A terrible crisis known as the pantheism heresy nearly overwhelmed the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the early 1900’s. Ellen White described it as the “alpha” of “seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.” Could it be that this “alpha” deception was related to the rejection of the 1888 light?
In direct proportion as genuine light is undiscerned and misunderstood does counterfeit light take its place, undiscerned and misunderstood for its true nature. We were told after 1888 that apostasy within would be unconscious and subtle and likely become widespread before it could be discerned.
This principle of deception following rejection of light is an unalterable law of history. Jesus said to the Jewish leaders, “I am come in My Father’s name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive” (John 5:43). A true understanding of the post-1888 era is necessary in order to recognize the “sparks of kindling” which took the place of the true light.
The ministry in the 1888 era were good men, consecrated, working long hours, enduring privations. Sincerely professing the truth, they managed somehow to ignore or reject its reality. What happened is one of the most amazing developments in the history of God’s work.
The brethren were sincerely unaware of a heart attitude which prompted an unholy reaction against the most glorious light which had ever shone upon this church. But they were no worse than we are by nature. We are one body with them.
It follows that the sin of rejecting that light of the loud cry can never be truly overcome until those unseen motives equally present in all our hearts are laid bare to our consciousness. This work certainly must be included in the cleansing of the sanctuary. What we failed to believe a century ago we must learn through traversing a devious detour of our own devising. Our history is an outworking of principles divinely ordained to lead us to reconciliation with Christ.
The Lord cannot, will not, force nor conquer by fear what He would win only by love. Hence His long patience during our detour. What else can He do but await our disillusionment? But His patient wisdom will win at last, because it is the wisdom of love, a truly divine strategy. Understanding the 1888 history is powerful good news!
Whether in 1844 or in 1888, a rejection of light made inevitable a submission to deception. Here is how the principle worked when some early Adventists rejected the increased light of the sanctuary truth:
I saw an exceeding bright light come from the Father to the Son, and from the Son it waved over the people before the throne. But few would receive this great light. Many came out from under it and immediately resisted it; others were careless and did not cherish the light, and it moved off from them. …
Those who rose up with Jesus would send up their faith to Him in the holiest, and pray, “My Father, give us Thy Spirit.” …
I turned to look at the company who were still bowed before the throne; they did not know that Jesus had left it. Satan appeared to be by the throne, trying to carry on the work of God. I saw them look up to the throne and pray, “Father, give us thy Spirit.” Satan would then breathe upon them an unholy influence. … [His] object was to keep them deceived, and to draw back and deceive God’s children (EW 55, 56).
This same principle of deception following rejection of heaven-sent light operated after 1888. Speaking of the crisis, Ellen White wrote in 1889:
“We need never expect that when the Lord has light for His people, Satan will stand calmly by and make no effort to prevent them from receiving it” (5T 728).
There will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition, and worship they know not what. …
Certain it is that there has been among us a departure from the living God, and a turning to men, putting human in place of divine wisdom.
God will arouse His people; if other means fail, heresies will come in among them, which will sift them, separating the chaff from the wheat (ibid., p. 707).
At the Minneapolis session, we were told that failure to advance under the generalship of Christ would expose us without our realizing it to the generalship of Satan:
God will withdraw His Spirit unless His truth is accepted. …
I wish you could see and feel that if you are not advancing you are retrograding and Satan understood about it; he knew how to take advantage of the human mind. … Here the battle is before us (Ms. 8, 1888, Olson pp. 264, 265).
Again, speaking of Minneapolis, Ellen White described the course of the fall-out:
Now at the present time God designs that a new and fresh impetus shall be given to His work. Satan sees this, and he is determined it shall be hindered. … That which is food to the churches is regarded as dangerous, and should not be given them. And this slight difference of ideas is allowed to unsettle the faith, to cause apostasy, to break up unity, to sow discord, all because they do not know what they are striving about themselves (Ms. 13,1889, emphasis added).
An enemy recognized that in the reaction of many against the 1888 light he could seize his best chance of winning a victory:
The enemy of God and man is not willing that this truth should be clearly presented, for he knows that if the people receive it fully, his power will be broken. … [Christ] has warned us to be on our guard against false doctrines. … Many false doctrines will be presented to us as the teaching of the Bible. … God would have us intelligent … and recognize the warnings He has given us that one may not be found on the side of the great deceiver in the crisis that is just before us (RH September 3, 1889).
Those who have had great light and who have not walked in it will have darkness corresponding to the light they have despised (TM 163).
Since the light which came in 1888 was the verity of the third angel’s message, it makes sense for the enemy to seize the chance to confuse our understanding of that truth:
Satan is now working with all his insinuating, deceiving power to lead men away from the work of the third angel’s message, which is to be proclaimed with mighty power. … He will work with masterly power to bring in fanaticism on the one hand and cold formalism on the other, that he may gather in a harvest of souls. Now is our time to watch unceasingly. Watch, bar the way against the least step of advance that Satan may make among us. …
Some will not make a right use of the doctrine of justification by faith (Special Testimonies, Series A, No. 1, pp. 63, 64; 1890).
Unless divine power is brought into the experience of the people of God, false theories and erroneous ideas will take minds captive (RH September 3, 1889).
A. G. Daniells recognized in 1926 that the warning was justified, that this prophecy had been fulfilled:
To a lamentable degree, God’s people failed to bring the divine power into their experience, and the result predicted has been seen: … False theories and erroneous ideas have taken minds captive (COR 89).
Ellen White was concerned. The time of the loud cry is an exciting time, but also a time of peril. In her words, the post-1888 crisis marked a new era:
Henceforth we shall have a constant contest. … These words of Holy Writ were presented to me: “Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” This will surely be seen among the people of God. …
There will be those who …will mistake light for error, and specious error they will pronounce light, mistaking phantoms for realities, and realities for phantoms. … They will fall into deceptions and delusions that Satan has prepared as concealed nets to entangle the feet of those who think they can walk in their human wisdom without the special grace of Christ. … Men will accept one delusion after another until their senses are perverted (Ms. 16, 1890; Ev 593, 594).
While it is true that the enemy tried to deceive us before 1888, his most assiduous assaults were made afterward. The “alpha” deceptions were effective only because of a previous rejection of light:
At the time of the loud cry of the third angel those who have been in any measure blinded by the enemy, who have not fully recovered themselves from the snare of Satan, will be in peril, because it will be difficult to discern the light from heaven, and they will be inclined to accept falsehood. Their erroneous experience will color their thoughts, their decisions, their propositions, their counsels. The evidences that God has given will be no evidence to those who have blinded their eyes by choosing darkness rather than light. After rejecting the light, they will originate theories which they will call “light,” but which the Lord calls sparks of their own kindling, by which they will direct their steps.
By many the words which the Lord sent will be rejected, and the words that man may speak will be received as light and truth. Jesus says, “I am come in My Father’s name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.” Human wisdom will lead away from self-denial, from consecration, and will devise many things that tend to make of no effect God’s messages. We cannot with any safety rely on men who are not in close connection with God. They will accept the opinions of men, but cannot discern the voice of the True Shepherd, and their influence will lead many astray (RH, December 13, 1892).
After the 1893 session, Ellen White saw before us impending evils of deception that were unprecedented:
“Discernment seems to have departed, and [many] have no power to discriminate between the light which God sends them and the darkness that comes from the enemy of their souls” (RH August 7, 1894).
Some in the 1888 era wanted to advance with Christ into the larger spiritual joy of finishing the gospel commission. But the general body (of leaders especially) were not ready. Contrary to Calvinist predeterminism, the Lord had to alter His purpose and remain with His people. If they would not keep step with Him, He must at least keep step with them.
This was an irksome trial to the few who were of more ardent temperament than the most. They had to be urged “not to rush on before the Master, but to follow where He leads the way” (TM 228; 1894).1 Until her death, Ellen White stayed with the church even though it had not followed the Lord’s leading, just as Moses stayed with Israel after Kadesh-Barnea.
She gave good counsel and a good example even for today. Human critics are not as patient as the Lord is. The long delay is an experiment, not for the Lord’s sake, but for the sake of the church. Why does God permit apostasy to come within His church? Israel’s history casts an alpenglow on ours:
Even in the church God has allowed men to test their own wisdom in this matter. … When unfaithful teachers came among the people, weakness followed, and the faith of God’s people seemed to wane; but God arose and purged His floor, and the tried and true were lifted up.
There are times when apostasy comes into the ranks, when piety is left out of the heart by those who should have kept step with their divine Leader. … But God sends the Comforter as a reprover of sin, that His people may be warned of their apostasy and rebuked for their backsliding (RH Dec. 15, 1891).
The end of the detour is good news. It will bring the church to a true sense of her condition and a genuine repentance, an experience which will be the greatest of its kind in all ages of history:
In the balances of the sanctuary, the Seventh-day Adventist church is to be weighed. … If the blessings conferred have not qualified her to do the work entrusted to her, on her will be pronounced the sentence, “Found wanting.” …
Unless the church, which is now being leavened with her own backsliding, shall repent and be converted, she will eat of the fruit of her own doing, until she shall abhor herself. When she resists the evil and chooses the good, when she seeks God with all humility, … she will be healed. She will appear in her God-given simplicity and purity, separate from earthly entanglements, showing that the truth has made her free indeed. Then her members will indeed be the chosen of God, His representatives. When this reformation begins, the spirit of prayer will actuate every believer, and will banish from the church the spirit of discord and strife. … All will be in harmony with the mind of Christ. (8T 250, 251; emphasis added.)
Off-shoot enthusiasts quote excerpts from this passage in an effort to prove that the church has been rejected by the Lord. In proper context, Ellen White is here predicting an experience of denominational repentance.
Some inspired statements apparently say “the whole church” will never repent and cooperate with Christ. Off-shoot promoters use these. But other statements say the opposite. Does Ellen White contradict herself?
The context resolves the apparent contradiction. Before the “shaking” takes place, “the whole church” will not be revived; after the shaking “the whole church” will come into line. Let us look at both sets of statements:
Are we hoping to see the whole church revived? That time will never come. There are persons in the church who are not converted, and who will not unite in earnest, prevailing prayer. We must enter upon the work individually (1SM 122;1887).
Shortly after she said this, the 1888 message brought a new vision and hope. Now she speaks more positively. Ellen White was encouraged by the new message:
When the latter rain is poured out, the church will be clothed with power for its work; but the church as a whole will never receive this until its members shall put away from them envy, evil surmisings, and evil speaking (RH October 6, 1896; emphasis added).
When the church awakes, … the members will have travail of soul for those who know not God. … God will work through a consecrated, self-denying church, and He will reveal his Spirit in a visible and glorious manner. …
When God’s people receive this Spirit, power will go forth from them. (1SM 116, 117; 1898; emphasis added).
When the reproach of indolence and slothfulness shall have been wiped away from the church, the Spirit of the Lord will be graciously manifested. … The earth will be lighted with the glory of the Lord.
Heavenly angels have long been waiting for human agents—the members of the church—to cooperate with them in the great work to be done (9T 46, 47; emphasis added).
In visions of the night representations passed before me of a great reformatory movement among God’s people. …A spirit of genuine conversion was manifest. … The world seemed to be lightened with the heavenly influence. …
Yet some refused to be converted … These covetous ones became separated from the company of believers (9T 126, emphasis added).
The Holy Spirit is to animate and pervade the whole church, purifying and cementing hearts. …
It is the purpose of God to glorify Himself in His people before the world (9T 20, 21).
Speaking of the time of repentance and reformation when the latter rain is received, the Lord’s servant predicts:
The fear of God, the sense of His goodness, His holiness, will circulate through every institution. An atmosphere of love and peace will pervade every department. Every word spoken, every work performed, will have an influence that corresponds to the influence of heaven. … Then the work will move forward with solidity and double strength. … The earth will be lightened with the glory of God, and it will be ours to witness the soon coming, in power and glory, of our Lord and Saviour (MM 184, 185; 1902).
An understanding of our own history will be necessary for attaining that goal. “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history” (LS 196). The honest in heart will see it, and be glad:
We must keep close to our great Leader, or we shall become bewildered, and lose sight of the Providence which presides over the church and the world, and over each individual. There will be profound mysteries in the divine dealings. We may lose the footsteps of God and follow our own bewilderment and say, “Thy judgments are not known;” but if the heart is loyal to God everything will be made plain.
There is a day about to burst upon us when God’s mysteries will be seen, and all His ways vindicated (TM 432, 433).
The melting, contrite heart that appreciates the cross of Christ was the focus of the 1888 message. Righteousness was by that kind of faith. But for many the arrogance of the proud human heart resisted this humility. Note how this self-sufficient pride is the soil in which later deception could take root. Without that non-faith pride, Satan’s most clever temptations would have been powerless. There was no earthly reason why the church had to be plagued by the “alpha” deceptions, except for this post-1888 pride:
We are amid the perils of the last days, when voices will be heard on every side, saying, “Here is Christ,” “Here is the truth;” while the burden of many is to unsettle the foundation of our faith which has led us from the churches and from the world. …
The truth for this time is precious, but those whose hearts have not been broken, by falling on the rock Christ Jesus, will not see and understand what is truth. They will accept that which pleases their ideas, and will begin to manufacture another foundation than that is laid. They will flatter their own vanity and esteem, thinking that they are capable of removing the pillars of our faith, and replacing them with pillars they have devised (Elmshaven Leaflets, The Church, No. 4; Ms. 28, 1890).
The opposition at Minneapolis wanted to “stand by the old landmarks.” Nothing would have pleased the enemy more than to see this people leave those landmarks.
But he has an army of termites who will take over a job when the dynamite crew have failed. Specious ideas long held, originating with the father of apostasy, could subtly undermine our understanding of truth. These termites cannot affect the pillars of truth, but they can eat their way into our faith and leave us with only an outward shell of the third angel’s message. It was not beyond Satan’s intelligence to try such a work after 1888, as the pantheism history demonstrates:
Those who are self-sufficient … will be found professedly working for God, but in reality giving their service to the prince of darkness. Because their eyes are not anointed with the heavenly eye-salve, their understanding will be blinded, and they will be ignorant of the wonderfully specious devices of the enemy. Their vision will be perverted through their dependence on human wisdom, which is foolishness in the sight of God (“Danger of Adopting Worldly Policy,” p. 4; 1890).
Developments were taking place underground, where those roots of 1888 prejudice had “never been eradicated, and … still bear their unholy fruit to poison the judgment, pervert the perceptions, and blind the understanding. … When, by thorough confession, you destroy the root of bitterness, you will see light in God’s light” (TM 467). But the “thorough confession” never came for most of the brethren. Cutting off the tops and leaving the roots intact was just the situation the enemy wanted:
Worldly policy is taking the place of true piety and wisdom that comes from above, and God will remove His prospering hand from the conference. Shall the ark of the covenant be removed from this people? Shall idols be smuggled in? Shall false principles and false precepts be brought into the sanctuary? Shall antichrist be respected? Shall the true doctrines and principles given us by God, which have made us what we are, be ignored? … This is directly where the enemy, through blinded, unconsecrated men, is leading us (Ms. 29, 1890).
In 1894 came a crescendo of warning, again exposing Satan’s astute cleverness:
Satan’s angels … will create that which some will claim to be advanced light, … new and wonderful things, and yet while in some respects the message is truth, it will be mingled with men’s inventions, and will teach for doctrines the commandments of men. … There may be supposable things that appear as good things, and yet they need to be carefully considered with much prayer, for they are specious devices of the enemy to lead souls in a path which lies so close to the path of truth that it will be scarcely distinguishable from the path which leads to holiness and heaven. But the eye of faith may discern that it is diverging from the right path, though almost imperceptibly. At first it may be thought positively right, but after a while it is seen to be widely divergent from the path of safety, from the path which leads to holiness and heaven (TM 229; 1894).
Even more pointed was the following:
Fanaticism will appear in the very midst of us. Deceptions will come, and of such a character that if it were possible they would mislead the very elect. If marked inconsistencies and untruthful utterances were apparent in these manifestations, the words from the lips of the Great Teacher would not be needed. …
The reason why I hang out the danger signal is, that through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit of God I can see that which my brethren do not discern (Letter 68, 1894).
The path of presumption lies close beside the path of faith. … If there is not careful, earnest, sensible work, solid as a rock in the advancement of every idea and principle, … souls will be ruined (Letter 6a, 1894).
In the same year, she wrote about the possibility of our schools becoming entangled in the meshes of Satan’s allurements. But again she expressed hope:
Our institutions of learning may swing into worldly conformity. Step by step they may advance to the world; but they are prisoners of hope, and God will correct and enlighten them, and bring them back to their upright position of distinction from the world (RH Jan. 9, 1894; FE 290).
The science-Christian synthesis popular in New England as early as 1895 may have swayed some of our educators and sown the particular seed of our pantheism heresy of the early 1900’s. For sure, pantheism is not implicit in the third angel’s message or in the beginning of the fourth angel’s message—it is something foreign that had to be imported:
Association with learned men is esteemed by some more highly than communion with the God of heaven. The statements of learned men are thought of more value than the highest wisdom revealed in the word of God…
The men who parade before the world as wonderful specimens of greatness … robe man with honor, and talk of the perfection of nature. They paint a very fine picture, but it is an illusion. … Those who present a doctrine contrary to that of the Bible, are led by the great Apostate. … With such a leader—an angel expelled from heaven—the supposedly great men of earth may fabricate bewitching theories with which to infatuate the minds of men (YI Feb. 7, 1895; HE 331, 332).
On the eve of the pantheism crisis, Ellen White sensed that portentious events were looming over us:
The right hand of fellowship is given to the very men who are bringing in false theories and false sentiments, confusing the minds of the people of God, deadening their sensibilities as to what constitutes right principles. … The light given, calling to repentance, has been extinguished in the clouds of unbelief and opposition brought in by human plans and human inventions (B-19 1/2, 1897).
Speaking to the General Conference session in 1899, Mrs. S. M. I. Henry also sensed some danger:
“As the sweetest things, when they turn sour, become the most offensive, so to turn against the greatest light and truth is to fall into the greatest darkness, and evil” (GCB, 1899, p. 174).
The same 1899 session beheld first-hand a tragic example of deception. One of our honored leaders on his way from Europe to attend the session in South Lancaster made friends on shipboard with a man who claimed to be a wealthy ship captain. A cunning entrepreneur, he professed to accept “the third angel’s message.” Our elder sincerely invited him to attend the forthcoming session at South Lancaster. “Captain Norman” proceeded to make a great hit with the delegates and local Adventists, including a young lady to whom he proposed marriage and who accepted.
An earnest appeal was made in the session for our people to pledge donations for the work of God. The record in the 1899 Bulletin lists $100 as the highest donation anyone had been able to pledge, with most pledges much lower, until “Captain Norman” “pledged” $5000—in those days an astronomical sum. Quickly the pledges stopped coming. Why should our poor people sacrifice so when our wonderful new convert promised fifty times more than the best that the most able of our people had been able to pledge? How pleased the Lord must be with His people to bless them so wonderfully with a wealthy new convert like Captain Norman!
The man turned out to be an agent of the devil, said Ellen White.2 (He disappeared with his fiancée’s life savings). But those who were thus deceived by an agent of the devil were also to be confused soon after by what Ellen White termed “doctrines of devils” in the “alpha” history.
The last decade of the nineteenth century was a time of darkness and confusion at the headquarters of our work. There was much outward progress which masked a spiritual destitution. Mervyn Maxwell describes the stark contrast between the 1888 message and the spiritual state of the church:
Leadership, laity, institutions, conferences, mission fields, and the church as a whole, were desperately in need of reformation. … [Ellen White said] there has been an “astonishing backsliding” with God’s people. The church is “frigid,” its first love frozen up. Leaders in Battle Creek have turned their backs to the Lord; many church members also have rejected His lordship and chosen Baal’s instead. Conference presidents are behaving like medieval bishops. … A “strange blindness” has come upon the General Conference president so that even he is acting contrary to the light. … “All heaven is indignant” (Tell It to the World, pp. 246, 247).
What was the real source of the spiritual difficulty? They had rejected the beginning of the latter rain and the loud cry. They had turned down the grandest eschatological opportunity any people had ever been offered.
1 It seems a strange quirk of fate that the foremost teacher of “alpha” heresy was Dr. J. H. Kellogg, who was truly converted at the Minneapolis conference according to Ellen White (GCB 1903, p. 86). W. W. Prescott, who for a time taught some aspects of the message, also taught pantheism in the early stages of the crisis. Even Waggoner erred in some of his expressions, giving his opponents occasion to accuse him of being a pantheist, although Ellen White did not fault him on that point. Some today mistakenly conclude that the evil of pantheism is implicit in the 1888 message.
Absolute accuracy is essential in expressing vital truth, for the track of error lies close to it. This was especially true of the message that was the beginning of the latter rain and the loud cry. The 1888 concepts emphasize how near to us the Saviour has come in His incarnation and in His ministry through the Holy Spirit. Determined and persistent opposition unsettled the messengers, creating an alienation of fellowship. Unnecessarily put on the defensive and deprived of wholesome brotherly correction, Waggoner strayed away from the fine line dividing precious truth from error. [return to text]
2 This incident was related to us by Elder S. A. Wellman in the winter of 1949-50. It can be confirmed by “Captain Norman’s” entry in the 1899 Bulletin. The lady who accepted his proposal lost her life savings. Fifty years after “Captain Norman” a similar incident occurred at Takoma Park headquarters when “Dr. Legge,” a cunning criminal, deceived some General Conference leaders with his pretended conversion, who likewise interpreted the “conversion” as the marvelous blessing of the Lord. [return to text]