In the Walt Disney animated film about a little elephant named Dumbo the elephant learns to fly using his giant ears. There is a pivotal scene in the movie showing Dumbo being cajoled by his friends—the crows. They try to get Dumbo to leap off a high cliff and prove he can fly. But Dumbo is reluctant to test his flying ability. Then one of the crows has a bright idea. When Dumbo isn’t looking, he plucks a tail feather from a nearby crow and ceremonially hands it to Dumbo announcing that it is a magic feather. The crow explains as-long-as Dumbo clutches it in his trunk, he can fly! Naturally the scene is shown with masterful economy and no further explanation is needed—even a child understands the taper of the story being told. (Daniel C. Dennett. Freedom Evolves. p. 13. 2003.)
Health reform is like the crow’s magic feather, (which most Adventists’ interpreted as avoidance of tea, coffee, tobacco, pork (flesh), fashionable dress), and as presented to the early Adventists was the final step towards character perfection for flying; being pure in the sight of the God and ready to meet Jesus in the air. Ellen G. White (the Adventist prophet) summed it up:
"God requires his people to be laborers together with him. He requires them to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul, and present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is the only service he will accept from reasonable mortals.” Spiritual Gifts. 1864. p. 149.
In addition to perfection of character early Adventists were also focused on the “preparation of those things coming on the earth,” which were to occur just before the second coming of Christ (May 5, 1868.). As S. N. Haskell put it in his April 1868 sermon; “It is this work (health reform) and this work only, which will prepare us to withstand the contagious burning disease of the seven last plagues.”
Then as time went on health reform was recognized as a door opener for the third angel’s message and a stamp that set God’s chosen remnant apart as peculiar. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1Cor. 6:19.)
After thirty-years had slipped by without the appearance of Christ the denomination’s foremost preachers were seeing the power of the laying on of hands and casting out devils. While the exhortation of the clergy was not always followed faithfully; they were respected.
Leading up to this time there had been increased trade with Europe which brought prosperity and a taste for consumer goods and fashions—early signs it was feared, of worldliness and luxury turning away from Christ. Why the delay? As time went by it only got harder to maintain the ardor for the second coming. The signs in the heavens were all in the bag (e.g., falling stars, Lisbon earthquake, dark day, etc) and the nearness to the second coming was sealed in watertight polemics and transformed into respectable dogma. It was clear the antichrist was the papacy and Sunday Laws were starting to roll out to unite the Protestants and the Catholics onto the enemy of God.
Then in 1893 one of the worst economic depressions occurred in the United States with high unemployment, violent strikes and far reaching social and intellectual changes. Immigration into the United States was adding 500,000 new souls a year. Getting the three angel’s message to the immigrants was an added burden, and could cause further delay of the second coming. In the background, Ellen G. White pointedly kept life or death in the very near future ever before her readers and listeners, although at this time she was somewhat shackled in Australia.
In the eschatological excitement, students were told it was useless to spend time in preparation for mission work as no more than a couple of years were left. Dr. Kellogg (of Battle Creek fame) opposed this view by lobbying the church leaders to train efficient and consecrated health and temperance workers. (Feb 18, 1890)
Bro. J. E. Robinson headed for Washington in December 1889 having learned there was proposed legislation in Congress that would not allow anyone to perform secular labor or business on Sunday. During his visit to the capitol, he heard about a decision rendered by the District Supreme Court. Existing Sunday laws were no longer operative and the court recommended that legislation be introduced to correct the situation. In talking to a lawyer about this decision, Robinson further learned that the existing Sunday law was strict and required an offender to pay a fine of 200 lbs of tobacco. Also, he discovered there was a law on the books that anyone who publicly denied the Trinity as commonly held, “shall on the first offense, have his tongue bored through, and for the third offense, suffer death without the benefit of the clergy.” (Jan. 21, 1890.) That might be enough to sway an Adventist pew sitter to adopt the Trinity viewpoint.
Then faith healing suddenly acquired a dramatic emphasis in the church and cast deeper and richer colors into health reform. Unusual healing manifestations began to appear. Bro. John Loughborough introduced a recent healed Miss Hammond, who stricken with typhoid fever, and after prayer from the Tabernacle pulpit, announced that she had been healed (claiming it was a most remarkable case since 1844). Miss Hammond was encouraged to leave her sick bed, (with a temp of 104˚) and made to walk. Dr. Kellogg was extremely agitated over this as the ministers were going against his advice. On the way down to the lobby of the Sanitarium “she dead away fainted once or twice while they still insisted that she show her faith and take her for a ride in the country.” Miss Hammond returned with a temperature of 105˚ and rapidly sank into a comatose state and died. Kellogg remonstrated by placing her death squarely on the heads of the ministry. But under Kellogg’s hot breath they claimed it was her lack of faith that caused her death. The “theologians” around Battle Creek developed elaborate theories on how faith healing worked. It went something like this.
Before praying the person must be convinced in their own mind that it is God’s will they should be healed. If so, then he or she should call the church elders, be anointed and prayed for, and it was his or her duty to believe they were healed. There must be no doubt about the healing, and if not completely healed then the person could expect some symptoms to remain. The ever-present danger from the devil could enter the mind and tempt the person into disbelieving! It was the duty of the healed to cling to his or her faith and not yield to any suggestion otherwise from the devil. In the presence of any evidence of the devil’s intervention a person was to walk out in faith and publicly announce they were healed. This dramatic healing was one of the signs of the end-times.
This faith healing movement was the historical nexus when Dr. Kellogg began creating powerful enemies who would eventually lash out against him as a pantheistic heretic and imperfect in affirming the gift of prophecy. Dr. Kellogg was a fanatic in biologic living and the ministers had doubts about health reform, particularly the vegetarian side of the arguments.
The tension between medicine and the ministry went on for almost two decades before Kellogg and the Sanitarium were disjoined from the church. Church leaders such as Prof. W. W. Prescott, Bros. A. T. Jones and J. N. Loughborough were behind these fanatical events in Battle Creek, and later A. G. Daniels would join forces against Kellogg. Dr. Kellogg was particularly aggravated by Prof. Prescott’s (at the time president of Battle Creek College) refusal to introduce vegetarianism in the college cafeteria while continuing to insist on fried carrots being served. Church leaders were also annoyed by the commercialism and secular orientation of the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Elder D. T. Bourdeau left no doubt in the Review readers mind that the church should expect a true gift of healing as part of the latter rain.
You can probably understand why Kellogg openly protested these faith-healing sentiments. Mrs. White herself stopped calling on the brethren to pray for her because she was never healed outright as a result of prayer and she feared this failure would produce disappointment and skepticism. (Ronald L. Number. Prophetess of Health. p. 184). Kellogg reminded the brethren in the case of his patient Brigham, that it was widely known he had been healed by prayers and surgery innumerable times, but Brigham continued to demonstrate curative powers of faith by painfully jerking his way down the Tabernacle aisle on two canes. Nevertheless, Brigham was still as paralyzed as ever. The troubling issue for Kellogg was the fact that faith healing had gotten all mixed up in the health reform (biologic living) while he and his medical colleagues were still up in the Sanitarium trying to heal people through applied medicine and surgery.
One day when Prof. Prescott was challenged by Kellogg as to how he knew a healing had occurred Prescott explained; “The Lord spoke to him in what seemed to be an audible voice.” While Mrs. White was away a new prophetess spring up 1893 and was introduced to the Battle Creek Tabernacle church by Prescott and Jones. Her name was Anna Phillips (Rice). Once Mrs. White learned of a competing prophetess she never seemed to seriously entertain a heavenly source for Phillips’ night-dreams (even though they were presented to the church intermingled with Mrs. White’s dreams). Finally, a Testimony from Ellen White arrived and was read to the Tabernacle Church. Bam al-a-kazam. According to White, “The work of Anna Phillips does not bear the signature of Heaven.” Instead of naming the origin of the Phillips visions as coming from Satan (as was typical for other visionaries) White alluded to a third possibility. “Maybe her dreams were nothing more than encouragement by persons who failed to exercise self-control.”
Back on the continuing health reform front Dr. Kellogg wrote to White in Australia (like a tattle-tail) and reported that Jones and Prescott had scoffed at her efforts when she wrote to the brethren to tone down faith healing. Also, it irritated Dr. Kellogg to no end when he heard a rumor of the brethren regaling themselves with a “delicate” piece of mutton or beef, unable to overcome their perverted appetites, or they took a little tea and coffee or pork if they were out in the world. The appetite was a hard master. After a time Kellogg began to feel some success in converting the brethren.
Elder A. T. Jones preached at the General Conference session (1893) that “God intends health reform to prepare his people for translation.” Jones went on to assure the delegates that if “they practiced health reform they would not need to ever take a vacation because they would not need to rest.” Meanwhile, he and Prof. Prescott were still calling for the fullness of the loud cry of the Holy Spirit. In between this entire intellectual scuffle Jones was giving lectures on health and twisting up his anatomy and physiology knowledge (according to Kellogg). By October, 1897 Ellen White assured the Adventist that the “Holy Spirit would not come upon those who were knowingly disregarding the light sent us on healthful living.” This led to another surge in fanaticism, called the Holy Flesh Movement.
Bro. S. N. Haskell was one of the first to recognize and report about these new ideas to White. He had just returned from Europe in the late 1890s and ran into some of the strange notions coming from the Battle Creek faithful. Among other things he discovered; “The Seal of God cannot be placed on any person of grey hairs.” He went on to tell White they were teaching that a person must “reach a state of perfection both physically and spiritually, where we would be healed from all physically (sic) deformity and then could not die.”
At the end of the nineteenth-century one can characterize the Adventist adherents as peoples who focused on health reform as perfection of character, expecting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and a vigorous faith in the soon translation of the faithful in a restored state of good health without grey hairs. It was not surprising. These notions became the magic feather that would allow the faithful to lift off into the heavens, leaving all of the crows and the wicked behind. It would be several decades later before believers recognized that health reform had the potential to benefit the believer in this life and not just a magic feather to the afterlife.
Elder E. J. Waggoner preached that he did not “ever expect to be sick again since Jesus literally took our diseases upon Himself. Just as you cannot conceive of Jesus losing a day’s work from sickness, so it ought not to be conceivable of Seventh-day Adventists losing a day’s work from sickness. The life of Jesus in mortal flesh will do in us what it did to him.” Bro. Waggoner expected to “live forever” because of the benefits of the gospel of health. (George Knight. Adventist Faith Healing in the 1890s. Adventist Heritage Summer, 1990. p. 3.)
One more thing might help to explain how Adventist became so thoroughly health conscious in these early years. On October 2, 1868 Ellen White received a second vision on sex. It left her confidence in her followers on the ragged edge. There were times like this when she “had no desire to live.” (Spiritual Gifts. 1864. p. 32.) As the seamy lives of God’s professed people passed before her in vision, she became “sick and disgusted with the rottenheartedness” of her church. This was a voyeuristic vision in which she was shown reputable Adventist brethren leaving the “most solemn, impressive discourses upon the judgment” and returning to their rooms to engage “in their favorite, bewitching, sin, polluting their own bodies.”
Imagine the control this gave her over the brethren. Next day of course, they’d look around and like the joke we used to play on our naïve school mates in academy. “Do know how to tell if a person masturbates. They have hair growing in the palms of their hands.” Then we’d watch to see who would sneak a quick look at the palms of their hands. Like Ellen White said, Adventist children were “as corrupt as hell itself.” She wrenched the magic feather away from the remnant in March 1869 when she insisted to the Battle Creek Tabernacle members, “Right here in this church, corruption is teeming on every hand.” Privately, she estimated “that there is not one girl out of one hundred whose morals are untainted.” This is the point at which Ellen White decided to refuse future requests for prayers of healing. The odds of any petitioner being a health-sapping masturbator were just too high. (Ronald L. Numbers. Sex, Science, and Salvation. In Right Living edited by Charles E. Rosenberg. 2003. p. 211.)
Once the church abandoned the sexual taboo, it unwittingly enabled individual Adventist to pick and choose their own principles from Adventist’s lifestyle package. This has resulted in a distinct lifestyle admired by health conscious individuals in America. I would add with so much better knowledge and understanding in the medical and scientific world we can pick and choose even better lifestyle objects to govern our living than were available to the pioneers both in the mental and physical aspects in the past. This gives a mark to be aimed for.