal existence. I believe in the eternity of Jesus Christ. I cannot grasp the eternity of His separate and distinct existence".

Perhaps in exasperation Asa Tait said "I feel we are discussing something that we ought to wait sixty billion years before we start in on. Some of these scriptures do not mean to me what the brethren say they mean to them".

Tait concluded "Now I am willing to wait to found out a lot of things I do not understand now, until I get on the other side"

A. G. Daniells again interposed by saying "Now we shall have to change the order. We don’t want to keep on and go too far in fine distinctions. But I don’t think that I can altogether with Brother Tait. I have enjoyed these discussions. They have been helpful to me. I am glad for them".

After a few more remarks from both Lacey and Wilcox, Daniells came back to say "So far as I am concerned, I went along with a mystified idea for quite a while, and the thing that began to knock the scales from my eyes was when the Desire of Ages came out. I was in Australia when the page proofs were brought out. I never believed some other things till the testimonies came out and set me thinking. And I said "Look here, Sister White has always been in harmony with the Bible, now she has dropped a stitch somewhere or else I am wrong. I went to studying and that did more for me".

A. G. Daniells was saying that it was the ‘Desire of Ages’ that changed his thinking about Christ. This self-same argument is still being used today by those who support the bringing in of the trinity doctrine. They say that it was the writings of Ellen White that changed the thinking of our church, particularly the statements about Christ found in ‘Desire of Ages’. The supporters of the changeover point to a sentence which says "In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived’(page 530) and say that this is what changed the thinking of the church.

George Knight in his ‘Ministry’ article of Oct 1993 refers to this when he says

"Perhaps her (Ellen White’s) most famous or infamous statement on the divine nature of Christ was published in The Desire of Ages in 1898. "In Christ" she penned '"is life, original, unborrowed, underived."

On the same page George Knight says

"Not only was Ellen White out of step with Adventist theology, but her newly crystallised ideas shook up some of the brethren. One of those was young M. L. Andreasen, who later recalled "how astonished we were when Desire of Ages was first published, for it contained some things that we considered unbelievable; among others the doctrine of the Trinity, which was not generally accepted by the Adventists then."

Being suspicious that perhaps someone had been taking undue license in "editing" her writings, Andreasen later read nearly all Ellen White's hand-written material. "I was particularly interested," he recalled, "in the statement in Desire of Ages which at one time caused great concern to the denomination theologically: 'In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived' (p. 530). That statement may not seem very revolutionary to you, but to us it was. We could hardly believe it.... I was sure Sister White had never written, 'In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.' But now I found it in her own handwriting just as it had been published."

If Andreasen did actually say that he and others were "astonished" that in ‘Desire of Ages’ they found "the doctrine of the Trinity", then I would say that they were all very much mistaken. As you know Ellen White never mentioned the word. All that Andreasen could be saying is that he and others found statements that they could conveniently apply to the trinity. This is saying something very different.

Nevertheless, I still find this whole experience to be very strange. Andreasen is reputed to have said

"That statement may not seem very revolutionary to you, but to us it was. We could hardly believe it ... I was sure Sister White had never written, 'In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.'"

Why was Andreasen and all the others (whoever they were), astonished at this statement about Christ that Ellen White had made in ‘Desire of Ages’?

The reason why I ask this question is because one year previous in the ‘Signs of the Times’ of April 1st 1897, Ellen White had said

"The only-begotten Son of the infinite God was in the world, and men knew Him not in His true character. "In him was life; and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). It is not physical life that is here specified, but immortality, the life which is exclusively the property of God. The Word, who was with God, and who was God, had this life. Physical life is something which each individual receives. It is not eternal or immortal; for God, the Life-giver, takes it again. Man has no control over his life. But the life of Christ was unborrowed. No one can take this life from Him. "I lay it down of myself" (John 10: 18), He said. In Him was life, original, unborrowed, underived. This life is not inherent in man".

These are the same words in effect that were found in ‘Desire of Ages’. If people were so shocked at this when this book was published (1898), then why were they not shocked the year previous (1897) when they were printed in the Signs of the Times? Are we to assume that her words went totally unnoticed by the whole church? That would really take some believing.

There is something else to which we should give very serious consideration. If as Andreasen says that what was written in ‘Desire of Ages’ "… caused great concern to the denomination theologically…", "…contained some things that we considered unbelievable; among others the doctrine of the Trinity, which was not generally accepted by the Adventists then …" "…unbelievable …" "… revolutionary …"

And if the church was … "astonished", "could hardly believe it" etc, …

… then why was this not reflected in the thinking and discussions of the delegates at the 1919 Bible Conference, which was after all … 21 years after ‘Desire of Ages’ was published?

If the church had been so affected by this book (or other of Ellen White’s writings) as many people would like to have us believe, then undoubtedly the discussions that did actually take place at this conference (especially amongst those in such high authority), would never have taken place.

As far as the testimony and influence of ‘Desire of Ages’ is concerned, the lack of reference to this book at the conference speaks for itself. So too does the reticence (and the fear) of some at the conference to even think about adopting the trinity doctrine. The fact of the matter is that what Ellen White said in ‘Desire of Ages’ concerning Christ (and other writings of Ellen White concerning Christ) had a negligible effect at the conference, even though 21 years had passed by since its publication.

If Ellen White had influenced the thinking of the church as many people say that she did (particularly with ‘Desire of Ages’). then without doubt, this would have had a tremendous impact on the discussions on the 1919 Bible Conference. Over 21 years of theological discussion had taken place since the publication of all of its so called ‘astonishing and unbelievable’ statements involving Christ and His place in the trinity. So where was the impact of these 21 years of discussed theology resulting in the church accepting the trinity? It was certainly not seen at the 1919 Bible Conference.

No such theological change was reflected by the delegates as having taken place prior to the 1919 Bible Conference … only a reticence by some to make such a change. Nothing can be found in those reports to show that we had made an official move towards adopting the trinity .. even by 1919, … although it must be said that it is obvious that some wanted to take that position.

As we have seen from the discussions at the conference, it was not the deity of Christ that was in question. That which was being debated was whether at some point in eternity, Christ was begotten of the Father or whether He was co-eternal and coeval. If the latter was true, then Christ could not truly be the Son of God. He would have been one of two equal beings always existing side by side.

Immediately following is remarks about the ‘Desire of Ages’ Daniells said

"Perhaps we have discussed this as long as we need to. We are not going to take a vote on Trinitarianism or Arianism, but we can think". Let us go on with the study.

Knox was not satisfied. He said "Does the discussion, so far as it has gone, involve the question of Trinitarianism or Arianism? I can’t see that it does.

W. W. Prescott replied to Knox

"Some things have been said this afternoon which I think a word will just help the whole thing. I refer to this scripture; "For as the Father hath life in Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have live in Himself." I also refer to other scriptures of the same character in my studies. Perhaps some will remember, and brought out the point that Christ’s attributes, what He was, was subordinate to the Father in this sense, that it was derived from the Father, but not that it was any less. The same glory, the same power, that the Father had. But you can’t put those things to cold reasoning after our manner of dealing with such things, and say that the one who derived is just as great as the one from whom He derived it".

John Isaac summed up the bewildered situation perfectly in saying

"What are we Bible teachers going to do? We have heard ministers talk one way. Our students have had Bible teachers in one school spend days and days upon this question. Then they come to another school, and the teacher does not agree with that. We ought to have something definite so that we might give the answer. I think it can be done. We ought to have it clearly stated. Was Christ ever begotten, or not, or this thing, or that thing".

We can see so clearly that Ellen Whites ‘Desire of Ages’ had not settled any theological dispute concerning Christ or the trinity and this was 21 years on from its publication. You can see too that there was still confusion over the meaning of ‘begotten’.

The previous year had seen John Isaac (1873-1956) finishing a term of five years as being president of the Oklahoma Conference. At the time of this conference he was teaching in the Clinton Theological Seminary in Missouri. He was a man who well understood the situation. He had made it clear that even in 1919, the Bible teachers in our schools and colleges were still divided on whether Christ was begotten … or perhaps the concept of the term.

Elder A. G. Daniells picked this up from Isaac’s reply and said

"Perhaps in another study we might have a study on the word begotten. I thought this morning when Brother Bollman spoke of it, if we could have five or ten minutes on that word, bring in the law of precise meaning in that interpretation, it would be well. But we will have to drop it here this time. Now we will go on. Now let’s not get a bit nervous or scared".

Nervous or scared? Of what? … and why could they not spend another five or ten minutes on something that was totally crucial to the discussions? This does not really make sense. Was Daniells afraid of something? He certainly sensed the anxiety of the delegates. The next words that Daniells spoke revealed what he believed was their mixed attitudes and feelings. He said

"Don’t let the conservatives think that something is going to happen, and the progressives get alarmed for the fear that it won’t happen. Let’s keep up this good spirit. Bring out what you have. Let us get all the light we have, believe what we can, and let the rest go. I don’t want to believe or be called upon to believe, what I don’t believe, nor call upon anyone else to believe what I believe if he can’t. But let us press right toward the enlarged vision, the broader conception. While we will never comprehend it all, let’s get as near to it as we can".

Daniells spoke of the fear of some that changes were going to take place in certain areas of our beliefs, whilst he also spoke of the fear of some that changes would not be made. Such was the mixture of thinking.

This just about brought to a close that eventful session of July 6th on the person of Christ and that is about all the space that we can spare for these discussions but it is enough, I believe, to show that

(a) … there was evidently a recognised ‘push’ by some at this conference towards the introduction of the trinity doctrine.

(b) … this ‘push’ towards the adoption of the trinity doctrine was nullified by objections from certain delegates.

(c) … there were those who were ‘scared’ of the suggested advancement

(d) … there were those who were ‘scared’ of not advancing.

(e) … the ‘Desire of Ages’ had no apparent impact concerning the adoption of the trinity even 21 years on from its publication.

(f) … the 21 years of theology that had taken place in the Seventh-day Adventist Church since the publication of ‘Desire of Ages’ had not led the church, by 1919, to accept the doctrine of the trinity.

(g) … there were many (high in authority), that after 21 years since the publication of ‘Desire of Ages’ that had not been convinced that the trinity doctrine was scriptural.

(h) … the attitudes of some (high in authority) would hinder the trinity doctrine from being accepted within the Seventh-day Adventist Church for many years to come.

As we come to the end of this section, it is important to note that the rest of Prescott’s presentations did not bring any undue controversy concerning the trinity, at least not in the use of the word as a terminology. Nevertheless, there were a number of other serious objections as regards to Prescott’s further presentations that did concern the trinity doctrine.

These were the same objections that were made 16 years previous concerning John Harvey Kellogg and the teachings of pantheistic theories that were said by many, (including Ellen White) to have pervaded his book ‘The Living Temple’ (see section six of this presentation)

These objections to him teaching pantheism, almost brought to an end Prescott’s presentations on the person of Christ. We will take at look at these developments in our next section.


As I have said before, the introduction of the trinity doctrine had to be accomplished in stages. First of all, the Son of God would need to be established as being co-eternal and coeval (of the same age) as the Father. Secondly, the Holy Spirit would have to be accepted as a person exactly as is the Father and Son. Neither of these views (as we have noted before), were held or taught by the pioneers. It is also obvious that not everyone agreed with or would accept these views at the 1919 Bible Conference.

In summary, we have seen then by the time of this Bible Conference (1919), that the trinity was far from being accepted into the beliefs and teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Yet just eleven years later in 1931, when the word trinity was used in our year book, this was the very first time in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that the word ‘trinity’ appeared in any of our statement of beliefs.

Attitudes and thinking, especially of those in leading positions of authority, do not change dramatically in just a short period of time such as eleven years. It is also reasonable to believe (as a very broad view), that the views and beliefs of the delegates of the 1919 Bible Conference, seeing that they held such leading and authoritative positions, reflected to a great extent, the views and beliefs of the church at large.

Those delegates (as a group) did not favour to make any attempt to officially make the trinity doctrine part of the beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This much then is obvious, that the trinity doctrine was not at that time accepted by the church as part of its beliefs, neither did it seem at that time, even by those in authority, that it would be beneficial to even make the suggestion that it should be. This was because during the conference, even the intimation of the trinity concepts was met with firm resistance.

In our next section, along with certain further developments of the 1919 Bible conference, we will talk about one of those isolated stalwarts that Russell Holt spoke of in his paper when he said

"Isolated stalwarts remained who refused to yield, but the outcome had been decided".

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Terry Hill

Bristol England