Chapter 20

Stewardship, Government Relations, and Humanitarian Involvement

[Return to the Table of Contents]
[Return to the Homepage]

The Church’s Changed Policy Towards Government Aid
Steamy Crisis
Six Basic Principles Reflected in Letter From Ellen White
Champion of Christian Unity
Promoter for Helping the Disadvantaged
Removing Prejudice
Study Questions

“We need not sacrifice one principle of truth while taking advantage of every opportunity to advance the cause of God.”1

A pressing question during the 1850s was how to support the ministry. Ministers with families had a most difficult challenge when they had to rely on the liberality of believers, especially when few church groups were organized. Many could preach only on a part-time basis. The Whites sold Bibles and other books to supplement the little income they received from friends. Furthermore, the barter system often prevailed, for money was scarce, especially in a largely agrarian society.

In late 1858 Ellen White told her husband that the Lord had shown her that J. N. Andrews should come to Battle Creek, hold a Bible class, and in the study they would develop a Biblical plan for sustaining the ministry. In that Bible class held in January 1859, the leaders agreed that the tithing system is still binding, and they suggested calling the program, “Systematic Benevolence on the tithing principle.” On January 29 the Battle Creek congregation voted unanimously to adopt the program and publish the plan in the Review and Herald. The example of the Battle Creek church set the pace for other churches to follow.2

By June Mrs. White was writing that “the plan of systematic benevolence is pleasing to God.”3 In the early days of implementation, the “plan” did not separate tithes from offerings and all was devoted to supporting the ministry. In January 1861 Mrs. White wrote a candid message that more clearly defined the tithing principle, applying Malachi 3:8-11 to present-day obligations to the Lord. She delineated how the tithing principle was fair to all, the poor as well as to the wealthy, and that “in the arrangement of systematic benevolence, hearts will be tested and proved. . . . Here is a test for the naturally selfish and covetous.”4

Ellen White said often that the “tithe is sacred, reserved by God for Himself. It is to be brought into His treasury to be used to sustain the gospel laborers in their work.”5 Gospel laborers are defined as ministers and Bible instructors, Bible teachers in our educational institutions, minister-physicians, retired gospel workers, and workers in needy mission fields in North America and abroad.6 God has blessed the tithing system. Tithe alone for the members of the North American Division for 1996 amounted to $507,406,823.7

The Church’s Changed Policy Towards Government Aid

[Top of Document]

As was true in other matters, the intervention of Ellen White changed the course of Seventh-day Adventist policy in regard to the church’s relationship to government aid. In fact, her counsel reversed an action taken by the General Conference session in 1895.

In late 1893 A. T. Robinson, the church’s leader in establishing new work in South Africa, approached Cecil Rhodes who was both Premier of the Cape Colony and head of the British South Africa Company. At that time, the Company was offering large grants to various mission bodies to cultivate the land and educate the nationals. Robinson needed land and Rhodes was the only person who could provide it. In reply, Rhodes wrote a sealed letter to his representative in Bulawayo, instructing him to give the Adventists all the land they needed.

A 12,000-acre tract was selected and became the site of Solusi College, the first Seventh-day Adventist educational institution among non-Christian people. The small group of Adventists in South Africa regarded this event as clear providential intervention.

But this gift of land was not viewed with rejoicing in Battle Creek. Religious liberty leaders, including A. T. Jones, declared the transaction to be a blatant violation of the principle of separation of church and state. They rushed into battle, often with injudicious words.

Steamy Crisis

[Top of Document]

The issue came to a steamy head at the 1895 General Conference session. In fact, two so-called religious liberty items were on the agenda: (1) the South Africa land grant and (2) tax exemption on church property. The session voted to refuse tax exemption for American churches and to instruct South African leaders that the church must pay for any land provided.

Experienced leader Stephen Haskell was in South Africa at the time the General Conference decision arrived. Immediately he sent off letters of protest to the president of the General Conference and to W. C. White, Ellen White’s son. Mrs. White wrote back a fourteen-page letter, sending copies to leading workers in Battle Creek, in which she strongly protested those two General Conference actions.

Six Basic Principles Reflected in Letter From Ellen White

[Top of Document]

The portion of her letter that dealt especially with accepting government aid, about three and one-half typewritten pages, was later published in Testimonies to Ministers.8 In it six basic principles9 are reflected:

· Denominational decisions must be based on “correct principles.” “Let these men [Religious Liberty leaders] read the book of Nehemiah with humble hearts touched by the Holy Spirit, and their false ideas will be modified, and correct principles will be seen, and the present order of things will be changed.”10

· Applying these “principles” should be done by leaders nearest to the problem. “Let the Lord work with the men who are on the ground, and let those who are not on the ground walk humbly with God, lest they get out of their place, and lose their bearings.”11

· “True principles” must be differentiated from false principles. Although Ellen White strongly advocated the principle of religious liberty, she never used the phrase “separation of church and state.” She urged church leaders not to “build up a wall of separation between themselves and the world, by advancing their own ideas and notions.”12 To not think clearly would “move . . . workers to make them take a course which will bring on the time of trouble before the time.” Wrong thinking would “cut off any favors” by withdrawing “from the help that God has moved men to give, for the advancement of His cause.”13

False principles do not originate with the Holy Spirit. In Old Testament times the Lord “moved upon heathen kings to come to [Nehemiah’s] help . . . which they so much needed.” Refusing government aid was “zeal . . . not according to knowledge.” In reference to Battle Creek leaders, Ellen White was clear: “The movement they have made to pay taxes on the property of the Sanitarium and Tabernacle have manifested a zeal and conscientiousness that in all respects is not wise nor correct. Their ideas of religious liberty are being woven with suggestions that do not come from the Holy Spirit, and the religious liberty cause is sickening.”14

· Correct concepts of stewardship undergird correct religious liberty principles. God “owns the world” and “has placed His goods in the hands of unbelievers, but they are to be used in favor of doing the works that must be done for a fallen world.”15

Throughout history God has moved “upon hearts of kings and rulers in behalf of His people.” He used Cyrus and Darius of Persia, to help Nehemiah. “Proper persons . . . [should] set before those who have means and influence, the needs of the work of God. . . . They should seek to bring the truth before the men in high places, and give them a fair chance to receive and weigh evidence. . . . What they would give we should be privileged to receive.” Further, with false principles of stewardship and religious liberty the church has “put away from us privileges and advantages that we might have had the benefit of, because we chose to stand independent of the world.”16

· Seventh-day Adventists must use wisdom in deciding what and when to implement the “correct principles” in the area of government aid. Adventists are told that “we need not sacrifice one principle of truth while taking advantage of every opportunity to advance the cause of God.”17 Twice in her counsel on government aid, Ellen White admonished that leaders should exercise “the wisdom of the serpent, and the harmlessness of the dove [that] we might obtain advantage from them [men in high places], for God would move upon their minds to do many things in behalf of His people.”18 Further, leaders should avoid “taking extreme positions, and burdening themselves over matters that should not be taken up or worried over.”19

Wisdom in avoiding “extreme positions” would also advise caution in accepting government aid with latent strings attached that would compromise or restrict church programs or principles, then or in the future. Government aid should be rejected if it compromises the church’s purpose, but it should not be rejected because of reasoning based on false principles.

· Government aid, or aid from anyone willing to give it, should be gratefully accepted if, in the taking,“truth is to have a standing place and . . . uplifted in many places in regions beyond.20 Solusi Mission and College was the beginning of scores, perhaps hundreds, of Seventh-day Adventist educational and medical institutions on most all continents where “truth” has “a standing place” because of government assistance. Most European and African countries require church-related schools to be licensed by the government. After being licensed, government funding follows. The record shows that truth need not be compromised because of this connection; without the connection, there would be no “standing place” for truth in those countries.

Champion of Christian Unity

[Top of Document]

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is an international body with various components that interact constantly with other churches and national governments. The Adventist Church is not a member of the World Council of Churches,21 yet, it is very concerned about the unity of Christians. Perhaps Ellen White has been foremost in emphasizing this towering Biblical concern. She removed all questions regarding whether the only genuine Christians in the world are Seventh-Adventists when she wrote: “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.”22

The attitude of the Adventist Church toward religious ecumenism is based not on a sense of superiority but on a self-understanding of the church’s history and its teachings. The early beginning of the Adventist Church, emerging out of the Millerite movement in the early 1840s, had much to do with the church’s attitude toward other denominations. For years, early Adventists understood themselves as a prophetic movement with a specific message regarding the return of Jesus and the preparation of a people to be translated at His coming. In contrast to post-millennialism which prevailed in the nineteenth century, Seventh-day Adventists emphasized an Advent that was near.

In contrast to social progress and natural selection to explain the process of evolution, Adventists reasserted the Creation story as the basis for human worth and responsibility. The Sabbath became the core focus in emphasizing the seven-day Creation week of Genesis 1 and 2. Because these distinctive doctrines defined the Seventh-day Adventist Church, harmony with the stated positions of the World Council of Churches is virtually impossible.23

Yet, Ellen White emphasized unity in the Christian body probably as much as any other theme. Her ecclesiology (understanding of the church) traces God’s “church” through the Old and New Testaments, extending through the centuries until the return of Jesus. The church is “God’s fortress” that has existed “from the beginning” with “faithful souls . . . in every age.”24 For her, church membership on earth is not automatically equated with being enrolled in the “Lamb’s book of life. They may be joined to the church [a denomination], but they are not united to the Lord.”25

Mrs. White’s frequent appeals for unity among Christians are primarily addressed to fellow church members whom she believes were called into existence “to restore the principles that are the foundation of the kingdom of God.”26 In the context of the nineteenth century she appealed to fellow Adventists: “If there was ever a time when the people of God should press together, it is now. God has committed to us the special truths for this time, to make known to the world. . . . We cannot afford now to give place to Satan by cherishing disunion, discord, and strife. . . . Divisions in the church dishonor the religion of Christ before the world, and give occasion to the enemies of truth to justify their course. . . . What are we doing to preserve unity in the bonds of peace?”27

What does she mean when she pleads for unity within the church? First, she saw the unity of love in an international church as a magnificent witness to Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17.28 This same sentiment governs her solemn concern for unity among “different nationalities”29 and among different races.30

Further, she urged that Seventh-day Adventist ministers should “come near to the ministers of other denominations. Pray for and with these men, for whom Christ is interceding. . . . As Christ’s messengers, we should manifest a deep, earnest interest in these shepherds of the flock.”31

But underlying her unrelenting emphasis on unity as it fulfills Christ’s prayer in John 17 is this simple concept: Truth must not be sacrificed to achieve unity. After quoting Christ’s prayer that through the unity of His people the world may be drawn to Him, she wrote: “While we are not to sacrifice one principle of truth, it should be our constant aim to reach this state of unity.”32

Promoter for Helping the Disadvantaged

[Top of Document]

With great emphasis for more than seven decades Ellen White provided the church with a vast reservoir of tender and specific instruction regarding the Christian’s responsibility to the sick, to the physically impaired, and to the economically disadvantaged. Her written counsel reflected her personal practice.

Her diaries are full of concern for the poor and suffering. For example, her diary for 1859, when she was a 31-year-old mother with three active boys, contains not only references to her many letters but also many jottings as to what she did with her family, etc: “January 2—Gave Sister Irving a warm cloak and dress and a few other things to make over for her.” “January 3—Paid Sister Bognes $1.00 for making a coat. She was unwilling to take it, but I felt it duty to hand it to her. She is poor and sickly. May the Lord pity and care for her. Said Jesus, ‘The poor always ye have with you.’ May the Lord rid us of selfishness and help us to care for others’ woes and relieve them.” “January 6—Gave Agnes a half-worn dress for her mother. They are poor. The husband and father is sick. Their crops have failed. Have breadstuff to buy and nothing to buy with. Agnes is their main support. She is only seventeen. There are four children now at home. They must suffer unless the church interests themselves in their behalf. May the Lord have mercy upon the needy, and put it in His children’s hearts to dispense to them with a liberal hand.” On and on the diaries go through the years.33

Her personal example added power to her words as she enlisted others in welfare ministry. In 1860 she wrote the following lines in the church paper: “The treasury in the Poor Fund, consisting of clothes, et cetera, for those in need, is nearly exhausted. And as there are cases of destitution continually arising, and one new one has arisen recently, I thought it would be well for those who have clothing, bedding, or money to spare to send it on here immediately. We hope there will be no delay, for we are going to assist some that are needy as soon as we get things together. Send your donations to Sr. Uriah Smith or myself.”34

The dignity of the person being helped always was considered. Ellen White made it clear that used clothing was most appropriate to give to the needy only if it were suitable to be worn without embarrassment: “Some of our people say to me, ‘Give away your old clothes, and that will help the poor.’ Should I give away the garments that I patch and enlarge, the people would not be able to see anything of which they could make use. I buy for them new, strong, durable material. I have visited the factories where they make tweed cloth and have bought a number of remnants that perhaps have a flaw but can be purchased cheap, and will do some good to those to whom we give. I can afford to wear the old garments until they are beyond repair. I have purchased your uncle excellent cloth for pants and vests, and he is now supplied with good respectable clothing. In this way I can supply large families of children with durable garments.”35

Throughout Ellen White’s diary or letter files are requests to someone, on behalf of others, such as this needy student: “Will you please inquire of Brother _______ in regard to the clothing that he requires, and what he needs please furnish to him, and charge the same to my account.”36

Of course, Ellen White realized that her family and a few others could not provide for all the desperate needs of those around her, including the needy in the church. While in Australia, she organized a “Dorcas Society” to relieve to some extent the burden that she carried for the disadvantaged. She wrote of one meeting of the Society that met in her home: “Last evening we had a Dorcas Society in our home, and my workers who help in the preparation of my articles for the papers and do the cooking and sewing, five of them, sat up until midnight, cutting out clothing. They made three pairs of pants for the children of one family. Two sewing machines were running until midnight. I think there was never a happier set of workers than were these girls last evening.”37

In her own home, which often was filled with sick relatives and co-workers, the Whites worked in “medical missionary lines.” They took in the sick who had been given up by the physicians, and had many recoveries under the “mighty Healer”: “We used the simple water treatments, and then tried to fasten the eyes of the patients on the great Healer.”38

As a general pattern of life, Ellen White would give ample sums to those who needed financial help. At times she would encourage others to “match” her gifts. She often made clear that in the main she gave for the purpose of helping the needy to become self-sufficient. One such occasion occurred in 1889 when she asked C. H. Jones to “match” her $100 to help Nellie L., a struggling widow with three children, who was trying to educate herself to do kindergarten work so “that she may keep her children with her.” She wrote: “I will help Nellie one hundred dollars if you will do the same. . . .Will you encourage others to help her to get a start in life? It would be far better to do this than to wait and let Nellie be worn out with anxiety and care and fall in the struggle, leaving her children helpless, motherless, to be cared for by others. . . . I know she will struggle with all her powers to be self-supporting.”39

Removing Prejudice

[Top of Document]

In developing the work in Australia, when Adventists were numbered only in the hundreds, Ellen White showed how prejudice would be broken down “by the medical missionary work”: “We made a hospital of our home. My nurse [Sara McEnterfer, Mrs. White’s personal secretary] treated successfully some most difficult cases that the physicians had pronounced incurable. This labor was not without its reward. Suspicion and prejudice were removed. The hearts of the people were won, and many accepted the truth.”40

Through the years Mrs. White gave specific instruction regarding how individuals, and, at times, the church as a body, should care for the “unfortunate, the blind, the lame, the afflicted, the widows, the orphans, and the needy.” She said that Christians who have pity on those people are represented by Christ “as commandment keepers, who shall have eternal life.”41

But she kept this ministry to the unfortunate in perspective. She was insistent that struggling church members should not be overlooked in “the wholesale business of feeding the wretched class who are in poverty”: “If you knew the circumstances of this brother, and did not make earnest efforts to relieve him, and change his oppression to freedom, you are not working the works of Christ, and are guilty before God. I write plainly, for, from the light given me of God, there is a class of work that is neglected.” She called it “misdirected zeal” to pass by those in “the household of faith and let their cry of distress come up to God because of suffering which we might alleviate.”42

Ellen White was specific regarding the Christian’s responsibility to widows with children,43 to orphans and foster parents,44 to the aged,45 and to the blind.46

In the 1890s, Dr. Kellogg was reaching out to the social outcasts in Chicago. Ellen White had joined him through the years on similar projects. In 1898, however, she wrote him seventeen letters, many of them concerning the unbalanced focus in the welfare missions that the Medical Missionary and Benevolent Association was sponsoring “in a dozen large American cities scattered from New York to San Francisco.”47 “Constant work is to be done for the outcasts, but this work is not to be made all-absorbing. . . . All the means must not be bound up in the work, for the highways have not yet received the message. . . . No one should now visit our churches, and claim from them means to sustain the work of rescuing outcasts. The means to sustain that work should come . . . from those not of our faith.”48

Though Ellen White continually held up the challenge of taking the gospel to those “however fallen, however dishonored and debased,”49 she clearly strove for perspective: “The Lord has marked out our way of working. As a people we are not to imitate and fall in with Salvation Army methods. This is not the work that the Lord has given us to do. Neither is it our work to condemn them and speak harsh words against them. There are precious, self-sacrificing souls in the Salvation Army. . . . The Salvation Army workers are trying to save the neglected, downtrodden ones. Discourage them not. Let them do that class of work by their own methods and in their own way. But the Lord has plainly pointed out the work that Seventh-day Adventists are to do.”50

These cautions were aimed at the misdirection of city mission work; it needed correction, not dismantling. Ellen White was most explicit regarding the work to be done in the cities, strongly supporting the evangelistic centers with their restaurants, literature distribution centers, and, in some cases, lodging for the workers involved in the centers.51

Whenever her counsel was heeded, “Seventh-day Adventist urban involvement maintained equilibrium. It was not trapped in the social gospel movement (bottom-heavy with humanitarianism) developing in this period; but neither was it like the conservative Evangelicalism (top-heavy with evangelism) that developed after World War I.”52


[Top of Document]

1.Testimonies to Ministers, p. 198.

2.Bio., vol. 1, pp. 387-393. The Biblical argument was based primarily on the New Testament call for gospel order; at that time they were not sure how to detach the tithing plan from the ceremonial laws that were done away at the cross. The tithing “principle” was considered operative and had much to do with their final conclusions. The concept of “systematic benevolence” was made practical with the following suggestions: (1) Men 18-60 should give 5 to 25 cents weekly; (2) Women from 18-60, 2 to 10 cents weekly; (3) In addition, all should “lay aside” weekly 1 to 5 cents “on each and every $100 of property they possess.”

3.Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 190. The plan was known for many years as “Sister Betsy.”

4.Ibid., pp. 220-223.

5.Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 249.

6.Evangelism, p. 492; Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 215; MR vol. 1, pp. 189, 192; Medical Ministry, p. 245.

7.North American Division Statistical Report, Fourth Quarter, 1996.

8.Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 197-203.

9.Roger Coon led the author to think of the first five principles through his unpublished manuscript, “Ellen White and the Issue of the Reception of State Aid.”

10. Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 200, 201.

11. Ibid., pp. 201, 202.

12. Ibid., p. 202.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid., pp. 200, 201.

15. Ibid., p. 203.

16. Ibid., pp. 197.

17. Ibid., p. 198.

18. Ibid., pp. 197, 203.

19. Ibid., p. 201.

20. Ibid.

21. For many years, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has sent reporters and, later, observers who have participated in various study committees sponsored by the World Council. As individuals, a few Adventists also have served as members of committees.

22. The Great Controversy, p. 390.

23. For an overview of Ellen White’s influence on the Adventist church’s approaches to ecumenism, see Graham, Ellen G. White, Co-founder, pp. 297-354.

24. The Acts of the Apostles, p. 11; “All of God’s people upon the earth are one body, from the beginning to the end of time. They have one Head that directs and governs the body.”—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 283.

25. Review and Herald, Jan. 17, 1893, p. 33.

26. Prophets and Kings, pp. 677, 678.

27. Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 236-239; see also Ibid., pp. 179-183; Selected Messages, book 2, pp. 158-161.

28. Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 188.

29. Ibid., p. 181.

30. Review and Herald, Dec. 17, 1895; Ibid., Oct. 24, 1899; Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 209.

31. Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 78; Evangelism, pp. 143, 144, 562.

32. Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 520. Compromise of truth for the sake of unity must be avoided: “One object must be kept in view constantly; that is, harmony and cooperation must be maintained without compromising one principle of truth.”—Letter 37, 1887, cited in Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 79; see also The Great Controversy, p. 45.

33. Welfare Ministry, pp. 322, 323.

34. Review and Herald, Oct. 30, 1860, p. 192.

35. Letter 89a, 1894, cited in Welfare Ministry, pp. 328, 329.

36. Ibid., p. 329.

37. Ibid., p. 334.

38. Ibid., p. 326, 327.

39. Ibid., p. 327. Frequently Ellen White emphasized that the goal in helping others is to assist them in becoming self-reliant. See Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 480, 481; Ibid., vol. 6, pp. 188, 189, 278, 279; The Ministry of Healing, pp. 183-195; Historical Sketches, p. 293; Review and Herald, April 18, 1871; Jan. 3, 1899.

40. Ibid., pp. 327, 328.

41. Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 512.

42. Welfare Ministry, pp. 210, 211; see also Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 27-29; vol. 3, pp. 517, 518.

43. Ibid., pp. 214-219.

44. Ibid., pp. 220-231.

45. Ibid., pp. 237, 238.

46. Ibid., pp. 239-242.

47. Schwarz, Light Bearers, p. 208.

48. Letter 138, 1898, cited in Bio., vol. 4, p. 397.

49. Welfare Ministry, p. 246.

50. Testimonies, vol. 8, pp. 184, 185. Cautions concerning glamorizing slum work, and the danger to young men and women who become involved with working with the socially marginalized are found in Welfare Ministry, pp. 253-255. Jonathan Butler lists four reasons for Ellen White’s alarm and sharp counsel to Dr. Kellogg. The Chicago program, especially, was (1) “overcentralized in relation to missions work in the world field”; (2) “was overspecialized in its service for one class of people”; (3) “threatened imbalance with one kind of ministry—medical ministry”; (4) and “lacked church distinctiveness.”— “Ellen G. White and the Chicago Mission,” Spectrum, Winter 1970, pp. 41-51.

51. Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 368-385; vol. 7, pp. 37-39, 95-98, 110-114; vol. 9, pp. 89-149; Counsels on Health, pp. 493, 494, 554-556; Medical Ministry, p. 303; Review and Herald, Jan. 18, 1912.

52. Butler, “Chicago Mission,” Spectrum, Winter, 1970, p. 49.

Study Questions

[Top of Document]

1. What six principles should guide Adventists when relating to government aid?

2. How do you explain the principles involved in systematic benevolence?

3. How do you defend the concept that Seventh-day Adventists are truly ecumenical?

4. How did Ellen White set an example in welfare work?

5. What principles guided Ellen White in her personal humanitarian program?

6. What are the advantages of an active welfare program in a local church? What guidelines would determine the distribution of cash and goods? List worthwhile goals of welfare work.

7. Review Ellen White’s counsel to Dr. Kellogg regarding his Chicago mission. Discuss her view that our work is not to parallel the good work done by the Salvation Army.

[Top of Document]
[Return to the Homepage]