Secret Conference

Look at these Brother Mansell.

Don Yost handed two packages of yellowed papers to his co-worker. As Don Mansell quickly scanned the sheets, he realised they had found the records of the 1919 Bible Conference.

Brother Yost, this is more than we would have hoped. What a find for our historians and researchers.

It was 1974.

Dr Don Yost (senior archivist at the General Conference) and Don Mansell (book editor at the Review and Herald) were doing an inventory of all the materials in the General Conference archives. The two packages were the size of an A4 (or legal) sheet and about 10 centimetres (4 inches) thick. Information from a number of sites, including: and

It was an amazing discovery after fifty five years of silence. 

(Spectrum magazine printed two days of the conference - Jul 30 and Aug 1 - in 1979 relating to the Spirit of Prophecy. ‘Adventist Today’ magazine Vol 2 No.6 recorded a small portion of the transcript in 1994, relating to the Spirit of Prophecy. Today the transcript is available on the Internet.  It has been suggested there were 2494, but after taking out duplicates, there are 1308 pages, 1,100 from the Bible Conference, the remainder from the council that followed.  The address for the transcript is: )

The first report of the Conference was placed in the Review and Herald three weeks after it had convened in 1919.  Daniells stated that the objective of the conference was “to unite in a definite, practical, spiritual study of the Word of God.” Review & Herald. Aug. 21. 1919. 

The Adventist Encyclopaedia or Bible Commentary quoted directly from the Review and Herald article, saying, “The Bible and  history  teachers, the editors, and members of the General Conference Committee, who came together from all parts of North America, rejoiced to find themselves in agreement on all the great fundamental truths of the Bible.” Encyclopaedia & Bible Commentary Vol 10.1966 edition. 

In 1919, Arthur G. Daniells was still the General Conference president, and in his opening address, he gave details of how the conference came to be.

“When the question first arose, it was in the form of a proposal to meet and study some mooted (difference of opinion) questions, and for a long time that was the uppermost thought in the proposal. But there were difficulties in the way.” Transcript. Jul 1 1919. 

One difficulty was simply getting the people together, but there was a real fear “that in meeting to study controverted questions we might get into a controversy that would not be helpful to any of us, nor to our people. And we hesitated.” 

Perhaps another reason for hesitating was because of a rebuke given by the prophet in 1910 to Daniells and Prescott over the publicity they made of the ‘daily’ at the General Conference session that year.

Sister White wrote, “The subject of ‘the daily’ should not call forth such movements as have been made. As a result of the way this subject has been handled by men on both sides of the question, controversy has arisen and confusion has resulted. . . . While the present condition of differences of opinion regarding this subject exists, let it not be made prominent. Let all contention cease. At such a time silence is eloquence.” Notebook Leaflets, Number 2. p161. 

She told Daniells and Prescott they “had no moral right to blaze out… upon the subject of the ‘daily’ and suppose your influence would decide the question… Elders Daniells and Prescott both need reconversion.” 20 Manuscript Release p17-22.

The result was that the people were “becoming confused.” Ibid p22.

It was stated by the prophet that if the debate continued, “unbelief and scepticism would be sown in human minds, and strange crops of evil would take the place of truth.” Ibid.

Sister White passed to her rest five years later in 1915.

As time moved on, the idea began to take shape, Daniells said they would not so much magnify doctrinal differences, but “would give first of all careful study to the major questions, the great essentials, the fundamentals…” Transcript Jul 1. 1919. 

Church members were afraid the conference would “fix up a creed for them to subscribe to.” Daniells said, “They are much disturbed about it. The secrecy alarms them. We have never had anything like this before, and they are very fearful.” Daniells introductory speech.  Ibid. 

When the people realised who was invited, they became even more concerned. Some of the organisers even felt the plan should be abandoned -- Is it right to only invite select men? But Daniells, Prescott and others were determined to continue, saying the brethren would realise their alarm was unnecessary.

Invitees consisted of members of the General Conference Committee, Bible and history teachers in colleges, junior colleges, seminaries, and a number of leading editors – 65 in all.

Daniells said these men would “exercise care and good judgment” and “be careful of the reports they send out, and would so deport themselves that unseemly discussion and differences would not come in.” They would be a “real help to those who are not here in the days that will come.” Ibid. (Obviously the plan was to make the material available to the church)

The Bible Conference began on July 1, 1919, with a devotional at 8.00am, then two studies. 

In the afternoon, the three morning meetings were discussed, with Daniells as chairman. Topics covered  the Person and Mediatorial work of Christ,  the nature and work of the Holy Spirit, the two Covenants, the principles of prophetic interpretation, the Eastern question, the beast power in Revelation, the 1260 days, the United States in prophecy, the seven trumpets, Matthew 24 and the identification of the ten kingdoms.

The subject of the Spirit of Prophecy took place on the last two days, and many questions were raised. Another subject promoting much discussion was ‘the Eastern question’, or the king of the North and the king of the South. Uriah Smith’s interpretation of Daniel 11 was at the time being questioned. 

The main subject of the Conference was Christ, His person and ministry, and the Holy Spirit. These were presented by Professor Prescott each morning. He brought out many beautiful lessons, but the subject promoted much discussion that related to the Trinity.

The Trinitarian doctrine had been accepted by a number of brethren, but as there was still a large majority believing the non-trinitarian-pioneer view, caution was necessary. Those who now stood for the Trinity, were still not clear on every aspect. At times they presented the truths believed by the pioneers, which prompted questions.  At other times no one made a comment. 

We will now look at some of the main comments of the transcript on the above subject from July 2, the second day of the Conference. (All from the transcript; formatting for variation)

W.E. Howell had stated that he would like Prescott to enlarge on the point of ‘beginning’, and H.C. Lacey asked, 

“Can we go one step further and say that the Word was without beginning?”

Prescott replies.  “I was going to raise that question. Are we agreed in such a general statement as this, that the Son of God is co-eternal with the Father? Is that the view that is taught in our schools?” 

“It is taught in the Bible.” (C.M.Sorensen)

Prescott says, “Not to teach that is Arianism. Ought we to continue to circulate in a standard book a statement that the Son is not co-eternal, that the Son is not co-eval (same age) or co-eternal with the Father? That makes Him a finite being. 

Any being whose beginning we can fix is a finite being. We have been circulating for years a standard book which says that the Son is not co-eternal with the Father. That is teaching Arianism. Do we want to go on teaching that?...” (The book is Daniel and Revelation by Uriah Smith)

“I would like to ask, Do you think it is necessary, or even helpful in the defining of Christian doctrine, to go outside of the New Testament for terms to use in the definition?...” (C.P.Bollman)

“Please illustrate what you mean.”  (Prescott)

“The Scripture says Christ is the only begotten of the Father. Why should we go farther than that and say He was co-eternal with the Father? And also say that to teach otherwise is Arianism?” (C.P. Bollman)

“I do not find in the New Testament expressions as ‘co-eternal’, but I find expressions that are equivalent to that, as I understand it.”  (Prescott)

“Give an example please.” (Bollman)

Prescott replies.“I think the expression ‘I am’ is the equivalent of eternity. I think these expressions, while they do not use the term co-eternal, are equivalent in their meaning. That brings up the whole question of the relation of the Son to the Father. There is a proper sense, as I view it, according to which the Son is subordinate to the Father, but that subordination is not in the question of attributes or of His existence. 

It is simply in the fact of the derived existence, as we read in John 5:26, ‘For as the Father hath life…’ 

Using terms as we use them, the Son is co-eternal with the Father. That does not prevent His being the only-begotten with the Father. That does not prevent His being the only-begotten Son of God. We cannot go back into eternity and say where this eternity commenced, and where that eternity commenced. 

There is no contradiction to say that the Son is co-eternal with the Father, and yet the Son is the only-begotten of the Father.” 

“I think we should hold to the Bible definitions.” (Bollman)

“We take the expression co-eternal, and that is better.” (Prescott)

Let us pause here to make a comment on Prescott’s statement. He said, ‘It is simply in the fact of the derived existence…’ This is interesting because those who hold the pioneer belief have been labelled as having ‘the derived view’. At this point, we do not know what Prescott means. His last comment is interesting, ‘Wetake the expression…’ Who does this refer to? And why does he prefer a non-Biblical term?

Bollman says. “My conception of the matter is this; that at some point in eternity the Father separated a portion of Himself to be the Son. As far as the substance is concerned, He is just as eternal as the Father, but did not have an eternal separate existence. I do not think that approaches any nearer to Arianism than the other does to _____________.” The last word has been left out of the transcript. 

“May I say something on that point?” asked H.C. Lacey.“Every year I am brought in touch with this from two points of view, one in the Greek class, and the other in Bible Doctrines. Twice a year, and sometimes more frequently, I am brought face to face with this. ‘In the beginning was the Word….’ The eternity of the Word is emphasized in that. 

When you come to the study of the deity of Christ, the fundamental attribute is eternity of existence. If Jesus is divine, He must have that essential attribute, and so I have dared to say that Christ is absolutely co-eternal with the Father… 

I am just stating what I teach. I want to know whether this is so. That is what this council is for. I say that God was always in existence. Just as the light is always with the sun; the light comes from the sun, and so Jesus was always with God, always reigning with him. I have explained the meaning of the son in this way. The son is always younger than his father. 

But if we bring into this divine conception the thought of motherhood and fatherhood as humanly understood, I think we are astray. It does not mean that Jesus had a mother; God is a Father…” (Italics added)

Again there is an anomaly. How is the son, when speaking of the Son of God, always younger than his Father in the Trinitarian understanding?  

Lacey continues. “I think we ought not to teach that there was a time when He produced another being who is called the son. I want to know. The son is called eternal with the Father, another person living with him, a second intelligence in that Deity… 

Prescott responds. I think it well for us instead of attempting to reason out or to explain these things, to read a scripture. I think that will be a better plan than to spend a long time discussing themes, only that we may get the meaning of the scripture. Brother Lacey said eternity is an attribute of Deity. It is proof of the Deity…” 

“Did you state that he derived life from the Father?” (J. Anderson)

“No. Simply in the fact that equality with the Father is derived equality, but equality is the same.” (Prescott)

“I thought you said that he derived life from the Father.” (Anderson)

“No. I used the Scripture statement – John 5:26… But the two expressionsreferred to must apply equally both to the Father and the Son.”  (Prescott) (His meaning is still not clear for the Trinitarian view)

A voice says, “Simply a difference in what respect – that of rank with the Father?” 

“He himself says that ‘the Father is greater than I’. He also said ‘I and my Father are one’. And both are true.” (Prescott)

“If he is inferior in any respect to the Father how can he be God?” (Anderson)

“I do not think that I used that term ‘inferior’.” (Prescott)

“But others may use that word in some instances – that the Son was inferior to the Father, and my inquiry arises that if it were true that Jesus the Son was inferior in any respect – in age, or in nature, or attributes; if that be so, how could he be God?” (Anderson)

“I would not say that he was. I do not think I used that expression.” (Prescott)

“Is it not that he is only inferior to the Father in rank – he is second in rank with the Father, and in all other respects is equal?...” (Lacey) (The discussion moved to other aspects not relevant to our subject) We will now go to the 6th July, showing the important points.

Lacey speaks. “It was this, as to whether there was ever a time when Jesus was not, or when Michael, as he was called, was not. I think the Bible teaches that we are to answer that question with an emphatic negative. There never was a time when the Son was not. If the word Son puzzles us, let us remember that that is God’s own sacred word to present His love for that second person of the deity. We are to know God as his father and our father. 

Jesus is the revelation. He is the Son of God, not meaning that he proceeded forth and developed from him, nor is there another mother – I cannot help being precise. His existence spans eternity, and we cannot settle upon any point in eternity past when he began any more than we can settle upon any point in the future when he will not be… When we raise the question of the origin of the Son, we say there is no origin to Him. He is the second person of the Godhead.” 

L.L. Caviness enters the discussion. “I missed a good deal of this discussion, and I do not know whether the idea is that we are to accept the so-called Trinitarian doctrine or not. Personally, I have not been able to accept the so-called Trinitarian doctrine, that is, as generally presented, that there are three persons in the Godhead, and that there always were three. 

If that is the doctrine, I cannot quite agree with it, because I was reading in the Bible yesterday, in the book of John, which is the book which reveals to us the deity of Christ, and I read as far as I could everything that Christ said concerning himself. 

Without contradicting what he said about himself, I cannot agree with the doctrine. As I understand it, his statement of the deity rests upon his Sonship, and I do not think there is any one thing through the book of John that is more constantly referred to than the Sonship. I cannot believe that the two persons of the Godhead are equal, the Father and the Son – that one is the Father and the other the Son, and that they might be just as well the other way around.

There is another statement he makes. He says that the Father, who has life in himself, gave the Son to have life in himself. When that took place, I do not know, but I believe it took place somewhere away back in eternity. I have to take Christ’s word for it, that at some time that was true, that the Father had life in himself, and gave the Son to have life in himself.

There is also that other statement, that he had received glory from his Father. In praying he said it was his wish that the disciples might see the glory which he had with the Father, and which the Father had given him. It was not something he had all through eternity, but the Father had some time given to him the glory of God. He is divine, but he is the divine Son. I cannot explain further than that, but I cannot believe the so-called Trinitarian doctrine of the three persons always existing.” 

At this point, Daniells requested there be no transcript, from which we assume he did not want his next words recorded.  

Further on Wilcox asks,“We all believe the deity of Christ. It is not a question as to his deity or non-deity. In all this discussion there is no question regarding this.” (M.C.Wilcox or F.M. Wilcox)

“Would you consider the denial of the co-eternity of the Father and Son was a denial of that deity?” (Wakeham)

“That is the point I was going to raise.  Can we believe in the deity of Christ without believing in the eternity of Christ?” (Prescott)

“I have done it for years.” (Bollman)

“That is my very point – that we have used terms in that accommodating sense that are not really in harmony with the Scriptural teaching. We believed a long time that Christ was a created being, in spite of what the Scripture says…” (Prescott)

Pause a moment. This last statement is not true at all. Prescott may have believed Christ was created, along with Uriah Smith for a short time, but no other pioneer believed it.

W.T. Knox speaks. “Now I cannot but believe as Brother Prescott has said, the Deity must be eternal. But the difficulty with me is that I cannot believe that the Deity of the Son as a separate existence is eternal. I believe in the trinity of God, and I believe that Jesus is God… And so Christ, with the Father, and of the Father – and the Father – from eternity; and there came a time – in a way we cannot comprehend nor the time that we cannot comprehend, when by God’s mysterious operation the Son sprang from the bosom of his Father and had a separate existence…” 

A.O. Tait says, “I feel we are discussing something we ought to wait sixty billion years before we start… Some of these Scriptures do not mean to me what the brethren say they mean to them…”

“Now we shall have to change the order”, says Daniells. “We don’t want to keep on and go too far in fine distinctions. But I don’t think I can altogether agree with Brother Tait. I have enjoyed these discussions…” (Daniells)

“Is it necessary, in order to have a heart apprehension of a Bible truth, that our minds should have a clear-cut apprehension of it?...” (Lacey)

“Perhaps we have discussed this as long as we need to. We are not going to take a vote on Trinitarianism or Arianism, but we can think. Let us go on with the study.”  (Daniells)

“Does the discussion, so far as it has gone, involve the question of Trinitarianism or Arianism? I can’t see that it does…” (Knox)

Prescott then speaks of Christ as being “subordinate to the Father in this sense, that it was derived from the Father, but not that it was any less. The same glory, the same power that the Father had.”

John Isaac asks, “What are Bible teachers going to do?” He told them that his students are taught one thing by one minister, and something different by another. “We ought to have something definite… Was Christ ever begotten, or not…” Daniells suggests they should study the word begotten. 

In conclusion from 14th July by Prescott.

“The world deals with visible things. We have to learn to deal with invisible things… The advent of the Spirit is the advent of the Spirit of Jesus Christ – his personal presence. The impartation of the Spirit is the impartation of the life of Christ…

Now the promise of the Spirit – the Comforter – in the 17th verse was that ‘he shall be in you’, which was to be fulfilled in that day when ye shall know that I am in you. That is the advent of the Comforter, the advent of this person of Christ in the Spirit – divested now of his humanity to dwell without humanity. 

To get this clear we must take all the Scriptures: ‘That Christ may dwell in your heart’, ‘Crucified with Christ’, ‘Christ living in me’. All these Scriptures that speak of the in-dwelling Christ are fulfilled by the indwelling Comforter. But now he ministers that Comforter, he ministers that life himself…” 

This study is again quite amazing, as it is clearly the pioneer view that the Spirit is without the limitations of humanity.

On July 16, Daniells asked for suggestions from the main party of delegates to advise the committee as to what to do with the transcript. (The statements are based on their replies, not in order)

“I think there should be rigid editing if they are printed.” (Daniells)

We can’t afford to lose the historical facts on the Eastern question.(Underwood and Wilcox) 

“I doubt the wisdom of letting immature minds get hold of this.” (Professor Wirth)

I think they will be used against us no matter what we say.” (Underwood)

“But they should only be given to ordained ministers in this conference.” (Wilcox)

We have not reached a place where we would want everything all over the field for general discussion.” (Tait)

“It seems to me the only way to help the brethren who are not here is to give them a clear statement of this whole situation in printed form.” (Branson)

Thompson said, “I think that the publishing of this matter would sow seeds of division and discord, and as far as I am concerned, I am not in favour of sending out anything.”   (Stenographer, and field secretary for the General Conference)

Knox agreed, “I believe it would be better not to print it at all, or else we ought to be willing to face criticism and send it out to them. The latter, I am sure you will all agree with me, would be a wrong step to take…” 

Daniells made a final statement, “As has been stated, these are not the fundamental things… 

I sometimes think it would be just as well to lock this manuscript up in a vault, and have anyone who wishes to do so come there for personal study and research…”  Transcript Jul 16.1919.

They are not fundamentals?

In his Review and Herald report of the Bible Conference, Daniells wrote that those who came to the Conference “rejoiced to find themselves in agreement on all the great fundamental truthsof the Bible”?  Review & Herald. Aug. 21. 1919. 

The transcripts reveal a different picture.

Many differences of opinion were discussed, not only on the subject of the Trinity, but other fundamentals as well, including the Spirit of Prophecy. 

There is no question the 1919 Bible Conference was controversial, so much so that those in attendance became concerned about making the transcript available to the church.

In 1920, Judson W. Washburn wrote to F.M. Wilcox saying, “You were in that ‘secret Bible Council’ which I believe was the most unfortunate thing our people ever did, and it seemed to me you were losing the simplicity of your faith.” Letter Jul 3. 1921. Website Terry Hill. www.

Washburn also wrote an open letter to A.G. Daniells saying, “Under the authority, and sanction or permission at least of this so called Bible Institute, teachers were undermining the confidence of our sons and daughters in the very fundamentals of our truth, while the parents were not allowed to inquire into the sacred secrets of this private council. . . . One of our most faithful workers said the holding of this Bible Institute was the most terrible thing that had ever happened in the history of this denomination.”  J. S. Washburn. An Open Letter to Elder A. G. Daniells and an Appeal to the General Conference. 1922. pp. 28-29.  www. 

Another letter written by Washburn to Claude Holmes was published as a 36-page tract called ‘The Startling Omega and its True Genealogy’. It was distributed at the General Conference of 1922. 

In this tract he mentions that the college in Washington had become “a nest of Higher Criticism”. He blamed Daniells and Prescott for all the theological problems. Omega Tract. Washburn. p1.6. (A letter by Claude Holmes was also distributed at the session. ‘Open Letter’. Holmes to Daniels. May 1. 1922)

Today, the climate is very different than it was 90 years ago. It is a ‘free-for-all’, with private magazines and books circulated around the globe, especially through the internet. Everything is brought before any eyeat the touch of a finger.

Where are we to stand? 

How can we know the truth? 

“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20.