Instead of refreshing showers of the latter rain preparing a people for the return of Christ, the turn of the century ushered in one of the gravest near-tragedies the church has met. Only the personal intervention of the humble messenger of the Lord saved the good ship from foundering as did the Titanic a few years later.
The “iceberg” was the subtle pantheism heresy promoted by some of the most highly respected leaders of Adventism who were as deaf to warnings of impending danger as was the captain of the ill-fated Cunard liner.
When it seemed to Ellen White that no one would do anything to resolve the crisis brought by Dr. Kellogg’s heretical teachings, she was given an inspired dream:
A vessel was upon the waters, in a heavy fog. Suddenly the lookout cried, “Iceberg just ahead!” There, towering high above the ship, was a gigantic iceberg. An authoritative voice cried out, “Meet it!” There was not a moment’s hesitation. It was a time for instant action. The engineer put on full steam, and the man at the wheel steered the ship straight into the iceberg. With a crash she struck the ice. There was a fearful shock, and the iceberg broke into many pieces, falling with a noise like thunder to the deck. The passengers were violently shaken by the force of the collision, but no lives were lost. The vessel was injured, but not beyond repair. She rebounded from the contact, trembling from stem to stem, like a living creature. Then she moved forward on her way (Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 2, pp. 55, 56).
The ship was the Seventh-day Adventist church. The authoritative “voice” was the testimony of Jesus. The ship was injured, but not beyond repair. In the aftermath of the collision three precious workers in the cause of God who were specially beloved of Ellen White made their exit—Jones, Waggoner, and Dr. Kellogg. Had the iceberg been seen sooner and the vessel steered around it, the church could have avoided this loss.
Several factors of this story deserve special attention:
(1) Many of our ministers and physicians could not discern the nature of the pantheistic crisis when it burst upon them. They were in a fog. Pantheistic sentiments were the “in” thing, the chic symbol of progressive theology. There was a bewitching beauty about them. The heady ideas enjoyed wide promotion, virtually without protest. “That those whom we have thought sound in the faith should have failed to discern the specious, deadly influence of this science of evil, should alarm us as nothing else has alarmed us” (ibid., Series B, No. 7, p. 37).
(2) Ellen White herself might not have recognized the subtle error without unusual discernment. Nevertheless, she hoped that her brethren and sisters would also be in close touch with the Holy Spirit so as to be able to discern it:
This is a time when Satan’s deceptive power is exercised, not only upon the minds of those who are young and inexperienced, but upon the minds of men and women of mature years and of broad experience. Men in positions of responsibility are in danger of changing leaders (ibid., Series B, No. 2, p. 48; 1904).
I heard a voice saying, “Where are the watchmen that ought to be standing on the walls of Zion? Are they asleep? This foundation was built by the Master Worker, and will stand storm and tempest. Will they permit this man [Kellogg] to present doctrines that deny the past experience of the people of God? The time has come to take decided action” (ibid., p. 54).
Actually, to be fair, history places more blame on the blindness of responsible watchmen on the walls of Zion who failed to discern the danger, than upon the misguided medical doctor who taught the heresy.1 We are forward in condemning him and we rejoice in the deliverance wrought by the gift of prophecy. But the lesson is disturbing: the repeated warnings given since 1888 had failed to arouse most of our people.
Thus the pantheism crisis reveals the entrenched nature of the post-Minneapolis unbelief in the readiness with which many fell for delusions about a decade later. Those who maintain there was repentance for the 1888 blindness find it difficult to explain the subsequent pantheism blindness.
(3) Unfortunately, the pantheism test could not be the final one. The repeated warnings concerning the 1888 reception should have enabled our brethren on their own to steer the good ship safely through the perilous pantheism waters. But a personal, emergency intervention of Ellen White became necessary, or the ship would have foundered.
Satan must therefore be allowed to try us again, this time when the living agent is no longer present. It must be a supreme test as to whether we have come to maturity or whether as children we still need the personal guidance of a governess. Thus we find that the pantheism crisis was only an “alpha, “ and an “omega” trial must follow. It may be closer now than we think:
Our people need to understand the reasons of our faith and our past experiences. How sad it is that so many of them apparently place unlimited confidence in men who present theories tending to uproot our past experiences and to remove the old landmarks! Those who can so easily be led by a false spirit show that they have been following the wrong captain for some time, so long that they do not discern that they are departing from the faith, or that they are not building upon the true foundation. …
Some of the sentiments now expressed are the alpha of some of the most fanatical ideas that could be presented. Teachings similar to those we had to meet soon after 1844 are being taught by some who occupy important positions in the work of God (Southern Watchman, April 5, 1904). “Living Temple” contains the alpha of these theories. I knew that the omega would follow in a little while, and I trembled for our people (Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 2, p. 53).
Be not deceived: many will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. We have now before us the alpha of this danger. The omega will be of a most startling nature (1SM 197; 1904).
The omega will follow, and will be received by those who are not willing to heed the warning God has given (ibid., p. 200; Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 2, p. 50; 1904).
It is interesting that we do not find Ellen White expressing any warnings against The Glad Tidings by E. J. Waggoner. On April 11, 1901, he expressly denied that his ideas were pantheistic (GCB 1901, p. 223). Finehoned theology may uphold him in that claim. His sermons at the 1901 session were earnest and powerful. It was after this that Ellen White recommended that he be invited to teach at Berrien Springs, for his own as well as the good of the students. He needed closer fellowship with capable brethren than he had known when virtually alone in Britain.
In the January 29, 1982 issue of The Criterion (LLU), Dr. Jack Provonsha says of Kellogg, whose pantheism was far more pronounced than Waggoner’s: “In terms of the technical meaning of pantheism, [Kellogg] was not a pantheist.” But Kellogg was wrong in his concept of the nature of God. Ellen White apparently sympathized with Waggoner’s gospel motivation, and for that reason may have refrained from criticizing him. She discerned that Kellogg’s direction was to destroy the church’s spiritual foundation.
This crisis was permitted as a test and trial to our faith and an object lesson to a future generation:
God has permitted the presentation of the combination of good and evil in “Living Temple” to be made to reveal the danger threatening us. The working that has been so ingeniously carried on He has permitted in order that certain developments might be made, and that it might be seen what a man can do. … God has permitted the present crisis to open the eyes of those who desire to know the truth. He would have His people understand to what lengths the sophistry and devising of the enemy would lead (ibid., No. 7, p. 36).
Thus the “Living Temple” crisis could not mark the end of Satan’s efforts to mislead, captivate, confuse, and bewilder the Advent people. The danger from subtle, inward apostasy in our midst is still present, more so than ever before: “One thing is soon to be realized—the great apostasy, which is developing and increasing and waxing stronger and will continue to do so until the Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout” (ibid., pp. 56, 57).
(4) The popular presentations of post-1888 history as a grand victory cancel the object lesson inherent in the Kellogg apostasy. That which God allowed to “reveal the danger threatening us” that we might understand “to what lengths the sophistry and devising of the enemy would lead” is portrayed as a victory for the wisdom of men and evidence of God’s indulgent, approving care. The point of the experience is buried by saying that the “omega” was an event past and gone long ago:
There were two phases to the struggle—first, the pantheistic errors, second, the question of ownership and control. The Spirit of Prophecy called them the Alpha and Omega of the issues. Pantheism, the “doctrines of devils,” is called the Alpha, and Omega was said to be events [sic] “of a most startling nature.”
Some have claimed that the term Omega refers to some great future difficulty or apostasy and have at times made a mistaken application of it to this or that branch of denominational work. … In past years the understanding of those terms was that Alpha was the errors mentioned above and Omega the breakaway and rebellion that robbed our church of its oldest health institution. That was indeed a startling thing that few expected. In the long run, however, only a few of our members left us (L. H. Christian, The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, p. 292).
If it is true that the loss of the Battle Creek Sanitarium was the omega, we may rest assured that the greatest trials and dangers to the Advent movement took place eighty years ago. With the alphabet of Satan’s gamut of specious temptations already exhausted in the dim past, we have nothing to prepare for in the future.2
In a recent Spectrum, Vol. 12, No. 2, Dr. Robert Johnston revives Christian’s idea, citing D. E. Robinson as support. However he gives no Ellen White evidence for this view She never at any time in the near decade afterward intimated that the loss of the Battle Creek institution was the omega. Never does she say that it is “events.” Johnston weakens his case by conceding that alpha and omega are “parts of a simple and direct continuum.” If so, the latter must be of the same nature as the former—not “events” but “doctrines of devils” cleverly masquerading as supposed truth.
The idea of the omega being an “event” of the past seems contrary to Ellen White’s declarations:
(1) She said “many will depart from the faith” in that experience. But Christian says “only a few of our members left us” when we lost the Battle Creek Sanitarium.
(2) She said that the omega would be a “danger, “ the end of an alphabet of deadly heresies and doctrines of devils. Being of the same alphabet, it must therefore be heresies and evil doctrines, only more acute, more subtle, and more specious as omega ultimately follows alpha. How could the physical loss of an institution fulfill the prophecy?
(3) When the omega should come, she said, “I trembled for our people.” But the large Sanitarium was rebuilt at the express disapproval of Ellen White; why would she “tremble for our people” at the prospect of losing that which had become only a snare to them and should never have been rebuilt on such a large scale?
(4) The alphabet symbolism requires a development of apostasy and confusion within the church. The alpha is represented as follows in her writings; the omega must necessarily be of the same nature:
Apostasy, wrong principles, brilliant sparkling ideas, theories and sophistries that undermine the foundation principles of the faith, perversion of truth, fanciful and spiritualistic interpretations of the Scriptures, deceivableness of unrighteousness, seeds of discord, of unbelief, of infidelity … sown broadcast, insidious fallacies, sentiments of the enemy, falsehood and pleasing fables, infidelity and skepticism, a multitude of deceptions, a yoke of human manufacture, cunningly devised fables, a lie (these are verbatim expressions taken from Special Testimonies, Series B., Nos. 2 and 7, concerning the alpha).
The great controversy between Christ and Satan still goes on. We have now come to “the future” that is spoken of here:
In the future, truth will be counterfeited by the precepts of men. Deceptive theories will be presented as safe doctrines. False science is one of the agencies that Satan used in the heavenly courts. …
Do not present theories or tests that have no foundation in the Bible. … “It is written” is the test that must be brought home to everyone (RH January 21, 1904; Ev 600, 601).
By now, our enemy must have acquired consummate skill. It is disturbing to note Dr. Kellogg’s sincerity when he said he thought he was teaching the same things Ellen White taught. This is why many of our brethren were caught unawares:
The track of truth lies close beside the track of error, and both tracks may seem to be one to minds which are not worked by the Holy Spirit, and which therefore are not quick to discern the difference between truth and error. …
Those in favor of giving [The Living Temple] a wide circulation declared: “It contains the very sentiments that Sister White has been teaching.” This assertion struck right to my heart. I felt heartbroken. …
There may be in my writings many statements which, taken from their connection, and interpreted according to the mind of the writer of “Living Temple,” would seem to be in harmony with the teachings of this book. This may give apparent support to the assertion that the sentiments in “Living Temple” are in harmony with my writings (Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 2, pp. 7, 52, 53; cf. Ellen White’s statements that appear to come close to pantheism in 8T 255-261. There is no pantheism there, but an undiscerning reader might think it is there).
Whenever the omega does appear, it will very likely claim the support of the Spirit of Prophecy, and “many” undiscerning minds will agree. And it is also possible that some prominent, influential leaders will foster the deception. True Christlikeness of character will lead those in union with Christ to protest. When self is crucified with Christ a holy boldness is possible:
When men standing in the position of leaders and teachers work under the power of spiritualistic ideas and sophistries, shall we keep silent, for fear of injuring their influence, while souls are being beguiled? … Will the men in our institutions keep silent, allowing insidious fallacies to be promulgated, to the ruin of souls? (ibid., pp. 9, 13, 14).
Ellen White at last regarded the omega trials as an experience to come after her death:
I am charged to tell our people that some do not realize that the devil has device after device and he carries these out in ways that they do not expect. Satan’s agencies will invent ways to make sinners out of saints. I tell you now, that when I am laid to rest, great changes will take place. I do not know when I shall be taken, but I desire to warn all against the devices of the devil. … They should watch every conceivable sin that Satan will try to immortalize (Letter, Elmshaven, February 24, 1915).
Genuine truth is always good news. Ellen White would pray, according to those who sometimes heard her, “Lord, show me the worst of my case.” It’s also a healthy prayer for us to pray, “Lord, show us the truth of our history, the truth of our present spiritual state.” The truth of our past history gives incalculable hope and confidence for the future, if we will but recognize it for what it is.
The remnant church, enfeebled and defective as she is, is still the supreme object of the Lord’s regard. Recognizing our sinfulness, our hope is in God’s mercy and unchanging love. The long detour of wandering which we brought upon ourselves must lead in the fulness of the time to the Christ whom we spurned in our 1888 era. In self-abhorrence and repentance, we shall find Him. There will be no self-vindication in the process.
On the other hand, God’s hope lies in our honesty of heart. He is Himself on trial in us, before the universe. He has staked His throne on the honesty of His people. We find this refreshing Christ-centered appeal in the 1893 General Conference Bulletin:
“Something great and decisive is to take place, and that right early. If any delay, the character of God and His throne will be compromised.”
Is it possible that we are about to risk the honor of God’s throne? Brethren, for the Lord’s sake, and for His throne’s sake, let us get out of the way. (A. T. Jones, quoting Ellen White, p. 73; Ellen White in turn borrowed this thought from The Great Teacher by John Harris, 1836).
Could any other kind of loud cry than that which would follow our repentance lighten the earth with glory?
1 Ellen White wanted to help Kellogg and believed it possible to do so. He was “the Lord’s physician,” and had been soundly converted at the Minneapolis meeting, she said (GCB, 1903, p. 86). Kellogg said: “I would have been glad to have had some good friendly criticism given in a way that I could understand it before the book [The Living Temple] was out” (Letter to W. C. White, Dec. 24, 1903). Ministerial opposition both to the 1888 message and to the health message had discouraged him (cf. EGW Letter K-18, 1892; K-86a, 1893). Kellogg said of his youth: “When I saw the health principles, they looked so beautiful and consistent to me that I at once accepted them. Then I had such a struggle in contending for these principles that I did not love any one who did not love the principles. Some of the worst conflicts the health work has received have been from the ministers at our General Conferences. It was a great trial to our helpers at the sanitarium to have the ministers of the General Conference come to our tables, and ask the helpers, who had not tasted meat for a long time, to bring them in some stewed chicken or beefsteak. We got so that we dreaded to have a General Conference come there. … Finally I got so I dreaded to see the ministers. I was suspicious of them; for I did not know whether I could trust them or not. … I feel now that I can trust you, and have full confidence in you” (GCB 1903, p. 83). He later lost much of that confidence. The twin evils of continued ministerial indifference both to health reform and the 1888 message had much to do with Kellogg losing his way. The spiritual ferment in Battle Creek caused by heart opposition to the message could not provide nurture for Kellogg’s soul. [return to text]
2 Ever since the 1920’s attempts have been made to label this or that new or false doctrine the “omega.” Some in our day have seen it in the Reformationist “new theology” movement. Each generation has had to face a more sophisticated delusion. No one can say with certainty whether we have as yet seen the end, the Z, of Satan’s alphabet of deceptions. However, we may be in the X or the Y stage. [return to text]