The Marion Incident: "The Bible Alone" Versus "The Bible+Visions"

By Dirk Anderson

On June 20, 1860, a group of Sabbath believers formed the Marion church, signing a covenant that stated:

We the undersigned, do hereby express our wish to be associated together in Christian fellowship as the Church of Jesus Christ, at Marion, whose covenant obligation is briefly expressed in keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, taking the Bible, and the Bible alone, as our rule of faith and practice.1

For a while sweet harmony presided in the church at Marion. James White described the leader of the church, B.F. Snook, as "a sweet, good man...a good preacher."2 However, controversy soon erupted when some in the church began advocating the visions of Ellen White. H.E. Carver, a member of the church, describes how the trouble began:

...the visions were not at that time made a test among us, nor were they made a topic of public investigation, at least here in Iowa. In one of the S. D. Adventist publications, however, it was claimed that among other things the visions were given to correct those who should err from Bible truth. This attracted attention and created alarm in the mind of one of our number, Eld. S. Everett, who saw in this the germ of that unscriptural and oppressive hierarchy that now reigns over the consciences of our S. D. Adventist brethren. Bro. Everett entered his protest against this claim of the visions, and faithfully warned us of the result. The brethren could not believe that such would ever be the case, and were much tried with him on account of his course.3

Word of the rebellion spread and soon Elder Cornell, a follower of the Whites, was sent in to crush the rebellion against the visions. Carver relates how Cornell overstepped his bounds:

In prosecuting the case against Bro. E., Eld. Cornell manifested a most unkind, hasty, and unchristian spirit, which was a source of grief to the entire church, and which I took upon myself to communicate to Mrs. White. After having received this information from me, she published in the next 'Testimony' that she had been shown that Eld. Cornell had acted hastily in Bro. Everett's case.4

The First Rebellion

The Marion Church was soon split over the visions of Ellen White. In late 1861, Elder Cornell proclaimed Mrs. White's visions "of equal authority, and binding forever with the Bible, and urged us to adopt their teaching also, as a rule of faith and discipline....about one half of the Church decided to receive these volumes as valid Scripture, and drew off from us, or rather repelled us from them, denouncing us as rebels."5

Those who did not believe in the visions objected to the effort "to put the visions of Ellen G. White on the same eminence with the Bible, and secure the recognition of Elder James White as the latter-day Moses."6 Those who stood upon the "Bible alone" affirmed:

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. We have not rebelled against Ellen G. White, for we never endorsed her; nor have we rebelled against any of the messengers, for we never acknowledged allegiance to them; 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, [the Bible and the Bible alone] and have adopted a new one.7

The rebellion in Iowa was a flash point of a larger battle that was brewing in other places also.

Everywhere the remnant remained, there was suffering and pressure of the Adventists to accept the 'more perfect way' - loyalty to the new General Conference, which according to Mrs. White, was God's highest authority on earth; the visions and claims for [the divine inspiration of] Mrs. White; and other non-Biblical doctrines that were beginning to show up in Seventh Day Adventism.8

Elder Snook was foremost in openly questioning the validity of the visions. The matter became known to the Whites who rushed to meet the rebellion. The Whites understood that they must crush the rebellion in Iowa before it spread elsewhere. A victory here could help them in other areas of the country where discontent over the visions was seething. A trial was quickly arranged for the leaders of the rebellion, Snook and W.H. Brinkerhoff. After considerable discussion, the Whites prevailed upon Snook and Brinkerhoff to put aside their differences. Both men confessed, and afterward, they sent letters of confession to be published in the Review on July 25, 1865. For a time, the situation was quelled.

Deceptive Tactics

Interestingly enough, we find Ellen White attempting to capitalize upon the quelling of the rebellion, insinuating divine guidance was at work, claiming she knew nothing of the rebellion until hours before they arrived at Pilot Grove, Iowa:

We felt it to be our duty to visit Iowa before returning to Michigan. We had no knowledge of the rebellion of Elders Snook and Brinkerhoff, but we felt that there was a work for us to do in that State. On our way to Pilot Grove, Iowa, we first heard of the rebellion, which was only a few hours before we met its leaders face to face in the meeting-house.9

Thus we find Ellen White deceiving her church about the true state of matters. The truth is that the Whites were well aware of the "rebellion" long before they arrived, as Carver explains:

In the spring of 1865, Elder B. F. Snook, feeling restive under the reign of the regime at Battle Creek, and probably very doubtful of the visions, wrote a letter to Eld. Ingraham, proposing to him to act independently of the Battle Creek authorities in proclaiming the truths of the Bible. This letter was placed in the hands of Eld. White at a meeting in Wisconsin, who endorsed on the back in substance this: 'Rebellion in Iowa,' and immediately wrote to Elder Snook, informing him of what he knew, and stating that his (Eld. Snook's) case would be attended to at the Pilot Grove Conference, soon to convene. He also wrote to Eld. Brinkerhoff that he had evidence in his possession of Eld. Snook's rebellion, and wishing him, Eld. B., to be present at the Conference. ... In her report of this matter [published in the Feb. 20, 1866, Review and Herald], Mrs. White is particular to state that they (her husband and self) were deeply impressed that they must come to Iowa, and that they knew nothing of the rebellion here till a few hours before they met its leaders face to face at Pilot Grove; thus leading the church at large to regard her as being led here by divine inspiration; and doubtless such was the influence of her report upon the minds of those who did not know that at least two weeks previously her husband had endorsed upon the back of that letter -- 'Rebellion in Iowa.'10

To support Carver's claim that Ellen White knew about the situation well in advance, James White had written to W.H. Brinkerhoff from Wisconsin on June 13, seventeen days before the Whites arrived on June 30. That letter states:

We are pained at the evidences in our hands of bro. Snook's rebellion. See appointment in this week's Review for Pilot Grove. I hope there wilt be a full delegation from all the church. Be sure and be present.
In Haste.
James White11

James also wrote a similar letter to Snook, telling him that his case would also be considered when the Whites arrived.12 There is no doubt Ellen White was part of the "we" who were pained to hear of the "rebellion" as she was with James in Wisconsin. The following Sabbath, they arrived in Priceville, Illinois, where according to J.N. Loughborough, they received a letter with more evidence of Snook's rebellion.13 This shows the Whites were fully aware of the situation at least seventeen days before they arrived. Therefore, it is inconceivable why Ellen would claim she had "no knowledge" of the rebellion and was only aware of it "a few hours" before she met the rebels.

The Second Rebellion

For a time peace prevailed in the church. By late 1864, Snook had been elevated to president of the Iowa SDA Conference and Brinkerhoff was promoted to secretary. However, despite their leadership positions, and despite their confessions, both men still felt uneasy about the visions. They had a sense that something was amiss, but lacked the evidence to back it up. They decided to study the matter further. They soon discovered evidence of Mrs. White's shut door teaching. Not long afterwards, they made Carver aware of their findings:

Elders Snook and Brinkerhoff had procured from the East some of the earliest publications of Elders White and Bates, and those portions relating to the 'shut door theory' had made a deep impression on my mind, calling up old associations, when I, too, was a believer in that error. Seeing that the early visions ran in perfect harmony with that theory, I asked them whether Mrs. White was a believer in the shut door doctrine at the time of her first vision, hoping that the answer would be in the negative, in which case it would seem that there was no correspondence between her faith and the vision. The answer, however, was in the affirmative...14

Racism and the Two-Horned Beast

One subject of malcontent with the "visions" was Ellen White's statements about certain races of men being an amalgamation of man and beast. Many of the Bible-believing members felt this statement was racist and inappropriate. Others were no doubt simply baffled by it.

Another area of discontent was the SDA interpretation of Bible prophecy. Studies by Brinkerhoff confirmed that the SDA interpretation of the Three Angels' Messages and the Two-horned Beast were inaccurate. A discussion on the subject ensued, creating an inseparable rift in the church. The Seventh-day Adventists withdrew with about half the members and started meeting separately.

In 1866, the Marion Church adopted the name "Church of God" and Snook and Brinkerhoff were disfellowshipped from the SDA Church. Brinkerhoff later described the reason for their split as being because they were "not being willing to swallow visions coated over with a United States two-horned beast, and that the colored people were part human and part baboon or something else..."15

Continuing Rancor

While the Bible-believing group continued in strength, the SDA group gradually dwindled as more and more of their members left the sect for good. At first the SDAs met in purchased facility, but they were forced to sell "their meeting house, as their membership was reduced so low that they did not need it."16

As was all too often the case, SDA historian J.N. Loughborough garbled his historical account of what became of Snook and Brinkerhoff after they parted ways with Adventism:

Before many months elapsed, both S. and B. dropped their interest in the Advocate [their paper], and gave up the keeping of the Sabbath. Brinkerhoff engaged in school-teaching, and the study of law. Snook engaged in preaching universalism, at a salary of $1,000 a year.17

The truth is that it was Brinkerhoff who later became a Universalist, while B.F. Snook remained a Sabbath-keeping minister and traveled for years, preaching and raising up numerous Sabbath groups.18

SDA leaders also made an attempt to cast the blame for the defection of the Iowa group upon Snook and Brinkerhoff. Uriah Smith insinuated that the real reason for their disaffection was a "testimony" from Ellen White which they rejected. The background for this testimony is as follows:

During the Civil War, the Seventh-day Adventists, along with several other religious groups, petitioned the government to allow for conscientious objectors to not bear arms. In 1863, Mrs. White wrote a stinging testimony against unnamed Adventists in Iowa regarding an incident where a petition was sent to the Iowa legislature asking for a provision to allow for conscientious objectors to avoid having to bear arms:

In Iowa they carried things to quite a length, and run into fanaticism. They mistook zeal and fanaticism for conscientiousness. Their feelings took the lead, instead of being guided by sound judgment and reason. They were ready to become martyrs for their faith. Did all this feeling lead them to God? to greater humility before him? to trust in his power to deliver them from the trying position into which they might be brought? O, no! Instead of making their petitions to, and relying solely upon, the power of the God of heaven, they petitioned to the legislature, and were refused. They showed their weakness, and exposed their lack of faith.19

Apparently, Mrs. White regarded their actions as fanatical and revealing a lack of faith. She also writes as if the undertaking was a complete failure.

After the Second Rebellion, Uriah Smith, writing in the Review, chalked the Iowa rebellion up to the fact that Snook and Brinkerhoff "were reproved by vision" over the 1863 legistlative incident.20 Thus, he identified Ellen White's "vision" or testimony of reproof during the Civil War as inciting their subsequent rebellion.

W.H. Brinkerhoff contested Ellen's and Uriah's version of events. In 1863, Brinkerhoff received the petition, which had been revised by SDA leader J.H. Waggoner, "with a request that we visit the churches in that vicinity, and obtain signatures to send to the legislature."21 Despite being urged to go to Des Moines, Iowa, to personally present the petition to the legislature, Brinkerhoff declined to do so. He also did not make any effort to add any signatures to the document. In effect, he simply forwarded the document to those who took it to the legislature. Therefore, he was surprised when a "vision" from Ellen White criticized him over this incident, saying that they "would be brought into straightened places."22 Some time afterward, the United States Congress passed a conscription law that allowed for conscientious objectors to refuse to bear arms. Brinkerhoff felt that the work they did in Iowa contributed to that success. He also wondered how this could possibly be considered fanaticism when SDA leaders in Michigan were involved in petitioning the government, along with many other religious groups.

The Rebellion Spreads

During the mid-1860s, the visions were pushed by the Whites as a test of fellowship. Adventists who had joined what they thought to be a Bible-believing church were caught up in the midst of the controversy. Many suffered the pain of censure and rebuke for not believing the visions. Others were thankful for the work of Snook and Brinkerhoff in opening their eyes to the subtle transition in the SDA Church away from a Biblical foundation. Below are some letters published by church members during this time period:

I now have fully settled in my mind that you [Brinkerhoff] have the truth on all these disputed points, therefore I would gladly take you by the hand as a brother in the Lord. I feel truly glad today that you and Bro. Snook did rebel when you did, believing that God is in the work, and that he will vindicate his truths.23

I never dreamed that I should, (on pain of excommunication,) have to receive the productions of any uninspired mortal, as the Word of God!24

...those who have been cast off because they have dared to express their doubts as to the inspiration of E.G.W.'s Visions, and have planted their feet upon the sure word of God, which is of undoubted accuracy.25

...when they found that I doubted the inspiration of the visions, all was over, as to my going with the message any farther under their sanction. I was then required by vision to give up my judgment to the church (E.G.W.) in order to go with them. This broke the spell by which I had been bound in fear for years. O, how thankful I am that ever I broke loose from this man-fearing and man worshipping influence...26

Look in the 'Review & Herald,' published by James White, in which he advocates the Mesmeric visions of his wife; and requires us to receive them as inspiration; and if we refuse to do so, we are denounced and anathematized.27

...Br. and Sr. Russel of Jackson who were expelled from the S.D.A. Church for rejecting the 'Visions.'28

Yes, Father Heaton has been shamefully abused because he could not endorse the visions of E.G. White.29

In regard to the visions of E.G. White, we never could believe they were from God. We often tried to feel right about them, and tried to reconcile them with the word, but never could. We have been judged, condemned and rejected by those that we expected better things from on account of it.30

Points to Ponder

  • Why did Ellen White send out an "I was shown..." testimony about Elder Cornell, as if God had shown her something in vision, when in fact H.E. Carver had relayed the facts of the case to her in a letter?

  • Why did Ellen White deceive others about her and James not knowing about the rebellion until "hours" beforehand?

  • Why were the visions of Ellen White made a test of fellowship at Marion?

  • Why did SDA historian J.N. Loughborough attempt to discredit Snook, saying he gave up the Sabbath, when in fact he preached it for years, raising up Sabbath-keeping churches?

  • Why did Uriah Smith and Ellen White attempt to cast dispersion upon the Iowa church leaders for fanaticism over the conscientious objectors petition when it was sent to them by an SDA leader with instructions to gather signatures and send it to the legislature, and furthermore, Brinkerhoff did little other than forward it on to those who delievered it to the legislature?


1. Hope of Israel, September 7, 1864.

2. James White to Ellen G. White, Oct. 22, 1860.

3. H. E. Carver, Mrs. E. G. White's Claims to Divine Inspiration Examined, 1877.

4. Ibid.

5. Letter signed by V.M. Gray, E.P. Goff and M.N. Kramer, Hope of Israel vol. 1 no. 18, Sep. 7, 1864, p. 1. Here is the full letter:
Marion, Iowa, Nov. 15, 1862:
Near a year and a half afterwards (Dec. 1861), the same Messenger held up, publicly, some other volumes by the side of the Bible, of a recent date, and avered that these recent publications were of equal authority; and binding forever with 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. Certainly not until we had time to test their soundness and fitness. The result was, about half of the Church decided to receive these volumes as valid Scripture, and drew off from us, or rather repelled us from them, denouncing us as rebels, &c., distincly intimating that they no longer desired, nor would tolerate our company in their religious meetings, otherwise than as spectators. We now discovered that the cry for organization, had been made under false colors; and that while the plea of holding Church property, and securing the Church against imposters was held out, the real object was to put the visions of Ellen G. White on the same eminence with the Bible, and secure recognition of Elder J. White as the latter-day Moses.

6. Ibid.

7. Fellowship Herald, October 1960, 6-9, op. cit.

8. Charles Monroe, "A Synoptic History of the Churches of God in the Latter Days," in Facts of Our Faith, Jan. 1969, 12-25.

9. Ellen G. White, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Feb. 20, 1866, para. 7.

10. Ibid., Carver. See also John Loughborough, Rise and Progress of the Seventh Day Adventists (1892) pp. 267-68.

11. W.H. Brinkerhoff, Hope of Israel, vol. 1, no. 17, Jan. 2, 1867, p. 132.

12. H.E. Carver, Hope of Israel, vol. 1, no. 21, Mar. 26, 1867, p. 160.

13. Ibid.

14. Carver, Mrs. E. G. White's Claims to Divine Inspiration Examined.

15. W.H. Brinkerhoff, Hope of Israel vol. 1, no. 9, Sep. 18, 1866, p. 72.

16. Ibid.

17. Arthur White, Ellen G. White Volume 2 The Progressive Years 1862-1876, p. 150.

18. Richard C. Nickels, History of the Seventh Day Church of God (©1977, 1987, 1994, 1996, 1999 by Giving & Sharing), chapter 6. Nickels notes that Snook preached the Sabbath in "southern Iowa, Illinois, and elsewhere."

19. Ellen White, Testimony #9, 1863, p. 2. Oddly enough, this testimony also appears in Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 356, which was published in 1855, eight years before this incident happened. The only rational explanation is that the 1863 testimony was inserted into volume 1 when that book was revised in the 1880s, but the reason for adding a later testimony to this earlier-published work is unknown. Arthur White also dates this event as happening "during the months of civil war" (Arthur White, Ellen G. White: The Progressive Years: 1862-1876 vol. 2, p. 50).

20. Uriah Smith, Review vol. 28, no. 6.

21. W.H. Brinkerhoff, "Thou Shalt not Bear False Witness," Hope of Israel vol. 1, no. 5, July 24, 1866, p. 36.

22. Ibid.

23. Jacob Decker, Hope of Israel vol. 2, no. 6, Aug. 27, 1867, p. 47.

24. M.O. Burdick, Hope of Israel vol. 1, no 12, May 2, 1864, p. 1.

25. J.C. Day, Hope of Israel vol. 1, no 13, May 16, 1864, p. 2.

26. J.C. Day, Hope of Israel vol. 1, no. 17, Jan. 2, 1867, p. 131.

27. R. G. Whitcomb, Hope of Israel vol. 1, no 13, May 16, 1864, p. 3.

28. Br. T., Hope of Israel vol. 1, no. 16, July 6, 1864, p. 1.

29. Hope of Israel vol. 1, no. 7, Aug. 21, 1866, p. 55.

30. Brother and Siter Stults, Hope of Israel vol. 1, no.4, July 10, 1866 p. 32.

Category: Bible vs. Mrs. White
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