Charge: Mrs. White speaks of all the churches in the most scathing language. She declares that God has forsaken them. This is uncharitable, un-Christian, for even if there are defects in the churches, they contain many devout souls. What makes her harsh charges against the churches even more unreasonable is that this denunciation of them was precipitated by their refusal to accept the false Adventist preaching that Christ would come to earth in 1844.
As an introduction to our answer let us quote at length from the passage in Mrs. White's writings from which a small portion is presented by critics in proof of this charge:
I saw the state of the different churches since the second angel proclaimed their fall. They have been growing more and more corrupt; yet they bear the name of being Christ's followers. It is impossible to distinguish them from the world. Their ministers take their text from the Word, but preach smooth things. The natural heart feels no objection to this. It is only the spirit and power of the truth, and the salvation of Christ, that is hateful to the carnal heart. There is nothing in the popular ministry that stirs the wrath of Satan, makes the sinner tremble, or applies to the heart and conscience the fearful realities of a judgment soon to come. Wicked men are generally pleased with a form without true godliness, and they will aid and support such a religion. Said the angel, Nothing less than the whole armor of righteousness can overcome, and retain the victory over the powers of darkness. Satan has taken full possession of the churches as a body. The sayings and doings of men are dwelt upon instead of the plain cutting truths of the word of God .
I saw that since Jesus had left the Holy place of the heavenly Sanctuary, and had entered within the second vail, the churches were left as were the Jews; and they have been filling up with every unclean and hateful bird. I saw great iniquity and vileness in the churches; yet they profess to be christians. Their profession, their prayers and their exhortations, are an abomination in the sight of God. Said the angel, God will not smell in their assemblies. [Cf. Gen. 8:21 and Amos 5:21.] Selfishness, fraud and deceit are practiced by them without the reprovings of conscience. And over all these evil traits they
throw the cloak of religion. I was shown the pride of the nominal churches. God was not in their thoughts; but their carnal minds dwell upon themselves. They decorate their poor mortal bodies, and then look upon themselves with satisfaction and pleasure. Jesus and the angels looked upon them in anger. Said the angel, Their sins and pride have reached unto heaven. Their portion is prepared. Justice and judgment have slumbered long, but will soon awake. Vengeance is mine, and I will repay, saith the Lord. The fearful threatenings of the third angel are to be realized, and they will drink the wrath of God. An innumerable host of evil angels are spreading themselves over the whole land. The churches and religious bodies are crowded with them. And they look upon the religious bodies with exultation; for the cloak of religion covers the greatest crimes and iniquity.
All heaven beholds with indignation, human beings, the workmanship of God, reduced to the lowest depths of degradation, and placed on a level with the brute creation by their fellow men. And professed followers of that dear Saviour whose compassion was ever moved as he witnessed human woe, heartily engage in this enormous and grievous sin, and deal in slaves and souls of men. Angels have recorded it all. It is written in the book. The tears of the pious bond-men and bond-women, of fathers, mothers and children, brothers and sisters, are all bottled up in heaven. Agony, human agony, is carried from place to place, and bought and sold. God will restrain his anger but a little longer. His anger burns against this nation, and especially against the religious bodies who have sanctioned, and have themselves engaged in this terrible merchandise. Such injustice, such oppression, such sufferings, many professed followers of the meek and lowly Jesus can witness with heartless indifference. And many of them can inflict with hateful satisfaction, all this indescribable agony themselves, and yet dare to worship God. It is solemn mockery, and Satan exults over it, and reproaches Jesus and his angels with such inconsistency, saying with hellish triumph, Such are Christ's followers! Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, pp. 189-192. (See also Early Writings, pp. 273-275.)
This statement by Mrs. White from Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, is representative of several declarations that she made in the days immediately following 1844 regarding the state of the Churches. Mrs. White sets forth as perhaps her most striking proof of the deplorable state of the churches the fact that many church members, including ministers, kept slaves. But that fact is not revealed in the charge.
If the reader has scanned the literature of the critics, he will notice that they also quote briefly from Mrs. White's words in an earlier chapter in this same volume of Spiritual Gifts. They give
her words on page 172 in which she speaks of the church members who are ensnared by Satan, after their rejection of the first and second angels' messages. Then they indicate that there is a break in their quotation, and follow immediately with these further words from page 172: The churches were elated, and considered that God was marvelously working for them, when it was another spirit. It will die away and leave the world and the church in a worse condition than before.
Now, what is the part in between that has been left out? Here are the missing sentences:
Some he [Satan] deceives in one way and some in another. He has different delusions prepared to affect different minds. Some look with horror upon one deception, while they readily receive another. Satan deceives some with Spiritualism. He also comes as an angel of light, and spreads his influence over the land.
With these quotations and omissions before us let us now review briefly certain facts regarding the beginnings of the Advent movement found in chapter 13, to place Mrs. White's strong words in their historical setting. The movement began to take definite shape in the United States about the year 1840, under the preaching of William Miller and a rapidly increasing number of ministers and lay preachers of various religious bodies. Contrary to popular misconception and caricature, the essence of this preaching was not a definite time for the Lord's return, though the time element did color it increasingly toward the last. Its essence was this: first and most prominently, a revival of the doctrine of the personal, literal coming of Christ to bring a sudden end to this present evil world, to destroy the wicked and save the righteous, and thus bring in that better world for which Christians have ever prayed. This preaching was in direct conflict with the popular teaching in virtually all Christendom that the world was to be gradually changed to righteousness by a spiritual coming of Christ, that is, a coming of His Spirit in increased measure to this earth to convert all hearts and thus surely, though slowly, to usher in an earthly millennium. The Adventists, under Miller, declared that such teaching was a denial of the most primary of
Bible doctrines, a doctrine which the holy apostles and the early church all believed and preached, and which the Protestant Reformers revived after long years of papal darkness. Unquestionably, the Adventists in the 1840's were right in declaring that the popular teaching at that time was a denial of the apostolic teaching on the Second Advent of Christ.
The Adventists (Millerites) in the early 1840's did not set out to establish a new church. The ministers of the movement were from numerous churches. For a time these ministers were invited to fill many pulpits. But soon something most disturbing developed. Those who took hold of the truth that Christ would soon come in glory, majesty, and might, found new spiritual life stirring within them. Every man that hath this hope in him [the hope of Christ's personal coming] purifieth himself, even as he [Christ] is pure. I John 3:3. Thus testified the apostle John. These Adventist believers became too fervent for their rather staid churches. They were made to feel distinctly uncomfortable. Ministers in various churches began to preach with increasing vigor and volume against this disturbing Adventist movement. It was too potent a leaven in the lump of Christendom.
And let it be kept clearly in mind, the essence of that anti-Adventist preaching was not a challenging of the time element of Adventist preaching but a challenging of the Adventist belief as to what event impended. As we look back on it now we can clearly see that the Adventist preaching was a presentation of a sudden supernatural solution of the world's woes; the popular preaching, a presentation of a naturalistic, slow-development solution of its ills.
The most libelous, scurrilous attacks began to be made upon Adventist preachers and lecturers, and most vindictive were the ministers of leading churches. All this is clear from the record. It was churchmen who gave widest circulation to wild stories that the Adventists were planning silly ascension robes for the day of the expected advent, and that their preaching was filling
the asylums with men and women made mad with the Adventist doctrine. The attacks were so outrageous that the editor of the infidel paper the Investigator took the popular ministry to task for their libelous assaults on the Adventist preachers.
The result was that by the end of 1843 Adventist ministers began to apply to the churches the prophetic words of John, Babylon is fallen, and to invoke the command that accompanies this declaration, Come out of her, my people. (See Rev. 14:8; 18:1-4.) They rightly reasoned that Babylon refers to religious bodies, and that the message of its fall is sounded by the angel that follows immediately the one who announces that the hour of God's judgment is come.
And as they preached these prophetic words regarding Babylon's fall, they focused, not so much on the failure of the churches to believe that Christ would come in 1844, as on their outright denial of the doctrine of the premillennial, personal, literal coming of Christ, and their ridicule of it. This too is clear from the record.
They noted also the cold formalism that passed for Christianity and the doctrinal heresies that were fast eating out the foundations of many New England churches.
Naturally, as the Adventist ministers explored more fully the words, Babylon is fallen, they began to see those words in relation to the fact that many thousands of church members, and not infrequently ministers, held slaves.* To the Adventist ministers, who were largely abolitionists, slavery was a heinous sin. They cogently argued that slaveholding and the personal coming of Christ were ideas that no one wished to entertain at the same time. This fact of slavery provided an additional text for their preaching: Come out of her, my people. Rightly could they call attention to the fact, for fact it was, that many who lived in Northern States were
* In the Review and Herald of September 6, 1864, is found this news note: Ministers and members of the Methodist Church South and North, owned 219,000 slaves; the Baptists do [ditto] 125,000; the Reformed Baptists 101,000; the Presbyterians, old and new school, 77,000; the Episcopalians 88,500; all other denominations 55,000,the Congregationalist and Advent Churches are as bodies free. Total, 600,000.Sel.Page 120.
far from having any crusading conviction against slavery. About half of the chapter in Spiritual Gilts, from which the passage under fire is quoted, is an indictment of slaveholding church members.
In 1848 began those mysterious rappings in Hydesville, New York, that marked the birth of modern Spiritism. Spiritism attracted numbers who were church members, and the supernatural powers that attended this evil thing seemed to them an evidence of the power of God. Of these Mrs. White spoke in the quotation cited too briefly by the critics.
The appearance of Spiritism among some of the churches only sharpened the vigorous preaching, Come out of her, my people, that had begun a few years earlier. This preaching, Seventh-day Adventists continue to the present day. If there is any difference, it is in the definiteness of it today. We believe the evidence is clearer now than ever it was in the 1840's, that Babylon is fallen. True, slavery has been abolished in the United States, but what other developments have taken place? The answer, briefly, is this:
Darwin's evolution theory, first announced in 1859, and quickly accepted by most of the scientific world, began, erelong, to capture the Christian ministry. Inevitably associated with this theory was the whole philosophy of antisupernaturalism. Darwin's theory had no room for miracles, no room for the creation, as Moses recorded it, and hence no room for the fall of man. But if there was no fall of man, then the Biblical idea of sin disappears. If man is gradually evolving upward and always has been, there is obviously not only no place for a fall, there is no need for Christ to offer His life for sin that He might thereby lift men up.
By the early part of the twentieth century the evolution theory, with all that it implied, had so captured theological seminaries and church leaders that it produced on the part of orthodox ministers a countermovement known as Fundamentalism. But this countermovement only served to highlight the apostasy and to reveal its true dimensions. Fundamentalism has fought a losing battle in all the larger denominations. For a third of a century, at least, various
Fundamentalist ministers have spoken out against what they describe as apostasy in the churches, and in language that is as powerful as anything that Mrs. White ever wrote. What is more, there has been heard from the lips of Fundamentalist preachers the very words of Scripture used as the text by Mrs. White in her denunciation of the churches: Babylon is fallen, and Come out of her, my people.
In view of their expressed devotion to the Bible, in the orthodox meaning of those words, Mrs. White's critics must surely have read and approved the general position and declarations of the Fundamentalist leaders regarding the apostasy in Christendom. We wonder whether they would be willing to tell us in what way Mrs. White's scathing description of the churches is more vigorous or more devastating? They will probably answer that the difference is this: Fundamentalist preachers are speaking of a condition in the twentieth century, when a certain well-defined apostasy actually exists, and Mrs. White was denouncing the churches in the middle of the nineteenth century, when that condition did not exist.
But we reply: Does apostasy any more truly exist in the churches today than slavery did at the time Mrs. White wrote the passage before us? And is holding slaves any less heinous than holding such a doctrine as evolution? Or is belief in Spiritism, the doctrine of devils, less properly the occasion for denunciation than belief in evolution?
Quite apart from these points, however, and viewing Mrs. White's words in the long perspective of a century, it is all to the credit of her claim to inspiration that she wrote as she did regarding the advancing apostasy that would mark Christendom.
She saw what others did not see till long afterward, when apostasy was rather suddenly discovered to be entrenched in the Christian church. She saw that the churches, by their very belief in gradual world reform, in opposition to the premillennial, supernatural coming of Christ, were really conditioning themselves to accept the Darwinian evolution theory that the world and man are slowly progressing upward. The only views entertained in the Christian church as to a solution of the tragedy of a sinful
world are: (1) the second coming of Christ suddenly to bring in righteousness, and (2) the gradual progress of man toward perfection. The evolution theory fitted beautifully into the latter view, and subtly became the scientific demonstration, so men thought, of the truth of that view. But as evolution came more and more into the thinking of churchmen it increasingly became the explanation for the progress that the world was supposed to be making toward an earthly millennium. Which is another way of saying that modern churchmen almost unconsciously drifted ever nearer to a plainly secular conception of world betterment.
It is right here we would remind the Fundamentalists that there is nothing they make more clear in their preaching than that the doctrine of the literal, personal coming of Christ is a touchstone of orthodoxy and a great dividing line between them and all Modernists. And that, of course, is the doctrine that distinguished the Adventists in mid-nineteenth century, when Mrs. White wrote those passages about the churches, which we are considering. The Fundamentalists could have gone a step further in their discussion of what constitutes a touchstoneand God grant they will erelong and said that the seventh-day Sabbath is a touchstone of orthodoxy and a dividing line between those who stand on the foundation of the Mosaic creation, with all that that implies of Bible doctrine, and those who stand on the evolution theory, with all that that implies. No one can conscientiously keep the seventh-day Sabbath, a memorial of the fact that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and harbor any thought of evolution.
It is interesting that Mrs. White did not say that the fall of Babylon was completed in 1844. When she wrote on the subject of the fall of Babylon in 1858 she spoke of it as progressive.* When she wrote in 1888 she still spoke of it as progressive. Here are her words:
The message of the second angel did not reach its complete fulfilment in 1844. The churches then experienced a moral fall, in consequence of their refusal of the light of the advent message [the doctrine of the premillennial
* See Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, pp. 189-193, published in 1858, where is found essentially the same text as in Early Writings, pp. 273-276.
literal, personal coming of Christ]; but that fall was not complete. As they have continued to reject the special truths for this time [for example, and most strikingly, the truth of the seventh-day Sabbath], they have fallen lower and lower.The Great Controversy, p. 389.
But someone may ask: Does not Mrs. White paint a picture of the Christian world in such a way as to make it appear that the only people of God are Seventh-day Adventists and that everyone else is under the irrevocable judgment of God?
Such an interpretation of her teaching on the fall of Babylon, or the second angel's message, is unwarranted. Mrs. White teaches what the Bible teaches on this doctrine. Because Babylon is fallen an angel proclaims: Come out of her, my people. Rev. 18:4. The Bible thus declares that God's people, at least a portion of them, are found in Babylon. And that is what Mrs. White teaches. Listen to her words:
Notwithstanding the spiritual darkness and alienation from God that exist in the churches which constitute Babylon, the great body of Christ's true followers are still to be found in their communion.The Great Controversy, p. 390.
The fact that she wrote in scathing, thunderous tones in the passage quoted from Spiritual Gifts at the beginning of this chapter, does not require us to conclude that she believed that God had utterly rejected all within the churches. In Spiritual Gifts, volume I, we read these words:
I saw that since JESUS had left the Holy place of the heavenly Sanctuary, and had entered within the second vail, the churches were left as were the Jews; and they have been filling up with every unclean and hateful bird.Page 190.
Mrs. White here refers, most evidently, to Christ's statement over Jerusalem, in which He declared:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. Matt. 23:37, 38.
But to whom were the apostles first sent, by Christ's command, after His ascension? To fellow Jews in Jerusalem! And thousands of Jews were converted, including a great company of the priests.
We should remember that some of Mrs. White's most specific and denunciatory declarations should be viewed in their historical context. True, she declares that apostasy increases with the years, but certain of her powerful statements concerning those who had turned from the truth of God, and brought upon themselves Heaven's condemnation, can rightly be applied only as we think of the events of the 1840's. We must remember in this connection the facts that came to light in our study of the shut-door charge, that some of Mrs. White's declarations there discussed can be understood as applying, not to all professed Christians for all time to come, but rather to a class living at a particular time who had related themselves in a hostile way to truth.
There is nothing in Mrs. White's later writings that warrants the conclusion that she views all the ministers and members of other churches as past hope, and beyond the pale of God's love and grace. Rather, she considers them as potential subjects of God's kingdom which is to be set up at Christ's second coming. She views the Advent movement, not as another church, competing with already established churches for membership, but as God's last call to all the world to rise to higher spiritual levels, to accept further light, in order to be ready for the great day of God. Take these words from her pen:
It should ever be manifest that we are reformers, but not bigots. When our laborers enter a new field, they should seek to become acquainted with the pastors of the several churches in the place. Much has been lost by neglecting to do this. If our ministers show themselves friendly and sociable, and do not act as if they were ashamed of the message they bear, it will have an excellent effect, and may give these pastors and their congregations favorable impressions of the truth. At any rate, it is right to give them a chance to be kind and favorable if they will.
Our laborers should be very careful not to give the impression that they are wolves stealing in to get the sheep, but should let the ministers understand
their position and the object of their mission,to call the attention of the people to the truths of God's Word. There are many of these which are dear to all Christians. Here is common ground, upon which we can meet people of other denominations.Review and Herald, June 13, 1912, p. 3.
When we read this passage and like ones from Mrs. White, that speak of the great company of God's faithful children to be found in all the churches, we are able to see what was her true attitude toward the membership of all churches. Any seeming lack of harmony between these statements and the ones which seem to teach a contrary view, can be removed by placing the latter in their historical context.*
* For documentary proof as to the attitude of the churches toward the Adventists in the 1840's, and for the time element in their preaching, see the author's The Midnight Cry. For an extended discussion of the doctrine of Babylon's fall, see the author's Reasons for Our Faith, pp. 145-225.