Establishing the British Mission of the
Seventh-day Adventist Church 1863-1887
Doctrinally the Seventh-day Adventists are conservative Protestants with a solid recognition of the authority of the revelation of God through inspired scripture. The denomination has roots in nineteenth century North America, and from their beginnings they have taken seriously the commission of Jesus Christ to go "into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."1 The church presently consists of over eight million adult, baptized members. In 1993 they were operating in 209 of the 236 countries of the world, they work in 713 languages, and publish in 206. It is the largest international Protestant missionary body today, with more than 5,500 schoo1s, colleges and universities, 148 hospitals, 354 dispensaries and clinics, 56 publishing houses, and contributes more than $1 billion each year for worldwide missions.2
An explanation for the rise and steady growth of this Christian denomination has usually been sought solely in the light of the social, intellectual, and political currents of the early nineteenth century. Some, however, have questioned that tangible evidence alone is insufficient, and have been forced to agree with a pioneer of the movement when she saw "behind, above, and through all the play and counter-play of human interests and power and passions, the agencies of the all-merciful One silently, patiently working out the counsels of His own will."3
Seventh-day Adventists believe that in a special sense they have been called to proclaim to the world the message of the three angels as prophesied in the New Testament Revelation.4 The first of these messages is declared to be "the everlasting gospel" which is to be proclaimed worldwide to "every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." This concept of their mission has caused them to dedicate their physical, material, and spiritual resources to the cause of a world mission. They do not regard missions as something in addition to the regular work of the church; it is the work of the church. They see the world as their field of labor, and they are motivated in their endeavors by the promise of Jesus Christ that when "this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations," then the end will come.5 The mission of Seventh-day Adventists is distinctly eschatological in emphasis, keyed to the closing events of human history, and ultimately leading to and including the climax of the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. They do not see themselves simply as another denomination, coming belatedly into the religious world of the nineteenth century, but tied inseparably into the noble line of God's true Church, and a vital part of the last-day movement of God's chosen line of witnesses. They believe that every truth they hold and proclaim was held in embryo in the apostolic church, before the great departure from the Faith.6 They see themselves as having simply revived, recovered, and continued those lost or trampled truths. Added to these, they believe, are special truths to be proclaimed to the world in the setting of the "time of the end," "last days," and "judgement hour." They see themselves as recoverers of the arrested "everlasting gospel" proclamation, a people living in the "remnant" section of the Christian Era. These are strong scriptural, prophetic beliefs that give rise to the motivating power for their mission.
The purpose of this dissertation is to study the early, historic development of the British Mission of Seventh-day Adventists from the arrival of the first missionary from North America in 1874, to the year l887. For a country supposedly rich in Christian heritage, the early growth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church membership in the British Isles was discouragingly slow. Even after 120 years the ratio of its 18,000 members to the population is one of the lowest compared with other English speaking countries of the world.7 It is thought that in this history some explanations may be found for this lack of good growth.
In the following chronological interpretation of the origins and development of the British Mission of Seventh-day Adventists a conscious effort has been made to tell the story as it happened and find how the people involved felt about it while it was happening. Yet, there is the realization that to do so would require much more information and insight than is available.
In normal circumstances, to write a history that is entirely free from personal bias is beyond all of us, for we reach for the certainties of the past in terms of things we know, hear, and can read. However, when that history is focused on one's own religious denomination, and its mission into one's own national environment, the bias becomes somewhat more difficult to handle. Many things will be easy to explain in terms of human passions, social forces, and psychological insights, but in the end the selection and interpretation of facts will be colored by my own understanding and present beliefs, no matter that I have tried to stand outside the Church and view it as a secular historian with no prior commitments would do.
My interest in the early history of the British Mission of Seventh-day Adventists was sparked as early as 1973 while carrying out a graduate assignment in an introduction to research and, by accident, discovering an unpublished letter of Ellen G. White arguing the case for the advancement of the newly begun Mission, despite its slow progress.
The establishment of the British Mission should have been an important step in the worldwide expansion of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Many saw Britain as the strategic position of the Church's world mission field from which all other parts of the globe could be reached with the worldwide message.
More than a decade had passed since the inception of that British Mission when in May 1887 Stephen Nelson Haskell arrived in England to lead out in the Mission as its Superintendent. An experienced evangelist and administrator Haskell was the head of the Church's missionary expansion, and was the leader of the group who had just opened up the work in Australia in 1885.8
Haskell's arrival in England coincided with the third and 1ast visit to Britain of Ellen G. White. White had helped in the pioneering days of the early Seventh-day Adventist movement and had helped steer it through its early stages of development, even as she had been seeking to do during the past two years in Europe. The Church leaders placed special confidence in White, believing her to have the "gift of prophecy" and in a position to receive "messages" from God which were given to direct the young Church in its advances, to exhort, encourage, and even rebuke workers and believers. In this capacity she had become the confidante of almost every Church leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church of that time. One week after her third and last visit in Britain, on 6 July 1887, White and Haskell met together to talk over his new appointment, and to discuss "upon many important matters connected with the work."9
Not long after White's departure, after Haskell had had the opportunity to look over the work of the Mission and see what had been accomplished to date, certain articles from him appeared in the Church paper which circulated in America and other countries of the world,10 and letters from him were addressed to the leadership in America. These reports give a very honest and clear assessment of the major difficulties being faced at that time by the British Mission. However, an unpublished letter from White to Haskell indicates that he is "speaking as though not much has been done" in the European fields. Haskell has intimated "that it would be better if nothing had been done," and would like to "commence new" in the British Mission, to do what should have been done from the beginning.11
In her letter White reprimands Haskell regarding the wrong impression his attitude and statements will give. She is very strong in her belief that "in England a good work has been done ... There is a good beginning made."12 On the other hand, Haskell's implications are paramount to saying that the British Mission had been a failure during the first decade of its existance, something which no Seventh-day Adventist Church historian has even ventured to suggest. It is considered that Haskell must have had good reasons for coming to his conclusion. If he did indeed have good reasons, why does White indicate to the contrary? Consequently this paper examines the facts of history relative to this period in an attempt to discover whether Haskell's implications have any foundation, and if they did, why White counselled him as she did.
In an honest endeavor to trace this history, and by so doing reach satisfactory conclusions, extensive use has been made of all available primary source material such as correspondence, manuscript material, and published works in respect to the British Mission. The major sources of information for this period include both published and unpublished letters, manuscripts, and diaries of Ellen G. White; letters and articles appearing in The Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald,13 Signs of the Times,14 and Present Truth;15 Historical Sketches of the Foreign Missions of the Seventh-day Adventists,16 the first history of the Church's Missions in Europe up to 1886; the diary and correspondence of John Norton Loughborough; the correspondence of John Nevins Andrews; and the varied correspondence of pioneer workers of the Church in Europe.17
Two other histories of the work of Seventh-day Adventists in Britain have been written.18 These have both been general historical overviews covering the years 1878-1935 and 1878-1974. Neither history has detailed exclusively or extensively the period presently under examination, nor have they at any time made use of the manuscript materials of Ellen G. White.
The major share of my research was done through the Andrews University Archives and the Ellen G. White Research Center, Berrien Springs, Mich., and appreciation is expressed for the many courtesies extended me during the time of this research. My thanks also go to the Trustees of the Ellen G. White Estate, Silver Spring, MD, who have released to me unpublished Ellen G. White letters and manuscripts for use in this history. Also to my alma mater, Newbold College, England, for sharing with me its own special heritage of Seventh-day Adventists in Britain. My very special thanks go to my mentor, Dr Edward J. Butterworth, for his constant interest, encouragement, and direction during the various processes of this research; and to my wife, RoseMarie, for her understanding support and for the many long hours spent at the computer on my behalf.
After a careful and honest appraisal of the available facts it would appear that in the establishment of the British Mission there was every possibility for failure due to poor planning and insufficient financing and that due to a weak commencment of the Mission, poor modes of communication, and insufficient educated workers, the British Mission was indeed, relatively speaking, a failure. White agrees with Haskell in this respect. It was, however, a failure which was not to be considered total as Haskell intimated, but rather as lacking of success. Indeed, it was not a failure which warranted beginning again, but rather one which could become the launching site for future advancement.
1Mk. 16:15. In this paper all Bible references and quotations will be from the Authorized King James Version.
2Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, (Silver Spring, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn.,) 1995, p.4. Hereafter SDAYB. The Seventh-day Adventist Church Year Book was published annually 1883-1894, and again from 1904 to the present.
3Ellen G. White, Education, (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903), p.173. Hereafter Ed.
6Through the years Seventh-day Adventists have been reluctant to formalize a creed. However, a summarization of their faith appears in SDAYB, 1995. The 27 "Principles" may be found in Appendix 1. Reference should also be made to Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1988), for a Biblical explanation of these principles.
7SDAYB, 1995, p.320. The 1993 figures approximate a ratio of one member to every 3,200 of the population compared to a ratio of one in 1,000 in North America, one in 700 in Canada, and one in 500 in Australia.
8Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn.,1976), art., "Haskell, Stephen Nelson". Hereafter SDAE.
9White, Ellen G., Diary, MS 36, (Ellen G. White Estate, Silver Spring, MD), June 29-July 10, 1887. In this paper all Ellen G. White letter (Letter) and manuscript (MS) materials are from this source through the Ellen G. White Research Center, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Mich., unless otherwise indicated, and are numbered according to the Estate cataloging.
10Stephen N. Haskell, "A Word From England," The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, (Battle Creek, Mich.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn.,1850-1887), 2 August 1887, pp.489,490; "The Wants of the European Field," 16 August 1887, p.521; "The Work in England," 23 August 1887, pp.536,537; "The Needs of the Cause in England," 20 September 1887, p.601. Hereafter RH in footnotes and Review in the text.
11White, Ellen G. to S. N. Haskell, Letter 50, 1 September 1887. See Appendix 10.
13Advent Review, (Auburn, N.Y.: August 1850 - September 1850; Paris, Me.: November 1850); Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.:5 August 1851-23 March 1852; Rochester, N.Y.: 6 May 1852-30 October 1855; Battle Creek , Mich.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1855-December 1887.) The forty years researched in the weekly journals, 1850-1890, represent approximately 50,000 pages.
14(Oakland, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1874-). Hereafter ST in footnotes and Signs in the text. The sixteen years researched in this monthly journal, 1874-1890, represent approximately 6,000 pages.
15W. C. Wilcox, et al, (Great Grimsby, England; International Tract and Missionary Society, 1884-) Hereafter PT in footnotes and Present Truth in the text. The five years researched in this British journal represents approximately 1300 pages.
16(Basle, Switzerland: Imprimerie Polyglotte, 1886). Hereafter HS. There were a number of contributors to this history. Wilcox was the major contributor for history of the British Mission and possibly the editor.
17(Archives of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD, through the Heritage Room, A Seventh-day Adventist Archive, Andrews University Berrien Springs, Mich.) All such correspondence and the Loughborough Diary will be from this source unless otherwise stated.
18Gideon D. Hagstotz, The Seventh-day Adventists in the British Isles, (Lincoln, Nebr.: Union College Press, 1935). Nigel G. Barham, "The Progress of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Great Britain, 1878-1944," (PhD. Dissertation, The University of Michigan, 1976).