This paper was written by Denis Fortin and is the Presidential Address that was presented at the Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) in San Diego, California on November 21, 2019. It is reprinted here with permission from the author.
Perhaps the BIGGEST issue with Ellen White is NOT Ellen White.
Perhaps the BIGGEST issue is with the delegation of the word “Prophet”
and with the related phrase “Spirit of Prophecy” from the Book of Revelation.
Perhaps from the beginning there was a total MISUNDERSTANDING of
what those Designations actually were and actually meant. And so have
been integrated into the PSYCHE of Seventh day Adventism since the
1919 was a REALITY Check of MEETING Head On the word “Prophet”,
the phrase “Spirit of Prophecy” and became TOO Painful and so the
whole thing was put in a Vault on the ASSURANCE that it would NEVER
be looked at Again.
It seems to me that THE CHURCH from 1846 and onward either REFUSED
or DID NOT want to just accept Paul’s DEFINITION of “Prophet” and
“Prophecy” as described by him in 1 Corinthians 14.
His definition of a Prophet is This— One who edifies, exhorts, comforts,
counsels. It is NOT future telling.
According to Paul, a PROPHET is Not inerrant, infallible. Not necessarily
the SOLE authority to be consulted on a topic. Which in Paul’s day was
“Rightly dividing the Old Testament” scriptures and the ORAL TRADITIONS
about the Life of Christ [Messiah] and its meaning.
And so, we have had to, FROM THE BEGINNING, Hide the FACT that
many of Ellen White’s messages in print are REALLY NOT the work of
Ellen but the WORK of her many secretaries over her lifetime. The
last two being Marian Davis, and Fanny Bolton.
One of the Secretaries was her husband James White, He wrote the
little pamphlet to Mothers regarding Secret Sin and its debilitating
physiological effects on the body, brain function, and possibly early
death because of that.
We DO KNOW that James COPIED all This material from writers of the
1700’s and early 1800’s which we know is NOT scientifically True.
However!! This booklet is STILL being printed and sold by independent
SDA publishers for SDA Mothers, And Since it has the Approval of
Ellen White, it is to be Trusted as Present Truth.
In some SDA corners there is still the Silent Discussion of the meaning of
2300 days. The meaning of Oct 22, 1844. The “cornfield vision”.
IS Christ’s “work” in heaven LITERAL, or is the pictures given REPRESENTATIVE
only. The Scriptural Pictures of a Temple in Heaven. Is it an ACTUAL Edifice? OR,
is it ONLY Representative so the readers of the 1st Century could understand the
TRANSITION from the Jerusalem 2nd Temple, to something BIGGER in heaven.
There were Christians who were STILL offering their Sacrifices even up until
the 50’s A.D. at the Temple in Jerusalem.
So the Books of Hebrews and Revelation of Jesus Christ WAS NEW THINKING
for them. A Discarding of Old Doctrines and ACCEPTANCE of Completely NEW
In the mail today, I received “Adventist Journey in North America” magazine.
On the BACK is advertising “Revelation 2020” for every SDA church in
the North American Division to present. I haven’t seen the material, but is it
Going to be Relevant to our Christian and Non-Christian members of our
cities? Or, just something ELSE to make us “feel good” so we can say, “THEY
HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!”
You know that I “adjusted” 40 years ago. My adjustment was clear and radical at that time: I became a “Sola Scriptura” Christian.
I remember how emotionally painful it was, realizing that many things that I was taught consistently since my childhood were not true. That the Church that I was linked to had deliberately lied and hidden information even at the Schools of Theology.
Cutting that “unbiblical cord” was indeed a painful and lengthy experience. And, as you can see, it was not totally cut even after 40 years; some people were able to cut it, I have not been able to do it. Maybe because I was rooted very deeply into SDA-ism. But I am happy that at least I was able to make the Bible my only source of faith and belief. This way I don’t have to deal with the SOP dilemma for ever.
Over the past few years I have been “adjusting” my views of Ellen White.
1 Cor. 14 has been a relatively “NEW” read for me, and how I perceive
the work of Ellen.
However, I do recognize, at least by stories related, how she helped
begin the work in Australia. She promoted the purchase of the Loma
Linda property. There were properties in Southern California she
promoted, but the brethren refused. Stories of her “messages” coming
to committees “on time.”
Her promotion of the “Madison school” when Magan and Sutherland wanted
to go to North Carolina and “hide”, teaching in the backwoods, so to speak.
To escape, run away from the entaglements they had with the Brethren the
prior decade. They had already moved Battle Creek to Berrien Springs. That
is quite a story in itself!
But I don’t talk about it to family or others.
There are probably others out there the same. But none of us “meet” or “greet”.
Sadly, “cunningly devised fables” in Adventism will never be corrected until the church embraces “Jesus Christ, in His Life and teachings as recorded in the Bible, is the supreme interpreter of God’s will for mankind”. Supporting Scriptural texts for this belief are listed at seventhdaybaptist.org Statement of Belief. Born into Adventism, I am eternally thankful that some Millerites that became Adventists embraced the Seventh Day Sabbath as shared with them by Seventh Day Baptists. Someone in Adventism shared with me that “Christ was for His time. Ellen White is for our time”. It is time to embrace Christ and Christ alone to be a true follower of Christ. “No one can serve two masters”, Matt. 6:24.
Research into the historical development of the Biblical materials mirrors the work done in Ellen White’s writings. The canon was not created by visions and dreams, the gospels were not written through a “supernatural” process and attempts to wed biblical authority with a process of “inspiration” and “revelation” that ensures verbal or plenary quasi-perfection have failed. We can have authoritative texts because we believe, not because we have presupposed them arbitrarily. Much more to come in the near future. How will church leadership deal with THIS non-compliance?
It would not have made any difference. Evidence support the fact that the mental structures that underpins fundamentalism is a result of maternal failure in psychologically separating from the infant and in fostering separation and individuation. Telling a fundamentalist of being wrong only solidifies the belief that the world in divided between the good and bad and he, the fundamentalist, is charged with keeping the faith. The only effective way to restructure cognitive functions of fundamentalism is to refer the fundamentalist to a mental health professional the likes of Dr. George Tichy @GeorgeTichy
Appointments for cases like that are limited… Considering the complexity of the matter, and the mental energy needed to treat those, the fee is 2x the regular fee. Spectrumites may be seen for free at any time, except those who think that everyone here is a “fool”… Millennials only when they are allowed back here…
Interesting…and perhaps helpful… And yet several decades too late for me…
I am curious though…as a birthright SDA from Sligo SDA Church, T.P. MD, I am puzzled by the following assertion —
“The Adventist position, supported by Ellen White, that there is no degree of inspiration between canonical and non-canonical prophets — a prophet is either inspired by the Holy Spirit or he is not — favored a predisposition toward the inerrancy and infallibility of all inspired writings.”
I am quite sure that I was taught, during 12 years of SDA parochial schooling and 25 years of Church & Sabbath School in Takoma Park, Maryland, that there was a REAL difference between EGW’s writings and Scripture… EGW as a prophet/writer was “a lesser light pointing to the Greater Light” i.e. Scripture… I am quite sure that THAT is the precise language that EGW used time-and-time-again to characterize the relation between her work/word/writings as a prophet and the work/word/writings of Scriptural Prophets…
Alas, in my Unitarian Universalist minister’s study, I don’t have easy/quick access to the full corpus of EGW’s writings (I know I have a CD-ROM somewhere…but it’s just NOT something I’m much interested in or care about these days…) BUT googling the phrase turned-up enough citations to confirm my memories and found my puzzlement on fact…
I searched the author’s address for those precise theological terms “lesser light” and “greater light” to no avail…and I find that telling…
Perhaps I am too lax in my cursory reading…but I think not… And it troubles me that an address so important and good, would yet make such a false step…
Please clarify for me if I am mislead by my own critical thinking.
Thank you for your consideration,
Jeffrey S. Nelson
Associate Minister & Teaching Elder for
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of
The First Church Roxbury, Massachusetts, est. 1630ish
“we are guarded as much as Daniells and Prescott were a hundred years ago. And when some uninformed church members “discover” some “new” insights into all these issues, they are just as unprepared today to face the shaking of their faith as people were in 1919, or as we were a generation ago.”
Hiding “truth” always has repercussions and over a hundred years of “hiding truth” has had, and will continue to have, repercussions. Those who believe the basics of our church; 7th day Sabbath, personal relationship with God and salvation not by works but by faith, may be “shaken” but will also welcome the honesty of leaders who are willing to stand for truth and remain firm in their beliefs.
Jeffrey, Yes, this reference to Ellen White’s writings being a lesser light to Scripture (the greater light) was known in 1919 and is still being taught today. This is still a firm belief, teaching, and understanding of the relationship between Scripture and Ellen White’s writings. But in 1919, in the context of their discussion, it appears to me that this relationship was overshadowed by the concept that all inspired writings were somehow “equal” so to speak, given the same authority in teaching and doctrinal matters. And this fundamentalist perspective dominated the conversation and views people had.
I never had the CD because those were made available years after I had already decided to be a Sola Scriptura" Christian (in the early 80’s). I left all my books in Brazil when I moved to the US in 1989… So I am totally deprived from the “lesser light.” Keeping just the “Greater light” though…
Jeffrey, you do make it clear that in 12 years of yours & 16 years of my SDA education we were informed that EGW was the “lesser light” pointing to the “greater light” but many school teachers did seem to not understand that as children in grades K-4 as concrete “thinkers” we took everything with total faith which made no difference between lesser and greater. That was somehow ingrained into our belief system permanently. Even in college very few professors/ministers actually made it clear that we must do our own studying free of previous education on EGW. This “magical childhood thinking” permeates our lives even now on all sorts of things but usually as we grow up we understand that our parents were not perfect and neither is/was anyone else.
George, many of us have been disappointed to learn that our church founders & leaders were not “perfect”. The current quarterly of lessons has made that very clear as much that could have backed that idea up was not put in, (read Jean’s remarks on the lesson a few weeks ago). Over and over again our “leaders” prove they have not really waited for guidance from God but bulldozed their way ahead based on what “they wanted”.
I understand what you are saying. I, too, got 16 years of SDA education, and in one samne school! Imagine the impact of that same group of teachers around, all year long, for 16 years! Then, think about the difficulty to disentangle it all after learning “more” in the early 80’s… Brutal!
It is interesting to me, as learned about the 1919 Bible conference it increased my “faith” in Ellen White as a prophet, with a better understanding of who she was, how she saw herself and her role in the growth of the Adventist church.
The fable of the infallible Mrs. White, did so much damage to the church and I believe continues to do so today. I remember as a kid asking questioning something she said (or allegedly said) and feeling so much guilt for even daring to question God’s anointed.
Today as I read her writings, and look at her life, I am astonished at how practical she was… a lesson church leadership could better apply today. I am equally astonished at how often she refused to be the arbitrator of some dispute or another.
I find her writing valuable for inspiration and for understanding how the church evolved. I suspect if she were alive today the liberals and the conservatives would both not like her very much, but that most of us would find her wise and delightful, helping us grow in our walk with Jesus.