HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF GOD,
by the late Richard C. Nickels
1973 - volume one
All quotes and accounts are backed up in Nickels "footnotes" at the end of his book, which I have omitted - Keith Hunt
Introduction — Controversial History
The True Church
Is there a true church? Did Jesus Christ of Nazareth form one distinct church, or body of believers in Him, that as he stated (Matt. 16:18) would continue to the very time of His return to rule this earth as Lord of Lords and King of Kings? That church was prophesied to be a small, despised group (Luke 12:32) that would bear the name, "Church of God," the church name used in the Bible more than any other, and used to denote a local church as well as the church as a whole, the name used twelve times in the New Testament.
If there is a true church, it would have to be one church, not divided into hundreds of disagreeing denominations. It would have to live by the law of God. And, just before Christ's return, it would have to be proclaiming the gospel of Christ — the good news that Jesus is soon coming to rule this earth with His saints and make a utopia on earth — this church would have to be proclaiming this message to the world with power, as a witness to all nations, before Christ's return. If there is a true church today, it would have to be one group, alive with God's Spirit, living by the very words of the Bible. Where is the true Church of God today?…..
So then where was the true church, the one Christ founded and the one he said would never stop the Work He began? …..
THE TRUE CHURCH HAS ALWAYS EXISTED, BUT RELATIVELY SMALL; OFTEN THROUGH THE AGES IN THE MOUNTAINS AND VALLEYS, IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES. YOU CAN RRAD ON THIS WEBSITE ABOUT HOW THE GOSPEL CAME TO BRITAIN ONLY YEARS AFTER THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH STARTED. THE BRITISH CHURCH WAS FOUNDED ON THE MAIN TRUTHS OF THE BIBLE, ONE BEING THE 7TH DAY SABBATH. WHEN THE ROMAN CHURCH CAME TO BRITAIN 500 YEARS LATER, WHAT THEY FOUND WAS DECLARED BACK TO THE POPE IN ROME, AS HERETICAL AND JEWISH. IT TOOK TILL THE 11TH CENTURY BEFORE ROME OBLITERATED THE BRITISH CHURCH; YET EVEN SOME FEW HERE AND THERE KEPT THE FAITH ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS. THE SAME WAS THE CASE IN MOST EUROPEAN COUNTRIES. COUNTRIES FURTHER TO THE EAST RETAINED MORE TRUE CHRISTIAN FAITH. WHEN THE NEW WORLD WAS STARTING TO BE SETTLED, SOME WHO CAME TO NORTH AMERICA FROM BRITAIN AND EUROPE, WERE 7TH DAY SABBTH KEEPERS. AS TO COME TO THE 18TH AND 19TH CENTURY THE SABBATH QUESTION WAS TAUGHT AND PREACHED BY THESE FEW, AND MORE PEOPLE BEGAN TO SEE THE 7TH DAY SABBATH, SHOULD BE OBSERVED. AND THEY SAW MOST OF THE FEASTS TAUGHT BY ROME AND PROTESTANTISM, WERE FROM THE PAGAN NATIONS, ADOPTED AND ADAPTED BY ROME CENTURIES EARLIER. A MOVEMENT BEGAN IN THE 1800s TO PROCLAIM THE FAITH ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS IN A STRONGER WAY. AS WE WILL SEE, MANY PITFALLS ALSO CAME ALONG, TO TAKE MANY OFF THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW, AND INTO MORE MAN'S IDEAS. ALSO WITH THIS CAME A LACK OF WILLING TO BE CORRECTED, TO GROW IN GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST JESUS. BUT JESUS AS HEAD OF HIS CHURCH WOULD SEE THAT SOME, THE LITTLE FLOCK, THE SALT OF THE EARTH, WOULD CONTINUE IN THE FAITH ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS.
Yet he found [speaking of one minister - Keith Hunt] "a church, which, compared to the large-scale activities of the Catholic and big Protestant bodies, was ineffective. Yet Jesus Christ said: All power is given unto me, in heaven, and earth" (Matt. 28:18). If Jesus was to be in His Church, guiding and directing it, and giving the church power to proclaim His message, as He said, why wasn't the little Church of God from Stanberry, Missouri [where this minister was located] making the whole world conscious of its existence and its power? Further, [this minister] failed to see where this church was bearing much if any fruit, and asked himself the question: "Could a fruitless church be the one and only true Church of God on earth?"
In 1927, the Church of God (Seventh Day), or Church of God (Adventist), as it was variously known, had scattered members probably numbering less than 2,000, mostly in rural areas, and only a very limited number of local churches, none as large as 100 members. Its ministers seemed; to be men of little education. Yet, in the words of [this minister] , "Small and impotent though it appeared, it had more Bible truth than any church I could find!"
The history of the Church of God, Seventh Day, is the purpose of this paper. From its modern crystalization in the 1860's to the present, this group of seventh-day-keepers has remained small, and almost unheard-of. The Church of God (Seventh Day) is one of "at least two hundred independent religious bodies in the United States bearing the name, Church of God, in one form or another.
It is still a group which claims to be the "true church."
BUT BY NOW THERE HAS ARISEN MANY LARGE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THEM, AS WE WILL SEE IN THIS IN-DEPTH STUDY - Keith Hunt
To enter into the presentation of the history of the Seventh Day Church of God is to enter on a field rife with religious — and sometimes political — controversy. Today when the word, "Adventist" is mentioned, it is automatically associated with the Seventh Day Adventist church. Yet Seventh Day Adventists are only one — but by far the largest numerically — of several distinct church groups which trace their history through the Adventist movement. There are three other major Adventist groups extant today, the Advent Christian Church, the Church of God (Oregon, Illinois), and the various factions of the Church of God (Seventh Day). These groups all trace their history from the Adventist movement, which began in the 1840's in the United States by William Miller.
A LITTLE HERE NEEDS TO BE SAID ABOUT WILLIAM MILLER. HE WAS PROTESTANT; THOUGHT HE HAD FIGURED THE YEARS AND DATE OF CHRIST RETURN. A SWEEPING WORK CAUGHT ON; AMONG THOSE ENVOLVED WERE 7TH DAY SABBATH KEEPERS….. HE PROPHECIES FAILED AND HE FINALLY DRIFTED INTO OBSCURITY - Keith Hunt
That is what "official" history purports. However, Seventh Day Adventist history states that the Church of God (Seventh Day) "was actually an early offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventist Church." But the Church of God historian Andrew N. Dugger dogmatically contradicts this by stating that Sabbath-keeping Adventists were originally known as "Church of God" people, and that those who in October, 1860 formed the Seventh Day Adventist church at Battle Creek, Michigan "are a branch from [and withdrew from] the original church, 'The Church of God'."
In other words, the Seventh Day Church of God believes that the Seventh Day Adventists withdrew from them, while the Seventh Day Adventists believe the Church of God withdrew from Seventh Day Adventists.
A modern Seventh Day Church of God minister and a Seventh Day Adventist minister concur on a more "liberal" viewpoint in the early 1860's, the two groups parted their ways.
Throughout the history of the Church of God (Seventh Day) and the Seventh Day Adventists, the two groups have been in diametric opposition to each other. Thus the history of the Seventh Day Church of God is largely controversial.
But considering the impotence of the Church of God, and its almost total lack of growth (while Seventh Day Adventists have grown to over a million members worldwide), its history is obscure and hard to trace. Only through its publications, which somehow have been largely preserved intact (with some exceptions) since 1863, can substantive history of the Church of God be traced. The rest comes from less friendly sources.
The Messenger Party
The Anti-White Party Before 1860
Seventh Day Adventist history, especially J.N. Loughborough's Rise and Progress of the Seventh-Day Adventists (1892), shows pre-1860 Sabbath Adventist history as entirely dominated by Mr. and Mrs. James White, and presents the origin of the Seventh Day Adventist church by 1863 as the natural outgrowth of the movement. Some opposition to the visions of Mrs. White is admitted, but such opponents are usually cast as ones who went out of the movement, went insane, or fell into weird beliefs. For the Seventh Day Adventists, those who "went out from them" never amounted to anything, and met with "utter failure".
Yet far from all Sabbath Adventists believed with their whole heart that Ellen G. White was a "prophetess." The most prominent group before 1860 opposing the Whites was termed by the Whites as the "Messenger Party."
The Messenger Party: Case and Russell
The so called "Messenger Party" concerned Hiram S. Case and C. P. Russell. Case was a pioneer preacher of the Adventist message in 1844 in New York. He accepted the Sabbath and sanctuary ideas from S. W. Rhodes in 1851 in North Plains, Michigan. Soon Case was out preaching in Michigan, Ohio, New York, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and writing articles also. He was the first to preach the Advent message in Wisconsin, in the spring of 1851. Waterman Phelps was among his first converts in southwest Wisconsin, a state that was to be one of the
key areas of opposition to the Whites.
In June 1853 at Jackson, Michigan there were held a series of Adventist meetings attended by Loughborough and the Whites. It appears that (here was some dissension here in the church. Some members had bitter feelings against a certain church lady. H.S. Case and C.P. Russell strongly accused her and tried to make her confess her wrong doing, whatever it was. Mrs. White had a vision, and as a result reproved the lady and also rebuked Case and Russel for their un-Christian conduct towards the lady. Case and Russell complained bitterly of the reproof. Previously they had believed in Mrs. Whites visions, and now they became staunch opponents of her.
A few weeks later, Case and Russell got other "disaffected spirits" to join them and began publication in the fall of 1853 the Messenger at Truth at Jackson, Michigan. This is the origin of the "Messenger Party" according to the Seventh Day Adventist historian Loughborough. He termed the paper a scandal sheet with "many falsehoods" in it. It apparently stirred the entire Sabbath Adventist movement as indicated by the strong rebuttals that were given in the Review and Herald, from January 1854 to June 26, 1855.
The opposition paper's stance has not yet been discovered because apparently all copies have been lost. It may have held other doctrines than those purported by the White Party.
Whites opposed by Messenger Party
By early 1855 James White and the Review and Herald were in serious financial trouble, possibly due to the influence of the Messenger Party.
White was ill and sought to free himself from the editorship of the paper but there was nobody to take his place. He jumped at the opportunity to move the paper to Rattle Creek, Michigan where Adventist brethren agreed to finance the paper. Headquarters of the White Party became established at Rattle Creek, and the Whites sought to gain control of the entire Sabbath Adventist movement, and quell all opposition to the "Spiritual Gifts" of Mrs. White.
On June 20, 1855 the Whites, Loughborough, and Elder Cottrell held a meeting in Oswego, New York. During the meeting they were harassed by a man named by Lillis who circulated some copies of the Messenger of Truth — termed "slanderous documents" — among the people. If this was more than an isolated incident it appears that the White Party was facing considerable opposition.
To quell opposition to her, Mrs. White conveniently had a vision in which "she was shown that if we would keep at our work, preaching the truth, regardless of any such people as the 'Messenger Party' they would go to war among themselves and their paper would go down, and when that should happen we would find that our ranks had doubled."
Loughborough explains the origin of the Messenger Party and all subsequent opposers to Mrs. White's visions by stating that "those who have been reproved for defects in character, for wrong habits, or for some wrong course in their manner of life" were the ones that came out in opposition to Mrs. White. They felt hurt by the reproofs and protested that they were not as bad as her testimony said, and as a result left the ranks.
Within two years the paper was said to have died for lack of support. It must have continued though at least until 1858 when Loughborough states that the Messenger ceased to exist and the Messenger Party split and withered away. James White in his Life Incidents states that those who left the White Party "purifieid" the church of "undesirable elements."
One of the top leaders of the Messenger Party was said to have stopped preaching and become a teacher. In a fit of anger he pulled a revolver on a disobedient student; it snapped but failed to fire and the teacher had to escape a lynching by fleeing to Canada. James White reports that some of the other leaders went out on their own and at least one became a Spiritualist. To White's knowledge, not one of the eighteen messengers continued as preachers and there was not a single place left where the Messenger Party had a regular meeting. Because they had rejected Mrs. Whites visions, James White said they had rejected the Gifts of tho Spirit.
Wisconsin the Center of Further Opposition
The Messenger Party apparently believed strongly in the use of the name Church of God. Nowhere is this more evident than in Wisconsin where the Messenger Party was strong. Denounced by the Whites in their Review as "fanatics", Wisconsin Adventists were strongly against Ellen G. Whites visions.
C. W. Stanley of Lodi, Wisconsin upon his resignation from the ministry in December of 1860, said "I have so poorly filled the office of a good minister of Jesus Christ, in my ministration of the third angel's message in the 'Church of God' during the eleven years past, I do this day resign holy office." Stanley later was quoted in the Review as saying that he was acquainted with all those that were in the "fanaticism" (term Whites used for their opposition) and that not a single one to his knowledge adhered to Mrs. Whites visions.
Stephenson and Hall Join Messenger Party
Associated with the Messenger Party were J.M. Stephenson and D. P. Hall, some of the first converts of Adventist preacher J.H. Waggoner in Wisconsin. Stephenson and Hall soon became prominent Adventist preachers in their own right. At a conference in Jackson, Michigan, in April 1855, they appeared to be against the Messenger Party and said they would go back to Wisconsin to overcome the Messenger Party's opposition to the Review. Yet later they came out for the "age-to-come" doctrine, that of believing in a probationary period after Christ's coming.
At conferences in Eldorado and Koskonong, Wisconsin, on October 5th and 12th, 1855. They denounced the Review as sectarian and resolved to withdraw support from it. Soon Stephenson and Hall began to write for the Messenger and associated themselves with the people they had said they would oppose. Yet in a few weeks, they gave up the Sabbath and opposed it, attempting to form an "age-to-come" party with themselves as its leaders. Later both Stepehnson and Hall were said to have become insane.
Hall and the Hayfield, Pennsylvania Seventh Day Baptist Church
D. P. Hall figured prominently in the "sheep stealing" discord between Adventists and Seventh Day Baptists, which lasted from about 1850 to 1880. These years saw the aggressive growth of Adventists and inevitable loss on the part of Seventh Day Baptists with much hard feelings as the result.
In the winter of 1855, eight years before the Seventh Day Adventist General Conference was organized, Elder D. P. Hall arrived at the Seventh Day Baptist church at Hayfield, Pennsylvania, and challenged all comers to a rousing debate. Though he had no specific authority from the Adventists to do this, he presented what were supposed to be Adventist views. His work resulted in a split of the Hayfield church, with harsh feelings on both sides.
In 1879, James White alluded to the Hall Incident in Pennsylvania in the following vein: "We deeply regretted the havoc made in some of the Seventh Day Baptist churches in Pennsylvania, more than twenty years since, by men who do not now stand with us. For while that work weakened the Seventh Day Baptists. It brought but very little strength to our cause."
White introduced a resolution relative to this incident, to the 1879 Seventh Day Adventist General Conference, which passed unanimously. "Whereas, Certain preachers, who professed to be Seventh Day Adventists, at an early date in our brief history, did seek their field of labor in the localities where there were Seventh Day Baptist churches, and did weaken some of their feeble churches, and blot out others, resulting in harm and only harm, to the great grief of the Seventh Day Baptists, there... Resolved, That... we deeply regret the injury done... about twenty years since, by those men whom we could not control, and who have since done Seventh Day Adventists tenfold the injury they did the Seventh Day Baptists, resulting in weakening and grieving both denominations we ask not to be held responsible for that which we have no power to control."
Messenger of Truth the Predecessor of the Hope of Israel
Since almost the entirety of the available information on the Messenger Party comes from the White Party, it is difficult to arrive at a true picture of their beliefs and actions. The Messenger Party is important in that it was a direct, if not organic, precursor of the Church of God (Seventh Day). The press used to print the Messenger of Truth was the very same one which began the printing of the Hope of Israel, the first paper of the Church of God.
And the Messenger Party was further important in that it brought to the fore the two key issues which created the division of Sabbath Adventists into the Seventh Day Adventist church and the Church of God: (1) the church name — Church of God versus Seventh Day Adventist, and (2) the question of the visions of Ellen G. White.
TO BE CONTINUED