October 20, 2010

Confronting a Crisis: Part 2

This is the second, and last, part of a study of the late-nineteenth-century holy flesh movement in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As we study our history we may be better prepared to face our future.—Editors.
In the first installment of this series we saw how the Indiana Conference became the stage for the holy flesh movement in the late nineteenth century. Led by conference revivalist S. S. Davis, the movement was composed of two unique characteristics: “a sinless flesh” message and a charismatic worship experience. In short, people were encouraged to exchange their sinful natures for Christ’s sinless nature brought on by a full-body surrender in worship.

Growth of the Holy Flesh Movement

Over time S. S. Davis and his small revivalist team won the support of R. S. Donnell, the Indiana Conference president. Through the influence of these key leaders, the overwhelming majority of conference pastors and conference committee members united behind the holy flesh movement. In fact, as far as we know, there were only a handful of pastors who resisted the new movement, and one of those, O. S. Hadley, pastor of the Indianapolis church, apparently had his ministerial license revoked because of his conscientious objections to what he saw taking place. One eyewitness reported, “Elder O. S. Hadley opposed this doctrine openly, and taught that it was fanaticism. Because of his attitude, his credentials were taken from him.”1 Despite such outspoken opposition by a faithful few, each of the Indiana camp meetings held during the year 1900 became showcases for the new theology and charismatic worship of the holy flesh movement.
The Haskells’ Correspondence With Ellen White
Just the year before, in 1899, S. N. Haskell and his wife, Hetty, had returned to the United States from Australia. One of his first assignments was to attend and speak for one of the three Indiana camp meetings in 1900.

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Hetty and Stephen N. Haskell

Immediately, the Haskells noted the extreme emotionalism and astonishing behavior that marked the meetings. At once they wrote to Ellen White for counsel, who at the time was also en route back to the U.S. from Australia. Haskell explained to Mrs. White the theology driving the holy flesh movement and its variance from the standard teaching of the church. “When we stated that we believed that Christ was born in fallen humanity, they would represent us as believing that Christ sinned, notwithstanding the fact that we would state our position so clearly that it would seem as though no one could misunderstand us. Their point of theology in this particular respect seems to be this: They believe that Christ took Adam’s nature before he fell; so He took humanity as it was in the garden of Eden, and thus humanity was holy, and this is the humanity which Christ had; and now, they say, the particular time has come for us to become holy in that sense, and then we will have ‘translation faith’ and never die.”2 After explaining his impressions of the events in Indiana, Haskell added, “I have no doubt, however, that the Lord will open up the whole scene before you; and for the sake of the poor sheep in Indiana, I pray God that you may have a testimony to send them.” Ellen White received the Haskells’ letters upon her arrival in California.

For her part, early in 1900 and much to the surprise of her Australian associates, Mrs. White declared that the Lord had shown her it was time to return to America. When she arrived in California, the Haskells’ letters were waiting. Mrs. White replied to them, saying: “Last January the Lord showed me that erroneous theories and methods would be brought into our camp meetings, and that the history of the past would be repeated. I felt greatly distressed. I was instructed to say that at these demonstrations demons in the form of men are present, working with all the ingenuity that Satan can employ to make the truth disgusting to sensible people; that the enemy was trying to arrange matters so that the camp meetings, which have been the means of bringing the truth of the third angel’s message before multitudes, should lose their force and influence.”3
As the holy flesh movement spread like wild fire across Indiana, neighboring conferences were growing concerned and restless. The church was becoming polarized, and thus the stage was set for a confrontation at the 1901 General Conference in Battle Creek, Michigan.
The Confrontation
The end of the holy flesh movement can be pinpointed to a single day—Wednesday, April 17, 1901. That morning Mrs. White rose and gave her testimony about what the Lord had shown her regarding the holy flesh movement. In part she pointedly stated: “The late experience of brethren in Indiana has not been in accordance with the Lord’s instruction. I have not during this conference held conversation with any one in regard to this matter, but the Lord has given me a definite testimony that a strange work is being done in Indiana, the results of which are not after His order. This phase of religious enthusiasm is a dangerous delusion. The sentiments and exercises are not prompted by the Holy Spirit. They have led to very sad results. . . . Brethren from Indiana, the word of the Lord to you and to all who are misled by your influence is: ‘Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace.’”4 Apparently Mrs. White’s incisive testimony made a profound impact upon the assembled delegates. “The group sat in silence, pondering God’s providences. Elder Haskell said in his heart, ‘Surely the Lord has spoken to us this day.’”5
The next day, Donnell asked permission to stand before the entire assembly of the General Conference. He said in part: “It has been suggested to me at times in the past, that the test [of faith in the Testimonies] comes when the Testimony comes directly to us. As nearly all of you know, in the Testimony of yesterday morning the test came to me. But, brethren, I can thank God this morning that my faith in the Spirit of prophecy remains unshaken. God has spoken. He says I was wrong, and I answer, God is right, and I am wrong.”6
Following Donnell’s lead, other conference leaders, including Davis, all came forward with similar confessions, and by the end of the conference the entire administration of the Indiana Conference along with the conference executive committee tendered their resignations. Most would later return to pastoral ministry, but at the time of reproof none was too proud to accept the discipline of the Lord. And thus the holy flesh movement ended.
What Can We Learn?
Of all that we could learn from the holy flesh movement, perhaps most alarmingly relevant is the warning contained in Mrs. White’s response to S. N. Haskell’s initial correspondence. “The things you have described as taking place in Indiana, the Lord has shown me would take place just before the close of probation. Every uncouth thing will be demonstrated. There will be shouting, with drums, music, and dancing. The senses of rational beings will become so confused that they cannot be trusted to make right decisions. And this is called the moving of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit never reveals itself in such methods, in such a bedlam of noise. This is an invention of Satan to cover up his ingenious methods for making of none effect the pure, sincere, elevating, ennobling, sanctifying truth for this time.”7
As we review our movement’s relatively recent spiritual failings, let us remember Paul’s instruction to the early Christian church about ancient Israel’s history: “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11, NKJV).* The history of God’s people throughout the ages, including that of our own denomination, is recorded for those of us who are to face the strongest delusions Satan has ever levied against humanity.
In Matthew 24 Jesus warned that during the time of the end, people will come in His name to deceive, if possible, even the elect. This prophecy is amplified in Revelation 13 by the description of a grand spiritual deception that will be marked by “great and miraculous signs.” The lesson is clear: Dynamic and popular spiritual deceptions claiming the name of Christ will be used by Satan to deceive the entire world. We are given these prophecies, however, not to show that we will inevitably fall, but to warn us so that we may discern deception and stand through an uncompromising reliance on Christ and His Word. 
*Texts credited to NKJV are from the ?New King James Version. Copyright ” 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1G. A. Roberts, “The Holy Flesh Fanaticism” (June 11, 1923), p. 4 [Ellen G. White Estate Document File 190].
2S. N. Haskell, as quoted in Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger of the Lord: The Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Assn., 1998), p. 199.
3Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 2, p. 37.
4General Conference Bulletin, Apr. 23, 1901, pp. 420, 421.
5Ella M. Robinson, S. N. Haskell: Man of Action (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1967), p. 174.
6General Conference Bulletin, Apr. 23, 1901, p. 422.
7White, Selected Messages, book 2, p. 36.
Kameron DeVasher is an associate pastor of the Avon Park Seventh-day Adventist Church in Florida. He and his wife, Emilie, recently celebrated the arrival of Henry, their first child. This article was published October 21, 2010.