On Trial for Heresy: The A.F. Ballenger Story
By Dirk Anderson
Who was A.F. Ballenger?
Albion Fox Ballenger was born in 1861, the son of a Seventh-day Adventist minister. He received his ministerial license from the SDA Church in 1885 and began to gain prominence in the late 1880s as a religious liberty advocate. In 1897, seeking a deeper spiritual experience for himself and for the church, Ballenger started the "Receive Ye the Holy Ghost" movement. For the next several years Ballenger preached the message of the baptism of the Holy Ghost at churches and camp meetings throughout North America. In 1901, Ballenger was sent as a missionary to work in England, Wales, and Ireland. He held evangelistic meetings and his work met with success. However, it was during this time that Ballenger was to discover something that would radically change his life.
What did Ballenger discover?
A fellow minister shared a turning point in Ballenger's life:
"One night while laboring with me in London, it came his [Ballenger's] turn to preach on the subject of the sanctuary. He did so, but he was very much discouraged over his effort on the subject of the sanctuary that night. And then he said, 'If the Lord will help me, I will never preach again until I know what I am preaching. I am not going to get it from our books. If our brethren could obtain it from the original sources, why can't I? . . . I will go to the books or commentaries and all these various sources from which Elder Uriah Smith obtained light on the subject of the sanctuary, and I will get it from the same sources that he did. I will not know it because Elder Uriah Smith knew it, but I will know it because God is teaching it to me directly.'"1
Albion's brother Edward shares what his brother discovered while studying:
"When he was called to definite evangelistic work he began an intensive study of the Word, not with the purpose of discovering mistakes, but that he might make the old position more clear and forcible. He determined to fortify his position from the Bible and the Bible only, not that he questioned in the least degree the reliability of the [Ellen White] Testimonies, but he was working for the salvation of sinners to whom the writings of Mrs. White would not appeal. In his search for evidence from the Word of God, he ran across perplexing questions. He not only found that certain positions were not supported by Bible evidence, but were positively out of harmony with the Scriptures. For years he wrestled with this question before he was fully convinced that certain positions which he had inherited and taught with confidence, would have to be abandoned. The results of his study at first brought him into great perplexity. It drove him to his knees as nothing ever had before He met the issue fearlessly. He decided to follow the Word of God regardless of consequences. This decision brought peace and persecution."2
By 1904, Ballenger had concluded that the atonement occurred at Christ's crucifixion and that He had entered "within the veil" of the Most Holy Place at His ascension.3 This was contrary to the SDA doctrine which teaches the atonement was not completed on the cross and that Christ did not enter the Most Holy Place until October 22, 1844. The church's prophetess, Ellen G. White, taught that the atonement was not complete on the cross:
"Instead of ... Daniel 8:14 referring to the purifying of the earth, it was now plain that it pointed to the closing work of our High Priest in heaven, the finishing of the atonement, and the preparing of the people to abide the day of His coming."4
On Trial for the Truth
Ballenger began sharing the newly discovered truth, and before long he was brought to trial in London. In 1905, Ballenger received a letter...
"...from the President of the British Union Conference, citing him to appear before the Conference soon to convene, and answer to the charge of entertaining error regarding the ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. Three secret sessions were held in the early morning, of one hour each, at which time the Executive Committee listened to the writer's defense of his position. No one was chosen to reply; no one attempted to share from the Scriptures that the positions were incorrect."6
Ballenger was subsequently removed from his post as superintendent of Irish Missions. Church leaders were alarmed as they realized Ballenger's teachings undermined the testimonies and one of the pillar doctrines of the sect. Following the meeting in London, E.W. Farnsworth wrote to A.G. Daniells, then president of the General Conference, expressing his concern:
"He [Ballenger] sees clearly that his view cannot be made to harmonize with the testimonies [of Ellen White], at least he admits freely that he is totally unable to do so, and even in his own mind, so far as he is able to see at present, there is an irreconcilable difference. This of course involves the authenticity of the testimonies and practically upsets them, I mean in his mind. It also upsets our views concerning the sanctuary and its work, though he does not really think that way. It also involves to a greater or less extent our views of the two covenants, and how much more I was unable to ascertain."7
Because his views challenged traditional Adventist doctrines, Ballenger could not be allowed to continue teaching. He was called before the General Conference to answer charges of heresy.
Ellen White Influences the Trial
The trial began on May 21, 1905, during the General Conference session. Ballenger was permitted to present his views on the Sanctuary to the leading brethren of the SDA Church. Ballenger arrived at the trial ready to make a defense from the Bible for his teachings. In his own words he describes what happened next:
"Immediately I had begun reading scriptures in proof of my position that the term 'within the veil' of Heb. 6:19 referred to the holy of holies of the true sanctuary, the committee began to bombard me with quotations from the writings of E.G. White.
One day before the trial was to end, Mrs. White sent a letter to those in attendance at the trial. In this letter, instead of asking the brethren to carefully evaluate Ballenger's theories against the Bible, she instead appeals to their fears:
"In clear, plain language I am to say to those in attendance at this conference that Brother Ballenger has been allowing his mind to receive and believe specious error. He has been misinterpreting and misapplying the Scriptures upon which he has fastened his mind. He is building up theories that are not founded in truth. A warning is now to come to him and to the people, for God has not indited the message that he is bearing. This message, if accepted, would undermine the pillars of our faith."9
Mrs. White is clearly alarmed that this message could undermine the foundation of the entire movement. She adds:
"Those who try to bring in theories that would remove the pillars of our faith concerning the sanctuary or concerning the personality of God or of Christ, are working as blind men."10
These warnings must have raised alarm among the brethren present. If this doctrine were to be accepted, it could undermine and destroy the very denomination that was paying their salaries. Mrs. White further warns that "many" would leave the church if these doctrines were accepted:
"If the theories that Brother Ballenger presents were received, they would lead many to depart from the faith. They would counterwork the truths upon which the people of God have stood for the past fifty years. I am bidden to say in the name of the Lord that Elder Ballenger is following a false light. The Lord has not given him the message that he is bearing regarding the sanctuary service."11
If "many" were to leave the church, then the leaders' jobs, their influence, and their position would all be in jeopardy. Finally, Mrs. White claims the "Instructor" had spoken to Ballenger about the situation:
"Our Instructor spoke words to Brother Ballenger: 'You are bringing in confusion and perplexity by your interpretation of the Scriptures. You think that you have been given new light, but your light will become darkness to those who receive it.'"12
Faced with these dire predictions, what could the brethren do other than rule against Ballenger? Even if Ballenger's arguments held some merit, how could they allow him to continue when it might lead to the destruction of their denomination? If Mrs. White was correct, Ballenger's teachings threatened to destroy everything they had spent their whole lives building up. Ballenger had to be stopped! SDA minister M.L. Andreasen, an eyewitness to the hearing, acknowledges Ellen White's leading role in the defrocking. He wrote that the decision to defrock Ballenger was based on...
"the Spirit of Prophecy and their [the ministers meeting with Ballenger] own convictions."13
In the end, it was Mrs. White's testimony that turned the tide against Ballenger and ensured his dismissal. What was the final reason given for his dismissal? M.L. Andreasen shares the following:
"He was dismissed from the church because of theological differences...[for] teaching that the atonement was made on the cross!"14
Back to the Farm
After his dismissal, Ballenger retired to a farm in Virginia. He worked hard to earn enough money to barely meet the needs of his growing family. Eventually, the Ballengers were dropped from membership in the SDA church. For several years, Ballenger did not actively promote his views on the Sanctuary, but Mrs. White was actively sending out testimonies warning Adventists of the danger of any theory which questioned long-held Adventist doctrines:
"In the future, deception of every kind is to arise, and we want solid ground for our feet. We want solid pillars for the building. Not one pin is to be removed from that which the Lord has established."15
In another testimony she implies that Satan is directing the work against the Sanctuary:
"Satan is striving continually to bring in fanciful suppositions in regard to the sanctuary, degrading the wonderful representations of God and the ministry of Christ for our salvation into something that suits the carnal mind. He removes its presiding power from the hearts of believers, and supplies its place with fantastic theories invented to make void the truths of the atonement, and destroy our confidence in the doctrines which we have held sacred since the third angel's message was first given. Thus he would rob us of our faith in the very message that has made us a separate people, and has given character and power to our work."16
Cast Out for the Cross
In 1909, Ballenger moved his family to California and began to promote his Bible-based teachings more actively. He published his study of the Sanctuary doctrine, Cast Out for the Cross of Christ. In this book Ballenger shares a letter he wrote to Ellen White, explaining what he had discovered in the Bible:
Dear Sr. White:
When Mrs. White first learned of Ballenger's discovery, she lamented that "Ballenger has mystified minds by his large array of texts."18 However, rather than respond to the substantial Biblical evidence he presented, she appealed to her own authority as the "Spirit of Prophecy" and to the established doctrines and teachings of the SDA church. She wrote a lengthy letter (click here to read) to Ballenger, instructing him to trust "demonstrations of the Spirit" rather than relying solely on the Word of God.19
Ballenger rejected Mrs. White's reasoning. If this reasoning were to be accepted, Ballenger warned it would...
"place the thousands upon thousands of pages of your writings in books and periodicals between the child of God and God's Book. If this position be true, no noble Berean dare believe any truth, however clearly it may seem to be taught in the Scriptures, until he first consults your writings to see whether it harmonizes with your interpretation."20
Why was Ballenger Cast Out?
While there seems to be no Biblical reason to cast Ballenger out of the church, there were other reasons. Ballenger's theories regarding the sanctuary overthrew the entire reason for the existence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As noted by Ellen White in her epic Great Controversy, the sanctuary teaching provided the key that explained the existence of the sect:
"The subject of the sanctuary was the key which unlocked the mystery of the disappointment of 1844. It opened to view a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious, showing that God's hand had directed the great advent movement, and revealing present duty as it brought to light the position and work of His people."21
If Christ made no special move into the Most Holy Place in 1844, then not only would Ellen White's visions be in doubt, but the whole movement would be cast in doubt. If nothing happened in 1844, then God did not direct Miller's movement and it was not the first and second angels' messages of Revelation 14. If Ballenger was right, there was no need for an investigative judgment.
Ellen White could not permit this teaching to gain ground. Despite the apparent lack of Biblical proof for SDA positions, Ellen White insisted they should cling to them because of her "visions":
"The truths given us after the passing of the time in 1844 are just as certain and unchangeable as when the Lord gave them to us in answer to our urgent prayers. The visions that the Lord has given me are so remarkable that we know that what we have accepted is the truth. This was demonstrated by the Holy Spirit."22
Instead of pointing to the Bible for support for the doctrines, she instructs people to look for the "truth" in her books:
"I am thankful that the instruction contained in my books establishes present truth for this time. These books were written under the demonstration of the Holy Spirit."23
Like the great reformer Martin Luther, Albion Ballenger was cast out from his church for taking his stand upon the Bible and the Bible alone. After Ballenger's death on August 19, 1921, A.T. Jones, a long-time friend and associate of Ballenger, wrote thus of him:
"I can truly say that never have I known a man of a kinder heart or more tender spirit than he, nor one who more genuinely and devoutly feared the Lord, or was more deeply devoted to His service and His worship."24
1 E. E. Andross, "Bible Study No. II," DF 178, July 13, 1911, pp. 13, 14. Ellen G. White: The Early Elmshaven Years Volume 5, 1900-1905, page 406.
2 E.S. Ballenger, "Shall We Advance or Fossilize?", Gathering Call, Sep. 1930, p. 71.
3 Calvin Edwards & Gary Land, Seeker After Light, (Andrews University Press, 2000) p. 91.
4 Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 58.
5 Ellen White, Early Writings, p. 253.
6 A.F. Ballenger, Forty Errors, p. 1.
7 Farnsworth letter to A.G. Daniells, Feb. 22, 1905.
8 Ballenger, "The Bible in the Reformation", p. 2.
9 Ellen White, letter "A Warning Against False Theories," May 24, 1905, MR 760.
13 Edwards & Land, p. 133.
14 M.L. Andreasen, Atonement VII, p. 1.
15 Ellen White, Review and Herald, May 25, 1905.
16 Ellen White, Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 7, p. 17 (1905).
17 A.F. Ballenger, Cast Out for the Cross of Christ (1909), chap. XII, emphasis supplied.
18 Ellen White, Ms. 145, 1905.
19 Ellen White, Letter 329, 1905, (see Selected Messages Book 1, pp. 161-162.)
20 Ballenger, Cast Our for the Cross of Christ, p. 110.
21 Ellen White, The Great Controversy, p. 423, (1888).
22 Ellen White, MR 760, p. 22, (Letter 50, 1906, to W. W. Simpson, January 30, 1906).
23 Ibid., p. 23.
24 A.T. Jones, Gathering Call, Sep./Oct. 1921, p. 3.
Category: 1844 Movement
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