In the 1830s a movement arose among Protestant churches in western New York that focused on the return of Jesus Christ to this earth, and the establishment of a literal Kingdom. This message, which first began to be forcefully proclaimed by William Miller, was totally different from accepted Protestant doctrine. His teachings on prophecy attracted much interest and stirred increasing attention as his predicted 1844 date for the return of Christ drew near. After what was termed "the great disappointment," confusion set in among these Protestant Adventists. Ridiculed by mainline Protestants, some became disillusioned and gave up religion altogether. Others continued to search the Scriptures to see where they had gone wrong.
Frederick Wheeler was a Methodist minister in Washington, New Hampshire, who had accepted the Adventist message of Christ's Second Coming, and the literal establishment of His Kingdom. Around the beginning of 1844, he received a visitor to his congregation. Mrs. Rachel Oakes, a member of a Seventh-Day Baptist congregation in Verona, New York, had come to visit her daughter.
Hearing Mr. Wheeler call upon his congregation to obey God and keep His commandments in all things, Mrs. Oakes confronted him after the service with the truth that Sabbath-keeping played a vital part in obeying God's commandments. Taken aback, he promised to study the subject. Within weeks, he was convinced of the truth of the Sabbath, and began to proclaim it. The truth of the Sabbath spread like wildfire among disillusioned Adventists. Hundreds of others responded, as well, to the simple truth of the real Gospel and of obedience to all of God's commandments.
Into the fellowship of these zealous Sabbatarian Adventists came Roswell Cottrell, a long-time minister and Sabbath-keeper. His family had been among the earliest members of the Church of God in Rhode Island, but the Cottrell family withdrew from the fellowship of what was then being called the Seventh-Day Baptist Church over doctrine. This was the time when such changes as the Trinity and the immortality of the soul were being adopted as official Seventh-Day Baptist doctrine. About 15 years after coming into the fellowship of the Sabbatarian Adventists, he found himself once again embroiled in controversy. Elder James White, who had emerged as the main leader among the Sabbath-keeping, Adventist Churches of God, was pushing for an organizational conference and an official name, Seventh-Day Adventist Church. There were those who opposed this change as unscriptural and also opposed giving credence to the visions of Elder White's wife, Ellen G. White. Roswell Cottrell opposed Mr. White's organizational moves. He wrote, in the May 3, 1860, Review and Herald: "I do not believe in popery; neither do I believe in anarchy; but in Bible order, discipline, and government in the Church of God" (Nickels, p. 162).
In October 1860, at a conference in Battle Creek, Michigan, the overwhelming majority of those present rejected the name "Church of God" and adopted the name Seventh-Day Adventist as a name descriptive of their beliefs. This was the name being pushed by the Whites. Mrs. White's visions were increasingly being advanced as "new truth" for the Church.
Throughout the 1860s, the split between the majority who followed the Whites and the scattered remnant who did not became more and more decisive. During the Civil War, Church of God members took a firm stand as conscientious objectors, in contrast to the Seventh-Day Adventists under the Whites' leadership. A delegation from the Church of God met with President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, in order to establish conscientious objector status for young men in the Church.
A quotation from a circular letter from brethren in Marion, Iowa, published in the September 7, 1864, issue of The Hope of Israel, the Church's publication, gives a flavor of what was happening at the time:
"On the 10th of June, 1860, something over 50 of us adopted a form of a church covenant, drawn up by [M. E. Cornell].. Nearly a year and a half afterward, the same messenger held up, publicly, some other volumes by the side of the Bible. and urged us to adopt their teaching also, as a rule of faith and discipline. A portion of us were unwilling to accept these new planks in the platform of our Church.. The result was, about one half of the Church decided to receive these volumes as a valid Scripture, and drew off from us, or rather repelled us from them, denouncing us as rebels.. As it regards us being rebels, we boldly assert that we are not rebels. We have not rebelled against the constitution which we adopted, for we stand firm on it yet. so the charge of rebellion reflects with shame on them, who have made it, they being the ones who have departed from their first position and have adopted a new one" (Robert Coulter, The Story of the Church of God Seventh Day, p. 16).
In August 1863, the small church paper called The Hope of Israel began to be printed in Michigan. It started with less than forty subscribers. In 1866 it was relocated to Marion, Iowa, and in 1888 moved again to Stanberry, Missouri. Over the years, the paper underwent several name changes, ultimately being called
The Bible Advocate.
One of the most prominent figures in the Church of God during this time was Jacob Brinkerhoff. He edited the paper from
1871 until 1887, and again from 1907 until 1914. In 1874, A. F Dugger Sr. of Nebraska entered the full-time ministry of the Church of God. From the 1870s until the years just prior to World War I, Elders Brinkerhoff and Dugger contributed many of the articles that helped to clarify and solidify doctrine in the Church. Articles on prophecy, clean and unclean meats, tithing, proper observance of the Passover and what it means to be "born again" were printed.
As early as 1866, articles on prophecy taught that the Jews would be restored to a homeland in Palestine. There was some truth restored and taught but, all in all, the efforts of the Church were weak and only reached small numbers of people, primarily in rural parts of the Midwest.
The phase of Church history we have focused on in this chapter is best described by Christ's message to the Church at Sardis recorded in Revelation 3:1-6. This Church was told that while it had a name that it was alive, it was really spiritually dead. "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die" (Revelation 3:2). While this Church as a whole is spiritually lethargic or even dead, there are a few among them who Christ says "have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy" (v. 4).
Was this article helpful?