The Lord has always given leaders the first opportunity to exhibit faithfulness and courage but, unfortunately, when the crisis loomed up before the church in 1914, it found them unprepared. The decisive majority of the membership in Europe were unable to see that the brethren in the highest offices were leading the church in the wrong direction by committing the members to combatancy.
Under that fiery test, the SDA leadership in Europe issued declarations instructing the brethren to take a combatant part in the war. These writings brought much confusion in the churches. Thousands of Seventh Day Adventists in Europe were thrown into great trial and perplexity, as, to avoid persecution and possible death, they consented to give up Sabbath-keeping, to bear arms, and do as other patriots were doing. The great majority acted in accordance with the decisions of their leaders.
It was only a small minority of conscientious objectors who chose to stand for truth and righteousness. They were not troublemakers; they were honest Adventists who stood up in defense of the law of God in a time of crisis, when the church was wavering between loyalty and compromise. But their position was out of harmony with the decision of the leaders, who wanted the church to be in favor with the government. Therefore, the faithful few who stood for their convictions were disfellowshiped from the church. The persecution and tribulation which followed as the result of this attitude is part of denominational history. In the crisis caused by World War I, God had His faithful witnesses in every country, as we will see in the following pages.
Since the beginning of the war, the SDA General Conference was aware of the troubles that had come upon the church in Europe. The contentions and divisions that were taking place in the Adventist ranks were not concealed from the General Conference brethren. Therefore, at the end of 1916, William A. Spicer, the General Conference secretary at the time, was sent to Europe to obtain firsthand information about the problems and, if possible, to help find a solution. Perhaps if he had contacted the disfellowshiped minorities and heard their side of the story also, he might have taken back to Washington, DC, a different picture of the situation. But he was satisfied with the one-sided reports obtained from the European leaders (especially L. R. Conradi) who were responsible for and directly involved in the difficulty. Thus, the visit of Elder Spicer, instead of serving to resolve or minimize the issue regarding faithfulness to the commandments of God in the time of war, only served to aggravate it.