The 1903 General Conference session convened
in Oakland, California, on March 27,
would be the most important point in the reorganization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, for at this General Conference a “new” constitution would be voted that
would forever establish one man at the head of the Church!
The Chairman, Elder Arthur G. Daniells,
called the thirty-fifth General Conference session to order at two-thirty,
Friday afternoon, March 27, 1903. One hundred and thirty four
delegates were seated at this 1903 session. (General Conference Bulletin, 1903,
“Since the last meeting of the General Conference we have
organized twelve union conferences and twenty-three local conferences,” Daniells stated. “Most of these local conferences are within
the territory of the union conferences.” Ibid.
It should be noted that the 134 delegates seated at this 1903 session were 133 short of the 267 delegates seated at the 1901 General Conference session. This was
a curious aspect of the 1903 session.
The membership of the Church was now larger than it had been two years earlier,
but the number of delegates was smaller!
Arthur G. Daniells, General
Conference chairman, was about to introduce still another Constitution, which
he had written, a Constitution that would establish him in the office of
General Conference President. “The business of the conference proper began
Monday morning at nine-thirty,” Arthur White stated. “After a roll call of the
delegates, the chairman, Elder Daniells, gave his address.…” The Early Elmshaven Years, vol.5, 243. [All emphasis supplied unless
Notice that in this statement Arthur White admits that A.G. Daniells was “the chairman,” and not the president of the
General Conference. Why was Daniells
still the “chairman” after two years, when the delegates, two years prior in 1901, had voted that the office of
chairman was to continue only one year?
On Monday morning, Ellen White spoke to the delegates instead
of the regular business meeting. She had received a vision the night before and
wished to convey the message to the church leadership. She stated in part:
“Today God is watching His people. We should seek to find out what He means
when He sweeps away our sanitarium and our publishing house. Let us not move along as if there were
nothing wrong.…God wants us to come to our senses, He wants us to seek for
the meaning of the calamities that have overtaken us, that we may not tread in the footsteps of Israel, and say, ‘The
temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord are we,’ when we are not this at all.” General
Conference Bulletin, 1903, 31.
What Might Have Been
In her morning talk, Ellen White made reference to a vision
she was given in regard to the past 1901 General Conference session: “The Lord
has shown me what might have been had the work been done that ought to have
been done. In the night season I was present in a meeting where brother was
confessing to brother. Those present fell upon one another’s necks, and made
heart-broken confessions. The Spirit and power of God were revealed. No one
seemed too proud to bow before God in humility and contrition. Those who led in
this work were the ones who had not before had the courage to confess their
“This might have been,”
Ellen White continued. “All this the Lord was waiting to do for His people. All
heaven was waiting to be gracious.” Ibid.
(The complete vision Ellen White referred to is found in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8,
104–106, under the
title, “What Might Have Been.” The testimony was sent to the Battle Creek Church from St. Helena, California, January 5,
Debate Over A New Constitution
“The second major debate of the 1903 General Conference session, which
came toward the end of the meeting, was centered upon the new constitution, specifically the provision for the election
of a president.” The
Early Elmshaven Years, vol. 5, 256. This was a major
step backward! Two years prior, the 267 delegates had voted unanimously that
there would be no president of the General Conference, but merely a new
chairman to be elected each year. Now the proposed “new” Constitution would
reinstate the office of president of the General Conference. “But the thing
displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us.” I Samuel 8:6a.
“Two reports were filed with the session from the Committee
on Plans and Constitution,” Arthur White wrote. “The majority report supported the new constitution, which would
provide for the leading officers of the General Conference to be chosen by the
delegates, thus giving them a mandate
from the church.” Ibid.
In this “new” Constitution, Arthur White referred to the
“leading officers,” but the central issue was the provision for a new General
Conference President, and it was this new General Conference President who would
be given “a mandate from the church.” Arthur White had stated before that A. G.
Daniells, the General Conference “chairman,” did not
have a mandate from the church. Today, in political circles of the United
States Congress we hear much about “mandates,” and “term-limits.” The political
leaders and church leaders indeed claim a “mandate” from the people that would
give them complete authority to enact what they think the people should have.
But what does God say about this worldly policy in the church? “Vengeance will
be executed,” Ellen White warned, “against
those who sit in the gates deciding what the people should have.” Manuscript 15, 1886.
Obviously, political and church leaders want a “mandate” of
authority. However, neither political nor church leaders want “term-limits.”
Why is this? Because “term-limits” would put them out of
power and out of office in a relatively short period of time.
“Christ foresaw that the undue assumption of authority
indulged by the scribes and Pharisees would
not cease with the dispersion of the Jews. He had a prophetic view of the
work of exalting human authority to rule the conscience, which has been so terrible a curse to the church in all ages. And
His fearful denunciations of the scribes and Pharisees, and His warnings to the
people not to follow these blind leaders,
were placed on record as an admonition to
future generations.” The
Great Controversy, 596.
The Minority Report
“The minority report, signed by three men [E. J. Waggoner,
David Paulson, and P. T. Magan] largely connected
with institutional interests, claimed that the proposed new constitution would
reverse the reformatory steps taken at the General Conference of 1901.” Arthur White wrote, “These men
argued that the constitution of 1901, which provided that the General
Conference Committee could choose its officers, should not be ‘annihilated’
without giving it a fair trial.” These men on the minority committee did indeed
argue that “the constitution of 1901…should not be ‘annihilated’ without
giving it a fair trial.” However, the 1903 General
reveals that “these three men” did not object to the new plan that the
delegates at large should elect the General Conference committee members. What
they did object to was the establishment of a permanent General Conference
“President,” instead of a temporary General Conference Chairman. They also
objected to the fact that the 1901 Constitution had only been tested for two years.
Actual Words Of the Minority Report
“The minority of your Committee on Plans and Constitution beg
leave to submit that the Constitution proposed by the majority of the Committee
appears to us to be so subversive of the
principles of organization given to us at the General Conferences of 1897 and 1901 that
we can not possibly subscribe to it.
“The proposed new Constitution reverses the reformatory steps
that were taken, and the principles which were given and adopted as the
principles of reorganization, in the General Conferences of 1897 and 1901, and embodied in the present Constitution;
and this before that Constitution or the
organization according to it, has ever had adequate trial.
“We therefore recommend that the Constitution of 1901 be given a fair trial before it be
annihilated.” General Conference Bulletin,
1903, 146, 147.
Notice that the major contention of the Minority Committee was
that the first constitutional revision in the history of the church, that had been
voted two years prior in 1901 by
had not been in effect long enough for a just evaluation.
The “new” Constitution proposed by the majority of the
committee reinstated the office of “President” of the General Conference. The
new president would serve as chairman of the Executive Committee, and would
continue in office for years. (A. G. Daniells,
who was elected president at this 1903 General Conference, served as president
for over twenty years). The Majority Committee Report on this point was
Committee, Section 1. At each session the Conference shall
elect an Executive Committee for the carrying forward of its work between the
“The Executive Committee shall consist of the president, two vice‑presidents,
the presidents of Union Conferences, the superintendents of organized Union
Missions, and twelve other persons, among whom there shall be representatives
of all the leading departments of conference work, including the publishing,
medical, educational, Sabbath‑School, and religious liberty.
Committee, Section 1.
During the intervals between sessions of
the Conference, the Executive
Committee shall have full administrative power, and shall fill for the
current term any vacancies that may occur in its offices, boards, committees,
or agents, by death, resignation, or otherwise, except in cases where other
provisions for filling such vacancies shall be made by vote of the General
five members of the Executive Committee, including the president or vice‑president, shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of such business as
is in harmony with the general plans outlined by the Committee, but the
concurrence of four members shall be necessary to pass any measure before the
Meetings of the Executive Committee may be called at any time or place, by the president or vice‑president,
or upon the written request of any five
members of the Committee.” Ibid.
The Majority Committee Report was signed by ten men:
W. Cottrell, E. T. Russell, C. W. Flaiz, W. C. White,
W. T. Knox, E. H. Gates, G. E. Langdon, C. N. Woodward, Smith Sharp, S. B.
The next action was that W. T. Knox made a motion
for the “adoption of the majority report.” D. E Lindsey seconded the
motion. (See Ibid.)
“Now, if it is the wish of the delegates, this report may be
read through entirely; or, if you desire, it can be taken up one section or
article at a time,” said the Chairman, H. W. Cottrell. “If this be the mind of
the delegates, the secretary may read the first article.” Ibid.,
Percy T. Magan Speaks
“The congregation will all see that the minority report deals
only with certain general vital principles, which
we believe are transgressed in the proposed new constitution,” P. T. Magan stated, “and therefore, in order that that matter may
be brought before the house, as it is the vital thing in the consideration of
the whole subject, I move that the report of the minority be substituted now
for consideration in place of the report of the majority.” Ibid. E. J. Waggoner
seconded the motion.
The motion for the minority position was put, and was lost!
E. J. Waggoner Speaks
“My dissent from the report of the majority of the committee
is on two lines,” Waggoner stated. “I will give those two lines as briefly and
concisely as possible, and dispassionately.”
“The first objection I have to the report is that it is
fundamentally and diametrically opposed
to the principles of organization as set forth in the Bible,” Waggoner
continued, “and as, up to the present time, adhered to in the main by this
body. This being so, I regard the [majority] report as revolutionary and inconsistent.” Ibid.
Waggoner Defines the Concept of Who
and What Is the Church
“I think we are all agreed in this, that the church, the local body of believers in the Lord
Jesus Christ, in any place, is the unit of organization and the standard,”
Waggoner stated. “Thus in any company of believers, wherever they may be, in
whatever city, we have there the epitome of the whole body of believers
throughout the world.”
“Now the movement, although I am sure unconscious and
unintentional on the part of the brethren, toward the adoption of this
[majority] report does essentially lie in
the line of the adoption of a creed,” Waggoner continued, “and that,
although the churches of the world and the people of the world regard as
essential to organization, we who know
the Scriptures and know the falling away that came in the early days and
has been perpetuated until this present time, —we know is essentially disorganization.”
“The Bible organization is opposed to the exaltation of any
person over others,” Waggoner said. “Now the question will arise and be
presented to me: ‘Why, then, do you sign this report, which recommends that we
maintain the present constitution?’”
“I am not inconsistent,” Waggoner concluded. “My second
objection is to this constitution itself, which, in some of its particulars, I regard as the worst constitution ever
devised among Seventh-day Adventists.” Ibid.
Percy T. Magan Speaks
“As a member of the minority of the Committee on Plans, and
as a man, if I had not been on the Committee on Plans at all, I am conscientiously opposed to the proposed
new constitution,” Magan stated. “I have always
felt that the hardest place that any man could be put in this life is to have
to stand conscientiously opposed to what the majority of his brethren believe
to be right.” Ibid., 150.
“To me it has always appeared to be a much easier thing to
stand in a position of opposition to the world, and even to have to face a
court of justice in the world, for your faith, than to have to face your brethren for your faith,” Magan continued. “And therefore I shall say today, as
briefly and modestly as I know how, what I have to say.” Ibid.,
“The minority report expresses in a word the feelings which
actuated the minority in making the report, because we believe that the
constitution proposed by the majority of the committee appears to us to be so subversive of the principles of
organization given to us at the General Conferences of 1897 and 1901,” Magan continued. “Those principles were given to us by the
Spirit of God. In my judgment, and in the judgment of the minority of the
committee, this constitution is
absolutely subversive of those principles.” Ibid.,
“It may be stated there is nothing in this new constitution
which is not abundantly safeguarded by the provisions of it,” Magan concluded, “but I want to say to you that any man who
has ever read ‘Neander’s History of the Christian
Church,’ Mosheim’s, or any of the other of the great church historians,—any man
who has ever read those histories can come to no other conclusion but that the
principles which are to be brought in through this proposed constitution, and
in the way in which they are brought in, are
the same principles, and introduced in precisely the same way, as they were hundreds of years ago when the
Papacy was made.”
“Further,” Magan emphasized, “this
whole house must recognize this, before we are through with this discussion,
that the proposed new constitution, whatever improvements may be claimed for
it, whatever advantages it may be stated that it contains, that, in principle, as
far as the head of the work is concerned, it goes back precisely where we were before the reformatory steps of
two years ago.” Ibid.
“Ellen White did not enter into the debate on the question of
the constitution,” Arthur White wrote. “W. C. White spoke strongly in support
of the changes proposed, as did some of the other respected leaders, such as Loughborough and Butler.”
“The opinions of
learned men…the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastic councils, as numerous
and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority—not
one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of
religious faith,” Ellen White wrote. “God will have a people upon the earth
to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms.” The Great Controversy, 595.
The New Constitution Voted and Ratified
That very evening, April 9,
vote was taken. The new Constitution was ratified. The minority report was
rejected. The plea by P. T. Magan that the principles of the new Constitution, “are the same principles, and introduced in precisely the same way, as they were hundreds of years ago when the
Papacy was made,” was also ignored. At that very hour, an image to
the Papacy was established in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. For ninety five years that image
has prospered and increased until institutions of the SDA Church are merging with those of the Roman
“The matter was not
settled quickly,” Arthur White stated. “A vote with a three‑fourths
majority was needed.” One hundred and eight delegates were present. Eighty-five
voted for the new Constitution, “carrying the action by a majority of four.” Early Elmshaven
Years, 257. How
sad that an image to the Papacy was carried by a slim margin of only four
“When men who profess to serve God ignore His parental
character, and depart from honor and righteousness in dealing with their fellow‑men, Satan exults, for he has
inspired them with his attributes,” Ellen White stated. “They are following in the track of Romanism.” 1888 Materials, 1435.
“We have far more to fear from within than from without. The
hindrances to strength and success are
far greater from the church itself than from the world.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 122.
Notice that Ellen White did not say, “We have more to fear
from within.” What she said was that we have “far” more to fear from within
than from without. How sad it is that “the hindrances to strength and success are far greater from the church itself than
from the world.”
Daniells’ Later Confession
I was in the U.S.A. and the General Conference asked me
to take meetings at various Camps,” George Burnside, noted Australian SDA
evangelist stated . “I roomed at two camps—New Jersey and East Pennsylvania—with Pastor Meade MacGuire and we chatted much about the old days.”
“He had known A. T. Jones,” Burnside continued. “Pastor MacGuire spoke highly of Jones, especially of his knowledge
of Church history.”
“His [Jones’] big concern was the trends in SDA
organization,” Burnside recalled. “Jones opposed A. G. Daniells
(then Gen. Conference president) on church organization as Jones felt it was
drifting Romeward. Finally Daniells
broke Jones, with the result that Jones finally left the church.”
“Years later, Daniells and Pastor MacGuire were attending Camps in California. They were returning to Washington
D. C. by train. Pastor MacGuire said Pastor Daniells was sitting looking out of the carriage window
thinking. He [Daniells] looked up and said, ‘You
know, Meade, I believe Jones was right and I was wrong.’ He was referring to
the question of organization.
“Pastor MacGuire said that Pastor Daniells did all he could to rectify things, but as he was
then out of the presidency no one paid much attention to him,” Burnside
concluded. “This is the account as I recall it.” The document was dated February
7, 1987, and signed, George Burnside, Wahroonga,
N. S. W. Australia.
Testimony Given Immediately Following the 1903 General
“Ellen White returned home to Elmshaven
from the 
session some time between April 10 and 12,” Arthur White wrote. “Of the
significant and far-reaching events in the early summer of 1903 she wrote: ‘My strength was severely
taxed while at the conference, but the Lord sustained me through the meeting, and by His blessing, I am recovering from the
strain.…’” The Early Elmshaven Years, vol.
One week after returning home from the 1903 General Conference session, Ellen
White wrote the following testimony dated at St. Helena, California, April 21,
the balances of the sanctuary the Seventh-day Adventist church is to be
weighed. She will be judged by the privileges and advantages that she has had.
If her spiritual experience does not correspond to the advantages that Christ,
at infinite cost, has bestowed on her, if the blessings conferred have not
qualified her to do the work entrusted to her, on her will be pronounced the
sentence: ‘Found wanting.’ By the light bestowed, the opportunities given,
will she be judged.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 247.
How does the contemporary Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1999 measure up to “the privileges and
advantages that she has had”? How does the corporate church measure up to “her
spiritual experience”? How does the church measure up to “the advantages that
Christ...has bestowed on her”? How does the church measure up to “the blessings
conferred” upon her? Has the SDA Church been faithful to the truth that
would “qualify her to do the work entrusted to her”? And the most important
questions of all—Has the contemporary Seventh-day Adventist Church already been judged? And if so, has
she been found wanting?