The SDARM, 1888, Babylon and Legalism

1888 and SDARM Legalists: The Great Lie Behind SDARM Origins

The Reformists of the SDARM generally BELIEVE and TEACH:
- The ‘mainstream’ SDA Church is apostate and in Babylon because it supposedly rejected the special 1888 message of Jones and Waggoner.
- The special 1888 message is one of justification by faith, rather than salvation by works.
The Reformists are WRONG because:
- The ‘mainstream’ SDA Church did not reject the 1888 message.
- The message of justification by faith is only found in the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church – especially in its more progressive elements.
- There is no basis found in Ellen White’s writings to support the idea that the SDA Church is in Babylon.  By her own last will and testament, she showed continued trust in the leadership of the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church.
- With much irony, the SDARM Church(es) themselves wholly reject the 1888 message of justification by faith.
- The SDARM Church(es) are legalists, who practice in reality (if not in theory) a form of salvation by works.  For example, the SDARM make ‘non-essential’ practices, such as vegetarianism, long hair and dress reform ‘salvation issues’ which they treat as tests of fellowship. 
- The primary criterion for the SDARM’s own existence and separation from the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church is a doctrine they themselves don’t even really uphold!

Introduction: The SDA Church supposedly in Babylon
As explained by Gerhard Pfandl in Information on the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement’, at the very beginnings of the SDARM’s history in 1919 Germany, those who would later formally separate to form their own denomination claimed the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church had now descended to become part of ‘Babylon’ – part of false apostate religion:
‘In 1919, before the disfellowshipped members had determined what stand the General Conference had officially taken on the matter of military service, they published 10,000 copies of a pamphlet describing the Adventist Church as the great apostate woman. In the document they attempted to prove from the writings of Ellen White that the words “Babylon is fallen” applied to Seventh-day Adventists, in spite of her clear statements to the contrary.’

The 1888 message as the justification for SDARM separation
As to the reason for separation, the early SDARM Reformists cited two major arguments.  The first was their treatment on account of pacifism.  The second, and the major focus of this article, was the issue of the 1888 message of righteousness by faith.  As noted by Gerhard Pfandl in Information on the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement’:
‘In 1888, at the General Conference in Minneapolis, the church, they [the SDRAM] claim, rejected the message of Righteousness by Faith as proclaimed by Waggoner and Jones. God, therefore, raised up the Reform Movement to proclaim this message in clarity.’
As similarly observed by Helmut Kramer in SDA Reform Movement at page 47:
‘Reformers look for additional justification in the events of 1888. Here, they affirm, are the real beginnings of the movement.
In the Reformation Study Course they cite from the Testimonies negative statements regarding the condition of the church, both previous to that conference and afterward. They uplift the message brought by the brethren Jones and Waggoner as a special message from God, as it truly was. The Reformers insist that the church rejected this message.
Since some of the church leaders opposed this message and the messengers in 1888, Reformers reason, the Lord had to give the message to others so that it could be proclaimed in clarity. They look upon themselves as the ones called to fulfill this task. In lesson 16 of the Reformation Study Course, they theorize that the message to come out from Babylon now includes calling people from the "fallen Adventist Church."’
For a more insider’s view, as similarly explained by ‘independent historic’ Reformist and former SDARM minister John Thiel, in his article The True Witness Testifies” from Sabbath Sermons:
‘…Then through 1888, the movement of the Revelation 18 angel and the manifestation of this movement in the separation of 1914. Then followed the most perplexing experience leading to the split of the brethren of this movement in 1951. Both companies claim to be the Revelation 18 angel, declaring their roots to be firmly established in the 1888 message presented by E.J. Waggoner and A.T. Jones together with Sister White.
Having been raised in the Seventh-day Adventist church, I came across the detail of the 1888 message at the age of fifteen years. With burning heart I absorbed the writings of the sermons of Waggoner and Jones presented from 1893 to 1895 General Conferences and their other books on Christ and His Righteousness. Over the years I came to understand the practical application of the message and quickly found myself in conflict of belief with the general ministry and membership of the SDA church.’
Finally, the SDARM in its own official publication ‘The Minneapolis Conference and Its Aftermath’ explains it this way:
‘…the prophesied Reform Movement among Seventh Day Adventists, in existence today, had its embryonic beginning in 1888, when the Lord sent a special message to His people.’

What was the background to the 1888 conference?
As explained by Gerhard Pfandl in ‘Minneapolis, 1888’ published in Adventist World, by its second generation, the SDA Church had started to become very legalistic.  Part of the reason for this was perhaps understandable, as emphasis was on proclaiming to other Christians special Adventist truths, such as the Sabbath, rather than teaching basic Christian doctrines like salvation through Jesus, which was already well known by most non-Adventists:
‘Why teach 
a Baptist or Methodist about salvation, with which they were 
familiar anyway? What they did not know was the Sabbath, the state of the dead, the sanctuary truth, etc. Thus our pioneers majored in those doctrines that set us apart—especially the Sabbath and the Ten Commandments.
Unfortunately, because of the heavy emphasis on the law, 
spirituality waned and not a few became decidedly legalistic. 
Pride, self-assurance, and complacency entered our ranks. What was missing was a living experience with Christ—the joy and peace that comes from a relationship with Christ. The law and keeping the law became all-important. Ellen White, looking at the situation, wrote, “As a people we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that 
had neither dew nor rain. We must preach Christ in the law.”’
The SDARM in its own official publicationThe Minneapolis Conference and Its Aftermath’ itself describes what happened next at the 1888 SDA General Conference:
‘In Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 17 through November 4, 1888, Seventh-day Adventists held a memorable and controversial General Conference session. Ninety delegates (85 were present when the session was opened and 5 more were seated on October 26) representing a world membership of 26,968, gathered in one of the largest chapels owned by Seventh-day Adventists at that time–the church building located on the corner of Lake Street and Fourth Avenue South. The important event which took place at that conference was the presentation of a vital subject–the message of Righteousness by Faith–by two young ministers, E. J. Waggoner, and A. T. Jones, editors of The Signs of the Times.’

What was the central issue at the 1888 Conference?
As explained by Gerhard Pfandl in ‘Minneapolis, 1888’, the central question in debate at the 1888 Conference was the relationship between obedience to the law and salvation through faith in Jesus:
‘In the week-long workers’ meeting that preceded the General Conference one issue that divided the ministerial workforce was the conflict over the law in Galatians 3:24.’
Waggoner sought to overturn previous emphasis on a works-based salvation.  Pfandl goes on to explain:
‘Until 1888 it was largely thought that righteousness acceptable to God could be achieved (with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course) by obedience to the commandments. In other words, sanctification was seen as the basis of salvation.
The work of Christ in justification was seen primarily in 
regard to our sins of the past. An unsigned article in an early 
Signs of the Times stated, “As all have violated God’s law and 
cannot of themselves render obedience to His just requirements, 
we are dependent on Christ, first for justification from our past offenses, and, secondly, for grace whereby to render acceptable obedience to His holy law in time to come.”
Now, Waggoner came along and said: (1) man’s obedience can never satisfy God’s law; (2) Christ’s imputed righteousness alone is the basis of our acceptance by God; and (3) we constantly need the covering of Christ’s righteousness, not just for our past sins.’

So what was the 1888 message?
In effect, the 1888 message was nothing less than the re-affirmation of Martin Luther’s original discovery of sola fide – salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone.  It was this key idea that began the Protestant Reformation and which distinguishes Protestants from Roman Catholics.  Thus, with the greatest irony, until 1888, the SDA Church was in much danger of adopting the Roman Catholic as opposed to the Protestant view on salvation. 

Wasn’t the main issue in 1888 the nature of Christ?
As explained by Gerhard Pfandl in ‘Minneapolis, 1888’:
‘Others claim that the nature of Christ was the main point of Waggoner’s message. Since in his book Christ and His Righteousness (1890) Waggoner suggested that Christ took sinful flesh with sinful tendencies, it is claimed the church has rejected the message because it has never officially accepted that Christ had sinful tendencies. However, there is no evidence that Waggoner dealt with the nature of Christ in Minneapolis. His emphasis was on the relationship of Christ’s righteousness to the law.’
The issue of Christ’s nature is one that even divides the SDARM itself, and the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church does not in fact have an official position on the topic.
Even the SDARM in its own official publicationThe Minneapolis Conference and Its Aftermath’ itself admits the primary issue at the 1888 SDA General Conference was that of righteousness by faith:
‘The important event which took place at that conference was the presentation of a vital subject–the message of Righteousness by Faith–by two young ministers, E. J. Waggoner, and A. T. Jones, editors of The Signs of the Times.’
The issue of Christ’s nature will be explored in a separate article on this blog.

What did Ellen White think of the 1888 message?
Ellen White wholly endorsed the message of justification through faith:
‘The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God.’Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 91, 92.
She further pointed to the importance of this message:
‘Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, ‘It is the third angel’s message in verity.’The Review and Herald, April 1, 1890.
Importantly, Adventists had perhaps forgotten that they were not merely to proclaim the law but to preach righteousness found in Jesus:
‘…Their work is not only to proclaim the law, but to preach the truth for this time–the Lord our righteousness.’The Review and Herald, August 13, 1889.

Did or does the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church reject the 1888 message?
As observed by Helmut Kramer in SDA Reform Movement at page 49:
‘Reformers go astray in discussing the matters of 1888. In general they do not understand what was the central issue at this momentous conference. They draw a blanket assumption that the entire church rejected the message. But this does not match the facts.
First of all, no position was ever voted by the delegates at the conference. It was not even a voting matter. The messages were presented at the ministerial institute rather than at the General Conference delegate session.
Secondly, while no one can deny that some of the leading brethren did reject the message, many others rejoiced in the light given. Rather than being suppressed in the ensuing years, the message was strongly promoted by the brethren Jones and Waggoner with the cooperation of Ellen White. The message of righteousness by faith was presented at one camp meeting and one ministerial institute after another until its glory permeated the church.
After a period of time many of those leading brethren who had rejected the message repented. In 1893 Elder George I. Butler, who had been the President of the General Conference up to 1888 and was very strongly opposed to the presentation of the message, repented and placed himself fully on the side of truth and asked forgiveness for his previous actions.’
As similarly noted by Gerhard Pfandl in ‘Minneapolis, 1888’:
‘Eventually most of those who opposed the message changed their attitude and accepted the message of righteousness by faith, though some left the church.
After the Minneapolis session Mrs. White joined 
A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner in carrying the message of righteousness by faith to the churches. From coast to coast they visited camp meetings, workers’ meetings, and Bible schools. In 1889 she could write: “I have never seen a revival work go forward with such thoroughness, and yet remain so free from all undue excitement.” Following Minneapolis many books dealing with righteousness by faith were produced, for example, Steps to Christ and The Desire of Ages.’
Even when still a Reformist Helmut Kramer further admits on page 2:
‘It seemed to me that the message was being proclaimed more clearly by the Adventist Church than by the Reform Movement.’

Is the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church apostate and in Babylon then?
In 1893 (some 5 years after the 1888 Conference) Ellen White explicitly condemned those who were denouncing the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church as Babylon:
How is it that these pamphlets denouncing the Seventh-day Adventist Church as Babylon were scattered abroad everywhere, at the very time when that church was receiving the outpouring of the Spirit of God? How is it that men can be so deceived as to imagine that the loud cry consists in calling the people of God out from the fellowship of a church that is enjoying a season of refreshing? Oh, may these deceived souls come into the current, and receive the blessing, and be endued with power from on high.
Those who receive the Testimonies as the message of God will be helped and blessed thereby; but those who take them in parts, simply to support some theory or idea of their own, to vindicate themselves in a course of error, will not be blessed and benefited by what they teach. To claim that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is Babylon, is to make the same claim as does Satan, who is an accuser of the brethren, who accuses them before God night and day.’ (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 23)
And similarly Sister White warned not to accept anyone who claims the Adventist people are number with Babylon:
‘When anyone arises, either among us or outside of us, who is burdened with a message which declares that the people of God are numbered with Babylon, and claims that the loud cry is a call to come out of her, you may know that he is not bearing the message of truth. Receive him not, nor bid him Godspeed; for God has not spoken by him, neither has He given a message to him, but he has run before he was sent (TM 41).

The example of Ellen White’s own death, last will and testament
Ellen White of course remained in the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church until her death in 1915.  Importantly her children, such as very well-known Willie White, remained in the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church until his own death in 1937 - after the SDARM's formation. 
Similarly, as explained by the Ellen White Estate, Sister White’s last will and testament, prepared in 1912 (just three years before her death) named 5 leaders of the then ‘mainstream’ SDA Church as having custody and management of her writings: Arthur G. Daniells, president of the General Conference; William C. White, her son; Clarence C. Crisler, a secretary; Charles H. Jones, manager of the Pacific Press; and Francis M. Wilcox, editor of the Review and Herald. Four of the five were members of the Executive Committee of the General Conference of the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church.
Thus, despite claims by the SDARM to fulfill supposed prophecies about a new reforming movement outside the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church, Ellen White’s own actions in her last few years demonstrate her continued faith in the mother-SDA Church – despite no doubt the flaws of mere human beings found in every group or community on earth.  In particular, it is highly doubtful that she would have failed to warn her son Willie about remaining in the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church, or given her precious writings into the legal custody the Executive Committee of the SDA Church, if she really thought or prophesied the mother’s Church’s demise into apostacy.

Do the SDARM themselves embrace the 1888 message?
As observed by Helmut Kramer in SDA Reform Movement at page 49:
The Reformers claim that the Adventist Church rejected the message of Justification by Faith in 1888 and thus prepared themselves to be overthrown by the Lord. We ask: Have the Reformers ever fully accepted this message, and are they proclaiming it to the world? This can be answered with an emphatic NO!
Some Reformers in recent years have begun to proclaim this message. But as one views the situation on the worldwide scene, he sees an entirely different picture. When I became division president and began traveling in Central America, I found ignorance in regard to this most important truth. In every location the Reform Movement was steeped in total legalism. When the message of justification by faith was presented, it came as a totally unheard-of doctrine, and the Reform leaders in these countries opposed it.
I call upon Reformers to acknowledge that while they have been accusing the Advent people of rejecting an important message, they have been the ones who actually have rejected it. With all due respect to those who have been misled by others, they must realize that Reform leadership has taken the position of the "accuser of the brethren."’
As is well known and explored throughout this blog, the SDARM adopt a Pharisaic-legalistic attitude and certain do not embrace the core 1888 message of righteousness by faith and not by works.
Vance Ferrel similarly explains in The Truth About the Adventist Reform Church at page 16, the SDARM are much more Pharisaic than the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church:
‘The Reform Church is more pharisaical than the Adventist Church. They stress works—dress, length of hair, diet—and they do it to the extreme. They are also very rigid in their theology. Examples of this would be their interpretation of Daniel 11, the 144,000, etc. If you disagree with their views, you are classed as a heretic—and out you go. They will hold a church meeting and have you disfellowshipped. Both in lifestyle and in theology they are very rigid.’

Evidence in the ‘fruits’ and fox in charge of the henhouse
The best proof is in the ‘fruits’.  One can very easily observe that the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church, especially its more progressive and less conservative wing, is far less legalistic and more fully embraces the message of righteousness by faith and not works.  Whist SDARM Reformists and ultra-conservative Adventists might lament ‘lesser standards’ of progressives, that does nothing to alter the basic and obvious fact that conservatives do not embrace the 1888 message but in fact adopt a full or semi works-based salvation.
If Reformists wish to argue the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church is wrong – that is one thing.  However, to make such an argument would be to openly challenge the 1888 message.  The most bizarre situation exists whereby the very legalists, who most reject the 1888 message, are the ones claiming the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church is in Babylon, who do most wholly embrace the 1888 message. To say the SDARM have been specially appointed by God to spread the 1888 message, which is exactly what they do claim, is an absurdity amounting to put the proverbial fox in charge of the henhouse.

Conclusion: Are the SDARM really Protestants or Papists?
Therefore, with the greatest irony, the primary criterion for the SDARM’s own stated existence and separation from the ‘mainstream’ SDA Church is a doctrine they themselves don’t even uphold! As explored elsewhere in this blog, they make diet and dress ‘salvation issues’ as tests of fellowship, despite no biblical basis for that, and despite Sister White’s clear injunction against doing that. 
Finally, as outlined above, we should consider the central issue of 1888 had much in common with the central issue of Protestantism, which is sola fide – salvation by faith in Jesus, not by works.  With respect, it appears the Reformists have once again adopted the Roman Catholic position on the issue.  So are the SDARM really Protestants or Papists in disguise?


  1. The Thielites are fond of using this quote to establish themselves as Gods church.

    "I saw the nominal church and nominal Adventists, like Judas, would betray us to the Catholics to obtain their influence to come against the truth. The saints then will be an obscure people, little known to the Catholics; but the churches and nominal Adventists who know of our faith and customs (for they hated us on account of the Sabbath, for they could not refute it) will betray the saints and report them to the Catholics as those who disregard the institutions of the people; that is, that they keep the Sabbath and disregard Sunday."

    They ignore the fact that the 'Nominal Adventists' she is refering to were the groups that came out of the Millerite movement that wouldn't accept the sabbath. These groups went on to become the Jehovas Witnesses and others.
    At the time this vision was given there was no 'Seventh Day Adventist organization'.

    Their interpretation is that the 'Nominal Adventists' named by EGW are the SDA Church, because they are named (nominal) Adventists. Following this logic they conclude that the SDA church will abandon the sabbath and percecute them for keeping it, and 'hate them' because they know the Sabbath is true.

    The facinating text that the 'Saints will be little known by the Catholics' is seized upon by the Thielites twho conclude 'Thats us!' Unfortunately for them, they are undoubtably very well known to the 'Catholics/Jesuit parachute squad' because of their hugely disproportionate online presence, and this blog which shines a bright light in their dark little cupboard.

  2. The other text they love is this one.

    “God has a church. It is not the great cathedral, neither is it the national establishment, neither is it the various denominations; it is the people who love God and keep His commandments.“ – Ellen White

    They read this and conclude, 'Its not the denominations, it's not the SDA's, nor is it the SDARM or IMS that we've been booted out of, No! IT'S US!!!' Completely ignoring of course the fact that they are a 'denomination', they are 'Extreme Adventist the Lunatic Fringe', and they are just as much a Church organization as the above Churches or the Catholic Church for that matter.
    Obviously what EGW was trying to convey here is that God's Church is made up of individuals who have a personal, individual relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet they condemn 'group salvation' through other Churches, then in the same breath anoint themselves as 'Gods Church' which means 'God's group'.

    As for 1888, oh yes, they wax lyrical about 1888. It's 1888 this and 1888 that, I don't believe a single one of them understands the 1888 message for if they did they would go running out of the Church door and screaming up the road never to be seen again.
    The Thielite message is the very antithesis of the 1888 message. One cannot accept the imputed righteousness of Christ through faith when one has faith in ones own righteousness through works.
    John Thiel himself doesn't seem to understand that all the good works in the world do not atone for one single sin. He doesn't even understand what 'good works' are, he thinks that they are eating certain foods, wearing certain clothes and 'walking down the road with a black man'. He thinks that 'good works' are things that you do to yourself, and that somehow they make you 'less sinfull' than the next man, or in his case 'without sin' and 'Holy'.

    This Thielite brand of old covenant legalism bears the fruit of distaste for sinners, anyone who doesn't see things the Thielite way, and perform the meritorious works in the Thielite fashion is looked upon with mild distane and revulsion.
    Love for fellow men is utterly and completely absent in John Thiel, and scripturally we can conclude that love for God must be absent too, because the greatest commandment cannot be divided. And as the fish rots from the head down his attitude and spiritual condition permeates down through his disciples and they are barren trees as he is. Nice uniform barren dead trees all in nice little neat rows, no good to anyone, not even themselves.


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