She Still Speaks“Whether or not my life is spared, my writings will constantly speak, and their work will go forward as long as time shall last. My writings are kept on file in the office, and even though I should not live, these words that have been given to me by the Lord will still have life and will speak to the people.”1
On February 9, 1912, in her 85th year, Ellen White affixed her signature to her last will and testament.2
In essence, the will3 created the Ellen White Estate, Inc., a self-perpetuating board of five members.4 Its four-point task included disposition of her real property (such as personal goods and land), preservation of her manuscript files, printing of future compilations drawn from her writings, and supervision of the translation and publication of her books into other languages.
In 1937-38, following the death of W. C. White, her literary properties were moved from her Elmshaven home at St. Helena, California, to vaults and offices at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Washington, D.C. In the decades that followed, the Ellen White Board in cooperation with the General Conference set up eleven research centers in various world divisions of the church, plus branch offices at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, and Loma Linda University, in California.5 These centers contain copies of Mrs. White’s letters and manuscripts, historical material relating to the church, and significant books and pamphlets not easily available elsewhere.
The Board has taken its responsibilities seriously. The original five-member Board worked together for nineteen years, “publishing ten posthumous compilations from Mrs. White’s manuscript files, prepared and published a Comprehensive Index to her published books, sponsored a thorough indexing of the manuscripts, and, in counsel with the General Conference officers, arranged for the perpetuation of the trusteeship and close collaboration with top church leadership.”6
Ellen White Board of Trustees
While the composition of the Board of Trustees (now numbering 15) has changed from time to time,7 its mandate has remained clear: to make the writings of Ellen White available throughout the world in the most appropriate manner possible. Since 1934, when the Board made its first change of membership, it has authorized numerous compilations, including devotional books and a CD-ROM collection (The Published Ellen White Writings on Compact Disc) that “includes every known book, article, and pamphlet written by Ellen White during her 70-year ministry, as well as many thousands of pages that have been put into print from manuscripts unpublished at the time of her death in 1915.” Also included on the disc is the six-volume Ellen White Biography, Ellen White in Europe, and the King James Version of the Bible. A summary of the scope of Ellen White’s ministry and the development of her major publications is found in Ellen White and Her Writings, a small pamphlet that accompanies the disc.8 All of Ellen White’s published works are also available on the Internet.
E. G. White Board Release Policies
The various Ellen White-SDA research centers have clearly stated procedures to help access desired materials. Equally important is their responsibility to protect the materials from damage or loss.
Because research center personnel is limited, researchers desiring access to unpublished documents are encouraged to first consult the approximately 75,000 pages of published materials by means of the four-volume Comprehensive Index and the CD-ROM.
To avoid misplacement, research center personnel, not the researcher, retrieve and return requested documents to the file. Whenever scanning of specific years is necessary, an entire drawer or file of documents may be requested without individual documents being removed.
Provision exists for the researcher who may find it impossible to visit a center. Although centers do not maintain a “research by mail” program, the Permanent Loan Policy makes possible the help needed for special occasions. The center will supply specific letters or manuscripts (identified by the published reference), when requested, by mail. If the document requested has not yet been published in its entirety, a photocopy may be loaned, accompanied by a copy of the Permanent Loan Policy. For many reasons, continual requests for unpublished documents should be carried out in person at a center.
Research in unpublished Ellen White letters and manuscripts is permitted with the understanding that the Ellen White Estate has been mandated by Ellen White’s will to maintain the publication rights for such documents. Consequently, the use of unpublished writings, as well as copyrighted materials in print, should conform to the provisions of the Copyright Code.
With the passage of time, and increased research needs, the release policy of the White Estate was changed from asking, “Why should it be published?” to “Why not publish it?” This eventually led to the decision to make all of Ellen White’s letters and manuscripts available on CD-ROM.
The Value of Compilations
In her will, Ellen White authorized “the printing of compilations from my manuscripts.”
Throughout her 70-year ministry, her daily agenda and prodigious writing schedule were phenomenal when compared to others, then and now (as we studied in chapter 11). She rarely had the leisure to devote consecutive weeks exclusively to writing a book from start to finish.9 For many years she spent entire summers attending numerous camp meetings, speaking once or twice daily in almost continuous succession.10 Many years she would be away from home for months. She traveled through Europe three times in two years, speaking almost every day, constantly holding interviews and writing personal testimonies.11
Throughout this ministry, she had little time to organize the various subjects scattered throughout these messages, most of which were either soon out of print, of limited circulation, or had never been published. Thus, it seems natural that at the end of her life she would want her messages to be made available in an organized manner. The most efficient procedure would be to classify these materials by subject and to make them available in systematic and balanced publications.
One of the chief benefits of a well-organized compilation (such as Evangelism or Counsels on Diet and Foods) is that readers are able to get a broad and balanced picture of what Ellen White said on a given subject. Everyone benefits when hitherto unpublished materials such as diaries, manuscripts, and sermons are accessed and properly integrated in such a compilation.
Nevertheless, questions always arise whenever anyone tries to “organize and systematize” the past. Why? Because no absolutely objective media reporter, historian, or theologian exists. To the degree that “experts” pursue their bias, no matter how intellectual their work may appear, to that extent their data may be suspect by someone. This potential weakness in any academic effort is greatly increased when compilers string together selected quotations to favor their personal views.
Danger of Compilations
Many privately issued compilations of Ellen White materials have been made through the years by individual compilers. Unfortunately, at times these compilations became verbal grenades that were tossed back and forth between compilers who disagreed as to what “Ellen White said.”
The Ellen White Board has taken seriously its mandate to publish compilations that are accurate and helpful. Before work on a compilation begins, the corpus of Ellen White’s writings on a given topic is gathered and examined. Every attempt is made to let the materials determine the emphasis Ellen White would give to various aspects of the topic. No authorized compilation is done by only one person working alone. The compiler presents his or her work to a small committee that reviews it for inherent integrity and faithfulness to Ellen White’s intent. Then the compiler incorporates the committee’s suggestions, and gives the manuscript to members of the Board for careful reading. Every effort is made to insure a complete and unbiased presentation of Mrs. White’s mature teaching on the subject under consideration.
In using compilations, readers must always follow the simple rules of interpretation as they would with any written document.12 But with compilations, added care should be taken not only to consider possible compiler bias but also other facts: (1) words evolve over the years; (2) time, place, and circumstances directly affect the meaning of words and applications of principles;13and (3) events are often reported differently by two or more people observing the same event.
In 1901 Ellen White had to confront the problem of compilations. A man was misusing the Bible by stringing together a series of texts to “prove” his claim that God had chosen Mrs. White to assume the place of Moses in modern spiritual Israel, and that he was to be her Joshua. She wrote: “‘Yes,’ I said, ‘you have selected and put these scriptures together, but like many who have arisen as you have, you are wresting the Scriptures, interpreting them to mean thus and so, when I know they do not apply as you have applied them.
“‘You, or any other deluded person, could arrange and have arranged certain scriptures of great force, and applied them according to your own ideas. Any man could misinterpret and misapply God’s Word, denouncing people and things, and then take the position that those who refused to receive his message had rejected the message of God, and decided their destiny for eternity’. . . .
“Letters come to me entreating an answer; I know that many men take the testimonies the Lord has given, and apply them as they suppose they should be applied, picking out a sentence here and there, taking it from its proper connection, and applying it according to their idea. Thus poor souls become bewildered, when could they read in order all that has been given, they would see the true application, and would not become confused. Much that purports to be a message from Sister White, serves the purpose of misrepresenting Sister White, making her testify in favor of things that are not in accordance with her mind or judgment. This makes her work very trying.”14
In 1906 Mrs. White recognized the continuing possibility that her writings could be wrongly used: “Those who are not walking in the light of the message, may gather up statements from my writings that happen to please them, and that agree with their human judgment, and, by separating these statements from their connection and placing them beside human reasonings, make it appear that my writings uphold that which they condemn.”15
Are compilations valuable? Without question. Are there dangers inherent in compilations? Yes. And the warning always applies: If a quotation seems to portray an isolated viewpoint not represented in Ellen White’s published works, be alerted to the need to get more of that quotation’s context.16
Theological principles, for example, are founded on more than incidental paragraphs in a private letter. The principle of consistency must be applied. The greater mass of evidence should interpret the isolated, or infrequent, statement, not vice versa. Ellen White’s advice is still indispensable: If there is a question on any subject, read her published books or let the weight of clear evidence, not the isolated statement, indicate her meaning and teaching. Readers must use ordinary common sense, enlightened by the Spirit, to discover the context and the principle involved, and be grateful for the full-orbed sweep that a good compilation provides.
Theological Principles Are Timeless
New truths do not make old truths obsolete. “Perceptions” of truth, however, change as fresh information is discovered or when presuppositions may be recognized as faulty. But two plus two will always equal four, and the fact that Christ was crucified and resurrected cannot be altered by “open and free discussion.”
Truth, indeed, has been like the unfolding of a flower or the growth of a tree. Its organizing principle is embedded in its seed. Each stage of development shows new structure. The branches of the tree and the petals of the bloom are a natural unfolding of the unifying purpose of the original seed. Part of the flower’s petals will not be daisy and part tulip. An oak tree trunk will not branch out with Ponderosa Pine limbs. Elements of truth are recognized by their coherence; in other words, truth in its development does not contradict itself.
Ellen White, as we have discovered, has been a guide for her fellow Adventists and those multiplied thousands who have found Christ through her writings. Her own 70-year experience reflected the reality of the constant unfolding of truth. Perhaps clearer than her contemporaries, she expressed this principle: “The truths of redemption are capable of constant development and expansion. . . . In every age there is a new development of truth, a message of God to the people of that generation. The old truths are all essential; new truth is not independent of the old, but an unfolding of it. It is only as the old truths are understood that we can comprehend the new.”17
Thus, looking back, Ellen White saw how the stakes of truth were driven deeply into the Advent movement experience.18 She looked ahead to the lengthening cords that were connected ever so securely to those stakes. She was a future-oriented leader, confident of the developing configuration of truth: “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”19
When considering the Adventist message and mission, the relevance of Ellen White for the present and future is as certain and as needed as the trunk is to the branch. For as long as the branch needs the trunk, so Adventists will continue to sense the security and strength found in her writings.20 In 1907 she wrote: “Whether or not my life is spared, my writings will constantly speak, and their work will go forward as long as time shall last. My writings are kept on file in the office, and even though I should not live, these words that have been given to me by the Lord will still have life and will speak to the people.”21
Relevance is a word that sums up the human need for personal meaning. But relevance often descends to mere desirability and convenience. Further, the appeal for relevance often supersedes the appeal for authority. If relevance is sought merely in a consensus of men and women who share common feelings, the lurking unease that longs for authority is unsatisfied.
Since Jesus is the Message-Giver and uses the best human messenger available for His purposes, the message is the important issue, regardless of when He sends the message, whether in the fifteenth century B.C., the first century A.D., or the nineteenth century A.D. “The testimony of Jesus” is always relevant.
During the spring and summer, throughout the Southland in the United States the sirens often blow and radio and TV stations go into special warning broadcasts, alerting people of an approaching tornado. Wise people know that they must take special precautions, even rushing into their underground shelters. They have learned to comply quickly. It does not matter if the warning is heard on a battery-powered radio that cost $25, a $2,000 digital TV, or from a wailing siren atop the fire station. The message is clear and only a fool would sit down and judge the fidelity of the message by evaluating the fidelity of the instrument by which it is delivered.22
A tornado warning is always relevant, even as is a prophet’s message, especially the message of one who was sent to help prepare a people for a much greater storm than a seasonal tornado.
God’s revelations through His prophets meet the desire for both relevance and authority. For those who accept the continuing messages of Ellen White through her writings, this blend of relevance and authority has become a living experience.
1-Selected Messages, book 1, p. 55.
2- At the time of her death her literary productions consisted of well over 100,000 pages: 24 books in current circulation; 2 book manuscripts ready for publication; 4,600 articles in the periodicals of the church; 200 or more out-of-print tracts and pamphlets; 6,000 typewritten manuscripts, aggregating approximately 40,000 pages; 2,000 handwritten letters, documents, and diaries, journals, et cetera.
3- Ellen White’s will is reproduced in Appendix N.
4- The original members of the Ellen White Estate Board were A. G. Daniells, General Conference president; F. M. Wilcox, Review and Herald editor; C. H. Jones, Pacific Press Publishing Association manager; W. C. White, one of her two living sons; and C. C. Crisler, one of her secretaries.
5- Andrews University Branch Office (early 1960s); Loma Linda Branch Office (1976); EGW-SDA Research Centers in the following areas: Newbold College, England (1974); Avondale College, Australia (1976); Montemorelos University, Mexico (1978); River Plate University, Argentina (1979); SDA Theological Seminary, Philippines (1981); Helderberg College, South Africa (1983); Spicer Memorial College, India (1985); Brazil College, Brazil (1987); Adventist Seminary of West Africa, Nigeria (1990); Korean Sahmyook University, Korea (1992); Zaokski Theological Seminary, Russia (1995).
6- Schwarz, Light Bearers, p. 421.
7- With the demands upon them increasing steadily with the growth of the church and numerous constituencies to be represented, in 1950 the trustees increased the board’s membership from five to seven and in 1958 amended the bylaws of the corporation to provide for a constituency and board of nine, seven to be life members and two to be elected for a term corresponding to that of General Conference elected personnel (originally four years, but now five). In 1970 the board was increased to 11; in 1980, to 13; and in 1985, to 15. The number of life members has remained at seven. At quinquennial meetings the board also elects the secretary (now called director) and associate secretaries (directors), as well as officers of the corporation, as provided for in the bylaws.
8- “A Guide for Users,” of The Published Ellen White Writings on Compact Disc.
9- See pp. 108-110.
10- For example, see Bio., vol. 3, pp. 35-71.
11- Ibid., pp. 287-384.
12- See chapters 33 and 34.
13- See pp. 394-397. In 1875, she declared: “That which can be said of men under certain circumstances, cannot be said of them under other circumstances.”—Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 470.
14- Selected Messages, book 1, p. 44.
15- Letter 208, 1906, cited in “The Integrity of the Sanctuary Truth,” a document available from the White Estate. See Review and Herald, Mar. 17, 1868.
16- “If you desire to know what the Lord has revealed through her, read her published works.”—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 696.
17- Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 127.
18- “Let the aged men who were pioneers in our work speak plainly, and let those who are dead speak also, by the reprinting of their articles in our periodicals.”—Manuscript 62, 1905, cited in “The Integrity of the Sanctuary Message.” “We are to repeat the words of the pioneers in our work, who knew what it cost to search for the truth as for hidden treasure, and who labored to lay the foundation of our work. . . . The word given me is, Let that which these men have written in the past be reproduced.”—Review and Herald, May 25, 1905.
19- Life Sketches, p. 196.
20- See Jack Provonsha, A Remnant in Crisis, pp. 49-60, 163-167.
21- Letter 371, 1907, cited in Selected Messages, book 1, p. 55.
22- Wood, “Toward an Understanding of the Prophetic Office,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, Spring 1991, p. 28.
INDEX CONTINUE 47