It was camp meeting time in Florida. Earlier in the spring, the Adventist Review had issued a fiat that there was to be no discussion on certain issues raised by an Australian teacher by the name of Desmond Ford until he had had opportunity to share his views with the brethren. Of course such an injunction ensured a lively discussion would follow.
Interestingly, the featured speaker for the evening meetings that year was Smuts Van Rooyen. Channeling Ford’s theology almost verbatim in his sermons, he was well received by all present.
The buzz that spring was all about Ford’s teachings and the danger those “Fordites” posed to the church. And yet, simultaneously, the word circulating about the campground was “aren’t the evening meetings great!”
When my husband and I married someone gave us a year’s subscription to the Review & Herald as it was called then. We chose to continue the magazine subscription and every week I read it faithfully cover to cover. Then one week a couple of articles caught my attention. In the very same issue there were two articles on the same subject, but the authors had decidedly different opinions on the topic.
After that I began to read with more discrimination and noticed that it was not all that uncommon for alternative opinions to be expressed in the Review. This was the 1960’s, not far removed from the conflict over the publication of the book, Questions on Doctrine and various positions were being expressed. And yet, I heard no recognition of this practice among my Adventist friends let alone discussion of the various viewpoints. What I came to realize was that rank and file Adventists, who read the Review regularly, did not even recognize the diversity of thought and opinion. If it came from the Review, it was church sanctioned gospel. To most, our official journal spoke with a united voice.
What do these two stories have in common? They illustrate the uncanny ability of believers to hold conflicting and contradictory ideas simultaneously in their consciousness and to harmonize them as belonging to the same body of truth.
When Ellen White wrote The Desire of Ages, it was the fashion to do a harmony of the gospels. That was the way one wrote of the life of Christ in her day. One took the biblical accounts as historically accurate in their portrayal of the events of Jesus’ life and then carefully interpreted discrepancies in these accounts in order to make logical sense. For instance, if the gospel according to John had Jesus cleansing the temple at the beginning of his ministry and Luke’s gospel places the temple cleansing in the last week of Jesus’ life, then a good harmony would have two cleansing events. When Matthew has Jesus speak from a mountain top and Luke portrays a sermon on a plain, White has Jesus take the crowd from the seashore up a mountain to a level place.
It is now recognized that the gospels accounts are neither history nor biography. The gospel writers picked and chose their materials from various sources and arranged the stories and teachings to meet the needs of their congregations. Matthew writes to convince Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, organizing his book into five sections like the Torah. Luke, with his more cosmopolitan outlook, stresses the universality of Jesus message. Each gospel writer adapted their approach and changed small details to reflect the situations of their readers. Mark has the four friends of the paralytic digging a hole in the mud roof to let down their friend on a mat, while Luke has them removing tiles and lowering him on a small bed. Small details, but they speak volumes as to how we are to approach and understand scripture.
Through out White’s book, she weaved into her story line various commonly held traditions. For instance she identified Simon as an uncle of Lazarus and the one who had led his niece Mary into sin. This is fine with me and adds color to the story. The problem is that this insight into Simon’s life is not biblical. But because White recounts it, it now becomes gospel truth. *
By making White’s interpretations an infallible revelation from God as to the actual happenings in Jesus life, the door is closed to future historical research and an expanded insight and understanding of the events of first century. The way White has related the stories is not to be questioned. To speak in terms of “the trajectory of Jesus’ thought” is anathema. One does not contemporize the gospels. The Spirit has been codified, locked in a box and sealed by the prophet.
The contorted mental gymnastics that one must do to make sense of seemingly contradictory material has resulted in a mentality either afraid of or incapable of logical and creative reasoning. I believe my friend, Ellen would roll over in her grave if she could see the literal way in which her writings are being used. She would delight in the newer approaches of interpretation of the gospels.
Jesus, himself, literally begged people to think for themselves, to read with discernment, to discriminate between traditional mores and the inherited doctrines of men. “You have heard it said… but I say unto you.” “You err not knowing the Scriptures.” “Who do you say I am?” “How readest thou?”
Today we have abundant evidence both in scripture and in the writings of Ellen White to justify inclusion of women into full participation in the life of the church, including participation in leadership. It was she who said, “God never asks us to believe, without giving sufficient evidence upon which to base our faith.” She goes on to say that this evidence is based on testimony that appeals to our reason. This reasoned evidence has been authenticated by the careful study of deeply spiritual and devote men and women of integrity. It is not “new age thinking” nor is it the interpretations of atheists. It is present truth and we disregard it at our peril.
*Please note: One of my favorite books is The Desire of Ages. The first chapter of this book informs my whole theologicaloutlook. I do in no way mean to discredit or demean this beautifully worded devotional book.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3874