Q&A about the Sword of Fire Hung over Battle Creek

Your questions answered by Brother Anderson

Your Questions Answered

QUESTION: Did Ellen White predict the fires in Battle Creek, Michigan?

ANSWER: The fires in Battle Creek, Michigan, must be understood in their context. In the early 1900s, there was an intense power-struggle going on in the SDA denomination. It pitted General Conference president A.G. Daniells, Ellen White, and their allies against J.H. Kellogg, A.T. Jones, and their allies. In order break Kellogg's influence over the sect, Daniells wanted the headquarters moved out of Battle Creek to near Washington, D.C. Matters came to a head in 1901, when the Review and Herald wanted to expand their facilities. This expansion was necessary because the Review was printing non-Seventh-day Adventist material and needed more room for printing presses to accommodate this work. Ellen White was enraged the Review was "printing the soul-destroying theories of Romanism and other mysteries of iniquity."1 She issued a subtle warning in October of 1901:

The Lord looks upon this action on your part as helping Satan to prepare his snare to catch souls. God will not hold guiltless those who have done this thing. He has a controversy with the managers of the publishing house. I have been almost afraid to open the “Review,” fearing to see that God has cleansed the publishing house by fire.3

Not long afterward, the Review Publishing House burned to the ground. On Tuesday evening, December 30, 1902, "dense, oily smoke" filled the halls as the building began burning.3 A couple of weeks after the fire, Mrs. White wrote a letter in which she claimed she had a dream in which she "saw a sword of fire stretched out over Battle Creek."4 That same year, Daniells wrote in a letter: "Dr. Kellogg has an imperious will which must be broken."5 Not surprisingly, on February 18, 1902, a fire started in the Sanitarium run by Kellogg at around 4 a.m., and the building burned to the ground. A newspaper reported "the cause of the fire is said to be an explosion of chemicals."6 Over the course of the year, a number of other SDA-owned facilities in Battle Creek also burned to the ground.

Possible Causes

Many theories have been proposed to explain the rash of fires:

  1. God did it - God was angry because SDAs had congregated in Battle Creek and He swung his "sword of fire" over the impenitent Adventists to convince them to move their headquarters to the place Daniells had selected: Washington, D.C.

  2. Arson from within - SDA corporate president Daniells was hell-bent on moving to Washington, D.C. in order to break the influence of Kellogg and Jones. However, it was difficult to convince the general conference board to move when so much money had been invested in buildings in Battle Creek. All too conveniently, the buildings burned down and insurance money was collected to rebuild those buildings in Takoma Park, Maryland. It has been theorized that either an over-zealous Adventist took Ellen White's denunciations too seriously and torched the buildings, or else Daniells' people took care of it. At one point an SDA Bellboy confessed to setting the Sanitarium fire, but he later recanted.7 The fact that these fires arrived exactly when Daniells needed them seems to suggest Adventists may have wielded their own sword of fire.

  3. Arson from without - Because of their vicious sectarianism, aggressive proselytization of other Christians, and bizarre doctrines, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was not viewed too fondly by some of the locals. Many would no doubt have been pleased to rid the town of the sect's corporate headquarters. It would not be a surprise if some of the locals heard of Daniells' desire to relocate and decided to help him along by wielding that sword of fire.

  4. Random chance - It seems highly improbable so many SDA buildings would burn by chance during the same year corporate leader Daniells was pushing vigorously to move the SDA headquarters to Washington. However, it is possible some of the older buildings were ripe for burning. A few days after the fire, Kellogg noted, "I have never doubted but that that building would burn down at some time, and that it would burn before long, for it has been standing about as long as such building do stand."8

In conclusion, no one knows exactly how the fires started. It could be a combination of any of the above. The loyal SDA will no doubt conclude that God burned the buildings down to convince the stubborn Adventists to agree with corporate president Daniells. Others will take into consideration the fierce ongoing power-struggle between Daniells and Kellogg, and conclude the fires were just too convenient to be accidental. As for Ellen White, she never predicted the Sanitarium in Battle Creek would burn down. Because of Ellen White's false prophecy about Kellogg's Chicago buildings, she had fallen out of favor with Kellogg. During this period she allied herself closely with Daniells and produced testimonies supportive of his plans. After the Review burned down, she claimed a sword of fire was hanging over Battle Creek. The question remains open to this day: Who wielded that sword?


1. Ellen White, Letter 138, October 16, 1901.

2. Ibid.

3. Arthur White, Ellen G. White: The Early Elmshaven Years: 1900-1905 vol. 5, p. 223.

4. Ellen White, letter 17, January 14, 1903.

5. A.G. Daniells as quoted in Howard Markel, The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek (Pantheon Books), p. 159.

6. The Columbus Enquirer-Sun, Columbus, GA Feb. 19, 1902.

7. Markel, p. 159.

8. Ibid., p. 160.

Category: Visions Examined
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