BY LISA WINN
Many Adventists today are unfamiliar with the writings of Ellen White, and Lisa Winn wishes to re-acquaint them with the roots of their faith. This column is intended either to encourage Adventist readers to hold fast to their faith as directed by Mrs. White, or, if her directives seem oppressive and legalistic, to re-examine their beliefs and prayerfully peruse the rest of this publication.
The Seventh-day Adventist church proclaims in its Fundamental Belief #18 that the writings of Ellen White (EGW) “speak with prophetic authority.” Nevertheless, I have heard this belief downplayed over the years in many ways: “she didn’t claim to be a prophet”; “she is the ‘lesser light’ leading to the ‘greater light’”; and “she never assumed infallibility.” These disclaimers can easily be deployed to gloss over EGW’s own claims for her work; however, brushing aside the authority of the Testimonies or any of Mrs. White’s writing seems inconsistent on the part of any Adventist. As Ellen White herself said, “To disregard light is to reject it.” If Ellen White really was given “prophetic authority” from God, and if one even entertains the possibility that this traditional Adventist belief might be true, then it would be wise for one to thoroughly study her work in order to know what she herself says about her own “authority”.
More than a Prophet
Ellen White claimed 100% inspiration: “The Holy Ghost is the Author of the Scriptures and of the spirit of prophecy [her writings].” In describing her visions, she wrote, “I am taken into the presence of Jesus and angels, and am entirely lost to earthly things.” She supposed God guided her very hand as she wrote, helping her choose the best words to communicate her visions. While she never called herself a prophet outright, she did state: “My commission embraces the work of a prophet, but it does not end there. It embraces much more than the minds of those who have been sowing the seeds of unbelief can comprehend.” She felt faith in the Testimonies was necessary for drawing one to God’s Word: “If you lose confidence in the Testimonies you will drift away from Bible truth.” She claimed divine revelation even for her letters and articles: “They are what God has opened before me in vision—the precious rays of light shining from the throne…”
Mrs. White desired that “The Testimonies should be introduced into every Sabbathkeeping family… and be read again and again.” She wanted her books circulated “throughout the world” to “as many people as possible.” Her purpose in writing down her revelations was to “immortalize” them. In 1905, near the end of her life, she described her work as “one straight chain of truth, without one heretical sentence…” A year later she affirmed the entirety of her public ministry, stating that her writing would “bear the test of investigation.”
Written to One, Intended for All
Many Adventists assume that Ellen White’s letters to individuals which have been published in the Testimonies do not apply to the Adventist church at large; however, she wrote that the purpose of publishing them was: “that those who are not singled out personally, yet who are as much in fault as those who are reproved, may be warned through the reproofs given to others.” Ellen White was aware that people twisted her writings as they pleased. She knew people pigeonholed exhortations of hers that crossed their own cherished ideas as merely “Sister White’s opinion and judgment,” and so proclaimed that those who belittled her testimonies this way have “thereby insulted the Spirit of God.”
Today more than ever, many Adventists distance themselves from the “prophetic authority” of Ellen White, yet still unquestioningly submit to the distinctive Adventist doctrines she affirmed and promulgated through her many “visions.” If you claim to be truly Adventist but recoil from the tougher (or sillier) teachings of Mrs. White, she has a question for you: “Is this work… from above or from beneath?” Ponder that for a minute. If you cannot in good conscience answer in her favor, she would retort,
“…why not act in accordance with your faith and have no more to do with a people who are under so great a deception as this people are? If you have been moving according to the dictates of the Spirit of God you are right and we are wrong… There is no halfway work in the matter. The Testimonies are of the Spirit of God, or of the devil.”
If you find yourself in the doubting camp, perhaps EGW is right, and it is time for you to take the leap of faith, leave Adventism, and seek Christian fellowship where the gospel is taught and the word of God is the only authority.
“What Is Truth?” (Pontius Pilate)
Because of the prolific writings of Ellen White, the Adventist church seemingly has all the answers. “If I were to leave Adventism,” one might apprehensively say, “how would I possibly know what is true?” Perhaps we can gain confidence from Scripture:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world (Heb. 1:1-2).
The writer of Hebrews considered himself living in the last days and declared that God, in these last days, is speaking to us by his Son. Scripture is unequivocal: in these last days, including today, God speaks to us through Jesus—not through Joseph Smith, not through the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, and not through Ellen G. White, either.
The Old Testament writers prophesied about Him, and the New Testament writers, most of whom were His called apostles and eye witnesses, testify about Him in their gospels and letters. Yes, the Bible is “ancient,” but it is not simply a static text from which one derives a system of beliefs: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
It is through the prayerful reading of the Bible with the supernatural aid of the Holy Spirit that God reveals himself to us today. Jesus says to Pilate, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” What more revelation could one possibly need? There was no need for Ellen White, over 1,800 years later, to rewrite, interpret, or add to the living word of God. †
- Seventh-day Adventist Church Fundamental Belief #18.
- Counsels for the Church, p. 94.2.
- Letter 92, 1900 Par. 12 (to J.H. Kellogg).
- Early Writings, p. 297.4.
- Letter 127, 1902 Par. 10 (to brother and sister G. A. Irwin).
- Letter 244, 1906 Par. 18, “To the Elders of the Battle Creek Church”.
- Counsels for the Church, p. 94.3.
- Selected Messages, Book 1 p. 27.2.
- Counsels for the Church, p. 94.5.
- The Review and Herald, January 27, 1903, Art. B, par. 4.
- Manuscript 122, 1903, “The Time of the End”, par. 3.
- Letter 329a, 1905. Par. 3 (to Mabel White).
- Selected Messages, Book 1 p. 35.2-3.
- Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 2, p. 687.1.
- Letter 92, 1900 Par. 12 (to J.H. Kellogg) .
- Selected Messages, Book 3, p. 68.1.
- Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 27.1.
- Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4, p. 229.2.
Lisa Winn was raised in the Adventist school system and is a graduate of Pacific Union College. She became a born again Christian in 2007 upon thoroughly examining Adventist teachings and carefully studying the Bible. She lives in Yucaipa with her husband Jonathan and their two children, Daniel and Héloïse. They are members of Fellowship in the Pass Church in Beaumont, California.