III. The "Church of God" Controversy
Sabbath Adventists and the Name "Church of God"
Ellen G. White and her followers - the White Party - were distinctly against the use of the name "Church of God." Loughborough reports that she had a vision that the movement should be called "Seventh-Day Adventist" and that to use the term "Church of God" would be to excite suspicion, conceal absurd errors, and be a mark of fanaticism.1
But apparently the White party themselves used the name Church of God in several instances. Ellen G. White used the name frequently in her spiritual gifts.2
James White published a hymn book in 1855 called "Hymns for those who keep the commandments of God and the Faith of Jesus." The preface to the hymnal read "this work is prepared for the use of the Church of God scattered abroad . . . . To the Church of God waiting for the coming and kingdom of Christ, is this book commended."3
That the Sabbath Adventists were originally termed Church of God is shown in a December 18, 1860 article in the Advent Review and the Sabbath Herald (page 40): S.W. Rhodes of Habbardsville, New York announced his resignation as a minister to Sabbath-keeping brethren, "in my ministration of the 'Third Angel's message' and the Church of God, during eleven years past . . . ."4
This would mean that Rhodes began his ministry for the Church of God in the year 1849.
Joseph Marsh, in the Voice of Truth, May 21, 1845, objected to the 1845 Albany Conference of Adventists "because the proceedings as whole looked like forming a new sect under a sectarian name, instead of coming to the order of the New Testament under the name there given to the true church . . . ." James White wrote a commendation at the end of the article, when it was reprinted in the August, 1850 Advent Review, showing he agreed with Marsh's sentiments.5
Roswell F. Cottrell wrote in the May 3, 1860 Review, "I do not believe in popery; neither do I believe in anarchy; but in Bible order, discipline, and government in the Church of God."6
Waterman Phelps Contends For the Name Church of God
The White Party heaped ridicule upon those who supported the name Church of God. The pages of the Review became the battleground for the church name around 1860 when the Whites fostered an organizational drive.
Here is a typical presentation of the reasons for the use of the name Seventh-Day Adventist: "From Green Springs, Ohio . . . . We receive the name Seventh-Day Adventist, because it contains the two leading principles of our faith: First, 'the second coming of our Lord', and second, it sets forth the 4th commandment. On the other hand, the name 'Church of God' is not appropriate, because there are several churches by that name, and so many by the same name would make confusion."7 Waterman Phelps, previously mentioned as a convert of H.S. Case in Wisconsin, strongly supported "Church of God" in the Review:
. . . I think it is not difficult to determine what name they will have, when we consult Rev. 14:1, 'having his father's name in their foreheads.' Chapter 3:12, 'I will write upon them the name of my God.' And with this agrees the apostle in all his epistles. They are addressed to the Church of God. Acts 20:28; I Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:22, 15, 29; Gal. 1:13; I Tim. 3:5. Now if we have the right to depart from the simplicity of the gospel in one instance have we not in another? . . . If so, what does their confusion consist in? . . . If so, can we as a people do the same and not become a member of the same great family . . . one of the harlots?8
Phelps stated that he accepted the Law of God in 1850, and in 1851 identified himself with the "Review Adventists." After making a study of the "visions" of Ellen G. White, and the organization they went into, he could no longer support them.9
Changing the Church Name
The high pressure campaign led by the Whites to organize Sabbath Adventists under the name "Seventh-Day Adventists" was ostensibly conducted with the purpose of holding church property in a corporation instead of being deeded to individuals. Michigan had recently passed a law allowing churches to organize, and an "official" organization was said to be an encouragement for increasing the membership.10
The Battle Creek, Michigan Conference on legal organization, on September 26 October 1, 1860, officially chose the name "Seventh-Day Adventist" and rejected "Church of God." It was decided to legally organize as a church with the covenant as follows: "We the undersigned hereby associate ourselves together as a church, taking the name Seventh-Day Adventists covenanting to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ."
It was at this point that the separation of Sabbath Adventists into two opposing groups became permanent. On the one side were those supporting the visions of Ellen G. White and the name Seventh-Day Adventist. And on the other side were those opposing Mrs. White and adhering to "Church of God."
Ohio Objections to Church Name Change
Some Adventists did not go along with the change of the name from "Church of God" to "Seventh-Day Adventist." Ohio appeared to be a leading center of objection to the White Party. The Review and Herald of April 9, 1861, in the article, "Secession," reports the following:
Brother Smith: We conclude from present aspects that the name, 'Seventh-Day Adventist,' is being made obligatory upon our brethren. Without further light Ohio cannot submit to the name 'Seventh-Day Adventist' as either a test, or an appropriate name for God's people. Being appointed a finance committee at the last conference, and having now on hand means for carrying on the cause in Ohio, we could not conscientiously expend those means in any other than the advancement and extension of the truth and the 'Church of God.' If such means are expended otherwise it will be necessary for the churches in Ohio to assemble in conference, and to give instruction to that effect, and to choose some other committee to make the disbursements.
(Signed) J. Dudley
Finance committee of Ohio
James White replied in answer to the Ohio "secession" as follows:
The Battle Creek Conference October 1, 1860, voted that we call ourselves 'Seventh-Day Adventists.' . . . The brethren as far as we can learn are adopting the name, and we never heard of, or thought of, its being made a test until we read the above from Ohio . . . . We will here add that as a friend from Gilboa complains of the non-publication of an article from Gilboa [Ohio] setting forth the evidence in favor of the name Church of God, we wish to say that at the time no one connected with the Review office objected to the name.11
Iowa Church of God
In Southern Iowa, a Brother Bartlett sought to organize the Adventist churches under the name of Seventh-Day Adventists. But one independent Iowa church was divided over the question. Half the church acceded to the pressure to go along with the majority; the rest, contending that the church was originally organized under the name Church of God, refused to break off from their original beliefs. Bartlett labeled those who held to the original faith as dividers because they had rejected the "Gifts of the Spirit" - Ellen G. White's visions, which, he believed, was essential to be a part of God's end time work.12
Since there was as yet no Church of God organization, opposers to the White Party were with ease labeled "secessionists" and "offshoots." Yet the facts are that Church of God groups preceded Seventh-Day Adventists by at least a decade. W
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