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Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology

by Claude Webster

Chapter Two


In this chapter we wish to focus attention on the Christology of Ellen G White. Without a doubt she has played a dominant role in Adventism due to the extent of her writings, to her claim to possess the prophetic gift of the Spirit and to her span of personal influence from 1844 to 1915.We will firstly place Ellen White in her historical context; secondly, we will note the contextual factors in relation to her writings; thirdly, we will give an analysis of her Christology; and, lastly, we will seek to give an evaluation and critique of this aspect of her theological contribution.

1. A Historical Sketch of Ellen G White1

Ellen Gould Harmon was born on November 26, 1827, near Gorham, Maine, in the United States of America. At the age of nine she suffered a severe accident when a classmate threw a stone, hitting her in the face. The results were such that her formal education was curtailed.

Ellen Harmon's parents and family belonged to the Methodist Church and when William Miller2 held lectures in Portland,3 they accepted  his second advent Because of this, Ellen, her parents, and others were disfellowshipped from the Portland Methodist Church. At the time of the Millerites' disappointment in the autumn of 1844 and again on October 22, 1844, she was deeply affected, and with others sought God earnestly for light and guidance in the succeeding days of perplexity.

In December 1844 Ellen Harmon experienced her first vision during a morning ladies' prayer meeting.4 In the ensuing years she claimed that God spoke to her in a unique way through dreams and visions. On August 30, 1846, Ellen Harmon was united in marriage to James White, an Adventist preacher, and thereafter became known as Ellen G White. About this time James and Ellen White became convinced of the seventh-day Sabbath and began its observance.

In July 1851 James White published Mrs. White's first pamphlet of 64 pages, entitled A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White. This was followed in 1854 by a 48-page supplement. These now form a part of the currently available Early Writings (pages 11-127).5

From 1852-55 they lived in Rochester, New York, busy printing church periodicals such as the Review and Herald and the Youth's Instructor. In November 1855 the Whites moved to new headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan.6 This became the centre for Seventh-day Adventism. In 1858 Ellen White was shown aspects of the conflict between good and evil which formed the basis of her Conflict of the Ages series. Shortly after the organization of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, in May 1863, Ellen White claimed to have received a vision regarding health reform which set the movement on a health and temperance course. The winter of 1872-1873 found the Whites in northern California on the first of several extended western visits made during the next few years. In 1874 James White began the publication of a weekly journal, The Signs of the Times, to which Mrs. White contributed articles. Some 2,000 articles from her pen appeared in the Signs by the time of her death.

On January 4, 1875, Ellen White took a prominent part in the dedication of Battle Creek College, the first of many Seventh-day Adventist educational institutions. During the next few years she was writing continually, attending General Conference sessions, appearing before temperance groups and speaking at camp meetings and in local churches. On August 6, 1881, James White died at the age of 60, leaving his wife a widow, aged 53 years. In 1884 she was invited to spend time in Europe, which was done from August 1885 to August 1887. On her return to the U S A she settled at Healdsburg, California, and attended the famous Minneapolis General Conference in 1888. For the next few years she was engaged with others in expounding the subject of righteousness by faith in the churches. In 1891 Ellen White was invited to labor in Australia and was accompanied by her son, W C White. The years of labor in Australia from 1891 to 1900 proved of great blessing in laying a solid foundation for Adventism in that part of the world. These were also very productive years in the writing field for Ellen White.

Returning to the United States in 1900, Ellen White purchased Elmshaven, a country home some 70 miles north of San Francisco. This became her base and from it radiated an influence affecting Seventh-day Adventism. She attended a number of General Conference sessions, encouraged the opening of the Loma Linda Medical School, lent support to evangelism amongst the colored race in the southern states and continued to write extensively. On July 16, 1915, Ellen G White died at the age of 87 years.

Ellen White's total literary production was unusually large. She covered a wide range of subjects and amongst her best-known books are The Desire of Ages, Steps to Christ, The Great Controversy, The Ministry of Healing, Education and the Testimonies for the Church. 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 periodical articles in the journals of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; 200 or more out-of-print tracts and pamphlets; 6,000 typewritten manuscript documents consisting of letters and general manuscripts and 2,000 handwritten letters, documents, diaries and journals.7

Ellen White, while recognizing that her work embodied that of a prophet, never assumed the title of prophet or prophetess, maintaining rather that she was the Lord's messenger, bearing His message to the people. She was not ordained by the laying on of hands, neither did she hold office in a local church or conference, including the General Conference. The Seventh-day Adventist Church repeatedly, in official actions in General Conference session and unofficially at all times, has recognized Mrs. White as having been called in a special manner as the messenger of the Lord.8


1 For further information on the life, work and teachings of Ellen G. White, consult the following works: D. M. Canwright, Life of Mrs. E G White, Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Company, 1919; Lewis Harrison Christian, The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1947; A Critique of the Book Prophetess of Health, prepared by the staff of the Ellen G. White Estate, Washington, D.C., 1976; Arthur Grosvenor Daniells, The Abiding Gift of Prophecy, Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1936; D. A. Delafield, Ellen G. White in Europe, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1975; T Houses Jamison, A Prophet Among You, Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1955; J N Loughborough, The Great Second Advent Movement, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1905, 1909; Francis D Nichol, Ellen G White and Her Critics, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1951; Ronald L Numbers, Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G White, New York: Harper and Row, 1976; Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Commentary Reference Series, Vol. 10, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1966, pp.1406-1418; Horace J Shaw, "A Rhetorical Analysis of the Speaking of Mrs. Ellen G. White," Ph.D. dissertation, Michigan State University, 1959; Arthur W. Spalding, Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1961, 4 volumes; Arthur L White, Ellen G White: The Early Elmshaven Years, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1981, (Volume 5 of a 6-volume series); Arthur L. White, Ellen G White: Messenger to the Remnant, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1969; Arthur L. White, The Ellen G. White Writings, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1973; James White, Life Sketches, Ancestry, Early Life, Christian Experience and Extensive Labors, of Elder James White, and His Wife, Mrs. Ellen G White, Battle Creek, Michigan: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1880; Francis McLellan Wilcox, The Testimony of Jesus, Takoma Park, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1934; Guy H. Winslow, "Ellen Gould White and Seventh-day Adventism," Ph.D. dissertation, Clark University, 1933. [back]

2 William Miller, a Baptist lay-preacher, became convinced through personal study of the prophecies of Daniel that the second advent of Jesus Christ would occur around 1843. In 1831 he felt compelled to begin public lectures. Others joined him and between 1840 to 1844 an interdenominational movement known as the Millerite movement flourished particularly in the United States. This development gave rise to a group of denominations classed as Adventist bodies, the largest of which, after 1844, developed into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. For information on William Miller and the Millerite Movement, see Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, pp.787-796; cf. Seventh-day Adventist Bible Students' Source Book Commentary Reference Series, Volume 9, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1962, pp.657- 662; Francis D Nichol, The Midnight Cry, Takoma Park, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1944. [back]

3 In March, 1840, William Miller visited Portland, Maine, and gave a course of lectures on the second coming of Christ. As a young girl of 12, Ellen Harmon with some friends attended these meetings. This led Ellen into an experience of spiritual awakening. In June, 1842, William Miller gave a second course of lectures in Portland. Ellen and other members of her family again attended. On June 26, 1842, Ellen was baptized by immersion in Casco Bay on her own request by a Methodist minister and received into the membership of the Methodist Church in Portland. However, in September 1843, because of their views on the second advent, she and her parents and other members of the family were disfellowshipped from the Pine Street Methodist Church. See Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, Volume I, Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1948, pp. 9-44 (first appearing in pamphlet form as Testimony for the Church, No. 1, published in 1855, at Battle Creek, Michigan); Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, p.1406. [back]

4 An account of this first vision is given in Ellen White, Early Writings, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1882, 1945, pp.13-19. Cf. Ellen White, Life Sketches, Mountain View, California: Pacific Press, 1915, pp.64-68; Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1, pp.58-61. [back]

5 In Appendix A the reader will find a chart showing the development of the Ellen G. White books from 1844-1915. [back]

6 James and Ellen White had the following children: Their first child, Henry Nichols, was born on August 26, 1847. In July 1849, a second son, James Edson, was born at Rocky Hill, Connecticut. On August 29, 1854, a third son, William Clarence, was born while the parents were living at Rochester, New York. The fourth son, John Herbert, was born September 20, 1860, at Battle Creek, Michigan. John died after a few months from illness. Henry, their first son, died from pneumonia in 1863 at the age of 16. James Edson went into private business and in 1893 was inspired to begin a Mississippi River boat mission. This he did in a private capacity for many years and Spalding speaks of him as the "challenger to Christian adventure and the despair of conventional workers" (A. W. Spalding, Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists, Vol. 2, p.347). William Clarence became a strong worker in the church, being ordained as a minister, occupying many different posts and even serving as acting president of the General Conference for a few months in 1888. He is mainly remembered for his invaluable help to his mother and for taking charge of the Ellen G. White Estate, chiefly a literary legacy. After Ellen White's death in 1915, William White continued as administrator of the White Estate literary works for another 22 years until his death (see Ibid., pp.34,35). [back]

7 Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, p.1413 .[back]

8 The reader is referred to Ellen G White Estate, The Spirit of Prophecy Treasure Chest, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1960, pp.124- 126. Here a sampling of General Conference actions regarding the work and writings of Ellen White are recorded. Resolutions as recorded in the Review and Herald are given and those selected cover the years 1857, 1869, 1870, 1873, 1882, 1954, 1958. Note a statement from the 1958 resolution: "As delegates to the world session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, we reaffirm our belief and full confidence in this prophetic gift, as manifested through Ellen G White" (Treasure Chest, p.126). [back]

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