A research paper on the history of the trinity doctrine within the early Christian Church and within Seventh-day Adventism
Voices in the wilderness
In 1931 (this was the year when the word ‘trinity’ was first included in our statement of beliefs), it is only reasonable to believe that there were many Seventh-day Adventists who still were devotedly non-trinitarian (semi-Arian). We only need to refer to the previous section to see that this is true. This was where we noted that even in the 1940’s there was amongst Seventh-day Adventists (even those of our leadership), a division in beliefs regarding Christ. Some were pushing for a Christ that was coeternal with the Father (the new theology) whilst some were contending for the original faith of Seventh-day Adventism. The latter was the faith that Ellen White said had been given to them by God (see section twenty-three, section twenty-four and section twenty-nine).
In 1996, Merlin Burt wrote a paper for
In his paper he penned these words (remember here that the word ‘trinity’ was first included in our statement of beliefs in 1931)
“During the 1940s an ever increasing majority of the church was believing in the eternal underived deity of Christ and the trinity, yet there were some who held back even actively resisted the change.” (Merlin Burt, ‘Demise of Semi-Arianism and anti-trinitarianism in Adventist theology, 1888-1957 page 48)
This reveals that during the 1940’s, trinitarianism was becoming more and more ‘rife’ within Seventh-day Adventism. By the words “the eternal underived deity of Christ”, Burt is referring to the current theology of Seventh-day Adventism. This is the theology that says that Christ is unbegotten and coeternal with the Father. This is in opposition to the once ‘begotten’ faith of Seventh-day Adventists. The latter is the faith that all the time of Ellen White’s ministry was held by our denomination.
Note Burt says that during this time period (the 1940’s), some Seventh-day Adventists did not accept the ‘new theology’ but instead “actively resisted the change”. As we noted in section fifteen, also other sections, Ellen White did say that Christ is a begotten Son. This is obviously one of the reasons, perhaps even the main one, why there was decided resistance to the ‘new theology’.
We have mentioned many times before that the complete deity of Christ was not disputed by early Seventh-day Adventists. They believed in every respect that He was God but they believed also that He was a separate personality from the Father. This was not believed in a trinitarian sense but that He was brought forth of God (begotten of God) at a point in eternity. They believed also that this ‘bringing forth’ was so far back in eternity that it is incomprehensible to the human mind to even imagine it. Certainly they believed that as a separate personality from the Father, His existence was not calculable by any means known to humanity (see section fifteen, section twenty and section twenty-one etc). It was like saying ‘almost forever’.
Note Burt’s next words.
“This group was mainly comprised of some older ministers and Bible teachers.” (Ibid)
Here we can see that in his own personal studies, Merlin Burt came to the same realisation as the author of the notes you are now reading. This realisation is that even in the 1940’s there were those Seventh-day Adventists, even amongst the ministry, who objected to the ‘new theology’ of Seventh-day Adventism. Note very significantly he says that they were “older ministers and Bible teachers”. This tells us quite a lot. These older ministers etc were contending for the faith that was once taught in Seventh-day Adventism. This means that the objectors to the ‘up and coming new theology’ were not just those of the laity.
Being true to their convictions, these ministers and Bible teachers would have been teaching the ‘old theology’ of Seventh-day Adventism, meaning non-trinitarianism (semi-Arianism). This was as opposed to the ‘new theology’ of trinitarianism. We shall see this now.
We shall now take note of just three of these ‘older’ ministers who did not give up the ‘one time’ faith of Seventh-day Adventists. These were Judson Washburn (1863-1955), Charles Longacre (1871-1958) and W. R. French (1881-1968). First we shall take a brief look at the views of Washburn.
Judson Washburn (1863-1955)
During the late 1930’s/early 1940’s, Judson Washburn can only be described as being very vocal in objecting to the General Conference concerning the attempts to make trinitarianism part of the teachings of Seventh-day Adventism. So that we can see the importance and the relevance of his objections, we need to know a few facts concerning the man himself.
Judson Washburn was a prolific preacher/evangelist. Through his ministry there were countless numbers who were brought to the knowledge of the saving grace of God. Washburn knew Ellen White very well. He often communicated to her the progress with regard to the spreading of the message of Seventh-day Adventism.
The people of
Although in this section we see only a brief overview of the man himself, also his objections he made to the General Conference regarding the trinity doctrine, a larger view would be quite advantageous. This is particularly with regards to understanding some of the issues that are involved in this debate.
At the age of twelve, Washburn had been baptised by James White, the husband of Ellen White. This was following being convinced of ‘the truth’ by J. N Andrews.
J. N. Andrews whom many regard as a brilliant theologian was also a non-trinitarian.
He wrote in 1855 regarding the trinity doctrine
“This doctrine destroys the personality of God and his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. The infamous, measures by which it was forced upon the church which appear upon the pages of ecclesiastical history might well cause every believer in that doctrine to blush.” (J. N. Andrews, Review and Herald, March 6th 1855, ‘The Fall of Babylon’)
This was much the same view as most of the early pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism. In relation to our last-day message, they regarded the separate personalities of God and Christ to be of paramount importance.
In 1884 at the age of 21, Washburn joined the ministry of the
Washburn’s heart (as we say) was ‘set on fire’ for the
gospel. This eventually came about because of the preaching of the message of ‘righteousness
by faith’ as Waggoner and Jones had presented it at the famous 1888
In commenting on the 1919 Bible and history teachers conference, Bert Haloviak, Director of the General Conference Archives and Statistics, reported
“Washburn claimed a rich
SDA heritage. He was converted by J. N. Andrews at 11, baptized by James White at 12
and began preaching Adventism at 21. In a state of confusion and dismay
after the 1888 General Conference session that he attended, Washburn, who was a
nephew of George Butler, had an interview with Mrs. White at
Washburn fully supported Ellen White. This was especially so when she said that instead of presenting the beauty of Christ’s perfect righteousness as Waggoner had presented it at Minneapolis (1888), the ministry of the Seventh-day Church were still dwelling too much on the ‘keeping of the law’. Here we can see the reason for Washburn’s unparalleled success in the preaching of the gospel.
The word ‘success’ does not truly reflect the effect of
Washburn’s preaching. His was a prolific contribution. In a 1974 Centennial
Historical Special Edition of the British ‘Messenger’, it relates that in 1893
“The attendances were so
large that, despite the fact that no fewer than four meetings were held each
Sunday, a move had to be made to the more commodious Philharmonic Hall,
while retaining the
In itself, this statement speaks volumes so further comments
are really unnecessary but note the comments made in another magazine that was
issued to celebrate the year 2000. This magazine relates that one particular
researcher had concluded that British Seventh-day Adventism might well have
perished but for Washburn’s contribution. This reveals how highly this one
man’s contribution to the work in the
This magazine recounts (take note the title of the article)
Here again is revealed the ‘secret’ of Washburn’s success. It was the preaching of righteousness by faith, a ‘living’ faith in God.
The article then continues
Without saying any more, it can be clearly seen that
Washburn’s dynamic preaching brought about a varied and animated response from
the inhabitants of the
Washburn had a tremendous memory.
Bert Haloviak said of him
“In addition to his intense study of the spirit of prophecy and desire to obtain "everything that Sister White wrote," Washburn's amazing memory enabled him to memorize much of the Bible and spirit of prophecy writings.” (Bert Haloviak, ATIssue ‘In the shadow of the daily: Background and aftermath of the 1919 Bible and history teachers conference’’)
“By 1918 he claimed to have memorized Revelation, Romans, James and Second Peter. He noted that his memory improved "with the study of the Bible and spirit of prophecy." By 1948 he claimed to have memorized the entire New Testament and was working toward committing Isaiah to memory.” (Ibid)
It should go without saying that Seventh-day Adventists today would do well to emulate Washburn.
He said in a letter to F. M. Wilcox (Wilcox was the man who was later responsible for the wording of the 1931 statement of beliefs in which the word trinity was used for the very first time)
"You were in that secret Bible Council which I believe was the most unfortunate thing our people ever did, and it seemed to me you were losing the simplicity of your faith." (Washburn to F. M. Wilcox, letter July 3, 1921)
Here we have a renowned Seventh-day Adventist minister calling the 1919 Bible conference “that secret Bible Council”. He was saying that it was the worse thing that Seventh-day Adventists had ever done.
Particularly note here that Washburn accused Wilcox of “losing the simplicity” of his faith. From one Seventh-day Adventist minister to another, this was quite an accusation. It also speaks volumes as regards to the difference between believing the philosophical speculations of the trinity doctrine and the simplicity of what the Bible has to say concerning the three personalities of the Godhead (see section four, section five, section six, section seven and section eight).
The next year (1922), then with thirty-eight years experience in the ministry, Washburn wrote again concerning the 1919 Bible Conference. This time it was in an open letter to A. G. Daniells as well as to the General Conference (1922 was the year that A. G. Daniells relinquished the post of presidency to become General Conference secretary).
In this letter Washburn said to Daniells
“Under the authority, and sanction or permission at least of this so called Bible Institute, teachers were undermining the confidence of our sons and daughters in the very fundamentals of our truth, while the parents were not allowed to inquire into the sacred secrets of this private council. . . . One of our most faithful workers said the holding of this Bible Institute was the most terrible thing that had ever happened in the history of this denomination.” (J. S. Washburn, "An Open Letter to Elder A. G. Daniells and an Appeal to the General Conference," 1922, pp. 28-9)
Washburn regarded the 1919 Bible Conference as being
extremely detrimental to both the message and the work of the
In this respect, much more could be spoken of but we need to move on although we must not do so without remembering that Washburn came up through the ranks of Seventh-day Adventism. This means that he knew only too well the message that was preached by the other pioneers. This included James and Ellen White. Does this tell us something today?
This leads us to the letter that Washburn wrote to the
General Conference objecting to the doctrine of the trinity being introduced
into the teachings of the
Washburn’s 1940 letter to the General Conference
It was in response to a sermon that was preached by W. W. Prescott
that Washburn wrote his letter to the General Conference.
Concerning what he regarded as ‘trinitarian’ views being
In his letter he said such things as
“The doctrine of the Trinity is regarded as the supreme test of orthodoxy by the Roman Catholic Church”, … “The leading doctrines of the Roman papacy were taken directly from heathenism”, … “The doctrine of the Trinity is a cruel heathen monstrosity, removing Jesus from his true position of Divine Savior and Mediator” as well as “Satan has taken some heathen conception of a three-headed monstrosity, and with deliberate intention to cast contempt upon divinity, has woven it into Romanism as our glorious God, an impossible, absurd invention.” (Judson Washburn, The trinity, Letter to General Conference in 1940)
Washburn was no more impressed with the doctrine of the trinity than he was with the 1919 Bible Conference. Note particularly that in his opinion the trinity doctrine removed Jesus from “his true position of Divine Savior and Mediator”. This was a very serious allegation and it was coming from a man who had spent his lifetime in the ministry of the gospel. This was especially so as this very same gospel was preached by Ellen White and the other pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism. This must give us something very serious to think about, particularly as Washburn’s preaching, which was decidedly non-trinitarian, won so many people to Jesus Christ.
In his letter to the General Conference, I would ask you now to particularly contemplate one very important statement that was made by Washburn.
Concerning the doctrine of the trinity (and remember, this was in 1940, nine years after the word ‘trinity’ was first used in our fundamental beliefs) he said
“This monstrous doctrine transplanted from heathenism into the
Notice here the emphasis. Washburn said that the trinity doctrine was (as he put it) “seeking to intrude its evil presence” into Seventh-day Adventism. This was in 1940, therefore it can be seen that at this time, the trinity doctrine was not as well established within Seventh-day Adventism as many Seventh-day Adventists have been led to believe. Obviously Washburn still regarded non-trinitarianism as the recognised belief of Seventh-day Adventism.
If you remember, we have quoted previously from Russell Holt’s paper on the history of the trinity doctrine within Seventh-day Adventism.
He said of the time period leading up to the death of James White (1881)
“This period saw the death of most of those pioneers who had championed and held the anti-trinitarian position. Their places were being taken by men who were changing their thinking, or had never opposed the doctrine. The trinity began to be published, until by 1931 it had triumphed and become the standard denominational position. Isolated stalwarts remained who refused to yield, but the outcome had been decided.” (Russell Holt, “The doctrine of the Trinity in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination: Its rejection and acceptance” 1969)
As we now know from what we have previously read, by 1931 the
trinity doctrine had not triumphed. Certainly it had not become the standard
denominational position. This is very much an exaggeration. Non-trinitarianism
(semi-Arianism), within the
Much more could be said about the man Washburn, also regarding his views on this ‘new theology’ that he could see was fast becoming a part of the message of Seventh-day Adventism. Suffice to say for now though that many of those Seventh-day Adventists today who are against the trinity doctrine (the non-trinitarians) are still against it for the very same reasons as was Washburn.
The main reason why Washburn objected to the trinity doctrine was that he believed it taught that at Calvary, the pre-existent Son of God did not die, thus in his opinion, the trinity doctrine directly affected the efficacy of the atonement (if you remember, this was the same view as held by J. H Waggoner that we noted in section thirty-seven whose publications concerning the trinity doctrine destroying the atonement was spread over twenty-one years).
Washburn was referring here to W. W. Prescott whose sermon he had objected to by writing a letter to the General Conference. In this same letter, Washburn even concluded that the inculcation into the beliefs and teachings of Seventh-day Adventism of the trinity doctrine might be the omega of deadly heresies that Ellen White said would be accepted by Seventh-day Adventists. This, as we have seen in section one, is the same view as some hold today. Whoever understands the trinity doctrine can well sympathise with Washburn’s reasoning.
In his letter he had previously said
“Seventh-day Adventists claim to
take the word of God as supreme authority and to have “come out of
He then added
“and the very Omega of apostasy?” (Ibid)
That the trinity doctrine denied the death of the pre-existent Son of God was a major issue with Washburn. This is because throughout his sermons he emphasised that this was the sinner’s only hope. It is no wonder that he was so much against this speculative teaching.
Washburn was far from being the last of our members, particularly those in the ministry, who objected to the trinity doctrine. There were others. One such person was Charles Longacre.
Charles S. Longacre (1871-1958)
In his paper of the demise of semi-Arianism and anti-trinitarianism within Seventh-day Adventism, Merlin Burt refers to Charles Smull Longacre as being another non-trinitarian minister who did not yield to the ‘new theology’ of Seventh-day Adventism. He also points out that Longacre was actually present at the 1919 Bible Conference. He even reports an interesting recollection of Raymond F. Cottrell, a very good friend of Longacre. We shall relate it here now. Burt obtained this in an interview with Robert Olson in 1996, the year he wrote his paper.
This recollection was that Longacre was ‘called away’ one Sabbath and could not take his normal Sabbath School class at the Takoma Park Church so he asked Cottrell to take the lesson study for him, which as it happened that week was on the deity of Christ.
“Cottrell attempted to teach the class with great delicacy. During discussion one of the class members spoke up and said “Elder Cottrell, we want you to know that we are all Arians” (Merlin Burt, ‘Demise of Semi-Arianism and anti-trinitarianism in Adventist theology, 1888-1957 page 50)
Here we have a suggestion of the influence that Longacre had
Certainly Arian or Arianism is a term that is used by many to denote any belief that is not in harmony with the trinity doctrine. We can see therefore that unless it is explained each time that it is used, its definition is very ambiguous.
Merlin Burt continues his paper by commenting on the ‘Bible Research Fellowship’ that was organised in 1940 by the North American Bible teachers. This, as he says, was chaired in 1944 by L. L. Caviness whom we noted at the 1919 Bible Conference was then decidedly opposed to the trinity doctrine (see section thirty-five and section thirty-six)
Burt also recorded that this fellowship, comprising of teachers and Bible workers, met together monthly to discuss different papers, some of which he says were very often controversial. He noted that in the January of 1947, one paper presented by Longacre to the fellowship called “The Deity of Christ” was obviously very controversial.
This paper Burt says, articulated “With careful precision” the earlier views of the pioneers. He then said that when Longacre used the Bible and the writings of Ellen White to support his views, he met serious opposition from the fellowship members (nothing really changes does it?). We shall quote from this paper later. It certainly reveals what was once the faith of Seventh-day Adventists, even up to and beyond the death of Ellen White.
Burt concludes his section on Longacre by saying
“Ray Cottrell observed that “there were a number of survivors of Arianism back there in the 1950’s, but to my knowledge it has quietly died out since then as the people who held Arian views died. And when C.S. Longacre died, its primary exponent died also.” (Ibid page 52-53)
Perhaps to a very great extent the ‘old views’ of Seventh-day Adventism did ‘die out’ in the 1950’s (the time when trinitarianism had become more or less established within the Seventh-day Adventist Church) but they certainly were not completely dead. This does not mean either that these views were wrong.
These ‘old views’ are still held by many Seventh-day Adventists today and are once again coming into vogue as being Biblical truth. Interesting to note here is that in the 1950’s, these non-trinitarian ideas of God and Christ, as held by the pioneers, were still ‘acceptable’ within the Seventh-day Adventist ministry but today they are not acceptable. Such is the changed attitude within Seventh-day Adventism. In other words, there is today far less tolerance afforded to those who maintain, as did the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism (including Ellen White), that a non-trinitarian (semi-Arian) view of God and Christ is a correct biblical understanding.
As confirmation of what was generally believed by Seventh-day Adventists in earlier times, we shall now quote from Longacre’s paper. Note that Burt says of Longacre that he was the “primary exponent” of the one time faith of Seventh-day Adventists. This faith he calls “Arian views”.
Burt also records that not long after presenting his paper at
Burt records that in his interview with Olsen, the latter said
“While I was
there, I discovered that this matter of Christ’s deity was a hot issue. And Elder C. S. Longacre had preached a
sermon in the old
Burt that Longacre’s sermon was being talked about by all the students of the
seminary. He also said that Andreasen, so that he could deny what was taught by
Longacre, wanted to take the pulpit the next Sabbath. It was therefore agreed
with the pastor of the
Olsen related that the President had said
“We’re not going to have a great big controversy right here. You must not allow Elder Andreasen to have your pulpit. You must deny him that privilege.” (Ibid)
It could have been that McElhany thought that there was enough controversy around already without having more added to it. Note again that this was in 1947. This was just a few years after the controversy brought about by the editing that was done to Uriah Smith’s ‘Daniel and the Revelation’. We noted this in section forty-six and section forty-seven. It was also now 32 years after the death of Ellen White, 49 years after the publication of her ‘The Desire of Ages’, 16 years after the addition for the first time in our history of the word ‘trinity’ to our published fundamental beliefs and 103 years after our beginnings as a movement of people (1844).
Very interesting to note is that Longacre was selected as one of the six ‘guards’ to Ellen White’s bier at her funeral. Obviously this man was highly respected within Seventh-day Adventism.
We shall now take a look at some of the things that Longacre said in his paper. This will reflect what was being taught within Seventh-day Adventism during the time of Ellen White’s ministry.
The old-time religion of Seventh-day Adventists (as seen through the eyes of Charles S. Longacre)
Charles Longacre was no ‘run of the mill’ Seventh-day Adventist minister. He was a very well known figure. Click here to read his biography. It is included in an article regarding Longacre’s ‘The Deity of Christ’ paper (mentioned above).
In his paper, Charles Longacre expounded and explained his beliefs concerning Christ. History relates, as we have seen in previous sections, that these were as held by Seventh-day Adventists during the time of Ellen White’s ministry. Longacre not only stressed these beliefs but also by quoting much from the Scriptures and from the writings of Ellen White, he explained his reasons for holding them. Obviously, because of limited space, we cannot detail all of his reasoning here but suffice to say that a great deal of it is exactly the same as found in this study. Whilst we can only quote a small portion of what he said, we shall show enough to gain a reasonable balance of these beliefs.
After quoting two beliefs concerning Christ that he believed were error he wrote
“We now come to the third group which hold that Christ was the only begotten Son of God, the Father, and that He was such from the days of eternity and was the only one who proceeded directly from God, being begotten by the Father before all creation, before anything was created in an empty universe. This group hold that the Son of God is equal to the Father, is the express image of the Father, possesses the same substance as the Father, the same life as the Father, the same power and authority as the Father, but that all these attributes were given to the Son of God by the Father, when He was begotten by the Father.” (Charles S. Longacre, The Deity of Christ, paper presented to the Bible Research Fellowship Angwin, California January 1947, page 3)
He also said two paragraphs later
“This group believe that the Son of God existed “in the bosom of the Father” from all eternity, just as Levi existed in the “loins of Abraham,” as the apostle Paul said; “And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchesedec met him.” Heb. 7:9, 10.” (Ibid)
After quoting Revelation 1:11 Longacre said
“Not everything has a beginning nor does everything have an ending. God Himself never had a beginning and He will not have an ending. He is the self-existent One, who never had a beginning. Eternity itself never had a beginning and never will have an ending. Space has no beginning and no ending. Everything else had a beginning, but not all things that have a beginning are going to have an end.” (Ibid page 4)
As we shall now see, Longacre included Christ as having a beginning of personality although he firmly believed that He is God.
He then said
“Of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, it is said in the Scriptures, "He is the only Begotten of the Father." The Son of God was not created like other creatures are brought into existence. He is not a created but a Begotten Being, enjoying all the attributes of His Father. Christ Himself explains His own relationship to the Father as follows: "As the Father had life in Himself," unborrowed, underived, original, independent, and immortal, "so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself. John 5:26" (Ibid)
This is truly ‘one time’ Seventh-day Adventist theology. It is that Christ really is the Son of God.
Longacre later said
“God "only hath immortality." He alone is the only self-existent God. But He gave His Son when He was Begotten the same life he had in Himself, therefore when Christ offered His life as a ransom for the sins of the world, He and He only could make an atonement for all the sins of all the world, because he made "infinite sacrifice," and it required an Infinite sacrifice" to atone for all the sins of mankind and angels who had sinned, in order to satisfy the demands of the law of God and infinite justice.” (Ibid, page 7)
Longacre also said in the next paragraph
“Christ had unconditional immortality bestowed upon Him when He was Begotten of the Father. Angels had conditional immortality bestowed upon them when they were created by Christ in the beginning. Angels are immortal but their immortality is conditional. Therefore angels do not die but live on after they sin just as Satan or Lucifer lives on in sin. But since Lucifer and the fallen angels only enjoy conditional immortality, God ultimately will destroy them and take from them the gift of immortality which Christ bestowed on them when He created them. Whatever God bestows he can take away whenever He sees fit.” (Ibid)
Almost at the end of his paper, Longacre explained
“Christ always existed in the bosom of the Father, even before He was Begotten as the Son of God, and God and His prophets counted "things which are not," as though they were even before they were manifested. Thus we read that Christ was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," and that "Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot... was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifested in these last times." So Christ existed in the bosom of the Father from all eternity but was manifested when He was begotten by the Father as His Son, as the apostle Paul says, "before all creation." (Ibid, page 19)
Earlier in his paper, after saying that at the resurrection “immortality will be bestowed upon every saint that is raised to life through Jesus Christ” he says
“But Christ, the only Begotten of the Father, made in the "express image" of the Father in person. God not only appointed [Him] to be the Saviour of men, but He appointed Him "heir of all things," "being made so much better than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said He (God) at any time, Thou art My son, This day have I begotten thee?" Heb. 1:2-5.” (Ibid, page 8)
He then adds
“Here we are told that the expression "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten thee," refers only to Christ and not to any of the angels. Then there must have been a time, a day, when the Son of God was begotten by the Father. On that day, the Father saith unto His only Begotten Son: "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever ... therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thine hands." Heb. 1:8-10.” (Ibid)
Again this is strictly non-trinitarian reasoning.
Although it is far too much to quote here, in confirmation of his beliefs (faith), Longacre quotes abundantly from the spirit of prophecy. In the main it is much the same as is quoted in these studies.
We will quote him as saying
“The Spirit of Prophecy says that there was and still is a difference in rank between God - the Father, and God's Son.” (Ibid, page 9)
“We read in Vol. 1 of the old Spirit of Prophecy [p.17] thus: "Satan in Heaven, before his rebellion, was a high and exalted angel, next in honor to God's dear Son." The implication is that God stands first in honor, His only begotten Son comes next, and Lucifer was next to the Son of God. If God and His Son were co-eternal, co-equal, and co-existent so that there was no difference between them then we should not say Lucifer was next to the Son of God but next to God as well.” (Ibid)
This is logical reasoning by Longacre.
Did you notice something very interesting? Longacre does not mention the Holy Spirit. It seems that he reasoned the same way as the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism. This is that the Holy Spirit is not a person like God and Christ are persons.
Longacre further explains concerning Christ
Again we read: "Jesus, God's dear Son, had the pre-eminence over all the angelic hosts. He was one with the Father before the angels were created. Satan was envious of Christ, and gradually assumed command which devolved on Christ alone." Why on Christ alone? Why not on God? Because Satan knew that the Son of God had come forth from the Father and was His Son, and he felt he should share equal honors with the Son.” (Ibid)
He also added later (this is obviously with respect to Ellen White’s remark in ‘The Desire of Ages’ that in Christ is “life original, unborrowed, underived”)
“What kind of life did the Father have in Himself? In God "is life original, unborrowed, underived," "immortal," "independent." "He is the source of life." Christ says, "As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given" - the same life, original, unborrowed, underived life to the Son. It was "given" to Him by His Father. Christ was made the source of life just as the Father was the source of life. Christ had the same life the Father had in Himself in His own right. He did not have to derive or borrow it, it was now original with Christ just as it was with the Father. Christ's life was independent of the Father, hence not dependent, derived, or borrowed. He could bestow and give life and create just as the Father could, but the Father gave this life to His Son.” (Ibid, page 10)
Again Longacre explains
“When this same life the Father had in Himself was given by the Father to His Son so He too had it "in Himself," we are not told. Nor does it make any difference how long it was before anything was created, the fact remains that the Son of God proceeded from the Father, that He was in the bosom of the Father, that His life, "underived, unborrowed" and "given" to Him by the Father, that the Father "ordained" His Son "should be equal with Himself;" that the Father "invested" His Son "with authority," and that the Son does "nothing of Himself alone." (Ibid pages 10-11)
In his paper, one of the things that Longacre greatly stresses is the risk that in the plan of redemption was taken by the Father and the Son. According to Longacre, the trinity doctrine totally obscures this risk. This is one of the reasons why he was so much against the trinity doctrine. It denies that any risk was taken by the Father or the Son, at least as far as the eternal existence of the Son is concerned. The author of these notes agrees with this reasoning (see section thirteen)
Longacre said such as
“If it were impossible for the Son of God to make a mistake or commit a sin, then His coming into this world and subjecting Himself to temptations were all a farce and mere mockery. If it were possible for Him to yield to temptation and fall into sin, then He must have risked heaven and His very existence, and even all eternity. That is exactly what the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy say Christ, the Son of God did do when He came to work out for us a plan of salvation from the curse of sin.” (Ibid page 13)
After quoting some of the same things from the spirit of prophecy as is quoted by the author of these notes (see section thirteen), Longacre concluded
“If He [Christ] had failed, His immutability as well as His eternity would have been forfeited and eternally lost.” (Ibid page 14)
Longacre later concluded
“Our life is finite - His is infinite. Ours is mortal - His is immortal. Our spirit is finite, His is infinite. We cannot take up our life after we lay it down. He could, so long as He did not commit sin.” (Ibid page 15)
He then said
“But if he had yielded to temptation and become guilty of sin, - and this was possible - His very existence, his eternal existence and heaven itself was possible of being forfeited. If it was not, then He never took a risk; and we are told He "risked all," even heaven itself, as "an eternal loss." This being so, then His corporeal body was not only put in jeopardy but His Deity. Because, if He could exist as a separate Deity, independent of His corporeal body, after He yielded up His life on Calvary, then He did not risk heaven nor would He have suffered "all" as "an eternal loss." (Ibid)
Longacre also said
that the trinity doctrine undermines the atonement made by Christ at
“Since His spirit did not go to heaven, but the Father committed Christ's spirit to the tomb and it slept with His body in the tomb, and "all that comprised the life and the intelligence of Jesus remained with His body in the sepulchre," we must conclude that if Christ had sinned all that ever belonged to Christ would have forever remained in the tomb and Christ would have suffered the "loss" of His eternal existence. Then God would have taken back to Himself what He gave to His son, namely, the same life He gave His only Begotten Son when He proceeded from the bosom of the Father in the beginning when He became "the First-born before all creation," as Paul puts it.” (Ibid)
There was so much more that Longacre said with respect to his objections to the trinity doctrine but it is far too voluminous to quote here. If you would like to read his paper in its entirety please click here.
We now need to move on to another stalwart of Seventh-day Adventism. He was another minister who, up to the time of his death in 1968, upheld the ‘old theology’ of Seventh-day Adventism. This was the theology that said that Christ was truly the Son of God. The man’s name is W. R. French.
W. R. French (1881-1968)
In the book ‘Light Bearers to the Remnant’, R. W. Schwarz said that in the second decade of the 1900’s, Seventh-day Adventist colleges were “increasing the amount of practical experience required of theology students”.
He then said
“At Emmanuel Missionary College during the 1920s, for example, students in the four-year ministerial program were required to take "Pastoral Training" and "Ministerial Field Work," in addition to the traditional Bible courses in doctrines, Daniel and Revelation, Old Testament Prophets, and New Testament Epistles. They were expected also to participate in at least two evangelistic crusades.” (R. W. Schwarz, ‘Light Bearers to the Remnant’, page 485, chapter 29, ‘Developing a professional Ministry’)
Schwarz then said
“The brothers T. M. and W. R. French, who successively headed the Theology Department, had been successful evangelists themselves and sparked an interest in this work among their students. During the seven years W. R. French led out, his students conducted fifty-three winter evangelistic campaigns. Frequently baptisms were scheduled to follow commencement exercises.” (Ibid)
From this we can see that both of the French brothers were very active and very well known in our church. They both served our church for over 40 years.
In a write-up of the 65th wedding anniversary of W.R. French and his wife, it said in the Pacific Recorder in 1968
“Elder and Mrs. French went to
R. French was a very well known teacher. He was also, as we shall see later, a
non-trinitarian. This shows that non-trinitarianism was acceptable to be taught
all through the time of the ministry of French. Note in 1953 that he was
The article then said
“Elder French has built many churches and has held evangelistic meetings many summers.” (Ibid)
In the same interview that Merlin Burt had with Robert Olson (we mentioned this previously), the latter spoke of W. R. French.
French had been the chairman of the
Religion Department at
“And when Elder French said something, brother that was it!” (Robert Olson, Interview with Merlin Burt, Loma Linda University, October 4th 1996”)
“Nobody argued with him. We didn’t.” (Ibid)
Olson also recounted the day when the students were invited to a special afternoon session with French. French asked them, because they would soon be beginning their ministerial work, were there any questions they wanted to ask him.
Olson recorded that one student asked
“Was Christ eternal like his father, or did Christ have a beginning?” (Ibid)
This may reveal that at that time (the early 1940’s), this subject was at least being debated. This we have seen in previous sections. This was also the time period when the decision was made to edit Uriah Smith’s ‘Daniel and the Revelation’ (see section forty-one, section forty-six and section forty-seven). This was to remove the non-trinitarian statements from within its pages. We know that from what we have read that this did bring about controversy. This was even amongst our leadership (see the previous two sections).
Olson then related
“And Elder French was positive on that Christ did have a beginning …” (Ibid)
This was the view that was generally held within Seventh-day Adventism all the time of Ellen White’s ministry. It was also this belief that was expunged from Uriah Smith’s ‘Daniel and the Revelation’.
As proof of his belief Olsen said that French cited John 1:18 explaining that
“… somehow Christ had been produced from the bosom of the Father and before that He did not have an existence” (Ibid)
Again this was the reasoning of the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism. This was the ‘begotten’ concept.
Olson continued by saying
“Well that made sense to me. It was Bible; he was a man whom I respected, and we all did. He knew the Scriptures; he was chairman of the Religion department, and as far as I knew, all Seventh-day Adventists believed that way. I had no idea that anybody else thought any different. Why would anyone differ from Elder French?” (Ibid)
Quite obviously, the long-held begotten belief concerning Christ was still prevalent within Seventh-day Adventism – and acceptably being taught in our colleges etc. This was 1942.
Olson concluded by saying
“So that was the fall of ’42. So, most of us who finished that year had the same concept.” (Ibid)
We can see from this that these students (Olson was in his early 20’s then) were not taught trinitarianism, at least not by W. R. French. It appears that they went away satisfied with the begotten concept of Christ.
Olson also said that in 1946 he had gone to Loma Linda to work but because the church wanted him to achieve a Master’s Degree he spent the first quarter of 1947 (February to May) at the Takoma Park Seminary.
He said (remember this was 1947)
“While I was there, I discovered that this matter of Christ’s deity was a hot issue.” (Ibid)
As we noted above, this was the time (January 1947) when Longacre
had presented his paper on ‘The Deity of Christ’ to the Bible Research
Fellowship. It was also just after this that Longacre had presented a sermon on
the same subject at
All of what Olsen said goes to confirm what we have already realised in our studies of the previous sections. This is that in the late 1940’s, there was a theological tug of war going on between the supporters of the ‘new theology’ and those holding on to the ‘old theology’ (the begotten concept). This also shows us that by then (1947), trinitarianism was far from being established within Seventh-day Adventism.
Remember as we noted above, Judson Washburn had said in 1940
This monstrous doctrine [the trinity doctrine] transplanted from heathenism into the
It is interesting that Burt asked Olson if French had made this ‘begotten’ concept prominent when teaching his students. Olson’s answer was very interesting.
“Well, he may have but, you see, I wasn’t aware that it was a point of discussion. And so he may have said things that I just swallowed along with everything else, and I wouldn’t remember now that it was a controversial point. In fact, I didn’t think much about that meeting that afternoon with the juniors and seniors until later.” (Robert Olson, Interview with Merlin Burt, Loma Linda University, October 4th 1996”)
He then added
“It was some years later when I woke up to the fact that Christ was eternal. My mind went back to that meeting then as being the time when I probably was pretty well persuaded on it as to Elder French’s position. So, there was just no controversy that I can recall at that time.”(Ibid)
Olson was 76 years of age when he had this interview with Burt (1996). He was referring to events that had happened 54 years previous (1942). The passing of time does at times obscure past events but you would have thought that he would have remembered if then there had been any debate.
By 1947 though, he does admit that
there was debate. We know this because when arriving at
French was indeed a prolific Bible student. He must have been an excellent teacher. He is said to have memorised the entirety of the New Testament Scriptures. Burt also records that one of his students remembered that just for the fun of it, the students would quote a Bible text to which French responded by quoting the verses that came before and after it.
In his interview with Burt, Olson also related that French never made any notes from which to preach. Instead he memorised all of his sermons.
French gave Olson the reason for it.
“I never write anything out. I don’t want the devil to know what I’m thinking.” (Ibid)
He also added in confirmation (this was after saying that some ministers took two sets of notes into the pulpit so the devil would not know what they were going to talk about)
“Elder French never in his lifetime ever used sermon notes. He never wanted the devil to know what he was thinking about” (Ibid)
Burt said in his paper
“To his students, French was an oracle – the very voice of truth. (Merlin Burt, ‘Demise of Semi-Arianism and anti-trinitarianism in Adventist theology, 1888-1957 page 53)
Burt reports that to his dying day, W. R. French taught the
‘old views’ of God and Christ. This was as the pioneers of the
In one such statement French had said (this was the year that the word ‘trinity’ was first added to our published fundamental beliefs)
“Shall not the God of all the earth do right ? Shall not the Father respect the rights of the Son to judge His own servants, even as the Son respects the rights of the Father to supremacy?” (W. R. French, Review and Herald, September 3rd 1931 ‘Christ in the Holy of Holies’)
Although said to be equal with God the Father as far as His identity was concerned, Christ was considered to be ‘brought forth’ of the Father. This made the Father the source of the Son. It also made the Son equal with God. This is why Christ is the Son of God. This was once the faith of Seventh-day Adventists, at least during the time of Ellen White’s ministry.
Burt records that in his conversation with Olsen regarding ‘how things used to be’, Olsen told him that French, at the age of 87 in 1968 at the 25th anniversary of his graduating class at Pacific Union College, was invited to take the ten-minute vespers spot. This the veteran readily accepted.
French, with the realisation that his life on earth was fast ebbing away (he did in fact die the same year), gave a discourse from the Scriptures of his views of the Son of God. This was as believed by our pioneers of old (the ‘old theology’).
That evening in articulating these ‘one time’ views of Seventh-day Adventism, French held the pulpit so long that the chairman on the platform had to get the message to him that he had to stop. Such was the conviction of French that the pioneers had it right about the person and the deity of the Son of God.
Sadly though, Burt records in his paper
“W. R. French died on December 6, 1968, only eight months after what was probably his final public presentation” (Ibid)
He adds even more sadly
“With the death of French an era ended for the church. He was probably the last of the well known expositors to uphold the “old” view.” (Ibid)
“By the 1950’s and 1960’s, men like Washburn, Longacre and finally
French had become an anomaly
It really is very sad today that within Seventh-day Adventism, the pioneers who did such a great work for God and who were so greatly loved by Him, are now referred to as ‘anomalies’.
It is also sad that the views of God and Christ as were held by the pioneers during the time of the ministry of Ellen White are now simply referred to as “opinions” that “die hard”. If you remember in section twenty-four, section twenty five, section twenty-six and section twenty-seven, we noted that Ellen White said that the beliefs held by the Seventh-day Adventist Church was the “sacred truth” that God had given to the pioneers therefore it should never be given up. Certainly it is strange how this truth is now referred to as just being “opinions”.
This though is the year 2008 and things are different now. Certainly we have now a different ‘faith’ than we had during the time of Ellen White. That much really is for sure!
I also found it sad that in the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia, the service of French, in our church, was spoken of so briefly.
After serving the church for over 40 years it said of him
“Minister, Bible teacher. He was horn in
That is it! That is all that is said of W. R. French.
Summary conclusion so far
I believe that in summary of that which we have already studied,
we have seen that our church leadership today is correct in saying that during
the course of its history, the teachings of the
We now need to move on to section 49. This is where we shall
see that up to the middle of the 1950’s, the
Initial publication – 15th July 2008
Last edited – 3rd February 2016
© T. M. Hill 2008 England