Attempting a Reconciliation
the very outbreak of hostilities, the leading brethren in the
United States were aware of the crisis which had affected the
work in Europe. They knew that there was a division among the
members. Yet they extended no support or sympathy to the persecuted
ones who found themselves outside the church.
1920 four members of the SDA General Conference Executive Committee
visited Europe with the stated purpose of settling the difficulty
and in some way restoring unity among the believers. They were
particularly concerned with the Balkan countries and Germany,
but in all their efforts they made scarcely any attempt to contact
the scattered groups of minority believers who had endured the
fires of affliction for the third angels message. Their
opinions were based almost entirely upon the reports received
from the European leaders who were directly involved in the problem.
It became evident to them, however, that the apostasy in Europe
could not be easily covered up, and that one day it would be made
known to the Adventist membership at large.
L. R. Conradi, vice president of the General Conference
and president of the European Division until 1922.
Reformers began to ask themselves serious questions about the
real intentions of the General Conference brethren: Are they actually
willing to settle the problems, or do they only intend to clear
themselves of the responsibility for what had taken place in Europe?
Will they admit or minimize the betrayal of the European leaders,
and give the impression that on the whole they had been loyal
to the message, and that they had done the best they could under
the circumstances? Do they think that the Reform brethren were
only a group of rebellious elements, extremists and fanatics,
who refused all efforts for reconciliation? Our brethren were
invited by L. R. Conradi, H. F. Schuberth, G. W. Schubert, and
P. Drinhaus (see Zions-Waechter, Nos. 13 & 14, July
1920) to send a delegation to a meeting of ministers to be held
in Friedensau, Germany, where the General Conference president
would be prepared to discuss the controverted questions.
opportunity of meeting with the General Conference president and
other Executive Committee members was welcomed by our pioneers,
who thought they could expect a fair and impartial hearing. They
soon realized, however, that they were mistaken in their optimistic
expectations. It was declared that the German leaders had been
faithful in the time of crisis, that no principle was involved
in the stand taken by the church, and that the Reformers were
only a small group of disaffected and disgruntled elements, deluded
by false dreams and visions.
conference was held at the SDA Missionary College in Friedensau,
July 21 through 23, 1920. There were present 51 members of different
Union Conference Committees (the three German Unions, The Netherlands,
Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary); plus 16 members of the disfellowshiped
minority (who were called by the SDA leaders "The Movement
of Opposition"); plus 4 General Conference men: A. G. Daniells
(president), L. H. Christian, F. M. Wilcox, and M. E. Kern. The
main speakers for the Reformers were Edmund Doerschler and Heinrich
representatives of the so called Movement of Opposition,
who took part in the discussion that was carried on at the
Adventist Missionary in Friedensau, Germany, July 21-23,
Reformers had four questions to which they desired answers:
question: "What stand does the General Conference take toward
the resolution adopted by the German leadership, since 1914, in
regard to the fourth and sixth commandments? On this point we
refer to the following written declarations (five documents presented)."
question: "What evidence can be presented to us that we have
not followed the biblical way toward the brethren, as we are accused
in the last issue of Zions-Waechter (SDA paper in Germany),
Numbers 13 & 14, July 1920? We will present the evidence later
question: (a) "What is the stand of the General Conference,
the American brethren, concerning the Testimonies of Sister White?
Are they or are they not inspired by God? (b) Should we or should
we not continue presenting the light on health reform (as brought
forth in the Testimonies) as the right arm of the message?"
question: "Is our message, according to Revelation 14:612,
a national or an international message? We have here several numbers
of Zions-Waechter which do not show that we are an international
people. Example: Zions-Waechter, Number 5, March 3, 1920,
from the leadership of the school."
reasons for, and the purpose of, these questions should be understood,
so the answers may be properly evaluated.
first question was asked with a view to finding out how far the
evident involvement of the General Conference in the combatant
position taken in Europe was admitted by the Adventist leaders,
and whether they were willing to make the necessary correction.
SDA leaders realize that this is a very delicate point; and many
try to deny some very serious facts which we must disclose to
the Adventist believers, namely, that:
By having condoned combatancy, not only among SDAs in Europe,
but also in America, and by not having corrected the situation
soon after World War I, the General Conference made matters worse;
By now refusing to acknowledge any General Conference involvement
in the World War I defection, the leaders were actually increasing
their complicity and culpability.
(front cover). Official minutes (published by the Adventist
Church in Germany) of the discussion in Friedensau (July
Adventist brethren should be informed that, during the Friedensau
conference (1920), the European leaders were whitewashed, and
even Conradi and Dail, respectively president and secretary of
the European Division (who had signed documents in behalf of SDA
combatancy), were justified as if they had committed no blunder
in connection with the law of God and the war question. And those
few who had stood up in defense of the commandments of God were
condemned for believing in strict obedience to the precepts of
Jehovah both in time of peace and in time of war, according to
the original SDA stand. The discussion is quoted from the Minutes
of the Conference with the Movement of Opposition (held in
Friedensau, July 2123, 1920), published by the SDA Church.
is the gist of Elder Daniells answer to the first question:
soon as the war broke out in Europe, we in America studied this
matter carefully. . . . And we took this position: Let everyone
act according to his conscience in this question. . . . Then we
had some brethren who had the spirit of love for their country,
and went to the battle line, and fought. They came to England
and France, and went to the trenches, and I dont know what
they did while they were there, but they served and came back
when the armistice was signed. . . . We regret the war, and we
are against it. But we must permit every citizen to act toward
the authorities according to the dictates of his own conscience.
Not one of these persons was disfellowshiped from our church.
Not one of them was treated as if he was not a Christian. . .
. As long as we do not have precise limits towards the authorities,
it must be left with each one to act according to his own conscience.
The brethren in America took the same moderate and tolerant position
as our brethren in Europe. . . . I would like to say that, when
the declaration of Brother Dail reached us in America, it did
not seem right, and we regretted it. We received letters from
brethren who condemned it severely and asked us to arise and condemn
it too. We told them to be quiet and cautious. . . . Therefore,
brethren, neither Brother Spicer nor I have ever used the pen
to publish a condemnation against these declarations. . . . In
spite of our views about this declaration, we did not send one
word in answer to it. . . . So I believe I have made clear the
feeling and position that has existed in America regarding the
events which took place in Europe. After all this we are convinced
that our brethren here, too, take the noncombatant position. We
have talked with brethren who were in the war, and I can tell
you that I have not found in any brother in Europe a greater military
spirit than in America. And I can say, too, that in their spirit
and in their procedure, our brethren in Europe have been as faithful
as our brethren in America. I will say it all over again in other
words: We are sorry for some of the declarations that have been
issued. But when we consider the spirit and the purpose that led
them to do that, we find that these brethren stand as faithful
and upright in the work as we ourselves. . . . And I must say
that everyone has had the right to set up his own conviction and
form his own conscience with reference to the war question. .
. . We believe that you brethren [referring to the representatives
of the disfellowshiped minority] are completely wrong in the position
you represent. We do believe in the fourth commandment as we have
ever believed in it. But we cannot agree with your interpretation
in connection with it. What would you have said about Moses a
few days after he had received the law on mount Sinai, if he had
told you to go and kill the king of Bashan, and all the men, women,
and children? Would you have accused him of murder? But God commanded
him to violate the sixth commandment. You see that there are many
things to be found in the interpretation of the commandments,
and we must have freedom to read and understand them, without
being bound to the interpretation of any small corporation."
quotation from the Minutes of the Conference with the Movement
of Opposition (held in Friedensau, July 21-23, 1920), published
by the SDA Church in Germany, shows the original and real issue
which brought the Reform Movement into existence: It was the law
of God. SDA leaders libel us in too many unprofitable words, with
too many irrelevant remarks and even nonsensical conclusions,
and generally miss the point altogether (as is the case of Elder
Christian in his Aftermath of Fanaticism or A Counterfeit Reformation).
However, Elder Daniells, the General Conference president in 1920,
was different. He brought to view, in a few words, the actual
big bone of contention, which caused the division at the beginning
of the crisis in Europe. We will restate his answer in a few words:
From the very beginning the General Conference men were informed
of what was going on in Europe, and read at least some of the
compromising declarations of the European leaders, but they decided
to keep quiet, leaving it up to the Europeans themselves to decide
what they should do under those circumstances. Elder F. M. Wilcox
had already explained this acquiescent attitude in an article
published in the Review and Herald:
should the Church of God today remember our European brethren
who are now suffering adversity. Some have been forced into active
military service; their lives are constantly menaced, and they
are exposed to hardship and danger. Families have been broken
up; those left at home are anxious with fear for those who have
gone to the front. The officers of some of our Conferences and
churches have been compelled to forsake their charges and join
the national colors. It should be our earnest prayer that God
will save His cause of truth during this trying period, and that
He will safeguard the lives of His children. As to just what our
European brethren should do under these trying circumstances only
they alone in prayer to God can decide." The Review
and Herald, August 27, 1914.
Conradi, the president of the European Division, wrote:
having received instruction from the highest authority, we in
Europe were permitted to decide this matter ourselves."Zions-Waechter
(SDA paper in Germany), No. 18, 1914.
The General Conference men then took the position that everyone
should follow his own conscience concerning the law of God in
connection with war service. And this is exactly what the European
Adventists did. The great majority, in Germany and other countries,
according to their conscience, took a combatant stand. The leadership
in Germany declared in one of the newspapers:
the beginning of the war our organization was split into two parties.
Ninety-eight percent of our membership, by searching the Bible,
came to the conviction that they are duty-bound, by conscience,
to defend the country with weapons also on Saturdays. This position,
unanimously endorsed by the leadership, was immediately announced
to the War Ministry. Two percent, however, did not submit to this
resolution and therefore had to be disfellowshiped because of
their unchristian conduct."Dresdener Neueste Nachrichten,
April 12, 1918.
The General Conference men even sent word to the European leaders,
expressly authorizing them to continue in their combatant position.
This cannot be denied in the face of the evidence existing in
our files: Curierul Misionar (SDA paper in Romania), November
3, 1916. Also a declaration in Zions-Waechter (SDA paper
in Germany), April 3, 1916, shows the responsibility of the General
Conference for the combatant position taken in Europe. These evidences
were not denied when shown to the General Conference men in Friedensau,
Elder Daniells, the General Conference president, made it plain
that, while in theory SDAs declare themselves noncombatants, they
may in practice follow their own consciencewhich means that
they actually have their own choice and are free to act either
as faithful Christians or as patriotic warriorswhen facing
the war question.
The small disfellowshiped minority were condemned by Elder Daniells
as being "completely wrong" in their interpretation
that taking part in war service is irreconcilable with the law
of God. This condemnation was pronounced in the presence of many
SDA leaders in Europe and some General Conference leaders too.
It is true that we still hold the same beliefand by the
grace of God intend to hold it to the very endfor which
we have often been stigmatized as fanatics.
evidences which we have just produced pinpoint the main cause
of the division and show that the law of God is in question. And
since the two parties hold different views on such a vital issue,
they must go their separate ways, as Elder Daniells himself declared
in answer to the second question.