An Interview with Ellen White

In October, the General Conference Executive Committee Newsletter carried an “interview” with Ellen G. White on Adventist History. Inspired by that article, we pursued an “interview” with the prophet in honor of her birthday, November 26. Born this day in 1827, she would be 191 years old today. Given the post-postmodern conversation about truth, we zeroed in on that topic for our questions.

Question: The General Conference Executive Committee recently met in Battle Creek in honor of the church’s founding sessions there. What place should tradition hold for our understanding of truth?

Answer: “Greater light shines upon us than shone upon our fathers. We cannot be accepted or honored of God in rendering the same service, or doing the same works, that our fathers did. In order to be accepted and blessed of God as they were, we must imitate their faithfulness and zeal, — improve our light as they improved theirs, — and do as they would have done had they lived in our day. We must walk in the light which shines upon us, otherwise that light will become darkness.”

—”Great Distress Coming, and God’s People Not Prepared for It,” Testimony for the Church, Number 7 (Jan. 1, 1862), in Spiritual Gifts, Important Facts of Faith (Battle Creek, 1864), p. 60. Reprinted in Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 262-3.

I’ve been inspired by the devotion to Bible study of the early Adventist pioneers, particularly the study done following 1844, when they realized they got things wrong.

“We do not claim that in the doctrines sought out by those who have studied the word of truth, there may not be some error, for no man that lives is infallible; but if God has sent light, we want it; and God has sent light, and let every man be careful how he treats it.”

—“Open the Heart to Light,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 25, 1890, 177. Parts of this article were reprinted in Counsels to Writers and Editors (Nashville: Southern, 1946), 33-34, 41-42, but not the sentence quoted here.

That spirit of openness to learning more is impressive. What result did you see to that during your lifetime?

“Whenever the people of God are growing in grace, they will be constantly obtaining a clearer understanding of His Word. They will discern new light and beauty in its sacred truths. This has been true in the history of the church in all ages, and thus it will continue to the end. But as real spiritual life declines, it has ever been the tendency to cease to advance in the knowledge of the truth. Men rest satisfied with the light already received from God’s Word, and discourage any further investigation of the Scriptures. They become conservative, and seek to avoid discussion.

“The fact that there is no controversy or agitation among God’s people should not be regarded as conclusive evidence that they are holding fast to sound doctrine. When no new questions are started by investigation of the Scriptures, when no difference of opinion arises which will set men to searching the Bible for themselves, to make sure that they have the truth, there will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition, and worship they know not what . . . .

“When God’s people are at ease and satisfied with their present enlightenment, we may be sure that He will not favor them. It is His will that they should be ever moving forward to receive the increased and ever-increasing light which is shining on them. The present attitude of the church is not pleasing to God. There has come in a self-confidence that has led them to feel no necessity for more truth and greater light . . . . God wills that a voice shall be heard arousing His people to action.”

—“The Mysteries of the Bible a Proof of Its Inspiration,” Testimonies, 5:706-9. 1889.

Your encouragement to continue pursuing the truth is appreciated.

“There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation.”

—“Christ Our Hope,” ARSH, Dec 20, 1892, p. 785; reprinted Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 35.

This was a topic you wrote about several times in 1892. And your counsel has been preserved specifically for writers and editors.

“Let no one come to the conclusion that there is no more truth to be revealed. The diligent, prayerful seeker for truth will find precious rays of light yet to shine forth from the word of God. Many gems are yet scattered that are to be gathered together to become the property of the remnant people of God.”

—Counsels on Sabbath School Work (Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald, 1892), 34; repr. Counsels to Writers and Editors, 35.

One of my teachers, Fritz Guy, is a big fan of yours. He often reminded us of important things you had to say about the lessons that we have to learn and unlearn.

“Long-cherished opinions must not be regarded as infallible. . . . However long men may have entertained certain views, if they are not clearly sustained by the written word, they should be discarded. Those who sincerely desire truth will not be reluctant to lay open their positions for investigation and criticism, and will not be annoyed if their opinions and ideas are crossed. . . .

“We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view, never have occasion to change an opinion, will be disappointed.”

—"Search the Scriptures," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 26, 1892, 465; repr. Counsels to Writers and Editors, 36-37; and, in part, in Selected Messages from the Writings of Ellen G. White, 3 vols. (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1958-80), 1:37.

Thanks so much for speaking with us today. You have blessed us greatly in the past and we look forward to continuing to learn from you in the future. I’m sure that our readers also have favorite sayings of yours that perhaps they would like to share in the comment section below.

Happy Birthday Mrs. White – and to my friend Juli Miller who shares your birthday and your love of learning.

Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.

Image courtesy of the Ellen G. White Estate.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

i absolutely believe that this withering indictment would be levelled at today’s conservatives over the issue of WO, were egw still alive today…she would have had no time for today’s MH whatsoever…i think she would have definitely reproved our GC leadership for the way they have allowed our church to veer from the clear example of the dual policy solution on circumcision left to us by the apostolic church, as recorded in Acts 15 and Galatians 2…and the frivolity with the beards and pioneer garb at AC2018, at battle creek, would not have been noted approvingly, because it represented such a pathetic departure from our pioneers’ tendency to look forward, rather than backward…


One of your best comments ever, Jeremy:

“…and the frivolity with the beards and pioneer garb at AC2018, at battle creek, would not have been noted approvingly, because it represented such a pathetic departure from our pioneers’ tendency to look forward, rather than backward…”


Thanks, Bonnie.

We may be almost certain that no church official aligned with the present administration’s drive to enforce “compliance” with its own account of doctrine will deign even to comment on this “interview.” Some, at least, make a point of not even reading accounts with which they might disagree.

Scholars have long known that Ellen White cannot be contained by highly fundamentalist, or sclerotic, versions of Adventism. Yet present leaders, devoted though they be to “the Spirit of Prophecy,” continue to ignore, or even disdain, her point of view on the matters addressed here.

This seems very like willful ignorance, very like willful rebellion against the testimony of the Spirit. Who, among influential church leaders, has the courage to say why this point is mistaken?



And I think Mrs. White’s response might have been along these lines:


Like the Bible, Ellen White is a mirror.

When we look, we see ourselves, and deify ourselves.

That’s why a completely opposite, and equally authoritative, “interview” of Ellen White can be done by the opposing Powers That Be.

She has afforded us ample rope to hang ourselves, and she’s completely available to be cynically used by those with designs on power.

So, in spite of our heritage of “beautiful words,” that’s what’s happening, it appears to me.

I used to hold the Beautiful Words as a talisman. They failed me, and I fear they will fail you.

Ellen White quotes, lovely as they sometimes are, are Nerf bullets when you’re up against power brokers.

Sometimes it takes fires and floods to induce us to break up housekeeping when the fullness of time has come.

Not one stone will be left upon another.



No matter how big our arsenal, it will never, ever work to use Ellen White in an instrumental way.

Whatever is not worked in by experience, is not assimilated, and is not available as “oil in the lamp.”

I’ve said enough.

I’ve said too much.


nah, not yet. Still early


In a certain place, in a certain time long ago, war broke out. One side was adamant that the other side should not stay, and the other side was equally adamant that the former should go. But those who were in disagreement were not the ones on the ground. And those on the ground did a cruel thing.

They planted land mines randomly all over the place, some even by beautiful looking oases. But the cruelest of all was the recruitment of the innocent looking who came by with warm handshakes, who blew themselves up in the other’s face, who came a-smiling with daggers carefully concealed.

These are dangerous times; and the terrain is strange.



lol…“frivolous” is definitely an egw word…in fact “frivolous ditty”, which egw uses in Messages to Young People, was my AUC violin teacher’s favourite term for the heritage singers music, which she seriously hated…of course, hay stacks and the heritage singers were practically friday night staples at AUC during the '70’s and '80’s, which meant that all of us who were in my violin teacher’s orbit were successfully sheltered from the surrounding white adventist culture at that time…

i can remember once, when the heritage singers performed at machlan, my violin teacher made a point to suddenly stand up, glare at the faculty sitting around us, and then make a grand exit during one of the heritage singers’ songs, with all of us in tow…those were really the days…


To the contrary you said rightly and with wisdom…


That happened at a comp meeting as well. Her and Harvey Davies exited in disgust.


I remember, specifically, sitting in Machlan auditorium, getting upset because I was hearing something totally opposite to what I’d heard the day before. This was 2-3 years after joining the church - I was going to say, after my baptism, but SDA baptism is an initiation ceremony to join the church, piggybacking on an actual baptism. Battles with the Nerf bullets would often take place in the dorm., especially between the english majors, reading NOVELS, and the education majors, whose primary focus was to memorize the book EDUCATION.


This was a fine interview with EGW, thank you. However “the other side” can also have their interview. It seems that EGW would not look in favor of the NAD voting to not support “God’s highest authority” in the world–the GC in session. I think what EGW as written about the absolute authority of the GC, as the voice of God, is the Elder Wilson and his leaderships’ favorite quote. Perhaps they see when they punish Unions and Conferences for refusal to submit their judgment to the GC, they are doing the will of God.

“I have often been instructed by the Lord that no man’s judgment should be surrendered to the judgment of any other one man. Never should the mind of one man or the minds of a few men be regarded as sufficient in wisdom and power to control the work, and to say what plans should be followed. But when, in a General Conference, the judgment of the brethren assembled from all parts of the field, is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be stubbornly maintained, but surrendered. Never should a laborer regard as a virtue the persistent maintenance of his position of independence, contrary to the decision of the general body … God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority.” EGW

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I agree with you. The Conflict of the Ages series, along with COL and MH has epic proportions of “beautiful words” with sensible commentary. They are a magnet to the human spirit and call for deeper devotion, higher values, to trust in prayer, to see God as good and Jesus as His divine essence. All the stories of the Bible make perfect sense. They create convictions as to what is eternal truth and error. The personal devotional inner life is fired up with a sense of purpose to answer the high calling–to live a perfect life. Which they read is obtainable and required by faith and the enabling grace of God.

On the other hand, the 9 volumes of the Testimonies along with her health books such as DF, are short of “beautiful words.” They create new non-Biblical rules for living–no sports, games, jewelry, theaters, short dresses, coffee, tea, meat, in-between meals, cream over butter, spices, vinegar, wine and water with meals etc. When added to the desire to be perfect–the Christian life is likely to become a checklist to judge our walk with God and to condemn those who fail. (I forgot to add–and condemn our failings).


Well Frank, by that quote alone, one would be led to think that the SdA church is of a hierarchical design. However, to add more to the confusion of Adventism, we have this:

“It has been some years since I have considered the General Conference as the voice of God.” —Manuscript Releases 17, p. 216, 1898; Last Day Events, p. 50.3

“That these men should stand in a sacred place, to be as the voice of God to the people, as we once believed the General Conference to be—THAT IS PAST.” - The General Conference Bulletin, April 3, 1901, p. 25; Last Day Events, p. 50.

And, we no longer have Ellen White to tell us when God is speaking through the General Conference when in session, and when not.

What a mess! “It’s the song that never ends and it goes on and on my friends”.


It always seems that for every quote of EGW there is a counter-quote. This is confusing to those of us who want nothing but the absolute truth. Instead the opposite is true–truth has a wide swing of variation. Sometimes it is a huge gulf, such as it was right for David and Samson to kill hundreds and for us to be horrified by it (and the foreskins they proudly collected). For those who want perfection and absolutism–it is daunting.


When the case of the missing child came before Solomon, he commanded that the remaining child be cut in half between the two claimants. The true mother cried out, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!” 1 Kings 3:16-28 The letter of the Law is severe and uncompromising; but its interpretation is full of wisdom and revelation.

Lifting quotes without considering the context, the people involved, the circumstances surrounding the case, is what many are tempted to and do do. And then there is the conflict of interest, the self-interest, they demonstrate in the sides they take.

But the godly look into eternity and make decisions in the here and now according to what they see there. They look deep into the souls of men and consider the past, the present, the future, and the current situation.


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It appears that the games have gone on for quite some time. Several years ago, and after having discovered numerous confusing and contradicting statements in EGW’s writings and different positions from the brethren as to what is correct, or not, I finally had to ask myself the question, How can i continue to work to bring anyone into this denomination and have them later on discover the same continual disheartening things that I eventually came to discover as the years went by?
Here are some more concerning just those types of things:

I can remember once, when I was sitting next to David Koresh at the Tyler church, when the preacher said something that he disagreed with, David made it a point to suddenly stand up, glare at the preacher, and then made a grand exit, with me in tow…those were really the days…

(True story.)

Surely no other parallels can be drawn?