In 1976 Milton Raymond Hook stated in his M.A. thesis that on April 6, 1870, the membership of the Adventist church in Battle Creek, Michigan, “was reduced to an apostolic twelve.”2 Hook thus became the first to note that essentially every person in Seventh-day Adventism’s largest congregation was disfellowshipped. Though Hook published his work in Flames Over Battle Creek a year later, 3 subsequent scholars did not acknowledge his findings for nearly four decades.4 Gary Land was the next historian to mention the Battle Creek purge in his book, Uriah Smith: Apologist and Biblical Commentator, which appeared in 2014.5 Scholars have probably been cautious because Hook glossed over the event in a single paragraph and cited only one source in support. Such limited treatment raised vital questions; namely, did this event occur as claimed or did Hook misread his source? Assuming that Hook was correct, what events led to this purge and why were so many members removed? Though he only cited one source, Hook’s brief presentation was essentially accurate. He relied on George Washington Amadon, an Adventist leader who witnessed the event personally and wrote about it in his diary at the time it occurred. When, in 2014, Land readdressed this topic, he relied heavily on Hook’s published work (not quoting the diary directly), but also added one more important source (a letter written by Harriet N. Smith to James and Ellen White in 1870)6 and attempted to provide relevant background information to the purge in Battle Creek. 7 Land’s assessment was still limited, however, and questions regarding this event remain unanswered. This article seeks to fill in the gaps. I will address the topic in four primary sections: first, I will briefly describe the type of church trial that Adventists utilized; second, I will provide an overview of details that led to the purge in 1870; third, I will describe the actual event; and fourth, I will provide my analysis of the event and its repercussions. My primary sources include unpublished diaries, letters, and manuscripts and published articles and tracts. Secondary sources by recent historians are cited when, and if, possible. I have also utilized some theoretical sources on Arminian theology and guilt regulation to help explain this event. Due to the constructs of space, this article is limited to the events in the Seventh-day Adventist Church that led to the purge. This reconstructed exposition could be improved through a detailed analysis of the American context in the 1860s and early 1870s, taking into account economic and political issues that raged in the nation generally, and in the local community of Battle Creek, Michigan, specifically. Furthermore, it would also be beneficial to compare the Battle Creek purge with other church trials that occurred in various denominations during this period. Such analyses were not excluded from this article because they were deemed unimportant; rather, it was merely for lack of space.8
Burton, Kevin M.
"Cracking the Whip to Make a Perfect Church: The Purge of the Battle Creek Church on April 6, 1870,"
Journal of the Adventist Theological Society: Vol. 29:
1, Article 11.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/jats/vol29/iss1/11
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