The "Church of God" Controversy


Sabbath Adventists and the Name "Church of God"

Ellen G. White and her followers — the White Party — were distinctly against the use of the name "Church of God." Loughborough reports that she had a vision that the movement should be called "Seventh Day Adventist" and that to use the term "Church of God" would be to excite suspicion, conceal absurd errors, and be a mark of fanaticism.

But apparently the White party themselves used the name Church of God in several instances. Ellen G. White used the cognomen frequently in her spiritual gifts.

James White published a hymn book in 1855 called "Hymns for those who keep the commandments of God and the Faith of Jesus". The preface to the hymnal read "this work is prepared for the use of the Church of God scattered abroad... To the Church of God waiting for the coming and kingdom of Christ, is this book commended."

That the Sabbath Adventists were originally termed Church of God is shown in a December 18, 1860 article in the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (page 40):  S. W. Rhodes of Habbardsville, New York, announced his resignation as a minister to Sabbath-keeping brethren, "….in my ministration of the Third Angel's message and the Church of God, during eleven years past...."

This would mean that Rhodes began his ministry for the Church of God in the year 1849.

Joseph Marsh, in the Voice of Truth, May 21, 1845, objected to the 1845 Albany Conference of Adventists "because the proceedings as whole looked like forming a new sect under a sectarian name, instead of coming to the order of the New Testament under the name there given to the true church....."  James White wrote a commendation at the end of the article, when it was reprinted in the August, 1850 Advent Review, showing he agreed with Marsh's sentiments.

Roswell F. Cottrell wrote in the May 3, 1860 Review, "I do not believe in popery; neither do I believe in anarchy; but in Bible order, discipline, and government in the Church of God."

Waterman Phelps contended of the name Church of God. Ridicule was heaped by the White Party upon those who supported the name Church of God. The pages of the Review became the battleground for the church name around 1860 when the organizational drive fostered by the Whites came to fruition.

Here is a typical presentation of the reasons for the use of the name Seventh Day Adventlst: "From Green Springs, Ohio….We receive the name Seventh Day Adventist, because it contains the two leading principles of our faith:   First,  'the second coming of our Lord', and second, it sets forth the 4th commandment.   On the other hand, the name 'Church of God' is not appropriate, because there are several churches by that name,  and so many by the same name would make confusion."

Waterman Phelps, previously mentioned as a convert of H.S. Case in Wisconsin, strongly supported "Church of God" in the Review:

"... I think it is not difficult to determine what name they will have, when we consult Rev. 14:1, 'having his father's name in their foreheads.'   Chapter 3:12,  'I will write upon them the name of my God.'  And with this agrees the apostle in all his epistles. They are addressed to the Church of God.  Acts 20:28; I Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:22,15,29; Gal. 1:13; I Tim. 3:5. Now if we have the right to depart from the simplicity of the gospel in one instance have we not in another?...  If so, what does their confusion consist in?... If so, can we as a people do the same and not become a member of the same great family... one of the harlots?" 

Phelps stated that he accepted the Law of God. In 1850, and in 1851 identified himself with the "Review Adventists."  But after making a study of the "visions" of Ellen G. White, and the organization they went into, he could no longer go with them.

Changing the Church Name

The high pressure campaign lead by the Whites to organize Sabbath Adventists under the name "Seventh Day Adventists" was ostensibly conducted with the purpose of holding church property. In a corporation instead of being deeded to individuals. Michigan had recently passed a law allowing churches to organize, and an "official" organization was said to be an encouragement for increasing the membership.

The Battle Creek Michigan Conference 

On legal organization, on September 26—October 1, 1860, officially chose the name "Seventh Day Adventist" and rejected "Church of God". It was decided to legally organize as a church with the covenant as follows: "We the undersigned hereby associate ourselves together as a church, taking the name Seventh Day Adventists covenanting to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ."

It was at this point that the separation of Sabbath Adventists into two opposing groups became permanent. On the one side were those supporting the visions of Ellen G. White and the name Seventh Day Adventist. And on the other side were those opposing Mrs. White and adhering to "Church of God."

Ohio Objections to Church Name Change

Some Adventists did not go along with the change of the name from "Church of God" to "Seventh Day Adventist." Ohio appears to be a leading center of objection to the White Party.  The Review and Herald of April 9, 1861, in the article, "Secession," reports the following:

Brother Smith: We conclude from present aspects that the name, 'Seventh Day Adventist,' is being made obligatory upon our brethren. Without further light Ohio cannot submit to the name 'SeventhDay Adventist,' as either a test, or an appropriate name for God's people. Being appointed a finance committee at the last conference, and having now on hand means for carrying on the cause in Ohio, we could not conscientiously expend those means in any other than the advancement and extension of the truth and the 'Church of God.' If such means are expended otherwise it will be necessary for the churches in Ohio to assemble in conference, and to give instruction to that effect, and to choose some other committee to make the disbursements.

(Signed)     J. Dudley L.E. Jones J. P. Hemming

Finance committee of Ohio

James White replied in answer to the Ohio "secession" as follows:

The Battle Creek Conference October 1, 1860, voted that we call ourselves 'Seventh Day Adventists.' ... The brethren as far as we can learn are adopting the name, and we never heard of, or thought of, its being made a test until we read the above from Ohio. We will here add that as a friend from Gilboa complains of the non-publication of an article from Gilboa [Ohio] setting forth the evidence in favor of the name Church of God, we wish to say that at the time no one connected with the Review office objected to the name. 

Iowa Church of God

In Southern Iowa, a brother Bartlett sought to organize the Adventist Churches under the name of Seventh Day Adventists. But one independent Iowa church was divided over the question. Half the church acceded to the pressure to go along with the majority; the rest, contending that the church was originally organized under the name Church of God, refused to break off from their original beliefs. Bartlett labeled those who held to the original faith as dividers because they had rejected the "Gifts of the Spirit" — Ellen G. White's visions, which, he believed, was essential to be a part of God's end time work.

Since there was as yet no Church of God organization, opposers to the White Party were with ease labeled "secessionists" and "offshoots."

Yet the facts are that Church of God groups preceded Seventh Day Adventists by at least a decade.

The Question of Ellen G. White's Visions

Beliefs in Visions Made a Test of Faith

Adventist preachers such as Bartlett sought to overcome anti-organization sentiment by uniting all the churches to Battle Creek and the Whites. But, until legal organization, the necessity of accepting Ellen G. White's visions was not emphasized.  Then the visions were indeed made a test.

In 1882, Uriah Smith, a leading Seventh Day Adventist writer, wrote an article in the Review captioned "The Visions a Test."  In it he clearly states that to have union with the true church, you must believe in the visions. "The perpetuity of the [spiritual] gifts is one of the fundamental points in the belief of this people and with those who differ with us here, we can have union and fellowship to no greater extent than we can have with those who differ with us. In the other important subjects of the coming of Christ, baptism, the Sabbath, etc. It is a fact that those who reject the gifts do not have true union with the body. From the very nature of the case, they cannot have it." 

Thus is succinctly stated the real, major reason why Sabbath Adventists split into two groups:  the real issue was the visions of Ellen G. White.

Reason for Mrs. White's Visions

According to the Seventh Day Adventists, Mrs. White's visions are to "perfect the church and bring them to the unity of the faith (Ephesians 4:13)." The visions were said to correct members from wrong practices or beliefs.

Early opposers to the Whites, including the Church of God in Marion, Iowa, saw the visions in a different light:  they were primarily feigned to enable the Whites to gain control of the church.

D.M. Canright, an early Seventh Day Adventist who was intimate with the Whites, left them in the 1880's because he saw the "Elder and Mrs. White ran and ruled everything with an iron hand. Not a nomination to office, nor a resolution, not an item of business was ever acted upon in business meetings till all had been first submitted to Elder White for his approval [and Mrs. White's] revelations always favored Elder White and herself. If any dared question their course, they soon received a scathing revelation  [based on a vision] denouncing the wrath of God against them." Canright painted a picture of a "coldly legalistic" Seventh Day Adventist church governed by the fear of going against the "divine testimonies" of its "prophetess."

Canright too was the victim of its iron rule, forced to confess that he had been "blinded by Satan" for opposing the Whites' will. For years, Canright maintained, in the late 1860's, the main business at important meetings was the complaints of Elder White against leading ministers.

Jacob Brinkerhoff, a Church of God leader, one time editor of the Bible Advocate, expressed a less critical view of the reason for her visions: they were the product of an unhealthy mind and body.

From her childhood, when she was struck in the head by a rock and was in a coma for days, until later life, Mrs. White suffered nervous and physical disorders. Later, when her health improved, her visions were less frequent and not as intense.

Regardless as to the cause — and the source — of  Ellen G. White's visions, the content of them naturally led to controversy.  The content of many of them was to prove a constant source of embarrassment, and potential source of opposition to Seventh Day Adventists.  And even more were Mrs. White's visions a source of conflict among Sabbath Adventists in the 1850's and 1860's by those who never accepted them in the first place, but were subjected to extreme pressure to accept the "gifts of the Spirit" from a woman "prophetess," or be forever out of the "true Church" and bereft of salvation.

Only One Church    Here

Ellen G. White's visions consistently held that God was working only through her and her church group.  And as for others, "Satan has taken full possession of the churches as a body."

Her church was the only true church, and it was the end time church of the Laodiceans: "The Laodicean church is the church of Christ for the period In which we live, and He has no other. Those who renounce membership in the Laodicean church place themselves outside the fold of Christ."

Shut Door Later Opened

For several years, the White party taught that after 1844 the time of salvation for sinners was past.

Ellen G. White's visions supporting the shut door idea were later explained away and altered, to make the way open for increases in church membership. Yet once again, because of diametrically altering their position, both occasions supposedly due to the result of visions, the White party left themselves open to opposition and skepticism.

1844 Error Never Admitted 

Though other Adventist groups admitted the gross error in assuming that October 22, 1844 was the date of the return of Christ to the earth, the group that later developed into Seventh Day Adventists never recanted, but instead changed their interpretation of what happened prophetically on that date. For them, on October 22, 1844, Christ cleansed the heavenly sanctuary and began His work of investigative judgment. This was based on a vision of the Adventist Hiram Edson in 1844, quickly accepted by the White group.

The "Sanctuary Question" was openly opposed by many within the Sabbath Adventist movement,  and later continued to be a source of controversy between Seventh Day Adventists and the Church of God.

The most obvious point advanced by opponents of the Seventh Day Adventist   position is that the Day of Atonement for 1844 was on September 23, not October 22. So whatever their supposed interpretation of prophecy in 1844, Seventh Day Adventists have the wrong date to start with, for the supposed cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary is tied by them to the Day of Atonement.

The Adventist Sanctuary position can be outlined as follows: "Christ did not make the atonement when He shed His blood upon the cross. Let this fact be fixed forever in the mind."

Until October 22, 1844, Christ was in the first, or outer, compartment of the heavenly sanctuary. Man's sins, by the blood of Christ, were transferred to the heavenly sanctuary's second compartment — the holy of holies — thus defiling it. Christ's blood was then defiling the heavenly sanctuary.  And, on October 22, 1844  (the supposed fulfilling of Daniel 8:1.4, "Unto 2,300 days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed") Christ entered the second compartment in heaven and cleansed it, and began His investigative judgment preparatory to His return to cleanse the earth with fire and take the saints to Heaven.

Numerous obvious objections were raised against the White Party's interpretations of prophecy from the earliest days of their movement. Based as they were, and supported by, Ellen G. White's vision, rejection of the 1844 prophetic beliefs led naturally to a rejection of Mrs. White's visions.


One of the more notorious examples of Mrs. White's dubious quotation of scripture, is found in her most famous work, The Great Controversy.  

She quotes only part of Isa. 24:6 to "prove" that at Christ's coming, all the wicked will be destroyed on the earth, leaving the earth desolate during the millennium, while the saints are supposed to be taken to Heaven. Yet the rest of the verse states that there will be a few men left.

These and other objections have continually been raised by many who have confronted Seventh Day Adventist docirine.

1856 Vision Proven False !!

Ellen G. White wrote in her Testimonies for the Church that "At the General Conference at Battle Creek, May 27, 1856, I was shown in vision some things which concern the church generally...I was shown the company present at the Conference, said the angel, 'Some food for worms, some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus'."   

All of the people alive at that conference have died, presenting a serious question as to the authenticity of Mrs.White's visions.

Meat, Milk, Butter, Cheese, Eggs Condemned

The health ideas of the White Party did not come to be clearly expressed until after 1860 and the formation of the Seventh Day Adventist church. They too were based upon visions — "testimonies" — and were rigidly stressed, at least in the early days of the movement.

Mrs. White's visions gave "positive testimony against tobacco, spiritous liquors, snuff, tea, coffee, flesh-meats, butter, spices, rich cakes, mince pies, a large amount of salt, and all exciting substitutes used as articles of food."

Yet she was said to have eaten butter and meat for at least twenty years after she wrote this (1872).

In her testimonies, she stated that cheese should never enter the human stomach, and that "eggs should not be placed upon your table."

Marriage Discouraged

Besides the discouragement of meat and milk products, and eggs, Mrs. White's visions discouraged marriage.

"In this age of the world, "she stated, "as the scenes of earth's history are soon to close, and we are about to enter upon the time of trouble such as never was, the fewer marriages contracted, the better for all, both men and women."

The food and marriage issues bring to mind Paul's prophetic statement in his letter to Timothy: "Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times, some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats [food] which God has created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth."  (I Timothy 4:1-3).

Other Controversies Surrounding the Visions

Mrs. White's visions supported the idea that Christ was crucified on a Friday and resurrected on a Sunday, despite the fact that this idea weakened the Seventh Day Adventist pro-Sabbath stance.

Visions farther supported the idea of a Trinity, which early American Sabbatarians, and the Church of God, rejected.

Because Mrs. White was originally a Methodist, she was probably led to continue the practice of observing communion quarterly. The Church of God observed it once a year, on the Jewish Passover.

These and other doctrines of the Seventh Day Adventists have been hotly disputed by the Church of God (Seventh Day).

Visions a Test  — Opposers Labeled Fanatics

Since 1860, being a Seventh Day Adventist has virtually been synonymous with adhering to the visions of Ellen G. White. In the first Seventh Day Adventist Church Manual, published in 1932, one of the twenty-one questions ministers were to ask every candidate for baptism and membership was:  "Do you believe the Bible doctrine of 'spiritual gifts' in the church, and do you believe in the gift of the Spirit of prophecy which has been manifested in the remnant church through the ministry and writings of Mrs. Ellen G. White?"

Visions were: — and are — a test. Those who refused to accept them in the 1860's and earlier were labeled by the Seventh Day Adventists as "fanatics."  In the early years of the Church of God, the visions were perhaps the major issue of dispute.

"Fanatics" From the White Point of View

Throughout the l850's and 1860's the Whites mentioned in their publications the existence of opposers to them.  Even the Whites had to admit that far from all of the Sabbath keeping people accepted the visions and their form, of organization.   The opposition was not localized, but spread from New England to western New York and Ohio and into Wisconsin and Iowa and Illinois.

James White reports that he and Mrs. White faced opposition from "fanatics" when they traveled to Johnson, Vermont in May of 1850.

Libbey and Bailey were outspoken against the visions. Bailey was reported as stating: "The Lord does not want your testimony here. The Lord does not want you here to distract and crush his people."

White reports that upon this denunciation, the "power of God filled the room," and Bailey fell over backward, and the opposers left the meeting house.

In the fall of 1853, during several conferences of believers in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, the Whites noted numerous elements of "strife and rebellion" against them. It was about this time that the Messenger Party came into being with its firm opposition to the Whites.

Shortly after the 1854 failure (another date set by some Adventists), Mrs. White wrote that "a spirit of fanaticism has ruled a certain class of Sabbath-keepers   [in the East]... Some are not in harmony with the body... [and have] fanciful views."

Still before the 1860 name change, in the spring of 1858, the Whites visited Ohio. A certain man, H. (it was a common practice of the Whites in their publications not to give the full name of their opponents, but only their initial), was reproved by Mrs. White in a vision. He had said he believed in her visions, but that she was influenced by others in writing them. This she stated was warfare against the Holy Spirit.

Many in Ohio were rejecting the Whites. "The brethren in Ohio have been encouraged to look with distrust and suspicion at those who are in charge of the work at Battle Creek, and have stood prepared to rise against the body, and stood independent." Further west, a certain brother and sister R. were said to have the spirit of the Messenger Party.

Wisconsin Opposers to Visions

In her early written Testimonies, Mrs. White gave reproof of brother G. in Wisconsin, the chief leader of "fanaticism" in that state. After the 1860 "organization", Wisconsin opposition to the Seventh Day Adventists was still strong, especially in the northern portion of the state. A Review article stated that "This strange fanaticism in Wisconsin grew out of the false theory of holiness, advocated by Brother K. — a holiness not dependent upon the Third Angel's Message, but outside of present truth," Sister G. had received this theory from K., who carried it to others as well.

On August 3, 1861, Mrs. White had visions about the "divisions" in northern Wisconsin. "Some receive a part of the message, and reject another portion.   Some accept the Sabbath, and reject the Third Angel's Message. They are not responsible to any one.  They have an independent faith of their own."  Further, it was apparent, they were drawing followers away from the Whites, to the Age-to-Come idea.

Washington, New Hampshire— Ball's Opposition At Washington 

New Hampshire, the site of the original group of Adventists who accepted the Sabbath, considerable opposition to the Whites persisted, led by a brother Ball.  Mrs. White states in her written Testimonies that Ball had been "strengthening the hands of our enemies by holding the visions up to ridicule, and publishing bitter things against us in the Crisis  [Advent Christian] of Boston, and in the Hope of Israel [Church of God, or Church of Christ], a paper issued in Iowa." In 1867 at Washington, Mrs., White reproved Ball, who tearfully confessed he had been a backslider and had been influenced by Satan.

Ball's confession, published in the July 7, 1868 Review, gave his revised feelings about Seventh Day Adventists: "Who are the most humble, devoted, self-sacrificing, godly persons to be found among Sabbath-keepers? Do they comprise that class who are doubting, halting ... disbelieving, and fighting the visions?  Certainly not.  This class are noted for their selfishness, their worldly-mindedness, and their lack of consecration to God and his cause. They are lukewarm, the half-hearted, the backslidden class, among Sabbath-keepers.   This fact alone should teach us that God is in this work, and, no weapon raised against it can prosper. My own sad experience has taught me that it is spiritual death to doubt or oppose any part of this work. God's hand is set to the work, and it is destined to triumph, although men and devils may oppose."

Ball was a chief opponent, but he later recanted.  But in Michigan, the same state of Battle Creek and the divisions on the name issue in 1860, a group of Sabbath keepers who never did accept the visions and who held to the name Church of God, continued to exist and oppose the attempt of the Whites to take all of the Sabbath Adventists with them. The title of their paper, which began in 1863, showed the difficulty of their task and the smallness of their power: it was entitled, The Hope of Israel.

The Michigan Church of God

On August 10, 1863 a paper was launched at Hartford, Michigan, entitled The Hope of Israel.  Enos Easton was resident Editor, and Gilbert Cranmer and John Reed were corresponding Editors.  Some of its fording principles were stated to be "that the Bible, and the Bible alone" contains the whole moral law and all necessary precepts to govern God's people in every age, without the addition of any human creed or articles of faith; that "sin is the transgression of the law" and that the law by which sin is known is the law of the Ten Commandments; that death is the total extinction of being; that God is about to set up His Kingdom on the Earth, that Christ as King will sit upon David's throne, the twelve apostles on the twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel; and that the reward of the righteous, as well as of the wicked, will be on the Earth; and finally, that the earth will be restored to its Edenic glory and beauty.

The supporters of the little paper, which began with less than forty subscribers, were known variously as "Church of Christ, " "Church of God, " and "Church of the Firstborn."

Origins of the Hope of Israel

It appears that The Hope of Israel was a direct successor to the Messenger of Truth, an earlier anti-White paper published in the later 1850's. According to A.N. Dugger, Church of God historian, the Church of God brethren who did not accept the name change at the 1860 Battle Creek conference met the following year at Battle Creek and began publication of The Remnant of Israel, which was later changed to Sabbath Advocate, and still later, to Bible Advocate. Possibly he had the wrong name, and the Remnant of Israel was in actuality The Hope of Israel; or possibly the Remnant was changed to The Hope of Israel in 1883.

Dugger farther reports that the Michigan Church of God brethren obtained a charter with the following names on the document: L. A. Monger, A.E. Case, Seth Monger, Will Slater, and John Campbell. In the 1930's, the Michigan Church of God brethren were said to still have the original charter.

The leader of me Michigan Church of God, termed by his stepson, M. A. Branch as "the founder of the Church of God in Michigan" and "the first president of the Church of God conference," was Elder Gilbert Cranmer.


Richard  Nickel  gives  "number"  references  throughout,  for  his  "Footnotes" at  the  end  of  his  book, which  I  have  omitted.