Will 'The Great Controversy' Project Harm Adventism?

Back in the 1980s, I was the Church Ministries Director of the Quebec Conference. I was alone at the office when the phone rang. I was instantly startled by the tone of the voice at the other end. An angry man went on the attack: “Is this the headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?”

I asked who he was.

“I am the police commissioner of Montreal.”

Somewhat frazzled, I asked him the reason of his call and obvious unhappiness.

“We have received numerous complaints about a book entitled The Great Controversy that is being placed in letter boxes in a “wealthy section” of the city. After some research we have identified your Church as the publisher and distributor. A quick perusal has clearly shown that the book is very anti the Catholic Church and thus falls in the category of ‘Hate Literature’ because its content can easily create hatred between communities”.

Then he quoted from an article of law that prohibited such an action and mentioned the heavy fine that went along for distributing material attacking another church.

My mind went numb for a moment, then I explained that our church did not usually do mass distribution of books, only short brochures that summarised who we were and what we believed. I added, that it was very possible that some individuals might be acting on their own and that we would certainly find out who and try to stop the action. He relented and agreed not to proceed with the threat.

Later I reported the incident to the conference president who quickly found out that a church member from another conference had donated $20,000 to some local members for the purpose of purchasing and then distributing the book. They selected the wealthy part of the Montreal. The action infuriated the residents who also had a long history of complaining to the police about Adventist church members who on Saturday mornings caused quite a bit of inconvenience by parking anywhere they could due to a lack of car lots. Of course, the two incidents were not related but together they had exacerbated the hostility of the community.

The saddest part was the reaction of those who had initiated the “evangelistic” dispersal of the book. Upset when the conference asked them to stop, they accused the leadership of cowardice, apostasy, and bowing to the pressure exerted by the “agents of Catholicism that infiltrated the church.” The incident taught me how difficult it was to explain to determined believers that not every action was Biblically timely or wise. Instead they found comfort in their understanding that good people were always going to be persecuted, even by their own church at times. I believe that the action of the conference was instrumental in protecting the Adventist church from what might have been a very nasty court action (we all know the frenzied appetite of the press for such occurrences).

Therefore it was with apprehension that I heard of the General Conference plan to freely distribute The Great Controversy on a large scale. I believe that the book was inspired and I know that Ellen White wrote that it should be placed in all homes, but I find myself wondering if doing so at this time in history is wise.

Did not the Apostle Paul write that we should not treat the prophecies with contempt but test everything and hold on to what is good. Doing so will enable us to avoid every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Not treating the writing of the prophets with contempt is about testing them as to their timeliness and relevance, which will help us to avoid using them in ways that are not good.

Written in the United States of the nineteenth century, The Great Controversy had quite an impact because America was a Protestant country and any writing that depicted in dark overtones the doings of the Catholic Church was bound to be highly popular. Some of the words that Ellen White used to describe the Pope and the prelates of Rome are very harsh but the political, social, and religious contexts made it understandable and facilitated the spread of the book. Today, any publication that dares to use a similar approach is quickly vilified as hate literature. We condemn similar anti-Catholic language used by white supremacists in their rallies, should we be careful not to be perceived as doing the same?

In 1988, I became the pastor of the Ottawa church. After my first sermon I was standing in the foyer greeting the members on their way out. A distinguished looking lady introduced herself, then told me that after being a Charismatic Catholic for years she had recently been baptised into our church. She informed that she had been severely criticised by family and friends but had maintained her relationships. She then invited me to meet with them, which I readily accepted for the following week. When I arrived, the lady greeted me but the ten other people in the room remained withdrawn. I had hardly had time to take my seat when to my great surprise the hostess asked me to justify the publication of The Great Controversy, which she said had almost prevented her from joining our church. Some well meaning Adventists had given it to her. She explained how harsh she had found the author’s statements against her church which, she added, had always been there for her whenever she had gone through some difficult and painful experience. I noticed the nods of the others. Then the dam burst, accusations and feelings of resentment surfaced. They had all read the book and were quoting those passages that referred to the Pope as a monster and also described Satan and the priests conniving to destroy the Truth. The remarkable thing was that they did not question the historical facts but the interpretation of the facts as well as the overall tone and the ‘vitriolic’ words. I must admit that defending the book against these accusations was not easy. I most certainly do not wish to repeat the experience.

Mass distribution, I’m afraid, will cause a similar reaction. I do not believe that having to face irate people and the press and maybe the court, charged with distributing hate literature, is necessarily what Christ had in mind when he said that those who would be persecuted for his namesake should consider themselves as blessed.

Beyond my personal experiences, I have listed below some reasons why I am not sure of the wisdom in mass distribution of The Great Controversy.

The length of the book:

It is well established that reading is no longer the favourite pastime of our contemporaries. Furthermore, reading religious works has been out of fashion for quite a while (even for believers who prefer to watch religious programs on TV). Today, communication must be fast if only to retain the attention. Few people have or take the time to read anything unless it is “texted”, emailed, on Facebook or Twitter. Newspapers are folding because of the decline in readership. I believe that it is much to expect that people would take the time to open a six-hundred-plus-page book, which moreover requires at least a passing interest in European history.


The West at best shows a very limited interest in religion and secular Australia and New Zealand show almost no interest at all. Add to this the fact that postmodernism rejects any idea that pretends to gather together clusters of events that have no natural link with one another and interpret them in terms of a common theme and ascribes meaning to them. The Postmodern mind finds it problematic to accept what it calls a meta-narrative defined as the overarching explanation of a state of affairs. The author of The Great Controversy does just that when she gathers historical events covering almost two thousand years and incorporates them into a vast panoramic concept that she identifies as the war between God and Satan. As acceptable as this seems to us as believers, this approach is highly suspicious to most contemporary readers.

Does it contain error?:

Adventist scholars spend quite a bit of time researching our beliefs and practises. Most of the time the research will confirm the doctrine under scrutiny, but sometimes the scholars are lead to acknowledge that added insights shed new light that calls for a re-evaluation of some beliefs. Over time the new understanding becomes part of our system of beliefs. Thus, many scholars and well-informed church members consider somewhat outmoded some prophetic interpretations and beliefs that are presented in the book. Three cases in point are (1) the signs in the sun, moon, and stars dating back some two hundred years are not considered to be indicative of the nearness of the Parousia; (2) the understanding of the investigative judgment; (3) That it is Satan and not God that pours the seven bowls (Revelation 18) over the wicked. The people who might choose to read the book will probably be the kind of readers that will question some of the theological material and, finding it wanting, reject the book altogether.

As a result of all the above, I’m afraid that the rubbish bins of our countries will be filled with discarded copies of The Great Controversy. That would be a tragedy indeed and certainly not what Ellen White intended when it was first published.

Pastor Eddy Johnson is the director of ADRA Blacktown and pastors two churches in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3362
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I agree that we share the truth “in love”, yet to now abandon the idea of distributing The Great Controversy is like saying the “great controversy” between Christ and Satan is now finished. Of course the book is extremely controversial, that’s why it’s called the great controversy. Can we be thankful that Martin Luther did not back down to extreme persecution by influential people. I am from a secular home, then after the service attended Sunday churches, was tired of my life of wondering and lostness, I “found” a copy of The Great Controversy and readily accepted it. Why? Because I finally found out what the story and meaning of the Universe was all about. JESUS! Do we think that the last days will get smoother? Let’s not abandon the “Spirit of Prophecy” like Israel of old. Do you see the trend? Does “community consensus” prevail in this world now? Or do we share the truth in love. Do we simply allow the 4th kingdom of Daniel and Revelation to “scare us” through influential rich people?

My Dad was rich, which I rejected because of his tyranny of control. I have an idea of how the rich operate, and its always with soft angry rhetoric, and sophistry of the most clever appeal. Let us love the rich and appeal to them with love, yet let’s not let them manipulate us with “group meetings” of displeasure for truth. All the wonderful philosophical arguments to abandon the distribution of The Great Controversy for “community consensus” is amazingly short sited. Of course the masses will be against it. blessings in Christ. John S.


Fear not Pastor Johnson, they are distributing the “Great Hope” instead. Which is a watered down version from what I hear.

Of course, we should not go out of our way to irritate people, making it our goal to offend them. But…maybe somebody should of told that to Peter and John, who preached to large masses of people, yes, he was doing “mass distribution” of something that was very offensive to the Jews, even “hate literature” (or hate speech, in their case).

“let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified” Acts 4:10a

“So they (Sanhedrin) called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:18-20

How about, Luther, who lived on a continent which was half Catholic, even going as far as calling the Pope “Antichrist”. Now, please, I’m not saying we go around calling the Pope that. But my point illustrates that what your saying doesn’t fit reality and history.

If we continue to wait for an easier time to arrive for us to distribute our materials, we may be waiting a very long time, if anything it will get harder the longer we wait.

Sigh…but of course, don’t you know…haven’t you been told? There’s errors in the GC that need to be fixed. And let me guess, that mostly includes the hard to swallow bits. Oh Lord give us strength, give us eye salve. Read this sobering testimony from Ellen White.

"That night I dreamed that I was in Battle Creek looking out from the side glass at the door and saw a company marching up to the house, two and two. They looked stern and determined. I knew them well and turned to open the parlor door to receive them, but thought I would look again. The scene was changed. The company now presented the appearance of a Catholic procession. One bore in his hand a cross, another a reed. And as they approached, the one carrying a reed made a circle around the house, saying three times: “This house is proscribed. The goods must be confiscated. They have spoken against our holy order.” Terror seized me, and I ran through the house, out of the north door, and found myself in
the midst of a company, some of whom I knew, but I dared not speak a word to them for fear of being betrayed. I tried to seek a retired spot where I might weep and pray without meeting eager, inquisitive eyes wherever I turned. I repeated frequently: “If I could only understand this! If they will tell me what I have said or what I have done!”

I wept and prayed much as I saw our goods confiscated. I tried to read sympathy or pity for me in the looks of those around me, and marked the countenances of several whom I thought would speak to me and comfort me if they did not fear that they would be observed by others. I made one attempt to escape from the crowd, but seeing that I was watched, I concealed my intentions. I commenced weeping aloud, and saying: “If they would only tell me what I have done or what I have said!” My husband, who was sleeping in a bed in the same room, heard me weeping aloud and awoke me. My pillow was wet with tears, and a sad depression of spirits was upon me." (Testimony’s for the Church, vol 1, pg 578

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Sorry I just discovered this article and felt a need to respond.

How unfortunate that the SDA Church is being represented by people who have no loyalty to the Church and the Spirit of Prophecy.

Imagine we now have people heading up departments producing articles like this who should be immediately dismissed from their position yet are left to continue their baleful ministry supported by our tithe money!

What government, organisation or army would continue to employ any member of staff guilty of treason?

As it stands it seem apostates are two a penny and the only cure will be the shaking when the wheat is separated from the tares.

Sincere Seventh Day Adventist who love the Church and cherish the Three Angel’s Messages should think prayerfully about the proper use of the Lord’s tithe. Using it to pay apostates who are using their illegitimate positions to destroy our Church and it’s message is hardly good use of God’s tithe money!


there was a time when i took for granted that paying tithe and offerings through the local church and conference was the right thing…but i don’t think that way now…there are people living in areas where they simply can’t support what’s happening in their local churches and conferences…in these cases, people need to exercise judgement…money, or especially the withholding of it, is the only leverage ordinary lay people have…

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Two questions.

  1. Are the statements made about the Roman Catholic Church in the book The Great Controversy, written by Ellen G. White true or false?

  2. Is the book The Great Hope a complete and representative summary of the original work as written by Ellen G. White?

Yeah… I’m Catholic and my copy showed up in the mailbox today. I had never heard of the book so I had no idea that it wasn’t written recently. So you can imagine how disgusted I was.

Believe it or not, I was already familiar with the vitriolic teachings of the Adventists concerning my religion. Through its members and through pamphlets.

Every time I see something new I discover that I am still capable of being surprised by the Adventists’ capacity for this kind of thing and this has been one of the biggest surprises. I live in a part of the United States where Catholics are incredibly rare. There is a great deal of anti-Catholic rhetoric here and getting a 400 page book in my mailbox that seems to be turning the already prejudiced community against me has been alarming to say the least.

If I am to believe that your church does not hate me, it has certainly gone about it in a very strange way.

  1. Is the book published now exactly the same as the original written by EGW?
  2. The book has several portions that were plagiarized. Will it ever be cleaned up?
  3. EGW never wrote a book titled “The Great Hope.” This is a fraud. It is just a modification of the book taking out some parts that are too offensive to other Churches.
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Athenasius, Ellen White, nor the SDA chruch hates you, or any other Catholic. Examining a theology (or ideology for that matter) does not mean you hate those who believe in that theology. Disagreeing is not synonymous with hating someone.

Many pro abortion advocates would classify your church and many Catholics as hating them. And this would be wrong. The RCC does not hate pro abortion advocates. It strongly disagrees with the belief though; and has every right to without being attacked and labelled as a hater. And I’m sure you would be highly offended if anyone said that to you (assuming you’re pro life. Either way it does not matter. I believe you get my point).

Ellen White wrote against the teachings of the RCC. But also was a voice of reason during a time when there was much Catholic hatred. For example:

We should not, upon entering a place, build up unnecessary barriers between us and other denominations, especially the Catholics, so that they think we are their avowed enemies. We should not create a prejudice in their minds unnecessarily, by making a raid upon them. There are many among the Catholics who live up to the light they have far better than many who claim to believe present truth, and God will just as surely test and prove them as He has tested and proved us.—Manuscript 14, 1887. Ev 144.1

In other words, she was telling her own church, during a time of strong Catholic bigotry, that there are Catholics who are better Christians than they.

So what I guess I’m saying is that, don’t wrongfully judge a person for something they believe (like the abortion example I gave).

And for what it’s worth, I am a recent convert to the Adventist faith. It’s not something I was born into. We should be able to critique one another’s beliefs without the labels.


“Examining a Theology”

This entire book, from the first page, is a litany of lies about a large demographic of people. It is full of outrageous claims that are completely unsubstantiatable. There is literally no evidence for any of it.

At one point, White actually says that you won’t find the things she is saying written anywhere because the Catholic Church has destroyed all the evidence. In other words, she’s telling you that you just have to take her word for the defamation of the character of an entire culture.

You say that this is not hatred? How could you? Because you are able to smile at me while you say it?
In every other circle and with every other group of people, these things would be seen as the worst sort of prejudice and bigotry. But for this woman I’m supposed to make an exception.

To say that Ellen white defended Catholics when she was one of the worse peddlers of lies about us in the history of mankind is sickening. I do not need the defense of the person I have had to defend myself against the most over the past ten years of my life.

Polite hatred is the worst kind of hatred. Even the devil can lie with a smile on his face.


Athenasius, you would need to show me these claims you make about Ellen White targeting Catholics (the people), rather than its beliefs and history instead.

The book is nearly all nonsense, but I’ll pick one.

White claims that the Catholic Church was basically invented by Constantine and that the Church forged its own history. That the councils never happened and that nobody actually remembered them happening.

I’d be interested in seeing the actual evidence that points to that having happened. It’s fascinating to me because literally everything points to the opposite. But for Ellen White, the lack of evidence becomes evidence of the Church destroying evidence. It’s absurd.

The insistence that White does not insult Catholic people is mystifying to me. She levels totally unsubstantiated claims against monks, priests, bishops nuns and so on. All of whom are Catholic PEOPLE. A few of my closest friends are priests, monks and nuns.

I’ve also always found the claim that Catholic lay people can be innocent essentially only because they are ignorant of their own history and culture to be decisively prejudicial. It’s essentially claiming that many of us are saved by our ignorance. It’s insulting.


It’s hard to know where to go to if you don’t quote me something. This way I can go to that page and look for myself. But I feel as though you will look for “bigotry” where there is none, which tells me this dialog may end up going in circles.

I looked up the word “nun” in the GC and found 0. I found 51 places where the word “monk” was used, 114 for the word “priest,” and 49 for the word “bishop.” I can’t go through them all. Like I said, I’ll need specific page numbers to know what you’re referring to. I need context, etc.

BTW, let us say I agree with you that Ellen Whites understanding of history was wrong; this still doesn’t make her a bigot. I’m sure you don’t agree with the all religious practices of SdAs, and yet can still care for them, even love them. You could make a historical claim about the church which is incorrect. You may even have come across prophecy which says something negative about the SdA church, which you believe people need to be warned about. Again, this does not make you a bigot. You may be wrong, but that’s about it.

If she hated Catholics she would not see anything a Catholic had to say “in a new light.” She writes:

“I have a large family, which often numbers sixteen. In it there are men who work at the plough, and who fell trees. These have most vigorous exercise, but not a particle of the flesh of animals is placed on our table. Meat has not been used by us since the Brighton [Australia] Campmeeting [January, 1894]. It was not my purpose to have it on my table at any time, but urgent pleas were made that such a one was unable to eat this or that, and that his stomach could take care of meat better than it could anything else. Thus I was enticed to place it on my table. The use of cheese also began to creep in, because some liked cheese; but I soon controlled that. But when the selfishness of taking the lives of animals to gratify a perverted taste was presented to me by a Catholic woman, kneeling at my feet, I felt ashamed and distressed. I saw it in a new light, and I said, I will no longer patronize the butchers. I will not have the flesh of corpses on my table.”—Letter 73a, 1896.

I just don’t see her as someone who hated Catholics. Sure, she spoke against the Catholic Church system, and some doctrines (believing it would rise again to great power, and America (and Protestants) would align themselves with it. Nothing could have seemed further than the truth in the 1800s; not so much now though…).

It does not matter if you believe it was a good thing that the RCC and the U.S. conspired together. The point being Ellen White and the SdA church warned about such things during a time when it would have seemed ludicrous. We are concerned about what we believe to be 2 great powers coming together, which wont end well for many people. Not because we hate Catholics or Protestants. It has nothing to do with the individual.

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Anti-Catholicism was rampant during the time EGW wrote and reflected the popular opinion then. It is not necessarily hatred of Catholics, but absolute belief in EGW’s writing.

Elaine, that would only make sense if you ignore everything I wrote above. To have said (during the 1800s) that Protestantism and Catholicism would come together, would have been seen as laughable. Saying it had to do with anti-Catholicism, just doesn’t fit the bill.

But please, I do not wish to get in a debate on this. We both know how it will end. I just want to show that Ellen White did not hate Catholics.

Please do. There is no compassion, no empathy, no love, only vindication of one’s O so precious ‘truth’, one’s (way off-balance) center.

Lord, have mercy.

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It’s confusing. Is it RCC or SDA that worship a woman as God?


Kenn, it’s not about “O so precious ‘truth’” as you put it. I just wanted to show that Ellen White did not hate Catholics.

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If you want a quote, go to page one of the book and read it through to the end.
Virtually everything in it that has anything to do with the Catholic Church is a lie. I’m not going to go digging up the quotes for you again. You know what it says. You all know what it says. If I quoted you exact passages you’d just tell me I’m delusional again anyway so I’m not going to waste my time.

If you believe what she says, you believe that Catholics worship the pope as God on earth, that the “Catholic system” as you call it set the pope up to be seen as God on earth.
One of about a thousand things stated in this book that is completely unfounded. No Catholic believes this. None ever has unless they are just willfully ignorant of their own religion.
Our most beloved writers have even written of the corruption of popes and Dante, among the most famous of our writers, depicted many popes in hell.

You don’t get it at all. They are people. They are Catholics as much as I am. To separate me from the pope as Catholic PEOPLE is a mistake YOU have made. Not us.
If we believe he is God then why does he also confess his sins to a priest.

Quote me the passage of the Chatechism that teaches that.

People like you are the bane of my existence. For 20 years I’ve suffered attacks like the ones written in this book. Propaganda and lies.

If you are really attacking the system, then maybe you should learn something about it first.

I’m done with this place.

After this experience though, I just don’t care.

I’ll pray that you are delivered from your arrogance and willful ignorance of my culture as well as of the book you are so misguidedly defending. There are many books that are much older and have much more sense. You would do well to read them.


This is what I am talking about. The Catholic Church does not and has never taught the worship of a woman as God.

You people say you are not attacking the people, only the system. Well, that is a lie about the people AND the system.

Read the Catechism if you really want to know what the Church teaches. Not what some crackpot wrote about us a hundred years ago.