39. Do all Adventists view Ellen White in the same way?
No, although most critics of the
grossly oversimplify the issue. There is no one cookie-cut view within Adventism and most critics fail to acknowledge the complexities and theological spectrum of opinions. SDA Church
Most Adventists would probably affirm that Ellen White had the spiritual gift of prophecy, as officially outlined in SDA fundamental belief #18:
“18. The Gift of Prophecy:
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen. G. White . As the Lord's messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. (Joel 2:28, 29; Acts 2:14-21; Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 12:17; 19:10.)”
However, as to what manner of ‘prophet’ Ellen White was, there is a variety of opinions held within the
. Most Adventists exist somewhere within three camps: SDA Church
· Verbal-dictation view: Those who hold almost every oral or written word, whether made in public or private is infallible and inerrant word of God.
· Doctrinal-confirmation view: Those who emphasise Ellen White’s limitations as a human being, albeit an inspired one. Many who propose this stance believe she had a theological role in confirming, but not initiating, proposition truth based on appropriate Biblical studies.
· Pastoral-devotional view: Those who believe Ellen White was not empowered to give doctrinal propositions, but primary functioned to edify, strengthen and encourage the early movement in the model suggested in the New Testament (1 Cor 14:1-4).
George R Knight, Professor of Adventist Church History at Andrews University, writing in Graeme Bradford’s People are Human (2006, p11-12), argues that Adventists have largely brought outside criticism on themselves. In particular, since Ellen White's death in 1915, the
has fostered a false mythology of her writings inconsistent with scripture, objective fact and Ellen White’s own explicit instructions: SDA Church
“The past 35 years have seen a revolution in Ellen White studies. The revolution in Ellen White studies. The revolution began with articles in Spectrum in the early 1970s, but it leapt into public vision in a large way with the publication of Ronald Number’s Prophetess of Health in 1976 and Walter Rea’s The White Lie in 1982. The first of those books asserted that not only was Ellen White a child of her times in regard to many of her ideas of health, but that she had drawn significantly upon the ideas of health reformers of her day in her writings. The second book sought to demonstrate that Ellen White’s borrowing for such books as The Desire of Ages and Patriarchs and Prophets was extensive.
The combined effect of those two books and the Spectrum articles was the intellectual equivalent of throwing a bomb into what had become into what had become since the 1920s the “settled understanding” of Ellen White and her gift.
It is of interest, however, that such a bomb would have been meaningless if it had detonated during much of Ellen White’s lifetime…
Adventism, in line with other conservative Protestants, went into a reactionary period in the 1920s. The openness of the 1919 meetings would give way to an unbiblical rigidity on the topic of inspiration in the 1920s. The upshots for Adventists understandings would be the nurturing of false understandings of inspiration and the development of a mythology relate to Ellen White.
Meanwhile, the extensive minutes of the 1919 Bible Conference with their very frank discussions of Ellen White and inspiration were “buried” in the General Conference building and would not be rediscovered for more than half a century.”
The type of thing that was discussed shortly after Ellen White’s death at the 1919 Bible Conference, but which was literally buried for over 50 years, include the following statement by then SDA General Conference President, A. G. Daniells:
“Well, now, as I understand it, Sister White never claimed to be an authority on history, and never claimed to be a dogmatic teacher on theology, like Mrs Eddy’s book on teaching. She just gave out fragmentary statements, but left the pastors and evangelists and preachers to work out all these problems of scripture and of theology and of history…” (emphasis added)
A.G. Daniells went on to discuss his understanding of the proper place for Mrs White's prophetic gift:
“In our estimate of the spirit of prophecy, isn’t its value to us more in the spiritual light it throws into our own hearts and lives than in the intellectual accuracy in historical and theological matters? Ought we not take those writings as the voice of the Spirit in our hearts, instead of the voice of the teacher to our heads? And isn’t the final proof of the spirit of prophecy its spiritual value rather than its historical accuracy?” (emphasis added)
J. N. Anderson almost prophetically warned that perpetuating the incorrect view of the literal verbal inspiration of Ellen White would one day produce a crisis within the
: Adventist Church
“Is it well to let out people in general go on holding to the verbal inspiration of the Testimonies? When we do that, aren’t we preparing for a crisis that will be very serious some day.” (emphasis added)
For further information on the 1919 Bible Conference:
For all the conjecture, it is important to take note of that Ellen White often played down her own role, calling herself a ‘lesser light’:
“Little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light.”
Despite the mythology perpetuated by some Adventists and their critics, Ellen White never claimed to be infallible, perfect or without the possibility of error:
“I wish self to be crucified. I do not claim infallibility, or even perfection of Christian character. I am not free from mistakes and errors in my life. Had I followed my Saviour more closely, I should not have to mourn so much my unlikeness to His dear image.” (emphasis added, Letter 27, 1876, Ellen White to James White, May 16, 1876)
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