This book was written with two purposes in mind: (1) to provide Seventh-day Adventists with a fresh look at the life and witness of Ellen G. White, and (2) to provide resource material for college and seminary courses on the gift of prophecy, especially as manifested in the life and ministry of this inspired messenger of God.
Some people, lacking a clear understanding of how revelation/inspiration works, have permitted problems and criticisms to weaken or destroy their confidence in Mrs. Whites unique seventy-year ministry. Yet, millions of people around the world consider her an inspired, epoch-making religious leader. They have found their love for Jesus deepened as she directed their minds to the Bible, her chief source of enlightenment and joy. They have discovered that her writings provide clear, highly motivating and accurate insights for healthy, disciplined living. Most important, they have found in her writings coherent insights into the Biblical story of salvation.
Thus, in addition to the twin purposes mentioned above, this book is written for at least two groups: (1) those who are immensely grateful for the pen of Ellen White and want to learn more about her, and (2) those with unresolved questions about certain aspects of her long ministry. This book sets forth abundant reasons for affirming her claim to be Gods messenger; it provides ample evidence to satisfy the most discerning mind.
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This book is concerned with how young and old find certainty. Is there any authority anywhere that can speak with clarity, satisfying the head as well as the heart?
Seventh-day Adventists answer Yes! there is an Authority. We point to the One who made us, and call Him Godthe God who communicates. Further, He made us capable of responding to Him. Wonderful thought; we were made to listen to our friendly Maker! And when we listen, we hear the truth about who we are, why we exist, and what kind of unending future He has planned for usif we keep listening.
How does God speak to human beings? Many times and in many ways, Paul wrote in Hebrews 1:1 (TEV). For example:
But God did even more. He knew that thousands of years before Jesus would come as man, men and women needed to hear His side of the story of the great controversy between good and evil.
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Even after God became man, He could not be everywhere at once. Nor could Jesus be physically present everywhere after His ascension. So, to get His message across, God added to His Self-communicating system a very humanly oriented planHe spoke in many times and in many ways through the prophets (Heb. 1:1-3, TEV).
This communication system through the prophets was well-recognized throughout Biblical times. Gods people learned by experience that they were at their best when they listened to the prophets: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets and you shall prosper. (2 Chron. 20:20). Further, they knew through experience that God would not let them go blindly into the future. Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).
Divine communication through prophets was not confined to Old Testament times. During our Lords last hours on earth, He promised that this line of communication between heaven and earth would always be kept openthrough the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, His personal representative. Today, even as in Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit continues to speak, not only to each persons conscience but through prophets: I will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth (John 14:16). And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets (Eph. 4:11; see also 1 Cor. 12:28).
The Spirit of Truth is also the Spirit of prophecy! That means that these specially selected men and women would be under control of the Holy Spirit as they spoke the message that came from God (2 Pet. 1:21, TEV). The church was told to expect this truth-communication system to function until Jesus returns.
This Biblical overview teaches that God never wanted men and women to be without certainty regarding the purpose of life. Especially during the unparalleled stress of the last days, He made certain that we could know the truth about the future. Whenever men and women carefully listen to Gods prophets, they know they are listening to the truth. Truth carries its own authority because truth appeals to and satisfies our concern for objective certainty and subjective certitudethe linking of the head and heart. The reliability of the truth conveyed to the prophets by their connection with God is reinforced as time passes; prophets are validated by the fruitage of the message they bear.
This book will help answer the following questions: Does Ellen White fulfill the Biblical qualifications of a prophet? On what basis can one regard her as authority in her role as Gods messenger? In reviewing her seventy-year active ministry, what difference did her counsel make in determining the course and development of the church? What was the effect of her counsel to individuals? Did she manifest the marks of coherence and reliability and, thus, the test of authority?
We will consider the weight of evidence. Her long ministry and the fruitage of her labors is an open book. No contrived evidence or argument is needed to support her claim to be Gods messenger.
Ellen Whites own abiding principle will govern our journey together:
The subjects which we present to the world must be to us a living reality. It is important that in defending the doctrines which we consider fundamental articles of faith, we should never allow ourselves to employ arguments that are not wholly sound. These may avail to silence an opposer, but they do not honor the truth. We should present sound arguments, that will not only silence our opponents, but will bear the closest and most searching scrutiny.
At the heart of the great controversy between God and Satan, between good and evil, is the conflict over truth, that is, who is right about how to run the universe, God or Satan? Gods position is that truth needs no defense, it simply needs to be seen and demonstrated. Satan, a liar and the father of it (John 8:44), makes his points by deception.
Clever debater, slick insinuator, Satan appeals to the self-centered heart to be the final arbiter of truth. One of his most effective tools is to raise doubt, causing hesitancy and postponement of a spiritual commitment. For this reason, tampering with truth in any way, casting unwarranted shadows over what may not be totally clear, is an immoral act. It is not merely academic jostlingit is part of a cosmic attempt to obscure truth and thwart God.
Ellen White could not be clearer than when she appeals for openness and the rejection of fear when separating facts from opinions. She knew that faith is in jeopardy if one sets limits to research, fearing that new discoveries may unsettle faith. But she often made clear that ones faith also is in jeopardy when human reason or feelings are permitted to set the limits of faith. For her, truth must be honored at all costs.
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This book is divided into five sections:
I. Gods Communication System (chapters 1 to 3).
II. The Real Ellen White (chapters 4 through 16).
III. Messenger to the Church (chapters 17 through 31).
IV. How to Listen to the Messenger (chapters 32 through 44).
V. Continuing Relevancy of the Messenger (chapters 45 through 47).
Chapters 1 to 3 explore briefly the Biblical teaching about how God has been revealing the good news (the gospel) of salvation to men and women. The good news is the truth about God and His way of running the universea picture in sharp contrast to Satans lies and libels. God is revealed through Jesus Christ, the Revealer. The Holy Spirit passes on, through the gift of prophecy, the truth as revealed in Jesus.
Chapters 4 to 9 will focus first on Ellen Harmons childhood and teen-age experiences. Then, her role as Mrs. Ellen G. Whitewife, mother, neighbor, soul winner, and public personalityby examining her life from her own writings as well as from the viewpoint of those who knew her best. Because ones thought as well as temperament is largely determined by contemporary, social, economic, and philosophical influences, we will briefly note the circumstances prevailing in northeastern United States, and later national factors that most probably touched her as she developed under her divine assignment. Her fascinating blend of Victorian woman and rugged American pioneer will be studied.
Chapters 10 to 16 will observe how the prophetic gift functioned in the ministry of Ellen White. The historical background of the 1840s and 1850s will help us to understand the unfavorable climate that existed for anyone claiming to have visions. Nevertheless, the vision phenomena of Ellen White brought a clarity and assurance to those who wanted a Biblical explanation for the 1844 experience.
We will study Ellen White as a writer and speaker, by:
Chapters 17 to 21 will explore the phenomenal relationship between Ellen G. White and the church with which she became so intimately involved for seventy years. No other person has so directly affected the growth and shaping of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, theologically and institutionally. She had much to do with its strategic planning. Her counsel was sought from Australia to Europe and across North America regarding the establishment of schools, health institutions, and publishing houses. Her writings became beacons of enlightenment to be avidly studied in later generations.
Chapters 22 to 31 will examine Ellen Whites role as conceptual nurturer. She had a unique ability to synthesize the clear prophetic message with human experience and the insights of others. Out of this synthesis developed a distinctively integrated and coherent body of thought, firmly and consistently Biblically based. This integration unified her vast contribution to practical principles of education, evangelism, organization, and health, for which Seventh-day Adventists have become well known.
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We will note how she used certain principles of investigation as she processed and conveyed truth. Her introduction to The Great Controversy is instructive: The great events which have marked the progress of reform in past ages, are matters of history, well known and universally acknowledged by the Protestant world; they are facts which none can gainsay. This history I have presented briefly, in accordance with the scope of this book, and the brevity which must necessarily be observed, the facts having been condensed into as little space as seemed consistent with a proper understanding of their application.
In some cases where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but in some instances no specific credit has been given, since the quotations are not given for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject. In narrating the experience and views of those carrying forward the work of reform in our own time, similar use has been made of their published works.
The organizing principle that gathered this material like a magnet into her synthesis is the Great Controversy Theme. Seeing the Bible as a whole and the relation of its parts, Ellen White clearly illuminated the basic issues regarding the character of God, the nature of man, the rise of sin, and how God plans ultimately to deal with this rebel planet.
Ellen Whites understanding of the Great Controversy Theme provided remarkable stability and harmony as the Adventist Church developed it theology and denominational structure. It established the thought center for her to provide personal comfort and theological correction at those junctures where other religious bodies usually have splintered.
Under Section 4, How to Listen to the Messenger, chapters 32 to 38 emphasize how men and women should hear the message of Ellen G. White. Any study of written documents, whether they be Shakespearean sonnets or Holy Scripture, involves hermeneutics, that is, using principles of interpretation that will assist the reader in understanding the author. We will examine rules of interpretation that help us determine what Ellen White meant to those who heard her, and what these same writings mean in modern times. For example, one rule is to consider time, place, and circumstances when we apply her counsel today. Principles remain, but the application of principle may be different as we follow this hermeneutical rule.
Fundamental to understanding Ellen White is our larger need to understand how God gives His messages through His messengers to His people. In past years, those who have believed that words themselves are inspired have been greatly troubled by what appear to be Biblical errors and contradictions. This same confusion between mechanical or dictation inspiration (each word being just the way God spoke it to the prophet) and thought inspiration (God inspired the prophets, not their words) has troubled many when reading the writings of Ellen White. We shall note how this misunderstanding of the revelation/inspiration process has created doubt and unwarranted criticism of Ellen White.
An equally important issue is the relationship between Ellen Whites writings and the Bible. We will seek to understand such terms as levels of inspiration, progressive revelation, canonical authority, and lesser light, greater light.
Chapter 39 and 40 will review how Ellen White wrote her books. We will note how she related to her editorial assistants, and their role in producing Steps to Christ, The Desire of Ages, and The Great Controversy.
In chapters 41 to 43 we will evaluate criticisms of Ellen White. Inevitably, prophets will be criticized by contemporaries, primarily because they are far out in front in Gods controversy with evil. No Biblical prophet had an easy time fulfilling his or her assignment. This sad fact has led to the observation that one generation kills its prophets, only to have the next build monuments in their honor.
Some criticism finds its source in the perennial reaction of those who object to truth that cuts across personal inclination or pride of opinion. Examples of such rejection are found in the criticism of Jesus, Jeremiah, Paul and Ellen White.
These chapters do not attempt to answer every allegation or criticism that has been leveled at Ellen White, but we will note several general types. After evaluating these criticisms, the reader will be able to differentiate between the humanness of the earthly container and the authority of the message carried by the container. (See 2 Cor. 4:7).
Chapter 44 is a case study of the shut-door issue, a major source of contention for more than a century.
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In the final section, Continuing Relevancy of the Messenger, we will ask: Does Ellen White measure up as a messenger bearing Gods message in modern times? Does her seventy-year ministry establish her credentials as a divine messenger? We will note how she did her work, both privately and publicly, and review the virtually seamless relationship between her ministry and the development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Seventh-day Adventists have generally believed that Ellen G. White was Gods messenger. Why did Adventists in her day come to that conclusion, and why have Adventists since her death also arrived at this conclusion?
In our closing pages we will ask: How relevant is Ellen White today? She died in 1915. Can she speak in any meaningful way to a transistorized global village where information by the Internet is instantaneous to computer operators throughout the planet, where science always seems to have one more solution to the worlds needs in the nick of time? Though circumstances have changed drastically, and the socio-political world is sharply different, we will note that Ellen Whites writings speak pointedly to our day, and are increasingly relevant to this end-time.