Reading this account, one might think it a complete mystery why the church hasn’t been able to settle this issue and root out perfectionistic legalism. A more frank analysis of Ellen White’s role should clear up this mystery. Here’s just a few quotes compiled in an article from one of our most prolific contemporary proponents of perfection theology.: (Assurance of Salvation at the Time of the End — ADvindicate
The work of gaining salvation is one of copartnership, a joint operation. There is to be co-operation between God and the repentant sinner. This is necessary for the formation of right principles in the character. Man is to make earnest efforts to overcome that which hinders him from attaining to perfection. (Acts of the Apostles pp. 482, 1911.)
****We are saved by climbing round after round of the ladder, looking to Christ, clinging to Christ, mounting step by step to the height of Christ, so that He is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption..” (Testimonies Vol. 6, 1901.)
We cannot have the assurance and perfect confiding trust in Christ as our Saviour until we acknowledge Him as our King and are obedient to His commandments. (Manuscript 36, 1890)
Obedience to the laws of God develops in man a beautiful character that is in harmony with all that is pure and holy and undefiled. In the life of such a man the message of the gospel of Christ is made clear. Accepting the mercy of Christ and His healing from the power of sin, he is brought into right relation with God. His life, cleansed from vanity and selfishness, is filled with the love of God. His daily obedience to the law of God obtains for him a character that assures him eternal life in the kingdom of God. (MS. 49, 1907)
Now, while our great High Priest is making the atonement for us, we should seek to become perfect in Christ…This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble.(GC 623, 1911)
As this is getting tedious, I’ll stop there. Note these all come from after 1888. With a “prophet” making such statements, it should be clear why we cannot move past perfection theology. This article’s portrait of EGW being squarely in the anti-perfection righteousness by faith alone camp since 1888 is simply not tenable.
But the evangelical wing of Adventism takes the strategy of telling members that when EGW says salvation is obtained by striving for perfection with the help of God, she doesn’t mean that salvation is obtained by striving for perfection with the help of God. It’s hard to not see this as a form a spiritual gaslighting. Instead of reconsidering the role of Ellen White in the church’s theology, we blame members for deriving a legalistic theology from her writings by reading her to mean what she actually wrote. Mind you, for the most part, I don’t think it’s intentional gaslighting but the effect is the same.
A microcosm of what we put conscientious members through with these games can be seen in the story of Fanny Bolton. On the one hand, she was deeply moved by the beautiful messages of God’s tender love and great grace that one side of Ellen White kept advocating. On the other hand, whenever Fanny couldn’t keep her mouth shut about how the books were being made, White would claim to receive revelation from God showing that Fanny was lost. Reading Fanny’s letters is an absolutely heart-wrenching glimpse into these conflicting views of God and salvation played out in one person’s mind. The most heart-wrenching letter was perhaps one from Oct. 1892:
In all the darkness that the Lord has revealed to you concerning me, has He not shown you anything of the pleadings I have presented, that I might die to self?.. But is my idea of Jesus right? I have thought of Him as you have presented Him, and during the last few weeks have especially rejoiced in the thought that He did love even me, unworthy as I am, and was personally working for my salvation. I have thought His kindness was manifested to me in allowing me to have the precious Bible lessons that we have had, and I still think so. I will not sink in despair over the thought of depths of darkness in my nature you may still have to present before me that I may know myself…You may well be pained that I have come so far short of what a Christian should be. Do not imagine that there has been a day when  I have looked upon myself with satisfaction. Whatever you may know of me, you must know that I have felt my poverty, if not to the full extent of it, then to an agonizing degree. Night after night I have in torture of spirit reviewed my failures in life, and rise next morning with a feeling of despair almost, in facing a new day. But as for my feelings of rebellion against God, would you call it rebellion when I was in misery? (“Fannie Bolton to E. G. White, October, 1892,” pp. XX-XXII found in The Fannie Bolton Story: A Collection of Source Documents, pp. XX-XXIII)
How many others have experienced this “misery,” from a “spirit of prophecy” that with one hand gives assurance of grace and love, and with another hand takes it all away?
Excuse the long-winded comment. To answer your question: Is the present Church in a position to settle the issue posed by the concept of perfectionism? No, not until we’re willing to be far more honest than this account, about the role of the “spirit of prophecy” in entrenching those views. Unless, we reckon with that reality we’ll continue to experience theological groundhog day.