What did the following leading pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism all have in common with each other?
James Springer White
Joseph H. Waggoner
Merritt E. Cornell
John Nevins Andrews
John N. Loughborough
S. N. Haskell
Alonzo Trevier Jones
Ellet J. Waggoner
Photos: Courtesy of the Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.
They were all non-trinitarian!
To many Seventh-day Adventists today, this may appear very surprising, but the truth of the matter is that throughout the time of Ellen White’s ministry (1844-1915), also for decades following her death, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was a non-trinitarian denomination. This is the way it had been since its inception.
Ellen G. White
No rebuke through the spirit of prophecy
It is very interesting that regarding their non-trinitarian beliefs, never once did Ellen White say that early Seventh-day Adventists were wrong. This was even though some of our pioneers were quite vocal at times in speaking out against the trinity doctrine. This included her husband James Springer White.
The record of our history reveals that through to his death in 1881, even after being married to the messenger of the Lord for 35 years, James White remained a passionate anti-trinitarian. Nowhere can it be found where Ellen White said that her husband was wrong in these beliefs. This must be considered quite an interesting observation.
It was also the same with the other early Seventh-day Adventists. Never once did Ellen White say that they were wrong in rejecting the trinity doctrine.
Sent around the world as the truth
During the entire time period of Ellen White’s ministry, this non-trinitarianism was evident throughout the entire spectrum of Seventh-day Adventist publications. This was sent around the world as the truth that God desired His people to believe.
By our pioneers, these beliefs were considered to be an integral part of the last day message of Seventh-day Adventism. It must be asked therefore, if Ellen White had considered these beliefs to be wrong, why did she not seek to correct the church? After all, she was God’s messenger to the remnant – and she did have 71 years in which to do it (1844-1915). If it was error, why continue to allow Seventh-day Adventists to believe and teach it, and, in the process, lead thousands of others to also believe and teach it? If God had allowed His church to do this for such a long period of time, especially as He had His own messenger within the church, this would seem to have been a very strange thing for Him to do. After all, what is believed about Himself and His Son is surely the most important teaching of the Christian Church.
It was not until after Ellen White’s death that the claim was made that her writings revealed God to be a trinity of divine beings as depicted by the trinity doctrine. During her lifetime it was professed, by Seventh-day Adventists, that God was a personal being. Christ was said to be a separate personage from the Father. The belief that God and Christ are two separate personages was very important to early Seventh-day Adventists.
During the time period of Ellen White’s ministry, it was also believed that because Christ had been begotten (brought forth) of God, He was truly the Son of God. Many Seventh-day Adventists today deny this Sonship belief. The beliefs published in their denominational publications say that the Son of God, just like the Father, is not begotten. It is said that the persons of the Godhead are simply role-playing their various parts.
In the early days of Seventh-day Adventism, the Holy Spirit was not generally thought of as a person although eventually, through the leading of the spirit of prophecy, He was regarded as such. This though was not in the same sense as the Father and the Son were regarded as persons. This is because the nature of the Holy Spirit was said to be a mystery. In keeping with Scripture and the spirit of prophecy, it was taught that the Holy Spirit was the spiritual presence of both the Father and the Son when they (the Father and the Son) were still corporeally in Heaven.
After the death of Ellen White, all of this changed. This was when the belief was promulgated that the Holy Spirit was a person exactly the same as God and Christ are persons. This eventually led to the acceptance of a modified form of the orthodox trinity doctrine. Interesting to note is that it was not until at least the 1960’s that it could be said that trinitarianism was becoming more and more established within Seventh-day Adventism. This was decades after the death of Ellen White.
The realisation that Ellen White never once spoke out against the non-trinitarianism of early Seventh-day Adventists, also the fact that never once did she make a profession of the trinity doctrine, has led many Seventh-day Adventists today to seriously question whether she really was a trinitarian. This has led to asking what the difference is (if there is a difference), between the non-trinitarian beliefs of early Seventh-day Adventists and the so-called trinitarian beliefs of Ellen White. In other words, what is it that makes Ellen White’s beliefs trinitarian (if this is what they are) and what is it that makes early Seventh-day Adventists beliefs non-trinitarian (which we know they were)? These are questions that this author, in the various articles found on this website, has sought to answer.
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© T. M. Hill 2008, 2021
Updated January 2021
This website was last updated on May 12, 2023 @ 3:49 am.