Ellen G. White and Me

Later this year, at the General Conference Session, delegates will have to vote on a statement about whether Ellen G. White's writings are inspired by God and help to understand what the Bible says. The text of the statement was translated into Latvian and posted on Facebook. Several commentators expressed their views that Ellen White was a false prophet, was hysterical, and most likely a mentally ill person. I also entered into a discussion with my objections. However, after lengthy discussions, I came to the conclusion that once again I have to look honestly at everything I can read and find in her articles and articles about her. After all, I have had contradictory thoughts when reading E. G. White's books, too. In prayer I told God that I could not judge everything myself, but I wanted to read anything with an open heart and mind. If I'm wrong, I want to admit it. I asked God for help to be honest with all the arguments that can be read. In the following days, I devoted my free time to finding and reading everything I could find in connection with E. G. White. What are my conclusions?

My initial experience

I have read E. G. White's books more than most Adventists in my country. Everything that was published in Latvian and also in Russian I read many years ago. I have had the opportunity to read many typescript books (religious books were banned in the Soviet Union). I have also read some books in English. It is probably logical to ask why so?

Like many Adventists in Soviet times, I was taught to look at E. G. White as a special messenger of God. The authors of other books could have been ignored, but not Mrs. White. I still remember those gloomy feelings that took me as I read her writings. I have already forgotten which book first came into my hands, it seems to have been a volume from The Testimonies to the Church. Those who have read will probably understand me. So many accusations and reprimands! Feeling that you are sinful and God does not like you so much! Is it at all possible to reach the standard of holiness she is writing about? At the time, I did not know that I was not the only one who was thrown into madness by her books. I continued to read from time to time (I was a big bookworm), but I didn't enjoy them.

And yet I was lucky. In early youth, in the midst of a deep crisis of faith, I discovered the doctrine of justification by faith. It became the basis for my entire spiritual adventure. I also started reading E. G. White's writings with glasses of justification by faith.

My favorite author was Morris Venden. It was his books that gave me the opportunity to look at Christ with completely different eyes and also to look at E. G. White's writings from a different angle. And then more than 20 years ago George R. Knight’s book Reading Ellen White was published and translated into Latvian. I realized how silly it is to ignore who, why, in what culture, and in what century anything is being written.

I remember after that I read again one volume of The Testimonies to the Church. Letters to specific people in the 19th century suddenly came to me in a different light. What suppressed me, I suddenly discovered was valuable and helpful advice. I found that a number of letters that seemed to be in an angry tone were actually written in a very delicate and almost overly lenient manner. For example: there was a letter addressed to a man who brutally harasses his wife and children, but E. G. White tried to find any access to his heart. I found that many of her writings started to appeal to me.

Our disagreements

As time went on, however, I again found disagreements with Ellen White. This time it was different. Reading and studying not only the Bible, but articles by a wide variety of authors, I had to admit that I could not agree with everything written by E. G. White. It is correct to note that the problem was often not so much with E. G. White as with some of the ideas and teachings (if it may be called) by some of the leading people in the church. But they argued with Mrs. White's writings. I will deliberately not say what this is about, because then there will be a discussion that is not needed in this article. However, I had to answer my own questions about what to do with these differences.

It seems we will only appreciate in the future how much needed and blessed work was done by the analytical and critical minds of the Adventist Church in the second half of the 20th century. First by Ronald L. Numbers with his book Prophetess of Health. At the same time, transcripts of the 1919 Bible Conference were accidentally encountered. They were followed by Desmond Ford's study of 2,300 evenings and mornings. Other publications followed. They showed E. G. White in another light, to many it was an unattractive but very human light. It cost the critical minds dearly. Some of them lost their faith or were forced out of the church. In the early 1980s, Adventism was in fact in an unprecedented crisis (we did not know anything about it in the USSR). However, many did not even realize how necessary and auspicious this process was.

I do not know what would have happened to my faith if I had lived more than half a century ago. I might not be in the church either. But thanks to the discoveries, research, and courageous theologians of the last 50 years, and of course the evolution of the Internet, I have discovered a very human, sometimes contradictory, at the same time God blessed, inspired, and attractive Ellen White. I have read how she advises on family matters, but then writes a letter to her female friend asking her not to tell Ellen’s husband where she is because they have quarreled, and then she goes across the continent and does not want to talk to him. Of course, the anger passes over and they both fix it (these letters came to light only recently). I have read how she encourages never to doubt about the presence of God, but when she has a more difficult moment, she writes in a private letter that she does not feel the presence, help, and support of God. I've been wondering how often Ellen White is misunderstood.

Reassessing again

I admit that I haven't read all of her works — I have had neither the opportunity nor the time. Nor did I go into all evidence gathered by critics in recent years. So, as I said at the beginning, I was determined to reevaluate everything once again with prayers and an open heart. I decided to search the Internet for everything that could be found about her as a false prophet.

Frankly, I was expecting something more. There are some sites devoted solely to criticism of E. G. White. There are also Facebook pages and specific forums. I don't know if this is unexpected, but to a large extent the content is repetitive. Articles are republished from one another. Some sites have broader analysis, some more focused.

All criticism can be divided into two large blocks. The first block is more about the Adventist Church than Ellen White. The authors believe that the Adventist Church teachings are wrong — the Sabbath, the state of the dead, the health message, etc. — and that is why E. G. White is also a false prophet because she supports the teaching of falsehood. The second block does not analyze the Church teachings, but rather the different statements of E. G. White, so it seemed more interesting to me.

Reading the quotes of E. G. White and the refutations used by the authors, I felt as if I had returned to my past. All these people, apparently present or former Adventists, gutted some of her statements as if they were Bible texts. Even more so, as if they were infallible words of God. Neither the context, nor the thinking and understanding of the 19th century, nor many other aspects that are extremely relevant to any of the articles (at least I thought so) were taken into consideration. I read and wondered: if the author reads the Bible like this, he should come to a similar conclusion — that it is a book of error. I even wanted to smile about some of the arguments. Why do we ever think that every word written by E. G. White is infallible and holy, more sacred than the Bible texts?

How do I understand Ellen White?

I think one of the biggest challenges for Christians is understanding what inspiration is. Even the Bible we read linearly, considering that historical context, cultural influence, and author understanding are relatively minor issues. This seems to be the reason why many lose faith in the Bible. In Adventism, however, there is a similar attitude towards E. G. White, who has never claimed that what she wrote was the Word of God. That is why there is so much frustration. Then you have to design websites and refute what I think is irrelevant.

I think as long as we don't learn how God works and speaks to us through the written word, there will be many who will be disappointed. The statement scheduled for next year at the General Conference Session will only add to the disappointing numbers. This is inevitable. E. G. White is not the same as the Roman Catholic Pope was once considered. We groan at the statement that the Pope, as deputy of God, was never mistaken in his words and writings, but at the same time we appoint E. G. White an even holier place. Interestingly, she always opposed it. But many do not believe her: “Oh, she was so modest; she did not want to publicly acknowledge her infallibility.”

I am very sorry about that. Half of the Adventists I know do not read, are not interested in, or are skeptical about her writings. Because they have begun to read and have encountered puzzlement and dislike (like many in Old Testament Scriptures). On the one hand, this is not a problem. Ellen White herself has said that her task is only to draw people’s attention to the Scriptures, and if there is Scripture, she is not needed. But on the other hand, I have gained a lot from her. And I am sorry that with our black-and-white approach, we frighten so many away from her. Or make them legalists. And if so, it's really better not to read her writing.

Many will say that her writings cannot be compared to the works of other authors because she was a special messenger of God. For me too, she is more than just a writer. (Although I believe that God has inspired many other book authors as they share their insights.) I am sure she, as a faithful messenger of God, honestly shared what she had understood and received from God. Of course, not everything she wrote was a special message from God. Much has been written in recent years about how her most popular books were made. At the same time, it is clear that she published under her own name only what she believed to be the truth. But as I read her books, I always keep two things in mind. First, the historical context in which it is written. Second, how this is in line with what God has revealed to us and personally to me in the next century after her death. She herself encourages me to do so.

In 1892 E. G. White wrote in the Review and Herald that we would have to give up many lessons:

We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible… The rebuke of the Lord will be upon those who would be guardians of the doctrine, who would bar the way that greater light shall not come to the people. A great work is to be done, and God sees that our leading men have need of greater light.

How different the history of Christianity would be if we saw as our main task not the struggle to protect our doctrines but to be open to learning, always ready to re-evaluate everything.

Aidis Tomsons is a journalist, and for many years was editor of the official Adventist Church magazine Adventes vestis. Currently, he runs an independent website, Vestis Adventistiem ("Message to Adventists"), along with like-minded people. His daily work is on public radio and TV where he runs a daily program on political, social, and economic issues.

Image courtesy of whiteestate.org.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10141
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Fascinating topic. The whole issue of “inspiration” is complex and I doubt I will obtain answers to my satisfaction this side of mortality.
The main issues in my opinion (and this applies not only to EGW but to the Bible as well) are:

  1. What does it mean for a writing to be “inspired”; is the written text infallible? or does it convey the author’s conception of God or the topic being discussed
  2. By what authority does a religious body declare a writing to be inspired? One will note that there is actually no text in the bible giving us guidance as to which writings to include in the canon and which to exclude (and even if there were, by what criteria do we judge whether or not such guidance was itself “inspired” and true). It’s facile to blindly accept the decisions of the early church councils regarding canonicity, but I will note that Adventists reject many of the other decisions of these early church councils.
  3. What do we do with a text when an “inspired” text is obviously in error (e.g. EGW’s comments on amalgamation of man and beast, her views on volcanos, certain historical errors in The Great Controversy, etc.).
  4. How do we handle inconsistencies and contradictions among “inspired” texts (e.g. the irreconcilable inconsistencies among the 4 gospel accounts; inconsistencies between Chronicles and Kings)
  5. What do we do when an inspired author’s views changed or evolved over time.
  6. What do we make of texts with claims to inspiration that are not part of the canon?

Adventists (and others) are wont to discard competing texts on a basis of a single error (e.g. a single error in Augustine’s writings are sufficient to toss his entire oeuvre on the scrap heap), but errors/inconsistencies in EGW’s writings are ignored.

  1. (this is really a subset of my point 3 above) What do we do about the claims of a “Young Earth Creation”, which is obviously wrong except to the most obstinate people who refuse to consider truth. EGW (along with all of Christendom at the time) endorsed YEC and Bishop Ussher’s dubious calculations. These views cannot be reconciled with what we observe in nature. Is this sufficient to discard EGW as a false prophet? Does “inspiration” require 100% accuracy in all things?

It can be comforting to embrace the myth that EGW’s writings were delivered from “on high” with an error-free text, but this view simply isn’t tenable. And if we don’t accept EGW’s writings as infallible, is there anything to be retained from her works, or must one necessarily abandon the SdA movement which is so dependent on her legacy.

With regards the Bible, it can also be comforting to embrace the myth that the canon was delivered from “on high” with an error-free text (and error-free translation), but this view too simply isn’t tenable. And if we don’t accept Bible’s writings and the early church’s politically-motivated votes on canonicity as infallible, is there anything to be retained from the book, or must one necessarily abandon the Christian movement which is so dependent on the ecumenical councils of the early Christian period.

I haven’t answers to these queries.

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This is so interesting. With some minor differences, my path through the Ellen White phenomenon resembles yours in many of the details. I accepted Ellen White as someone that “came with the territory” - because I accepted the faith system that surrounded her. I was born in Estonia (your neighbour) but got out before the Soviets arrived. My home was an Estonian home no matter which country we lived in. I say that because I think there is a certain cultural reluctance to accept authority of any kind just because it’s demanded.

While attending AUC (SDA college) I ran across the same EGW statement you quoted, basically saying that “if we read the Bible as we should, there would be no need to refer to Ellen White” (my own words). This stayed with me; and I have wondered why SDAs haven’t taken that to heart. Most Bible study is done with EGW statements side by side with the Bible, “explaining” everything, as if we can’t read and understand for ourselves.

Amazingly, I took the same path, including Morris Venden and Des Ford, in particular. I especially liked Venden’s warning analogy that “hanging apples on a tree doesn’t make it an apple tree”. The fruit grows naturally if watered properly.

My take on Ellen White? I’ve read her books; studied about her in college; and have decided long ago, it doesn’t matter what I think of Ellen White. I don’t know what exactly she was about; but my faith in God and my standing with God does not depend on what I think of Ellen White. What I do object to is the church demanding Ellen White being equal to the Bible writers in their authority. So, many of the problems created by Ellen White are actually not her doing; but the church’s. If we can look past that (if we’re allowed to look past that) then I’m fine. Time will tell…

Thank you for your article.

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“We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible… The rebuke of the Lord will be upon those who would be guardians of the doctrine, who would bar the way that greater light shall not come to the people. A great work is to be done, and God sees that our leading men have need of greater light.”

Perhaps, the hagiarchy in the GC should not only read this EG White quote, but post it on a plaque on the wall of their office. This is a total rebuke of their desperate effort to keep women away from the pulpit.

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After being a “Whiteist Adventist” for many years (until age 30) I have now been a “Biblical Adventist” for 40 years. Yes, Sola Scriptura.

Therefore, I have no comment on this article since it doesn’t concern me. :wink:

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I think this issue is overthought. It is not so difficult, but does require accepting evidence that one might not like, but that is real.

  1. It is not that difficult to discern the inspiration of the Bible. Just compare the books that the ancients, both OT and NT saints, choose with those they rejected. It is like comparing Shakespeare with bad poetry. There is a difference. I was reading The Shepherd of Hermas, a book considered, but rejected by the church from the cannon. You can tell why they left it out. Read some of the gnostic gospels. Again, not the caliper of the NT. And it is not just the early church that accepted these, it has been Christians throughout the ages. We have their testimony as well. We may ask questions, but God has given clues.

  2. Ellen is the same way. I remember first reading the DofA as a freshman in high school. I fell in love with the Jesus portrayed there. God spoke to me through the words of that woman. There was no question that it was inspired. Was she mistaken on occasion? Yes. She was human. But you seem to expect that inspiration will mean perfection. I am not sure God has said that will be so. His saints have never been perfect. He has said he will guide us, but apparently has reserved perfection to himself.

  3. The inconsistencies merely show that the writers had different perspectives, or were impressed by different things they saw. That is characteristic of eye witnesses, and testifies to their veracity and shows they did not collude. And since the authors were human, it is normal for them to change their views over time. If they didn’t that would be a problem.

Hmmm… Pretty strong words about those obstinate people.

The age of the earth is a problem for YEC’s. And I have not heard a good explanation for the apparent age.

But evolutionists have similar problems with their theory. I have not seen any evidence for the way body plans could have changed without divine input. Lots of nice stories about how it could have happened. All speculation.

Life’s origin is impossible without divine input (see James Tours, “Mystery of Origin of Life” Youtube, March 18, 2019). To believe that life with its vast complexity could, using simple chemical processes, have come about spontaneously is to believe in a miracle, a position I sense you would characterize as “obstinate”.

I am troubled by your requirement of inerrancy. You seem to depend on science, which is constantly requiring correction, and is quite a human exercise, with all its errancy, but will take nothing with a human element as reliable (“is there anything to be retained from her works”) from God. Just look how far the small group of people accepting her works have come, with huge educational and medical systems that have benefited millions, etc. Adventist’s longevity can only be attributed to her.

I think that clearly shows inspiration. But that is my take on this.

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When the Scriptures are studied first and then Ellen White
is consulted for clarity
There is complete harmony between them.
The problem that I frequently see is that folks have twisted White
They make her say what she did not say
and then they go with a false teaching apart from Scripture
then the “Whiteist Adventists” get confused.

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I was 19 when I first spoke with a religous person. I bought a Bible and started to read it. Not long after I had a scary paranormal presence in my room which an impefect prayer to God caused to leave. A few months later I came in contact with the SDA Church. While doing baptismal studies I was told about EGW and was initially sceptical. However, as soon as I opened the first book, The Great Controversy, I immediately recognised that she really was a prophetess of God as she was clearly inspired by the same Spirit that had been leading me along the way.

Various contributors on this stream have made very good points that some critics seem to be aiming at something else rather than EGW. From what I have read by critics is that they don’t seem to be very good at English comprehension. Others seem to have something that is dear to them that doesn’t get a pass from EGW so they hate her. One critic says he is sola scriptura, but rejects totally EGW, which to me indicates that he really rejects the Bible as well as he never proves anything with the Bible.

I look forward to meeting EGW and her fellow pioneers after praising Jesus when He collects His saints in the very near future.

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Like de “Shut Door Doctrine,” for example? Folks just twisted her?
What about “twisting” parts of her writings that she merely copied from others without mention or credit. Folks may be twisting ideas they assume are hers when they are actually someone else’s.

I am glad I haven’t twisted her now for 40 years. :innocent: The Bible IS sufficient, and since it is in harmony with EGW’s writings, I am perfectly satisfied with its integrity. Will keep Sola Scriptura.

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Not sure, but it seems that you are referring to my comment.

Yes, I see the Bible as the ONLY source of doctrine - aka Sola Scriptura principle. EGW was an amazingly prolific writer who produced a lot os inspirational religious books. Many people came to Christ reading her books. She was a good evangelist. But, by principle, the Bible must be sufficient to establish doctrine, therefore, I opted for that source only. From a Christian point of view, what could possibly be wrong with this?

You are right, I never - ever - quote the Bible in my posts. In all these years, I only did it once. And your conclusion (judgment!) is that I “really reject the Bible as well?” I intentionally do not quote the Bible in my posts. Reason being that I don’t believe in the text proof method, therefore if I quoted a verse I would also need to go into its context, and since I am not here to teach anything to anyone, I just focus on the ideas being discussed - but expressing my views according to what I believe is Biblical. I never use the verses in the Bible as single bullets against what other people think/believe. After all, who am I to pretend that I have the right to judge others??? Judging other requires a special ability that I do not have.

English is not my primary language, it’s actually the 4th. I live in the US for 30 years now, so I hope I was able to explain myself in this post in a way that is understandable to people of good will… Also, I do not fall in that category you mentioned of people who do not understand EGW well because of some deficiency in their comprehension of the English language. I read ALL of her writings available at that time in my primary language, Portuguese. Except what was kept a secret by the WE, everything available in English was already available in Portuguese in the 60’s.

Forgive me if I responded to a comment of yours that may not have actually been directed at me. Happy Sabbath!

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Many people are sola scriptura in their views with no input from EGW. Whether they do not know of her or reject her writings, one doesn’t need them or her to know God through Christ, be counted as belonging to his covenant family, and to be transformed by the gospel and the power of the Spirit. You make judgements that go a bit too far…

Frank

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Dene –
Yes, you can introduce Ellen to people.
Use the 1Corinthians 14 interpretation of a Prophet, as given
by Paul, though.
Prophet – [NOT one who fortells the future] One who edifies,
exhorts, comforts, counsels.
THIS is the Spirit of Prophecy, the Testimony of Jesus.

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Hi Dene, That’s interesting. I heard a woman at Uchee Pines Institute at Seale, AL have a somewhat similiar story some years ago. Was that you?

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In reality, the source and root of your disagreements is not with EGW but in your cognitive maturation and development. What TW and his administration is trying to accomplish by mandating EGW writings to be equal with the Bible is to stunt or abort the church members’ cognitive development to match the maturity of their own cognitive level, that of a six year old. Talk about uniformity in belief.

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What you need is a consultation with mental health professionals the likes of George @GeorgeTichy. “Scary paranormal presence” is not caused by “imperfect prayer to God” but by the mind trying to find reasons to explain what it cannot comprehend.

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That was a pretty interesting article, Elmer. But, what about young children with imaginary friends? My mother would bring up a recollection, now and again, about me with her saying that I would sit alone in a room talking to someone that wasn’t there. She said she used to get a real kick out of it. I don’t recall any of these conversations with this invisible friend, LOL. She says I was just two, or three at the time.

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Thank you for this wise “Whiteological autobiography.” Many will be blessed by your thoughtful and balanced approach.

I teach one course for students entering one or the other of the health professions, many of whom are not SDAs, which consists almost entirely of them reading one chapter a week from “Ministry of Healing” and writing a 1,000 word report which (a) summarizes it, (b) indicates what they found most helpful and (3) explains what they found least helpful.

I make no special claims for EGW other than she urged that our school be started despite opposition from the denomination’s leaders and that she has a lot of influence in SDAism. Most of them love the experience and give the chapters high reviews.

Yet there is one chapter which gets very bad reviews year after year. It is the one in which she urges that we not spend too much time and money on our homes. This one consistently irritates my students until I show them a picture of Elmsheaven. “Oh…!,” they say. “Now we understand what she meant by living ‘simply’. Not shabby. Pretty good, actually!”

Give EGW a decent chance, one that does not make doubtful claims on her behalf, and she does more than well enough.

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egw is definitely one of the first people i hope to meet in the new earth…what an honour and experience was hers during her life here on earth…

there’s nothing like a paranormal experience to wake one up to the reality that there is an invisible world operating in the background…one of the big reasons i believe egw is so important and relevant is the way she constantly connects the invisible world with our own…no-one else, not even the bible writers, does this so well…i believe that the ongoing dreams and visions she experienced during her ministry is why her writing is so vivid, and really in a class by itself…

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That is really interesting! Thank you!

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I was thoroughly shocked when I read the first chapter of GC, 1911ed as part of my research, on discovering amount of information drawn from many authors, all in the guise of inspiration! Most of the supernatural events found in it were just Jewish fables. Moreover, this chapter, as a whole had been dealt with by many authors centuries before her. She was the last person to deal with “the destruction of Jerusalem”.

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