Thursday, September 9, 2010

I'm moving this here ...

I'm moving this to a main post because I think it deserves more open discussion. (It's fun, thanks.) And I'm posting it here because Blogger insists I have html code inbeded in my post and won't let me put it in the regular comment trail:

Anonymous said:

A few things you may want to consider (I say this in the spirit of friendly debate--and don't feel obligated to respond--just think about it):

1. I have not seen any evidence that Barbour separated himself from Adventists. In your book, you say that he was disfellowshipped at the Dansville conference. Indeed he was censured at the conference, but this is not the same as being officially disfellowshipped from the Advent Christian Church. It was a local decision. As you know, the timeists and the non-timeists frequently argued, and many non-timeists tried to sideline the timeists. But that doesn't make timeists not Adventist. They are probably more Adventist than non-timeists. And Barbour and his associates continued to call Adventists his "brethren." Moreover, many Adventists continued to associate with him. Barbour did not give his movement a new name either. And the Age to Come Restitutionists, despite not wanting the name Adventist (Joseph Marsh hated denominational names) were still Adventists. So when you say Barbour became one in theology, it merely means he became a different kind of Adventist. And when Russell first read Herald of the Morning, he immediately identified it with Adventism. Why is that?

2. You are right that simply believing in the nearness of Christ's return does not make one Adventist. However, Barbour's chronology was only a slight revision of William Miller's. So that make it Adventist. And Russell's chronology was basically that of Barbour.

3. The idea of the invisible presence is an idea that many Adventists took in the aftermath of the 1844 disappointment, and other Adventists took it after other disappointments. So Russell is part of that tradition. Indeed, Benjamin Wilson, one of the founders of the Church of God, Abrahamic Faith, was an Age to Come Restitutionist, which is an Adventist group. He was a chief influence on Russell and Barbour on the invisible presence idea.

4. When I said that Russell was Adventist, I did not mean to say that he joined up as an official member of put his name on the church roll. I am in agreement with you that his Bible class was not identical with the Adventist group in the area. I was simply addressing the question of whether his theology was primarily Adventist in nature.It is interesting that many people very freely say that Russell was a Presbyterian early in life, but they are afraid to call him an Adventist later. Maybe they are basing this on church membership, but there is more to being part of a denominational tradition than simply being on a membership list.

My reply:

Few Adventists continued to associate with Barbour. Barbour optimistically estimated 1000 interested people. It was probably less. Barbour and his followers saw the New York Conference decision at Springwater (not Dansville, that was a Barbourite conference) as disfellowshipping. Later the Advent Christian Times took the same view, urging its readers to not fellowship with them. The Advent Christian Association did not disfellowship in any other way in that period.

Russell identified the Herald of the Morning as Adventist from the front cover. The illustration was taken from stock Adventist illustrations. Russell wrote to Barbour stating among other things his surmise that Barbour was an Adventist. Barbour’s reply as presented by Russell shows that while he still held to Adventist beliefs they saw themselves as a separate entity: “It also explained that Mr. Barbour and Mr. J. H. Paton, of Michigan, a worker with him, had been regular Second Adventists up to that time [1874].”

After 1874 Barbour identified with Church of the Blessed Hope. Are they Adventists. Ask them. Barbour saw himself as a “true” Adventist. Everyone else wasn’t true to the millerite faith. This has nothing to do with Russell’s own view of self. He saw himself as a non-Adventist believer in the then present Lord.

Barbour borrowed his chronology from non-Adventist sources. There are only so many prophetic periods in the Bible. All chronological speculations are similar because they are based on the same time periods. 19th Century religious magazine are full of prophetic speculation.

Reading articles in the Christian Observer, published before Miller, one finds little difference between it and later Adventist publications. Yet, the Christian Observer was an Anglican paper. There are Presbyterian magazines that followed the same rout in the 1800-1830 period. The Christian Reformer, an idenpendent paper published in New York in the 1820s reads as if it were Adventist. It’s not of course. There is strong reason to think that Russell read Archibald Mason’s Saving Faith and his tracts on the last days. Mason was a Presbyterian. Rachael and I think that Storrs was exposed to A. Fraser’s A Key to the Prophecies.through an American edition published in 1802. Fraser first published in the 1790’s. He wasn’t an Adventist. We aren’t following that trail. Someone else is writing a book on Storrs; we’re going in an opposite direction chronologically.

Similarity in doctrine does not mark one as of that party. As an example, I have read and enjoyed a major portion of German Evangelical and Lutheran Bible commentary from the mid 19th Century. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found many arguments persuasive or illustrative of what I already believed. No Lutheran in his right mind would recognize me as a Lutheran.

If you focus only on Russell’s Adventist influences you ignore most of his history from that period. It is unfortunate that he focused on his close friends. We would like a bibliography of things he read. He never gives us one. Finding that Warleigh was a huge influence was difficult and the end of a long and convoluted research trail. You need to look beyond the obvious. We think Solomon King stands in the background. If he does it is through the filter of someone else. I doubt Russell ever read King’s Two Sermons (Hartford 1810). But some one of his early associates clearly did. Aaron Kinne is in the background somewhere too. We think that’s more than obvious. How one bridges the gap between Kinne and Russell, we do not know. Neither of these men were Adventists. There is a very, very long list of non-Adventist antecedents to Russell’s belief system. Before one writes him off as merely Adventist in outlook, one needs to follow that trail.

Invisible presence idea as Russell held it came from non-Adventist sources. Russell came to it from Seiss. Seiss came to it from Plymouth Brethren and through a small tract published in Philadelphia in the 1820’s with no known denominational connection. There are antecedents to the Brethren. This is the historical trail when it comes to Russell. Even if some Adventists held similar beliefs, we cannot ignore the historical trail.

Russell was baptized as a Presbyterian. He was a church member, belonging lastly to a union congregation organized by Congregationalists. The Presbyterians and Congregationalists had a formal agreement that they would recognize each other’s churches and pastors. He was a recognized member of a denomination, and when he left he requested a church session to formally separate him from the Congregational Church. (We think it was the church on E. Ohio Street, but we are not positive.)

Russell did not join any of the Adventist bodies. He was strongly influenced by Adventists, and adopted many of his ideas from Adventists. Since these doctrines were equally those of many pre-millennialist groups, we need to take him at his word that 1. He wasn’t an Adventist in any formal sense, and 2. He was more strongly pre-millennial in outlook than he was Adventist in outlook. Russell saw himself as following a fourth way. If we lose sight of his self-identity, we lose a major portion of the story.

As I’ve said here before, there is a big difference between saying that Russell was an Adventist and in saying he was influenced by them. Russell’s self-identity is a major portion of his history. We need to respect it or we distort the story.

Did others freely identify Russell as a “Second Adventist.” Yes. His views were strongly similar, even when derived from non-Adventist sources. All that means is that he was influenced by Adventist belief. If we cross the line as historians and say “Oh, Russell was an Adventist,” we ignore his self-identity, distorting the record. Stick to the facts as they can be known. He studied the bible with Adventists. He believed what they believed in key areas. He also read material by others, and in key ways was more strongly influenced by them. He identified more closely with British pre-millennialists, though he seldom give them the same credit. Storrs and Stetson were his close friends. They get credit where other authors who influenced him do not. An example is his heavy dependence on Warliegh, on Dunn, on I. D. Heath. There was a Christadelphian influence too.

Words matter. The more exacting we are with our definition the better is the history we write. It is more faithful to the records we have to say that Russell was heavily dependent on Adventists and others than it is to say he was an Adventist. We can say he was Adventist in outlook. We cannot say, and stay faithful to the records as we have them, that he was an Adventist.

1 comment:

CTRussell said...

Actually there were Adventists who promoted the idea of Christ's two-stage coming as first being invisible and beginning in 1844 and the second as visible beginning in 1873.