The Great Crisis
In Great Britain
the United States
Lord has always given the first opportunity to the leaders to
exhibit faithfulness and courage but, sad to say, when the crisis
loomed up before the church in 1914, it found them unprepared.
The decisive majority of the membership in Europe were unable
to see that the brethren in the highest offices were leading the
church in the wrong direction by committing the members to combatancy.
that fiery test, the SDA leadership in Europe issued declarations
instructing the brethren to take a combatant part in the war.
These writings brought much confusion in the churches. Thousands
of SDAs in Europe were thrown into great trial and perplexity,
as, to avoid persecution and possible death, they consented to
give up Sabbathkeeping, bear arms, and do as other patriots were
doing. The great majority acted in accordance with the decisions
of their leaders.
was only a small minority of conscientious objectors who had the
necessary faith and courage to stand for truth and righteousness.
They were not troublemakers; they were honest Adventists who stood
up in defense of the law of God in a time of crisis, when the
church was wavering between loyalty and compromise. But their
position was out of harmony with the decision of the leaders,
who wanted the church to be in favor with the government. Therefore,
the faithful few who stood for their convictions were disfellowshiped
from the church. The persecution and tribulation which followed
as the result of this attitude is part of denominational history.
In the crisis caused by World War I God had His faithful witnesses
in every country, as we will see in the following pages.
the beginning of the war, the General Conference was aware of
the troubles that had come upon the church in Europe. The contentions
and divisions that were taking place in the Adventist ranks were
not concealed from the General Conference brethren. Therefore,
at the end of 1916, William A. Spicer, General Conference secretary,
was sent to Europe to obtain firsthand information about the problems
and, if possible, help find a solution. If he had contacted the
disfellowshiped minorities and heard also their side of the story,
he might have taken back
to Washington, DC, a balanced picture of the situation. But he
was satisfied with the one-sided reports obtained from the European
leaders (especially L. R. Conradi) who were responsible for and
directly involved in the difficulty. Thus, the visit of Elder
Spicer, instead of serving to solve or minimize the question at
issue, regarding faithfulness to the commandments of God also
in time of war, only served to aggravate it.
Christ und der Krieg (The
Christian and War).
In this booklet (p. 18) the leadership of Adventist Church
in Germany declared their new position.
of Adventists were filled with consternation and began to protest
when they read the circular letter of August 2, 1914, signed by
Elder G. Dail, secretary of the European Division, which contained
the following instructions:
should do our military duties cheerfully whilst we are in service
or being called to serve, so that the officers in charge will
find in us valiant and true soldiers who are ready to die for
their homes, for our army, and for our fatherland."
aggravate the distress of these conscientious objectors, the commitment
of the leadership, according to a declaration submitted by the
East German Union to the Ministry of War (August 4, 1914), signed
by the Union president, H. F. Schuberth, was brought to their
knowledge providentially a few days later. They said:
have bound ourselves together in the defense of the Fatherland,
and under these circumstances we will also bear arms on Saturday
additional shock to those faithful few was the publication of
the booklet Der Christ und der Krieg (The Christian and
War), in 1916. There, on page 18, three of the main Adventist
leaders in Germany made the following declaration:
all that we have said, we have shown that the Bible teaches: first,
that taking part in war is not a transgression of the sixth commandment;
second, that doing military service on the Sabbath is not a transgression
of the fourth commandment."
one can deny that a fundamental change took place in the doctrinal
position of the Adventist Church in Germany and that this change
affected the law of God directly. A crisis, followed by separation,
was the unavoidable consequence.
outsiders commented on this event. A Lutheran minister wrote:
World War brought a great crisis upon German Adventism. The Koelnische
Zeitung (Cologne Newspaper) of September 21, 1915, writes:
A division occurred among the followers of Adventism after
the outbreak of the war. The majority wanted to see the fundamental
teachings invalidated during the time of the war. The other part,
on the contrary, desired the sanctification of the Sabbath (Saturday)
even during this difficult time. These differences of opinion
finally led to the disfellowshipment of the followers of the old
faith from the church. Above all it was the position taken
toward war service in general that caused this division.
on August 4, 1914, the great majority of German Adventists had
declared in a very submissive communication to the War Office
in Berlin: In this present solemn time of war, we consider
ourselves duty-bound to stand for the defense of the fatherland
and also, under these circumstances, to bear arms on the Sabbath
(Saturday). A similar declaration was sent to the office
of the commanding general of the 7th army corps on March 5, 1915.
This declaration was signed by L. R. Conradi, the president of
the European Division of Adventists, and by P. Drinhaus, the president
of the Saxon Conference. Therefore, this official position was
taken in conflict with the pacifist teachings laid down by the
American Conference [of Adventists]. For this reason, part of
the German Adventists withstood this official resolution. This
disagreement resulted in a bitter conflict. Those Adventists who
accepted participation in war and who had become disloyal to the
original principles turned most vehemently against the followers
of the old teachings. In an article published in the Dresdener
Neueste Nachrichten (Dresden Latest News), April 12, 1918,
they call these people unreasonable elements with
foolish ideas, and in very unkind words they say:
We would, indeed, regard it as a favor done to us if such
elements met the fate which they deserve. In the same article
they recount, to exalt their own merits, what they have done for
the fatherland. This way of fighting each other, we feel, is a
very unpleasant thing. On the other hand, the followers of the
original teachings, in a special number of their periodical Waechter
der Wahrheit (Watchman of the Truth), narrate the unkindness
that they have suffered on the part of their hostile brethren."Dr.
Konrad Algermissen, Die Adventisten (The Adventists), pp.
2224 (booklet published in 1928).
a pamphlet published by the Adventist Church in Germany, the crisis
which came upon the Adventist people during World War I was explained
children of their heavenly Father, they [the Adventists] cultivate
peace among themselves and with their fellowmen all over the world.
At the same time, they seek to uphold the principles which the
Lord of Christendom has given to those who are the light and salt
of the world in this solemn time. Where general conscription exists,
they [the Adventists] have always been ready, as a denomination,
to fulfill their duties both in time of peace and in time of war,
like every other loyal citizen. In the observance of the weekly
seventh day, peculiar to them, they only desire the same rights
that are granted to other professors of religion with regard to
their rest day.
the outbreak of the war, the denomination firmly complied with
the conscription law as its members had done in times of peace.
They desired, only if possible, the privileges which could be
granted to others under the same circumstances. Thousands of their
members are in the army. Many of them have fallen on the field
of honor, both in Europe and some also in the colonies, while
many others have received decorations or have been promoted. Also,
at the beginning of the war, many of their members, both men and
women, reported voluntarily for ambulance service, and the denomination
placed their roomy mission establishments without hesitation at
the disposal of the Red Cross.
the course of the war, however, there were unfortunately some
individual members who failed to openly confess their own personal
conscientious doubts to the authorities, but rather withdrew from
their duties secretly and wandered from place to place inducing
others by word and literature to take the same step. When they
were called by the denomination to account for their procedure,
they accused the leaders of being in apostasy. Therefore, they
had to be disfellowshiped, not because of their personal convictions,
but because of their unchristian attitude and because they became
a threat to internal and external peace." Zur Aufklaerung
(For Clarification), pp. 2, 3.
a circular letter entitled The European Situation, Elder
C. H. Watson gave the following explanation:
was in Germany and those other countries concerned a minority
of our believers who refused to follow the leadership of Conradi
and others into combatant participation in the war.
were subjected to much suffering at the hands of their governments
because of their stand.
Germany, those who took their stand against Conradis wicked
action in thus committing them to war were treated with great
harshness by Conradi and his associates. The resistance of the
minority to military service threatened to compromise the whole
body of Adventists in the eyes of the German government; and,
to avoid this, Conradi had the minority disfellowshiped from the
the noncombatant minority was forced out of the church in that
country, and this separation continued throughout the war years.
this state of affairs became known to the General Conference leaders,
it created deep concern in their hearts, and led to their sending
W. A. Spicer to Germany at a time when the German submarine peril
was extremely grave. Brother Spicer took his life in his hands
in order to get firsthand information on that situation.
result of that visit was that the General Conference became possessed
of firsthand information regarding:
The wrong done to these minority believers.
The division and strife which had resulted among our German members.
The development of bitterness in both groups, and especially in
those wronged by Conradi.
The extreme views to which these groups were driving each other
in their differences."
Conradi was a leader of the SDA Church, he was whitewashed and
defended even by the General Conference representatives. After
he left the Adventist Church, some leaders began to admit what
they should have admitted at the beginning of the trouble (19141920).
Watsons admission, however, is a very rare exception. SDA
publications on this great crisis generally miss the point by
ignoring the fundamental aspects of the whole problem. One of
these aspects is that the faithful minority were disfellowshipeda
fact which is usually concealed.
rare admission of the responsibility of the church in the treatment
dispensed to the conscientious objectors is found in a booklet
published by the Southern Publishing Association, Nashville, Tennessee:
truth the reform movement . . . sprang into being
in Germany during the World War, while [L. R.] Conradi was the
leader of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in the whole
of Europe. That movement as it is today and has been since it
came into existence is the practical protest of a large number
of Seventh-day Adventists, not against the teachings of the denomination,
but against the high-handed actions of this very man Conradi and
a few others who were associated with him in his leadership of
the church in Europeactions which he took without either
the counsel, consent, or even the knowledge of the General Conference.
The departure of these people was not from a lot of gross
errors and a dominating hierarchy, but from Conradis
leadership which had committed them, without their voice or consent
being given to his action, to the cannon and the bayonet of the
battlefield. From the hour that he so basely betrayed them, they
have had absolutely no faith in him either as a man, a minister,
or a leader in the church of God." Walter H. Brown,
Brown Exposes Ballenger, p. 30.
is true that Conradi and other European leaders betrayed the confidence
of these "unfortunate victims," as Elder Brown admits
in his defensive writing against Ballenger. But Elder Brown was
greatly mistaken when he said that Conradi acted "without
either the counsel, consent, or even the knowledge of the General
Conference," because evidence proves the very opposite. Furthermore,
Elder Brown did not state facts correctly when he said there were
a "protest" and a "departure"; he should have
said that there were a "protest" and a "disfellowshipment."
World War I, well over 2,000 conscientious objectors were separated
from the Adventist Church in Germany. Together with the conscientious
objectors of other religious groups, these faithful believers
were put to the hardest test that Christians have ever been called
to endure. Since Germany had no provision to accommodate these
heroes of the faith, they had to face the firing squad or suffer
horrors in prison.
a conference that was held in Yugoslavia in 1933, Brother Otto
Welp gave the following report, which was published by our Yugoslav
brethren: As far as conscientious objectors were concerned, the
sentence pronounced against them was that, from among the men
eligible for the army, one out of every ten was to be executed.
Then, if the others did not yield, every fifth man was to be put
to death, and finally every second one. Only God knowsand
the day of judgment will revealhow many conscientious objectors
were actually executed. At that time they were often despised
as cowards who were afraid to go to the battlefront; now they
are more often regarded as heroes who refused to take human life
but were not afraid to die for their convictions. Those who survived
the firing squad were kept in prison until the end of the war.
in other countries which took part in the war, faithful Adventists
went through great hardships.