Proposed Revisionist, Reversionist Changes in the Seventh-day Adventist Church
ELLEN WHITE, THE ADVENTIST CHURCH,
AND ITS RELIGION TEACHERS:
A CALL FOR TRANSFORMED RELATIONSHIPS
by Arthur Patrick, La Sierra University
Abstract:The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a prophetic movement called of God to share "the truth as it is in Jesus." While truth is absolute, individual and corporate perceptions of it are always partial. Hence the church’s religion teachers must often function as catalysts for change, interpreting the past and anticipating the future in order to highlight "present truth" and duty. Therefore, the religion teacher may not always expect understanding from those in the church whose focus may be upon such alternatives as "historic Adventism" or boundless change. This fact calls the teacher of religion to give prime attention to Scripture and the church’s developing understanding of truth, aware of the way this development has occurred in the past, and avoiding the extremes of reversion and rejection in the present.
Omega Ministry Commentary:As you see in the opening remarks of Patrick's article, the religious teachers and leaders of the church have announced themselves the self-appointed interpreters of the truth. The Noble Bereans were commended for searching out the scriptures for themselves, and using the weight of evidence formula for arriving at truth. They were commended for doing so by Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy.
"As with the Bible, so with the Testimonies. Those who desire to doubt will have plenty of room. God does not propose to remove all occasion for unbelief. He gives evidence, which must be carefully investigated with a humble mind and a teachable spirit; and all should decide from the weight of evidence." E.G. White Manuscript Releases Volume 9, p. 204. End of Omega Ministry Commentary.
Continuing with Patrick's Article.--"Near the climax of what may be characterized as the era of Seventh-day Adventism’s "Great Bereavement" (1970-1982), Neal Wilson observed in the church’s "General Organ" that change is "a constant factor in Adventism." Beginning in 1970, wave after wave of new information broke over the church, meaning that many Adventists were bereaved from an earlier "Great Assurance" about their spiritual identity, their religious distinctiveness, and the encyclopedic authority of their prophet. While the processes of change in this period were similar in kind to those of previous generations, the new information which powered the change was so important and so pervasive that the church is still struggling to implement it into coherent patterns of belief and practice. One current focus of interest amongst religion teachers is the decision by the Board of Trustees of Walla Walla College that henceforth the Board will monitor the way in which Ellen White’s authority is treated in the institution’s classrooms. Historical precedents illumine some of the issues which the Board may encounter as it implements its announced agenda."
Omega Ministry Commentary:There is absolutely no need for "many Adventists to be bereaved from an earlier 'Great Assurance' about their spiritual identity, their religious distinctiveness, and the 'encyclopedic authority' of their prophet." The writer of this article, Arthur Patrick, and others of his ilk, have drummed up some once held foolish beliefs of Ellen and James White, and they have used these personal aberrations to discredit James and Ellen, when the Bible has already informed us that God uses the foolish and ignorant of us to confound the wise! Again, we can reasonably explain anything Mrs. White saw. Beyond that, she and James had a right to believe some of the more foolish ideas of the day. God does not choose the wise who know and are right about everything, or who think they do anyway! Ellen and James were ignorant and uneducated, but that did not preclude God from using them in a mighty way. SDA leaders, religious teachers, and some of their more haughty and proud students believe otherwise!
"He [God] knows that the messengers whom He sees fit to send are weak, erring men; but to all who give themselves wholly to His service He promises divine aid." E.G. White, Acts of the Apostles, 56.End Omega Ministry Commentary.
Change in Sabbatarian Adventism
"It is highly instructive for the religion teacher to investigate carefully the primary sources of early Adventist history. The impulse to extol "Historic Adventism" in the contemporary church is often focused upon the recovery and promulgation of the faith and practice of the people loosely designated as "the pioneers." Let us note some of the data that this "Historic Adventism" impulse might assess as it plans its emphases.
1. To surrender the Shut Door concept is to move toward outer darkness.James White, 1845: "Brethren J. and C.H. Pearson, and E.C. Clemons, have given up the shut door, and are doing all they can to drag others to outer darkness." As late as 1849, Ellen White wrote: "My accompanying angel bade me look for the travail of souls for sinners as used to be. I looked but could not see it for the time of their salvation is past."
Omega Ministry Commentary:The above statement by James White was referring [from the weight of all available evidence, interpreted so that nothing contradicts] to the shut door to the first apartment of the Sanctuary, Revelation 3:7. Some were trying to keep that door open, when the true "Pioneer" group of Adventists, knew that door was shut. This concept of the "shut door" is often confused with the belief of another band of first-day Adventists who believed that the door to the kingdom was shut on salvation to all sinners after 1844. There are two very different meanings concerning issues about any "shut door!"
Concerning Ellen White's statement that there was no more travail of soul for sinners as used to be, that was certainly true, in view of the fact that the great majority of the then existing world had rejected great light, and by that rejection were destined for eternal damnation. When the generation of circa 1844 heard the light of the three angel's messages and rejected them, they rejected an important unfolding of the Reformation, even what was equal to the other half of the gospel! That other half of the gospel is found in Romans 1:5, and teaches that grace is power for obedience as well as pardon for sins past! The Reformers of past ages thought grace was merely pardon. The Reformation of 1844, discovered that grace was also power for obedience:
"By Whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name..." Romans 1:5.
For the majority of the then known world to have rejected the other half of the Everlasting gospel, certainly was cause for not "travailing for souls as used to be" before they had rejected new light on the gospel! End Commentary.
2. To marry is to deny the Advent faith and be ensnared by a wile of the devil.James White, 1846: "Of late, the ‘Hope Within the Veil,’ has turned a short corner, and I am glad of it; for the Editor and Publisher, some weeks before the change of views, denied their faith, in being published for marriage. We look upon it as a wile of the devil. The firm brethren in Maine who are waiting for Christ to come have no fellowship with such a move."
Omega Ministry Commentary:Ellen White never claimed to have been shown that it was not okay to marry. Even Paul said that it is better not to marry. If James had some strange views on this subject for a time, what does that prove?! End Commentary.
3. To leave Adventism is to identify with the wicked world in which there is no possibility of salvation for the backslider or the world. Ellen Harmon, 1846, but reporting her December 1844 vision: "At this I raised my eyes and saw a straight and narrow path, cast up high above the world. On this path the Advent people were traveling to the City.... But some soon grew weary.... Others rashly denied the light behind them, and said it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and got their eyes off the mark and lost sight of Jesus, and fell off the path down in the dark and wicked world below. It was just as impossible for them to get on the path again and go to the City, as all the wicked world which God had rejected."
Omega Ministry Commentary:The Jews were rejected as a corporate body for rejecting light. Why would Adventists fare any better? The Midnight Cry Light gave power to the second angel's message. The Midnight Cry is the same message as the second angels' message. "And at midnight there was a cry made, go ye out to meet him." Matt. 25:6, [Go out of the world and fallen churches that cannot be distinguished from the world, Early Writings, 273]. Those who refuse that message have a door shut in their face:
"Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not."
To reject one is to reject the other, and constitutes rejection of all three angels' messages. The Biblical stated penalty is divulged in Revelation 14:10, and is the same as Ellen White stated concerning the Midnight Cry:
"The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day no night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name." Rev. 14:10.
So, Arthur Patrick, and other "wise interpreters" of the Word for the rest of us, what is the problem? Ellen White's assessment of all who reject the Midnight Cry Lighted Path, is the same assessment as found in the Bible! Regretfully, you do no have enough spiritual discernment to see this simple fact! End Commentary.
4. To discontinue the use of swine’s flesh and advocate that practice as a test is to make "work for repentance." Ellen White, 1858: "I saw that your views concerning swine’s flesh would prove no injury if you have them to yourselves.... You are both making work for repentance."
Omega Ministry Commentary:In context, Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 207, Ellen White is reproving a couple for "running ahead of the angel" in making abstinence from swine's flesh a test:
"God is leading out a people, not a few separate individuals here and there, one believing this thing, another that. Angels of God are doing the work committed to their trust. The third angel is leading out and purifying people, and they should move with him unitedly. Some run ahead of the angels that are leading this people; but they have to retrace every step, and meekly follow no faster than the angels lead. I saw that the angels of God would lead His people no faster than they could receive and act upon the important truths that are communicated to them. But some restless spirits do not more than half do up their work. As the angel leads them, they get in haste for something new, and rush on without divine guidance, and thus bring confusion and discord into the ranks. They do not speak or act in harmony with the body. I saw that you both must speedily be brought where you are willing to be led, instead of desiring to lead, or Satan will step in and lead you in his way, to follow his counsel. Some look at your set notions, and consider them an evidence of humility. They are deceived. You both are making work for repentance."
The matter is solely a question of judgment and who is ready to set himself/herself us as judge the Holy Spirit gift to the church in a matter that is strictly one of judgment? I will tell you who! Those who consider themselves wise! Those who are so proud that God deigns to confound them by using those who have some foolish notions and no education credentials other than being led of God Himself. According to His Word, it is by these appointed means that God confounds the proud, the haughty, and the wise. End Commentary.
5. To witness to other Christians is to cast pearls before swine. As he prepared for a funeral service in August 1846, James White reflected: "I shall have a congregation of hard, ugly Congregationalists and Methodists." Then he added: "Do not think Brother James is getting formal or is going to try to convert people to the Advent faith. No; it is too late. But it is our duty on some occasions to give a reason for our hope I think, even to swine." (Italics his.)
Omega Ministry Commentary:Ellen White said that it is impossible to proclaim the Adventist message in other churches. Giving a funeral service in one of those churches would lend itself to a similar situation and that would be no time to try to make converts anyway! In 1844, the mainline churches outright rejected the Midnight Cry and the first and second angels' messages. It was too late to work for them on a corporate level, and a funeral service in one of their corporate churches approached that level. Jesus said something about giving crumbs to the dogs. This was no worse than James White referring to those who had corporately rejected truth as swine. What is worse: God calling them a harlot daughter of Babylon, or James White calling them swine. A funeral service was no time to try to convert rejecters of truth, especially on their corporate premises. What if Jesus Christ used those very words to describe rejecters of truth?
"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before SWINE, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." Matthew 7:6.
Then there is the case of Isaiah calling ALL of God's "watchmen shepherds" dumb dogs that would not bark!:
"His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are ALL DUMB DOGS, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are GREEDY DOGS which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter. Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant." Isaiah 56:10-12.
Ellen White said that efforts to proclaim the third angels' messages in the fallen churches was like taking children's bread and giving it to DOGS! The Bible called those who rejected truth SWINE AND DOGS. James and Ellen White did the same thing. Apparently they were justified by scripture! We rest the case of James White in this instance in good hands; the Holy Word of God! Amazing! Yes indeed! End Commentary.
6. To discourage her husband from engaging in sexual intercourse is a duty of a Christian wife. Ellen White, 1868: "Let the Christian wife refrain, both in word and act, from exciting the animal passions of her husband. Many have no strength at all to waste in this direction." Vitalism, a long-continuing idea still considered, as scientific fact in the Nineteenth Century, is no longer deemed to be valid.
Omega Ministry Commentary:Ellen White had a perfect right to her opinion in this matter. This was a reasonable suggestion as regards temperance in all things. Normal love making and extra-curricular attempts to excite the animal passions are very different things. Some men and women want sex three or more times a day. It takes no more than empirical wisdom to discern that such activity would render one more tired and weak to pursue more important tasks like winning others to the kingdom of God. Remember, even Paul said that it would be better not to marry and devote all the energies to the saving of souls. To be consistent, those who condemn Ellen White for her advice in this matter, must likewise just as severely condemn Paul, and more so, because he went a step further, advocating abstinence even from marriage, let alone the privileges of marriage!
Vitalism or the fact of possessing a certain vital life force at birth, is no more strange than believing that some people have a stronger constitution than others, and this is a generally believed truth even today! The matter is one of semantics only! This is an easily observable truth today! What gnats these wise men theologians strain at! They are merely showing their extreme ignorance. They regard truth as error and error as truth, as the Word prophesied they would! End Omega Ministry Commentary.
7. The power of the Lord reveals itself in physical manifestations such as witnessed in the Dammon event, ecstatic utterances, and supernatural prostrations.
Omega Ministry Commentary:If such is not the case, let us then disregard the burning bush, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the flood; the devouring of Pharaoh's snakes by Moses' and Aaron's rod! Let us disregard the supernatural prostration of Christ ascending into the heavens with Elijah and Moses. Let us reject the equally "ecstatic utterances" of Daniel and John the Revelator! Let us reject the fact of the physical manifestation of fire coming down from heaven and consuming his sacrifice and altar that had been drenched in water. In regard to point 7, the following statement is most apropos:
"Here we see that the church--the Lord's sanctuary--was the first to feel the stroke of the wrath of God. The ancient men, those to whom God had given great light and who had stood as guardians of the spiritual interests of the people, had betrayed their trust. They had taken the position that we need not look for miracles and the marked manifestation of God's power as in former days [This is precisely the position of SDA leaders and theologians today; this is precisely the position of Arthur Patrick in point #7 above]. Times have changed [they are saying, and we must change]. These words strengthen their UNBELIEF, and they say: The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil. He is too merciful to visit His people in judgment. Thus 'Peace and safety' is the cry from men who will never again lift up their voice like a trumpet to show God's people their transgressions and the house of Jacob their sins. These DUMB DOGS that would not bark are the ones who feel the just vengeance of an offended God. Men, maidens, and little children all perish together." E.G. White, Testimonies, vol. 5, 211.
8. To study races of human beings now present on the earth is to find evidence of the interbreeding of humans and animals. This was Uriah Smith’s defense (applauded by James White) of Ellen White’s "amalgamation" concept.
Omega Ministry Commentary:According to the man's theory of Evolution, man has continually advanced. According to God's theory of Evolution, man has degenerated. There is a school of thought that mankind was much more educated and advanced in past ages than the present. It is thought that the Egyptians had developed mathematics to a greater extent than is the present state. It is believed that they had engines for flying machines that required no fuel, but ran on a particular arrangement of atoms as contained in precious jewels. The point is, friend of mine, that if man was that highly developed in the past, he could well have experimented in genetics and genetic engineering to the point that amalgamation was a reality! Here again, no one can prove anything, so the truly wise course is to give the Holy Spirit gift to the church the benefit of any doubt! End commentary.
9. The young may be directed away from masturbation by an awareness of the diseases it causes, including an array of physical deformities and "the inward decay of the head."
Omega Ministry Commentary:One does not have to be a rocket scientist or even a medical doctor, to observe that masturbation is very enervating and is quite different in affect than the natural act. Repeated acts of masturbation are most tiring and wearing to the physical being, and thus it is not unreasonable to conclude that much venture into this habit could deplete the physical, mental and nervous system, as they are intrinsically tied together. For a medical doctor not to realize this, as a certain Dr. Hunt [who maligns Ellen White on this topic] does not, is most interesting to say the least, when any common layman may empirically note these facts for him/herself.
Concerning the diseases it might cause, "including an array of physical deformities, and the inward decay of the head," we do not know whether or not Ellen White meant this would occur in the individual practicing this act to copious excess, or in his/her offspring. If one weakened him/herself in a great degree due to any such enervating influence, this weakness might affect the genes and actually influence the offspring of such individuals. This is most apparent in hyper and hypoglycemia. A fetus can be influenced by sugar intake of the mother. A fetus can be influenced by alcohol consumption, causing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Physical acts that deplete the constitution could most reasonably contribute to an entire array of physical, mental and nervous system maladies in one's offspring. As for me and my household, we will trust the "foolish" gift of the Holy Spirit to the church, which is ordained by God to be considered foolish, in order to confound the haughty, proud, self-reliant, all-wise, who are seeped and marinated in UNBELIEF!
10. To lace a woman’s waist tightly may cause her offspring to inherit a wasp waist; for a woman to wear a headpiece may heat the blood and result in immoral behavior. Such problems in the Health Reformer of 1871 would seem too trivial to mention here except that as late as the 1970s, a publication authorized by White Estate claimed no important idea in Ellen White’s health writings needed revision, yet at the 1982 International Prophetic Guidance Workshop there was a serious proposal from White Estate personnel that Ellen White’s writings embodying such statements be separated from the works deemed to be authoritative.
Omega Ministry Commentary:I have prayed earnestly for God to give me answers to all these questions, and I believe His answer concerning this one is two-fold. 1. I feel impressed that the first part of #10, the lacing of a waist tightly, is obviously a foolish notion that God permitted in order to be a stumbling block for the "wise" interpreters, whom God deigned to be confounded by the foolish and ignorant. Yes, there are such stumbling blocks in Scripture and in the Spirit of Prophecy! God does not remove all cause for doubt. He even interjects such cause for those who want something upon which to base their unbelief and rejection of His Word. As to part 2, the effect of heating the blood and any ensuing immoral behavior as a result, I reserve comment at this time. I have not received any answer on this point. I will put it on the shelf, as Ellen White says to do regarding some issues, and continue to pray about it. But I hasten to add, that even if Ellen White is foolishly wrong on this point, she did not say she saw this was true, and thus, this could be another act of the foolish to confound the wise. The wise choose to focus on the foolish that was designed by God to confound them. They will pay the price. End Omega Ministry Commentary.
"While these instances of change are drawn somewhat randomly from the abundant and diverse primary sources of early Adventism, they illustrate the stance of the church’s pioneers on a number of important issues: the relation between science and religion, the early development of health reform, concepts of marriage and sexuality, as well as doctrinal understandings—the idea of unpardonable sin, Christian responsibility in view of an imminent Second Advent, the work of the Holy Spirit, and more. Some may suggest that these instances of sincerely-held beliefs illustrate ideas which were current only during the first three decades of Sabbatarian Adventism, that these concepts are now acknowledged as obsolete, and thus they no longer merit discussion. The folk who make this claim are apt to proceed as though the next four decades of Adventist history present to us an Ellen White and often a pioneer leadership of the church whose counsel and teachings can be presented as normative for today. Hence it needs to be emphasized that similar changes can be documented in every later period of Adventism.
A few examples indicate the pervasiveness of the change which is evident later in Ellen White’s experience. The movement "From Sinai to Golgotha" which Alden Thompson so well documented in his (December 1981) series of Adventist Review articles gives the church a profoundly-important window through which to observe a paradigm shift which was occurring within Adventism during the final decades of the Nineteenth Century. At the same time it must be recognized that the republication of earlier ideas in the Review kept a number of unscientific ideas alive in that era. Further, the four-decade-long process whereby Ellen White expressed her views on the life of Christ, beginning in 1858 with Spiritual Gifts, continuing in periodical articles and the four volumes entitled The Spirit of Prophecy, and culminating with three masterpieces (Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 1896, The Desire of Ages, 1898, Christ’s Object Lessons, 1900), is memorable for a number of reasons, including its demolition of the idea that an informed Seventh-day Adventist can be a Fundamentalist. This insight is confirmed by the 1907 editing of The Great Controversy, in which, for instance, W.W. Prescott gave scores of substantial suggestions which were incorporated into the revised edition. The role of Ellen White’s literary assistants was accurately known by some attendees of the 1919 dialogues; a substantial reason for the "Great Bereavement" was that these data were largely forgotten until the 1970s. The same may be said about Ellen White’s copious and often creative use of Adventist and non-Adventist authors. The questions listed for consideration by the Biblical Research Institute in 1980 offer an important perspective on the issues which were seen by the church to be important by that time. These matters were of far greater consequence than the identity of the law in Galatians or the development of the concept of clean and unclean meats; smaller issues which, however, aptly pointed toward a more viable way to understand Ellen White’s spiritual gift.
These comments on the development of Sabbatarian Adventism illustrate the fact that past orthodoxy can readily constitute present heresy. It would be easy to append a hundred examples of this fact, but two more must suffice at this point. While completing the inaugural Murdoch Lecture delivered last August at the centennial of Avondale College, I was given an item of information by Murdoch’s student assistant from the Scotsman’s early years at Avondale. The sainted Murdoch evidently believed Avondale was able to secure his services as its principal (1947-1953) because he had lost the confidence of his Northern Hemisphere brethren for moving from the then-orthodox view of Armageddon. Few Adventist exegetes would now question the direction of Murdoch’s thought at that time, though most would want to travel in a similar direction much further than Murdoch did during the 1940s. The writings of Arthur White during the 1970s, especially his "Toward a Factual Concept of Inspiration" papers and his articles on Ellen White’s writing of the Great Controversy story, demonstrate an important paradigm-shift in that decade which was relocating the theological position of Ellen White’s grandson, the main pillar of White Estate.
In hindsight, Ellen White now appears to be the most innovative agent of change in Sabbatarian Adventism during her lifetime. She gave the scattered believers a new metaphor with which to interpret their 1844 experience and a fresh concept of their publishing opportunities in 1848. She prodded still-grieving Millerites toward forming a viable organization by 1863, opened the movement’s eyes to the relation of health and spirituality during the later 1860s, profiled far-reaching educational initiatives between 1872 and 1903, and focused the church’s attention on Jesus and salvation during and after the 1888 crisis. President Wilson was right; change is the constant factor in Seventh-day Adventism, and Ellen White lived and ministered at the growing edge of that change. Religion teachers who honor her ministry must not settle for peace at the price of "the truth as it is in Jesus."
Responses to the "Re-visioning" Paper
A crucial consideration in the present climate within the church is whether or not responsible change is a current option. My paper entitled "Re-visioning the Role of Ellen White for Seventh-day Adventists beyond 2000" was written as yet another proposal for a fresh consensus in Adventism. Over ninety per cent of the people who have responded to it—mainly scientists, historians, social scientists, educators, pastors, administrators, editors, religion teachers—seem to think it may be useful in that regard, for they have offered affirmative or mildly corrective comments. Four respondents, however, call for very different approaches.
A cautionary perspective is illumined by the following sentences.
I note with some disappointment that you have chosen to reflect the writing largely of those who are critical of Ellen White’s ministry in this church. You have chosen several areas of their concern, but have not considered all of the much larger evidence of her timely, helpful, and correct ministry to this church as a prophetic voice. The conclusions of the critics represent a minority, and should not be readily accepted as "fact."
It is not difficult to list all the authors which the paper cites; to do so is to demonstrate the need to take seriously the substantial studies of Ellen White’s life and writings. The paper neither highlights nor recommends many others (both printed and electronic) which seem negatively biased and carpingly critical. It is important to ponder the potential effects of the "negative images" which this respondent suggests the paper may convey to some readers, and to ask whether the conclusions could be "stated in more positive terms." At this juncture I believe the paper is reasonably well balanced; for instance, while it warns against eleven problematical applications of Ellen White’s writings, it also suggests how each of these may be transformed into positive applications. Then it invites the reader to explore eight other constructive applications which seem far more pervasive than any of the "negative scenarios." It is essential for the actual data to be dealt with openly, since at the push of a few computer keys students and church members now access a wide range of material which is destructively critical of Ellen White. To ignore this harsh fact is to, ostrich-like, put our heads in the sand. The Walla Walla Board probably needs to consider the fact that reversionist pressures may seek to influence its assessments.
A second cautionary response comes from a polar-opposite perspective. This response does not so much challenge the paper’s interpretation of Ellen White’s role as it questions the capacity of the church to change constructively. Several issues are raised. Is the kind of unity the paper envisions realistic, or is "the institutional church in North America ... beyond fixing"? Do not the dialogues between teachers and administrators in recent times indicate that future attempts of this nature may be "exercises in futility"? This respondent concludes that "the only viable basis of hope" in Adventism is to "refocus attention at the local church level and voluntary associations of local churches to support larger enterprises." I hope the picture is not that dark; at least I am praying and working for the unity of the church and trusting our leaders to support those who want to facilitate a viable understanding and application of Ellen White’s spiritual gift. This respondent’s cautions, however, suggest some of the other crucial issues which the Walla Walla Board could face as it engages in its task.
A third type of cautionary response comes from a medical doctor in California and an educator in Western Australia, each of whom calls for Ellen White to be discarded. After describing Ellen White as an uneducated, "schizophrenic," scheming, "plagiarist and copyist," the medical doctor says:
I do not know how a scholar of your ability and repute would attempt to integrate her [Ellen White’s] babble into the church. It needs to be set aside and looked upon as an interesting contribution to the somewhat simplistic church literature of the last century.... So, if your wonderful paper is to make EGW acceptable to the "liberal" wing of the church, which has already discarded her, it is too late. If, on the other hand, it merely represents further obfuscation of her true identity as a fraud, it is not intellectually honest. The assumption is wrong.
The professor of education expresses himself with similar vigor, stating "this is one area of SDA thought and belief where the baby needs to be thrown out."
While I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet let me warn the "people of God" as one who young people still confide in; if reasonable SDAs like you continue to support [Ellen White] you will lose the baby, the bathwater, the bath and even the bathhouse.
He continues with his observation that "young people are walking away in droves" due to the Ellen White-philosophy of Seventh-day Adventism, and, he claims, "will continue to do so unless you and others stop trying" to "save" Ellen White.
Except as a historical figure she is now irrelevant to Adventism, in fact worse.... The SDA[s] made a mistake in the 19th Century by accepting her teachings as inspired of God and need, as they approach the 21st Century, to finally just let her drift into history.
The educator then offers his sympathy to me, in that (he says) even he "couldn’t give up that wonderful heritage if both sets of my grandparents actually knew the Adventist prophet." He suggests this relationship between my forebears and Ellen White is "the socio-religious explanation" for the fact that I "keep trying to defend the indefensible." Perhaps the Walla Walla Board may want to benefit from and enlarge the presently-available findings of the Valuegenesis project (much of it as yet unpublished) about the actual thinking of Adventist youth, church members, and ministers with reference to Ellen White. An accurate diagnosis of the situation which religion teachers confront daily will help those who are monitoring classroom presentations to make accurate assessments.
Some Further Perspectives on the "Re-visioning" Process
Several conclusions appear useful as the responses from these four people are viewed in relation to more than sixty others received thus far.
First, the time is far past when reversionist responses are likely to do anything but further damage to the credibility of Ellen White. In the tumult of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the South Pacific Division decided to bring an experienced editor from a distant continent to edit the Division paper in a way that would stabilize the church. At the height of the discussion of Walter Rea’s claims about Ellen White’s use of sources in The Desire of Ages, this editor published an article which suggested that there may be a literary relationship of 0.002 per cent between Ellen White’s writings and those of other authors. That figure, as Fred Veltman’s painstaking study suggested for The Desire of Ages, probably needed to be set at 150 times greater than the said article claimed. It is a harsh reality that Adventists have been subjected repeatedly to apologetic writings which either denied or failed to admit facts which are now beyond dispute.
Second, there is a place for believer-participant accounts of church history. The New Testament rightly values the testimony of "eyewitnesses and ministers of the word," Luke 1: 1-3. We would be remiss if we tried to assess the Reformation without attention to the writings of Luther, Calvin, Knox, and their followers. Just because they write from within evangelicalism, should we ignore the historiography of George Marsden, Mark Noll, and Nathan Hatch? Therefore, the Seventh-day Adventist Church should evaluate rather than summarily dismiss the interpretations of those who have participated in the events they seek to understand.
Third, historians and religion teachers must take into account the testimonies of all the witnesses which are available. We gain important insights into early Christianity from the believers themselves, as well as from Romans, Greeks, and heretics. At the outset, we need the variety of perspectives resident within the New Testament; the testimonies of both Paul and James are crucial. Marcion and Celsus cannot be ignored, nor can the gnostics, docetists, Arians, and a host of others. At the time of the Protestant Reformation there are magisterial reformers, radical reformers, and the Catholic Reformation to be considered if we are to understand Christianity in that effervescent period. The implication is clear: contemporary Adventism needs to hear well the voices of those who are outside of our community of faith, those who have left the church, those who are struggling with crucial issues, and those who are still in denial of the processes demanded in order to develop a sustainable interpretation.
Fourth, while my work is only "a drop in the bucket" amongst contemporary discussions of the role of Ellen White in Adventism, it is meeting with substantial support as a credible alternative to the reversionist and rejectionist options. One of its strengths is its comparative flexibility. For 150 years Adventist literature reveals we have more often erred on the side of dogmatism than on the side of tolerance. At this time we need to nurture an interpretation of Ellen White’s ministry which accords with all the known evidence and enables Adventists to dwell together in unity rather than seeming to be intent on destroying each other. That is one of the reasons why I have been waiting expectantly for responses from Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Richard Davidson, and Norman Gulley. We as members of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies and the Adventist Theological Society need to confer more effectively on how to better present the prophetic role of Ellen White, and we need to do this now, not after more publications further imperil our relationships.
Fifth, if we focus on the procedures which are most likely to enable us to understand the past and keep Adventist faith honed responsibly by all the known evidence, we will be doing our part to remember "the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history." This, of course, was the agenda of my entire "Re-visioning" paper, and cannot be reiterated here. As far back as 1980, Fritz Guy gave us a succinct prescription for keeping Adventist faith vibrant and compelling for the next generation of believers. I have, elsewhere, tried to enunciate some of the principles which are crucial if we are to effectively pursue truth in Adventism’s heritage.
There is conclusive evidence that Seventh-day Adventists often suffer from very bad memories. We frequently forget how the Lord did and did not lead us as a movement in the past. It was "the little remnant scattered abroad" who felt itself to be like Elijah, the only island of faithfulness in a raging sea of hopeless apostasy. The evidence now points us to a more comprehensive view. It was Adventism’s most articulate apologist who in 1951 sought to resolve the Shut Door and the literary relationship-debates; Nichol’s spirited defense reads as embarrassingly inadequate in the 1990s. It was a dedicated author who in 1953 declared the literary beauty of Ellen White’s writings gives conclusive evidence of divine inspiration, whereas we must take into account the now well-known work of Ellen White’s literary assistants: James White, Willie White, Marian Davis, and many others. It was an earnest pastor who sought to support Ellen White’s ministry by suggesting that her relation to other authors was perhaps 150 times less than it probably is. It took 138 years from the beginning of the Shut Door debate until the church really knew most of the story through Robert Olsen’s release of the documents in 1982. The amalgamation discussion appears to be rather superficial now, but it will not be put to rest unless we are frank about it and the variety of ways thoughtful people have interpreted Ellen White’s concept. The same might be said of many other matters, including biblical chronology and earth sciences.
Ellen White’s prophetic ministry, though negatively impacted by our false assumptions and our too-frequent denial of reality, offers Seventh-day Adventists crucial guidance for their journey into the 21st Century. My readers will note an inadequate elaboration of the Abstract given on page 1, for these eight pages are merely a footnote to my "Re-visioning" piece. This brief paper is intended to be an invitation for the church to continue its search for consensus about what Arthur White so aptly described as "a factual concept of inspiration." During that quest, one of the essentials is a mature relationship between the church (its leaders and its members) and those attempting to communicate Adventism in the church’s college and university classrooms. While religion teachers who call the church to focus on the actual rather than the imagined may not, at times, be fully appreciated, we cannot do less than nurture "present truth," indeed, "the truth as it is in Jesus."Draft dated 2 April 1998
Omega Ministry Conclusions
SDA leaders and theologians have erroneously concluded that the ten points in this article, along with a long list of others including pillar doctrines, constitute "our [Professing Seventh-day Adventist Church] false assumptions that must be changed in order to not be the object of ridicule and in order to be credible to the thinking students in SDA educational institutions and to the world at large." The real truth of the matter is that some of the assumptions are just that; the erroneous opinions and assumptions of James and Ellen White, and our early Pioneers, permitted by God for the purpose of confounding those who believe themselves to be all-wise. The real truth is that there are very few erroneous assumptions within the 10 points of this article. Rather, SDA leaders and theologians lack the spiritual discernment to properly delineate between truth and error. Satan uses the false opinions and assumptions of our pioneer brethren in order to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. The leaders use these "stumbling block" errors in an effort to make themselves appear as all-wise. Then they proceed in their unbelief, to gain other adherents in Satan's school of UNBELIEF. Beware of such leaders; it was such that led Israel down the path to hell:
"For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed." Isaiah 9:16.
"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink: Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him! Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel." Isaiah 5:20-24.
"How is the faithful city become an harlot! It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.FACE="Times,Times New Roman" SIZE=5>Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water: Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them." Isaiah 1:21-23.
"For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." Jeremiah 2:13.
"For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge." Jeremiah 4:22.
"This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing." Jeremiah 13:10.
"My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting place. Jer. 50:6.
"And I sought for a [one] man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none." Ezekiel 22:30.
"Her princes [leaders] in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain." Ezekiel 22:27.The Real Reasons Why The Professing SDA Church has Failed