Larry Downing on 1919 Bible Conference Participants
This Letter to the Editor responds to the video interview with Aage Rendalen, who inadvertently “outed” the minutes of the 1919 Bible Conference. Information related to that Conference is of special interest to me for the following reasons:
I knew and have spent considerable time with two of the participants of that conference, and neither one ever made even casual reference to their involvement in what many of us today consider an historic Adventist event.
The first individual is Benjamin L. House. Professor House was my wife’s grandfather. My wife and I spent several days with him at his home in Coshocton, OH. While there, he showed me several of the publications he had written and gave me, a young seminarian, his set of the Adventist Commentary. Each volume contained extensive underlining in red.
In his teaching years, Grandpa House, as reported in a 1928 Pacific Union College publication, was “Dean of Theology.” He also served as pastor of the college church. He later was appointed chair of the Theology department at Union College.
The other person is William Wirth, PhD. Dr. Wirth was Kathleen Kelpien-Dunn’s grandfather. Dr. Wirth was a religion teacher in the College of Medical Evangelists, White Memorial Hospital campus in Los Angeles. He also served as pastor of the White Memorial Church.
I met Dr. Wirth and his wife when they visited my wife’s parents, Dr. & Mrs. Leland House one Sabbath afternoon. We also now-and-again saw Dr. Wirth in other settings such as at weddings or at church. The Wirths were great conversationalists with broad intellectual interests. How I wish they would at some point have shared their recollections of what occurred during and after the 1919 Bible Conference.
In a recent conversation with the Dunns, they said that Dr. Wirth did not share his personal views on Ellen White with his congregations or acquaintances. He did, however, on numerous occasions let the family know that he did not hold a traditional Adventist view of EGW or her prophetic gifts. He was, they emphasized, careful not speak of EGW in negative terms in his sermons, although he did not use her in his sermons.
It is a puzzle why neither of the two Adventist religion professors shared with others their involvement in the Conference nor what they learned from the information presented regarding Ellen White, her use of sources and other matters related to her writings. Fear of the response should the information presented become known? Perceived lack of importance? We will never know the answers to these questions. What I do know is that by the time the 1919 documents were “discovered” and published, both men had died.