Chapter 44

The Shut Door—A Case Study

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More Than a Minor Footnote
Recognition of Presuppositions
Essential Attitude of Truth Seekers
Presuppositions of Critics
Presuppositions of Affirmers
Reviewing the Record
New View for Millerites23
First Connection Between 1844 and Heavenly Sanctuary
Time of Jacob’s Trouble
Christ’s Return Near, But Not Imminent
Sabbath-in-the-Sanctuary Vision
Seal-of-God Vision
Holding-the-Winds Vision
Open-Door Vision
“Present Truth” Article
Reviewing the Critics’ Charges
No Evidence of Deception
Summary
Endnotes
Study Questions


“Clearer light came with the investigation of the sanctuary question. . . . When Christ passed from the holy to the most holy of the heavenly sanctuary, the door, or ministration, of the former apartment was closed, and the door, or ministration, of the latter was opened. Christ had ended one part of His work as our Intercessor, to enter upon another portion of the work; and He still presented His blood before the Father in behalf of sinners.”1

Critics have called the “shut-door” issue “the darkest page in our denominational history,”2 “the most serious error ever taught by Sister White.”3 On this question they have said that the “battles that have been fought . . . have not been mere exercises in academic hair-splitting.”4

In 1885 General Conference president George I. Butler wrote: “Perhaps there has never been anything connected with the Advent movement that our enemies have tried harder to use to our reproach than the shut-door doctrine.”5 Yet, he could say: “When we understand all about the facts connected with the ‘shut-door doctrine,’ as it is called, we shall find nothing of which we need to be ashamed.”6


More Than a Minor Footnote

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The shut-door question is more than a minor footnote in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Connected with the shut-door issue is the validity of (1) the Millerite movement, especially the seventh-month message, (2) the significance of October 22, 1844, (3) the connection between the Sabbath and the sanctuary message, and (4) the relevance and integrity of Ellen G. White as a trustworthy messenger of God.

Critics contend that Ellen White, even until the early 1850s, held to the extreme “shut-door” notion. In so doing, they insist that she concurred with her husband, James, and Joseph Bates (among others), that probation had closed for all the world on October 22, 1844. Further, they point to several statements she made that suggest, in their opinion, that genuine conversions ceased on that date.

The crux of their argument is this: If Ellen White was wrong about the close of probation for the “wicked world” on October 22, 1844, then she was wrong about what happened on that date—that Jesus entered into the Most Holy Place in the heavenly sanctuary to complete His high priestly ministry.

Those who believe in the validity of Ellen White’s position as to what happened on October 22 base their confidence on Biblical evidence and a careful reading of the original sources, connecting disputed passages with their various contexts. This chapter will look at all source documents that relate to the “shut-door” issue.


Recognition of Presuppositions

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Both affirmers and critics work from presuppositions.7 Everybody does. No thoughtful historian or theologian would say otherwise. Presuppositions determine the questions to be asked as well as the weight given to source materials. Presuppositions too often predetermine conclusions by finding “facts” that support the researcher’s basic paradigm. The problem, however, is that most people consider themselves “objective” and “scientific,” even while working from presuppositions (though often unconsciously).

How can one arrive at truth if differences of opinion arise from a different set of presuppositions? By first asking the God of truth to guide (John 16:13). Then, with the help of the Holy Spirit, one should examine (1) one’s own presuppositions and (2) those of one’s opponents. It is amazing how tempers cool when adversaries recognize each other’s presuppositions.8


Essential Attitude of Truth Seekers

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Unfortunately, people have differed regarding their understanding of God’s will ever since Cain and Abel. But not even God will force love or compliance. Nor will He impose His presuppositions on another. He is willing to “reason” (Isa. 1:8) with men and women regarding the soundness of His will and the validity of their presuppositions. By the “weight of evidence” honest, humble people have gladly acknowledged the trustworthiness of their Creator Friend.

Those who choose to identify with God’s plan of revealing truth must not only see His truth as a “whole”9 but also reflect His spirit of graciousness. If not, His name is taken in vain, thus adding to the confusion, hurt, and satanic misrepresentation of His character that has prevailed for millennia.10

Ellen White pointed to one of the basic attitudes needed by those in the arena of opposing presuppositions: “True Christian love cherished in the heart and exemplified in the life, would teach us to put the best possible construction upon the course of our brethren. We should be as jealous of their reputation as of our own. If we are forever suspecting evil, this very fact will so shape their course of action as to produce the very evil which we have allowed ourselves to suspect. In this way, a great many difficulties are manufactured that otherwise would never have had birth, and brethren are often wronged by our being suspicious, free to judge their motives, and express our opinion to others in regard to their actions. That which one may be ready to construe into grave wrongs, may be no more than we ourselves are chargeable with every day.”11

The underlying purpose of this book has been to join with the reader in searching for truth so that God’s plan may be made so clear that no one will have cause to stumble. Most all historical research is limited at best. In fact, we have scanty resource material available on the “shut-door” issue. We have no opportunity to ask nineteenth-century participants what they may have meant regarding what has been recorded. Hence, one of the safest methods that fair-minded students have used to ascertain truth is to employ this basic principle: “Put the best possible construction” on differing points of view. In this way, a researcher’s personal presuppositions are held in check.

Putting “the best possible construction” on an opponent’s point of view not only enhances friendship but also may bring each party into a clearer understanding of the very truth each seeks.


Presuppositions of Critics

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Because the shut-door issue would not have arisen without the charges of certain critics, we will first review the basic presuppositions of various critics. Though not all these points apply to all critics, the general paradigm is as follows:

· Ellen White was time-conditioned; that is, she was a prisoner of her time, largely dependent upon the concepts prevailing among her contemporaries. For example: she reflected the “shut-door” concepts of her husband and other Sabbatarian Adventists.12

· Ellen White and church leaders have not been forthright in dealing with the first seven or eight years of the public ministry of Ellen White and other “pioneers.”

· Ellen White and early Adventist leaders were compelled to “open the door” in the early 1850s because of the growing interest in the Sabbath and sanctuary doctrines among those not involved in the 1844 experience.

· Ellen White’s teaching on the atonement involving Christ’s change of ministry into the Most Holy Place in 1844 is unBiblical, hence her role as a theological teacher is unacceptable. This presupposition perhaps underlies and drives all other presuppositions.

· If Ellen White’s claim to be a divinely inspired writer is true, then her written words are either inspired or they are not. That is, from this verbal inspiration viewpoint, Ellen White would not be a prophet if she edited, deleted, or otherwise changed her previous statements.

In putting “the best possible construction” on the critics’ concerns, affirmers must role-play and think through the “reasons” behind the critics’ charges. The quiet sharing of one another’s presuppositions will often eliminate the tensions caused by misperceptions.


Presuppositions of Affirmers

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Presuppositions of affirmers are generally as follows:

· Ellen White was time-related, not time-conditioned.13 However, on a continuum from time-related to time-conditioned, affirmers are not always at the same point. One of the weaknesses, for example, of most affirmers is that they place equal weight on both anachronistic statements and contemporary statements. Another weakness is that some affirmers have not always thoroughly studied the contemporary record.

· Ellen White, as all prophets, may not have fully understood all the implications of her visions at the time she received them. Through the years, affirmers have taken different positions on this point.14

· Ellen White’s position on the shut door, after her first visions, was different from (1) other shut-door advocates and (2) from her husband’s or Joseph Bates’s understanding (at least before 1851); her developing clarity regarding evangelistic expansion led the Sabbatarian Adventists into their worldwide vision beginning in the early 1850s.15

· Affirmers are convinced that Ellen White’s vision-messages are Biblically sound and time-urgent in the setting of the messages of the three angels of Revelation 14. Thus, her role as theological conceptualizer (always under the Biblical norm) can be safely followed.16


Reviewing the Record

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What does the historical record reveal? In probing the contemporary sources for an understanding of the term, “shut door,” we will examine, in order, (1) what Millerites believed regarding the shut door before 1844; (2) what they thought after 1844, noting that before another year would pass they would separate into two groups—Open-door Millerites and Shut-door Millerites; (3) the vision-messages of Ellen White as to how she understood the meaning of the shut door, the close of probation, etc., and 4) the thinking of Sabbatarian Adventists prior to 1852.

Millerites before 1844. Central to Millerite thinking after the 1830s was that the world would end in 1843-1844. The Bridegroom parable (the Matthew 25 parable that included the shut-door concept) was often used in connection with closing events. For all Millerites prior to October 22, 1844, the “shut door” symbolized the close of probation, the sealing of the saints, and immediate judgment by the coming Lord.17

Millerites after 1844. For a time after October 22, Millerites were stunned, disappointed, and confused.18 Soon two main groups developed: (1) Open-door Millerites and (2) Shut-door Millerites. Open-door Millerites eventually repudiated the prophetic calculations that led to October 22, 1844, and disavowed any significance to that date. (Some, however, continued to believe that Christ’s coming was imminent and others continued to calculate and proclaim other dates for the visible return of Jesus.19) For a time, Shut-door Millerites generally maintained their confidence that both their time calculations and their message of Christ’s return were correct,20even though they misunderstood how Christ would return.

Fanaticism within Shut-door Millerites. The extreme position that probation had closed for everyone on October 22, 1844, soon led many into fanaticism. This extreme group, within which were distinct variations, emphasized that Christ indeed came on October 22, not visually to the world but “spiritually” (that is, experientially) to believing Millerites who maintained their confidence in the validity of October 22. They were labeled “spiritualizers.”21 Believing that probation had closed (thus, fixing characters and destiny forever), some leaders advocated such practices as “no work” (to work would indicate a lack of faith that they were in their millennial rest), “creeping” even on the streets (to show their childlike humility as befitting those who belong to the kingdom of God—Luke 18:19), and eventually “spiritual wifery” (thus fulfilling the Biblical teaching that redeemed people will no longer be married—Mark 12:25).22


New View for Millerites23

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When Ellen Harmon24 described her Midnight Cry vision of December 1844, Millerites heard a distinctly new explanation for what happened on October 22, 184425—Jesus was yet to come and probation had not yet closed for everyone. When little groups in Maine and Massachusetts heard this vision-story confirming their 1844 experience to be “the work of God,” they also listened to Ellen Harmon’s rejection of their prevailing fanaticisms and theological errors.26

Prior to this December Midnight Cry vision (only a few weeks after their great disappointment), Ellen Harmon, along with many other dismayed Millerites, had concluded that they had been in error—that is, the fulfillment of the 2300-year prophecy, the shut door of the Bridegroom parable, etc., were yet future.27 This first vision convinced Ellen Harmon (with no hint of a general shut door for all the living on October 22, 1844) that God’s people were at the beginning of new responsibilities, not at the end of all things.28

A few weeks later, Ellen Harmon had her second public vision, the Sanctuary-Bridegroom vision, at Exeter, Maine, February, 1845. At Exeter she, no doubt, had been relating her first vision to a group of Shut-door Adventists, along with reproof of their fanatical leaders and their incorrect teachings regarding their extreme shut-door positions.29


First Connection Between 1844 and Heavenly Sanctuary

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The Sanctuary-Bridegroom vision gave Ellen Harmon her first look at what happened in salvation-history on October 22, 1844, when Christ entered the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary.30 In addition, it unfolded more clearly the principle of rejection—that, in addition to those who had either rejected or repudiated the light regarding the significance of 1844, a third group existed who had not yet seen clearly the choices available at the time.31 Ellen Harmon described this group as “careless” people who had been “deceived”; that is, they had not consciously rejected the light of truth, and thus the possibility remained for them to accept the light if it were properly presented to them. This third group provided the conceptual seeds for an enriched definition of the “shut door,” that is, the door had not been shut on those who had not consciously rejected the light brought to the world in 1844. In this vision there is no hint of a closed door for the whole world in 1844.32


Time of Jacob’s Trouble

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The Time of Jacob’s Trouble vision in August 1845, saved some ardent, extreme shut-door advocates such as James White from another colossal disappointment. While Ellen Harmon was in Carver, Massachusetts, in August, James White, now 24 years of age, in nearby Fairhaven and Dartmouth, was proclaiming the imminence33 of the Advent, one year after October 22, 1844.

After hearing Ellen Harmon’s vision, James wrote a letter to a shut-door periodical describing the impact of her message: “Many were expecting the Lord to come at the 7th month [October], 1845. That Christ would then come we firmly believed.”34

Continuing in that same article, he wrote: “At this time, Ellen was with the band at Carver, Mass., where she saw in vision, that we should be disappointed, and that the saints must pass through the ‘time of Jacob’s trouble,’ which was future. Her view of Jacob’s trouble was entirely new to us, as well as [to] herself.”


Christ’s Return Near, But Not Imminent

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Part of the “newness” to James was that this 1845 vision unambiguously taught that Christ’s return was not imminent, that significant events would yet take place on this earth. This vision seemed to have saved James from any further time calculations regarding the Lord’s return, a common practice among some Millerite leaders.

This 1845 vision, so timely, so Biblical, evidently made a particularly profound impact on James as well as others. This August vision, coupled with her other visions and messages, provided a context of confidence as these early believers moved into fuller light yet to come. For them, Ellen Harmon could be trusted. Their experiences in connection with young Ellen’s visions became a profound basis for confidence in her prophetic ministry.


Sabbath-in-the-Sanctuary Vision

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The Sabbath-in-the-Sanctuary vision (Halo of Glory vision), April 3, 1847,35 focused on the last-day significance of the seventh-day Sabbath. With each successive vision, Ellen White laid down another brick in a coherent, integrated theological foundation. In this April 3 vision, the relationship was cemented between the sanctuary and the seventh-day Sabbath (the “shut door” and the Sabbath).

As in preceding visions, there is no hint of an extreme shut-door position. On the contrary, Mrs. White continued to lift the sights of her colleagues, as well as her own, as she relentlessly continued to open the door of missionary responsibilities: “I saw that God had children who do not see and keep the Sabbath. They had not rejected the light upon it.” Here again, she applied the principle of rejection: Because the world was full of people who had not been introduced to the Sabbath truth, a vast mission field was waiting to be taught and warned. For her, the door was not shut to those (1) who had not understood clearly the Midnight Cry messages, or (2) who had not yet heard the Sabbath truth. Her reasoning? The door was always open to the repenting sinner who had not rejected the clear light of truth.

In a letter to shut-door advocate Eli Curtis, April 21, 1847, in response to his request for her views, Ellen White wrote that she “full” agreed “on some points, but on others we widely differ.”36 She agreed on (1) two literal resurrections, 1,000 years apart, and (2) that the new earth appears only after the wicked are raised and destroyed at the end of the 1,000 years. She disagreed with him when he took the position that Michael had stood up (Dan. 12:1)in the spring of 1844, and that the time of trouble began at that time. Then she said: “The Lord has shown me in vision, that Jesus rose up, and shut the door, and entered the Holy of Holies, at the 7th month 1844.” Further, she pointed out that the time of trouble when Michael stands up was yet future and would take place only after Jesus had finished His work in the Most Holy Place. She would elaborate on this connection in vision-messages to come. In other words, she and Eli Curtis disagreed fundamentally as to what happened on October 22, 1844, because she gave the term “shut door” a new definition.37

As far as we know, this was the first time Ellen White used the term, “shut door,” in print. How did she use it? In the context of the sanctuary doctrine and specifically connected to the commencement of Christ’s work in the Most Holy Place. She would elaborate on this connection in vision-messages to come. In other words, she and Eli Curtis disagreed fundamentally as to what happened on October 22, 1844.


Seal-of-God Vision

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Ellen White did not write out her Seal of God vision, November 17-19, 1848.38 However, while she was in vision at the Otis Nichols home in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Joseph Bates took notes of what she was saying. This vision stirred the Sabbatarian Adventist group, greatly widening their vision as to their tremendous missionary responsibility to proclaim the messages of Revelation 14’s three angels.39

This vision described the events since 1844 as light breaking out “in the east,” then “one light after another,” as each new truth was “linked together; they cannot be separated”—all truths that were related to the sealing work. She also assured her hearers that “the time of trouble” had not broken out, even though some saw a possible fulfillment in the then current European unrest.

The most dramatic part of this vision was Ellen White’s emphasis on publishing the “things that thou hast seen and heard” (that is, the salvation implications of the Sabbath as connected to the sanctuary doctrine and the sealing work). That challenge seemed, at first, to be staggering, almost beyond belief. But the prophet had spoken: The results of the publishing venture (that is, emphasizing the Sabbath as the seal of God connected with the sanctuary truth) would be like the “rising of the sun [as it] keeps on its course . . . but it never sets. . . . The rising is in strength and grows brighter and brighter.”

Bates was so impressed with this vision that he asserted that the Sabbath truth should be published at once and sent to such places as France, Britain, Russia, and the Middle East.40

In context, this vision-promise was given to a handful of people only four years after their greatest disappointment. Obviously this small group of fewer than one hundred Sabbatarian Adventists had no idea of a worldwide program that would develop in the next fifty years. All they knew was that God had revealed to Ellen White that they were to begin publishing, with the means available, with the light they understood. Their confidence in this 21-year-old woman had been established during the previous three years—they would proceed.41


Holding-the-Winds Vision

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Ellen White’s Holding-the-Winds vision, January 5, 1849,42 reemphasized her counsel given a few weeks earlier in Dorchester—that the various revolutions in Europe, both political and social, were not the “time of trouble” of Daniel 12, which was yet future.

She concluded this informative vision with further thoughts regarding the linkage between the holding of the winds (Revelation 7) and the sealing work (by implication, the close of probation). The winds would continue to be restrained by angels until God’s people were sealed (that is, the return of Jesus was contingent on, among other factors, a people prepared for the sealing of God’s name “written in their foreheads”—Rev. 7:3; 14:1). In this vision as in other messages, Ellen White emphasized that time was short, in spite of what they were beginning to understand as a “delay” in the Advent—that is, the Advent is contingent on when the sealing work would be finished.


Open-Door Vision

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In her Open Door vision, March 24, 1849,43 Ellen White provided further connections in the unfolding, step by step process of integrating vital truths that came to be known as “present truth,” linkages such as: (1) “shut door” (i.e., validity of 1844) with the sanctuary truth; (2) Sabbath and the sanctuary truths “could not be separated”; (3) rise of spiritualism with the evils of Satan; (4) rise of hypnotism with the evils of Satan; (5) Paul’s warning about “strong delusion” and “believe the lie” (2 Thess. 2:11, 12) applied to those ministers who were attacking the Sabbath and sanctuary truths.44

Here Ellen White emphasized her enriched understanding of the code word, “shut door.”45 The concepts of “shut door,” the Sabbath, and the sanctuary truth (with its insights regarding Christ’s work in the Most Holy Place) were “not [to] be separated.” Frequently in this 1849 vision-message, she described Jesus as shutting the door of the Holy Place so that He could “open” His work in the Most Holy Place. In her graphic symbolism—one goes through the open door with Jesus after 1844, into the larger view that connects Christ’s Most Holy Place ministry, the sealing work, and the time of His second coming.

The last sentence of this vision, however, has led critics to contend that Ellen White, even in 1849, held to the extreme shut-door notion—that probation had closed for all the world, except those who had held onto their 1844 experience: “My accompanying angel bade me look for the travail of soul for sinners as used to be. I looked, but could not see it; for the time for their salvation is past.”46

Good interpretation connects any disputed passage with its contexts—first, its own letter or manuscript, and then the author’s contemporary documents on the same subject. Even then, perhaps, no single interpretation of these two sentences will satisfy both the affirmers and the critics.

Affirmers generally find in earlier paragraphs the antecedents to the word their of this last sentence, that is: (1) to the non-Adventist pastors “who have rejected the truth”; (2) to those “professed Adventists who had rejected present truth”; (3) to new converts of the two previous ministers who “appeared to have been really converted . . . but if their hearts could be seen they would be as black as ever.” In other words, among those involved in “false reformations” that went “from bad to worse” there was no “travail . . . for sinners as used to be.” For these false leaders and their unconverted “converts,” as they continued their evil course, “the time for their salvation is past.”47

Affirmers note further that Ellen White’s messages for some time had been depicting, step by step, an opening door for evangelism for those who had not rejected the light of truth. The wider context for this disputed sentence, they feel, clearly explains what she did not mean.


“Present Truth” Article

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Ellen White’s article in Present Truth, September 1849, provided another example of the brick upon brick process by which she was helping to establish the rising foundation of a coherent, integrated theology. Her key points included: (1) that God’s grace is sufficient to make Christians overcomers, (2) that character determines one’s future, (3) that “what is done to rescue souls from the coming storm of wrath, must be done before Jesus leaves the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary,” and (4) “that precious souls are starving, and dying for want of the present, sealing truth, the meat in due season; and that the swift messengers should speed on their way, and feed the flock with the present truth.” Here again we see no hint of a shut door or of a limited pool of prospects eligible for evangelism. Much to the contrary.

Ellen White’s cheery letter to the Hastings family, January 11, 1850, emphasized that “souls are coming into the truth, and soon the work will be all done. . . . I saw yesterday our work was not to the shepherds who have rejected the former messages, but to the honest deceived who are led astray. I saw the false shepherds would soon be fed with judgment. Let the truth come out everywhere we go. . . . Cheer up. There are better days coming.”48

Here again the consistent understanding that Ellen White had had since 1845 is apparent—that there seemed to be no hope for the ministers who had either rejected or repudiated the 1844 truths, but there was hope for the “honest deceived.” In this letter she reemphasized the principle of rejection that she reflected in her Bridegroom vision of February, 1845 when referring to the “careless” who had been deceived by Satan. When careless, deceived people “are led astray,” the possibility exists that they may yet be led to see the truth and break with their deceptions.


Reviewing the Critics’ Charges

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For centuries, charges of inconsistencies and discrepancies have been made against the Bible.49 Though explanations were offered as soon as the charges surfaced, many people, because of their presuppositions, continued to believe the charges. Yet, all charges, whether against the Bible or Ellen White, must be considered carefully and with due respect. Truth can afford to be open, frank, fair—and kind.50

Charge: Ellen White taught the extreme shut-door notion in her vision-messages. This accusation includes allegations such as: (1) Ellen White believed, from her vision-messages, that probation closed for everyone in 1844 (believers were saved and rejecters of the Millerite preaching were lost); (2) all “conversions” since 1844 were spurious.

Response: Records show that Ellen White grew in her understanding of the shut-door concept as God continued to unfold the truths relating to the significance of October 22, 1844. These records indicate that her vision-messages never taught that believers were “sealed” on that date. Nor did those messages teach that those who were not aware of the Millerite preaching, or those who had been honestly deceived by Satan, were “lost” on that date.

On the contrary, the same records reveal that from her earliest visions Ellen White enriched the shut-door concept, a position in direct conflict with other Shut-Door Millerites.51 She taught that maintaining confidence in the Millerite calculations and the 1844 experience did not automatically mean that one had to believe that probation had closed for the whole world. Through her vision-messages she led the way into a Biblically based understanding of the events that occurred on October 22, 1844. Thus, for those who fully accepted young Ellen Harmon’s early vision-messages, the “shut door” now became the code word for “validity of the 1844 message and experience” and the future-opening concept of Christ’s change of ministry on October 22, 1844. This expanded understanding of the October 22 events soon became “present truth” for Sabbatarian Adventists.52

Ellen White’s remarks regarding “conversions” by “false” teachers would apply to all such teachers from the beginning of time. Through the centuries, many have “felt saved” through unnumbered “plans” of salvation, whether in the mysticisms of ancient Babylon and Egypt, in the emotionally powerful preaching of many revivalists, or in the ecstasies of certain charismatic groups, past or present. Others have settled into a confidence that their reason and research have given them the “truth” about themselves and the universe. These “conversions,” whether through feeling or reason, only God is able to judge as to personal motivations. But most will agree that rejecting truth is not the way to establish a saving relationship with God.

Charge: Ellen White and fellow Adventists have “covered up” her earlier, incorrect shut-door notions.

Response: At first glance, early critics had cause to ask questions—words here and there were deleted from later printings. Some of the first responses to this charge from later Adventist leaders did appear to be superficial, chiefly because not many people in later years had even seen the few, and not widely distributed, documents of the 1840s.53 In fact, contemporary documents of the 1840s are more available today than they were to people in the 1840s! Further, no one in the 1840s could quickly access all the contemporary periodicals dealing with the shut-door subject as a modern student can; and few in the 1840s could access the private letters of Ellen Harmon-White and those of her contemporaries.

Whenever one role-plays, seeking to respond to the same challenges and conditions that young Ellen White faced, her responsibility to clarify earlier writings made in haste becomes clear and expected. Those few deletions or changes were not made to change positions but to clarify them—so that misunderstandings could be avoided. What else would a responsible author do, even a prophet?


No Evidence of Deception

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No evidence exists that Ellen White (or anyone else) later tried to deceive her contemporaries into believing that she had not, after December l844, taught the shut-door notion of the Turner-Hale group. For her contemporaries, it would have been a monstrous folly! Those early Adventists had learned through experience that they could trust Ellen White. If they had observed duplicity in “coverups,” how could those same people trust her in the years to come when challenges arose that defied human wisdom? Those who had lived with her during the 1840s knew by experience how straightforward, how reliable, and timely her vision-messages were—from the beginning. To tamper with those vision-messages would have destroyed the unity of the small group of Sabbatarian Adventists. That group would not have survived long enough to be organized, any more than the early Christian church would have survived if founders had “covered up” the “fact” that Jesus was still in the grave.

Charge: Ellen White and her closest colleagues demonstrated their extreme shut-door notions from 1844 to 1852 by working only for Shut-door Millerites. (As we saw earlier, the Millerites were divided into Open-door and Shut-door Millerites.)

Response: Soon after her first vision, Ellen Harmon was instructed by the Lord to make her visions known. But to whom? The general population had already rejected the Millerite message, the general Christian world had scorned the premillennial emphasis of the Millerite message, the Open-door Millerites had repudiated the October 22 date and its significance—and only the Shut-door Millerites believed that something happened on that date. In fact, the Shut-door Millerites were the most nearly right people in the world! So she started where common sense and the Spirit of God led her. Further, many in “the little flock,” which early Sabbatarian Adventists called themselves,54 still held to the extreme shut-door positions and Ellen continued to lead them into unfolding truth.

No evidence exists that this approach to Shut-door Millerites caused a single person anywhere to be denied salvation. Why didn’t more Shut-door Millerites follow her fresh insight into the significance of 1844? Only God knows. But again to role-play, for Shut-door Millerites to follow the vision-messages of Ellen Harmon would mean to believe probation had not closed for the world on October 22, 1844. Further, it would mean that those who followed Ellen Harmon’s leading would (1) understand why Christ went into the Most Holy Place, and (2) link the seventh-day Sabbath with the sanctuary message. All this may have been too much commitment for many Shut-door Millerites.

The additional reason why early Sabbatarian Adventists (barely one hundred by 1850) did not immediately launch aggressive evangelistic programs (as they began to do in the early 1850s) was that it took time for widely scattered early believers to establish their message. That early Adventists were able to formulate within a few short years a coherent theological message that would be “present truth” for everyone, Millerite or not, calls for admiration as well as amazement.

God did not ask them to launch out before He had made them ready. Without question, Ellen White’s vision-messages and tenacity of spirit became the leading force in melding this small group into a world movement—all done within an amazingly short period of time.


Summary:

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(1) Both affirmers and critics must deal fairly with all source materials available, not merely with those that fit their paradigms and presuppositions.

(2) During 1844 and 1845, Shut-door Millerites held a fairly uniform view that probation had closed for the world on October 22, 1844. Ellen White began to use this term as a code word for what happened in heaven on October 22, 1844, when Christ “shut” the door to the Holy Place and “opened” the door to the last phase of His atonement in the Most Holy Place.

(3) No source materials indicate that Ellen White or any of those who became Sabbatarian leaders engaged in the fanaticism associated with other shut-door advocates.

(4) No records prove that Ellen White believed that the door of mercy was shut on anyone in 1844, except for those who shut their own door by rejecting Bible truth—and only God could know those personal decisions. No records indicate that Ellen White repudiated any of her vision-messages.

(5) Source materials do not indicate that Ellen White in the early 1850s changed her mind and moved from an extreme shut-door position in the early 1850s because of changing circumstances. Early Sabbatarian Adventists were moving more aggressively in reaching out to the general public in the early 1850s, chiefly because it had taken a few years to formulate their message. What would they have said to anyone regarding their reason for existing as a religious group much before 1850? All this took time.

(6) The principle of rejection emphasizes the Biblical concept that (a) each person is responsible for his or her own salvation; (b) that no one is rejected by God until that person chooses to reject God; (c) that probation will not close for the world until all have settled into a habitual pattern of accepting light or rejecting it. This principle threads its way through all of Ellen White’s vision-messages.

(7) Each successive vision revealed additional building material in the development of an integrated, consistent theological system that eventually became the “present” and distinctive truths of Seventh-day Adventists.


Endnotes

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1. Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, p. 268.

2. W. W. Fletcher, The Reasons For My Faith (Sydney: William Brooks & Co., Ltd., 1932), p. 199.

3. Wallace D. Slattery, Are Seventh-day Adventists False Prophets? (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1990), p. 29.

4. Dennis Hokama, Adventist Currents, July 1984, p. 26.

5. Review and Herald, Mar. 3, 1885.

6. Ibid., Feb. 10, 1885.

7. See George Reid, “Another Look at Adventist Hermeneutics,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, Spring, 1991.

8. See Appendix E: Basic Presuppositions Shared by Most Critics. (Appendices E-M are provided for this chapter in the general Appendix. For the best understanding of each subject, each appendix should be read when indicated in the body of the chapter.)

9. See pp. 256-263 for the development of the Great Controversy Theme.

10. See p. 257.

11. Review and Herald, April 15, 1880, italics supplied. See also Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, p. 789; MR, vol. 19, p. 13.

12. See Appendix F: “Time-conditioned or Time-related.”

13. Rolf Poehler used this distinction in his unpublished paper, “‘. . . And the Door was Shut’—Seventh-day Adventists and the Shut-Door Doctrine in the Decade After the Great Disappointment,” Andrews University, 1978.

14. See Appendix G: “Ellen White’s Growing Understanding of Her Own Visions.”

15. See Appendix H: “Ellen White Enriched the Term, ‘Shut Door.’” During the 1840s, Ellen White used the term “shut door” in two ways, not in self-contradiction but with each way emphasizing a different, though complementary, point. The problem arises when no distinction is made between what “Shut-door” Millerites believed regarding the “shut door” and what Ellen White meant beginning with her first vision.

16. See Appendix I: “Ellen White Led the Way in Building a Biblical Message for the World.” Beginning with her first vision Ellen White conceptually led the way in the development of a Biblically based coherency that eventually became the distinctive message of Seventh-day Adventists.

17. See Damsteegt, Foundations, pp. 42-44, 93-98. Damsteegt’s Foundations is recognized as the most complete record of source materials available dealing with Millerite and Adventist thought from 1830-1874.

18. William Miller spoke for most: “We have done our work in warning sinners, and in trying to awake a formal church. God in His providence had shut the door; we can only stir one another up to be patient; and be diligent to make our calling and election sure.”—Advent Herald, Dec. 11, 1844, cited in Damsteegt, Foundations, p. 106.

19. See Leroy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4, (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald, 1954), pp. 838, 839.

20. Damsteegt, Foundations, pp. 104-115. Many shut-door advocates believed that Christ had indeed come spiritually. One of the first duties of young Ellen Harmon was to correct this error and point believers to the future and responsibilities yet to come.

21. The Albany group of Millerites referred to all who believed that something significant happened on October 22, 1844, as “spiritualizers.” However, early Seventh-day Adventists labeled the extreme shut-door advocates “spiritualizers” because these “spiritualizers” believed that Jesus had indeed come, but only “to the hearts” of true believers.

22. Damsteegt, Foundations, pp. 114, 120-135; Schwarz, Light Bearers, pp. 55, 56. For example, Samuel Snow eventually thought he was Elijah the prophet (summer 1845). John Pearson, Jr. joined J. V. Himes (Open-door leader), and Enoch Jacobs went into Shakerism by April 1846.

23. See Appendix H: “Ellen White Enriched the Term, ‘Shut Door.’”

24. On August 30, 1846, Ellen Harmon married James White.

25. An Advent Christian historian, Clyde E. Hewitt, wrote: “Not all of that minority of Adventists who believed in the October 22 date became fanatics. Nor did they spiritualize Christ’s return. Some found instead an understanding of their great disappointment in a quite novel explanation. Miller, they argued, had been right in the date, but wrong in the event. . . . Out in western New York State on the morning of October 23 the local Adventist leader, Hiram Edson, after a lengthy prayer session with a few of those who had waited through the previous night with him, became convinced that the ‘sanctuary’ of Daniel 8:14 was in heaven. The prophecy did not refer to the earth but to the Holy of Holies in heaven itself. . . . To a small group of former Millerites this view of what had happened on October 22 seemed logical and, as buttressed with other arguments, often by scriptural analogy, convincing.”—Midnight and Morning (Charlotte, N.C.: Venture Books, 1983), pp. 182, 183.

26. Early Writings, pp. 14-17; Life Sketches, pp. 64-68, 85-94; Damsteegt, Foundations, pp. 112, 120, 133; Schwarz, Light Bearers, pp. 63-65.

27. Letter to Bates, July 13, 1847; Manuscript 4, 1883, James White, A Word to the Little Flock, p. 22. (Cited in Nichol, Critics, p. 582 and George R. Knight, 1844 and the Rise of Sabbatarian Adventism (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1994), p. 176.

28. Critics have charged that a one-sentence deletion in later publications of this vision belies the assertion that Ellen White did not believe in the extreme shut-door position after “viewing” her first vision. See Appendix J: “Response to Deletion of ‘Wicked World.’”

29. Life Sketches, p. 73. Some have contended that this meeting and others with extreme Shut-door Adventists proves that Ellen White was also “one of them.” For a discussion of why she attended these meetings with Shut-door Adventists, see Appendix K: “Why Ellen White Seemed to Reach Out Only to Shut-Door Adventists.”

30. Early Writings, pp. 54-56.

31. The principle of rejection, in connection with the shut-door issue, meant that on October 22, 1844, those who consciously rejected truth closed their own door of probation—a principle that has been observed since sin entered the universe. For those who had not clearly heard the truth, the door of salvation had not been shut. The Biblical teaching is unambiguous: the door of salvation is always open to those who have not consciously rejected the invitations of the Holy Spirit. God never arbitrarily closes the door of salvation on anyone; people close their own door of probation when they reject the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

32. For how this vision broke new ground for the Shut-door Millerites, see Appendix I: “Ellen White Led the Way in Building a Theological Message for the World.” Ellen White later said that her early visions corrected her previous error regarding October 1844, by revealing what Jesus did on that date. James White wrote on May 30, 1847, in A Word to the Little Flock, that “when she received her first vision, Dec. 1844, she and all the band in Portland, Maine, had given up the midnight cry, and shut door, as being in the past [that is, nothing significant happened on Oct. 22, 1844]. It was then that the Lord shew [sic] her in vision, the error into which she and the band in Portland had fallen.” James White also reflected later that it was Ellen Harmon-White’s visions that led emerging Seventh-day Adventists into the fuller light regarding the significance of October 22, 1844. —Life Incidents (Battle Creek: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1868), pp. 204-209.

33. “Imminence” refers to a Second Coming that could happen at any moment in contrast to “nearness” which indicates that certain specific events must yet take place before Jesus returns, such as the Latter Rain, the Loud Cry, the Seven Last Plagues, etc. Seventh-day Adventists emphasize “nearness,” not “imminence.”

34. Day Star, Sept. 20, 1845, reprinted in A Word to the Little Flock (May 30, 1847), reproduced in Knight, 1844, p. 171.

35. Early Writings, pp. 32-35; the description of this vision first appeared as a letter to Joseph Bates (April 7, 1847).

36. Eli Curtis was a contributor to Day Dawn, an extreme shut-door periodical of which O. R. L. Crosier was editor. This letter was reprinted in A Word to the Little Flock, cited in Nichol, Critics, p. 571, 572, and Knight, 1844, pp. 170, 171.

37. With so little source material available, no one can prove that what Ellen White meant in this April 21, 1847, letter was exactly what was in her mind in 1845. We can only reflect her growing divergencies from what was commonly held by others prior to this date.

38. Joseph Bates printed his notes of her comments during that vision in his A Seal of the Living God, cited, in part, in Bio., vol. 1, p. 150.

39. “Sabbatarian” refers to Adventists who then worshiped on the seventh day of the week, differentiating them from “First-day” Adventists.

40. A Seal of the Living God, pp. 4, 35, 40, 45. Many years later Ellen White recalled this Dorchester vision and her words to her husband: “From this small beginning it was shown to me to be like streams of light that went clear round the world” (Life Sketches, p. 125). In 1887 she recalled that in her “very girlhood” [most probably before her marriage in 1846] she saw in vision that commandment-keeping believers in Jesus would be like “jets of light growing brighter . . . lighting the whole world.”—Review and Herald, July 26, 1887.

41. Within the year, James White and company printed the first issue of Present Truth, July 1849, which later became the church paper, Review and Herald, one of the longest, continuously published religious journals in North America. It is now known as the Adventist Review.

42. Early Writings, pp. 36-38.

43. Ibid., pp. 42-45, originally a letter to the Hastings family, March 30, 1849.

44. See Appendix I: “Ellen White Led the Way in Developing a Theological Message for the World.”

45. For a discussion of how Ellen White enriched the term, “shut door,” see Appendix H.

46. Early Writings, p. 45.

47. Damsteegt, Foundations, p. 154. It is more than interesting that Charles G. Finney, one of the leading evangelists in North America prior to 1850, wrote in 1845: “I have observed, and multitudes of others also I find have observed, that for the last ten years, revivals of religion have been gradually becoming more and more superficial. . . . There is very much less deep conviction of sin and deep breaking up of the heart.”—Charles G. Finney, Reflections on Revival (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany Fellowship, 1979), p. 14.

48. Letter 19, cited in MR, vol. 19, p. 128.

49. See p. 16 for several examples.

50. See Appendix L: “Chief Charges Against Ellen White Regarding Shut-Door Issue and the Responses Through the Years.”

51. See Appendix M: “The July 13, 1847, Letter to Joseph Bates.”

52. “The ‘Present Truth,’ then, of this third angel’s message, is, THE SABBATH AND THE SHUT DOOR.”—Joseph Bates, An Explanation of the Typical and Anti-typical Sanctuary (New Bedford, Mass.: Press of Benjamin Lindsey, 1850), p. 14. Here Bates, as others, used the “shut door” code words for the sanctuary doctrine. See Ellen White’s linkage in her Open and Shut Door Vision in 1849—Early Writings, pp. 42-45.

53. See Appendix L. For example, from the information available to him, J. N. Loughborough denied that any who later became Seventh-day Adventists had believed in the commonly understood notion of a “shut door” after the 1844 disappointment.

54. See Knight, 1844, p. 165.


Study Questions

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1. Why has the “shut-door” issue been called “the darkest page in our denominational history”?

2. What are the circumstances that drive the critics to charge that Ellen White believed, even after her first visions, that the door of salvation was closed to all in 1844?

3. How can it be affirmed that Ellen White’s position on the shut-door is correct?

4. Why did it seem that Ellen White reached out only to the shut-door believers in her first two years of ministry?

5. How did Ellen White broaden the meaning of the “shut-door”? Include the circumstances under which she first used that term.

6. How did Ellen White’s Sealing Vision (Jan. 5, 1849) set the tone for a key concept in the way Adventists think about the end times?

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