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Ellen G. White: The Progressive Years: 1862-1876 (vol. 2)

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    Differing Views on the Philosophy of Leadership

    Butler's position, which was very favorably received at the time it was given (see p. 400), was later summed up by James White in this way:2BIO 463.5

    A mistaken view was taken of this question, insomuch that the position was taken that one man was to be recognized as the visible leader of Seventh-day Adventists, as Moses was the visible leader of the Hebrews.—Ibid., May 23, 1878.2BIO 463.6

    Of course, there was no hiding the point that he was referring to James White as that leader. An action passed at the conference session when Butler made this presentation called for it to be published in a pamphlet and circulated widely. This was done in the late spring of 1874. Beginning in June, James White chose to publish in the Signs of the Times a series of three editorials refuting Butler's position on leadership. He opened his remarks by quoting Matthew 23:8: “One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” White pointed out:2BIO 463.7

    Jesus addressed these words to the twelve, in the hearing of the multitude. And while they were a rebuke to the scribes and Pharisees, they were also designed to impress the disciples with the great truth, that should be felt in all coming time, that Christ is the only head of the church.—The Signs of the Times, June 4, 1874.2BIO 464.1

    Later, back in Battle Creek, White, as editor of the Review and Herald, published a condensation of his Signs editorials in the issue of December 1, 1874. Uriah Smith, managing editor, put in an interesting note that read:2BIO 464.2

    The leading editorial, on leadership, in substance, was written by Brother White, in California, immediately after the publication of the tract upon the subject, which was approved by the General Conference. Hence, it is an expression of his views relative to the teachings of the Scriptures upon the subject, unbiased by the opinions and feelings of anyone, then or now. He now designs to give his views more fully, in tract form, when he proposes to apply the subject to the brief history of our cause, with which he has been connected from the first.—The Review and Herald, December 1, 1874.2BIO 464.3

    Ellen White did not agree with the Butler position, yet she dreaded seeing two church leaders in conflict. On November 11 she had written to W. H. Littlejohn, who was agitating the matter:2BIO 464.4

    In regard to leadership, we do not think, Brother Littlejohn, that you have the right understanding of this matter. The sentiments you have advanced in your letters to me are in some particulars directly contrary to the light God has given me during the last thirty years. I am about to print another testimony [Nos. 25, 26], and there are many things I consider of the greatest importance in the matter to be published. Some of these very things in regard to order in the church and the wants of its members are brought out very clearly, but it is impossible to write out or to speak in so short a time upon all these matters that which would meet the difficulties in your mind. We would not, in order to cure one evil, make a more greater difficulty to manage....2BIO 464.5

    I see no one who has been in any special danger through believing or accepting Brother Butler's view of the matter. I may not and you may not understand his position correctly. We have sent for Brother Butler. He will be here soon.2BIO 465.1

    My husband could not see that Brother Butler's position was wholly correct, and he has written out his views which I believe to be sound.... In regard to leadership, we want no special reaction to take place upon that subject. We see dangers that you may not see. We think in a very short time there will be a correct position taken on this question.—Letter 61, 1874.2BIO 465.2

    Very shortly after this—just when is not precisely known—Ellen White wrote to Butler what might be considered an essay on the whole question. She included this in Testimony No. 25 under the heading “Leadership.” Its eighteen pages are found today in Testimonies, volume 3, pages 492-509. Early on she stated the crux of the matter:2BIO 465.3

    Your principles in regard to leadership are right, but you do not make the right application of them. If you should let the power of the church, the voice and judgment of the General Conference, stand in the place you have given my husband, there could then be no fault found with your position. But you greatly err in giving to one man's mind and judgment that authority and influence which God has invested in His church in the judgment and voice of the General Conference.2BIO 465.4

    When this power which God has placed in the church is accredited to one man, and he is invested with the authority to be judgment for other minds, then the true Bible order is changed. Satan's efforts upon such a man's mind will be most subtle and sometimes overpowering, because through this mind he thinks he can affect many others. Your position on leadership is correct, if you give to the highest organized authority in the church what you have given to one man. God never designed that His work should bear the stamp of one man's mind and one man's judgment.—Testimonies for the Church, 3:493.2BIO 465.5

    The sixteen pages that follow are replete with counsels for everyone called to a position of leadership. The following four gems are found on page 497:2BIO 466.1

    Man can make his circumstance, but circumstances should never make the man.2BIO 466.2

    Long delays tire the angels.2BIO 466.3

    It is even more excusable to make a wrong decision sometimes than to be continually in a wavering position.2BIO 466.4

    I have been shown that the most signal victories and the most fearful defeats have been on the turn of minutes.2BIO 466.5

    This testimony provided basic counsel that charted a safe course in denominational administration. At the close of the pamphlet by Ellen White, James White repeated a major portion of his Review article of December 1, 1874, and added:2BIO 466.6

    The foregoing is taken from a discourse upon the subject of leadership which appeared in several numbers of the Signs of the Times, and later in the Advent Review. It was written only a few weeks after the essay referred to by Mrs. White was published, at a time when the writer knew not but that he was the only person who rejected the leading ideas of the essay, especially that part of it which applied the subject to himself. Let the following statements be carefully considered:2BIO 466.7

    1. I have never professed to be a leader in any other sense than that which makes all of Christ's ministers leaders.2BIO 466.8

    2. At the very commencement of the work, when organization was impossible, it was necessary that someone should lead out until those appointed by an organized body could act officially. I doubt not but God called me to this work.2BIO 466.9

    3. In my labors with Mrs. White in correcting errors, exposing wrongs, and establishing order in the church, it was my duty to stand firm with her. And because I could not be induced to yield to the demands of error, but stood firmly for the right, I was charged with being stubborn, and having a desire to rule.—Testimony No. 25, pp. 190, 191.2BIO 466.10

    He added other points, suggesting it might have been better when the church was being organized if he had refused to continue to act “a more prominent part” than those associated with him in office. He expressed his gratitude that the matter was now fully settled in his own mind, and he affirmed the concept that “the General Conference is the highest authority God has on earth.”—Ibid., 192.2BIO 467.1

    In an editorial in The Review and Herald, May 23, 1878, White had occasion to review the whole experience. He reiterated his basic position:2BIO 467.2

    We have but one leader, which is Christ, and the entire brotherhood of the ministry, while they should counsel with each other out of due respect for the judgment of each other, should nevertheless look to our great leader as their unerring guide.2BIO 467.3

    Our long experience in the general, successful management of matters pertaining to the cause gave our people confidence in us, and has had a tendency to lead them to look to us and lean upon our judgment too much. This experience we gained by anxious study and earnest prayer. Our brethren can obtain it in the same way. They should have looked to God more and gained individual experience.2BIO 467.4

    For the wrong, God has in wisdom removed us [by severe illness] from them for a time, and we fear the removal will be final unless they learn to look to God for themselves. We do not object to counseling with our brethren, if it can be taken as simply the opinion of one who is frail and liable to err, but when it comes to this that brethren demand of us our opinion, and add that they shall do just what we say, we shall withhold our opinion.... A servant of the church and a counselor with the brethren. James White.—Ibid., May 23, 1878.2BIO 467.5

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