The Seventh-day Adventist Medical Missionary and Benevolent Association was established in 1893 by the General Conference. Several years later some medical leaders at Battle Creek changed the first part of the name, Seventh-day Adventist, to International. At first it seemed that the Association's name change was designed to reflect the worldwide scope of its work.1 However, the medical leaders gave another reason in the January 1898 issue of Medical Missionary: "The International Medical Missionary and Benevolent Association is a unique organization in the fact that it is, as far as we know at least, the only association which has undertaken to organize and carry forward medical and philanthropic work independent of any sectarian or denominational control, in home and foreign lands."2
A difference of opinion soon developed over the word denominational as applied to the work of the medical missionary association. On the one hand, the May 1899 Extra of the Medical Missionary Conference Bulletin stated that the association's agents were "here as Christians, and not as Seventh-day Adventists." Their purpose was not to present anything "that is peculiarly Seventh-day Adventist in doctrine." Their work was "simply the undenominational side of the work which Seventh-day Adventists have to do in the world."3
This shift away from the distinctive Seventh-day Adventist role was evident nearly four years earlier. In 1895 the announcement concerning the opening of AMMC stated: "This is not a sectarian school. Sectarian doctrines are not to be taught in this medical school. It is a school for the purpose of teaching medical science, theoretically and practically, and gospel missionary work. It is not to be either a Seventh-day Adventist or a Methodist or a Baptist, or any other sectarian school, but a Christian medical college--a missionary medical college...."4
On the other hand, a few weeks after the opening of the school Mrs. White urged that the "remnant people of God" were to "glorify His name by proclaiming the last message of warning...."5 Her counsel was based on a vision that had symbolically portrayed medical leaders "hiding the principles of our faith in order to obtain large patronage. Every jot done in this line, instead of extending the influence of the truth, will hinder its advance."6 She emphasized that God was "to be honored and recognized by the people calling themselves Seventh-day Adventists.... There must be no narrowing down of your work,...there must be no covering up of any phase of our message."7
Despite repeated counsels to the contrary, the key leaders of the church's medical work felt their ministry should be divorced from the church and declared "undenominational."
This attitude was an increasing source of concern to the leaders of other phases of the church's work. "It has been stated that the Battle Creek Sanitarium was not denominational," wrote Mrs. White. "But if ever an institute was established to be denominational, in every sense of the word, this sanitarium was."8
As an editorial in the Review and Herald stated, "...it will be fatal to the success of this movement...to take the position that we should keep our specific message in the background, and that we should lose our denominational identity on the broad platform of undenominational Christian effort."9 Tensions mounted.
The separation between the church and its medical leaders in Battle Creek became broader as leaders of the medical missionary work not only continued to call their work undenominational, but became more and more independent. Despite the counterinfluence exerted by the medical leadership at Battle Creek, during 1899 and 1900 the medical missionary work of the church expanded into Switzerland, Denmark, England, Germany, South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and the Pacific Islands. In addition to Good Health (a journal with a monthly circulation of 30,000), the church published nine other health journals, some of them reaching lands overseas. A steady demand continued for medical workers. In many parts of the world, the calls came faster than workers could be trained. Because of the high scores that the AMMC graduates earned on Illinois State Board examinations, AMMC secured admittance into the Association of American Medical Colleges.
In 1902 a series of events began which threatened to disrupt the church. In the early morning hours of February 18, the Battle Creek Sanitarium and Hospital burned to the ground. There was one fatality, a man who reentered the building trying to retrieve his wallet, which contained his life's savings. The cause of the fire was never determined. The medical leaders at Battle Creek never doubted that the Sanitarium would be rebuilt, but they disagreed with the leaders at church headquarters on the building's proposed size, location, cost, and financing. The church leaders recommended that, "In view of the attitude of the people of Battle Creek toward the sanitarium and its work,...the new building should be erected in [Battle Creek]...that only one building be built in place of the two which were burned; and that this building should be five stories in height, not to exceed 450 feet in length...."10
But the new plans drawn up by the medical leaders, who had grown increasingly independent of church control since 1899, showed a much larger building. Seen from the front, the main building was to be 550 feet wide--nearly the length of two football fields--and was to have three rear extensions totaling an additional 500 feet. Together with its smaller buildings, it would accommodate over 1,000 patients.
On May 1, 1902, Ellen White wrote: "Last night I was instructed to tell you that the great display you are making in Battle Creek is not after God's order. You are planning to build in Battle Creek a larger sanitarium than should be erected there.''11 Medical leaders disregarded not only her counsel as to the size of the Sanitarium, but also similar counsel against extravagance.
The grandeur of the new Sanitarium was described in a statement by the Honorable Perry F. Powers, auditor-general of the State of Michigan, published a few days before the dedication: "The general style of the building is that known by architects as the Italian renaissance.... The floors of the great structure make an area of five acres of marble mosaic, the construction of which was superintended by the Italian artist in that line of work who had charge of the beautiful mosaic work of the Congressional Library building at Washington, D.C.... When fully completed, it will stand as one of the beautiful buildings of Michigan, creditable to the city and to the state in which it is located."12
Nevertheless, Mrs. White's counsel had been to build a smaller, more simple building--one in which the beauty of its Christian atmosphere would not be outshone by the beauty of its physical appearance.
A Continued Witness
By 1906 disagreements between the medical leaders and other church leaders over the new Sanitarium and several other areas of controversy finally resulted in the separation of the Sanitarium from the church. The loss of the Sanitarium and some of its leaders seemed to be a severe blow to medical missionary work. Yet the fate of the "undenominational" institution on the one hand and the continued growth of the denominational healthcare service on the other were both a continued witness to their respective philosophies. The Battle Creek Sanitarium's three satellite institutions (two in Chicago and one in Miami) closed, one after another. The famous Sanitarium, financially overextended, went into receivership in 1933. In 1938 the Sanitarium Association was reorganized under the National Bankruptcy Act. The main building was sold to the United States government and became the Percy Jones General Hospital in 1942. The Sanitarium functions continued in a much smaller building nearby. Yet the church went on to develop hundreds of denominational healthcare institutions in 75 countries and its own medical schools in California, Mexico, and Argentina.
AMMC Closes--New School Emerges
In October of 1910 the American Medical Missionary College in Battle Creek merged with Illinois State University. During its 15 years it had graduated 193 physicians. Most of these dedicated Christian physicians, as well as the nurses who graduated from AMMC, conscientiously served God in the United States and foreign fields and took their places in the reorganized medical work of the denomination.
As AMMC closed, God unmistakably opened the way for medical education elsewhere. Five years earlier, on October 28, 1905, Mrs. White wrote an appeal to parents not to send their children to Battle Creek to become confused with the unbiblical teachings and misleading influences prevailing there at that time. She said: "the Lord will open, yes, He is opening ways whereby your children can be given an education in medical missionary lines without endangering their souls.''13 She then emphasized that the church would soon have facilities to meet "the necessary requirements" for preparing "fully equipped physicians."14
Just a few days before the report of the merger of AMMC with Illinois State University, the following report appeared in the church paper, Review and Herald: "September 29  was a red-letter day in the history of our medical missionary work. A new milestone was passed in the opening of the College of Medical Evangelists, our denominational medical college at Loma Linda, Cal[ifornia].''15 At the same time that the few students enrolled in the American Medical Missionary College were being transferred to Illinois State University, about 35 Seventh-day Adventist young people were enrolling in the new Loma Linda medical school.