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Chapter Twenty Five
Implications for the Future
It may be Adventists will one day thank those who opposed them on the internet and put out videos attacking our faith. Often the Christian church makes best progress when facing challenges that oppose them for it forces the church out of its complacency and makes it think more seriously about its faith.
This is what Ellen White seems to be saying when she states, "Whenever the people of God are growing in grace, they will be constantly obtaining a clearer understanding of His word. . . . This has been true in the history of the church in all ages, and thus it will continue to the end. But as real spiritual life declines, it has ever been the tendency to cease to advance in the knowledge of the truth. Men rest satisfied with the light already received from God's word, and discourage any further investigation of the Scriptures. They become conservative and seek to avoid discussion.
"The fact that there is no controversy or agitation among God's people, should not be regarded as conclusive evidence that they are holding fast to sound doctrine. There is reason to fear that they may not be clearly discriminating between truth and error. When no new questions are started by investigation of the Scriptures, when no difference of opinion arises which will set men to searching the Bible for themselves, to make sure that they have the truth, there will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition, and worship they know not what."415
Re-education of Church Members Needed
In the 1982 International Prophetic Guidance Workshop, Roger Coon presented a paper that called for the re-education of church
membership in understanding the function of Ellen White's writings.
The first part of the paper sets out the problems listed, in part, here
A. The Crisis in Hermeneutic
1. Most Seventh-day Adventists probably have a seriously impaired view of inspiration/revelation.
2. Danger when they discover factual data contrary to their view:
B. The Crisis in Credibility:
2. Danger to Church member who hears the charges:
C. Methodological Approaches That Tend To Build Credibility:
The workshop where this paper and others were presented was a high point in the church's attempt to come to grips with the reality of the problems regarding Ellen White and her function and authority. Unfortunately, what Coon and others were advocating was not really taken up. As in the 1919 conference so in the 1982 conference. In both cases there was a determination to share the material with the membership at large, but in both cases the material was assigned to the too hard basket with the feeling that the membership could not handle the new information. So the bulk of the Adventist membership has little
knowledge of the information that has come to hand over the past two decades and are left vulnerable when forced to face the evidence placed before them in a negative way.
This book has sought to show that not only are most Adventists unaware of the biblical expectations of a prophet, but those who share the information in a negative way are also, for the most part, lacking a true biblical understanding of the subject. If they were more aware of the biblical data they would see that their attacks could also demolish David, Paul and Peter.
Ellen White meets the biblical expectations of a true prophet. That is, she calls for holy living and obedience to God's Word. She upholds the good news about Jesus Christ and gives people a clearer understanding of what it means to accept and follow Him.
But she is also still, to some degree, a product of her culture. The general direction she led the church during its formative years was the right direction, but she was not infallible. She could make statements that were in harmony with the culture of her times, but were later shown to be incorrect. This should not cause concern if her role is seen as one in harmony with the statement made by Paul as to the function of prophets: "But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort" (1 Corinthians 14:3). Her gift can never have the authority of an apostle like Paul. The church must take seriously the counsel of Paul that a prophet must speak in harmony with his writings. (verses 36-38).
The church must also exercise the gift of discernment encouraged by Paul in verse 29, where they are told to "weigh carefully what the prophet says." Many will see this as providing a biblical basis for what is happening already. For many years now it has been recognised that the church cannot follow all of her counsel. This is demonstrated in the fact that her counsel on managing hospitals and colleges is almost financially impossible to follow in the 21st century. The church has for many decades followed Paul's advice—and not given her formal authority—that which comes with the office of the person. Instead she has been given intrinsic authority—that which comes because of the inner, compelling, logic of what is stated. The church needs to consider
what she has written. The statements she makes need to be taken seriously. But in the end, the gift of discernment must be used to see if the advice is practical given today's circumstances.
This is in harmony with her counsel. An excellent example of how she understood her writings should be used is found in her statements made at a school board meeting. Previously she had made a statement that "the only teachers of their children until they have reached eight or ten years of age" should be the parents.417 Some at the board argued in favour of maintaining that stance. Others felt the need of classes for smaller children. Ellen White seemed to go against her own counsel when she stated: "Mothers should be able to instruct their little ones wisely during the earlier years of childhood. If every mother were capable of doing this, and would take time to teach her children the lessons they should learn in early life, then all children could be kept in the home school until they are eight, or nine, or ten years old.
"But many who enter the marriage relation fail of realising all the sacred responsibilities. . . . God desires us to deal with these problems sensibly. . . . That is how it is, and my mind has been greatly stirred in regard to the idea, 'Why, Sister White has said so and so, and Sister White has said so and so; and therefore we are going right up to it.'
"God wants us all to have commonsense, and He wants us to reason from commonsense. Circumstances alter conditions. Circumstances change the relation of things. . . . if there is a family that has not the capabilities of educating, nor discipline and government over children, requiring obedience, the very best thing is to put them in some place where they will obey" (emphasis added).418 In saying this declares what Paul admonished in 1 Corinthians 14:29 and 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 where believers are admonished to "test" and "weigh" the counsel given by prophets.
It is important to recognize that God does continually impart spiritual gifts to His church. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 12 that all the gifts are necessary if we are to have a healthy functioning church body. Willie White pled that this not be forgotten when the church tended to lean too heavily on his mother's gifts. He said, "I have several times said to our brethren who were giving Bible studies on the spirit of prophecy, that I thought that subject could not be perfectly understood without a better understanding of all the other gifts in the church . . . for a long
time I have been praying the Lord to take the burden that for years has rested upon Mother, and place it upon the seventy elders. . . . I wish you to assure our brethren. . . . they will have my sympathy and my prayers in their efforts to build up and strengthen the apostolic gift, and all the other gifts in the church"419 (emphasis added).
Moving Toward a Truly Biblical Position
There is grave danger that Seventh-day Adventists may so exalt the gifts of one individual and, in so doing, ignore and stifle the many other gifts that God has and is giving His church. This does not lead to a healthy, growing body. Paul declares that all the gifts are needed, even those we do not seem to hold in high esteem.
One cannot help but wonder at the cost to the church over the years when so many were told to forget their convictions in the area of expertise. Experts in the areas of history, theology, science and education were told to put aside what they believed and taught because it was seen to be contrary to what Ellen White had written some 100 years before. A few years ago extracts from the diaries of Siegfried Horn were written up in Spectrum. This man was held in high esteem in the scholarly world, within and outside the church. Yet the diaries reveal his inner conflict with trying to be loyal to Ellen White (for whom he had much respect) and what he knew to be true from his area of expertise.420
Another highly respected biblical scholar within Adventism, Hans LaRondelle also tells of his struggle: "As my knowledge of Scripture increased, I gradually awakened to my responsibility and duty to test Ellen White's interpretations and applications of Scripture by the norm of 'Sola Scriptura.' Over time this caused some re-evaluations of my unlimited confidence in her as the final interpreter of Scripture. I was forced to redefine the God-appointed function of her gift of prophecy. As Adventists, we do not stress any limitation to her prophetic gift. The result is that all her writings are easily taken as infallible, verbal inspiration by God for the remnant church, on equal level of authority as the Bible itself. . . . as an infallible interpreter of Scripture. . . . Never once did she suggest that her mission was part of the canonical 'testimony of Jesus' mentioned six times in the book of Revelation
(1:2,9; 6:9; 12:17; 19:10; 20:4)!"421
The dilemma faced by LaRondelle should not have been necessary if a true biblical understanding of the gift had been understood. Adventism has allowed one gift to overwhelm and suppress the many other gifts God has given the body. The danger is that instead of strengthening the body, a misuse of this one gift may actually be detrimental to the health and growth of the body.
Alvin Kwiram sees a growing problem within Adventism with the numbers of intellectuals leaving the church: "My own experience indicated that our home-grown intellectuals are leaving the church in alarming numbers (especially those who are not employed by the church). Surprisingly, however they are not leaving because the church imposes too many restrictions; instead, it is because they feel that the church fails the test of relevancy. . . . "422
There is a grave risk that an unrealistic understanding of the function and purpose of Ellen White's gift of prophecy may lock the church in a 19th century time warp. Many of the issues she is concerned with in 19th century North American Adventism are not the same issues that face 21st century global Adventism.
A. G. Daniells wrestling with the problem of authority said "the question is to what extent men are free to pursue an original investigation of the Scripture, and to follow the honest conclusions at which they arrive. I personally stand for liberty. . . . it looks to me as though we have another question to settle, and that is whether we are a free people, in the matter of biblical research, and in the matter of following the light that comes to us from such research"423 (emphasis added).
Edward Heppenstall wrote, "Ellen White calls upon us to make sure that all the truths we hold are firmly established upon the Scriptures. Therefore we deplore the idea that anything else should have prior authority over the Bible. Let her writings be our guide but not our jailer, our shield but not our straightjacket. The Scriptures comprise God's final word to us424 (emphasis added).
It is ironic to think the Seventh-day Adventist Church should ever use her writings to determine who is orthodox in their teaching, when she wrote, "The Spirit was not given—nor can it ever be bestowed—to supersede the Bible; for the Scriptures explicitly state that the word of God is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be
tested" (GC vii). And, "The doctrine that God has committed to the church, the right to control the conscience, and to define and punish heresy, is one of the most deeply rooted of papal errors" (GC, 293).
Fred Veltman was asked by the church to study The Desire of Ages and come up with some conclusions as to the nature of and extent of Ellen White's use of other sources. After taking seven years to do his work, he wrote in his last paragraph of his report: "If there is one general conclusion generated from my countless hours spent in reading and studying her writings over the past seven years, it is this. Ellen White was above all a practical believing Christian. Her writings were written to inform and to build personal faith in and personal obedience to God's will.... We may wish with all our hearts that she could serve us today as scientist or psychologist, as technician or theologian, or as conference or college president, but that is not to be. My firm conviction is that she was not, nor can be any one of these for us. She was rather a woman of God, drawn by His Spirit to call us back to Himself, to His word and His ways, that living under the name of Christ we might glorify Him before those who know Him not."425
In saying what he has, Veltman shows that Ellen White does meet the biblical expectations of a true prophet of God.
Ingemar Linden pays tribute to her in the following ways, "Though so far practically unknown to the world at large, and even among ecclesiastical specialists, EGW nevertheless qualifies as one of America's great religious leaders. There are so many facets of excellence in this charismatic leader that we have only been able to touch on some of her more outstanding contributions, for example as counsellor, spiritual leader, devotional writer and public speaker. . . . For most often EGW then functioned as a great realist, who inspired her denomination and helped keep the organization firmly united. It is more-over obvious that America's charismatic leaders in the 19th century were dynamic leaders, who possessed the ability of renewing religion and try new measures, most often at the right time."426
My good friend Arthur Patrick has often illustrated the function of Ellen White in the following way: "When I was a little boy, I used to ask my mother questions. The answers she gave me as a little boy satisfied me. However now that I have grown up I find that many of the answers she gave me are not quite so satisfying." His illustration does not negate the vital part played by his mother, but there comes a time when the answers given by a mother are no longer sufficient.
It is also important to follow the Scripture and acknowledge that the gift of prophecy did not die in 1915. God still speaks to His church today through other prophetic voices. The gifts of the Spirit remain in the church until Jesus returns. All are necessary for the healthy development and growth of the body. It is important that we do not give Ellen White the authority of an apostle—she would never claim to have the authority of someone like Paul or Peter. Among her many gifts was that of a prophet. Her work was to call the infant Adventist church to obedience to the will of God as expressed in Scripture. Her work must also be judged by that same Word.
The Adventist Church must be careful not to be as Israel in the 1st century AD. They glorified prophetic voices of the past, but rejected prophetic voices in the present. This was true of Ellen White who, in her lifetime, often had her message discounted. Many did not want to listen to her voice. They resented her messages. We must be grateful to her for the work she has done and the courage she manifested. At the same time we must have realistic expectations of her function in harmony with Scriptural expectations.
The 1990 General Conference Session paid tribute to Ellen White's work, which also gives a clear understanding of her function as expressed in 1 Corinthians 14:3: "Her inspired writings have been invaluable to the church throughout the world in countless ways—exalting the Bible as the inspired Word of God; encouraging Bible study; establishing the faith of God's people in it's promises; promoting a spirit of devotion and sacrifice; aiding in the development and organisation of an international body of believers; expanding world outreach; providing guiding principles for the operation of publishing, medical and educational institutions; and guarding and unifying the church.
"Above all, her writings point to Christ's great sacrifice on the cross which leads people to become citizens of the kingdom of grace that His atonement has made possible and which prepares them to meet the Saviour in peace at His second advent."427
415 CWE, pp. 33-39. [back]
416 Continuing Education Of Church Members And Providing Bases Of Confidence, paper presented by Roger Coon, International Prophetic Guidance Workshop, Washington, DC: April 11-15, 1982. [back]
417 3T, 137. [back]
418 Counsel On Age Of School Entrance, MR #405, Report of an interview, January 14, 1904. pp. 1, 2, 3, 5. For a more complete understanding of how to use her writings today see George Knight's book Reading Ellen White—How to Understand and Apply Her Writings, (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1997). [back]
419 W. C. White to A. G. Daniells, December 31, 1913, WCW bk 46, p. 1912-13—Daniells, A. G. as quoted by Bert Haloviak in his Sligo Series talks, October 22 and 29, 1980, p. 38-39. [back]
420 Horn's diaries reveal that he was concerned that he might lose his job because he could not agree with Ellen White's statements that the earth was 6,000 years old. He wrote "I would not be surprised if they would require us either to teach the 6,000 year age of the world in the future, or get out. It can happen under the administration of ill-trained and narrow-minded men, as we have a few in high places. . . . Bishop Ussher's date for the age of the earth—4004 BC as Creation date-based on genealogical figures of the Hebrew Bible, is of no value whatsoever, and it is evident that Ellen White was influenced by Ussher's dates which in his lifetime were still printed in the margins of the English Bibles . . . if every one of her chronological statements would have to be accepted as divinely inspired gospel truth we would indeed be in deep trouble, because she sometimes makes gross chronological errors and contradicts herself. . . ."
Horn goes on to show sympathy for Larry Geraty who was castigated by W. Hackett in a letter he received. Horn quotes from the letter "I was a little surprised, . . . that as a teacher in our Seminary you would deal with this sensitive and controversial issue through Spectrum. I am sure you are aware of the fact that the constituency of this church wishes its Seminary to be theologically and Spirit-of-Prophecy teaching and that rightly or wrongly the presentation of chronology in the framework of your article puts one in the category of one who questions certain Spirit of Prophecy statements on the subject you have dealt with."
Horn goes on to discuss a meeting of the Seminary Faculty which met in 1970 to discuss Bill Petersen's study of the French Revolution as expressed in Great Controversy. He writes "The trouble is that our leaders have put Ellen White on such a high pedestal as authority on history, chronology, science, diet, health, social life, . . . . they feel that they would wreck the church if they would dare to admit that she was wrong in any of these disciplines. So they go on muddling until a catastrophe occurs, hoping that the good Lord will soon come to solve all their problems, which for them are unsolvable. A real revolution could come one of these days." Lawrence Geraty, "Siegfried H. Horn: A Voice from the Dust Heaps." Spectrum, Vol. 27, Issue 2, Spring 1999, pp. 10-12. [back]
421 Hans LaRondelle, My Journey Of Discoveries In apocalyptic Eschatology, ASRS, 1999, p. 99. [back]
422 Alvin Kwiram, "Can Intellectuals Be at Home In the Church?" Spectrum, Vol. 8, No. 1, p. 37. [back]
423 Letter from A. G. Daniells to W. C. White, August 4, 1910. [back]
424 Edward Heppenstall. "The Inspired Witness of Ellen White," Unpublished, undated, paper. [back]
425 Fred Veltman, Life of Christ Research Project , Vol. 3, pp. 957-958. [back]
426 The Last Trump, p. 292. [back]
427 "Resolution on Spirit of Prophecy", Record, February 9, 1991, p. 9. [back]