The Marion Incident: "The Bible Alone" Versus "The Bible+Visions"

By Dirk Anderson

On June 20, 1860, a group of Sabbath believers formed the Marion church, signing a covenant that stated:

"We the undersigned, do hereby express our wish to be associated together in Christian fellowship as the Church of Jesus Christ, at Marion, whose covenant obligation is briefly expressed in keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, taking the Bible, and the Bible alone, as our rule of faith and practice."1

For a while sweet harmony presided in the church at Marion, but soon controversy erupted when some began advocating the visions of Ellen White. H.E. Carver, a member of the church, describes how the trouble began:

"...the visions were not at that time made a test among us, nor were they made a topic of public investigation, at least here in Iowa. In one of the S. D. Adventist publications, however, it was claimed that among other things the visions were given to correct those who should err from Bible truth. This attracted attention and created alarm in the mind of one of our number, Eld. S. Everett, who saw in this the germ of that unscriptural and oppressive hierarchy that now reigns over the consciences of our S. D. Adventist brethren. Bro. Everett entered his protest against this claim of the visions, and faithfully warned us of the result. The brethren could not believe that such would ever be the case, and were much tried with him on account of his course."2

Word of the rebellion spread and soon Elder Cornell, a follower of the Whites, was sent in to crush the rebellion against the visions. Carver relates how Cornell overstepped his bounds:

"In prosecuting the case against Bro. E., Eld. Cornell manifested a most unkind, hasty, and unchristian spirit, which was a source of grief to the entire church, and which I took upon myself to communicate to Mrs. White. After having received this information from me, she published in the next 'Testimony' that she had been shown that Eld. Cornell had acted hastily in Bro. Everett's case."3

The First Rebellion

The Marion Church was soon split over the visions of Ellen White. Elder Cornell proclaimed Mrs. White's visions "of equal authority, and binding forever with the Bible, and urged us to adopt their teaching also, as a rule of faith and discipline....about one half of the Church decided to receive these volumes as valid Scripture, and drew off from us, or rather repelled us from them, denouncing us as rebels."4

Those who did not believe in the visions objected to the effort "to put the visions of Ellen G. White on the same eminence with the Bible, and secure the recognition of Elder James White as the latter-day Moses."5 Those who stood upon the "Bible alone" affirmed:

"We boldly assert that we are not rebels. We have not rebelled against the constitution which we adopted, for we stand firm on it yet. We have not rebelled against Ellen G. White, for we never endorsed her; nor have we rebelled against any of the messengers, for we never acknowledged allegiance to them; so the charge of rebellion reflects with shame on them, who have made it, they being the ones who have departed from their first position, [the Bible and the Bible alone] and have adopted a new one."6

The rebellion in Iowa was a flash point of a larger battle that was brewing in other places also.

"Everywhere the remnant remained, there was suffering and pressure of the Adventists to accept the 'more perfect way' - loyalty to the new General Conference, which according to Mrs. White, was God's highest authority on earth; the visions and claims for [the divine inspiration of] Mrs. White; and other non-Biblical doctrines that were beginning to show up in Seventh Day Adventism."7

One of the members of the church, B.F. Snook, was foremost in openly questioning the validity of the visions. The matter became known to the Whites who rushed to meet the rebellion. The Whites understood that they must crush the rebellion in Iowa before it spread elsewhere. A victory here could help them in other areas of the country where discontent over the visions was seething. A trial was quickly arranged for the leaders of the rebellion, Snook and W.H. Brinkerhoff. After some effort from the Whites, both men confessed and the rebellion was seemingly quelled.

Interestingly enough, we find Ellen White attempting to capitalize upon the quelling of the rebellion, insinuating divine guidance was at work, claiming she knew nothing of the rebellion until hours before they arrived at Pilot Grove, Iowa:

"We felt it to be our duty to visit Iowa before returning to Michigan. We had no knowledge of the rebellion of Elders Snook and Brinkerhoff, but we felt that there was a work for us to do in that State. On our way to Pilot Grove, Iowa, we first heard of the rebellion, which was only a few hours before we met its leaders face to face in the meeting-house."8

Thus we find Ellen White deceiving her church about the true state of matters. The truth is that the Whites were well aware of the "rebellion" long before they arrived, as Carver explains:

"In the spring of 1865, Elder B. F. Snook, feeling restive under the reign of the regime at Battle Creek, and probably very doubtful of the visions, wrote a letter to Eld. Ingraham, proposing to him to act independently of the Battle Creek authorities in proclaiming the truths of the Bible. This letter was placed in the hands of Eld. White at a meeting in Wisconsin, who endorsed on the back in substance this: 'Rebellion in Iowa,' and immediately wrote to Elder Snook, informing him of what he knew, and stating that his (Eld. Snook's) case would be attended to at the Pilot Grove Conference, soon to convene. He also wrote to Eld. Brinkerhoff that he had evidence in his possession of Eld. Snook's rebellion, and wishing him, Eld. B., to be present at the Conference. ... In her report of this matter [published in the Feb. 20, 1866, Review and Herald], Mrs. White is particular to state that they (her husband and self) were deeply impressed that they must come to Iowa, and that they knew nothing of the rebellion here till a few hours before they met its leaders face to face at Pilot Grove; thus leading the church at large to regard her as being led here by divine inspiration; and doubtless such was the influence of her report upon the minds of those who did not know that at least two weeks previously her husband had endorsed upon the back of that letter -- 'Rebellion in Iowa.'"9

The Second Rebellion

It seems that despite their confession, Snook and Brinkerhoff still felt uneasy about the visions. They had a sense that something was amiss, but lacked the evidence to back it up. They decided to study the matter further. They soon discovered evidence of Mrs. White's shut door teaching. Not long afterwards, they made Carver aware of their findings:

"Elders Snook and Brinkerhoff had procured from the East some of the earliest publications of Elders White and Bates, and those portions relating to the 'shut door theory' had made a deep impression on my mind, calling up old associations, when I, too, was a believer in that error. Seeing that the early visions ran in perfect harmony with that theory, I asked them whether Mrs. White was a believer in the shut door doctrine at the time of her first vision, hoping that the answer would be in the negative, in which case it would seem that there was no correspondence between her faith and the vision. The answer, however, was in the affirmative...'"10

Further studies by Brinkerhoff confirmed that the Adventist interpretation of Revelation's Three Angels' Messages and Two-horned Beast were inaccurate. A discussion on the subject ensued, creating an inseparable rift in the church. The Adventists withdrew with about half the members and started meeting separately. In 1866, the Marion Church adopted the name "Church of God" and Snook and Brinkerhoff were disfellowshipped.

As was all too often the case, Adventist historian J.N. Loughborough garbled his historical account of what became of Snook and Brinkerhoff after they parted ways with Adventism:

"Before many months elapsed, both S. and B. dropped their interest in the Advocate [their paper], and gave up the keeping of the Sabbath. Brinkerhoff engaged in school-teaching, and the study of law. Snook engaged in preaching universalism, at a salary of $1,000 a year."11

The truth is that it was Brinkerhoff who later became a Universalist, while B.F. Snook remained a Sabbath-keeping minister and traveled for years, preaching and raising up numerous Sabbath groups.12

Points to Ponder

  • Why did Ellen White send out an "I was shown..." testimony about Elder Cornell, as if God had shown her something in vision, when in fact H.E. Carver had relayed the facts of the case to her in a letter?

  • Why did Ellen White tell a White lie about her and James not knowing about the rebellion until "hours" beforehand?

  • Why were the visions of Ellen White made a test of fellowship at Marion?

  • Why did Adventist historian J.N. Loughborough attempt to discredit Snook, saying he gave up the Sabbath, when in fact he preached it for years, raising up Sabbath-keeping churches?


1. Hope of Israel, September 7, 1864.

2. H. E. Carver, Mrs. E. G. White's Claims to Divine Inspiration Examined, 1877.

3. Ibid.

4. Letter signed by V.M. Gray, E.P. Goff and M.N. Kramer, Hope of Israel, Sep. 7, 1864.

5. Ibid.

6. Fellowship Herald, October 1960, 6-9, op. cit.

7. Charles Monroe, "A Synoptic History of the Churches of God in the Latter Days," in Facts of Our Faith, Jan. 1969, 12-25.

8. Ellen G. White, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Feb. 20, 1866, para. 7.

9. Carver. See also John Loughborough, Rise and Progress of the Seventh Day Adventists (1892) pp. 267-68.

10. Carver.

11. Arthur White, Ellen G. White Volume 2 The Progressive Years 1862-1876, p. 150.

12. Richard C. Nickels, History of the Seventh Day Church of God (©1977, 1987, 1994, 1996, 1999 by Giving & Sharing), chapter 6. Nickels notes that Snook preached the Sabbath in "southern Iowa, Illinois, and elsewhere."

Category: Bible vs. Mrs. White
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