Preliminary Meeting in Switzerland (1919)

From the facts considered so far, we already know that the leadership of the church and the majority of the membership felt free to set aside distinctive Adventist doctrines, such as strict obedience to the Law of Ten Commandments, both in times of peace and in times of stress and war. Consequently, a minority held that, with such a deviation, the import of the Advent message would be lost sight of and the unique doctrines hitherto advocated for over a half century would be nullified. They felt that the threat of persecution and loss of property should never have led the denomination to seek a compromise with the powers of darkness. The refusal to secure false peace at the sacrifice of principle, they contended, would now be the distinguishing mark between the true and the professed Adventist believers.

 

Through the years of World War I, the controversy over doctrinal differences widened the gap between the majority and the minority until, in many cases, the faithful few were disfellowshiped. The church leadership had reasoned that this step was necessary in order to safeguard the properties of the denomination and ensure the right of the Adventist people to continue holding their meetings.

 

The strife and division, we must emphasize again, was by no means confined to Germany; it was witnessed in sixteen countries, involving hundreds of true Adventists. Since traveling was restricted, much of what went on during those perplexing years was done through correspondence, and mutual contacts were established among the separated groups.

 

When the war was over, the news was spread that the numbers of those who had been cut off from church membership, because of their loyalty to the fundamental doctrines of the Advent Movement, had increased to thousands. These people realized that something more definite must be done in search of a solution to the existing problem. It was suggested that a preliminary meeting, if called in a nearby neutral country, would be welcomed by the disfellowshiped minority and that their experiences would offer them a common ground for the united actions that were required under those circumstances. The purpose of such a meeting would be to strengthen connections among fellow believers who had suffered for the truth’s sake and to encourage one another in the truth.

 

The planned meeting convened in Switzerland in the autumn of 1919. Brother D. Nicolici reported on the event as follows:

 

"When we in Romania were disfellowshiped from the Adventist Church, we did not know that faithful brethren in other European countries had gone through similar experiences. As soon as we received information about the Reform brethren in Germany, we wrote to them. As a result of mutual contacts among Reformers in several countries, arrangements were made to hold a meeting in Switzerland toward the end of 1919. From Romania we sent two representatives along with our experiences and views. During that meeting, which was attended by 16 brethren, the question of organization was not discussed because the Reform brethren were hopeful that a reconciliation with the Adventist Church would come. We were not interested in separation but in unity, and we expected that our Adventist brethren would open the door for an official discussion with some of their General Conference representatives. Upon the suggestion of Brother Otto Welp, it was then agreed that an international conference of Reformers would be held in Wuerzburg, Germany, in 1921."

 

As the brethren narrated their experiences in that meeting in 1919, it became very evident to them that the hand of God was leading a faithful remnant in a work of reformation. There was no doubt in their minds that what they had suffered, both at the hands of the SDA leaders and of the secular authorities, was the result of their unflinching decision and of their determined effort to remain loyal to the fundamental truths upon which the Advent Movement had been founded. According to reports presented, many had sealed their testimony with their lives. Others had suffered years of imprisonment and privation. The fact that in not a few cases both lay members and ministers had chosen the pathway of compromise and employed their talents to bring persecution against the reform-minded Adventists was the cause of considerable consternation.

 

At this meeting it was agreed that the international connections should be fostered under the leadership of Brother Otto Welp, who had his office in Wuerzburg, Germany. The brethren had no desire to form a separate organization, at least not on a permanent or final basis. It was believed that the General Conference leadership of the Seventh-day Adventists would vindicate the position of the faithful minority and set things in order. With the fondest hope that the necessary corrective steps would be taken by the church, that memorable meeting came to a close.

 

The General Conference Executive Committee members in Washington, DC, had been informed of the difficulties involving the church in Europe. Several executive officers were therefore sent to Europe to examine and, if possible, solve the problem. During June and July 1920, they visited various countries where hundreds of members had been disfellowshiped from church membership. Their visit was eagerly anticipated. But these General Conference leaders yielded to the influence of the European leaders and supported their compromising attitudes. Thus, at the conference in Friedensau, 1920, Elder A. G. Daniells endorsed the disfellowshipment of the faithful minority (known as "Reformers" or "Reform brethren").