The Messenger Party: "The Resistance Begins"
By Dirk Anderson
In the early days of Adventism, many individuals rejected the visions of Ellen White as false and contradictory. Mrs. White admitted in 1851 that her "visions trouble many."1 However, the first organized resistance did not start until 1853. At that time, two Sabbath-keeping ministers, C.P. Russell and H.S. Case were leading the work in Jackson, Michigan.
The Palmer Incident
It all started with a minor incident in May of 1853. A lady in the church, Sister Palmer, was having some ongoing difficulty with an unbelieving neighbor. One day, in the heat of the moment, she reportedly spoke harshly to her, calling the woman a "b*tch." Brother Case's daughter was an eyewitness to the event, and reported the incident, and the word used, to Elder Case. The ministers charged Mrs. Palmer with wrongdoing and asked her to explain herself. She denied the incident and refused to reveal the word she called the neighbor.2
Elder and Mrs. White arrived in Jackson on Friday, June 3, for a meeting at the church. They quickly learned there was a controversy in the church over this matter. During the meeting, Mrs. White had a vision about Mrs. Palmer and afterward reproved her, saying:
I saw that Sr. Palmer had been proud and exalted, and had been worldly-minded, that she had not possessed right feelings and a right spirit towards unbelievers. There was a feeling of hatred in her heart toward them, and words were spoken concerning them which should never have been said words were spoken concerning them which should never have been said...3
At that point, Case and Russell were pleased with the outcome, which they believed to be just. They claimed to have faith in the visions and they strongly urged Sister Palmer to confess, but she remained silent.4 The next day, Sister White had yet another vision, in which her spirit guide spoke to her:
I then was pointed again to Sr. Palmer. Said the Angel, it does not belong there. Words were spoken but not the ones that were said that she spake. I saw words spoken that were wrong, that should not have been spoken, and which in no way could glorify God; but which were the fruits of the risings of self. But the words which were considered the most sinful she did not speak. ... I saw that Brother Case’s daughter did not mean to lie about Sr. Palmer, but she thought she heard her say something much as she told, and she was willing to have it look worse than it was, and as bad as possible.5
She went on to say there had been trouble between the Case and Palmer families before this incident, and that Case and Russell used poor judgment in believing the testimony of Case's daughter.6 At that point, Mrs. Palmer confessed but insisted the word she used was "witch."7 Case and Russell were confused. They thought they had handled the matter appropriately and were surprised by Ellen White's rebuke of them. To them, it probably seemed like Mrs. White switched her story after finding out more from the Palmers. Case and Russell had their eyes opened. They began to realize the visions were contradictory and contrived. Case was later disfellowshipped because of his "doubts relative to the truthfulness of the visions."8 Case's daughter, Savilla, was devestated at being called a liar by someone she thought was a prophet. Several months later, she found the courage to speak out at a church meeting about the period of depression she went through. She concluded her testimony about her devestation by insisting that Ellen White's visions were "false and that she did hear Sr. P. say the word!"9
The Messenger of Truth
Not long afterward, Russell and Case formed a Sabbatarian group that took a stand upon the Bible alone. They named themselves the "Messenger Party" and started a paper called the Messenger of Truth. The paper was sent out to many Adventists in the region. In its pages the authors advocated for the Bible alone as the rule of faith. They also warned against being deceived by false visions.
After they came out against the visions, Mrs. White fired off a testimony warning the Messenger Party that they were under the "frown of God" and condemning their "selfishness", their "lying tongues," and their "corrupt hearts."10 In the same testimony, Mrs. White claimed the Party would not injure God's cause. While it is true the Party did not injure God's cause, it did injure the cause of the Whites. The Party helped solidify the belief of many Adventists that the visions of Ellen White were false. Believers in Ellen White responded to this crisis by coming out in battle against the heretics who doubted her visions. Throughout the region, the visions of Ellen White became a major point of contention in Adventist churches. Many who decided against the visions were disfellowshipped.
As the visions became a test of fellowship, the battle lines were drawn between those who stood upon the visions and those who stood upon the Bible alone. At a Messenger Party meeting in Franciscoville, in October of 1854, the building was crowded to overflowing. A number of Adventists "expressed their determination to let go of the visions, and for the future, take the word alone as their only rule of faith and duty."11 At least 30 of the 45 people attending left the conference having "no confidence whatever in the visions."12
Many letters came into the Messenger of Truth, thanking them for having the courage to reveal the truth about the visions. Below are some of the comments sent in by readers:13
In October of 1855, James White reacted angrily to the suggestion that his wife's visions were a test of fellowship. He wrote the following denial in the church's paper:
There is a class of persons who are determined to have it that the Review and its conductors make the views of Mrs. White a Test of doctrine and christian fellowship. It may be duty to notice these persons on account of the part they are acting, which is calculated to deceive some. What has the Review to do with Mrs. W.'s views? The sentiments published in its columns are all drawn from the Holy Scriptures. No writer of the REVIEW has ever referred to them as authority on any point. The Review for five years has not published one of them.14
Despite James' assurances, this stance was not long lived. A month afterward, a church conference was held in Battle Creek, Michigan, to discuss the "gifts" of Ellen White. At that conference, James was removed as the editor of the Review and Uriah Smith was installed in his place. After five years of not printing Mrs. White's visions, under Smith's direction, the church began printing them again. The leaders of the conference then published a repudiation of James' views in the Review:
...we must acknowledge ourselves under obligation to abide by their teachings, and be corrected by their admonitions. To say that they are of God, and yet we will not be tested by them, is to say that God’s will is not a test of rule for Christians, which is inconsistent and absurd.15
From this time forward, the visions of Ellen White have been a quasi test of fellowship in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. While the sect's leaders were willing to suffer people who were unfamiliar with the visions, they fully expected their people to become familiar and eventually accept the visions. J.N. Andrews wrote:
To such persons, we consider the gifts of the Spirit are clearly a test. Not only has God spoken, but they have had opportunity to ascertain that fact, and to know it for themselves. In all such cases, spiritual gifts are manifestly a test that cannot be disregarded except at the peril of eternal ruin.16
Unique from many other Christian denominations, the SDA Church requires faith in the "gift of prophecy" as part of its baptismal vows:
8. Do you believe the Biblical teaching of spiritual gifts, and do you believe that the gift of prophecy is one of the identifying marks of the remnant church?17
Anyone familiar with the SDA Church knows the "gift of prophecy" refers to the ministry of Ellen G. White.
The Messenger Party was very successful in turning many away from belief in the visions of Ellen White. From the letters that poured into the paper, it appears many people already had their own doubts about the inspiration of Ellen White. After several years the magazine ceased publication, and the SDA Church hardened into the position of making belief in Ellen White's "gifts" a quasi test of fellowship.
Several copies of Messenger of Truth are available in digital format:
1. Ellen White, Letter 4, 1851.
2. Arthur White, Ellen G. White: The Early Years: 1827-1862, p. 276.
3. Ellen G. White, Manuscript 1, 1853, par. 23 (1LtMs). This was not released by the White Estate until 2014.
4. Arthur White, ibid.
5. Ellen White, ibid., par. 24, 29.
7. Arthur White, ibid.
8. Messenger of Truth vol. 1, no. 3, Oct. 19, 1854, p. 2.
9. Sister J. Morrill, Messenger of Truth vol. 1, no. 5, Nov. 30, 1854, p. 4.
10. Ellen White, Testimonies vol. 1, p. 122. Chapter 20 - "The Messenger Party."
11. Messenger of Truth vol. 1, no. 3, Oct. 19, 1854, p. 2.
13. Messenger of Truth vol. 1, no. 3, Oct. 19, 1854, pp. 3-4; Messenger of Truth vol. 1, no. 5, Nov. 30, 1854, pp. 2-3.
14. Review and Herald vol. 7, no. 8, October 16, 1855, p. 61.
15. Joseph Bates, J.H. Waggoner, M.E. Cornell (on behalf of the conference), Review and Herald vol. 7, no. 10, December 4, 1855, p. 79.
16. J.N. Andrews, Review and Herald, Feb. 15, 1870.
17. Wikipedia. Extracted March 22, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adventist_Baptismal_Vow.
Category: Bible vs. Mrs. White
Please SHARE this using the social media icons below