Pitting truth against truth

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Second Heresy: Holy Flesh
Each of the five heresies that took place in rapid and overlapping succession after the Minneapolis rebellion involved an attempt to accomplish what that message, identified as “the third angel’s message in verity” and the loud cry, was to have accomplished in preparing the world for Christ’s coming. Time setting, for example, was to arouse people to prepare for His coming and to stimulate them to proclaim God’s message with latter rain power. The Holy Flesh proclamation, which its advocates identified with perfection and the latter rain, attempted this with even greater intensity and emotional stimulation.

The roots of this heresy are traceable back several years. But its specific form was introduced in 1898 by Indiana Conference evangelist, S. S. Davis' “cleansing message.” Just as Jesus had to go through the Garden of Gethsemane so must all who are translated. Jesus had holy flesh, he taught, and all who follow Him through the garden will obtain holy flesh and become “born” sons of God, in contrast to “adopted” sons who have not had this experience. Having attained “translation faith,” their bodies could not experience corruption any more than could Jesus’ body. Meantime, those who did not go through the Garden would die and have to go to heaven via “the underground railway.”

As in all heresies, this teaching was a mix of truth and error, with the truth no longer true, but now seized as a vehicle for conveying error. Thus, those refusing this heresy often reacted against the truth it had captured by which to convey itself. Indeed, Satan’s object in heresy is always two-fold: to hook as many as possible with the error, but even more importantly, to stimulate resistance to the pirated truth, by which resistance he can produce an opposite heresy.

Enamored with the supernatural power in this emotionally charged movement, Indiana president, R. S. Donnell and his committee, began in 1899 to plan a “latter rain” camp meeting for 1900. Meetings consisted of hysterical preaching, physical demonstration, drums, and other loud instruments designed to excite the emotions. individuals caught up in emotional frenzy often fell prostrate to the floor. When they later regained consciousness they were said to have “passed through the garden experience.” Thus having translation faith, they could not die.

Donnell warned his workers not to allow the two General Conference representatives at the camp meeting to influence them, since they did not have “this experience.” In reporting this strange scene, S. N. Haskell, one of the two, reported that Donnell stretched his arms out toward the congregation while speaking and later testifed that “he felt great power coursing down his arms and passing through his fingers to the people.”

Meantime, Ellen White was instructed by vision to return from Australia where she had been for nearly a decade, to deal with this heresy. Thus, despite her weakness, she attended the 1901 General Conference Session to confront this issue. There, on April 17 she declared:

    The teaching in regard to what is termed “holy flesh” is an error. All may now obtain holy hearts, but it is not correct to claim in this life to have holy flesh. The Apostle Paul declares, “I know that in me (that is in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom 7:18). To those who have tried so hard to obtain by faith the so-called holy flesh, I would say, You cannot obtain it. Not a soul of you has holy flesh now. No human on earth has holy flesh. It is an impossibility. If those who speak so freely of perfection in the flesh could see things in their true light, they would recoil with horror from their presumptuous ideas.... Let this phase of doctrine be carried a little further, and it will lead to the claim that its advocates cannot sin, that since they have holy flesh, their actions are all holy. What a door of temptation would thus be opened! (2 SM 32; see pages 31-35 for full report).

Following this testimony, both Davis and Donnell confessed their error. With the selection of new officers and a wholly new conference committee, the back of this movement was broken and most of the workers recovered. But, according to Arthur White, some members never did and Davis shortly reversed his position. Moreover, Donnell went through a period of darkness and wavering as a result of a devious report that caused him to question the validity of Ellen White’s testimony.

Next: 3rd Heresy: Pantheism
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