SDA leaders answer “Questions on Doctrine” in 1915

Posted May 10, 2013 by Bobby B in Adventist History Hits: 3,092

Personally, I like important historical discoveries that put the puzzle pieces of past events into understandable order. Both Liberal and Conservative SDA's from M. L. Andreasen onward view the 1955-1956 Evangelical conferences as an ecumenical first. Adventism for the first time became removed from its cultic status, and joined the ranks of mainstream Protestantism.  Ironically enough, these meetings were not the first attempt of ecumenical unity with Evangelical Protestantism.  The first major attempt occurred the same year Ellen G. White died (1915).  Have you ever heard the expression:  history repeats itself?  Hold on tight because the next part is almost unbelievable.  I have been pondering the significance of this discovery for many months now and want to share it with you.

This amazing discovery has never been referenced in any SDA circles that I am aware.  It is simply two articles from a non-SDA publication: "The Christian Workers Magazine, Volume 16, 1915 p.84." The first is from the infamous D. M. Canright. The second article is a rebuttal of Canright's arguments from a young SDA pastor named Lee S. Wheeler.  Included in Wheeler's article is a letter from G. C. president A. G. Daniells.  So as not to bias the reader, I will save my comments until the end of these two articles. Enjoy.

Seventh-day Adventists and the Doctrine of the Trinity

By Rev. D. M. Canright, Grand Rapids, Mich.

EDITOR of The Christian Workers Magazine:  In the June number of your magazine, under the above title, you say that in a previous issue, by request, you gave a summary of the Seventh-day Adventists doctrines in which you said, "They reject the doctrine of the trinity." For this Elder Wheeler, an Adventist minister, "took you to task" and convinced you of error on this point. So you apologized and corrected your statement.

In my book, "Seventh-day Adventism Renounced," page 25, I give a summary of their doctrines and use exactly these words. So I judge you accepted my statement as reliable. I now re-affirm my statement: "They reject the doctrine of the trinity" as held by evangelical churches, as the previous line in my book states. But Elder Wheeler says: "I regard our position upon the trinity as in harmony with that of other evangelical churches."

His statement is untrue. Either he does not know the doctrine of his church or has not read their standard works, or else he misleads you. I was a minister and writer among them for over twenty years...I know all their doctrines as well as they do themselves, much better than their young ministers like Elder Wheeler...While an Adventist I often preached against the orthodox doctrine of the trinity and other ministers did the same.  "The Atonement," by Elder J. H. Waggoner, published by "The Review and Herald," 1884, is one of their standard books. Two lengthy chapters, 5 and 6, are devoted to the subject of the trinity. Chapter 5 is headed, "The Son of God died." The author argues that the pre-existent Christ who came down from heaven, when He died on the Cross became totally unconscious, cold and dead, and lay in the grave unconscious three days, no spirit, or soul or conscious existence, survived. It was "the sleep of the dead" in his case the same as they teach in the case of all men. Do trinitarians hold this view of the death of Christ?  Certainly not.

As proof that they believe in the trinity the same as others Elder Wheeler quotes from Mrs. White this sentence touching Christ, "He was the incarnate God." Well then, did their incarnate God become totally dead and unconscious for three days?  Was there no living God for three days?  Or was there another Deity up in heaven at the same time?  Is that the evangelical doctrine of the trinity?  Or does not Elder Wheeler know what trinitarians believe?

I open to chapter 6 of the book on the atonement quoted above. This chapter is headed, "Doctrine of the Trinity Subversive of the Atonement." Throughout the chapter Waggoner uses every argument he can against the doctrine of the trinity as held by evangelical churches. I will quote only a few sentences: "The inconsistencies of trinitarianism." "They take the denial of the trinity to be equivalent to the denial of the divinity' of Christ." "We cannot accept the idea of the trinity as it is held by trinitarians." "John 12: 40, 41, has been supposed to prove the supreme Deity of Christ and therefore a trinity." Then he argues against it. His whole chapter is along this line. Mr. Editor, I mail you this book, read it for yourself. I know that this always has been, and still is, the doctrine of Adventists.

What shall we say to Elder Wheeler's assertion that Adventists believe in the trinity as held by the evangelical churches? Again you asked Elder Wheeler "if they had put out any official statement of their faith." He says, "The denomination has declined to adopt such a creed." Here is another statement which is untrue. They have a carefully prepared, officially endorsed, printed creed, and enforce every article strictly. We Baptists have our "Articles of Faith," the Methodists their "Articles of Religion" and the Presbyterians their "Confession of Faith." Adventists say these are our "creeds," and so they are, and we are not ashamed of them. Seventh-day Adventists have a creed as clearly defined as any of these. Webster defines creed thus: "A definite summary of what is believed; especially, a summary of Christian belief."

Our Baptist Articles begin: "We believe, etc." That is a creed. The Adventists creed is entitled, "Fundamental Principles of Seventh-day Adventists." It says, "The following propositions may be taken as a summary of the principal features of their religious faith." "They believe"—then follow 29 Articles of Faith. This is exactly Webster's definition of a creed. If Baptists have a creed so have Adventists. This is published in their year books, listed in their catalogues, for sale in all their offices. I just went to their office here and bought five copies, one cent each, 14 pages. This is just what you asked for, so I send you one. Why did not Elder Wheeler send you one in his letter? Instead, he says they have nothing of that kind! You may sometime learn that the statements of Adventists concerning their objectionable doctrines are not always reliable.

You see Articles 1 and 2 of that creed give at length their doctrine concerning God and Christ, but only mention the Holy Spirit, without mentioning His personality in any way. Nor is there any mention of the trinity. These two articles give exactly the information you ask for. Why did Elder Wheeler withhold them from you? The answer is evident—their statement is not trinitarian. A line is added at the close saying that these articles are not a rule of their faith or practice. I positively know to the contrary. I myself expelled a prominent Advent minister from the church for refusing to abide by one of these articles...

 


Article by elder Lee. S. Wheeler (SDA minister).

 


The Christian Workers Magazine, Volume 16, 1915 p.680

Seventh-Day Adventist Teaching Upon the Doctrine of the Trinity

[With this Communication we must close our columns to the Discussion of this topic for the present.—Editors]

 


EDITORS of The Christian Workers Magazine:

In your October number under the heading "Seventh-day Adventists and the Doctrine of the Trinity," appeared an article from Rev. D. M. Canright in which he attempts to show that this religious body rejects the doctrine of the trinity, involving the Deity of Christ: and in which he strongly attacks my statements published in the June issue, in which I said: "I regard our position upon the trinity as in harmony with that of other evangelical churches." Mr. Canright declares, "This statement is untrue." And he adds: "Either he (Elder Wheeler), does not know the doctrine of his church, or has not read its standard works, or else he misleads you."

In support of his contention Mr. Canright quotes certain passages from an old book written by Elder J. H. Waggoner, printed in 1884, and projected in such a way as to really place the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in a false light before your readers. The conclusion naturally follows, unless something is said to answer these charges, that Mr. Canright is correct in his assertions. He may not intend to misrepresent us, but his way of putting things appears bad. However, not wishing to be personal, I will, in correcting his mistakes, confine myself to facts.

The work of Elder Waggoner was written, as will appear, before our denominational views upon the doctrine of the trinity had been defined. It has been out of print many years, and I may add that no controvertible or inharmonious sentiments survive in the later literature of our organization. For some reason Mr. Canright has made use of quotations only from this obsolete publication; apparently overlooking the rich and numerous sources of information upon this subject to be found in our recent and standard works like "Desire of the Ages;" "The Story of the Ages;" "The Coming King;" "Bible Readings for the Home Circle;" "Patriarchs and Prophets" "The Ministry of Healing;'' "Steps-to Christ;" "Christ Object Lessons;" and "Testimonies for the Church."

"The Bible Doctrine of the Trinity"

In the year 1892 Seventh-day Adventists placed themselves plainly before the world as believers in the evangelical doctrine of the trinity and the Deity of Christ in the most unequivocal sense of those terms, by adopting and publishing for the general use of its church and missionary societies a treatise entitled "The Bible Doctrine of the Trinity." It was written by Samuel T. Spear, D. D., a prominent Presbyterian clergyman, pastor of the South Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, N. Y., from 1849, to 1871, and afterward associated editorially with "The Independent," till the close of his life. The article was published by that 'religious journal in its issue of November 14, 1889, soon after Dr. Spears' death. This exceptionally clear, scriptural, and in every way excellent exposition of the Christian doctrine of the trinity, in tract form and bearing the name of its esteemed author, has been in general use among Seventh-day Adventists during the past twenty-three years. I quote the opening paragraph:

 


"The Bible while not giving a metaphysical definition of the spiritual unity of God, teaches his essential oneness in opposition to all forms of polytheism, and also assumes man's capacity to apprehend the idea sufficiently for all the purposes of worship and obedience. John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6. The same Bible as clearly teaches that the adorable person known to us as Jesus Christ, when considered in his whole nature, is truly divine and truly God in the most absolute sense. John 1:1-18; 1 John 5:20; Romans 1:3, 4; 9:5; Titus 2:13."

Mr. Canright appears not to know these facts.

The Testimony of Elder Daniells

Finally, that I may put to rest this calumny against our faith, and at the same time refute Mr. Canright's contention that Seventh-day Adventists "have a carefully prepared, officially endorsed, printed creed," I wish to present a letter from Elder A. G. Daniells, President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Takoma Park, Washington, D. C. In answer to my inquiries about the points disputed by Mr. Canright, he wrote me on December 16, 1915, as follows:

"Dear Brother Wheeler:

"The Seventh-day Adventist denomination does not deny nor even question the Deity of the Son of God. Nothing can be found in the record of our pronouncements as a body during the seventy-one years of our existence to show that we disbelieve in the Deity of our blessed and only Saviour. Individuals among us may have been somewhat confused in the early days regarding the trinity. Some of them made statements in their writings that have never been accepted by the body. For many years every utterance of all our writers have expressed the unbounded confidence in the Deity of Christ. All anyone will need to do to verify this fact is to go through the files of our denominational papers and the many books we have put out.

"Now as to creed, Seventh-day Adventists have never drawn up, nor adopted a church creed. From our earliest days we have made it plain that the Bible must be our only creed. We have all been united all the way along in the view that the word of God must be the one infallible authority in matters of salvation.

"No, Brother Wheeler, we have never drafted a church creed, nor even approached one. Very, sincerely, A. G. Daniells."

 


In conclusion we wish to confess with the beloved Paul and the multitude of early Christian witnesses, that "To us there is but one God the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things and we by him; and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling." (See 1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 4:4).

And in the benedictive prayer we join in fellowship with all the children of God saying: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all, Amen." (2 Cor. 13:14).

Lee S. Wheeler.

 

COMMENT

At first glance, these two articles may not seem that significant.  Yet, there are many, many direct and indirect implications to consider.

1).  The editor of "The Christian Workers magazine" wrote an article in the June 1915 edition where he stated that SDA's reject the doctrine of the trinity.  In response to this Elder Wheeler, an Adventist minister, protested and convinced him of error on this point. So the Evangelical Protestant editor apologized and corrected his statement (i.e. SDA's are in fact Trinitarians, in harmony with Evangelical Protestantism).

This is exactly what happened 40 years later when Walter Martin wrote his first edition of "Kingdom of the Cults" where he accused SDA's of unorthodox doctrine.  Several SDA leaders protested such labeling.  They got together in 1955-1956 and had meetings in order to prove SDA's were in fact Trinitarian.  The SDA book QOD (written primarily by Froom), was published as an apology for previous anti-trinitarian statements. Then Walter Martin publishes his own apology to SDA's and includes the SDA denomination as a member of the non-cult, evangelical, mainstream Protestant club.

So who was the Protestant editor who accused SDA's of rejecting the Trinity, and then gave them an apology in 1915?  James Martin Gray, a highly respected Protestant author who had this to say about Adventists in his book two years prior:

"The Seventh-day Adventists ...reject the doctrine of the Trinity, which involves the Deity of Christ, though this is not stated....We would recommend you to read Seventh-Day Adventism Renounced, by Elder Canright..." (Bible problems explained, James Martin Gray, 1913)

 


Wow!  An influential Protestant editor, author, and president of the Moody Bible Institute changes his mind about SDA's Trinitarian orthodoxy?  Remember, the year is 1915.  Why haven't SDA historians announced this great accomplishment?  Surely Froom and friends knew about this.  G.C. president A.G. Daniells knew about this event because Pastor Lee S. Wheeler wrote him specifically about the doctrinal accusations regarding SDA's perceived non-trinitarian position.  So why haven't early and modern historians exploited this event to their own benefit? Either modern historians have never seen this evidence, or Canright's article protesting Pastor Wheeler's arguments contains the answer.

2).  D. M. Canright replies to SDA Pastor Wheeler in the October edition of "The Christian Workers magazine"
In my book, "Seventh-day Adventism Renounced," page 25, I give a summary of their doctrines and use exactly these words. So I judge you accepted my statement as reliable. I now re-affirm my statement: "They reject the doctrine of the trinity" as held by evangelical churches, as the previous line in my book states. But Elder Wheeler says: "I regard our position upon the trinity as in harmony with that of other evangelical churches." 
His statement is untrue. Either he does not know the doctrine of his church or has not read their standard works, or else he misleads you.  (D. M. Canright).

 


COMMENT

Firstly, it should be noted the specifics of Canright's "qualified" accusation:  "They reject the doctrine of the trinity" as held by evangelical churches..."  In other words, "They reject the Trinity specified in the Protestant Evangelical creeds."  Or, SDA's "Trinity" is NOT the same trinity as held by the evangelical churches.  How does SDA pastor Wheeler respond?  "I regard our position upon the trinity as in harmony with that of other evangelical churches." Mr. Canright declares, "This statement is untrue." And he adds: "Either he (Elder Wheeler), does not know the doctrine of his church, or has not read its standard works, or else he misleads you."

Now let that sink in.  SDA pastor Wheeler positively affirms that denominational SDA's "Trinity" is in harmony with that of other evangelical churches."  This is the agenda.  Not a reflective progression of biblical truth.  Not a change of doctrine in order to follow EGW's inspired writings.  We want to be "in harmony with the other evangelical churches."  This is exactly what L. E. Froom told Walter Martin during the 1955-1956 Evangelical conferences.  Did Froom "mislead" Dr. Martin about SDA's non-trinitarian past doctrinal position? Of course he did.  Even SDA professor George Knight and Merlin Burt candidly admit it.  According to Pastor Wheeler, when did the SDA "position upon the trinity" become "in harmony with that of other evangelical churches?

"In the year 1892 Seventh-day Adventists placed themselves plainly before the world as believers in the evangelical doctrine of the trinity and the Deity of Christ in the most unequivocal sense of those terms, by adopting and publishing for the general use of its church and missionary societies a treatise entitled "The Bible Doctrine of the Trinity...This exceptionally clear, scriptural, and in every way excellent exposition of the Christian doctrine of the trinity, in tract form and bearing the name of its esteemed author, has been in general use among Seventh-day Adventists during the past twenty-three years."

"The work of Elder Waggoner was written, as will appear, before our denominational views upon the doctrine of the trinity had been defined. It has been out of print many years, and I may add that no controvertible or inharmonious sentiments survive in the later literature of our organization. For some reason Mr. Canright has made use of quotations only from this obsolete publication; apparently overlooking the rich and numerousources of information upon this subject to be found in our recent and standard works like "Desire of the Ages..."   (Lee S. Wheeler).

COMMENT

Notice the year in which Wheeler claims the "denominational views upon the doctrine of the trinity had been defined"?  The year was 1892.  No modern SDA scholar or historian claims this as fact.  Almost all take the position that the "Trinity" became normative in the mid 1900's.  I have already blogged about why Spear's article was republished by SDA non-trinitarian M. C. Wilcox, and HOW it was used by SDA's to avoid non-Biblical speculations when questioned about their own belief. No further comment is necessary.

Wheeler gives the impression that Elder J. H. Waggoners book was just some "lunatic fringe" opinion by a "minority" of "some" (Froomism).  He also gives the impression that no other SDA publications contain non-trinitarian sentiments. This is false.  Uriah Smith's "Daniel and the Revelation" was not edited from its non-trinitarianism until 1944.  It should also be noted that Wheeler is claiming EGW is teaching standard Trinitarianism.  This claim is refuted many times over by SDA's own Jerry Moon.

CANRIGHT

"You see Articles 1 and 2 of that creed [SDA  fundamental beliefs], give at length their doctrine concerning God and Christ, but only mention the Holy Spirit, without mentioning His personality in any way. Nor is there any mention of the trinity. These two articles give exactly the information you ask for. Why did Elder Wheeler withhold them from you? The answer is evident—their statement is not trinitarian. A line is added at the close saying that these articles are not a rule of their faith or practice. I positively know to the contrary."

COMMENT

It is important to note that Canright states as positive fact that the SDA statement of fundamental beliefs is "not Trinitarian."  This reveals the motivation for F. M. Wilcox's 1913 "Signs of the Times" article that included the "term" Trinity, while seeking to avoid all the baggage of the doctrine itself.  This is also why he was chosen to write the 1931 statement of beliefs which included the Trinity term as well.

G. C. President A. G. Daniells letter

Pastor Wheeler wrote Daniells specifically about Canright's accusations. Most revealing is what the President says, and does not say specifically.

"The Seventh-day Adventist denomination does not deny nor even question the Deity of the Son of God. Nothing can be found in the record of our pronouncements as a body during the seventy-one years of our existence to show that we disbelieve in the Deity of our blessed and only Saviour.  Individuals among us may have been somewhat confused in the early days regarding the trinity.  Some of them made statements in their writings that have never been accepted by the body.  For many years every utterance of all our writers have expressed the unbounded confidence in the Deity of Christ. All anyone will need to do to verify this fact is to go through the files of our denominational papers and the many books we have put out."  (A. G. Daniells).

 


COMMENT

In all fairness, SDA's have never denied the pre-existence and Deity of Christ.  What they consistently did in the 1800's was to deny creedal Trinitarianism.  This put them within the same camp as most Unitarians of the day.  SDA's had more in common with historical Trinitarians than they did with the Unitarians regarding the Deity of Christ. Therefore, the motivation or AGENDA was not only to join mainstream Protestantism, but also to differentiate and distance SDA doctrine from Unitarianism, and Modernism.

Let us focus on two sentences from Daniells.

1). Individuals among us may have been somewhat confused in the early days regarding the trinity.

2). Some of them made statements in their writings that have never been accepted by the body.


The implication is clear: "Some" "individuals" from our SDA church were "confused in the early days regarding the trinity", but this non-trinitarian minority opinion was "never been accepted by the body." Also, Daniells does NOT state, as Wheeler does, that Trinitarianism within the SDA denomination was a majority opinion, or normative.  Now some could yell, 'liar, liar pants on fire' but that's not really the point I want to make.  The primary new thing I learned from the pastor Wheeler article and Canright's rebuttal is this:  L. E. Froom was not alone in his pro-Trinitarian ecumenical agenda. G. C. President A. G. Daniells was Froom's mentor from the beginning. W.W. Prescott mentored Daniells, and Daniells mentored Froom.  It was Daniells who commissioned Froom (according to MOD), to rewrite SDA history after certain generations of SDA's were deceased and unable to protest.  It was undoubtedly Daniells and Froom who influenced M. L. Andreason (SDA's foremost theologian), to mistakenly think Samuel Spears article is an expression of evangelical Trinitarianism. Together, it was these influential men who shaped the education and theological minds of the entire SDA ministry during the 1900's.

 

In 1971 Froom wrote his SDA apologetic, in the guise of a historical narrative. The title is "Movement of Destiny."  There is a huge, huge, huge irony in the fact that Froom uses the very same phraseology as his mentor A. G. Daniells in 1915.  The point is clear.  Froom did not initiate SDA's doctrinal change, it could not have happened without the influence and help of A.G. Daniells.  Hand in hand, Daniells and Froom minimized SDA's non-trinitarian history, even to the extreme of intellectual dishonesty.  I will close with the following quotations by Leroy Froom using the same reasoning as his mentor.

 

"Mrs. White did not, during those same early decades, reprove certain erroneous minority positions held by some on the Eternal Verities [non-trinitarianism]...Not once, however, did her own writings share or echo those faulty views. Hers was often a contrasting voice." (Froom, MOD 119)

"...Certain constricted views held by some good men...who nevertheless had but a partial view of truth in the two distinctive areas of the transcendent 'Deity of Christ' and the vast scope of the 'Atonement'..." (Froom, MOD 148)

"Only a few, relatively, were agitating and pressing their personal views against the Trinity and denying the complete Deity of Christ." (Froom, MOD 178)

"The Eternal Verities [Trinitarianism] were coming into their rightful place. God was definitely leading, despite the continuing stubbornness of 'some.'" (Froom, MOD 187)

"At the very outset Waggoner had to firmly meet the persisting, neutralizing Arian view still maintained by some...The Righteousness he was to present in his studies could not come from a constricted, limited, derived Christ." (Froom, MOD 200)


For your convenience we have included the actual pages referenced above:
Christian Workers Magazine 1915 vol 16 p 84

Christian Workers Magazine 1915 vol 16 p 85

Christian Workers Magazine 1915 vol 16 p 680

Christian Workers Magazine 1915 vol 16 p 681