Messenger and Message Inseparable“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. . . . that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them” (Rev. 14:13).
As we have noted throughout this book, whenever God has spoken through His communication system, counterfeits soon followed. Satan is unceasing in his skill to follow through the door that truth opens. His messages are always appealing and believable because he knows how to appeal to the religiously inclined yet unconverted heart. He mixes truth with error, always in a way that appeals to human feeling and human authority rather than to a plain "Thus saith the Lord."
After the death of Ellen White, counterfeit messengers soon arose. In June 22, 1916, less than a year after Mrs. White died, Margaret Rowen in Los Angeles, California, claimed to have a vision. Her early "testimonies" had a superficial likeness to Mrs. White’s testimonies. In addition to these "messages," the physical manifestations accompanying her visions were remarkably similar to those of Ellen White. "Both her followers, including several medical doctors, and skeptics agreed that these visions were supernaturally inspired. The question in dispute was: With which supernatural power did they originate?"1
Mrs. Rowen’s attempt to usurp the role of "messenger" to the Adventist Church reached extraordinary lengths when she had a document "planted" in the Ellen White vault at Elmshaven, purporting to be a letter written by Mrs. White. This "letter" was intended to prove that she was Ellen White’s designated successor. Even after this scandalous episode was exposed, her followers remained strongly supportive.
Rowen’s specific but failed predictions culminated in her announcement that Jesus would return on February 6, 1925. This failed prediction caused many followers to wonder, but many accepted her explanation—that she had misunderstood how long it would take Jesus to travel from heaven to earth. Further elements in this strange story may be found in Light Bearers to the Remnant, including her attempt to murder her chief supporter and her jail time in San Quentin Penitentiary.2
We cite the Rowen story only to highlight the often captivating appeal of those who claim to have the prophetic gift. At any given time in the last few decades, at least a dozen people around the world have convinced others that they have been given the gift of prophecy. These include V. T. Houteff, Jeanine Sautron, and those supposedly receiving "thought messages."3
According to John the Revelator, Satan will be especially furious with last-day representatives of those "who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev.12:17). As we noted earlier (p. 3), "the testimony of Jesus" points to God’s communication system whereby the Spirit of Christ inspires selected men and women with divine revelations pertaining to the plan of salvation.
Attempts to Make "Testimony of Jesus" of "None Effect"
Because of the nature of the great controversy, Satan hates the truth about God and how He plans to rescue men and women from Planet Earth. Consequently, he will do all his brilliant mind can devise to make "the testimony of Jesus Christ" of no effect. That should be expected.
Ellen White knew from experience and from divine instruction how Satan’s tactics affected her ministry, and how he would operate in the future. In 1890 she wrote two letters:
"Satan is . . . constantly pressing in the spurious—to lead away from the truth. The very last deception of Satan will be to make of none effect the testimony of the Spirit of God. ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’ (Prov. 29:18). Satan will work ingeniously, in different ways and through different agencies, to unsettle the confidence of God’s remnant people in the true testimony."4"There will be a hatred kindled against the testimonies which is satanic. The workings of Satan will be to unsettle the faith of the churches in them, for this reason: Satan cannot have so clear a track to bring in his deceptions and bind up souls in his delusions if the warnings and reproofs and counsels of the Spirit of God are heeded."5
How Satan Unsettles Confidence
If Satan’s plan is to "ingeniously. . . unsettle . . . confidence," how does he do it?
Since the Garden of Eden, for reasons not always clear, a person’s confidence in the truth about God has always been the special target of others who are not comfortable with divine authority. That is the way the cosmic controversy began, and that is the way it will end. To break down confidence in the trustworthiness of God and His gifted prophets has always been Satan’s chief goal. How does he do his work? By subtle insinuations, out-of-context allegations, planted rumors, and exaggerated assertions borne out of an incident that often could be easily explained.6We should expect that the same methods used by Satan to "unsettle" confidence in Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, or even Christ Himself, would be used with practiced precision on the ministry of Ellen White, or any future messenger from God.
When any issue arises today (or will yet arise between now and the return of Jesus), we should immediately ask:
(1) If the allegation involves Ellen White as a person, what are all the facts? (
2) If the question concerns her theological teachings, what is the theological or philosophical presupposition that underlies the questioner’s (or "unsettler’s") point of view?7
That difficult-to-understand technical questions and isolated points should arise in a writing ministry of 70 years is not surprising. Similar questions confront students of the Bible. Many people through the years have lost confidence in the Bible because of real or apparent difficulties.8
Why does this happen? Those who lose confidence often place more emphasis on the container than on its content, on the messenger rather than on his or her message. How does one focus on the content rather than the container, on the message rather than the messenger? How does one focus on Ellen White’s message rather than on Ellen White herself?9 By listening to her clear, prevailing message that illuminates the Bible’s focus on the character of God as manifested in Jesus and about His simple plan to change rebels into restored sons and daughters. The message of genuine prophets is consistent, whereas their lives, although exemplary, may not be without flaws.
Even when a group accepts Ellen White as God’s messenger, differences of opinion will exist as to how to apply her principles to present circumstances. However, an honest, shared commitment to divine authority warms the heart of those who differ; differences are not magnified to the point of open contention. Those who focus on the content, not the container, seek to draw near to those who differ; they emphasize the principles upon which they agree, and minimize their differences.
One other way that the writings of Ellen White (or the Bible) can be made "of none effect" is to misuse counsel. Some would call it the "woodshed rod" whereby the phrase, "Sister White said . . ." kindles deep resentment rather than appreciation.10 Sadly, for many, both young and old, the "Testimonies" have suggested dread rather than blessing, a chill rather than warmth. Out of context and separated from intent, the writings of Ellen White can easily become a whip or club—just the opposite of her purpose when she wrote messages of warning and challenge to those who knew exactly the truth of what she was saying.
The best way to thwart Satan’s attempt to make of "none effect" the ministry of Ellen White is to "listen" to her prevailing message about God’s side in the great controversy, to read her published works11 as the final statement as to what she believed on any given subject, to place every word that seems discouraging in its original context—and then to sit back and marvel at the coherency of a remarkable messenger whose ministry has accomplished such profound worldwide results.
Testing Contemporary Claims
Is it possible that another genuine prophet will appear in the Seventh-day Adventist Church before Christ returns? Adventists have never said that Ellen White is the complete fulfillment of such prophecies as Joel 2:28-32. Mrs. White herself was asked this question and responded that she had not been given any information on that subject.12
No one knows what God may think best regarding special leadership before the Advent. And no one knows in what manner a future prophet may fulfill his or her role. What we do know is that a church has the obligation to test the claim, as Paul has taught: "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thess. 5:19-22).All the tests listed earlier must be applied to each claimant.13 The highest test of all is to compare later prophets with the body of inspired writings of previous prophets.
Jesus made it clear that the church should expect the appearance of counterfeit prophets, especially in the last days before His return: "Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many" (Matt. 24:11). No doubt very persuasive and believable claimants will arise. What makes them "believable"?
Counterfeiters don’t print three-dollar bills. The purpose of the counterfeit is to appear as close to the original or the valid as possible. Satan knows this tactic well. His method has always been to cover error with much truth. Eventually, the error also becomes part of the truth in their minds.
Ellen White wrote to one who was confused about Anna Phillips’s claim that she had received visions and messages: "Many things in these visions and dreams seem to be all straight, a repetition of that which has been in the field for many years; but soon they introduce a jot here, a tittle of error there, just a little seed which takes root and flourishes, and many are defiled therewith."14Yes, another genuine prophet is possible. And yes, if such a prophet should arise, his or her credentials will meet the tests that every true prophet in God’s communication system has met.
Another Church to Follow?
Occasionally the thought is expressed that "the Adventist ship is going through, no matter what!" Equally confident people say that "the church is Babylon" and a new organization must be formed to nurture "true believers." Both groups appeal to Ellen White for their authority. Here is another instance where careful study will avoid the unthinking optimism of some and the undue pessimism of others. Here again, without Ellen White modern church members would be adrift in their speculation.
Prophets, beginning with Moses, have always been identified with rebuke and reproof, as well as with encouragement and promise. People can read selectively and, depending on what they are looking for, they could consider Jeremiah or Isaiah either prophets of doom or of hope. Such may also be true with Ellen White.
She courageously pointed out to fewer than 3,000 fellow church members in 1856 that the Laodicean message (Rev. 3) applies to Seventh-day Adventists. That was very sobering to a people who saw themselves virtually alone in the world as those who "keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12).At the same time, she said very clearly that "God has invested His church with special authority and power which no one can be justified in disregarding and despising; for in so doing he despises the voice of God."15
Though she used strong language to describe the spiritual lethargy of the church, she was equally emphatic regarding its high destiny: "Has God no living church? He has a church, but it is the church militant, not the church triumphant. We are sorry that there are defective members, that there are tares amid the wheat. . . . Let all be careful not to make an outcry against the only people who are fulfilling the description given of the remnant people who keep the commandments of God, and have faith in Jesus. . . . God has a distinct people, a church on earth, second to none, but superior to all in their facilities to teach the truth, to vindicate the law of God."16
In the early 1900s, when certain forces within the church were attempting to deflect the church’s message and mission, she steadied those who "listened" with courage and optimism: "We cannot now step off the foundation that God has established. We cannot now enter into any new organization, for this would mean apostasy from the truth."17
With a further look into the future, she wrote in 1908: "I am instructed to say to Seventh-day Adventists the world over, God has called us as a people to be a peculiar treasure unto Himself. He has appointed that His church on earth shall stand perfectly united in the Spirit and counsel of the Lord of hosts to the end of time."18
Revelation 3 depicts no last-day church beyond Laodicea, thus giving hope that some day many of them will repent, overcome, and fulfill God’s plan for the last-day church (Rev. 3:18-21). No other subject for any church-related agenda, either for individuals or institutions, can be more urgent or important to implement.
The Final Shaking—a Prediction
One of Ellen White’s unfulfilled predictions relates to future events. Key words that describe the forces that will focus on Seventh-day Adventists are "sifting" and "shaking."
Human beings have been sifted by trials and temptations ever since the Garden of Eden, but Ellen White foresaw a time prior to the close of probation when special circumstances will test and sift every Adventist. The special sifting is often called the "shaking" time. Sometimes she uses the term "shaking" to refer to the process19 by which all church members will be tested; at other times she refers to the profound shaking that will prevail during the Seven Last Plagues.20Some of the causes of the final shaking within the Adventist Church will be:
· Persecution from outside the church.21
· Erroneous doctrines within the church.22
· Prevailing worldliness caused by not having experienced "the love of the truth," or being "sanctified through obedience to the truth."23
· Resistance to the "straight testimony called forth by the counsel of the True Witness to the Laodiceans."24
· Specific rejection of the sanctuary doctrine involving the significance of the pre-advent judgment and the relationship between the cleansed sanctuary and cleansed people.25
· Rejection of the ministry of Ellen White.26
The impact of the shaking on Seventh-day Adventists will be enormous:
· Defections among church leaders.27
· Apostasies of ministers who have preached false doctrine.28
· The church will seem about to fall.29
· An impressive number of church members will leave.30
· New converts will take the place of the defectors.31
· Preparation for the crisis involves developing habits of enthusiasm, courage, and loyalty.32
Message and Messenger Inseparable
Robert S. Folkenberg, eighteenth president of the General Conference, summed up the convictions of many, past and present, when he wrote: "Without [the] invaluable contributions from the Spirit of Prophecy, I suspect the Seventh-day Adventist Church wouldn’t even exist. From the earliest days of this movement, Ellen White’s pen and voice have counseled, guided, and led God’s people to a deeper level of spiritual experience, to higher standards of personal living, and to clearer concepts of truth."33
Dr. Jack Provonsha noted that without Ellen White there would be no Seventh-day Adventist Church today but he warned regarding the church’s future. In reviewing the Adventist movement from its beginning, he asserted: "They had their Bible. But they had in large measure that other ingredient for a religious movement’s vitality—the sense that they had been called by God and that He was in their movement! Had He not vouchsafed His presence with the gift of prophetic guidance? That made all the difference. Without such a sense at the beginning, there would not now even be a Seventh-day Adventist Church, at least one that made a great deal of difference to the world. The obvious corollary to this is that if that sense is ever lost, the church, even if it continues to exist institutionally, may no longer count where and in the way that it is supposed to count."
A few pages later, Dr. Provonsha wrote: "I have quoted liberally from Ellen White. I make no apology for this. She is my ‘spiritual mother.’ She has also been absolutely central to the life and thought of Adventism."34Telling the story of the birth of Israel as a nation is impossible without reviewing the work of Moses, its prophet. How would one explain the Exodus without Moses? Or Mount Sinai? Or why Israel had to wander in the wilderness for forty years?
So it is impossible to tell the story of the Seventh-day Adventist movement without interweaving Ellen White’s ministry in the affirmation of Biblical doctrine, in the building of a church organization strong enough to support a world church, and in the Moses-like messages of reproof and courage that helped to shape the character of the church. Without her today it is probable that the Adventist Church would be only a footnote in some history book of various religious groups in the nineteenth century.
Arthur G. Daniells, General Conference president from 1901-1922, lifted his pen in a plea to fellow church members not to follow the pattern of history: "It is possible to believe nominally in the gift of prophecy, to accept the messages of former prophets, and yet reject and oppose a contemporary messenger chosen of God to give instruction to His people. In Christ’s day the words of the ancient prophets were read every Sabbath in their synagogues, yet the religious leaders rejected John the Baptist and crucified the Prophet who came direct from heaven—the greatest who ever appeared on earth. . . . It was Christ’s rebuke of specific sins in their life that caused the Pharisees to reject His claim of being the Son of God. There is today, as there has always been in the past, a direct relation between the cherishing of some sin and a doubting of the messages of the Lord’s chosen servants."35
To keep the Adventist ship on course as it heads toward harbor, the message that set its course must remain as unclouded and as effective as an ocean liner’s compass and radar. And to keep the message relevant and meaningful, the Messenger who first framed the message must be listened to as the harbor pilot, especially as the ship enters the turbulence of the narrows, close to port."Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets" (Hosea 6:5, RSV).
"Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed" (2 Chron. 20:20, RSV).
1. Schwarz, Light Bearers, p. 450.
2. Ibid., pp. 450-452. See also Larry White, "Margaret W. Rowen, Prophetess of Reform and Doom," Adventist Heritage, Summer, 1979, pp. 28-40.
3. For more background on false prophetic claims since 1915, see Schwarz, Light Bearers, pp. 455, 456; J. R. Spangler, "The Gift of Prophecy and ‘Thought Voices,’" Ministry, June 1986; Roger W. Coon, Heralds of New Light, (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1987), pp. 24-26.
4. Selected Messages, book 2, p. 78.
5. Letter 40, 1890, in Selected Messages, book 1, p. 48.
6. See pp. 14, 34-36 for the limitations of prophets. See p. 457 for the maturing process all prophets experience. See p. 518 for a discussion of why believers focus on a prophet’s message, rather than on the messenger. But confidence is often "unsettled" when negative, damaging stories are circulated, deliberately or impulsively—stories that cannot be checked adequately for one reason or another. These stories focus on the normal inadequacies of a maturing individual without placing the isolated incidents within the larger context and general tenor of that person’s life. This kind of unfortunate "basis" for losing confidence in Ellen White is what we are concerned about when we discuss how Satan continues his attack on the ministry of the Spirit of prophecy.
7. A Wesleyan Methodist would obviously be contradicted by a Calvinist or Reformed theologian even though both declare that their motto is "The Bible and the Bible Only." (See p. 377.) Seventh-day Adventists expect disagreement from theologians who build their positions on different Biblical/philosophical principles.
8. See pp. 478-498 for a review of some charges and allegations that have been directed at Ellen White.
9. See pp. 256-263, 344 for a discussion of the Great Controversy Theme.
10. Paul B. Ricchiuti, Ellen (Mt. View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1977) p. 132.
11. See Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 696.
12. Bio., vol. 6, pp. 442, 443. See also p. 404.
13. See pp. 29-32.
14. Selected Messages, book 2, p. 87. For information on Anna Phillips, see Bio., vol. 4, pp. 125-132.
15. Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 417 (1875).
16. Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 45, 58.
17. Manuscript 129, 1905, cited in Selected Messages, book 2, p. 390.
18. Selected Messages, book 2, p. 397. Ellen White stated this even though she recognized the larger principle of conditionalism. Organizations, as well as individuals, have not always continued to fulfill their responsibilities, and God could "no longer work with them. Others are then chosen to bear important responsibilities."
19. "We are in the shaking time, the time when everything that can be shaken will be shaken. The Lord will not excuse those who know the truth if they do not in word and deed obey His commands."— Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 332 (1900).
20. "Just as soon as the people of God are sealed in their foreheads—it is not any seal or mark that can be seen, but a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved—just as soon as God’s people are sealed and prepared for the shaking, it will come."—Manuscript 173, 1902, cited in SDABC, vol. 4, p. 1161.
21. "The time is not far distant when the test will come to every soul. The mark of the beast will be urged upon us. Those who have step by step yielded to worldly demands and conformed to worldly customs will not find it a hard matter to yield to the powers that be, rather than subject themselves to derision, insult, threatened imprisonment, and death. . . . In this time the gold will be separated from the dross in the church."—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 81. See also The Great Controversy, p. 608.
22. "When the shaking comes, by the introduction of false theories, these surface readers, anchored nowhere, are like shifting sand. They slide into any position to suit the tenor of their feelings of bitterness."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 112.
23. "Not having received the love of the truth, they will be taken in the delusions of the enemy; they will give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils and will depart from the faith."—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 401. "As the storm approaches, a large class who have professed faith in the third angel’s message, but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position, and join the ranks of the opposition."—The Great Controversy, p. 608.
24. "I asked the meaning of the shaking I had seen, and was shown that it would be caused by the straight testimony called forth by the counsel of the True Witness to the Laodiceans. This will have its effect upon the heart of the receiver, and will lead him to exalt the standard and pour forth the straight truth. Some will not bear this straight testimony. They will rise up against it, and this will cause a shaking among God’s people."—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 181.
25. "The enemy will bring in false theories, such as the doctrine that there is no sanctuary. This is one of the points on which there will be a departing from the faith."—Evangelism, p. 224. See Ibid., pp. 221-225; The Great Controversy, pp. 423, 488; Review and Herald, Jan. 21, 1890; Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 575.
26. "One thing is certain: Those Seventh-day Adventists who take their stand under Satan’s banner will first give up their faith in the warnings and reproofs contained in the Testimonies of God’s Spirit."—Selected Messages, book 3, p. 84. See also Ibid., pp. 48, 83; Testimonies, vol., 4, p. 211.
27. "Many a star that we have admired for its brilliance will then go out in darkness."—Prophets and Kings, p. 188. "Many will show that they are not one with Christ, that they are not dead to the world, that they may live with Him; and frequent will be the apostasies of men who have occupied responsible positions."—Review and Herald, Sept. 11, 1888. See also MR, vol. 13, pp. 379, 381.
28. "Many will stand in our pulpits with the torch of false prophecy in their hands, kindled from the hellish torch of Satan. . . . Some will go out from among us who will bear the ark no longer. But these cannot make walls to obstruct the truth; for it will go onward and upward to the end."—Last Day Events, p. 179. See also Selected Messages, book 3, p. 385; MR, vol. 7, p. 192.
29. "The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out—the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place."—Selected Messages, book 2, p. 380.
30. "The shaking of God blows away multitudes like dry leaves."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 89. "As the storm approaches, a large class who have professed faith in the third angel’s message, but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position and join the ranks of the opposition."—The Great Controversy, p. 608. "Soon God’s people will be tested by fiery trials, and the great proportion of those who now appear to be genuine and true will prove to be base metal."—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 136.
31. "The broken ranks will be filled up by those represented by Christ as coming in at the eleventh hour. . . . Large numbers will be admitted who in these last days hear the truth for the first time."—Letter 103, 1903, cited in Last Day Events, p. 182. See also Early Writings, p. 271; Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 41.
32. "When the religion of Christ is most held in contempt, when His law is most despised, then should our zeal be the warmest and our courage and firmness the most unflinching. To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when champions are few—this will be our test. At this time we must gather warmth from the coldness of others, courage from their cowardice, and loyalty from their treason."—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 136.
33. We Still Believe (Pacific Press Publishing Association, Nampa, Idaho, 1994), p. 100.
34. Provonsha, Remnant in Crisis, pp. 11, 14.
35. Daniells, The Abiding Gift of Prophecy, p. 375.
INDEX CONTINUE APPENDIX A