The anti-trinitarian "Christian Connection" and "The rest of the story"

Posted Oct 21, 2011 by Bobby B in Adventist History Hits: 6,026

As a young man, I always enjoyed listening to Paul Harvey’s radio broadcast "And now you know… the rest of the story."  This article has a little of that.  I have read many times how the early SDA’s like James White, and Joseph Bates were ignorant, and confused about the “version” of Trinitarianism they were rejecting.  The following are a few quotations by modern SDA historians in example.

"I believe it was a healthy process which caused many of the early Adventist leaders to initially reject the traditional doctrine of the Trinity. They viewed this doctrine as coming from tradition rather than from the Bible. Furthermore, some of them confused the Trinitarian formula of three persons in one God with the modalistic conceptualization of God as one person in three modes. Joseph Bates wrote that he could never accept that Jesus Christ and the Father were one and the same person.  (
John Reeve, 2010).

“Respecting the trinity, I concluded that it was impossible for me to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, was also the Almighty God, the Father, one and the same being,” wrote
Joseph Bates regarding his conversion in 1827.  Because of his belief, he chose to join the Christian Connexion rather than the Congregational Church of his parents (Bates, p. 205).  One might be tempted to dismiss Bates’s assessment as simple ignorance of the meaning of trinity, but there were then and remain today a variety of views claiming the term ‘Trinity.’”  (The Trinity, section by Jerry Moon, p. 190).

“Hull emphasizes the argument which Joseph Bates used in 1827. If the divine part of Jesus was the Father, if it was the Father who was manifested in the flesh, then God and Christ are one person. Consistently throughout the article, Hull confuses the correct Trinitarian position with Monarchianism.”   (
Erwin Gane, 1963).

A score of other quotations could be cited, all saying something similar.  It is possible that the early SDA founders were confused, and ignorant about the different versions of Trinitarianism.  It is also possible that modern Adventist historians, and Scholars are totally WRONG in this assessment.  Could it be possible that modern SDA scholars and historians are the ones confused regarding the subject?


For all the research linking the early SDA leaders anti-Trinitarian views with the Christian Connection church; little if ANY work has been published documenting the actual beliefs of said Church.  This doesn’t make any sense to me.  If you're going to accuse the Christian Connection of the major “cause” of anti-trinitarianism, wouldn’t you at least be curious of what they actually believed and published?


Prominent, and famous Christian Connection minister and theologian David Millard,  wrote a book entitled, "The True Messiah in Scripture Light," ( 1818, 1823, 1837 editions).  This work was
highly valued by the Church and widely debated among the most prominent thinkers of many different denominations (pp. 104-106).  The following is a letter from Millard to a minister who published a pro-Trinitarian rebuttal.  This letter is found in the appendix of “True Messiah.”  Hope you enjoy it, and “The rest of the story.”


APPENDIX.


TWO LETTERS TO ELDER ELIAS LEE.
[from David Millard, p. 241]

LETTER I.


Sir :—Your pamphlet which you had the goodness to send me, containing remarks on a work entitled "The True Messiah in Scripture Light," has been duly received. I have endeavored to give it a careful reading, and shall now bring your principal arguments to the unerring standard of truth, for examination. My manner of expression is plain, therefore let not plain words offend you, neither think me your enemy because I tell you the truth.


In your pamphlet, page 7, you join issue with me, that "Christ is the proper Son of God," and say, you are "willing to risk the whole controversy on this one turning point." You then very correctly state on the same page, "by a proper son, is always understood a natural, or real son, in distinction from an adopted son, or a son in a figurative sense." By this I understand you to mean that a proper son is one begotten and brought forth according to the rules of generation. In this "thou hast well said," and had you continued to advance forward by this rule, you would have for ever left behind you, the mysterious doctrine for which you contend in other parts of your book; and entered a field of gospel consistency, brightening before you as you advanced. But instead of this, after establishing the position that Christ is the proper Son of God, in the fullest sense of the term you make a strange retrograde. Your immediate argument is, that he is self-existent and eternal—that he was not really begotten; in a word that he is none other than the very God that he is declared to be the Son of!! and your book is filled up with arguments to this amount. I cannot, sir, but express my utter astonishment, that you should acknowledge one of the most important truths in the plainest definite manner, and then proceed immediately to overthrow it, in as plain unequivocal terms. In what sense can any being be a proper or real son, and yet his father not have existed prior to him. In what sense can any being be a proper, or real son, and yet be the very identical being that he is the son of? If Jesus Christ be the very and eternal God, as you labor to prove, he is son to no being whatever; neither can he constitute any part of a son, to either God or man. How then, sir, can you reconcile your first acknowledgement, that Jesus Christ is the proper or real Son of God, with what you afterwards endeavored to maintain viz: that he is in reality the very God himself? The two sentiments are as foreign from each 'other as light is from darkness, and cannot be reconciled. As well might you attempt to weld iron and wood together.


By the above, sir, it will be plainly discovered, that you have wholly departed from the "turning point," on which you agreed to risk the whole controversy. This, however, is not all. In attempting to maintain that the Son of God is self-existent, while the scriptures declare he was begotten, you are driven to admit, in indirect terms, what at first you condemned, viz: that he is only a son in figurative sense. Your words are as follows, page 13. — “Every class of Unitarians, so far as my knowledge extends, come out against the eternity of it [Christ's nature, or being] by overstraining the figurative application of the word begotten." Now, sir, as the term begotten is an important term, when relating to a son, we will venture to rest its meaning, with the kind of son we have occasion to speak of. When we speak of a figurative son, we will say he was only figuratively begotten; but when we speak of a proper or real son, we will say he was properly or really begotten. You will now, sir, please to remember that the "turning point" of the controversy is, that Jesus Christ is the proper, or real Son of God. Can he be the proper, or real Son of God, and yet be only figuratively begotten? If he was properly, or really begotten, in what sense can he be self-existent? Somehow, sir, here appears to be an absurdity in your system, too obvious to escape your notice.


You attempt to bewilder your readers with the idea, that the word begotten, when applied to the Son of God in the scriptures, relates particularly to his resurrection. That this may be the case in Rev. i. 5, I shall not attempt to dispute; but is it the case in every instance in scripture? Is it so with regard to Heb. i. 6? "When he [God] bringeth in the first-begotten into the world, he saith, and let all the angels of God worship him." Does not this text have particular allusion to the time when the Son of God was born in Bethlehem? If you still contend that he was only figuratively begotten, you may as well enlarge your figure a little, and say he was only figuratively brought into the world.


But that the fact may be more clearly understood, that you hold Christ to be a son only in a figurative sense, I will follow you a little further on this point. In page 27, and onward, you say considerable of a certain system of economy, which the Bible says nothing about. Your system of economy, if I am enabled to understand you, is this: That the eternal God, though but one being-, arranged a plan for the salvation of men, as though he were three distinct persons. That he acts the several parts of these persons (which are called Father Son and Holy Ghost,) literally himself —That in acting the part of Father, he assumes a superiority over the other two. In acting the part of Son, he assumes a quite inferior and subordinate station, so as to say "my Father is greater than I," and in acting the part of Holy Ghost, he assumes a subordinate station to the other two. Hence you would have us understand that every thing said in scripture, which expresses Subordination in the Son of God, such as his praying to God, his having all power given to him, his delivering up the kingdom to God, and his mediating between God and men; must be interpreted strictly according to the above described system of economy. So then, indeed, this is quite a discovery! But how came you to find out that God has formed such a system of economy?  You have not told us and surely the Bible says not a word about it. Will you be so good, sir, as to inform us how you obtained your information of such a system, and perhaps others may be encouraged to go in search of more light.


Now what is all this but a mere visionary scheme. Without the least pretension to reality? I will venture further, sir; what is it but to represent the plan of salvation when acted out, to be only a mere farce? The best we could say of such a system, would be to call it figurative. The Father would be only figuratively so; the Son, such only in a figurative sense— the same of the Holy Ghost; and neither of them distinct, or personal in reality.

Is this the way and manner you would have people understand Christ to be the proper, or real Son of God? and is this the light in which you would represent "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"? Give me leave to tell you, sir, that when you acknowledged Jesus Christ to be the proper, or real Son of God, you forever closed the door against playing such a farce as this on the public mind.


I am convinced, sir, that the principal arguments which you advance against my views of Christ's proper sonship, are founded in the misconception you have formed of my real ideas. By wresting from
their intended meaning, certain expressions found in the work you controvert,* some of your arguments as they stand at present, are pretty well calculated to blind the superficial reader, as well as to please such as desire only to glance at one side of the question. Let us however, sir, advance with candor, and with prayerful hearts to a closer view of the subject. In the work entitled ''The True Messiah in Scripture Light," I asserted Christ to be the proper Son of God, and as such, a distinct being from his Father—that he proceeded from God and from the Virgin, and consequently partook of both, as a real son of both—that the Word was made flesh, &c. I stated these facts as warranted from scripture, that they were not figurative, nor visionary, but real—and so I still insist.  You several times quote my words, that Christ partook of his Father, as well as of his Mother. You then state the nature of God to be eternal, self-existent and immutable; from which premise you seem to contend, that if God has a proper Son, born of the Virgin Mary, this Son must be equally eternal, self-existent and immutable, as himself. I confess I do not see any force to such an argument; and I now appeal to you as an honest man before God, do you see any yourself?  As I acknowledge the word to proceed from God, (even before the world was,) you contend that if it really was made flesh, (as John declares it was, John i. 14,) the nature of God must have been changed. This you state, page 10, to be an "absurdity which appears in this affair, that God has reduced and changed his own nature." Now, sir, what can be your object in this kind of reasoning, but merely to bewilder your readers? Is it not a fact abundantly declared in scripture, that Christ is the Son of God, and the son of Mary? Then what will avail a thousand arguments to prove he is not so? Could not the very God have a proper son, and yet remain God distinct from his Son, as fully as a man could have a son, and yet remain a whole man distinct from the son he had begotten? Could not the Son of God partake of his Father, and yet God remain unchanged as much as any son could partake of his Father, without producing an absolute change in his parent. This is just what I have contended for.  Admit this sir, and then acknowledge Christ to be the Son of God, and the son of Mary, and what have you accomplished by all your routine of argument?

Your remark in page 14, is very unbecoming your age and station. "They think the Almighty was once like a young man, who coming to maturity, married a wife, and had a son, and is going on with his affairs, like the world of mankind." This sir, is a low irreligious cant, thrown out for the want of argument, and deserves only to be treated as such. It would have come with much better grace from a professed infidel, than from one who professes to be a minister of Christ. Your remark in page 26, is calculated to excite a smile, even on the rugged face of controversy. Of my views you state, “all his reasoning is as if one should say to him, you are neither the son of your father, nor the son of your mother; you are only the half-son of each, and therefore have no right to call yourself the son of either." Permit me to ask you Mr. Lee, do you believe I am the real son of my father, and also of my mother? And do you think l am only one proper son of them both, or do you really think l am two whole and complete sons, somehow mysteriously united in one person? Indeed sir, I think such a specimen of your reasoning faculty, is truly laughable.


However, sir, this remark affords a tolerable index of Christ's Incarnation according to Trinitarian views. This doctrine I find asserted in different parts of your book, although your arguments oil the subject afford nothing peculiarly new. The Trinitarian doctrine of incarnation, is briefly this: That Christ possesses two whole and complete natures—human and divine. That in his human nature, he was truly and properly a man possessing a human body and reasonable soul; and that in his divine nature, he is the very and eternal God. In the work which you controvert, I exhibited my views in plain terms, in relation to the two-nature scheme, and rejected it for reasons which I still think conclusive. 1. The doctrine is no where taught in the scriptures. In no passage of scripture are we told that Jesus Christ is properly a man, and at the same time, the very and eternal God. 2. This would destroy the idea of Christ's being the proper or real Son of God; as it would be the height of absurdity, to say a proper son, is the very being that he is said to be the son of. 3. The doctrine teaches that Christ is two whole and distinct persons. In his human nature this doctrine teaches that he is really a man, possessing a human body, and a reasonable soul; which must be as much as one person. In his divine nature, he is declared to be the very and eternal God, which must at least be as much as one person more. Now, sir, putting the two together, what have you but a Christ composed of two whole and distinct persons? it is true, you deny this charge in your book, but what avails the denial of a fact as plain as the sun at noonday! Remove these difficulties out of the way sir, if you can, but remember something more is needed than your mere denials or affirmations to do it.


This doctrine sir, is in truth, calculated to weaken our sympathies for the sufferings of Christ. His human nature was all that could suffer, as Trinitarians allow. Compare this with that of his divine nature, or what Trinitarians call most properly himself, and it will measure no more than a single hair of the head to the whole body or than a drop to the ocean. At the very time of the sufferings of his humanity on the cross, he was the happiest being in the Universe; yea, as happy as the infinite God could be; so that his pains compared with his felicity, were nothing. When you tell Up the Son of God suffered and died, what do we find in your system? All it teaches is that a mere man suffered. Is this all we are to understand by God's so loving the world, as to give his Son to die for us? Is this the wonderful stoop of heaven for the salvation of man? Alas sir, was I made to believe this was all, I should feel compelled to write upon it ICHABOD, “the glory is departed!"


I have already exceeded my intended limits. In my next, I shall notice your arguments on this part of the subject. In the mean time, believe me,


Yours respectfully, D. MILLARD.


_____________________________________________


It should be noted firstly that Millard used the terms “self-existent” and “eternal” in the sense of meaning “un-begotten”.  Secondly, Millard is still arguing AGAINST traditional Trinitarianism.  His book differentiates between modalism, and Trinitarianism.  Not only this, Millard plainly rejects the incarnational sonship promoted by
Adam Clarke on page 96. This aspect is of particular interest, and importance for two reasons.

1.  The Christian Connection church divided over the “Biblical Trinitarian” views of
Alexander Campbell.  Campbell, along with his Father were highly prominent leaders in the Christian church.  The Connectionists who REJECTED Campbell’s incarnational sonship views, just so happened to be part of the Connection church that later became SDA’s.  The point simply; James White, Joseph Bates, Uriah Smith etc. would have been directly involved in the controversial debate as Connection ministers.  The fact is they did NOT side with Alexander Campbell.  This is positive proof they rejected his "biblical Trinitarian" views.

2.  The incarnational-sonship “biblical Trinity” advocated by Campbell, but rejected by non-Campbell Connectionists; is essentially the same theory accepted by modern Adventism.


“There was no Jesus, no Messiah, no Christ, no Son of God, no Only Begotten, before the reign of Augustus Cesar.  The relation that was before the christian era, was not that of a son and a father, terms which always imply disparity; but it was that expressed by John in the sentence under consideration. The relation was that of God, and the "word of God." This phraseology unfolds a relation quite different from that of a father and a son--a relation perfectly intimate, equal, and glorious.”  (Alexander Campbell, 1827),


The Christian Connection had already studied, debated, and separated over this issue BEFORE 1844.  The early SDA’s who came from that movement were well aware of the arguments involved on both sides of the debate.  They were NOT “confused” and ignorant about different versions of Trinitarianism.  If anything, they had exhausted the subject; resulting in little discussion, or controversy among themselves.  This is a plain simple fact that has NOT been discussed by Adventist historians.


What is the connection between David Millard’s book and the early SDA founding leaders?  David Millard attended the first
second advent conference in 1840 as one of its vice-presidents (p. 181).  His name is listed along with Joseph Bates, James White, and four other Connection ministers (Froom, PFooF, p. 702).  Not only did Joseph Bates and David Millard know each other, they were good friends.  You see, Elder David Millard was the Pastor of Joseph Bates before he became an SDA (search RH for “Millard“).


It is inconceivable that Bates was “ignorant” of what “version” of Trinitarianism he was rejecting because he used the same arguments  as contained in Millard’s extensively researched book (p. 93).
It is highly improbable that James White, Smith, and other former Connectionist SDA’s were NOT fully aware of the same.  The founding fathers of Adventism had already studied, and settled the issues of Trinitarianism (and Conditionalism) BEFORE they became Sabbatarians.  "And now you know…The rest of the story.”


NOTES:

After posting the above article, I realized that most would not read Millard's book.  Therefore, I leave you with my favorite quote from it.

"In no instance, according to the use of language, can we form any conception of a son, without a distinction of being existing between him and his Father.  But, say Trinitarians, "we know nothing of the modes of divine existence, nor in what sense God uses the term son." Here we are at once thrown into the boundless regions of conjecture, in regard to all God says of himself, and his Son. On this ground, we can know nothing what is meant by God's so loving the world" as to give his only begotten Son. And if we know not in what sense God uses terms respecting himself and his Son, no more do we know in what sense he uses terms respecting us, in his requirements, prohibitions, his promises and his threatenings. Of what use then is the bible, any more than so much blank paper, to be filled with our own conjectures? And in what sense is the bible a revelation of the divine character and will?

If we reject the hypothesis of a proper Son, we must then, like the Arians, have a strictly created Son, or an allegorical Son, for the Son of God must be one of these three. All who reject the idea of a proper Son, and a created Son, can have nothing better than an allegorical Son; and if we must admit an allegorical Son, I would as freely admit Origen's hypothesis, as any I know of. But if we adopt the hypothesis of an allegorical Son, .what shall we say of the love of God in giving his Son? Had we not ought to view the love of God, in this event, as a kind of allegorical love? And is it not viewed too much in this light by those who reject the idea of a proper Son? But if the Son of God be not a proper, but an allegorical Son, and the love of God in giving his Son an allegorical love, what better have we to expect than an allegorical heaven?

To say that Jesus Christ is "the very God," and yet the Son of the very God, to me is equivalent to saying, that God is his own Son, and yet the Father of himself; which would be such a Son and Father, as could only exist in allegory. Or, to say that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, and yet the unbegotten God himself, would be about equal to saying the unbcgotten God begat himself, and that all this took place without any "variableness or shadow of turning."  (David Millard, "The True Messiah in Scripture Light," 1837 edition, pp. 92, 93, Note:  This last paragraph is exactly the argument of Joseph Bates in 1827 when he joined the Christian Connection).

 

A good short history of the Christian Connection.

James White, p. 161, references David Millard.


Section about David Millard.


Alexander Campbell Defines Unitarian and Trinity


Alexander Campbell: The Trinity Rejected


How Thomas Campbell Explains the Trinity


Barton W. Stone, Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott and Others on the trinity
.

Restoration Movement Index


Holy Spirit Index


Good article by David Millard


Short history of the Christian Connection, by David Millard.