A research paper on the history of the trinity doctrine within the early Christian Church and within Seventh-day Adventism
The early 1900’s crisis - Kellogg and the Holy Spirit
We noted in the previous section that in 1903, the leading physician in Seventh-day Adventism, namely John Harvey Kellogg, said that he had come to believe in the trinity doctrine, meaning that he had come to believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. He also said that because of his ‘conversion’, he could now explain more easily how God was in everything. This was the teaching that he expressed in his book ‘The Living Temple’, a publication that Ellen White condemned as containing wrong ideas concerning God and Christ. Our church refused to publish this book.
To say the very least, Kellogg’s profession was startling to Seventh-day Adventists. This was because at that time (1903), just like they always had been since their beginnings, they were still a non-trinitarian denomination.
As we shall see now, the main problem as far as Kellogg was concerned was their denominational teaching regarding the Holy Spirit. He came to believe, unlike Seventh-day Adventists then, that the Holy Spirit was a person like God and Christ.
In contrast to this, Seventh-day Adventists believed that the Holy Spirit was the presence (omnipresence) of both God and Christ when these two divine personalities were not physically present. This was a major difference between Seventh-day Adventist theology and Kellogg’s so-called trinity beliefs. We noted in the previous section they were more tritheistic than anything else.
We shall now look at certain observations that Kellogg
made concerning the Holy Spirit, also the response to them by the leadership of
The Holy Spirit - a person and yet not a person
In a letter to G. I. Butler who was then the Southern Union Conference president, also a member of the General Conference Committee, Kellogg challenged the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists concerning the Holy Spirit. This he did after our church had refused to publish his book ‘The Living Temple’.
“As far as I can fathom, the difficulty which is found in the
This indeed was the main difference between Kellogg’s beliefs and those of Seventh-day Adventists. Whilst the belief of the latter was that the Holy Spirit was a personality, they certainly did not regard Him as a person like God and Christ. Kellogg obviously reasoned differently.
“I had supposed the Bible said this [the Holy Spirit a person] for the reason that the personal pronoun he is used in speaking of the Holy Ghost. Sister White uses the pronoun he and has said in as many words that the Holy Ghost is the third person of the Godhead.” (Ibid)
This is very interesting because by then (1903), Ellen White had referred to the Holy Spirit as a ‘person’ or ‘personality’ a number of times.
She had even said in ‘The Desire of Ages’
“The Spirit was to be given as a regenerating agent, and without this the sacrifice of Christ would have been of no avail. The power of evil had been strengthening for centuries, and the submission of men to this satanic captivity was amazing. Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the Third person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power.” (Ellen G. White, ‘The Desire of Ages, page 671, ‘Let not your heart be troubled’)
By 1903, five years after ‘The Desire of Ages’ was published, Kellogg obviously knew about this statement. He also probably knew about some of the other statements that she made concerning the Holy Spirit being a personality.
Why then, it must be asked, did he not specifically say that Ellen White had written in this book that the Holy Spirit was a person? Why did he say that she had said “in as many words that the Holy Ghost is the third person of the Godhead”, making it look as though she had not specifically said it?
Some may say that this is a mystery because the above statement from ‘The Desire of Ages’’ is one of Ellen White’s statements that the pro-trinitarian Seventh-day Adventists thrive upon today to show that the Holy Spirit is a person like the Father and the Son. Why therefore did not Kellogg use it as such?
Note first of all how this ‘third person’ statement is currently quoted in ‘The Desire of Ages’ and then compare it with how Kellogg used it. The one in ‘The Desire of Ages’ is capitalised (“Third Person”) whilst Kellogg’s use of it is not capitalised. In Kellogg’s letter and how they were in the older editions of the ‘The Desire of Ages’ was “third person”.
In later re-prints of Ellen White’s book, capital letters are used. The more recent printings say “the Third Person of the Godhead” not as was said originally “the third person of the Godhead”. In other words, Ellen White’s writings have been modified (changed) to bring them more in line with present trinity ‘thinking’. Such has been one of the results of our transition from non-trinitarianism to trinitarianism.
In a paper published on the White estate website, there is an article written by Tim Poirier called “Ellen White’s trinitarian statements: What did she actually write?” Note those latter words very well (“What did she actually write”).
Tim Poirier says
“In The Desire of Ages she writes that “sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy but in the fulness of divine power” (p. 671)”. (Tim Poirier, Ellen White’s trinitarian statements: What did she actually write’, Ellen White and current issues symposium 2006)
Note here the capitalisation of the words “Third Person”.
Poirier then says
“This is how the text has read since its first publication in 1898.” (Ibid)
This is an incorrect statement. These words were not actually as Ellen White wrote them. She wrote them without capital letters.
Apart from where it is written in ‘The Desire of Ages’, Ellen White made this same statement (“third person of the Godhead”) a number of times but never have I found the words “third person” to be capitalised. Whilst some may say that this does not make any difference to the statement, it does prove that to make her writings sound ‘more trinitarian’ they have been changed. Obviously, those responsible for this alteration must have reasoned it justifiable to do so.
Before we move away from this ‘Desire of Ages’ statement, notice her words that followed.
“It is the Spirit that makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world's Redeemer. It is by the Spirit that the heart is made pure. Through the Spirit the believer becomes a partaker of the divine nature. Christ has given His Spirit as a divine power to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil, and to impress His own character upon His church.” (Ibid)
Ellen White referred to the Holy Spirit as Christ’s Spirit (“His Spirit”) meaning belonging to Christ, not a separate divine being like Him. This is exactly what Seventh-day Adventists believed in the early 1900’s. We shall come back to this thought when taking a look in detail at Ellen White’s views on the Holy Spirit.
Ellen White’s secretaries, just as they did with other publications, helped her to put together ‘The Desire of Ages’. This they did by extracting portions of her past writings and collating them into the various chapters in the book’s pre-publication manuscripts, all being done of course under her supervision.
Interesting to note is that the latter statement from ‘The Desire of Ages’ regarding the Holy Spirit was originally written in a letter sent to the brethren in America when Ellen White was residing in Australia.
“Evil had been accumulating for centuries, and could only be restrained and resisted by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fulness of divine power. Another spirit must be met; for the essence of evil was working in all ways, and the submission of man to this satanic captivity was amazing.” (Ellen G. White, letter dated February 6th 1896 from ‘Sunnyside’ Cooranbong, Australia, ‘To my brethren in America’)
In this letter Kellogg himself is mentioned, therefore it is quite possible that he either knew of it or had read it and is one of the reasons (apart from it being in ‘The Desire of Ages’) why he wrote “third person” as she did here and not “Third Person”.
Kellogg certainly disputed with the way that Seventh-day Adventists regarded the Holy Spirit.
We know this because he said in his letter to
“How the Holy Ghost can be the third person and not be a person at
all is difficult for me to see” (Letter, Kellogg to G. I
John Harvey Kellogg had been ‘raised’ a Seventh-day Adventist. His Father (John Preston Kellogg) had accepted this faith the very year that his son had been born.
From a young lad, John Harvey Kellogg had been well acquainted with James and Ellen White. They had even helped him financially with his medical studies. Regarding the Holy Spirit therefore, Kellogg knew exactly what Seventh-day Adventists believed. He was now 61 years of age.
Notice very importantly that this dispute took place in 1903, 5 years after the publication of ‘The Desire of Ages’. Obviously by then, this book had not led Seventh-day Adventist to believe that the Holy Spirit was a person like God and Christ. This is even though it had said that the Holy Spirit was the “third person of the Godhead”. Obviously too, by this time, this book had not led Seventh-day Adventists to think of God as being a trinity (three-in-one). This is because without a third person like the Father and the Son, a trinity doctrine is not possible.
Regarding the Holy Spirit, the early 1900’s belief of
Seventh-day Adventists can be seen very clearly in a letter the following year
When obviously attempting to convince this physician of his
“God dwells in us by His
Holy Spirit, as a Comforter, as a Reprover, especially the former. When
we come to Him, we partake of Him in that sense, because the Spirit comes
forth from him; it comes forth from the Father and the Son” (G. I
As expressed by the one who was then president of the Southern Union Conference, here we can see the ‘1904 faith’ of Seventh-day Adventists. It was that the Holy Spirit comes forth from both “the Father and the Son” (God and Christ) therefore concluding that the Holy Spirit is the personal presence of them both. This was the view of the majority of the pioneers. Note that this was now 6 months after Kellogg had written to Butler concerning the Holy Spirit and Butler was still trying to convince Kellogg that he was wrong. It was also 6 years after the publication of ‘The Desire of Ages’.
As we can also see, Seventh-day Adventists believed in 1904 that the Holy Spirit was the Father and Son (God and Christ) omnipresent but certainly it was not believed that He was a person like God and Christ. To the pioneers, this latter belief would not have made sense.
We can see this because Butler also said to Kellogg concerning the Holy Spirit
“It is not a person walking around on foot, or flying, as a literal being, in any such sense as Christ and the Father are – at least, if it is, it is utterly beyond my comprehension or the meaning of language or words.” (G. I Butler, letter to J. H. Kellogg April 5th 1904)
In 1904, Butler’s statement appears to be the preponderant belief of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In other words, the Holy Spirit was not regarded by Seventh-day Adventists to be another personal being like God and Christ, even though Ellen White had said that He was a personality.
In Seventh-day Adventist theology, the Holy Spirit was both God and Christ omnipresent whilst neither was bodily present. This was the 1904 faith of Seventh-day Adventists, the faith that Ellen White said, because God had given it to them, should never be changed or discarded. It was also the faith from which she clearly warned that there would be a departing. We shall see this more clearly in section twenty-eight when we consider ‘the omega’.
Contrary to the faith
In a brief summation of what was fast becoming a crisis, we have a General Conference president, namely A. G. Daniells, telling another General Conference Committee member, namely W. C. White (Ellen White’s son), that one of the most prominent and prodigious members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, namely John Harvey Kellogg, had come to believe in the doctrine of the trinity. This meant of course, as Daniells said to Ellen White’s son, that Kellogg had come to believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, thus believing the Holy Spirit to be a divine person like the Father and Son.
This type of confession today (2008) would not be considered ‘earth shattering news’ but in 1903 it was considered heretical for a Seventh-day Adventist to confess it. This was because at that time, just as it had been from its very beginnings, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was strictly a non-trinitarian denomination.
Interestingly, this was all the time that it was under the auspices of God’s messenger to the remnant, namely Ellen White who even more interestingly never once objected to these non-trinitarian beliefs. Instead, as we have seen and will continue to see, she decidedly upheld and promoted the faith (beliefs) of the pioneers, saying that it had been God Himself that had given it to them.
This means therefore that the ‘1904 faith’ that Ellen White said that the ‘omega’ would lead Seventh-day Adventists away from was a God-given non-trinitarian faith. If you remember in section one, we quoted God’s servant when she said in 1904
“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.” (Ellen G. White, Special Testimonies Series B, No. 2 page 16, ‘To Leading Physicians’, ‘Teach the Word’ Nashville, Tennessee, July 24th 1904)
To some Seventh-day Adventists today, especially those of our ministry, the fact that Ellen White was warning Seventh-day Adventists not to depart from their non-trinitarian faith will probably be a most startling realisation, yet nevertheless it is perfectly true!
A heretical confession
By making confession of the trinity doctrine, John Harvey Kellogg was admitting to believing something that up to that time (1903) no other pioneer of Seventh-day Adventism had ever publicly confessed. It was therefore a heretical confession. Even up to the present time of my studies (2008), I have never found any other Seventh-day Adventist who has ever professed this publicly, at least not during the time of Ellen White’s ministry. If any reader knows of another person who whilst Ellen White was alive openly made this type of confession then perhaps they can send me the details.
Kellogg, this brilliantly talented doctor who held such sway over many of his fellow physicians, had now in 1903 confessed to believe in this teaching. This to Seventh-day Adventists really was ‘earth shattering’ news! It also heralded a denominational crisis. Thus it was that from this time onwards, Ellen White stressed that God and Christ were two separate personal beings. This it appears was done in an effort to allay and counteract any ‘trinitarian ideas’ that were then being circulated amongst Seventh-day Adventists. Quite obviously, what Kellogg had said to Daniells that he in turn had told W. C. White, the latter passed it on to his mother (Ellen White).
Now we can see just why it was that during the early 1900’s, Ellen White chose to repeatedly emphasise a belief that had been held by Seventh-day Adventists since their beginnings. This belief of course was that God was a personal being in His own right and that Christ was another personal being in His own right meaning that they were two separate personal beings. This she said was one of the landmarks and pillars of their faith (see section twenty-four). She also said that it was the truth that Seventh-day Adventists had received from God and therefore should never be surrendered.
In passing, please note again that Kellogg’s ‘heretical’ confession was 5 years after the publication of ‘The Desire of Ages’. This again is really very interesting because as we have already noted in previous sections (see section ten particularly), the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church today is saying that it was the writings of Ellen White, especially what she had written in ‘The Desire of Ages’, that has led our denomination to change from non-trinitarianism to trinitarianism. One is left to wonder of course, if this is true, then why did she stress over and over again, after Kellogg had said in 1903 that he had come to believe in the trinity, that Seventh-day Adventists should retain their non-trinitarian ‘faith’. Are we to believe that by this time (in the early 1900’s through to her death), that not even Ellen White had realised that she had been speaking of God as a trinity? Are we to say also that Kellogg was correct in his theology?
From what we have read above, it does appear that neither A. G. Daniells (then General Conference president) nor G. I Butler (then the Southern Union Conference president) believed in the trinity doctrine. If they did, then why was it that they were both concerned that Kellogg had come to believe in this teaching and why Butler’s remarks about the Holy Spirit not being a person like God and Christ? Note that these dialogues between Kellogg, Daniells and Butler took place during 1903 and 1904, 5 or 6 years after ‘The Desire of Ages’ (1898) was published.
Another question that must be asked here is this; if in ‘The Desire of Ages’ and other places Ellen White did speak of God as being a trinity (three-in-one), then why didn’t anyone realise this until many years after her death? In other words, why didn’t anyone realise this whilst she was alive? Are we to believe that for 17 years (1898 -1915) that God hid this so-called ‘truth’ from every Seventh-day Adventist, including Ellen White and then revealed it after she was dead? This really does take a tremendous amount of believing!
We need also to note here that although ‘The Desire of Ages’ was published in 1898 and that Ellen White died 17 years later in 1915, there was no sign during this time (1898-1915) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church adopting the doctrine of the trinity. Certainly Ellen White said nothing in this direction. She only said that Seventh-day Adventists should never change their beliefs concerning God and Christ, which as we know were non-trinitarian.
A forbidden subject
a talk given at the Lake Union Conference on
She actually said
so sorry that Living
was one of the problems in the ‘alpha’. Kellogg was saying that what he had
written in his ‘
After saying that the sentiments found in Kellogg’s book were those which she was bidden to speak out in warning against at the beginning of her public work she said
Kellogg’s ‘problem’ was that he was trying to define where God’s presence resides. It was all to do with the Holy Spirit.
With regards to this Ellen White said
“There are some things upon which we must reason, and there are other things that we must not discuss. In regard to God -- what He is and where He is -- silence is eloquence. When you are tempted to speak of what God is, keep silence, because as surely as you begin to speak of this, you will disparage Him.” (Ibid page 343)
She then added in warning
“Our ministers must be very careful not to enter into controversy in regard to the personality of God. This is a subject that they are not to touch. It is a mystery, and the enemy will surely lead astray those who enter into it. We know that Christ came in person to reveal God to the world. God is a person and Christ is a person. Christ is spoken of in the Word as "the brightness of His Father's glory, and the express image of His person." (Ibid)
She then said
“I was forbidden to talk with Dr. Kellogg on this subject, because it is not a subject to be
talked about. And I was instructed that certain sentiments in
As most would realise, the trinity doctrine is ‘tied up’ in God’s presence and personality. This is why the trinity is integral to the alpha. In order to justify his beliefs, Kellogg said that he had come to believe in the trinity.
This early 1900’s crisis was that John Harvey Kellogg, one of the most influential people in Seventh-day Adventism, would be teaching his trinity beliefs to all who came under his influence. As we know today, he did have those who followed him but this is another story. Obviously, if he had come to believe in the trinity doctrine, then he would certainly have been teaching others the same. This was the crisis! Many considered him a ‘leading light’ in Seventh-day Adventism. Certainly he was popular within and without the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
We shall now go to section twenty-seven. This is where we shall see that in condemning Kellogg’s beliefs, Ellen White condemned all three-in-one illustrations of God. We shall then take a closer look at the ‘alpha of heresies and omega’ warnings.
© T. M. Hill 2008