The conventional Church of God view of Church history goes something like this: in the 1860s, the "good guys," the Church of God, and the "bad guys," the Seventh-day Adventists, separated over the issue of the validity of Ellen G. White's visions, and the name for the Church. Since that time, the theory goes, there has been little interaction between the Church of God (COG) and the Seventh-day Adventists (SDA). Since the 1930s, SDA's have become more and more Protestant in doctrine and practice, while the COG has largely remained stedfast to its distinctive doctrines.
While there is some validity to the above general statements, there have also been notable exceptions. In actuality, the history of the Church of God and Seventh-day Adventists has been intertwined throughout the last 150 years. We in the Church of God have much more in common with SDA's then has been generally believed. By recognizing our common past, we should realize that we should work together in the present and in the future.
This commonality was brought to light in December, 1995, when SDA Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi released his book, God's Festivals in Scripture and History. In his article, "How I Came to Accept the Holy Days," Dr. Bacchiocchi said he was surprised to find that "In every [SDA] church in which I presented my seminars during the latter half of 1995, I met some fellow believers who had been studying, and in some cases observing privately the annual Feasts. In fact, some of them have been observing the Feasts privately for many years." Further, Bacchiocchi found support for observing the Holy Days in the writings of Ellen G. White herself! In her book, Patriarchs and Prophets, Mrs. White devoted an entire chapter to "The Annual Feasts." She wrote, "Well would it be for the people of God at the present time to have a Feast of Tabernaclesa joyous commemoration of the blessings of God to them. As the children of Israel celebrated the deliverance that God had wrought for their fathers, and His miraculous preservation of them during their journeying from Egypt, so should we gratefully call to mind the various ways he has devised for bringing us out from the world, and from the darkness of error, into the precious light of His grace and truth," The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 540-541.
In the late 1980s, I observed the Feast of Tabernacles with a small group in northern Arkansas. We were surprised to read in a local newspaper that a group of SDA's were likewise observing the Festival nearby. Until Dr. Bacchiocchi's recent revelation, I was not aware of how prevalent Holy Day observance was among SDA's.
Holy Day teachings among Adventists are not of recent origin. Greenbury G. Rupert (1847-1922), was an SDA minister for thirty years, including several years as a missionary in South America. He was President of the Oklahoma SDA Conference, covering five states, at the time he left the Adventists at, or before, 1902. Rupert had known Ellen G. White personally for forty years, but was led to break with SDA's when he published books contrary to official SDA teaching. As told in my book, Six Papers on the History of the Church of God, Rupert's doctrines were in many ways similar to those of Herbert W. Armstrong. He observed the Holy Days, eschewed unclean meats, held to the Church name, "Church of God," with local autonomy, rejected Christmas, Easter, and other pagan holidays, believed in tithing, Church eras, emphasized Bible prophecy in his preaching, and that the United States was part of Israel. It just so happens that Pasadena, California, figured prominently in the ministry of both Rupert and Herbert W. Armstrong. Persistent rumors remain that piles of Rupert's magazine, The Remnant of Israel, were found in Armstrong's basement and desk at the time of his death. Many Bible teachings extant in the offshoots of the Worldwide Church of God today, appear to be derived from the SDA's through Rupert and then, Armstrong.
But, there is more! A.N. Dugger (1886-1975), the most noted Church of God, Seventh Day, leader of the 20th Century, was no doubt an avid reader of G.G. Rupert. Dugger and C.O. Dodd co-authored the famous Church history, A History of the True Religion, which was first published in its present form in 1936, but written in parts in the late 1920s. When relating the formation of the Church of God in the 1860s, Dugger, in his book, referred to the original Church of God paper in Michigan as Remnant of Israel. Actually, the name of the paper, founded by Gilbert Cranmer, was Hope of Israel. Since Dugger was so familiar with Rupert's material, he mistakenly confused the names of Rupert's magazine with the COG magazine. The Hope of Israel was later moved to Iowa and then Stanberry, Missouri, and its name was changed to The Bible Advocate. In 1914, Dugger became the editor. In the previous year, 1913, G.G. Rupert wrote several articles in The Bible Advocate, which supported the Annual Holy Days. Both A.N. Dugger and Herbert W. Armstrong were strongly influenced by former SDA G.G. Rupert.
Besides the Annual Holy Days, Anglo-Israelism has been a distinctive issue in the Church of God. In 1929, two years before his ordination, Herbert Armstrong wrote an extensive paper on British Israel, demonstrating the United States and British identity as Manasseh and Ephraim. He submitted it to A.N. Dugger, then editor of The Bible Advocate. Dugger wrote to Armstrong on July 28, 1929, stating, "I have seen no work near its equal in clearness and completeness. You surely are right, and while I cannot use it in the paper at the present you may be assured that your labor has surely not been in vane [sic.]." Dugger had obviously read other material on this subject prior to receiving Armstrong's paper. He personally agreed with the Anglo-Israel doctrine. Since Rupert had long been an advocate of identifying America and Britain as part of Israel, it is quite likely that Dugger had read Rupert's Anglo-Israel material before he read Armstrong's paper.
Yet, there is another line that likewise shows doctrinal ties between the Church of God and Seventh-day Adventists. Raymond Cole was one of the original Ambassador College students in 1947. He became an evangelist in Armstrong's Church, leaving in 1974 to form his own Church of God, The Eternal. Cole's mother was the niece of Merritt Dickinson (ca. 1864), a prominent Church of God, Seventh Day minister. It just so happens that Dickinson was practically a next door neighbor of Ellen and James White in Michigan. Merritt Dickinson married Ida Nichols, an SDA colporteur (seller of religious books). Ida may have been the daughter of the famous SDA minister J.H. Nichols, who preached the first Sabbath sermon west of the Rocky Mountains, at Santa Rosa, California, in 1862. Apparently through self-study, Dickinson came to believe in Anglo-Israelism. In 1912, Dugger admitted to Dickinson that his Anglo-Israel ideas were true, but said that he couldn't get anywhere preaching that doctrine. In 1919, Dickinson published a series of articles in The Bible Advocate, later published as a tract, which stated that England is Ephraim, and the United States is Manasseh.
The intertwining trail of history linking Adventists with the Church of God, has many branches. About the early 1930s, A.H. Britten, a former SDA, founded a group in Western Australia, which today is known as "The Remnant Church of God." They observe the Holy Days, and appear to have very similar doctrines to those of us in the Church of God. Further research may or may not reveal connections of this remnant group with Rupert.
Even today, some Church of God groups claim to be the one and only true Church. They feel they have a corner on the Truth of the Almighty. They look with scorn on SDA's and other COG groups. The understanding that diverse groups of people in recent times have preserved God's Truth should inspire us, and humble us. God has a scattered people, the proverbial 7,000 that have not bowed the knee to Baal. It is up to Him to regather His people. In the meantime, we should appreciate, and co-operate as much as possible, with brethren in many scattered groups who hold the same basic Truths of the Bible as we do. We have a common past. We should work together in the present and the future.
When someone asks me what Church I belong to, I generally say, "Church of God." Many of us are aware that Herbert W. Armstrong was an ordained minister of the Church of God, Seventh Day. Few know that prior to 1923, the Church of God, Seventh Day, was officially known as "Church of God (Adventist)." Our roots to Adventists do not end in the 1850s and 1860s, but were also strongly developed in the period of 1902-1929, when ex-SDA Rupert's Remnant of Israel flourished.
In the late 1800s, the major Adventist preachers were anti-Trinitarians.
By 1931, SDA's had fully accepted the Trinity doctrine. Whereas in the mid 1900s, many SDA's were against the observation of Christmas and Easter, today many Adventists accept the pagan holidays. In the SDA Church, as well as the Church of God, there has been a struggle between the forces of liberalism and conservatism. Samuel Bacchiocchi's book on the role of women in the Church (he shows that the Bible forbids ordination of female elders) has resulted in his being banned from speaking at almost all SDA universities. Bacchiocchi condemns the observation of pagan holidays, and now is a supporter of the annual Holy Days. Let us extend the right hand of fellowship to those in the Seventh Day Adventist Church who are fighting the same battle for Truth that we are fighting. Let us remember that we have a common history. Truly you could call us, "Church of GodAdventist."
Richard C. Nickels
(Author of Six Papers on the History of the Church of God, and History of the Seventh Day Church of God. These and other materials may be obtained from Giving & Sharing, PO Box 100, Neck City, MO 64849.)