Ellen G. White’s Writings and Their Relation to the Bible

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Ellen G. White’s Writings and Their Relation to the Bible

QUESTION  9

Do Seventh-day Adventists regard the writings of Ellen G. White as on an equal plane with the writings of the Bible? Do you place her in the prophetic class with such men as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel? Are her interpretations of Bible prophecy regarded as final authority, and is belief in these writings made a test of fellowship in the Seventh-day Adventist Church?

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Whatever the intent of these questions may be, we would note, as is more fully developed later on in this chapter:

1. That we do not regard the writings of Ellen G. White as an addition to the sacred canon of Scripture.

2. That we do not think of them as of universal application, as is the Bible, but particularly for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

3. That we do not regard them in the same sense as the Holy Scriptures, which stand alone and unique as the standard by which all other writings must be judged.

Seventh-day Adventists uniformly believe that the canon of Scripture closed with the book of Revelation.

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We hold that all other writings and teachings, from whatever source, are to be judged by, and are subject to, the Bible, which is the spring and norm of the Christian faith. We test the writings of Ellen G. White by the Bible, but in no sense do we test the Bible by her writings. Ellen G. White and others of our writers have gone on record again and again on this point.

In her first book, in 1851, she said concerning the Bible:

I recommend to you, dear reader, the Word of God as the rule of your faith and practice. By that Word we are to be judged.—Early Writings, p. 78.

Later she wrote:

The Spirit was not given—nor can it ever be bestowed—to supersede the Bible; for the Scriptures explicitly state that the Word of God is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.—The Great Controversy, Introduction, p. vii.

And in her last appearance before the assembled delegates at the session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Washington, D.C., in 1909, after her message to the vast congregation, she held the Bible aloft in hands trembling with age, and said, “Brethren and sisters, I commend to you the Book.” It was typical of her lifelong attitude—ever exalting, high above all, the Holy Scriptures as the foundation of our faith. We have never considered Ellen G. White to be in the same category as the writers of the canon of Scripture. However, apart from the chosen writers of the canonical books of Scripture, God used a line of prophets or messengers who lived contemporaneously with the writers of the two Testaments, but whose utterances

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were never a part of Scripture canon. These prophets or messengers were called of God to give encouragement, counsel, and admonition to the Lord’s ancient people. Among these were such figures as Nathan, Gad, Heman, Asaph, Shemaiah, Azariah, Eliezer, Ahijah, Iddo, and Obed in the Old Testament, and Simeon, John the Baptist, Agabus, and Silas in the New. The line also included women, such as Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah, who were called prophetesses, in ancient times, as well as Anna in the time of Christ, and Philip’s four daughters, “which did prophesy” (Acts 21:9). The messages that came through these prophets, it should be recognized, came from the same God who spoke through those prophets whose writings were included in the Sacred Canon.

That some of these prophets not only spake but also wrote their inspired messages is evident from Scripture itself:

Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer (1 Chron. 29:29).

Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, are they not written in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of Iddo the seer against Jeroboam the son of Nebat? (2 Chron. 9:29).

It is in this latter category of messengers that we consider Ellen G. White to be. Among Seventh-day Adventists she was recognized as one who possessed the gift of the spirit of prophecy, though she herself never assumed the title of prophetess. In 1906 she explained why. Church members who believed that she was called to the prophetic office were puzzled by one of her public statements. Here is her explanation:

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Some have stumbled over the fact that I said I did not claim to be a prophet. . . . Early in my youth I was asked several times, Are you a prophet? I have ever responded, I am the Lord’s messenger. I know that many have called me a prophet, but I have made no claim to this title. . . . Why have I not claimed to be a prophet?—Because in these last days many who boldly claim that they are prophets are a reproach to the cause of Christ; and because my work includes much more than the word “prophet” signifies. . . . To claim to be a prophetess is something that I have never done. If others call me by that name, I have no controversy with them. But my work has covered so many lines that I can not call myself other than a messenger.—The Review and Herald, July 26, 1906.

Seventh-day Adventists regard her writings as containing inspired counsel and instruction concerning personal religion and the conduct of our denominational work. Under the same inspiration she also wrote much in the great field of sacred history, covering the experiences of God’s people from the creation of the world to the ultimate establishment of the kingdom of God, with special emphasis on eschatology. That portion of her writings, however, that might be classified as predictions, actually forms but a small segment. And even when she deals with what is coming on the earth, her statements are only amplifications of clear Bible prophecy.

It is significant that in her counsels, or “testimonies,” the attention of the reader is constantly directed to the authority of the Word of God as the sole foundation of faith and doctrine. In the Introduction to one of her larger books she sets forth important principles:

In His word, God has committed to men the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are to be accepted as an authoritative, infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the revealer of doctrines, and the test of

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experience. “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.” 2 Tim. 3:16, 17, Revised Version.

Yet the fact that God has revealed His will to men through His Word, has not rendered needless the continued presence and guiding of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, the Spirit was promised by our Saviour, to open the Word to His servants, to illuminate and apply its teachings. And since it was the Spirit of God that inspired the Bible, it is impossible that the teaching of the Spirit should ever be contrary to that of the Word.—The Great Controversy, Introduction, p. vii.

While Adventists hold the writings of Ellen G. White in highest esteem, yet these are not the source of our expositions. We base our teachings on the Scriptures, the only foundation of all true Christian doctrine. However, it is our belief that the Holy Spirit opened to her mind important events and called her to give certain instructions for these last days. And inasmuch as these instructions, in our understanding, are in harmony with the Word of God, which Word alone is able to make us wise unto salvation, we as a denomination accept them as inspired counsels from the Lord. But we have never equated them with Scripture as some falsely charge. Mrs. White herself stated explicitly the relation of her writings to the Bible:

Little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light.—The Review and Herald, Jan. 20, 1903. “The Lord designs to warn you, to reprove, to counsel, through the testimonies given, and to impress your minds with the importance of the truth of His word.”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 665.

While Seventh-day Adventists recognize that the Scripture canon closed nearly two thousand years ago

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and that there have been no additions to this compilation of sacred books, yet we believe that the Spirit of God, who inspired the Divine Word known to us as the Bible, has pledged to reveal Himself to the church through the different gifts of the Spirit. The apostle Peter in giving his explanation of the happenings of Pentecost quoted from the prophecy of Joel and applied that prophecy to the evident outworking of the Holy Spirit on that memorable day. And the apostle Paul, speaking of the different gifts that God had placed in the church, said: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors, and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11, 12).

And how long were these gifts to continue in the church? “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (verses 13, 14). So long as God’s children would be beset by the cunning craftiness of the spirit of evil, just so long would the church need these special gifts. Moreover, the same apostle declared that the church that would be waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus would “come behind in no gift,” that they “may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7, 8).

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It is not our understanding that these gifts of the spirit take the place of the Word of God, nor does their acceptance make unnecessary the Scripture of truth. On the contrary, the acceptance of God’s Word will lead God’s people to a recognition and acceptance of the manifestations of the Spirit. Such manifestations will, of course, be in harmony with the Word of God. We know that some earnest Christians have the impression that these gifts ceased with the apostolic church. But Adventists believe that the closing of the Scripture canon did not terminate Heaven’s communication with men through the gifts of the Spirit,* but rather that Christ by the ministry of His Spirit guides His people, edifying and strengthening them, and especially so in these last challenging days of human history. And it is the Holy Spirit who divides “to every man severally as he will” (1 Cor. 12:11). It is God who bestows the gifts, and it is God Himself who takes the responsibility for these manifestations of the Spirit among the believers. He calls one here and one there and makes them the depositories of specific spiritual gifts. He calls one to be an apostle, one an evangelist, another a pastor or a teacher, and to another He gives the gift of prophecy.

It is our understanding that all these gifts will be in evidence in the church which will be “waiting for the coming of our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:7). Our interpretation of Bible prophecy leads us to believe that those who make up the remnant people of God in the last days of the history of the church will meet the full fury of the dragon’s power as he goes forth to make war on those who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17). That
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* See A. G. Daniells, Abiding Gift of Prophecy.

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expression “testimony of Jesus” is clearly defined, we believe, by the angel in Revelation 19:10. He says to John: “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

Commenting on this, James Moffat says:

“For the testimony or witness of (i.e., borne by) Jesus is (i.e., constitutes) the spirit of prophecy.” This . . . specifically defines the brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus as possessors of prophetic inspiration. The testimony of Jesus is practically equivalent to Jesus testifying (xxii. 20). It is the self-revelation of Jesus (according to i. 1, due ultimately to God) which moves the Christian prophets.—The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol. 5, p. 465.

 The Spirit of prophecy is intimately related to the gift of prophecy, the one being the Spirit that indites the prophecy, the other the evidence of the gift bestowed. They go together, each inseparably connected with the other. The gift is the manifestation of that which the Spirit of God bestows upon him whom, according to His own good purpose and plan, He selects as the one through whom such spiritual guidance is to come. Seventh-day Adventists believe that this gift was manifested in the life and ministry of Ellen G. White.

Briefly then, this is the Adventist understanding of Ellen G. White’s writings. They have been for a hundred years, to use her own expression, “a lesser light” leading sincere men and women to “the greater light.”

To answer the last part of the question, concerning the matter of church fellowship, we would say that while we revere the writings of Ellen G. White, and expect all who join the church to accept the doctrine of spiritual gifts as manifested in her experience, we do not make acceptance of her writings a matter for church discipline. She herself was explicit on this point. Speaking of those who did not fully understand the gift, she said:

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Such should not be deprived of the benefits and privileges of the church, if their Christian course is otherwise correct, and they have formed a good Christian character.—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 328.

J. N. Andrews, one of the founding fathers of the Advent Movement, wrote in 1870:

We therefore do not test the world in any manner by these gifts. Nor do we in our intercourse with other religious bodies who are striving to walk in the fear of God, in any way make these a test of Christian character.—The Review and Herald, Feb. 15, 1870.

James White, thrice General Conference president, speaking of the work of Ellen G. White, expressly declares that Adventists believe that God called her “to do a special work at this time, among this people. They do not, however, make a belief in this work a test of Christian fellowship.—The Review and Herald, June 13, 1871, p. 205.

And this has been our consistent attitude throughout our history. However, if one who holds membership in our church loses confidence in these counsels and later stirs up enmity among the believers, we reserve the right to disfellowship such from the body. But such action will not be taken because of one’s lack of confidence in these writings, but rather because the one disaffected is stirring up strife among the believers.

After men and women have had evidence that the work is of God, and then join hands with those who fight against it, our people claim the right to separate from such.—Ibid.

F. M. Wilcox, for thirty-five years editor of the Review and Herald, our church paper, says:

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In the practice of the church it has not been customary to disfellowship one because he did not recognize the doctrine of spiritual gifts. . . . A member of the church should not be excluded from membership because of his inability to recognize clearly the doctrine of spiritual gifts and its application to the second advent movement.—The Testimony of Jesus, pp. 141-143

These statements reflect our consistent attitude through the years, and this is our position today.