Is Ellen White the Last of God’s Prophets?

In early Adventism, the declaration that “Where there is no vision [prophet] the people perish” (Prov. 29:18a KJV) was a highly valued insight. This verse came to define and embody Ellen G. White’s (EGW) role in the post-Millerite movement that developed into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She became the Lord’s prophet and would shepherd the dispirited group of fervent believers who had expected the Lord would return in the fall of 1843 or 1844, or at least in their lifetimes. She would become, to this “little flock,” the conduit through whom God would reveal end time prophecies.

In what sense was EGW a prophet? To understand how she came fully to this role, we should situate her in the proximate time and events that influenced her. Ellen White (1828-1915) was born near the end of the so-called Second Great Awakening, the Protestant revival that began in the late 1790’s and extended well into the mid-1830s. The three authentically American Christian denominations that have continued to our day – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormons-1830), Seventh-day Adventists (SDA-1863) and to a lesser extent, Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW-1870) – were all affected to varying degrees by the environment of this period.

Of these three, the LDS and SDA denominations had founders, Joseph Smith and EGW, who declared they communicated directly with God in ways reminiscent of biblical prophets. Ellen White more extensively than Joseph Smith. Neither Joseph Smith nor EGW had high formal schooling and they relied on others in transcribing their encounters with God. Both leaders produced immensely important extra-biblical literature that would guide their respective churches long after their deaths. Joseph Smith had the Golden plates (precursor to the Book of Mormon) and other “revelations” – the “Doctrine and Covenants” and the “Pearl of Great Price”. Ellen White produced some 40 books, 500 periodical articles and more than 8,300 additional unpublished documents.

All biblical prophets, the models EGW is compared to, are simply God’s mouthpieces. Not in the secular sense of press secretaries, but as spokespersons for God. And as such, their roles have sometimes been pastoral. In which case they serve as God’s shepherds, pointing out the people’s waywardness, with the aim of bringing them back to God. The prophet Amos, for example, fits this role. At other times, the prophets’ pivotal role has been foretellers or “predictors” of a distant future. The apocalyptic writer of Daniel falls into this category in predicting a future much further ahead than any of his contemporaries could comprehend.

There are also biblical prophets who combined these roles of shepherding and sometimes foreseeing events – that were very disruptive to Israel. This was Jeremiah’s lot. He had the unenviable task of warning a people unaccustomed to foreign domination and exilic life. And convincing the populace that it was God’s plan to use their enemy, Babylon, as an instrument of punishment, was no mere task. As Jeremiah was predicting doom he was also counseling the Israelites to believe in God’s goodness and trust his overall providence.

These dual roles – of shepherding the flock and providing a “road map” to future eschatological events – have been core to EGW’s prophetic legacy. And her pastoral ministry to the church she co-founded ran the gamut. It is impossible to evaluate Adventist education, healthful living or evangelism and not be impressed by how much has been accomplished under her guidance.

In education especially, no comparable denomination has done more globally than Adventism. Wherever the church has gone it has established schools, ranging from the one-room elementary to accredited universities offering tertiary degrees. Although first generation Adventists are generally among the least educated, because of the church’s educational emphasis, succeeding generations leapfrog the ladder into ranks of those most educated. With almost 8,000 educational institutions in over 100 countries, the church can be justifiably proud of its accomplishments in this area.

To a similar, though less expansive extent, the church has made significant contributions to healthful living, and healthcare generally. Through its numerous clinics, healthcare centers and many first-class hospitals in the US and around the world, the Adventist healthcare brand has achieved an enviable reputation. The co-mingling of Adventism and healthful living has long been an integral association, one established long before vegetarianism caught the popular imagination. As with education, the Adventist healthful living success story cannot be fully told without recognizing EGW’s contributions.

But using accomplishment as barometer for prophetic authenticity is tricky. As the LDS story illustrates, Mormons could make claims to Joseph Smith’s legitimacy based on comparable accomplishments under their founder’s guidance, such as a worldwide presence, fine institutions and temperate living. Many LDS view the church’s historical connection with Utah as prophetically guided. Therefore an examination of EGW’s other prophetic role, as foreteller of future events, could provide a better measure to assess whether her 19th century end time predictions are unconditional.

And here I would indulge a brief digression to comment on whether EGW can be legitimately criticized. Some get righteously indignant when EGW is studied objectively, in a non-apologetical manner. For them, EGW’s role should be a settled matter, in much the same way Biblical authors are. But this is not a helpful approach because each new generation of Adventists should discover her for themselves, in their own way. This means they should come to know her, warts (if any) and all. In matters of religion, we must resist the temptation to uncritically absorb a superficial inheritance of the tradition without a diligent involvement in the acquisition. Faulkner’s insistence that: “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” is right. His is an astute recognition that time and events don’t stop but continue in the lives of continuing generations. We should neither be reluctant or apprehensive about interrogating our past, including Ellen White. Our history stretches back over 175 years and should be open to scrutiny.

But back to the task at hand. Virtually all traditional Christian denominations profess that Christ will return, as scripture attests, in the future. What is contested are the markers of that future event. What makes our Adventist eschatological outlook different and proprietary are key extra-biblical details we subscribe to. Our end time chronology consists of important pre-advent events, including the Investigative Judgement (IJ) in heaven. Our IJ doctrine postulates that since October 1844, God has been “going through the books” of everyone ever born, in judgement of their deeds, to determine their salvation suitability. Christ will return only after the end of this process, labeled “the close of probation.”

Also, a National Sunday Law must be passed before Christ returns. It is unclear if it will be passed only in the US or globally but, when it does, the law will mandate Sunday worship exclusively. The promulgation of this Sunday Law will signal that Apostate Protestant churches have joined the Catholic Church and ceded power and authority to the Pope, as these joined powers seek our destruction. We will be persecuted because of our continued allegiance to God through faithful Sabbath observance. When this law passes, the faithful should start heading for the mountains.

These fine details are what make our eschatology different and “special” – but also problematic. Problematic because some of these positions, acquired predominantly via EGW’s prophetic gifts, clash with the evidence from our own stubborn senses. In a recent conference in Rome, attended by some 360 Adventist theologians and administrators, under the aegis of the General Conference Biblical Research Institute, the attendees sought to “affirm biblical eschatology” from an Adventist perspective. In the conference consensus statements, no mention was made of Ellen White. I can understand the attempt to carve out an SDA eschatological position from the Bible alone, but this is a difficult undertaking because most of our distinctive eschatological positions come to us, extra-biblically, through EGW.

When we take Adventist eschatology seriously, we can’t escape some nagging questions: 1). Do we still hold to the view that, in this age of supercomputers, the 19th century accounting and auditing metaphor derived from the book of Hebrews describes the literal heavenly process where God is painstakingly reviewing our records? A task which must be completed before he returns? 2). Do we still envision the passing of a National Sunday Law in the same way and urgency that EGW and our founders did? 3). Will the world’s power brokers – Apostate Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, secularists, global political governments etc. – align with and become subordinate to Papal Rome? 4). Will this “cabal” force us to flee up into the mountains?

This admonition to flee appears particularly dated because of the obvious conceit from our 19th century beginnings when mountains and mountain-tops were symbols of safety. But it has ceased to symbolize the security that mountains once signified. In our time, and no doubt going forward, how safe will the mountains be against our enemies’ satellite photos, missiles, warplanes and drones?

Though we don’t profess knowledge of the Second Coming’s exact date, we currently endorse the view that all these events will take place before Jesus comes. Usually, God raises up prophets in response to specific societal needs. And when the prophetic function is predictive, the prophecy is often conditioned to the response of its targets, as was the case with Jonah. But EGW’s end time predictions come with no conditional constraints. So, regardless of time and circumstance, is it really certain that the Sunday Law will happen, the global alliance against the church will take place and the faithful will be chased into the mountains?

Because EGW made these statements over a century and a half ago, even though the landscape has shifted considerably, in the view of many Adventists, we cannot, dare not, reappraise her assertions or we will be accused of opposing her prophetic authority. She subscribed to conditional prophecy and the idea of present truth, two concepts which should allow for adjustments when contingencies in our theological outlook call for changes. But because we refuse to make any adjustments, we have inadvertently bound the Lord to her 160-year-old predictions.

This is less an Ellen White critique than it is a criticism of how we have shaped her. By discouraging meaningful discussions, particularly in official church communication channels – ANN, Adventist Review, Ministry etc. – we’ve created an unsustainable, inerrant posture toward her that does not serve the church well. A posture, I suspect, she would have found repugnant. At the very least, we should encourage engagement by the total church, especially within its academe, about whether EGW is the last of God’s prophets who has written the last chapter on end times, for all time. Or must God raise up another who will update her predictions?

Matthew Quartey is a transplanted Ghanaian who now lives in and calls the Adventist ghetto of Berrien Springs, Michigan, home.

Image Credit: EGW Estate

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8889
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Daryism/Schofield was not included nor the branch of Methodism that had a holy Roller element, all of which. were influences in the making of Ellen White. Nor is the Sunday law that clear. The Great Controvery was not over time but who was worthy of Worship at all times. The story of the three worthies of Daniel are a fit model of the last days. When the trumpet sounded the worship of the idol was to take place. When was only a signal, the event was worship of one other than the God of Abraham. the worship of Christ alone is the test.

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Good stuff Matthew, insightful as always.

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What many of those who doubt Ms. White as a prophet fail to realize is that she was inspired by the same God that inspired the writers of the Bible…The same Holy Spirit that inspired the prophets of the bible inspired her…She did not write these prophesies out of her own imagination…

She has passed the test of a prophet and her prophesies have and are coming to pass. The jews missed the prophesies of the messiah because they implore the same reasoning as some Adventists are now doing. They doubted and rely on their own reasoning instead of trusting in God and his word.

I’m imporing all Seventh Day Adventist to do not rely on your own reasoning and senses. Trust God and his Word and believe in his prophet Ellen G. White. This no time to coward and doubt.

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To disagree is not cowardly, Plese explain how a true prophet would have to recall her book on the Life of Paul.

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You State:
SHE DID NOT WRITE THESE PROPHESIES OUT OF OF HER OWN IMAGINATION

Absolutely right on brother!

She copiously copied them,
prolifically plagiarized them,
surreptitiously stole them,
blatantly borrowed them.

She pirated them, purloined them, and paraphrased them.

Thank goodness she did not have a photo copier —it would have made her work easier!

That is why, the casual reader of EGW, cannot know which phrase/passage/paragraph/page is original with her.

If as she claimed, God spoke directly to her, why would He have chosen such a circuitous route as to have used contemporary authors to funnel His pronouncements to her???

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What many others don’t realize is that this is a subjective opinion; not a statement of fact. It’s a belief, but not everyone starts with this belief as categorical as that.

I don’t know what the “test of the prophet” might be. I’m guessing it’s about agreeing with the Bible; but the problem with that is that she is agreeing with what we believe the Bible says “according to Ellen White”. If you accept EGW’s interpretation of the Bible, then of course she’s going to agree with it.

The Holy Spirit was promised to each and every person who has accepted the Gospel and who wants to dedicate their life to it. All we have is our own personal understanding of what the gospel means to us. We can’t rely on someone else to be the arbiter of truth.

We have all that God wants to tell us within the pages of the Bible. No generation has had less truth than the succeeding generations. Bible truth is always “present truth”. The gift of prophesy was never meant to make additions to the Bible. It was meant to reveal truths already within its pages in a way that’s relevant to the present generation. Ellen White was accepted as interpreting the Bible for her generation. Today we have to make applications of the Bible for our own generation in a way that is meaningful to us. We can’t spend our time trying to apply 19th century norms to our time.

We need to appreciate Ellen White for what she contributed to the history of the Adventist church; and get on with listening to God’s Holy Spirit, applying the Bible principles to our own time.

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there may be adventists who are unclear about the scope and sequence of sunday laws in prophecy, but while things are possibly ambiguous in Rev. 13, they are spelled out definitively in egw:

“As America, the land of religious liberty, shall unite with the papacy in forcing the conscience and compelling men to honour the false sabbath, the people of every country on the globe will be led to follow her example.” 6T:18.

“Foreign nations will follow the example of the United States. Though she leads out, yet the same crisis will come upon our people in all parts of the world.” 6T:395.

i don’t think the questions of egw’s inerrancy and whether she’s the last prophet are the same…obviously she can’t be the last prophet because her writings carry us only so far…while she is more immediately relevant than the bible, her writings don’t flesh out all the details i imagine we’ll need in order to really live through the time of trouble leading up to the second coming…and if we accept the premise that god will do nothing without revealing it to his people through a prophet, Amos 3:7, we can only believe egw is the last prophet if we believe god has nothing more to do, which isn’t tenable…

one historical moment that i strongly suspect will call for a new prophet is the horrors of Daniel 12:1, when IJ ends and christ ceases his intercession for humanity in heaven…i also think a new prophet will have much more to say on relatively recent issues, like WO, LGBT, earth origins and our church structure…but even older issues, like education, healthcare and evangelism could use a more contemporary perspective…

i don’t think it’s a question of must, but of will…as i see it, a future prophet will update egw in the same way egw updates the NT, and the NT updates the OT…that is, he or she won’t contradict egw, the NT, or the OT, but there will be a clear expansion…just the fact that our perspective is now so different from egw’s time, let alone the bible’s time, suggests a new prophet is imminent…

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A Sunday Law. Certainly is one possibility, but the issue is not time but who. Christ our Creator, or one who would take His place. Let us worship The Lord of Hosts now 24/7. The devil take the hind most. Christainity is defied by who is worshipped not when. Let it not be Ellen White, The GC, or the Pope or any facsimile.

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Any comment on her vision about the SHUT DOOR, (the Camden vision)?
In that vision she said “I saw” ten times. And it ended up being a big fiasco.

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With a sense of pride, we point out our educational institutions as proof of EGW’s vision leadership. But only in the big picture. EGW taught many educational concepts that we totally reject today, they are very problematic. For example, she believed that children should not attend formal school until “they have reached eight to ten years old.”

Reading EGW’s Educational counsels she was opposed to all competitive sports, display at college graduation exercises (Battle Creek College was closed one year over this issue), and college dating. She believed that the college term was to be short opposing long courses of study (4-year colleges). She taught that “It is God’s plan that Agriculture shall be carried on in connection with our sanitariums and schools.”

She was opposed works of fiction and believed that the college at Loma Linda should graduate thousands of students to work as medical workers without taking a medical degree. She held that it was wrong for men to attend women at childbirth. She was opposed to high wages of physicians believing they should follow the example of Jesus who given himself as a donation to the world.

The only thing that matters anymore is her inspirational works. Almost everything else does not fit into our 21st century ideals.

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It wasn’t just Ellen, Robin! She had “assistants” who did a lot of the copying from others and edited her own poor writing. In many ways she had “ghost writers”.

A wonderful many of great integrity, Dr. Fred Veltman, did a great deal of the research that proved this. He did so at the direction of the official SDA church while he was a church employee!

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The people of every nation on earth will follow America’s example of joining with the papacy and enforcing Sunday observance on all? This is what EGW said in 6T?

How can anyone see conservative Muslim nations doing this? Saudi Arabia? Iran? Do we see this happening to 1.4 billion people in China, or to 1.1 billion people in India, where the majority belief isn’t even Christian? Our historicist reading of Revelation, the reading into Revelation 14 of the IJ and the sabbath as the seal of God, and the “prophetic stamp” of EGW leads us to and locks us into such an implausible scenario.

When one backs away from such a sectarian distortion of the the text, the principles of Revelation can shine through. It centers on the good news that God will vindicate his people, and that every oppressive and unjust power they face will be judged and supplanted by his kingdom of love, justice and freedom in Christ. The call was originally to the first century churches in Asia Minor to hold on in hope and assurance, no matter what pressure or seduction they faced to give up their faith. It gives the same call and offers the same encouragement today to all believers in Christ, wherever they find themselves, whatever challenges they face to their faith, regardless of whether or not they keep the sabbath.

Thanks…

Frank

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Frank, many of the educational views proposed/advocated by
EGW made good sense IN THE CONTEXT of US late 19th
century semi-rural society and a fledgling, growing denomination.
Anyone interested in gaining a more informed view on the
currency of EGW’s “educational concepts” may wish to google
a very recent article titled: "Old school or cutting edge? An
examination of Ellen G. White’s views on education from best
practice 21st century perspective.

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Frank, have you been watching world events lately? Have you not seen how the world’s religious leaders all have come to pay tribute to the last few popes in world events? Including Muslims I must say; have you forgotten that they venerate the Virgin Mary? Have you read the Dalai Lama’s exposition on faith where he compares what Jesus said in the book of John, and he he states that this is completely compatible with the three levels of faith in Budhism? Have you not seen the ecumenical efforts across the globe to join all religions on their common points of agreement and the efforts to alienate anyone that has “fundamental beliefs”?
If you think these are “implausible scenarios” you are either not paying attention or you head is in the sand.

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Muslims visiting the pope can hardly be construed as the immanence of enforced Sunday observance in conservative or fundamentalist Muslim nations. See how that would fly in Mecca or Medina. There would likely be jihad over any type of move like this, both there and in other portions of the Muslim world.

Buddhism traditionally seeks to find commonality with all types of religious faith, not just Christianity. Again, to infer that enforced Sunday worship would be accepted in nations such as China, India, and Japan based on the Dalai Lama’s statements, is to ignore the religious diversity in those nations. India’s religious majority is Hindu, followed by Islam, and includes Sikhism, Buddhism, and Christianity as decided religious minorities. China is officially atheist. Its majority religion is Buddhism but also includes those who practice Confucianism, folklore religion, and Taoism. In Japan, the majority identifies as agnostic or atheist. It is a secular society. The Dalai Lama doesn’t speak for this entire cross section of belief and practice.

EGW wrote from a perspective that was shaped by anti catholic hysteria in the 19th c. US. Catholic immigration was feared and treated as if it would be the death of America, as if it was a papal conspiracy to gain control of this country. This attitude was seen as late as the presidential elections of 1960. IOW, she was a child of her times who was raised in this climate, and who broad brushed the future according to this climate, not only of the US, but of other nations with far different religious histories, affiliations, and pluralities.

Thus, our explicit and exclusively sectarian views of Revelation, describing an enforced Sunday law, comes more from her writings, and that climate, than from Revelation on its own terms. However, what I would agree with as being focused on in Revelation is the idea that the people of God are under persecution for their faith in Christ. This applies to all times, all places, and all circumstances. This was true of the seven churches in the first century to whom the entire book was addressed. It was most likely read in their assemblies together. It is thus especially pertinent to the persecuted church of all ages. The church today in North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and other regions, where naming the name of Christ in the face of beast like religious and political powers can bring ostracism, hardship, and even death, comes to mind. Revelation speaks poignantly to believers there, regardless of the issue of the Sabbath.

Whether or not this type of massive persecution takes the form of a Sunday law here is something that could be possible…although what does that mean for observant Jews who don’t believe in Christ and would never identify with sabbath keeping Christians? If it ever did, the call would be to stand with those under pressure, regardless of Sabbath observance or not. Freedom of worship and conscience are paramount and the overriding principle that I see articulated in Revelation.

I’m just not convinced anymore from the text of the book itself that a universal Sunday law is the best or strongest way to understand what it is saying, and as the specific application of the overriding principles it articulates.

Thanks…

Frank

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“In what sense was EGW a prophet? To understand how she came fully to this role, we should situate her in the proximate time and events that influenced her. Ellen White (1828-1915) was born near the end of the so-called Second Great Awakening, the Protestant revival that began in the late 1790’s and extended well into the mid-1830s. The three authentically American Christian denominations that have continued to our day – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormons-1830), Seventh-day Adventists (SDA-1863) and to a lesser extent, Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW-1870) – were all affected to varying degrees by the environment of this period.”

The Church of Christ movement started in the 1820’s with the Stone and Cambell revival in Kentucky that was also the seed for the Christian church start in America(non-Baptist). it was as large as the others ones and is in the millions today.

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I find it strange the claim is made the LDS, JW and SDA churches are christian. All three didn’t accept the Trinity doctrine in their early development and only the SDA now accepts the trinity and can be called christian. The creeds in the christian church all included the trinity doctrine and were all used as baptismal statements from the earliest times.
The threat of sunday laws and apostate churches joining with Rome to persecute SDAs should be rejected as unbiblical. These ideas are only marketing of fear and prejudice. Christians at this time are the most persecuted religion on earth. Christian communities in muslim countries are already under terrible stress.
I just feel it’s sad Adventists don’t seem to know who a christian is and that SDAs are accepted by other christians as part of the body of christ. Adventists seem to put a great gulf between themselves and other christians in regard to doctrine and I would suggest there is in fact minimal differences. it’s almost as if non SDA christians are as far away as Muslims. Ive heard many times Apostate Protestantism used infinitum .

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David was an adulterer and murderer, yet he was prophet and called a man after God’s owne heart. Can you explain that?

No but I can compare The Psalms with the purloined writings of Ellen White.Please note that the Psalms gives credit to the author, some are of David others are of contemporaries.

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