In our previous lessons we learned that God’s people were sufficiently forewarned to know that after 1913 a crisis with tests and trials, brought on by war and bloodshed, would break upon them. The very area where these coming troubles would occur was indicated as follows:
“Very soon the strife and oppression of foreign nations will break forth with an intensity that you do not now anticipate.” – General Conference Bulletin, 1909, p. 57 (emphasis ours).
This focuses our eyes immediately on the melting pot of foreign nations – Europe.
Among other urgent matters presented to the General Conference in 1913 was the following proposal made by the President of the European Division, Elder L. R. Conradi:
“Besides, having in view the serious times in which we are living, I endeavored to draw the attention of our leading brethren at the last General Conference to act with great prudence in considering the matter of military service, otherwise they would bring great difficulties to thousands of our brethren.” – Zionswaechter, No. 18, pp. 735-738 (1914) (emphasis ours).
Well aware of the gravity of the situation, Sister White, while predicting the coming crisis in 1913, added these words:
“There are some who do not even now view matters in the right light; but these may learn to see eye to eye with their co-workers, and may avoid making serious mistakes by earnestly seeking the Lord at this time and by submitting their will wholly to the will of God.” – Testimonies to Ministers, p. 515 (emphasis ours).
So the possibility and danger of making serious mistakes during the anticipated crisis were very real; and the leaders should have been alert and extremely cautious, since the conflict involved the question of “military service” verses “God’s holy law.”
When Archduke Ferdinand was felled by an assassin’s bullet in 1914, Europe exploded like a veritable powder keg. Overnight the armies were on the march and then locked in deadly conflict measuring their military strength.
The European Division headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hamburg, faced a dilemma, a dead-end road. The religious convictions of those conscientiously opposed to military service met head-on with military conscription. There were no provisions of any kind for commandment-keeping Christians. And war service most certainly involved God’s holy law, especially the fourth and sixth commandments, for neither Sabbath keeping nor saving of life are compatible with a soldier’s action in combat. Understand this, dear student: Our young Adventist men in Europe in 1914 were faced with the choice of either answering their country’s call, which meant disobedience to God, or facing the military penitentiary and possibly the firing squad. We repeat: There were NO provisions accommodating the individual’s conscience. What would you have done? In essence, this was already in miniature the same battle which will decide your life or death in the very last crisis of Sunday enforcement. The Spirit of prophecy forewarned that the issue would be over the commandments of God, and thus it proved to be.
To our consternation, what did we see? As the government pressure increased, there was a threat that every Adventist institution would be closed – unless the leading brethren would take a stand with the government. Under this pressure, they issued a declaration, addressed to the Ministry of War in Berlin on August 4, 1914, of which the first part reads as follows:
“Most honorable Lord General and Minister of War:
“Since ofttimes our point of view concerning our duty towards the Government, also our position in general military duty; and especially, since our refusal to serve, in times of peace, on Saturday (Sabbath) is regarded as fanatical, therefore I take the liberty, Your Excellency, to present to you in the following, the principles of the German Seventh-day Adventists, especially just now, in the present war situation.
“While we stand on the fundamentals of the Holy Scriptures, and seek to fulfill the precepts of Christendom, keeping the Rest Day (Saturday) that God established in the beginning, by endeavoring to put aside all work on that day, still in these times of stress, we have bound ourselves together in defense of the ‘Fatherland,’ and under these circumstances we will also bear arms on Saturday (Sabbath). On this point we take our stand on the Scripture found in 1 Peter 2:13-17. . . .
(Signed) “H. F. Schuberth, President”
Re-read this statement, and then try to understand the implication of the words. Are we implying that the spiritual leaders, our ministering brethren in Europe, actually instructed the members to go and fight in open battle like other soldiers? Yes, indeed! How tragic! But it is true; it actually happened. A “very serious mistake” was made, and up to this very day it remains as the greatest blotch on the Adventist history. The statement above was verified with even greater emphasis in another declaration on March 5, 1915, part of which reads:
“. . . But at the outbreak of the war the Leaders of the Adventist Organization in Germany, of their own accord, advised all their military service members, in all the land, under the pressing circumstances and need of the Fatherland to do their duties required of them as citizens, according to the Scripture; and earnestly to do on Saturday (Sabbath) as other warriors do on Sunday. As proof, allow this enclosed copy of the document to serve the highly esteemed Prussian Minister of War, written on the 4th day of August, 1914. This position, already taken years ago, is supported by the attached signatures:
“For the European Division, Headquarters, Hamburg,
(Signed) L. R. Conradi, President
“For the East German Union, Headquarters, Berlin,
(Signed) H. F. Schuberth, President
“For the Saxon Association, Headquarters, Chemnitz,
(Signed) Paul Drinhaus, President”
The signatures on the above statement show that it had the full support of the European leadership.
If you now wonder whether perhaps only a small segment of the church then followed the ill advice of these leaders, listen to these contemporary words:
“The Adventist men are practically all in the field, or army service, faithfully performing their duty.” – Dresdener Neueste Nachrichten, April 12, 1918.
“Thousands of their (Adventist) male members are standing in the army, and many of them have already fallen on the field of honor, . . .” – Berliner Lokalanzeiger, August 24, 1918.
The apostasy, therefore, was universal throughout continental Europe; in fact, it involved all nations at war and even some neutral countries. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, in central Europe especially, ceased to be God’s commandment-keeping remnant of Revelation 12:17. It lost this identifying characteristic.
A REMNANT PRESERVED
“But the true faith was not to become extinct. God has ever preserved a remnant to serve Him.” – Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 125.
These words were also fulfilled in World War I during this great apostasy. The Dresdener Neueste Nachrichten (Dresden Latest News) of April 12, 1918, published an Adventist minister’s statement as follows:
“At the beginning of the war our denomination divided into two parts. While ninety-eight percent of our membership took the position on Bible grounds that it was their conscientious duty to defend the Fatherland with weapons, and that also on the Sabbath, and this united position of the leaders was at once forwarded to the War Department, two percent, however, did not submit themselves to this united resolution and therefore had to be disfellowshipped because of their unchristian conduct. . . .”
It may seem unbelievable, and yet it is true. About 98% of the membership was successfully drawn into apostasy; and only a small, insignificant fraction of perhaps 2% remained faithful. Yes, it seems incredible, but the fact was later acknowledged in part by the denomination. In a book called Brown Exposes Ballenger, pp. 29,30 (Southern Publishing Assn.), it says among other things:
“That movement (those disfellowshipped, ins. ) as it is today and has been since it came into existence is the practical protest of a large number of Seventh-day Adventists, not against the teachings of the denomination, but against the high-handed action of this very man Conradi and a few others who associated with him in his leadership of the church in Europe: action which he took without either the counsel, consent, or even the knowledge of the General Conference (please see below). The departure of these people was not from a lot of gross errors and a dominating hierarchy, but from Conradi’s leadership which had committed them, without their voice or consent being given to this action, to the cannon and bayonet of the battlefield.” (Emphasis ours. )
This statement is true in general but contains one misleading point. It claims that Conradi did not ask advice from the General Conference beforehand. We showed at the beginning of this lesson that he asked for their counsel in 1913 before the war broke out. Referring to the counsel he received in 1913, he said later:
“After having received instruction from the highest authority, we in Europe were permitted to decide this matter (military service, ins.) ourselves.” – Zionswaechter, No. 18, pp. 737,738 (1914).
The Review and Herald of August 27, 1914, also stated:
“As to just what our European brethren should do under these trying circumstances, only they alone in prayer to God can decide.”
This placed the responsibility wholly upon them. Then did the General Conference not know anything about the apostasy going on in Europe? Quite the contrary! In fact, the Review and Herald of June 8, 1930, quoted the following statement:
“In 1915 L. R. Conradi, in spite of many dangers and difficulties, came over to attend the Fall Council at Loma Linda. In the winter of 1917, W. A. Spicer, the Secretary of the General Conference, spent some months in Europe.”
It would be naive to presume that Elder Conradi did not speak at all about what had happened in Europe. In fact, referring to the Fall Council he attended in 1915 during the war, he later said:
“Speaking of these things, they (the General Conference, ins.) said, ‘We grant every country in the world the full liberty to fit themselves into their fixed laws in the future as they have in the past.'” – Zionswaechter, March 20, 1920.
We are more than positive that the responsible General Conference officers knew all about the open apostasy in Europe, as the foregoing statements indicate. If Elder Conradi had not told them, Elder Spicer would have reported it. And therefore, being aware of the European situation and not correcting it with all its powers left the General Conference itself guilty of gross neglect of duty and implicated it in the apostasy. The following testimony makes this clear:
“We are just as accountable for evils that we might have checked in others, by reproof, by warning, by exercise of parental or pastoral authority, as if we were guilty of the acts ourselves.” – Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 516.
Such apostasy made heaven weep. It may also have stirred you deeply. The apostasy itself accuses the Laodicean church. Be it far from us to accuse any person, for we often know very little about our own weaknesses. But, “. . . ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free, ” said the Master. Truth often hurts, nevertheless it is still the truth.
Our next lesson deals with the faithful remnant.
Field Secretaries of the General Conference elected in 1922:
Left to right, G. B. Thompson, L. R. Conradi, W. T. Knox, R. D. Quinn, F. C. Gilbert
THE TWO MAPS
“. . . I seemed to be in a large gathering. One of authority was addressing the company, before whom was spread out a map of the world. He said that the map pictured God’s vineyard, which must be cultivated. As light from heaven shone upon anyone, that one was to reflect the light to others. Lights were to be kindled in many places, and from these lights still other lights were to be kindled.
“The words were repeated: ‘Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden underfoot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’ Matthew 5:13-16.
“I saw jets of light shining from cities and villages, and from the high places and the low places of the earth. God’s word was obeyed, and as a result there were memorials for Him in every city and village. His truth was proclaimed throughout the world.
“Then this map was removed and another put in its place. On it light was shining from a few places only. The rest of the world was in darkness, with only a glimmer of light here and there. Our instructor said: ‘This darkness is the result of men’s following their own course. They have cherished hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil. They have made questioning and fault-finding and accusing the chief business of their lives. There hearts are not right with God. They have hidden their light under a bushel.’
“If every soldier of Christ had done his duty, if every watchman on the walls of Zion had given the trumpet a certain sound, the world might ere this have heard the message of warning. But the work is years behind. While men have slept, Satan has stolen a march upon us.” – Testimonies, vol. 9., pp. 28,29.