MODERN HISTORY OF THE 7TH DAY OBSERVERS OF THE CHURCH OF GOD #6
Independent Church of God Splits - 1905 - 1917
From the incorporation of the General Conference of the Church of God in 1900 to the first major problem of division within the church covered a time period of only five years. Although official reports, such as the United States Census of Religious Bodies, took note of the Church of God division in 1905, the Church of God historians Kiesz and Kauer do not directly mention the event. Neither apparently did the pages of the Bible Advocate.
The Schism, of 1905 — Unattached Congregations
Church of God members today commonly have memories of the 1933 division of their church between Stanberry, Missouri and Salem, West Virginia. But seemingly they know little or nothing about the major division of 1905. They give the picture that before 1933, the Church of God was fairly well united. But the census reports reveal otherwise.
The official name of the Church of God, because of its roots in the Adventist Movement, was at the time, "Church of God (Adventist)." According to the 1936 Census of Religious Bodies, in 1905 a number of churches withdrew from the Church of God (Adventist), "on the ground that the general conference assumed too great authority. They are in entire accord with the Church of God in doctrine and polity except that they reject the principle of a central representative conference and rely wholly upon the efforts of the individual church and its members. They are, however, associated or affiliated to a certain extent; and a publishing house at Stanberry, Missouri issues the Bible Banner to represent the views and work of their churches."
In the 1908 Census, these churches were registered under the name, "Churches of God (Adventist), Unattached Congregations," and had almost as many members as the main body. Yet this independent body is not mentioned in the following censuses, of 1916, 1926, and 1936. The reason given in the 1936 Census was that "if any of these churches existed in 1936, 1926, or 1916, they were probably included among the independent churches or merged with other Adventist bodies."
Therefore, between 1906 and 1916, the loose association of these independent Churches of God probably fell apart; some joined the General Conference, some joined other Sabbath churches, and others remained "free."
The 1906 Census shows that the "Unattached Congregations" numbered 10 churches and 257 members, while the regular conference body had 10 churches and 354 members. The independents were concentrated mostly in Michigan, with lesser numbers in Missouri, Oklahoma and Illinois. Iowa and Nebraska remained "loyal" to Stanberry. One of the dissenters, a Church of God leader in 1903 and 1905, was J. R. Goodenough of Oklahoma. He was denied ministerial credentials in 1908 because of his "attitude against the General Conference." It is significant to note that the 1906 combined figures are less than those of 1890, showing that apparently the division had seriously weakened the progress of Church of God growth.
As for the main body, the Church of God (Adventist), the 1906 Census reported the following: "The membership of the denomination is scattered over a large part of the United States, not merely as a result of removal from the chief centers of the denomination, but by the addition of individuals who, accepting the general principle of the observance of the seventh day and faith in the second coming of Christ, declined to join the main body of Seventh-day Adventists or withdrew from it. In a few cases such individuals have formed independent local bodies not identified ecclesiastically with the Church of God, and yet somewhat affiliated with it." In 1906, the church had "no organized missionary work," but resident ministers were conducting evangelistic services outside their parishes, and the conference employed two general missionaries.
Seeds of The Division — Politics and Disputes
The General Conference met in December of 1903 and appointed Elder A. F. Dugger as editor of the Bible Advocate. Contributing editors were L. J. Branch, S. S. Davison, J. R. Goodenough and J.V.C. Branch. W.C. Long continued as Office Editor and Business Manager. The former editor, N. A. Wells, continued as a minister, living in Palisade, Colorado in l905.
But Long apparently had gained opponents to his position. He had been publishing The Owl (Stanberry's local newspaper) using the Advocate press, and was accused of using Conference money to operate this paper which he owned.
At the 32nd Annual Missouri Conference of the Church of God, held at Gentry, September 8-9, 1905, an exception was taken with regard to W. C. Long being granted renewal of his ministerial credentials. He was retained on condition that he justify himself of the mismanagement of funds charges. Later, on December 7-11, the conference met again to discuss Long's case, after which Long was asked to resign, and apparently later was disfellowshipped. Elder A. F. Dugger became both editor and manager. New General Conference officers were S. W. Mentzer, President; Jasper Moore, Vice-President; G.T. Rodgers, Secretary; W. A. Cure, Treasurer; and H.T. Whitehall, L.L. Presler, D.P. Moore and M.B. Ellis, Executive Committee.
White Cloud and the other Michigan churches were greatly stirred by the issue of the departure of W. C. Long. It appears that his firing from the editorship of the paper sparked the beginning of an independent revolt against the Church of God General Conference.
Another issue may have been a resolution adopted during the 1905 Conference sessions: the church reaffirmed its belief in tithes and offerings as the Bible means of supporting the work. And it was recommended that each state's tithes be sent to the State Conference treasurer, who in turn would pay a tithe of the state tithes to the General Conference treasurer.
An internal power struggle and a drive to enforce tithing and make the General Conference stronger: these appear to be the key issues which precipitated the 1905 division.
Seventh Day Adventist Splits Produce Independent Sabbatarians
During the early years of the 1900's, it appears that many Seventh Day Adventists left that church over disagreement with Ellen G. White's visions. Some of them remained independent, and some united with the Church of God.
In 1907, R.K. Walker (1880-1970) of Bates, Oklahoma, became convinced of the Sabbath through a Seventh Day Adventist. He was baptized into the Seventh Day Adventist church in 1911. But because he did not endorse "The Testimonies for the Church," Walker withdrew from the church (or was disfellowshipped) with Lee Evler and J. W. Rich, causing the Seventh Day Adventist church there to disband.
The "cast outs," as they termed themselves, rented a hall near Alderson, and Walker joined Elders Evler and Rich, with others, in printing an anti-Seventh Day Adventist paper, The Gathering Call. Other ministers present at a week's campmeeting in Alderson were W. F. Talbert and a Mr. Gregory of Claremore. The next summer's meeting (1912 or 1913) was attended by Walker, Evler, Rich, Talbert, Haxtshorne, A.F. Ballenger, A.T. Jones, G.G. Rupert, J.M. Rodriqaez (a well-educated preacher from Mexico), and J. J. Jobe: 27 ministers in all, cast out of the Seventh Day Adventist church. Here it was decided to make Ballenger editor of the paper, which was moved to Riverside, California. The Gathering Call continues to be a forum for anti-Seventh Day Adventist information. Rich later died, Evler went back into his law business, and Talbert went into the Church of God.
In 1920, R. K. Walker moved to Finley, Oklahoma, and soon met Elder M. W. Unzicker at Sardis, Oklahoma, the first Church of God man he had met. At the behest of Walker, Unzicker held meetings at Finley, and baptized Frank Walker, son of R.K. Walker. Unzicker invited R. K. Walker to be a Church of God evangelist for the Oklahoma Conference, and Walker began his first meeting for the Church of God on May 19, 1923. Frank Walker began preaching at Crowder, Oklahoma in 1924.
It is interesting that the Walkers, Rupert, and Rich held to "Anglo-Israel" beliefs, as did an Elder Ziegler, who put out a paper, The Torch of Israel, published in Washington, D. C. Ziegler tried unsuccessfully to work with Evler.
G.G. Rupert established his own paper, the Remnant of Israel, published in Britton, Oklahoma, beginning in 1915. Rupert, a former Seventh Day Adventist minister, taught and practiced the keeping of all the annual sabbaths, or holy days. He also had a form of "British Israelism," in which he identified the United States as Ephraim in Bible prophecy. Rupert's article on the holy days was printed in the Bible Advocate of 1913, and two of Rupert's books were Yellow Peril and Inspired History of the Nations.
Other independent Sabbatarian magazines of the period include The Evangel of Hope, Joplin, Missouri; The Shining Light, Almira, New York; The Mispah, Enid, Oklahoma; and Religious Liberty, Washington, D.C.
G.G. Rupert noted that the cause of so many independent Sabbath groups was their "desire for liberty which older organizations [had] not granted their teachers."
Further analysis of these periodicals, if available, will shed more light on the extent and beliefs of these independent groups. A most interesting enigma is the reason why the Bible Banner, the magazine of the Unattached Congregations, was published at Stanberry. Another is the question of exactly what were the doctrinal differences, if any, separating the groups.
Result of the 1905 Division — Losses to the Church of God
A pamphlet published by Dr. J. C. Branch, "Correspondence Relative to the Michigan Conference, Church of God and Sevenths Day Baptist," (c.1919) shows that the end result of the conflict over W. C. Long was the defection of a large number of the Michigan Church of God to the Seventh Day Baptists. Adelbert Branch's pamphlet, "The Backward Look," published in 1937, gives much the same story.
The Church of God in Michigan apparently did not grow at all in the latter years of the 1800's. The older leaders, such as Cranmer and the Branches, were growing old and it seems that the cause was languishing, about ready to die out.
Adelbert Branch of White Cloud, Michigan attended the Stanberry General Conference as a delegate from the Michigan Conference for two years early after the turn of the century. He became dissatisfied with the General Conference, and the 1905 Long case apparently was the straw that broke the camel's back. The Branches led the Michigan Conference to, vote to withdraw support and membership in the General Conference.
The Independent stance in this period of the Michigan Church of God is shown by the notice in the Advocate of 1915 that the semi-annual meeting of the "Sabbath-keepers Association of Michigan" would be held at Battle Creek in November. Adelbert Branch of White Cloud was the President, and O. J. Davis of Battle Creek was Secretary. The wordage used showed that the Michigan people did not want to refer to themselves as "Church of God," being tied to Stanberry.
J. C. Branch was Michigan Conference President in 1916
The Michigan Church of God continued as independent until 1917, when at the 57th Annual Conference of the Michigan Church of God, held at White Cloud, September 27-30, it was voted to merge with the Seventh Day Baptists, and take their name. Thus it was that the Michigan Church of God, and especially the Branches, largely switched to the Seventh Day Baptists. The churches of White Cloud, Bangor, and Kalkaska County wholly went in with the Seventh Day Baptists.
Dugger Tries to Revive Michigan Church of God
To fully report the history of the Michigan split, it is necessary here to continue the story further, into the time when A. N. Dugger, son of A. F. Dugger, was editor of the Advocate.
Dugger tried desperately to revive the Michigan Church of God. One year after the 1917 defection, Dugger came to Michigan, gathered some remnants of the Church of God there that had not gone in with the Seventh Day Baptists, and held a Conference, which was labeled the 57th Annual Conference of the Church of God in Michigan. Thus it was that the original Michigan Conference was organized in 1860 (57 years previous to the 57th Conference in 1917), and not in 1861, as some sources state. The second 57th Conference, in 1918, was the basis used for numbering by the renewed Michigan Church of God, so that at the present, it appears, fallaciously, that counting backward, the Michigan Conference was organized in 1861.
Dugger's 57th Conference, held October 4-7 at Toquin (near Bangor), Michigan resulted in the election of Elder M. C. Pennell as President and State Evangelist; Elder L. A. Munger, Vice-President; G. L. Hart, Secretary and Treasurer; and Jim Sternamen, G. L. Hart and L. A. Munger, Executive Committee. Other ministers credentialed by the Conference were G. W. Sarber, W. F. Morse, E. L. Trowbridge and Lewis Buchtel.
The conference resolved "that the Church of God in Michigan awaken to greater zeal, and put forth renewed effort in sending out the gospel message of warning to the tens of thousands now living," And further, firm solidarity was affirmed with the General Conference, as well as for paying tithes to G. L. Hart of Covert, Michigan, the state treasurer.
Disputes and Counter Charges
In the pages of the Bible Advocate, Dugger reported the second 57th Conference as if it had been the only legitimate one. And he further reported that the 1918 Seventh Day Baptist General Conference had voted unanimously to join the ''Federation of Churches in America" (the body of Protestant churches which later became the National Council of Churches), one clause of the Federation's platform was purported to state that Sunday observance should be enforced by Civil Law. Dugger further maintained that two Seventh Day Baptist churches, at White Cloud and Bangor, had opposed the union with the Federal Council, and encouraged them to come out of their false church. According to Dugger, the Bangor Seventh Day Baptist church did so, organizing a Church of God there, and several of the White Cloud Seventh Day Baptist church placed their membership in the Bangor Church of God. Further, three credentialed Seventh Day Baptist ministers joined the Michigan Conference of the Church of God, and would preach in Michigan and northern Indiana.
J. C. Branch disputed Dugger's facts, saying the three ministers had been given Church of God credentials before the dissolution of the White Cloud Church of God, and Pennell was at first with the Seventh Day Baptists, before enticed by a bigger money offer from Dugger. J. C. Branch's remarks were published in the Evangel of Hope and Bible Banner, the opposition papers to the Bible Advocate.
Dugger apparently refused to print Branch's challenges to his side of the story, stating that the Advocate must not be the scene of "strife and contention." He said that several had left the Church-of-God-turned-Seventh-Day-Baptist church at White Cloud and united with the Church of God General Conference before Dugger came to Michigan; and they had in fact asked him to come. Dugger maintained that the Seventh Day Baptists were downgrading the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ, and some of their ministers were preaching about the Immortal Soul, Ever Burning Hell, and Going to Heaven, which obviated me necessity of Christ's coming. Pennell thought by being with the Seventh Day Baptists that he could reach more people by preaching in the field, but they, knowing he would not preach the Immortal Soul and like doctrines, muzzled him, and he had to reaffirm his original stand with the Church of God.
Dugger stated with authority: "The Lord is in the message of the Church of God, and it is going to go to Michigan in power, as well as to every other corner of the globe. It is the true doctrine of Jehovah, and the Almighty is in the move, and no power under heaven can stay his hand. It has got to go, and regardless of every obstacle it is going to go."
Dr. J. C. Branch maintained that some Seventh Day Baptist ministers did preach the coming of Christ and Restitution, and that he continued to be able to preach the same doctrines that he had preached in the Church of God. Branch asserted that Dugger was wrong in stating what the Seventh Day Baptists actually believed.
Legacy of the Independent Churches of God
Pennell and the revived Michigan Church of God did apparently prevent total collapse of the work in that state. But the Branch defection to the Seventh Day Baptists seemed to stifle any Church of God progress in the area. The 1928 Census reported only two churches and 20 members of the Church of God Michigan.
Independent Sabbatarians, terming themselves the Church of God, continued to exist down throughout the history of the Seventh Day Church of God, draining its strength and preventing real growth. Additional splits and feeble attempts at union were a continual problem, and one that did not begin in 1933, but long before. The Conference system, with election of officers and some "local autonomy," seemed to be a faulty one for the governing of the church. Robert A. Barnes, a Church of God evangelist since the 1920's and now working in Oregon, summed up the Church of God problem: "When someone asks me the address of the headquarters of the Church of God, I have to ask them, 'Which one?'"
The Division in Retrospect
In an editorial in the May 19, 1925 Advocate, Dugger gave a backward glance at the reasons for the period of division. He labels the era of 1905-1910 and earlier as the "period of debate," through which the church had now passed:
"The Church of God has a message today that must go, and is going to the world, and there is not power under heaven that can, or will stop the onward move. For many years in the past we have spent much time talking and discussing openly many Bible themes of importance. Many people have been thus benefitted, and the church through this long course has truly received much light and discarded error, but there was no forward advancement made, not much effort put forth to reach out into new fields with the gospel... but the periodicals were used to discuss pro and con important issues before us...[and] others not so important… Brethren of local churches also took up the same discussions, and divided on different sides taking issue with one another. Fifteen and twenty years ago [1905-10] some churches were broken up and scattered while the same topics that caused the contention were still freely put forth through the Bible Advocate just to please some one that made the request.... [But now] we have through this period of debate truly arrived at the blessed truth... And we do not have time to stop and longer contend with one another over some certain doctrinal point... Our ranks will never again be disrupted by taking issue through our papers on debatable questions, and thus spreading contention and strife... We have something more to do we have a definite message of salvation to carry out to the Lost: a warning of coming destruction and its terrible consequences to sin and sinners…."
But, ironically, it was scarcely eight years after this statement that "debatable questions" were again to split the Church of God.
TO BE CONTINUED