Does Ellen White Measure Up?
"The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not intellect, but obedience. If a man wants scientific knowledge, intellectual curiosity is his guide; but if he wants insight into what Jesus Christ teaches, he can only get it by obedience. . . . Intellectual darkness comes through ignorance; spiritual darkness comes because of something I do not intend to obey. No man ever receives a word from God without instantly being put to the test over it. . . . Watch the things you shrug your shoulders over, and you will know why you do not go on spiritually.1
Does Ellen White measure up as a messenger bearing God’s message in modern times? Does her seventy-year ministry warrant recognizing her as a divinely called messenger? How did her contemporaries come to the conclusion that she was a prophet? Their experience becomes highly persuasive as we evaluate her credentials today. Why men and women since her death have come to this same conclusion is equally persuasive.
Applying Biblical Norms
The norms by which we measure Biblical prophets can easily be applied to Ellen White.
· Her teachings are in harmony with the Bible.2 From the beginning to the end of her ministry, her counsel rings clear: "The Lord desires you to study your Bibles. He has not given any additional light to take the place of His Word. This light [her own ministry] is to bring confused minds to His Word, which, if eaten and digested, is as the lifeblood of the soul."3Critics charge that Ellen White contradicts the Bible.4 It may be that a few statements regarding a person or a date seem inconsistent with a Biblical text. But such discrepancies are insignificant. They merely are examples of the human element in the revelation/inspiration process, even as we observe discrepancies in the writings of certain Biblical prophets.5
The main issue is how well did she cut through the confusion and impasses of two thousand years and present to the modern world a full-orbed picture of the everlasting gospel? A fair review of her writings indicates that she united the basic concern of traditional conservatives with the heartfelt convictions of traditional liberals. In doing so, her theological message transcended the age-old stalemates that have caused divisions between churches and those within churches. Her main theological message transcends the limitations of the messenger. Her message is the basis for her claim to be God’s messenger.6· The fruitage of Ellen White’s ministry becomes more compelling with the passing of time.7 The test of time is a crucial test of a person’s message. History books are full of leaders with great ideas in every field of knowledge; few of these people are even remembered today except for a possible footnote in a history book.
Scarcely one hundred believers in 1850, the Adventist movement has become worldwide, growing beyond ten million adherents. Non-Adventist observers, as well as Adventists, emphatically declare that Ellen White is a prime reason for this worldwide influence. Not just a preaching ministry, the Adventist Church sponsors the largest Protestant school system in the world. In addition, its medical program is internationally known, largely the product of Ellen White’s nurturing.
These worldwide programs, including ADRA,8 would never have reached their present achievements without the foresight and principles set forth by Ellen White. For example, Loma Linda University, with its internationally recognized School of Medicine, would not even exist had it not been for the vision and tenacity of Ellen White.
The distinctiveness of these programs lies not in the fact of their worldwide influence but in their unique objectives. Adventist schools and medical facilities are distinctive because of the carefully chiseled principles outlined by Ellen White, not because religious people imitate secular programs.
Further, Seventh-day Adventists today, because of principles set forth by God’s messenger, are known as a giving people,9 a longer-living, healthier people,10 and a mission-oriented people.11· Ellen White’s consistent focus on Jesus as the center of both her spiritual life and her theological principles emphasizes how convincingly she cooperated with the "Spirit" of prophecy.12 In hundreds of instances she emphasized the center of her own devotions and ministry: "The object of all ministry is to keep self out of sight, and to let Christ appear. The exaltation of Christ is the great truth that all who labor in word and doctrine are to reveal."13 Her sermons uplifted Jesus as humanity’s Source of peace and power.
Surprising as it may be for students of nineteenth-century religious movements, Ellen White left no monument to herself, no demand for adulation and the amenities that she surely deserved—characteristic of all Biblical prophets. Her life was driven by a sense of destiny wrapped up in her call to be God’s messenger. She focused on making God better understood as she relayed to others His messages. Presenting Biblical truths as they are "in Jesus" was a favorite task.One of the more practical tests of a prophet is found in the quality changes that the prophet’s messages make in the lives of adherents. In reviewing the chief findings of the 1980 research done by the Institute of Church Ministry at Andrews University, we note that Seventh-day Adventists "who regularly study the writings of Ellen White are also more likely to be stronger Christians in their personal spiritual life and in their witness to their communities than those church members who don’t."14
Ellen White Readers Read Bible More Than Others
Perhaps more significant than all the other characteristics of those who read the writings of Ellen White was the finding that "82 percent of the readers usually or always have daily personal Bible study, while only 47 percent of the nonreaders do." The difference of thirty-five percent was the largest relating to any question in the survey.
Adventists who read Ellen White place a higher value on Bible study than those who do not read her. Further, those who follow her counsel are the church’s front-line sharers of the Good News that they continually receive from studying the Bible and her writings.
In other words, those who read Ellen White are those who best understand the mission and message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Witness of Ellen White’s Contemporaries
Ellen White’s personal life was lived in full view of young and old. The acid test of people’s integrity is whether they practice what they preach.Young James White, an enthusiastic Millerite Adventist in his early twenties, was much impressed with Ellen Harmon, a Portland teenager. In speaking of his first meeting with her, he recalled: "She was then a Christian of the most devoted type. And although but sixteen, she was a laborer in the cause of Christ in public and from house to house. She was a decided Adventist, and yet her experience was so rich and her testimony so powerful that ministers and leading men of different churches sought her labors as an exhorter in their several congregations. But at that time she was very timid, and little thought that she was to be brought before the public to speak to thousands."15The consistency and integrity of Ellen White’s personal relationships were subject to close scrutiny by her own family, her colleagues, and non-Adventists.16 Her frugality and dedication of time and funds to missionary outreach are well known. Her generosity and commitment to duty are legendary. Her perseverance and courage, especially courage when standing alone, have prompted many to follow her example. Her humor and common sense relaxed many stressful situations.17
Her associates would never have been convinced that her visions and counsel were of divine origin if she had been accused of immoral living.18
Ellen White’s contemporaries on several continents came to the place in their institutional planning and various crises that they sought her counsel before making their decisions. Proven men and women, experienced in their several fields, learned to trust her judgment as she led her colleagues to principles that would help them solve their problems and enlarge their worldview.
This confidence was not a creedal belief imposed by church leaders. The leaders themselves were led to this confidence not by argument but by experience. At an 1857 Battle Creek conference of about two hundred and fifty Sabbath keepers, the "subject of the unity and gifts of the church . . . [was] presented which seemed to have a place in the hearts of the people. Many expressed themselves happy to see this subject taking its proper place in the church."
During this meeting, Ellen White read "a testimony for the church which was received as the voice of the Lord to His people." Someone proposed that the testimony be published and there was no opposition.19 Mrs. White earned the confidence of her contemporaries by the integrity of her personal relationships as well as through the relevance of her messages.
The Witness of Uriah Smith
This kind of response happened from the earliest days of her ministry. Undaunted men like Joseph Bates became convinced through personal experience.20 Strong-willed men who had their own Biblical viewpoints could have divided the early group of Sabbatarian Adventists before they even organized as a church. Uriah Smith, in a sermon delivered at the 1891 General Conference, recalled his own personal experience of forty years: "Our relation to it [ministry of Ellen White] is our relation to something which arose with this work, which has gone right forward with it, side by side, which has interwoven itself into and through it, and all about it, from the day this message began until this present hour."
Smith described the potential chaos of those early days when men and women "came with almost as many different views on some points as there were individuals . . . each one pressing his own individual ideas. Then the value of the Spirit of prophecy in connection with this work, again appeared. It pointed out the right course to pursue. And what was it? It was that the brethren should sink all their minor differences and their peculiarities of lesser importance, and unite in the one great movement of the third angel’s message. These examples are merely an index of what it has done all the way along—guarding against giving up the truths of the past, and pointing the way to light and truth in the future."21
The Witness of Mrs. S. M. I. Henry
A well-known female leader, Mrs. S. M. I. Henry, was wary of the Testimonies and Ellen White, even after she became a Seventh-day Adventist. Why? Because of the "manner in which her [Mrs. White’s] work was first brought to my notice."
But Mrs. Henry’s own experience in grasping the purpose of Ellen White’s ministry became self-authenticating. In her remarkable testimony called, "My Telescope," she said that she would "be willing to go back into my wheel chair if by doing so I could get another glimpse of the hitherto unseen, such as this has been to me. . . . This experience has given me confidence in this small body of people—new confidence in this organization. I do not believe that God would ever have given me to see the things that I have seen, and to feel what I have felt, and to see Him as I have seen Him in these circumstances, if there were not life and power in this organization to lift it up out of all shadows and doubts into the glory of His presence, and to carry it safely through."22
Men and women who worked and interacted with Ellen White, receiving her private and public testimonies and trusting her advice on institutional development, voted an action at each session of the General Conference similar to this 1882 resolution: "That we express our unabated confidence in the Testimonies which have been so graciously given to this people, which have guided our ways and corrected our errors, from the rise of the third angel’s message to the present time; and that we especially express our gratitude for Testimony No. 31, which we accept as a token of the care of God over us—an evidence that He has not forsaken us, notwithstanding our many backslidings."23A. G. Daniells, president of the General Conference (1901-1922), perhaps knew Ellen White better than anyone else outside of her immediate family. In the 1919 Bible Conference24 he outlined in an impromptu setting how he would teach the youth in the church and the general public about the veracity of Ellen White’s claim to be a messenger for God.
He said he would begin "with the beginning of this movement," showing that Mrs. White and the Seventh-day Adventist movement "came right together in the same year," that her contribution "was exercised steadily and powerfully in the development of this movement," and that she and the movement "were inseparably connected. "Daniells then looked at the various phases of Adventist thought, including the Adventist attitude toward the Bible, toward world evangelism, toward rendering service to non-Adventists in community welfare work, toward health and medical service, and toward educational counsel. He emphasized that these worldwide programs, taken together, were "convincing evidence of the origin of this gift, and the genuineness of it."
Fidelity to Bible
Probably the greatest evidence underlying everything else Daniells said was Ellen White’s fidelity to the Bible: "In all the other reformations that came up, the leaders were unable to rightly distinguish between all error and truth—the Sabbath day, baptism, the nature of man, etc.—and so they openly taught errors from this Book. But now, when we come to this movement, we find the wonderful power of discrimination on the part of the Spirit of prophecy, and I do not know of a single truth in this Book that is set aside by the Spirit of prophecy, nor a single Biblical or theological error that came down through the dark ages that has been fostered by the Spirit of prophecy and pressed upon the people that we have to discredit when we come to this Book."25
Ellen White’s writings become compelling evidence of her divine credentials. Long before a reader knows anything about the author, her periodical articles and books have driven home the conviction that God was speaking through those pages. Her Christ-centered writings become the vehicle for divine conviction. The experience of Francis D. Nichol, editor of the church paper for twenty-one years (1945-1966), was not uncommon. In the late 1890s, his young parents living "in a sparsely settled part of Australia," found a stray copy of the Review and Herald. Reading matter of any kind was scarce. One of the E. G. White articles "quickened their hearts" and they concluded: "The person who wrote this article seems to be inspired." While reading on, they wrote for more information about this singular writer. Soon they were members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a decision that opened up the future to their young son and to his own distinctive contribution to making others aware of this woman who "seems to be inspired."26
Ellen White’s theological framework, known as the Great Controversy Theme, provided a distinctive coherence and insight to the plan of salvation. It transcends the various impasses that have separated Christians for centuries.
The Message Is Greater Than the Messenger
We have emphasized throughout these pages that the message is greater than the messenger, the content more important than the container.27 Why? Because Ellen White’s highest contribution to the church and thus to the world is a reclarification of the Bible’s teaching on salvation. She has shown that all Biblical doctrines are interrelated, that to permit error on any doctrine is to invite confusion and incoherence to the entire theological system. For example, if one is confused on the nature of man, one is further confused on the nature of sin, the importance of health principles, and thoughts relating to the afterlife. Without a knowledge of when and where sin originated, men and women have no clue as to how sin will ever be irrevocably dealt with. Without an understanding of the cosmic issues in the plan of salvation, human beings too often focus on themselves, working from self-oriented motives.
The history of the Christian church is littered with the casualties of theological warfare. Good people are not immune from theological error. For instance, the perils of objectivism, with the emphasis on God’s sovereignty and man’s relative passivity in the salvation process, have been defiantly met by the hazards of subjectivism, with the emphasis on human freedom exercised in feeling or reason. Each Christian group, whether among the different branches of Catholicism or the various Protestant denominations, represents either the objectivistic or subjectivistic emphasis. Or they are hopelessly confused with a mixture of both elements in their desire to be "balanced." But Ellen White helped Seventh-day Adventist thinkers steer through the white-water theological rapids that have afflicted all other churches—not by introducing strange speculations and theological novelties but by introducing the big picture of God and His salvation plan that has been called the Great Controversy Theme.28 When people look for the strongest reason, the most satisfying evidence, for developing confidence in Ellen White as God’s messenger, many focus on her Great Controversy Theme as the bedrock on which all other evidence rests.
Erroneous Concepts Lead to Confusion
Visual examinations of a prophet in vision are compelling. Great philosophical systems undergirding educational or medical principles can be memorable and respected by both believers and others. An exemplary life of super energy in promoting an unselfish system of philanthropy and concern for the needy can be most convincing. But when critics point to human weaknesses and discrepancies in these various lines of evidence, confidence often turns to panic. If a believer recognizes a possible error in a prophet’s memory, or in some factual detail, the thought arises that perhaps everything else one believes is in jeopardy. A compounding of the problem occurs when the believer has unconsciously believed that a prophet does not commit errors—that is, his or her words should stand as written.29
Perplexed believers, driven by an erroneous concept of revelation/inspiration,30 then begin to reexamine those lines of evidence that they once thought comforting and secure. The arguments of the physical phenomena accompanying Ellen White’s visions now become suspect because someone suggests that Satan could impersonate any physical manifestation. The undeniable record of educational and medical achievements throughout the world are then compared to Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons, and the thought arises that perhaps this "fruit" of Ellen White’s ministry may not be especially distinctive.
Distinctive Theological System
In other words, if puzzled believers have not understood that one of the primary contributions of Ellen White lies in her distinctive theological system, they enter the slippery road that leads to a sense of betrayal and spiritual confusion. It is as if the well-ordered universe has suddenly lost its center with all its stars no longer in their traditional places in the night sky.
But with a calm and reasoned understanding of how the Great Controversy Theme transcends all the divisions and errors within Christianity, the believer is not disturbed by occasional factual errors and a prophet’s literary indebtedness. Whenever Adventists allow other theological paradigms, or organizing themes, to determine the direction of any doctrine, division within the church is inevitable. Whenever Adventists prefer other theological systems to the Biblical framework found in Ellen White’s writings, division within the church is predictable. Whenever Adventists downgrade Ellen White from being a theological authority to merely a nurturing mother, they reveal their own myopia, and mislead others. Not to acknowledge what Mrs. White’s contemporaries acknowledged through personal experience denies the facts of history. Further, such denials cut off the roots of coherency and distinctiveness in the Adventist message and its reason for existence. It leaves the Seventh-day Adventist Church without a chart or compass regarding its significance and purpose. When Ellen White is kept in proper focus as God’s messenger who has provided the world with the clearest understanding of the cosmic dimensions of the plan of salvation, the Adventist Church will be preserved from internal schism organizationally, and from confusion and disillusionment individually. Keeping Mrs. White in focus will help church members navigate troubled theological waters so that a coherent, consistent Biblical picture of salvation can be offered to the world—a simple, clear, coherent Biblical message that will usher in the final test of these last days. John the Revelator referred to this last-day message as the "everlasting gospel" 14:6).Understanding Ellen White’s greatest contribution to the Adventist Church, as well as to the world, will give believers their strongest, safest, reasons for continuing to trust her as God’s messenger.31
The Weight of Evidence
All divine revelation, by virtue of the process, comes in a fallible package. Because the message comes in an imperfect container, God Himself invites us to weigh the evidence: "Come now, and let us reason together" (Isa.1:18).When God invites us to reason with Him, He is not playing word-games: He truly appeals to our reasoning skills. Often Ellen White challenges the reader to recognize that sanctified reasoning powers are intended to make us "intelligent Christians." That means that Christians "are not requested to believe without evidence." In making this search for belief, "we must put away all skepticism, all exaltation of our own ideas. We must humble our hearts by repentance . . . praying for true enlightenment."32
God, true to His nature, does not coerce, compel, or force anyone to believe—He waits for men and women to respond to sufficient evidence. He will never "force faith."33 Ellen White summarized it well when she said that although "God has given ample evidence for faith, He will never remove all excuse for unbelief."34This respect for human responsibility flows out of God’s arrangement for making human beings "in His own image" (Gen. 1:27). Love, respect, confidence, and any other human emotion involving trust cannot be forced or else it ceases to be what we seek for most. A trust or love that is forced is an oxymoron. Because God wants happy, convinced people, He does not play hide-and-seek; He makes sure that we have sufficient evidence amidst the possibilities of human error.
One of the surest signs of evil occurs when people "seek to compel the conscience" or when there is "the disposition to hurt and destroy those who do not appreciate our work, or who act contrary to our ideas." No matter what the motivation may be, force of any kind is the work of the evil one, not of Christ.35However, in earlier chapters we have noted that presuppositions determine the way one weighs evidence. Presuppositions drive historians, scientists, and theologians to predetermined conclusions, often unconsciously. For this reason, paradigm shifts occur occasionally when researchers suddenly begin to see the same world through different lenses (Copernicus, Einstein, Pasteur, etc.). Those lenses are presuppositions that determine the way we look at evidence.36 Self-evident "truths" are usually human constructs or paradigms that determine how a person weighs evidence.
For example, if one looks at the Bible as an anthology of Jewish history, and to references of God’s interventions as myths by which believers interpret their religious experience, the message of the Bible as God’s self-communication with men and women will never be understood. If miracles are ruled out because one does not believe in supernaturalism, one will never understand the stories in the four Gospels. Such events as the resurrection of Jesus will have to be explained in some contrived manner. If God does not personally intervene in the affairs of humanity, then surely Ellen White’s claim to be His messenger cannot be taken seriously. And on it goes.
The epistemological principle set forth by Jesus runs through any research that requires moral response: "If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority" (John 7:17).37 Built within men and women is the quest for autonomy, for believing what one wants to believe. Thus "all who look for hooks to hang their doubts upon, will find them. And those who refuse to accept and obey God’s word until every objection has been removed, and there is no longer an opportunity for doubt, will never come to the light."38
Perfect Assurance Not Compatible With Faith
One of the most illuminating examples of presuppositions (bias, prejudice, etc.) that drive a person contrary to the light of truth is the reaction of the religious leaders in Jerusalem to Jesus. After the resurrection of Lazarus, an undeniable fact with many witnesses, these leaders were even more determined to kill Jesus (John 11:47-57; Matt. 26:59, 60). Though these leaders were intelligent, they also were prejudiced. Jesus did not fit their presuppositions. He was a threat to their academic pronouncements. They were driven not by calm reason and an enlightened conscience, but by what they wanted to believe.
Men and women in every age have had to face the same questions that the Jews in Christ’s day had to resolve. In the face of light, even in the presence of the God-man Jesus, the question of belief is more than a matter of reading undeniable scientific evidence, such as how much anything weighs or how fast an object is moving. For some questions, the answers can be beyond dispute and provide complete assurance. But when Jesus gave His best answers and provided the best demonstration of truth, people still rejected Him. Why? For the same reason that people have rejected His prophets. The answer lies in a person’s will to believe, in that secret, hidden mystery the Bible calls "faith." At its deepest point, faith is the response of love and appreciation, and neither can be intimidated or coerced—even in the face of "overwhelming" evidence. Think of Lucifer in heaven! Thus Ellen White could say that "perfect assurance . . . is not compatible with faith. Faith rests not on certainty, but upon evidence. Demonstration is not faith."39 That is, perfect assurance in spiritual matters does not happen as perfect assurance is reached in areas such as mathematics or laser measurements. Laboratory results are demonstrations, and no faith is required. But trusting God depends on factors other than observable, precise demonstrations. Probably it has never been better said than when Mrs. White commented on an exchange Jesus had with religious leaders after He stated that any person who wills to know, shall know the truth (John 7:17): "The perception and appreciation of truth, He said, depends less upon the mind than upon the heart. Truth must be received into the soul; it claims the homage of the will. If truth could be submitted to the reason alone, pride would be no hindrance in the way of its reception. But it is to be received through the work of grace in the heart; and its reception depends upon the renunciation of every sin that the Spirit of God reveals."40
Three Basic Presuppositions That Hinder Acceptance
As we saw in chapters 41 to 43, the critical charges and allegations made against Ellen White generally rest on certain presuppositions by which critics judge the validity of her ministry:
1. Those who believe in some form of verbal inspiration often base their criticism or rejection on the change of a word or a questionable date. 41
2. Those who are committed, consciously or unconsciously, to certain inadequate theological doctrines set forth by some Protestant reformers, reject key aspects of Ellen White’s teachings on the plan of salvation. Those who do not believe that Christ has two specific phases as High Priest after His ascension will forthrightly dismiss her contribution to the Adventist doctrine of the sanctuary and probably her teaching ministry in general.423. Those who are uncomfortable with reproof of sin.43 When a person falls into any one of these three categories, the usual response is the same as that given by those who do not accept the Bible as divine revelation—"It does not make sense to me." For those who are motivated by self-will and pride of opinion, to hear God’s call to trust the message when the messenger makes human mistakes does not make sense. For those who are so motivated, to hear that God calls for people to separate themselves from conventional theological understanding, to go against the tide of a vast array of conventional Bible students, does not make sense.
For those who are so motivated, to hear that God asks men and women to give up their pride of opinion, their security in always being "in command" of their lives, and their trust in status symbols by which they have established their "worth" and for which they are lauded, does not make sense. For proud, independent sinners, the Beatitudes (Matt. 5) do not make sense. Nor does the invitation to "deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mark 8:34) make sense. To exchange for a new Master one’s own desire to be the final judge as to what is best in life makes sense only after a person has capitulated to Christ. To see oneself for what he/she really is, is a fundamental, life-changing experience that leads a sinner to become a grateful, compliant son or daughter of God. Only after this profound surrender to God’s plans for one’s life will God’s plans make sense. In other words, it is contrary to an unbeliever’s common sense to give up what seems to be human security to become a disciple of Jesus. That is why God gives us "supercommon sense" through His Holy Spirit as He puts us into that place where we "see" life correctly. After the truth about ourselves and God’s plan for us sinks in, everything else that God is trying to say to us makes sense. Then the weight of evidence makes sense. Only then does the weight of evidence seem equivalent to common sense.44
Truth "as it is in Jesus"
One of the simple tests that every person must use is Ellen White’s focus: the truth must be presented "as it is in Jesus."45 Did she live up to her challenge to others? She used this phrase in three ways:
(1) If Christians are to "stand firm" in the crises of life, "they must receive the truth as it is in Jesus. . . . Let the sinner behold Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, and his soul will be open to receive the truth as it is in Jesus."46 Ellen White dispelled all theological fog when she talked about this central truth: "The salvation of the soul, through faith in Christ, is the ground and pillar of the truth. Those who exercise true faith in Christ make it manifest by holiness of character, by obedience to the law of God. They realize that the truth as it is in Jesus reaches heaven, and compasses eternity."47
(2) Christians who teach others must "believe and teach the truth as it is in Jesus. Holiness of heart will never lead to impure actions."48 Jesus set the example by reflecting His teachings in His life habits. Sound doctrine without the spirit of Jesus is not teaching truth "as it is in Jesus."
(3) Christians must present the gospel in all of its coherency and completeness. The problems that divide Christians in all churches are caused by each division seeing only parts of the gospel. Not seeing the completeness of the gospel leads to widespread resistance to obeying God’s law as a basic component in the plan of salvation. Ellen White emphasizes that those who are "unacquainted with the laws of God’s government . . . are unacquainted with the truth as it is in Jesus. . . . He that knows the truth as it is in the law, knows the truth as it is in Jesus; and if through faith in Christ he renders obedience to the commandments of God, his life is hid with Christ in God."49Adventists have been known as "the people of the Book." Probably this description was more apt during the church’s first one hundred years. Nevertheless, as the Institute of Church Ministry reported, Adventists today who habitually read Ellen White are also the Bible students of the church compared with those who do not read her regularly.50 There is something about Ellen White’s messages that promotes faithful Bible study.
From another viewpoint, hundreds of thousands witness to the fact that Ellen White has made the difference in making theology accessible to the average church member. How else can it be explained that a large percentage of Adventists through the years have been actively involved in daily Bible study and conversant about theological subjects normally reserved for professional theologians?
Prediction of the End Times Never Contradicted
Contrary to all modern "prophets" who give their "ten best predictions" every January, or the perennial Nostradamuses who state their predictions so vaguely that they can be reinterpreted and "made to fit" as time passes, Ellen White’s preview of closing events has never been contradicted by events.51 Today’s economic insecurity, political strife, social unrest, decline in moral values, New Age revival of spiritualism, and the worldwide interest in religious unity—all are an astonishing fulfillment of her predictions. For many years, some faulted Ellen White for overlooking Communism. They declared her eschatology outmoded. But now it is apparent that in following the Biblical outline, she was true to fact. The weight of evidence that leads millions to trust the Bible in spite of its apparent discrepancies, less than perfect writers, etc., is the same kind of evidence that has led millions to trust Ellen White. If one is driven by presuppositions that supernaturalism is unreasonable or that literary borrowing is inappropriate for a prophet, then the Bible is rejected as a Word from the Lord. These same presuppositions hinder some from accepting Ellen White as God’s messenger. Nevertheless, in spite of these objections, the Bible has survived—as has Mrs. White’s ministry. Those who have been blessed by the Bible and the writings of Ellen White recognize the voice of God speaking to them. Human discrepancies are nonessential concerns when the purpose of Spirit of prophecy writings in any age are understood and realized in the life of believers.52
Young People Still Respond
Although Ellen White died in 1915, young people still respond to her writings with remarkable enthusiasm. She is still the catalyst and innovator for elementary school students as well as thoughtful collegians. Not only do youth sense her spontaneity, freshness, and call for courage in mastering tough personal circumstances, they sense her dynamic principles relating to career possibilities and personal achievement that would not even be considered without her prompting.
Further, youth join their mentors in sensing that not everything in institutional programs has been done well enough yet, that flexibility is necessary to meet changing circumstances—and they are emboldened by the same Ellen White that prompted skeptical men and women to build sanitariums and educational centers. Even today young people discover that Mrs. White is more than a reasonable, common-sense, spiritual leader. They discover that in some special way she still builds dreams, and ignites passions for the oppressed, no matter what may be the economic or social circumstances. Adventist youth have discovered what her contemporaries discovered—no one can box up Ellen White. Just when people settle down with her, she surprises the conservatives with new responsibilities and new challenges. Liberals thrill with her call for action and flexibility and then are sobered by her appeal for commitment to the authority of revealed truths. Many feel that the real Ellen White has been covered with conventional conservatism or liberal ridicule until she has become an unknown quantity—that is, somebody who won’t go away but still somebody most people don’t really know. The youth who seek out the real Ellen White are changed by what they find. They are the risk-takers of the present generation and the backbone of Adventism’s future. The weight of evidence has opened the eyes of modern Adventist youth to a brighter, more exciting future; without Ellen White, where else would they find meaning to the future and an insight as to how to make sense out of the present? Where else could youth go for a proven record of trustworthiness and a living sense of connecting with a messenger of God?
"Only an Instrument"
Ellen White had a deep awareness of her mission. Yet she kept a perspective that John the Baptist understood even in his bleakest moments. John’s message to his contemporaries was often reflected in the experience of Ellen White: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).In December 1886, Mrs. White was in Torre Pellice, Italy, holding evangelistic meetings. Miles Grant, an influential Advent Christian minister, followed her from America, determined to "expose" her "pretensions." On Friday evening, December 4, Grant held his meetings one floor above where Mrs. White was conducting hers—not a very good advertisement to the general public regarding Adventists from America! Grant had done his best to gather up all the slander and animosity from those who had been reproved by Mrs. White. In addition, he had assembled a list of garbled statements that misrepresented Seventh-day Adventists. Knowing that in the time limits of only a few short hours at Torre Pellice she would not be able to "undeceive" the people, Mrs. White decided to ignore Grant; she determined to "keep right on seeking to speak the truth. . . . I long to have the people see the truth as it is in Jesus." In her diary for that day, she wrote: "I am to do my duty. I am only an instrument in the hands of God, to do my part of the work in His love and fear. This truth will triumph, but when, where, and how is for the Lord to decide. These thoughts bring peace and trust and confidence to my soul."53 Self-vindication and public argument with her opposers was not in her character. Some non-Adventists have conjectured that without Ellen White Seventh-day Adventists would not have survived as they are known today. Kenneth L. Woodward, Newsweek’s religion editor, observed: "If it [the Seventh-day Adventist denomination] loses its founding mother, the church may find that it has also lost its distinctive visionary soul."54
The Weight of Evidence
The weight of evidence points decisively to the trustworthiness of Ellen White’s twin witness—her life and ministry. The integrity of her character was recognized by contemporaries, whether Adventists or not. The intense focus of her ministry in revealing the charm, reality, and power of Jesus was recognized by those within and without her church. Any attempt to accept either her life without her ministry, or her ministry without her life, seems irrational. As Edward Heppenstall put it: "It is impossible to place a high value upon her life and character and a low value upon her writings."55The attempt by some to praise Ellen White for her devotional contributions but to deny her role as a theological messenger separates her life from her ministry. Her theological contribution is precisely the reason why Adventists have had an integrated world program of evangelism, education, and health ministries. It was her visionary insights into the everlasting gospel and God’s plan for a world movement that inspirited a few hundred people to become the vanguard of a world movement.
1. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Discovery House Publishers, 1963), pp. 151, 152.
2. See pp. 417-420.
3. Selected Messages, book 3, p. 29.
4. See chapter 43.
5. See p. 16.
6. See pp. 26, 518.
7. The "fruit" argument is only one of many lines of evidence that support the validity and legitimacy of Ellen White’s prophetic ministry. To rely on the "fruit" argument alone, one could also point to the worldwide activity of the Mormons or to the thousands who ascribe to Mary Baker Eddy their own fresh and salutary life experience. However, the "fruit" argument, joined with other evidences, is an argument that cannot be overlooked. For millions, this argument has been most persuasive.
8. ADRA, the acronym for Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (formerly SAWS; includes OFASA, and ASA). This humanitarian agency assists countries worldwide in development/emergency/disaster relief programs.
9. All contributions, 1995, worldwide, $1,332,781,946. (GC Yearbook, 1997, p. 4)
10. See pp. 330-336.
11. In 1995 the church was working in 207 countries, using 717 languages. It was operating 5,533 schools (from primary to university level); 56 publishing houses, printing in 229 languages; and operating nearly 600 health-care facilities, from small clinics and dispensaries to large city hospitals.
12. See p. 3.
13. Selected Messages, book 1, p. 156.
14. See Ministry, October, 1982, p. 10.
15. James White, Life Sketches (1880 ed.), p. 126.
16. At her death a well-known magazine reported: "She was absolutely honest in her belief in her revelations. Her life was worthy of them. She showed no spiritual pride, and she sought no filthy lucre. She lived the life and did the work of a worthy prophetess."—The Independent (New York), August 23, 1915, cited in Bio., vol. 6, p. 444..
17. See p. 94.
18. Graham, Co-founder, p. 29.
19. Review and Herald, Nov. 12, 1857.
20. See p. 145.
21. General Conference Daily Bulletin, Mar. 14, 1891, p. 151. In 1868, Uriah Smith published a small brochure entitled, The Visions of Mrs. E. G. White, A Manifestation of Spiritual Gifts According to the Scriptures. In reviewing the fruit of her ministry, he wrote: "They lead to the purest morality . . . . They lead us to Christ. . . . They lead us to the Bible. . . . They have brought comfort and consolation to many hearts." Then he noted the "blindest prejudice, the intensest hate, and most malignant bitterness" aimed at Ellen White. Smith grouped these adversaries into two groups: "The first class is composed of those who believe, or did believe at the time their opposition commenced, the views held by Seventh-day Adventists, but in whom, or in someone with whom they sympathized, wrongs were pointed out and reproved by the visions. . . . The other class consists of those who are the avowed and open opponents of all the distinguished views held by Seventh-day Adventists. . . . They hate that system of truth with which the visions stand connected, and they attack the visions as the most sure and effectual way of hindering the progress of that truth."—Pages 6-10.
22. "My Telescope," The Gospel of Health, Jan. 1898.
23. Review and Herald, Dec. 26, 1882, p. 787.
24. See p. 435. See also pp. 409, 481.
25. Spectrum (May 1979), Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 29, 30. In his later years, A. G. Daniells wrote: "In this present year of our Lord 1935, Mrs. White has been at rest twenty years, while I have been toiling on. I had had twenty-three years of direct observation of her lifework. Since her death I have now had twenty additional years for thoughtful reflection and study of that life and its fruits. Now, at an advanced age, with the constraint of expressing only sober, honest truth, I can say that it is my deep conviction that Mrs. White’s life far transcends the life of anyone I have ever known or with whom I have been associated. She was uniformly pleasant, cheerful, and courageous. She was never careless, flippant, or in any way cheap in conversation or manner of life. She was the personification of serious earnestness regarding the things of the kingdom. I never once heard her boast of the gracious gift God had bestowed upon her, or of the marvelous results of her endeavors. She did rejoice in the fruitage, but gave all the glory to Him who wrought through her. I realize that these are grave statements, but they come from the deepest conviction and soundest judgment that I am capable of rendering. They are uttered in the sobering atmosphere of my last illness, as I face the Judge of all the earth, before whose presence I realize that I soon shall stand."—The Abiding Gift of Prophecy, p. 368.
26. SDAE, vol. 11, p. 179; Dedication page, Francis D. Nichol, Critics. About 1950 Nichol visited an aged leader of the Advent Christian Church (with a membership of fewer than 30,000 people), another denomination with roots in the Millerite movement. This leader, after reviewing the worldwide expansion of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, added: "Your men were more farsighted than ours and laid better plans." Nichol’s reply: "No, our men were no wiser than yours, but we had a frail handmaiden of the Lord in our midst who declared that by visions from God she saw what we should do and how we should plan for the future."—Nichol, Critics, pp. 23, 24.
27. See pp. 26, 518.
28. See pp. 256-263, 344.
29. See Adventist Review, Mar. 22, 1990, for the experience of Pastor Ritchie Way who "felt betrayed and sick" after discovering that Ellen White, as all prophets, was not inerrant. In recovering his confidence in Ellen White, Pastor Way realized that he had been mistaken regarding how God works through prophets with human limitations. He now relies on two tests of a prophet that "Satan cannot duplicate": the "orchard" test—you can tell a tree by its fruit, and "the testimony of Jesus" test—does the claimant bear the "testimony" from Jesus and to Jesus?
30. See pp. 16, 120, 173, 375, 376, 421.
31. For an anthology of what prominent Seventh-day Adventists, past and present, have said about Ellen White’s contribution to their lives, read Herbert E. Douglass, What Ellen White Has Meant to Me (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1973).32. Review and Herald, Mar. 8, 1887.
33. "None are compelled to believe. God gives sufficient evidence that all may decide upon the weight of evidence, but He never has nor never will remove all chance [opportunity] for doubt, never will force faith."—Letter 12, 1868, cited in Bio., vol. 2, p. 276. See also Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 675, 676. For a discussion of how authority is established when one speaks of "inspiration" and "revelation," see Giem, Scientific Theology, pp. 68-86.
34. The Great Controversy, p. 527. "God never asks us to believe, without giving sufficient evidence upon which to base our faith. His existence, His character, the truthfulness of His Word, are all established by testimony that appeals to our reason; and this testimony is abundant. Yet God has never removed the possibility of doubt. Our faith must rest upon evidence, not demonstration. Those who wish to doubt will have opportunity; while those who really desire to know the truth, will find plenty of evidence on which to rest their faith."—Steps to Christ, p. 105.
35. The Desire of Ages, p. 487. "God does not compel men to give up their unbelief. Before them are light and darkness, truth and error. It is for them to decide which they will accept. The human mind is endowed with power to discriminate between right and wrong. God designs that men shall not decide from impulse, but from weight of evidence, carefully comparing scripture with scripture."—Ibid., p. 458.
36. See pp. 374, 394, 549.
37. "Just as long as a door is open to receive the tempter’s suggestions, difficulties will multiply. The hearts of those who will not come to the light are open to unbelief. If my time and strength are consumed upon such matters, this serves Satan’s purposes."—Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 52, 53.38. The Great Controversy, p. 527.
39. Letter 19d, 1892, cited in The Ellen White 1888 Materials, pp. 1029, 1030.
40. The Desire of Ages, p. 455; see Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 301.
41. See p. 470.
42. See p. 502.
43. "Disguise it as they may, the real cause of doubt and skepticism, in most cases, is the love of sin."—Steps to Christ, p. 111.
44. "In intellectual matters you can think things out, but in spiritual matters you will think yourself into cotton wool. If there is something upon which God has put His pressure, obey in that matter, bring your imagination into captivity to the obedience of Christ with regard to it and everything will become as clear as daylight. . . . The tiniest thing we allow in our lives that is not under the control of the Holy Spirit is quite sufficient to account for spiritual muddle, and all the thinking we like to spend on it will never make it clear. Spiritual muddle is only made plain by obedience. Immediately we obey, we discern. This is humiliating, because when we are muddled we know the reason is in the temper of our mind. When the natural power of vision is devoted to the Holy Spirit, it becomes the power of perceiving God’s will and the whole life is kept in simplicity."—Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, p. 190.
45. In Ellen White’s published writings, she used the phrase, "the truth as it is in Jesus," hundreds of times.
46. General Conference Daily Bulletin, Jan. 28, 1893, p. 14.
47. Review and Herald, Sept. 17, 1895.
48. Ibid., Nov. 10, 1885. "We are to present the truth as it is in Jesus, made fragrant and attractive by the grace and the courtesy that characterized the life of Christ. . . . Why do those who claim to be advanced in knowledge, make themselves objectionable, and bring the truth into disrepute? It is because the truth has not been permitted to sanctify their unholy dispositions. Those who misrepresent the truth are harsh, unsympathetic, and denunciatory."—Signs of the Times, Aug. 21, 1893. "And what course shall the advocates of truth pursue? They have the unchangeable, eternal Word of God, and they should reveal the fact that they have the truth as it is in Jesus. Their words must not be rugged and sharp. In their presentation of truth they must manifest the love and meekness and gentleness of Christ."—Review and Herald, Oct. 14, 1902.
49. Ibid., June 17, 1890.
50. See footnote 14.
51. See pp. 160-162.
52. Douglass, What Ellen White Has Meant to Me, Introduction, "How Confidence in a Book Is Born," pp. 10-21.53. Bio., vol. 3, pp. 335, 336.
54. Newsweek, Jan. 19, 1981.
55. Edward Heppenstall, "The Inspired Writings of Ellen White," Adventist Review, May 7, 1987.
INDEX CONTINUE 46