Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Muddying the Waters

by "Jerome"

Since the introductory essay published in a post below strongly attacks the concept so favored by many writers, that CTR’s Bible Students were an Adventist offshoot, it seemed a good idea to republish an article that originally appeared on blog 2 about eighteen months ago. This is featured below without any revision or updating.

 Today, with all the documentation available to us, we can see more clearly the connections and differences between various developing views in the 19th century. If you lived at the time – particularly if you were an onlooker – it would be very easy to lump a number of disparate groups together under one label. Sometimes the groups in question didn’t help matters by the terms they used. The article tried to illustrate the problem, which can cloud judgments today.

At the outset, I must warn readers that this has little to do with CTR’s actual history. If it supplies anything at all to the project it will only be a footnote. However, it has often been erroneously stated that CTR’s main inspiration came from Adventism, whereas it has now been established on this blog that the Age to Come movement was far more influential. In view of this, it is interesting (to this writer at least) to see how the distinction between Adventist and Age to Come both evolved, and yet at times was blurred, in the latter 19th century – long after CTR had gone his own way.

Even researchers who acknowledge Age to Come believers have lumped them together as Adventists. A typical example is the thesis by the late David Arthur of Aurora University, ‘Called Out of Babylon,’ which discussed people like Marsh and Storrs under the chapter title ‘Age to Come Adventists.’ Storrs would not have approved.

As the Advent Christian Church became a denomination with a specific statement of belief, so Age to Come adherents found associating with them more problematic. Ultimately, people who had fellowshipped together – albeit uneasily – increasingly divided into separate parties.

A letter in The Restitution for July 28, 1880, called Adventists “half brethren”. Reading through some Restitutions for the 1890s, they weren’t even being awarded that backhanded honor by then.

And yet...

On the ground, there remained some confusion in the public consciousness as to who was actually who.

However, first – to illustrate how feelings within the Age to Come community became increasingly anti-Adventist, a few choice quotations from the Restitution from the 1890s:

From the pen of W.H. Wilson in Restitution for July 8, 1896, page 1: “There is a marked distinction between Adventists, and true members of the Church of God, who believe and obey the gospel of the Kingdom. With regard to communing with Adventists, I would say, what fellowship can obedient gospel believers have with those who destroy the gospel? We must be firm in the faith, yet kind and gentle to all men.”

Being a little more specific, one Ira R. Hall wrote in Restitution for August 12, 1896, page 1: “I had rather go into a place where they have never heard anything, than to go into a Crisis’ Advent community.”

A Crisis Advent community would of course be their former associates, the Advent Christian Church.

Such negative feelings were mutual. Another complaint from The Restitution for May 20, 1896, page 2: “We have a church here. They style themselves Adventists, but do not fellowship (with) us, so we cannot worship with them. They reject the glorious doctrine of the age to come.”

And yet...

For the public not directly involved with the protagonists, Age to Come people were still often lumped together with Adventists. A report from evangelist A.H. Zilmer preaching in Indiana in The Restitution for March 2, 1898, page 3, makes the comment “there is much prejudice against the Adventists, AS WE ARE TERMED (capitals mine).”

It may be that just preaching about the return of Christ was sufficient to confuse the masses, but there was also the problem of nomenclature. Surprisingly (for this writer at least) some Age to Come congregations still chose to call themselves Advent Churches into the 1890s.

A letter from J.S. Hatch in The Restitution for April 15, 1896, page 2, bemoaned the plethora of names in current use amongst Restitution readers: “I find in my travels in one locality they call themselves the Advent Church and in some the Church of the Abrahamic Faith, and in another Church of the Blessed Hope, and still another Soul Sleepers, the name the enemies of God call us, and some take the name of the One Faith. Is that right, brethren? Come, let us have one uniform name in all localities.” Hatch then makes a vigorous argument for them all to stick with the title Church of God.

What was this? Age to Come congregations calling themselves the Advent Church? Yes. One such congregation might have been one based in Philadelphia that was regularly advertised in The Restitution in the latter 1880s as The Church of the Second Advent. (For example, see The Restitution for December 5, 1888, page 4.)

Another culprit (if that be the right word) was a familiar name to this blog, John T. Ongley, who had been active in CTR’s home area in the 1870s. Ongley received a special mention in The Restitution in 1897 (August 4, page 4) in a letter from the Leader and Secretary and Treasurer of a newly established group. The letter reads in part: “We had the pleasure of a visit from Elder J.T. Ongley of Crawford Co. Pa....Before leaving he organised us in a body of ten members under the following rule of faith: - We the undersigned...identify ourselves as the Church of God, called SECOND ADVENT, in Batavia NY, organised this date, July 2, 1897, by Elder J.T. Ongley (capitals mine).”

Funeral reports from this era sometimes have Age to Come preachers speaking in what is called The Advent Church, but whether this was their own fellowship or as guest speakers for the occasion in Advent Christian Churches is not made clear.

Ultimately, time took care of the confusion. The different titles for congregations thinned down – at least slightly – and “Advent Church” slipped off the Age to Come radar. By 1903 The Restitution for January 28, page 1, could use the term Advent Church and define it with the comment “whose views of Bible teaching, is voiced, in the main, by the World's Crisis and Our Hope” – clearly now referring to the Advent Christian Church alone. The term Advent would be left with those who had embraced it from the start. As the Evangelical Adventists faded away, Advent without a Seventh Day prefix would generally refer to the Advent Christian Church and its papers like The Crisis and Our Hope.

During this time, CTR’s movement continued to grow – drawing fire from his former Age to Come associates, with any connections long since overlooked and forgotten. And CTR’s background was obscured by a lack of biographical information in his own writings. So, being charitable, perhaps some of the past researchers who did not have The Restitution paper available for consultation can be forgiven for missing out on the nuances of the situation.

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