by Jim Howard
It was 1883. At that time, the truth was spread primarily by tracts and literature or by preaching to crowds. Elder Haskell was delivering a sermon to a large audience in a tent in southern California. As he preached, a severe storm arose that was quite uncommon for that area. The crashing of the thunder and the downpour of rain led to considerations of canceling the meeting, since the preaching could barely be heard. Just then, however, Elder Haskell was moved by the Holy Spirit to step down to the middle of the tent and gather the people close around him.
Rather than using the customary mode of preaching, he called out texts of Scripture to be read by different people in the audience in response to specific questions. For example, he may have said, “Who gave the Scriptures?” To which someone would stand up and read from 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” To the question, “Why were the Scriptures given?” another would answer, “For doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Back and forth it went. The people were engaged and deeply moved by the way the Scriptures themselves answered every question.
W. C. White, son of Ellen White, reported to his mother the tremendous blessing gained by all who attended the meeting. The next day, Elder Haskell and other ministers were called together to meet with Mrs. White. There she told them about a vision God had shown her of a coming reformation in the church.
“In visions of the night representations passed before me of a great reformatory movement among God’s people… Hundreds and thousands were seen visiting families, and opening before them the word of God. Hearts were convicted by the power of the Holy Spirit, and a spirit of genuine conversion was manifest” (Christian Service, p. 42).
She told Elder Haskell that the simple question and answer format that he used in his stormy preaching service would be used during this reformation by multitudes of Seventh-day Adventists to carry the truth to the world.
A recommendation soon passed at a camp meeting in California that would solidify future plans for the use of Bible studies in the Adventist Church.
“Resolved, (2) That we recommend that as far as practicable, the various churches and little companies of Sabbath-keepers hold Bible readings similar to those conducted on the campground, for the purpose of better informing themselves in the Scriptures, and also of interesting their neighbors in the special truths of these last days” (Signs of the Times, Sept. 27, 1883).
And so it is that the method of studying and sharing truth in a question-and-answer format, today known as “Bible studies” but formerly called “Bible readings,” was born. Ellen White would later write,
“The plan of holding Bible readings was a heaven-born idea” (Gospel Workers, p. 191).
(to be continued…)