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Re-visioning the Role of Ellen White
for Seventh-day Adventists Beyond 2000

by Arthur Patrick, La Sierra University

Section II. The Continuing Relevance of Ellen White for Seventh-day Adventists

If to be relevant is to be connected with, to have bearing upon or to be pertinent to, then Ellen White has had a profound relevance for Seventh-day Adventists. She was the church's most notable thought-leader from 1844 until her death seven decades later.24

During the first half-century following her death, her perceived relevance for the church tended to increase.25 Not only did her writings accompany the church's geographical spread and numerical growth; they were reprinted in new editions, compilations and devotional volumes: they were made more accessible by a one-volume index (1926) and a three-volume index (1962-3).26 During this period, the mood within the church maintained and, at times, increased the acceptance of Ellen White's writings as authoritative in all the many subjects upon which they touched briefly or which they covered in detail. Consequently, it is necessary to look long and hard to compile a list of other authors who have as many pages in print27 eighty years after a given author's death.

However, it is evident that about 1970 the relationship between Ellen White and the church began a new phase, especially in Western societies such as North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The beginning of this phase may be identified with the publication of the June 1970 issue of Spectrum.28 Thereafter, the processes of change were imperceptible at times, but a vast difference is apparent when the 1960s are compared with the present decade. In the 1990s Ellen White's writings are cited less often in Sabbath School discussions, sermons, periodicals, and books; fewer ministers, teachers, and members seek them avidly or read them regularly. Currently there is a lessened desire among Adventists to participate in discussions about Ellen White's role, or to allow her the former level of authority in the corporate affairs of the church, or to accept her advice as normative over individual thought and practice. But, at the same time, some Adventists lament what they identify as a fulfillment of Ellen White's prediction that Satan's "very last deception" would be to nullify29 her work. Some church-sponsored publications still give no hint that their editors are aware of the vibrant discussions of the late twentieth century, and some independent Adventist publications constantly advocate ideas which seem absurd or dishonest to any person who has kept abreast of the relevant information.

The Noonday of Ellen White's Relevance

It is not difficult for Adventists to remember when Ellen White's writings were accepted more-or-less as a definitive encyclopedia of truth and duty for the faithful church member. 30 Her writings treated the full lexicon of issues in which Adventists had an interest: amusements, church organization, diet, dress, education, health, life insurance, Reformation history, sexuality, the use of time, vulcanology, and so on.31 The words "Sister White says" could guarantee the effective termination of most discussions.32 To cite examples is to note the pervasiveness and persistence of Ellen White's influence. For instance, the church's stance on theater-attendance33 was vintage nineteenth-century Methodism as mediated to it through Ellen White, and (rather than focusing on the need to enhance discriminatory judgment) it maintained that position until almost all its youth were attending theaters. The pattern which was adopted often forced young people to ignore or challenge Ellen White and the church as represented by parents, local church officers, pastors, and educators. A comparable struggle has occurred over a plethora of similar issues: card-playing, checkers, chess, competitive sport, cricket, dancing, tennis, and more. Thorny issues such as adornment (hats, make-up, jewelry) could be cited as other examples, as could a range of health issues. Thirty years ago, if committed Adventists wanted to know whether or not cheese was suitable for human consumption, they were likely to go to Ellen White for the answer, as some did when they needed to know whether or not to eat mushrooms, or whether red clover was an effective cure for cancer. Similar examples could be multiplied, but it is clear that a decreasing number of Adventists think in those terms during the 1990s.

Of even greater importance, Ellen White defined doctrine for Adventists in a less ambiguous way than the Scriptures were able to do. For instance, the intense debate in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States during the 1950s and 1960s over the nature of Christ during the incarnation focused on Ellen White statements, not Bible texts. The church's costly struggle to support the chronology developed by Ussher has been motivated by Ellen White statements rather than by biblical data. 34 A similar comment can be made about the interpretation of "Adventist" passages of Scripture. 35 Hiram Edson's insight initiated a principal Adventist interpretation of Hebrews on October 23, 1844; his view was given normative authority by Ellen White. Thus, for more than a century, Hebrews was interpreted mainly as a tract written for Adventist times. Only since 1980 has it been recognized by many Adventists as a New Testament tract which has particular relevance for the last days. 36

The word relevance defines a major concern of this presentation. The connection with, and the bearing or pertinence of Ellen White for the church is now different from how it was perceived three decades ago. This fact gives the church a challenge and an opportunity to better reassess the ministry of Ellen White constructively in view of changed knowledge and new circumstances. Stark alternatives are apparent. One of these is to deliver Ellen White into the control of Fundamentalist minds who might increasingly isolate her ministry (and themselves) from reality. Another is to allow her relevance to be actively denied or to quietly die amongst informed members. 37 If a viable alternative to these extremes is to be promoted successfully, it will require more painstaking care and transparent integrity than has generally been manifested since 1970.

A Nadir for Ellen White's Relevance

It is essential to understand why the relevance of Ellen White for Seventh-day Adventists has so diminished in a mere thirty years. While a range of contributing factors could be explored more fully than is possible here, the most important determinants are identified in Donald McAdams' review of trends which became apparent during the 1970s. McAdams pointed out that it took 55 years from Ellen White's death for Adventist scholars to begin "for the first time to examine critically her writings and to share their conclusions."38 McAdams observed that three points were clearly established during the first ten years of this process: "Ellen White took much material from other authors"; "Ellen White was a part of late nineteenth century American culture and was influenced by contemporary health reformers, authors and fellow Adventist church leaders"; "Ellen White was not inerrant." He suggested that the significance of these conclusions could hardly be overemphasized because "Ellen White is so central to the lives of Seventh-day Adventists that her words impinge on practically every area of Adventist teaching and practice both institutionally and individually." Thus he warned, "To consider her words as possibly derived from someone else and not necessarily the final authority introduces an element of chaos into the very heart of Adventism that makes all of us uneasy."39

Uneasiness was only one of the outcomes resulting from the discoveries of the 1970s. 40 As already noted, some Adventists adopted a reversionist stance-being deeply threatened and wishing to stop the process of inquiry they retreated into the safety afforded by a denial of evidence. Others moved into an alienationist or rejectionist position-being unready or unable to incorporate the new facts about Ellen White into a coherent system, they were alienated from her ministry altogether. Some of these folk abandoned the Seventh-day Adventist Church as well;41 and a number of those who left Adventism forfeited Christianity and their belief in God. The median position was a transformationist stance which required the reformulation of ideas to accord with the new data. Because that response is, in many ways, more difficult than either of the others, the need for it still beckons us through circumstances in the church. That need to is the motivation for this paper.42

"An Element of Chaos"

As noted above, McAdams used a strong expression to portray the effect of the new information relating to Ellen White when he suggested that to lose her as the final authority in the church is to "introduce an element of chaos into the heart of Adventism." Chaos can be beneficial if it leads to a better ordering of reality. But some earnest leaders and members still expect Ellen White to be used in the pre-1970 mode. Let us test the viability of this Fundamentalist expectation in the light of a series of possibilities suggested in the following scenes (or scenarios), constructed so as to be realistic even though they are not real (actual).

SCENE 1. A student, researching for a graduate thesis on religious factors in the French Revolution, elects to use The Great Controversy as a major source. The student gives a work-in- progress report to the graduate students and academic staff of the university's department of history, affirming Ellen White's skill in choosing and using historical materials. 43 Subsequently, the departmental chairperson receives a letter from the European History professor questioning whether the student should be allowed to proceed with graduate study. The ensuing debate is aired on a Sixty Minutes program. It becomes clear that one of the most important Adventist books is "not usable as an independent source of authority on matters relating to time, place, or details of an historical event." 44

SCENE 2. A local conference family ministries director is assisting a young couple who are experiencing sexual incompatibility. He loans them A Solemn Appeal Relative to Solitary Vice, and the Abuses and Excesses of the Marriage Relation ,45 encouraging them to follow the counsels written by Ellen White. The wife is a relative of the state president of the Association of Marriage and Family Counselors, with whom she shares the information. After reading A Solemn Appeal, the state president leads the association of marriage and family counselors to strongly oppose a conference application to open and maintain a family crisis center.

SCENE 3. A systematic theologian from one of the church's tertiary institutions presents a paper at a international conference of theologians on the truth of Ellen White's earliest writings about the closure of the door of mercy in 1844.46 The paper is passed on to the referees of the association's journal. One of the referees of the journal is a member of the team which is reviewing the college's accreditation and reporting on this matter to government funding agencies. The referee rejects the article and protests the continuance of accreditation.

SCENE 4. A conference of medical specialists hears a paper by an Adventist colleague on the need for contemporary medical practice to adopt as normative all the counsel given in the writings of Ellen White.47 The specialist is accredited to practice at a church-related hospital which is subsequently featured on a radio program entitled The Investigators.48 The patient clientele of the hospital drops dramatically.

SCENE 5. At an international conference of geologists, an Adventist scientist distributes a 63- page compilation entitled "Ellen G. White Statements Relating to Geology and Earth Sciences" 49 as supplementary reading for his lecture on the importance which these truths have for professionals. He subsequently lodges a request to present a paper at the next conference of the same society, and questions why his request is declined.

SCENE 6. An Adventist academy teacher discusses Ellen White's statements on wigs and wasp waists over lunch with her hairdressing and dressmaking students.50 Subsequently, she is disappointed when none of them accept her invitation to attend the screening of a film, "Ellen White: Prophetic Voice for the Last Days."

SCENE 7. A local conference church ministries director is approached by a young person who is deeply concerned about an impulse to masturbate. The counselor loans the young person a compilation of Ellen White's writings which highlight the extensive list of diseases caused by masturbation (in the case of both males and females) including the "inward decay of the head." 51 A few days later the youth expresses a deepened anxiety and confusion to the conference president. Ten days after this conversation, the young person suicides. The church ministries director and the president are called to give evidence at the coroner's inquest, an event which provokes national publicity.

SCENE 8. An English student presents an essay contending that the literary beauty of Ellen White's writings is an evidence of divine inspiration.52 The essay discusses a number of examples, "the greatest want of the world" and choice excerpts from The Desire of Ages. The professor who is marking the essay has on file articles53 about Ellen White's relationship with other authors, plus "How The Desire of Ages was Written," and "The Family Bolton Story."54 The essay is presented to academic referees who advise that it should not receive a passing grade. Several young people, during the ongoing debate, drop out of the local Adventist church.

SCENE 9. A group of geneticists is discussing the place of humans amongst mammals, especially hominids. An Adventist presents as needed truth Ellen White's statements about "the amalgamation of man and beast," urging his colleagues to read Uriah Smith's interpretation of her statements as published in The Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, and then put into book form and sold widely at Adventist camp meetings with James White's endorsement. 55 The Adventist subsequently is disappointed when the geneticists do not support his application for a teaching appointment in their branch of science.

SCENE 10. An Adventist presents a paper demonstrating the claim that Ellen White's life bears remarkable evidence of the supernatural. The examples cited include the Big Bible, visions as sources for the section of The Great Controversy dealing with John Huss, and the Furrow Story. The writings of Arthur Daniells, Ron Graybill, Donald McAdams and Milton Hook have been read by the scholar who rejects the paper for publication.

SCENE 11. An Adventist ministerial association secretary presents a paper to an evangelical history association on the biblical truth about perfection as portrayed in the pre-1888 writings of Ellen White.56 The president of the association subsequently advises that an article on Ellen White should not be included in the association's dictionary of nineteenth-century evangelical thinkers.

Clearly, neither Ellen White nor Adventism would emerge from these encounters as either winsome or credible. The unease which we feel about projecting our prophet into such dilemmas indicates our need to address the issue of her relevance with great care.

A New Morning for Ellen White's Relevance

A community of faith cannot prosper over time unless it values the truth To suppress or to deny facts is not constructive. In their heart-of-hearts many Adventists know that the traditional picture of Ellen White is at best a distortion of truth, or, at worst, a complicated fabrication of fact and fiction.57 Some of them see the administrators of the church as sometimes still giving ambiguous signals. White Estate personnel were brought to the South Pacific Division to share information in the early 1980s, but few key administrators attended their meetings, nor did they encourage those who sought to understand and interpret the data which was presented. 58 The same Division sent representatives to the first International Prophetic Guidance Workshop held in 1982,59 but then prevented the data presented at that important gathering being made available. A Spirit of Prophecy Resource Committee was established to disseminate information, but minimal new data were disseminated. Thus the information which became available in the era of discovery (1970-1982) was not shared effectively with the church at large.60 This allowed rumor to burgeon and confidence in the church and its leaders to plummet. Perhaps similar patterns were duplicated in other parts of the world. Thus, deep-seated but unacknowledged cognitive dissonance has troubled the church, with some members charging the administrators with being "soft" in their support of Ellen White, and others charging them with telling less than the truth about Ellen White. A church whose historic concern is to discover and share "the truth" cannot afford to be grudging in its admission of evidence, or to be seen as willingly ignorant or carelessly duplicitous. Therefore, discussions such as this presentation may stimulate give hope to those who want the church to make a more constructive attempt to reassess the significance of its heritage.

To highlight a few of the opportunities for Adventists to affirm an ongoing relevance for Ellen White with reference to issues which are important for the church and its mission in the 1990s, let us present eleven scenes (or scenarios) which in some ways parallel those given above, but which open up the possibility of quite different outcomes. While only a few topics can be touched upon here (history, sexuality, biblical interpretation, health, science), and even then only in a brief way, the principles advocated could be applied widely.

SCENE 1. A student presents a paper to the graduate students and academic staff of a university on the way in which Ellen White developed the "Great Controversy" theme in books published under her name between 1858 and 1917. The professor of European History subsequently writes a letter to the departmental chairperson recommending the student be advanced to candidacy in the department of history. The ensuing discussion leads to a renewed interest in Ellen White amongst members of the association of Adventist university students.

SCENE 2. An Adventist marriage counselor reviews the development of family theory amongst Seventh-day Adventists, giving specific attention to Ellen White's influence. The review is accepted as meeting one of the requirements for membership in the association of marriage and family counselors, and engenders support for the family crisis facility being planned by the local conference.

SCENE 3. A systematic theologian reads a paper at an international conference of an association for theological studies, detailing with the way in which the development of a Seventh-day Adventist theology of mission has been influenced by Ellen White. The paper is subsequently published in the association's journal and initiates a series of letters on the biblical basis for cross- cultural missionary endeavors.

SCENE 4. A conference of medical specialists receives and approves for publication in its proceedings a paper by an Adventist specialist on the symbiotic relationship between mind, body, and spirit as portrayed in the writings of Ellen White. Subsequently, a State Minister of Health shows an interest in the way in which holistic health-care shortens the length of hospital stays.

SCENE 5. An Adventist geologist presents a professional paper at an annual conference of Christian geologists on the search for meaning in nature, making reference to creationist ideas as expressed by Ellen White. The Adventist is subsequently accepted as a presenter for the next annual conference.

SCENE 6. An Adventist academy teacher discusses the way in which Ellen White's ideas have influenced the dietary habits of North Americans, Australians and New Zealanders. Several students accept her subsequent invitation to view the film, "Ellen White: Prophetic Voice for the Last Days."

SCENE 7. An Adventist counselor assists a ministerial student who is deeply disturbed about an impulse to masturbate, outlining relevant principles from Ellen White's writings and emphasizing the way in which peace-of-mind can come from following her advice to focus on Jesus and Scripture. The student's adjustment is enhanced by participation in a fellowship group and by reading The Desire of Ages as background for an essay entitled "To Know God is To Love Him." Not only does the student graduate, he proceeds to an effective youth-orientated ministry. 61

SCENE 8. A graduate student presents a paper (in a seminar series on nineteenth-century literary figures) on Ellen White's methodology as author of the major volumes which bore her name between 1851 and 1917. The paper is subsequently accepted for publication in a professional journal.

SCENE 9. After a conference paper entitled "Time, Charles Darwin and the Ascent of Man," an Adventist presents a paper on "Time, Ellen White and the Descent of Man." Both papers are accepted for publication in a symposium on the response of Christianity to nineteenth century anthropology.

SCENE 10. An Adventist delivers an address entitled "Toil and Charisma in the Life of Ellen White: 1891-1900" to a conference sponsored by scholars devoted to the study of colonial Christianity. The address analyzes the combination of hard work and supernatural influences which can be documented in Ellen White's colonial experience. The center accepts the text of the address for distribution as one of its occasional papers.

SCENE 11. The referees of an evangelical history association's journal accept, with only minor editing, an article by an Adventist which contends that Ellen White meets the fundamental criteria for inclusion in the association's forthcoming evangelical dictionary of biography.

Clearly Ellen White and Adventism could emerge from these encounters as winsome and credible. The relative ease which we feel about projecting our prophet into such contexts indicates that she can have an ongoing relevance for our movement and its mission.

The Core of the Matter

A number of conclusions may be drawn from this discussion. If the church's mission is to be fulfilled, Ellen White cannot be secreted from the realities of the contemporary world as a private concern of Seventh-day Adventists. The long list of theses presented in many parts of the globe to credible institutions of higher learning demonstrates that her children are becoming adults. 62 We need to carefully evaluate a whole range of issues impinging on her ministry. There is a great need to proceed with modernizing her language if we expect many of our youth to have any interest in reading her writings, or if we want more than a few new converts to actually read her books. Her writings must be interpreted in their historical and cultural contexts: to give a young person Messages to Young People will usually be counter-productive, to give a young couple Adventist Home will often destroy their openness to Ellen White, to distribute Counsels on Diet and Foods will stop many Adventists from further reading of Ellen White. In other words, Ellen White's counsel on the need to consider the "time and place" of her counsels is increasingly pertinent. We would do well to take the essence of her counsel and follow her method; for instance, being aware of the link between health and religion we must go beyond her writings to Scripture and science, distilling and then implementing the best that is known on how to live. In place of our backwardness in recognizing the spiritual giftedness of all God's children, including women, we might note the significance of Ellen White's ordination which was so apparent that no Adventist man dared lay hands upon her.63 We ought to ask how Ellen White responded to the issues relating to human values and human rights, including the treatment of individuals and groups by churches and governments.64 Instead of engaging in endless controversies about music and worship, we should focus on worship of our Creator and celebration of His handiwork combined with a healthy ecological concern. Further suggestions of constructive emphases we might explore are given later in this presentation.

The Apostle Paul's warning about dispensing with childish things may be applied to the Adventist experience. The time-honored patterns of authority which held the church together until the 1960s would totally destroy it if used in Western cultures in the 1990s. Therefore, in the providence of God, the church since 1970 has been engaged in a crucial process of maturation. It now has the potential for a new approach to its mission, flowing from a different relationship with its prophet. Our impetus must be to implement the great emphases of her nurture rather than to bore her spiritual children to death with matters which are irrelevant to them. (Few things are as irrelevant to the young as the total recall of the old!) If Ellen White were present today, she might enjoin Adventists to leave behind some of their favorite controversies--How accurate was James Ussher? What fires volcanoes? Is bedroom drama compatible with the drama of salvation?--and be faithful to the big picture. That is one of the powerful messages which we can derive from the way the Lord has led and taught us through her ministry.65 But, what is the big picture as far as Ellen White is concerned? What is the panorama she has given the Second Advent Movement? It is not easy to summarize the contribution of her fruitful life in a few words, but we must try.

Seventh-day Adventist faith is enveloped by two expressions in Revelation 14, "the everlasting gospel" and "the faith of Jesus." We live near the conclusion of the great war between righteousness and sin, identifying with Jerusalem over against Babylon. Ours is the faith of Israel: we are to worship the God of creation and exodus with the openness of the psalmists and the faithfulness of the prophets. But all the promise of the Old Testament meets fulfillment in the New. Thus, ours is the faith of the new Israel, centered in Christ and faithful to the eyewitness testimony of the apostles. We are, therefore, to be catholic in an authentic sense: our message is for every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. Not only is it shaped by an understanding of those who first spread the faith, it is taught by those who preserved the truth during ages of darkness, reformed it in the sixteenth century, and revived it in the eighteenth. In addition, behind us is the glow of Millerite Adventism, before us is Jesus, Author of our guidebook and Finisher of our faith.66

To be God's remnant in Ellen White's terms is to be eclectic of both Jewish and Christian faith, to be reformist in relation to our culture and to be mission-focused in all that we do. 66 To be faithful to her nurture is to orient ourselves by the timeless landmarks of truth which guide God's pilgrim people from Eden lost to Eden restored: creation (the Sabbath), covenant (Sinai), Calvary (redemption), Olivet ("Go ye into all the world"), and Mount Zion (the Kingdom of God). It is to make truth more precious than life, as did the faithful souls of past ages,68 yet to identify with the "present truth"-that Jesus is the Lamb slain, the Mediator of the tabernacle which God pitched, and the Advocate to which all judgment is committed. Our life-quest is "the truth as it is in Jesus," 69 our life-style is to be one of "disinterested benevolence" 70 in this needy world as we pray, "Come, Lord Jesus."

End Notes

24 Or, to use the words of The New Encyclopedia Britannica, "the most powerful single influence on the church during her lifetime," Micropaedia, 15th ed., X (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1976), 651. However, it should be kept clearly in mind that sometimes Ellen White's role was to endorse the ideas of others, including both Adventist and non-Adventist authors. [back] [top]

25 See Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985) for the way in which Christian theology has been shaped to meet the exigencies of widely-varying circumstances during Christian history. Pelikan's observations can be applied fruitfully to Adventist interpretations of Ellen White since 1844. [back] [top]

26 More recently, sophisticated computer technology has given efficient access to any given expression in Ellen White's entire corpus of perhaps 25,000,000 words. [back] [top]

27 The 1926 index covered 28 Ellen White books. By 1958 (my first year in the ministry) the number had increased to 51 volumes. It topped the 100 mark during the 1980s. [back] [top]

28 Included was William S. Peterson, "A Textual and Historical Study of Ellen White's Account of the French Revolution" (57-69) and several other articles relating to Ellen White. For a cogent later perspective, see Benjamin McArthur, "Where Are the Historians Taking the Church?" Spectrum 10 (November 1979): 9-14. [back] [top]

29 See Selected Messages, 1, 48; 2, 78. [back] [top]

30 Some may remember the mental gymnastics which were necessary to explain how Melbourne could be in New South Wales, or how "the moon and the stars of the solar system shine by the reflected light of the sun." See Testimonies, 8, 158; The Desire of Ages, 465; Education, 14; Gospel Workers, 50. [back] [top]

31 The "Question and Answer File" in any Ellen G. White/SDA Research Center illustrates both the queries raised by the world church about Ellen White, and the most official responses given. [back] [top]

32 >See Alden Thompson, "The Scary Lady of Adventism Learns to Have Fun," Insight, 2 October 1993: 2-4. [back] [top]

33 The church seldom differentiated between live theater and cinema. [back] [top]

34 The Geoscience Research Institute was established in 1958; its activities have included study tours for administrators, ministers and teachers in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The church was told plainly, in 1979, by the Adventist best equipped at the time to comment on the matter, that there is no biblical basis for any date preceding the birth of Abraham. Thus, the Adventist who wants to believe in Creation about 4,000 B.C. "would be better to say that he bases his defence on the several statements of Ellen White." Siegfried H. Horn, "Can the Bible Establish The Age of the Earth?" Spectrum 10 (November 1979): 19. It is clear that we have not "heard" well Gottfried Oosterwal's message in "Crossing a Chasm: The Adventist Believer Between Faith and Science," Andrews University Focus, Summer 1982: 14-17. [back] [top]

35 >It should be noted that, in common with some other Christian groups, Seventh-day Adventists developed a sense of ownership with respect to certain biblical passages or ideas. See Patrick, Christianity and Culture in Colonial Australia, 86-87. In 1974 the church was made aware of a dozen different uses of Scripture made by Ellen White. See Raymond F. Cottrell, "Ellen G. White's Use of the Bible," in Gordon M. Hyde (ed.), A Symposium on Biblical Hermeneutics (Washington, D.C.: Biblical Research Committee, 1974), 154-161. It is of interest that the editor excised important material from the article, but the piece remained ground-breaking for its time. [back] [top]

36 Even in 1979 when Desmond Ford asked a biblical question, the church's first impulse was to give an Ellen White answer. See A.N. Duffy, "The Heavenly Sanctuary .. Not One Pillar to be Moved," Record, 10 December 1979: 6-7. [back] [top]

37 It is painfully apparent that in the 1980s the church in the South Pacific Division tended to lose people with brighter intellects and it has not attracted a comparable number of replacements with similar capacities. We were too diffident about sharing information with our people. Morris L. West, one of Australia's most influential authors, suggests "that honest error is a step toward a greater illumination of the truth, since it exposes to debate and to clearer definition those matters which might otherwise remain obscure and undefined in the teaching of the Church." See The Shoes of the Fisherman (1963) in The Vatican Trilogy (Port Melbourne: William Heinemann, 1993), 174 Cf. 140: "He had never been afraid of error since all his experience had shown him that knowledge was self-corrective and that a search honestly pursued might bring a man closer to the shores of revelation, even though their outline remained for ever hidden from his view." [back] [top]

38 See McAdams, "Shifting Views," 27. In the 1970s the church was made aware that crucial issues had been known and discussed in 1919, but then put aside. Such actions were no longer possible in the age of photocopiers, audio-cassettes, and ham-radio networks, let alone (more recently) e-mail. For an insightful account of a leading Adventist who nurtured a realistic understanding of Ellen White's ministry, see Gilbert M. Valentine, The Shaping of Adventism: The Case of W. W. Prescott (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1992). [back] [top]

39 McAdams, "Shifting Views," 39 and 40. [back] [top]

40 For an analysis conditioned by its historical context, see Patrick, "Ellen Gould White and the Australian Woman, 1891-1900," 112-125. [back] [top]

41 See, for example, Wallace D. Slattery, Are Seventh-day Adventists False Prophets? A Former Insider Speaks Out (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1990). [back] [top]

42 My conviction is that to understand Ellen White in the light of Scripture and history will enable us to perceive and present an ongoing relevance for her ministry. The constant process which is required to maintain truth as "present truth" was well described by Guy in "The Future of Adventist Theology," 2. In dealing with "the activity of theological reflection and construction" within the Adventist community of faith, Guy says: "This activity consists of an ongoing consideration of the bases, definition, and implications of beliefs such as those listed above, and may include (1) reformulation, as eternal truth is understood afresh in the language of each different culture and each new generation; (2) clarification and specification, as new questions arise and require a more careful investigation and more precise answers; (3) elaboration, as the church enlarges its thinking by probing deeper and looking farther; (4) application, as the ongoing course of human history produces new situations; (5) reinterpretation, as further study and the witness of the Holy Spirit indicate that the Biblical revelation means something slightly different from what it has been understood to mean." [back] [top]

43 For relevant sources, see McAdams, "Shifting Views." [back] [top]

44 Ron Graybill, "Historical Difficulties in The Great Controversy" (Washington, D.C.: 30 January 1978), 7. See also the rev. ed., 1982. [back] [top]

45 James White, ed. (Battle Creek, Michigan: Steam Press of the Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1870). Key Ellen White materials from this book were later made available to Australasians under the title A Solemn Appeal, but, like other Ellen White statements which seemed to have diminishing relevance for the church, the latter book has been allowed to go out-of-print. Some of its ideas are included in more recent compilations, however. For an historical treatment see Numbers, Prophetess of Health, 1976 ed., 29-159; Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart, Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989): 127-139. [back] [top]

46 See "The 'Shut Door' Documents," compiled by Robert W. Olson, 11 April 1982. [back] [top]

47 Note both the presuppositions and the content of Medical Science and the Spirit of Prophecy (Washington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1971). The deepest problem with the booklet is that it claims an inerrant Ellen White, failing to recognize that an extended list of inaccuracies could be cited from her writings. Cf. Robert W. Olson, "The Question of Inerrancy in Inspired Writings" (Washington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Estate, 12 April 1982). Note also the way in which studies by Graeme Bradford and others indicate that the church has long lived with a false expectation that the gift of prophecy implies an inerrancy which is not to be tested by the community of faith. [back] [top]

48 Think of how the Australian Consumers' Association might handle this situation in Choice magazine! [back] [top]

49 (Washington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Estate, March 1982). Cf. Paul A. Gordon, "The Bible, Science, and the Age of the Earth: The Testimony of Ellen G. White" (revised , May 1981).[back] [top]

50 See, for instance, "Words of Christian Mothers," The Health Reformer, October 1871: 121; November, 1871: 154-157. Ellen White links "artificial braids and pads" to a range of difficulties including "recklessness in morals." She also notes that "wasp waists may have been transmitted to them [young women] from their mothers." [back] [top]

51 See A Solemn Appeal as placed in an historical context by Numbers, Prophetess of Health, 150-159. Contrast the counsel given by Robert Schwindt, professor of psychology, Columbia Union College, Insight, 21 October 1980: 11.[back] [top]

52 See Gladys King-Taylor, Literary Beauty of Ellen G. White's Writings (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1953). Many times this argument has been extended to "prove" divine inspiration, in that a person with only a few years of formal education could not write as well as Ellen White did without supernatural aid. [back] [top]

53 Roger W. Coon has collected many relevant articles in his "Anthology of Recently Published Articles on Selected Issues in Prophetic Guidance," seventh edition, vol. 1, 1980-1988; vol. 2, 1989-1992 (Berrien Springs, Mich: Andrews University). See also his "Sourcebook of Documents and Study Outlines of Selected Issues in Prophetic Guidance" (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University, 1992). [back] [top]

54 See also Warren H. Johns, Tim Poirier, Ron Graybill, "Henry Melville and Ellen G. White: A Study in Literary and Theological Relationships," an 85-page document, and note the Fred Veltman research reports. [back] [top]

55 For sources, see Patrick, "Does Our Past Embarrass Us?" [back] [top]

56 During their first four decades, Adventists sought to correct an imbalance in Christian thought. However, in so doing, they often seemed to speak as though all Scripture orbited the truth of the Second Advent. Since 1888 they have more adequately recognized that Scripture forms an elliptical orbit around the two comings of Christ.  [back] [top]

57 It is worth noting with sadness that a number of former Adventists are currently undertaking professional therapy to "recover" from their experience in Adventism. Central to the dilemma of some is the former authority of Ellen White as mediated through what they now perceive as a harsh educational system. One former member has kept a daily diary since childhood, including a day-by-day record of his canings and "hard labor" sentences, and noting the times when he was caned above the limit of six strokes. For some current attitudes toward caning, see The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 March 1994: 23. Observe the comments by Lowell Tarling, Norman Young, Robert Wolfgramm and Genna Levitch in On Being, June 1993: 20-21; September 1993: 57, October 1993:.65; November 1993: 63; December 1993: 68.  [back] [top]

58 In fact, for offering the solutions since published in "Does Our Past Embarrass Us?" the South Pacific Division President and Secretary had me dismissed without trial as Director of the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Center at Avondale College in 1983. It seems that no informed person in the church now questions the essence of the article.  [back] [top]

59 This was the high point in the entire history of the church, insofar as the availability of data for Ellen White studies is concerned. It marked an essential consensus on the basic facts which were relevant for Adventists to know about Ellen White. No significant new information has emerged since that time. Much detail has, however, confirmed conclusions of which the keenest researchers were aware by that time. [back] [top]

60 Thus in the polarized context of the 1990s it is more difficult to unite the church constructively. The substance of part one of this paper was well received by the Sydney Adventist Forum in 1991, and repeated by request at an inter-departmental council at the South Pacific Division headquarters during 1992. The substance of parts two and three was presented at Trans-Tasman Union Conference seminars in 1994 and 1995. Pastor Graeme Bradford has been particularly effective, with the support of his administration, in updating the church through seminars. [back] [top]

61 I have more experience as a chaplain supporting dying persons than as a counselor dealing with this dimension of living. Thus expert advice from specialist practitioners and teachers would be valued on this issue .[back] [top]

62 See Gilbert Abella and Vera May Schwarz, "Dissertations, Theses and Major research Papers Related to the Seventh-day Adventist Church" (Loma Linda: Loma Linda Research Libraries, 1988), 207-218. [back] [top]

63 Note at least one dissertation has labeled this area of thought "The Irony of Adventism" (Daily). [back] [top]

64 In mooting this point in a letter dated 16 March 1994, Eric Magnusson observes: "I see this as one of the major issues for religion today and I think it was a sufficiently big issue for EGW for that to be one of her continuing areas of influence. Churches, ours included, are being judged by society on their performance as they deal with and treat human beings. They're not all getting the verdict they want." [back] [top]

65 Essentially, the more we get the big picture in focus, the more likely our constituents will be to listen when we affirm an ongoing relevance for the mother of the church. However, for our people to "own" Ellen White, we must invite them to process the relevant information and express their consequent understandings-that is, we need to reactivate the process which formed Seventh-day Adventism in the beginning, what Fritz Guy calls "the dialogue and dialectic of a community." [back] [top]

66 This paragraph is a frail attempt at interpreting Revelation 14: 6-12 in the light of "the conflict of the ages," the controlling idea in Ellen White's writings from 1858-1915. This was her over-arching concern, her emphasis on faith, that is, truth. [back] [top]

67 This is the principal purpose of her testimonies, her exhortations which emphasize Christian practice, that is duty. [back] [top]

68 Note Ellen White's use of the expression "faithful souls," some 31 times. See especially Acts of the Apostles, 11: "From the beginning, faithful souls have constituted the church on earth." [back] [top]

69 There are many names for our Lord, perhaps 70 in the Old Testament and 170 in the New. In her writings, Ellen White uses "Jesus" 47,114 times and "truth" 53,144 times. In 776 instances she juxtaposes the words "truth" and "Jesus." She employs the word "present" some 13,830 times, and speaks of "present truth" 2,452 times. Thus it is safe to say that she gives emphasis to both "present truth" and "the truth as it is in Jesus." [back] [top]

70 Ellen White's use of this term enjoins us to pattern our ministry after the selfless example of Christ Jesus. [back] [top]

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