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Twenty Years of Minutes: Proceedings of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (GC)—Part 3 (1877-1879a)


This five-part series is highlighting actions taken by the General Conference during the first 20 years of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  The selection is based on my personal taste, but highlights particularly significant early actions, historical or human interest items, or simply actions that reveal how different things were 150 years ago.  Original (mis)spellings have been retained.  I have added a few personal observations in parenthetical italicized text.

Read part one of this series HERE and part two HERE.

Sept. 1877 (16th Annual Session)—Lansing, MI

The GC President, James White, was absent, so S.N. Haskell was elected chairman for the session.

Mrs. Minerva Jane Chapman (pictured above) elected GC Treasurer.  (She served for many years thereafter)

“RESOLVED,  That we recommend the president of this Conference to visit immediately the southern field, accompanied by such a laborer, or laborers, as he may choose, or if he cannot go, that some other suitable person be immediately sent.”

“RESOLVED,  That each year's experience in this message confirms our faith that God has chosen Brother and Sister White to fill a leading position in this work; that we never felt the need of their counsel and experienced labors more than now; and that therefore we earnestly pray God to sustain them with strength and wisdom for their arduous labors.”

“WHEREAS,  We see the utmost confusion, division, and lack of harmony, among other bodies of Adventists, crippling their influence, and bringing reproach upon the Advent cause; and  WHEREAS,  Such thorough unity, both in doctrine and practice, has always prevailed among Seventh-day Adventists, and does still, though they are of so many different nationalities, creeds, classes, and temperaments; therefore  RESOLVED,  That we hereby express our deep gratitude to God for the harmony and power of the Third Angel's Message which has done so much for us.”  (Particularly in light of the Butler leadership conflict, this seems like wishful thinking, but in contrast to the fragmentation of other Adventist groups, there was truth in it.  How times have changed!)

“The report of the committee appointed in the annual meeting of the Conference in 1875, to revise the tract on "Leadership," was called for.  Elder U. Smith stated that the committee had not had time to devote to this revision, but as certain resolutions touching this question had been prepared to be submitted to this Conference, the committee would beg leave to endorse those resolutions, and present them for their report:–  RESOLVED,  That we rescind all that portion of the "Address on Leadership" passed in 1873, which teaches that the leadership of the body is confined to any one man.”  (The resolution of the Butler leadership conflict continued).

“RESOLVED,  That the highest authority under God among Seventh-day Adventists is found in the will of the body of that people, as expressed in the decisions of the General Conference when acting within its proper jurisdiction; and that such decisions should be submitted to by all without exception, unless they can be shown to conflict with the word of God and the rights of individual conscience.”  (It is important to note the context of this statement; it was a response to Butler’s leadership argument that the GC President should lead God’s people as Moses had led Israel.  It is also important to note the exceptions, which are often not mentioned when this action is quoted).

“Elder White spoke of the pleasure of seeing Elder W. H. Littlejohn at this meeting, and of the prospect of his once more being united with our people, and laboring in harmony with us.    Brother Littlejohn thereupon said that the resolutions just passed had cleared away the difficulties that had stood in the way of his active co-operating with the body for the past four years, and he hoped that he soon would have the privilege of engaging actively in the work of spreading the truth again. Elder White then presented the following resolution:
RESOLVED,  That this Conference invite Brother Littlejohn to join us in the work in fellowship and in labor. This was unanimously passed by a rising vote of the whole congregation.”

Mar. 1878 (Special Session)—Battle Creek, MI

“RESOLVED,  1. That an increase of interest and action in Sabbath-school work is greatly needed among us. 2.  That a systematic and uniform method is necessary to greater efficiency in Sabbath-school instruction. 3.  That a General Sabbath-school Association should be organized by our people, with State Conference auxiliary associations. 4.  That a committee on Sabbath-school interests be appointed by this Conference, with instruction to report at its earliest convenience.”

Later, a constitution was voted, beginning as follows:  “For the purpose of awakening a deeper interest in Sabbath-school work, and of securing uniformity of method in our schools, a Sabbath-school Association is hereby organized by Seventh-day Adventists in General Conference assembled, this 4th day of March, A.D. 1878…”

“WHEREAS,  We behold with the greatest satisfaction and thankfulness to God, the prosperity of our College, as indicated by a greatly increased attendance and by its harmonious workings, and    WHEREAS,  We have full confidence in this institution and believe that the Spirit of God is guiding in its management; therefore,  RESOLVED,  That we recommend all our Seventh-day Adventist brethren to send their children to this College, believing it will be for their spiritual as well as mental improvement.”  (This appeal was made frequently; this is just one example).

“RESOLVED,  That, while we deeply regret the necessary absence of the president of this Conference, our dear Brother White, by which we are deprived of his experienced counsel at this important point in the work, yet we are thankful to know that his health is improving and that he is able to speak to us through our papers, and we assure him of our continued sympathy, co-operation, and prayers in his behalf.”

“WHEREAS,  The cause is rapidly extending on every side, and the number of public laborers is increasing yearly, and the matter of their support is becoming a more and more important question with us each year; and    WHEREAS,  Our systematic benevolence fund is depended upon by them for support; and in a considerable number of cases we find ministers who embarrass the Conference by requiring year after year more funds from the treasury than they bring into it; therefore,  RESOLVED,  That we recommend the different conferences to be sparing of their means to such ministers, paying them only in proportion to the benefit they have been to the cause in raising up churches, or otherwise.“  (How would this go over today?!)

July, 1878 (GC Committee meeting on Dr. Kellogg)

A special meeting of the General Conference Committee was held at the house of Elder James White, in Battle Creek, Michigan, on the evening of July 2, 1878, at which the following resolutions respecting Dr. J. H. Kellogg were unanimously adopted:

“RESOLVED,  That, in our opinion, Dr. J. H. Kellogg should have periods of entire rest of several weeks' duration each, three or four times a year.   RESOLVED,  That, in our opinion, he is sinning against God and himself, and committing a wrong against the supporters and patrons of the Sanitarium in depriving himself of less than eight hours in bed in every twenty-four, whether able to sleep or not.   RESOLVED,  That he should not be accessible at all hours of the day, but that no one should be permitted to come into his room or his office without permission.”  (etc.)

Oct. 1878 (17th Annual Session)—Battle Creek, MI

“WHEREAS,  The impression has gone out from some unknown cause that J. H. Kellogg, M.D., holds infidel sentiments, which does him great injustice, and also endangers his influence as physician-in-chief of the Sanitarium; therefore  RESOLVED,  That in our opinion justice to the doctor and the Institute under his medical charge, demand that he should have the privilege of making his sentiments known, and that he be invited to address those assembled on this ground, upon the harmony of science and the Sacred Scriptures.  This resolution was unanimously adopted, after which the Conference adjourned to the call of the chair.   [Note.–In accordance with the foregoing resolution, Dr. Kellogg gave, before a large audience, October 6, an able address on the harmony of science and the Bible, for which the congregation tendered him a vote of thanks.]”

“Sister Aurner was received as delegate from Dakota.  She spoke in behalf of the people in that territory, and the wants of the cause there.”  (Women are not prominently featured in the minutes of the early GC, but there is evidence of their participation and no record of opposition to it).

“VOTED,  That the General Conference Committee take immediate steps toward the publication of a Manual containing the Constitutions and By-laws of our different organizations,–General Conference, Educational Society, Health Institute, Publishing Associations, and Tract Societies, to which shall be appended a synopsis of the rules of Parliamentary practice applicable to the workings of these organizations.”

“The committee on the wants of the different conferences reported through S. N. Haskell.  The committee suggested that Elder G. I. Butler take the oversight of the Missouri and Kansas Conferences the coming year, which suggestion was adopted.”  (Butler’s rehabilitation as a leader was underway).

“RESOLVED,  That we have a committee of three to suggest a course of study for all our ministers, that committee to report at some future meeting of this session.”

The Song Anchor, a songbook by J.E. White, was adopted for use in Sabbath Schools and schools.

“WHEREAS,  The subject of spiritual gifts is one of importance, and such works as The Spirit of Prophecy, and the Testimonies should be in the hands of all our brethren, therefore RESOLVED,  That we recommend the various tract societies to make a special effort to place them in the library of each church, and in the hands of scattered brethren, and that they encourage the reading of them.  And further RESOLVED,  That where these works are used as above stated, we offer them at one-half the retail price, and that the difference between this and the regular wholesale price be paid from the fund raised for circulating these works, said fund to be increased from $1,000, as at first started, to $5,000.”

“RESOLVED,  That in the opinion of this Conference the time has fully come to open a mission in Great Britain, and 1. That Elder J. N. Loughborough be our missionary to that field.”

The following officers were nominated: “president, Elder James White; secretary, U. Smith; treasurer, M. J. Chapman; Executive Committee, James White, J. H. Kellogg, S. Brownsberger.”  (Thus, the nominees for the Executive Committee were the leaders of the major institutions of the church, all located in Battle Creek:  publishing, sanitarium, and college.)

“Brethren Brownsberger and Kellogg having declined to act as members of the Executive Committee of the General Conference, on account of other sufficient labors and burdens, they were released from serving, and the subject of nominations to fill the vacancies thus caused referred back to the nominating committee.”  (later)  “The nominating committee reported the following names to complete the executive board: S. N. Haskell and D. M. Canright.  These persons were thereupon elected.”  (One wonders what possessed them to nominate J.H. Kellogg to the GC Executive Committee after having had a special meeting of the GC Committee that summer to instruct him to take several extended vacations, guard his room against visitors, and spend no less than 8 hours in bed every 24 hours?!)

“WHEREAS,  Elder White requests the Conference to excuse him from acting as president, therefore  RESOLVED,  That we regard it as his privilege to resign at any time he may feel it to be his duty so to do, and that we empower the other two members of the committee to appoint a president to fill the vacancy.”  “On motion to adopt, the question was put, and the motion was lost.”  (Relatively few resolutions are recorded as not adopted; this was one. Most motions were adopted, referred to committee, or tabled.)

Apr. 1879 (Special Session)—Battle Creek1

James White was absent, so Elder D.M. Canright was selected to act as chair for the meeting.

“Remarks were then made by different members of the Conference on the importance of caring for churches already raised up rather than neglecting these, and reaching out to raise up new companies.  Pointed remarks were made on the evil of this course and the damage which our cause has suffered in consequence in some localities.  It was thought that the plan of labor recommended at the last Conference, that ministers take a district and confine their labors principally to that locality for a year, would remedy this somewhat.”

(Later)   “1. RESOLVED,  That we again urge our ministers not to leave new converts and churches immediately after they have embraced the message; but to visit them often and regularly till they are thoroughly settled in all the truth and organized, and all are gathered in who can be reached. 2.  RESOLVED,  That we believe it is wisdom to make a special effort to add to small, weak companies, instead of leaving them to die out while raising up similar companies in new fields to in turn be left in like manner. 3. RESOLVED,  That in order to save time and traveling expenses, and make each minister responsible for the completion of his own work, we recommend that, as far as practicable, each minister be assigned a definite field in which to labor for at least one year.”  (The recognition of the need for nurturing new converts and churches was an early step towards the transformation of ministers from traveling evangelists towards professional pastoral clergy).

“M. E. Cornell spoke of the prospects of the cause in Colorado.  The brethren there are determined to do what they can to make the cause self-sustaining the present season, and think they will be able to accomplish this object.”  (Cornell was still in the game, even if struggling).

“WHEREAS,  Some fail to pay the Lord's tithe as received, but use it for themselves, hoping to meet the obligation at the close of the quarter, and  WHEREAS,  They thus frequently, by inability to pay at the appointed time, cause trial to themselves, burdens to the financial officers, and so far a virtual failure of the plan, therefore  RESOLVED,  That all our brethren and sisters should regard it their duty to tithe all their income at the time they receive it.”

“RESOLVED,  That this Conference hereby recommend that W. C. White visit the churches, as far as consistent with his other duties, in the interest of the Sabbath-school and missionary work.”   “This was advocated so forcibly by S. N. Haskell that other brethren added no more; and it was unanimously passed.”

“WHEREAS,  There is a constant immigration of Sabbath-keepers into Battle Creek, some of whom greatly weaken their home church by leaving, and can be of no benefit to the cause here, therefore    RESOLVED,  That we entirely disapprove of this course, and recommend that those who contemplate moving to Battle Creek first consult their own State Conference Committee and the elders of the church in Battle Creek.”  This was greeted with several motions to adopt, a still greater number of seconds, and the cry of "question" all over the house.  It being a recommendation of self-evident propriety, it was unanimously adopted without discussion.”  (Apparently the problem of not enough workers in Battle Creek had been resolved!).

“Elder J. N. Andrews offered the following:
‘WHEREAS,  The ill health of our beloved Brother White has made it impracticable for him to return to this part of the country to be present at this Conference, therefore  RESOLVED,  That we express our deep sympathy for him in his affliction, and our great regret that we have been deprived of his counsel in our business, and his assistance at the dedication of our Tabernacle.  We hold in grateful remembrance the faithful labors of Brother and Sister White, and shall never forget the debt of gratitude we owe to them.’  This was unanimously and most heartily adopted by a rising vote of the whole congregation.”

“The subject of unhappy marriages was introduced, and discussed by Brethren S. H. King and B. L. Whitney, with reference to the question as to what can be done to prevent or remedy the evil.  This subject was referred to a committee of three, to be appointed by the chair.  Elders W. H. Littlejohn, S. N. Haskell, and G. I. Butler were appointed as such committee.   The subject of tobacco-selling was presented to the Conference, with the question whether the practice of selling tobacco should debar a person from church fellowship, the same as tobacco-using.  This question was referred to the committee on marriages.”  (The relation of selling tobacco and unhappy marriages seems obscure, but perhaps the delegates didn’t want to proliferate committees).

“W. C. White spoke of the injustice which is done to the Office by those who take advantage of missionary club rates to supply themselves with papers, and who retail books at a discount from Office prices.”  (This calls to mind the 1986 case of Derrick Proctor v. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, et al.2)



1. Location not given in the minutes but was Battle Creek, MI, according to General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics and Research.

2. See


Robert T. Johnston is a retired research chemist who lives with his wife in Lake Jackson, Texas, where he enjoyed a career developing new polymer technologies for The Dow Chemical Company and DuPont Dow Elastomers. He is a graduate of Andrews University and a member of the Brazosport Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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