Faith of Jesus
Gift of God
Deeper Yet part 2
Continuing our review of the five essays in the Adventist Review for July 1, 2018, we examine number three.
Another convert to the Trinity tells of her experience in almost leaving the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She, too, had believed that “our early Adventist pioneers generally opposed the classical doctrine of the Trinity…” But then she learned that the famous 1931 date (which she had been told was the first time that term appeared in church publications) was actually preceded for more than 40 years by authors appearing to support it. This rocked her “faith” in what she had previously believed—misinformation easily invalidated by correct data.
What happened in 1931? F.M. Wilcox, then editor of the Review, inserted into the Church Manual that year a new list of “Fundamental Beliefs” which for the first time in the Church Manual included the term “Trinity or the Godhead” in place of what had previously been called “Fundamental Principles” from 1872 to 1914. It was actually an updated version from an earlier article he wrote in 1913 to pacify antagonistic critic D.M. Canright.
The writer reports how her understanding of the sacred 1931 date brought disillusion when she learned that some Adventist authors had been using the term “Trinity” as early as 1890. Charles L. Boyd entitled his Sabbath School lesson in the Bible Echo and Signs of the Times “The Trinity” as a retort to D.M. Canright’s publicly charging Adventists with “denying the divinity of Christ” because “they reject the Trinity.” A flurry of articles began to follow brandishing the term, proving that we most certainly did believe in the divinity of Christ. Brother Boyd’s lesson is revealing. “After whose form, or image, was Christ created?” he asks. This is definitely not Trinitarian language. His answer: “being in the form of God…equal with God…the express image of his person.” Phil 2:6; Heb 1:3. “What words were addressed to Christ at the beginning of his existence?” he continues. “The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” Psalm 2:7. Boyd, like other Adventists, believed Christ had a beginning of existence, begotten of the Father. Nine years later Ellen White expressed it this way: "The existence of Christ before his incarnation is not measured by figures." ST May 3, 1899.4. She could have, but never did, simply say, Christ has no beginning.
The following year, Samuel Spear, a Presbyterian minister, who originally authored “The Subordination of Christ” was featured in the December 7 and 14, 1891 Signs of the Times by then editor M.C. Wilcox under a new title, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity.” Spear begins by citing John 17:3 and 1Cor 8:6 to support his observation that the Father and Son are distinct from each other, that the Son is subordinate to God the Father, begotten of the Father and sent by the Father into the world to do the will of the Father. He offers 1Cor 11:3 and 15:28 to show both the headship of the Father and the submission of the Son. He then recommends “to take the Bible just as it reads, to believe what it says, and stop where it stops.”
The next year, William Covert writing in the Signs of the Times, Dec 26, 1892, recommended using the term “Christian trinity” which he called “a triple union”, “a trinity which is the blending together in unity the Father, the Son, and man, through the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Ellen White was not to be left out, but never did she use the word “trinity” except once: “the world’s trinity: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life” Lt43-1898.25. Yet, she had plenty to say about the identity of the “heavenly trio.” “The Father has given his Son for us that through the Son the Holy Spirit might come to us, and lead us unto the Father.” ST Oct 3, 1892. “…we adore God for His wondrous love in giving us Jesus the Comforter.” 19MR p. 297.3, 1892. “Jesus comes to you as the Spirit of truth:” Ms 3, 1892.
It was at this time that Ellen White encountered the results of Canright’s accusations in New Zealand. A school teacher there “opposed the truth” and “declared that Seventh-day Adventists did not believe in the divinity of Christ.” Here was her opportunity to employ the “T” word and dispel Canright’s claim that we rejected the “Trinity.” But she defines the divinity of Christ in a much different way. “There is not a people on earth who hold more firmly to the truth of Christ’s pre-existence than do Seventh-day Adventists.” RH Dec 5, 1893. Why? Because we believed in the divine Son of God, begotten of the Father in eternity, inheriting his divinity, assuring us “that he and the Father were of one substance, possessing the same attributes.” ST Nov 27, 1893.
This was also a time of opportunity for those who really were Trinitarians at heart to express their own convictions. Essay three quotes G.C. Tenney as stating that Adventists “understand the Trinity, as applied to the Godhead, to consist of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.” George C. Tenney, editor of the Bible Echo in 1892 and later associate of Dr. Kellogg, was referenced by Ellen the following year. “Nearly everything in Australia was revolving around Brother Tenney…He needs so much to grow out of the dwarfed ideas which he has through want of association with the larger workings of the cause…He was becoming narrow and bound about in his ideas…” Ms 80, 1893 in 17MR 301.2. He was ten years later addressed again by Ellen White. “Unless Brethren Jones, Tenney, Waggoner, and others who have been flattered by the leaders of the medical work are especially worked by the Holy Spirit, they will never see things as they are.” Letter 265, 1903 in 11MR 248.4. In a letter to Brother Haskell she reported, “I have written to Elder Jones and to Elder Tenney that they are in danger of being influenced by the sentiments found in ‘Living Temple.’” Battle Creek Letters p. 102.4, Nov 28, 1903. Then she wrote directly to him. “Dear Brethren G.C. Tenney and A.T. Jones,..Be very particular how you deal with and explain the word of God.” BCL p. 93.2.
Three years later she sadly wrote him, “Brother Tenney, you have been drawn away from the truth more than you have known, and your connection with men in Battle Creek has been to your great injury. The light of your past experience is going out.” MR760 p. 27.4 June 29, 1906. A few days later she declared, “Elder Tenney has departed from the faith, and is no help to Dr. Kellogg…You have confused the understanding of our people in Battle Creek, and now you are taking a course to confuse the people, leading some to move counter to the Lord’s directions.” Kress Collection p. 40.5 July 3, 1906.
The emergence of trinitarian terminology in the last 25 years of Ellen White's life presents an uncomfortable ambiguity for those wishing to attribute this to “progressive truth”. Changing from a decidedly non-trinitarian position held by the church for over 40 years to the worship of a triune God is not progression—it's a complete reversal and in direct contradiction to Ellen White's endoresement of the original Fundamental Principles made right in the middle of it all. “I desire everyone to know that I stand on the same platform of truth that we have maintained for more than half a century.” Ms 142, 1905. “We are to hold fast the first principles of our denominated faith.” SpTB No. 7 p. 57, Dec 4, 1905. “The truth is the same as it ever has been, and not a pin or a pillar can be moved from the structure of truth. That which was sought for out of the Word in 1844, 1845, and 1846 remains the truth in every particular.” 1MR p. 52, Jan 23, 1906.
Of course there are “three personalities of the heavenly trio” (the original handwritten expression by Ellen White); of course the Spirit of God is a person, for "God is a person and Christ is a person" Ms 46, 1904 in 1SAT p. 343, and the Son of God is the express image of His Father’s person; of course the Holy Spirit is a person, but not a separate person. It is “that element which is all divine” Adventist Home p. 350; it is the divine-human Son of God/Son of man, “Himself divested of the personality of humanity, and independent thereof.” Lt119-1895.18 in 14MR p. 23.3.
Grace and peace be unto you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ
the Son of the Father in truth and love. 2 John 3