1931 - the year of the "Yearbook" - a turning point towards apostasy
The church’s fundamental principles were placed in action in 1872 as a guideline for what the church believed. But they wouldn’t put a blunt object to your head and have you swear by it. These were framed by James White and Uriah Smith.
In our yearbooks from 1905 to 1914, it said:
“Seventh-Day Adventists have no creed but the bible; but they hold to certain well-defined points of faith, for which they feel prepared to give a reason “to every man that asketh” them. The following propositions may be taken as a summary of the principal features of their religious faith, upon which there is, so far as is known, entire unanimity throughout the body. They believe---
1. That there is one God, a personal, spiritual being, the Creator of all things, omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal; infinite in wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, truth, and mercy; unchangeable, and every where present by his representative, the Holy Spirit. Psalm 139:7
2. That there is one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father, the one by whom he created all thing’s, and by whom they do consist;” (1905 SDA year book, page 188, Fundamental principles)
Note that this is pretty plain and simple. The Holy Spirit does not get a separate statement or belief listed. Jesus isn’t referred to as “God essentially” as in later years. And he is the “Son of the ETERNAL FATHER”, not God the Son or the ETERNAL SON of God.
By the early Seventh-Day Adventists, the “one God” was considered to be only the FATHER. Not a God in trinity, or the trinity, or three-in-one God as purported in our present Fundamental Beliefs (use to be called principles, not beliefs). The trinity doctrine depicts all three divine personalities existing inseparably together as ‘one compound God’ and that was rejected as not being supported by Scripture.
From 1914 to 1931 our Yearbooks did not contain a summary of our beliefs.
On December 29, 1930, the General Conference Committee “voted, that the chair (C.H. Watson, the president of the General Conference) appoint a committee of which he shall be a member, to prepare such a statement for publication in the Year Book.” Watson appointed M.E. Kern, associate secretary of the General Conference, E.R. Palmer, general manager of the Review and Herald Publishing Association, and F.M. Wilcox, editor of the Review and Herald. Wilcox was assigned the task of drafting the statement. The 22 fundamental beliefs that the committee reported were never officially discussed, approved, voted, or formally adopted.” - Lawrence Geraty, Spectrum Magazine, July 1980, “A new statement of beliefs”
Two of these people mentioned here, namely Kern and Wilcox, were among those who in 1935 were elected by the General Conference Committee to ‘read the manuscripts and sit with the Sabbath School Department Lessons Committee’ to help formulate the set of Sabbath School Lessons that were to explain over 7 quarters (nearly two years) the fundamental beliefs of Seventh-Day Adventists. Well into the mid 1930’s, we still taught that in eternity Christ was begotten of the Father. In other words, Christ was at least in 1936, still truly the Son of God.
According to Gottfried Oosterwal (Professor of Mission at Andrews University):
“Their publication in the Yearbook of 1931, and two years later in the Church Manual was a personal accomplishment of Elder Wilcox and his group of four. Realizing that the General Conference Committee or any other church body would never accept the document in the form in which it was written, Elder Wilcox, with full knowledge of the group, handed the Statement directly to Edson Rogers, the General Conference statistician, who published it in the 1931 edition of the Yearbook, where it has appeared ever since. It was without the official approval of the General Conference Committee, therefore, and without any formal denominational adoption, that Elder Wilcox’s statement became the accepted declaration of our faith.”
So here we see that Francis McLellan Wilcox circumvented the layer of checks and balances also known as the General Conference Committee by going direct to Edson Rogers. Some say it was an Associate editor of the Review, F.D. Nichol who originally worded this statement of beliefs – and that Wilcox later edited it. Whichever way it was, it was not in any way submitted to the church for approval – not even to the General Conference Committee. At the very best it could only be described as the views of just a few men – men who may have held views contrary to the established faith of Seventh-Day Adventists. According to Oosterwal, Wilcox, realizing that “the General Conference Committee or any other church body would never accept the document in the form in which it was written” handed it directly to our denominational statistician, namely Edson Rogers, who published it in our Yearbook.
Ideally, one could say that the 1931 statement was designed to articulate the basic tenets of Adventism for or to non-Adventists.
Concerning the Godhead, the new 1931 statement read:
"2. That the Godhead, or Trinity consists of the Eternal Father, a personal, spiritual Being, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, infinite in wisdom and love; the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father, through whom all things were created and through whom the salvation of the redeemed hosts will be accomplished; the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, the great regenerating power in the work of redemption. Matt. 28:19"
Some may say that this was a ‘trinity statement’, but this is not so. What Wilcox did primarily was slip in the word “Trinity”, trying to make a parallel to the word Godhead. But Godhead is actual the parallel word to “Deity” or “Divinity”. The new statement still places God as the Eternal Father. No change there.
But grouped with the Father is the Son and the Holy Spirit. Trinity is a word value for the number 3. So yes, there are 3 mentioned here. The Son is still listed as the “Son of the Eternal Father”. But now Wilcox added some detail to the belief of the Holy Spirit as the “third person of the Godhead.” Previously, God was present by His Holy Spirit. Now it states that he is the regenerating power in the work of redemption.
At this time, this new statement is not a “trinity doctrine” because there is no mention here of one God being a compound of entities of three persons inseparably connected together in one indivisible substance. It is definitely not a trinity statement or doctrine even thou the word is slipped in here.
This really would be the beginning of the reprogramming of Adventism. It would be a slow, VERY slow process. The first test would be to put this word into the Yearbook, and now lets see if there is any push back. All the key pioneers who were the roots of the denomination have died off. There shouldn’t be any push back, but we shall see.
This new statement is so ambiguous as it lacks a three in one definition. It is left to the reader to determine what is going on here and how to interpret this. Some are told that today’s trinity doctrine is different than the Catholic church’s version. Well, if today’s fundamental beliefs said what it was in 1931, there would be some truth to that. But instead, it is a full blown trinity doctrine.
The next belief being #3 said:
“That Jesus Christ is very God, being on the same nature and essence as the Eternal Father. While retaining His divine nature He took upon Himself the nature of the human family, lived on the earth as a man, exemplified in His life as our Example the principles of righteousness, attested His relationship to God by many mighty miracles, died for our sins on the cross, was raised from the dead, and ascended to the Father, where He ever lives to make intercession for us. John 1:1, 14, Heb. 2:9-18, 8:1-2, 4:14-16, 7:25.”
The way these statements are worded, it would seem to be able to get away with acceptance from non-Trinitarians and Trinitarians as it leaves things somewhat to the interpretation of the reader.
Just like the time period of 1905 to 1914, in 1931 there was no separate statement for the Holy Spirit. Although as mentioned in belief #2, it was said to be “the third person of the Godhead, the great regenerating power in the work of redemption.”
In a book from church historian Leroy Froom, we see a few interesting comments. One, that F.M. Wilcox was working toward a phrase to be cleverly excepted by anyone as this was “quietly framed by him”. (It wasn’t done in the open. It WAS NOT done in an honest way, it wasn’t done by the whole of the church.)
“In many ways we might say that Wilcox (Francis McLellan Wilcox, Review editor) was the personification of Adventism. He was doubtless the one personality who could formulate a basic statement of Adventist faith, so carefully yet faithfully phrased that it would have general acceptance by all. Such was the setting for his draft of the "Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventists," quietly framed by him in 1931 in the midst of his life of earnest service. It would have been well-nigh impossible for a statement of "Fundamental Beliefs," such as was drafted by Wilcox in 1931—and published that year and appearing thereafter annually in the SDA Yearbook, and thenceforth in the official Church Manual—to have been issued a score of years, or even a decade prior to 1931, without strong protest by some. But by 1931 so much had been published in periodical, tract, and book form—taking similar positions on the “Three Persons” of the Godhead, the eternal pre-existence and complete Deity of Christ, and the personality of the Holy Spirit—together with a galaxy of confirmatory Spirit of Prophecy declarations now on record, that 1931 was clearly the propitious time for such a public statement.” - Leroy Froom, 'Movement of Destiny' book, p.418. (Actually, it isn't because so much became available in tract form. But those that were from the time frame of the Pioneer's early days which is where the foundation of our faith was established, had died off and the push back was gone. If they aren't around to correct the apostasy coming in, then the apostasy wins out.)
Here is the Personnel of the 1931 statement of Beliefs under the guise of F.M. Wilcox:
Henry Watson, G.C. President Milton E. Kern, G.C. Secretary
Francis McLellan Wilcox, Review editor Edwin R. Palmer, Review & Herald manager
This was assigned to four men wearing suits in a room. However, three of these were non-participants. It was solely the work of one man, F. M. Wilcox!! Eighteen years earlier in 1913, Wilcox as the editor of the Review and Herald slipped the word, "trinity" alongside the word "Godhead" as a test to see if there would be any pushback. To see if anyone would notice. There was some pushback, but as time would pass by, it would be less and less. Another test would happen with the 1919 General Conference. (Refer to that under a different heading on this website under "The Issues" drop down menu. That material is under development and not released yet.)
Then you had Leroy Froom's book in 1928, "The Coming of the Comforter" which changes the personality of the Godhead, more specifically the Holy Spirit. Not what Ellen White or the Pioneers believed all their lives. He had gone to the authors from Sunday-keeping (Babylon) to get his ideas because what was written in our books by Ellen White and the pioneers didn’t line up with his view. That is because he was Trinitarian and the church was not.
“May I here make a frank personal confession? When, back between 1926 and 1928,
I was asked by our leaders to give a series of studies on the Holy Spirit, covering the North American union ministerial institutes of 1928, I found that, aside from priceless leads found in the Spirit of Prophecy, there was practically nothing in our literature setting forth a sound Biblical exposition in this tremendous field of study. There were no previous pathfinding books on the question in our literature. I was compelled to search out a score of valuable books written by men outside of our faith—those previously noted—for initial clues and suggestions, and to open up beckoning vistas to intensive personal study. Having these, I went on from there. But they were decided early helps. And scores, if not hundreds, could confirm the same sobering conviction that some of these other men frequently had a deeper insight into the spiritual things of God than many of our own men then had on the Holy Spirit and the triumphant life. It was still a largely obscure theme.” - Leroy Froom, Movement Of Destiny. p. 322
The "Coming of the Comforter" was part of the reprogramming of our people. Surprisingly, It is still found in the Adventist book store today.
Something to note in Froom's quote (two quotes above), if they tried to slip in the word trinity in the Church Manual or Yearbook 10 years earlier than 1931, there would have been strong protest. Why? Because a few of those that lived alongside James and Ellen White were still alive. They would have not stood for, or even allowed the expounding upon three persons of the Godhead, messing with the nature or personality of the Holy Spirit, changing the church’s understanding and teaching on Christ’s existence.
Do you understand here that changes were made within our church gradually by changing the language. Over time what would become “Modern Adventism,” would win out. They were reprogramming Adventist thinking. But this did not come from the inspiration of God. This did not come from those that started our faith. These men were not learned men with a better understanding from God. They came from different roots with a different ‘fruit of the spirit’. They were largely Sunday keepers. We were bringing in outsiders into our faith at a torrid pace. And if we were the only ones that were non-Trinitarian, guess what? We would be over populated by the new majority coming in and Trinitarians would win out over time. But it didn’t make it right.
“By conforming to the practices of paganism, to facilitate the acceptance of Christianity by the heathen….During the lives of the apostles the church remained comparatively pure. But “toward the latter end of the second century most of the churches assumed a new form; the first simplicity disappeared, and insensibly, as the old disciples retired to their graves, their children, along with new converts…came forward and new modeled the cause…” To secure converts, the exalted standard of the Christian faith was lowered, and as the result “a pagan flood, flowing into the church, carried with it its customs, practices, and idols….” Has not the same process been repeated in nearly every church calling itself Protestant?” - Ellen White, Great Controversy, 384.5
The words "Godhead" and "Trinity" are not interchangeable. "Godhead" speaks to who is divine, or divinity. The early uses of the word trinity, was used to label 3; as in God, Jesus and their Holy Spirit. Just as a 'pair' or 'dual' would be connected to the number 2, Trinity would be connected to the number 3. But over time, this "Trinity" would be shaped into a doctrine that comes from Rome. And our people over 100 years ago knew this and didn't want any part of the word, and especially the doctrine that would follow.