Ellen White versus the Bible
Having investigated the criticisms against Ellen White, it seems that some SDAs prefer to take the non-committal option of agreeing that while the prophetess got some things wrong, she was originally inspired by God, then lost it along the way. The Bible teaches in Deuteronomy how we are to evaluate a prophet - that is, see if the prophecies are fulfilled. If they are, the prophet is of God. If not, they are a false prophet. Either all of Ellen White's prophecies are true, or none are.
"You may say to yourselves, 'How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?' If, what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him." Deutoronomy 18:21-22
The New Testament also speaks about false teachers and the means of ascertaining their legitimacy. In 1 Corinthians, Paul teaches that spiritual discernment should be developed and practiced in the church in order that believers could ascertain whether supposed truths were from the Holy Spirit or Satan (also see 1 Timothy 4:1-4). The key to spiritual discernment is knowing the ways of the Lord (through Scripture) and walking in them (through obedience).
It seems that genuine spiritual truth was sought by some SDAs in the early days (such as Uriah Smith, for example). But these believers soon fell under the pressure to conform to the leaders' views. Any conflicting view was quickly supported by new "visions". Willie White (Ellen's son) has testified in writing to the frustratingly frequent requests of his mother to endorse a wide variety of new teachings, new directions some members wished the church to embrace.
Ellen White did use her influence in this way, with the effect of labelling herself the only true authority able to interpret scripture and the will of God. By actively participating in discouraging others from interpreting Scripture according to God’s leading, Ellen White had a spiritual monopoly on God's Word. It may come as a surprise to some faithful Adventists that history seems to suggest Ellen White was in fact nothing more than a convenient mouthpiece for the real power-brokers (including James White, who had courted and groomed Ellen since she was eleven years of age). People were unlikely to accept the dogma of disagreeable bullies from the fraternity of Freemasonry (such as James White and his cronies were). What better sweetener than to present a frail, supposedly uneducated woman to be God’s visionary? It is strongly recommended that readers conduct their own research into the connections with Freemasonry in the early Adventist movement. For a stunning surprise, it may be worth having a look at a photograph of the White’s burial plots and the Masonic obelisks that adorn them.
From the beginning of their lives together, Ellen and James travelled as itinerant evangelists gathering a flock to whom they could sell their teachings. During these years, they lived only on the donations and goodwill of others – who accommodated and fed them, helped them gather audiences and even helped them escape a brush with the law for disturbing the peace and causing a public nuisance. Some interesting news pieces exist from these times, which conclusively show that Ellen White gave false testimony in a court of law (Incident in Atkinson, by Bruce Weaver).* These articles also reveal just how unusual the behaviour of the group was at this time. The earliest form of Adventist worship was decidedly Pentecostal, sensual and sensationalistic, offending the sensibilities of the local unbelieving populace.
From time to time, visions and "miraculous feats" (such as the infamous meeting where she supernaturally held a heavy Bible above her head for hours) seemed only to serve the purpose of further establishing Ellen’s claim to be exclusively in touch with the Divine Will.
When SDA church members challenged Ellen White about The Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844 (a time when it was expected that Jesus Christ would return to the Earth), she explained that, essentially, God’s angel whom she observed writing the date in a book, had obscured part of the message with his hand. Essentially, God’s messenger had made a mistake (Early Writings, p 74).
Some important evaluative questions emerge from these early days of the Seventh Day Adventist movement.
Some Adventists believe that Ellen White did not call herself a prophet. However, in Selected Messages (Vol. 1, p 27) she states that all of her writings are inspired by God. She repeatedly used God's authority to convey her personal beliefs, and stated "I was shown" or "I saw" as prefaces to her many "inspired visions." She also referred to herself as "the lesser light", which illuminates (but mostly contradicts) the greater light.
Would Elijah, Jeremiah or Moses have had the audacity to use the same imagery as was used to describe Jesus? Ellen White never acted to prevent her works from being upheld as authoritative, even when the charges of plagiarism were proven. She also profited substantially from the publication of her "inspired" works. I wonder why the Bible does not record how much profit John the Baptist made from his teachings?
Ellen White claimed to have authored over 5000 articles, 49 books and 57 manuscripts. However, she does not credit the original sources from which she extensively borrowed and even copied word-for-word at times.
Her Sketches from the Life of Paul was drawn mostly from Conybeare & Howson's Life and Epistles of Paul, and was withdrawn from sale after it was found by in-house investigators that the plagiarism could not be denied. Her book, The Great Controversy contains whole paragraphs and passages of thought lifted with breathtaking audacity from D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation and Wylie's History of Protestantism. No quotation marks or acknowledgement of any kind is offered. In fact, the edition of The Great Controversy published in 1911 sheepishly introduced quotation marks and credits more than 400 sources that had previously been passed off as White’s original material in earlier editions
The SDA church has repeatedly come under criticism for covering up this plagiarism. Later editions of White's books are altered in an effort to conceal her earlier plagiarism. All of her major books contained plagiarism and paraphrasing and heavy reliance on whole sequences of ideas and interpretations of Scripture.
The SDA church was taken to court on charges of plagiarism, which is to be found in Ellen White's book, Sketches from the Life of Paul. The church lost the legal case and the book was withdrawn from print.
The SDA church published a response to the charges of plagiarism, admitting that White had copied from others. Their defence was that there were no copyright laws at the time - therefore she hadn't done anything wrong. This misses the point entirely, and admits that Ellen White sometimes wrote from the inspiration of men, not God – though some of the very passages under question begin with statements indicating that she wanted readers to see them as direct revelations from the Lord whilst in a supernatural trance.
Ellen White's descriptive, heavenly "visions" are often found, upon closer investigation, to be nothing more than detailed descriptions of pre-existing paintings and drawings illustrating heaven in other Christian books of her time.
After the Great Disappointment, the SDA church underwent a major crisis in beliefs. The 1844 doctrine was retained - but the significance changed. It became the date marking the beginning of the Investigative Judgement. By sticking to the date "given by God" no one had to admit their mistake, the church maintained its distinctiveness from other Sabbath-keeping churches, and the members were kept in confusion, under subjection financially, and under control (through fear of losing their salvation). Ellen White was relied upon to interpret and embellish the Scriptures. Her visions conveniently occurred at times and were frequently in relation to matters of controversy in the church.
Many of Ellen White's teachings have been altered or abandoned altogether by the modern SDA church - yet the General Conference has issued statements that the fundamental tenets of Adventism, including Ellen White's divine inspiration, have not altered since the church was founded.
Some of the altered teachings of Ellen White:
- she initially supported William Miller's date fixing of October 22, 1844
- while Miller admitted his mistake, she made no such admission of personal error - but instead gave the explanation that (in her vision) a heavenly hand had obscured the message accidentally
- she initially supported the "shut door" theory of the church, which holds that no salvation was possible after 1844
- after 1844 passed, and members began to realise that there was no salvation for their children born after 1844, she changed her view, but denied ever having held any other view than the revised "open door" theory
- she advised women on the "Reform dress code" given by God, but when it became burdensome to her personally, gave up wearing it herself (although others were admonished for their failure to comply) Testimonies for the Church, v 1, p 525.
- Ellen White taught that the keeping of the Sabbath would allow believers to receive the Seal of God. SDAs now believe that the Sabbath is the Seal of God, when the Bible clearly teaches that the Seal is the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30)
- Divisions occurred among believers about the keeping of the Sabbath after it was discovered that SDAs had kept the Sabbath from morning to six pm instead of evening to evening for nine years. A conference meeting failed to deliver unity among the believers on the issue, so Ellen White conveniently had a “vision” which would settle the matter once and for all, supporting Joseph Bates' view that Sabbath keeping was a sign of loyalty to God. White took it a step further, to make it a salvation issue.
"Sabbath is the separating wall between believers and unbelievers", Early Writings, p 85
"The Sabbath will be the great test of loyalty, with people receiving either the Mark of the Beast (Sunday worship) or the Seal of God." The Great Controversy, p 605.
- in more recent times, the church teaches that ". . . those rejecting the Sabbath will receive the mark of the beast." 27 Fundamentals of the SDA Church, p 167.
- Ellen White asked (apparently on behalf of church members) the angel in her next vision why they had messed up the Sabbath keeping times and kept it incorrectly all this time, but he replied that it wasn't for her to know why just yet.
Unbiblical teachings of Ellen White:
- she taught that vegetarianism was not only a healthy lifestyle choice, but that in the last days, those who ate meat and animal products would not be saved by Jesus at the second coming.
- she taught that sexual appetites could be controlled by diet and certain types of bed linen, A Solemn Appeal, pp 65-66.
- she taught that tea and coffee drinking were forbidden by God, again revealed in a "vision" A Solemn Appeal, p 257.
- she taught that saying and/or believing that one is saved whilst an imperfect Christian is sinful and incorrect, Signs of the Times, Feb 8, 1897 "No one is saved who is a transgressor of the law of God" The Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald, June 17, 1890.
- Ellen White endorsed the teaching of "soul sleep" after 1844, as the church realised that the soul's translation to heaven at death presented a conflict with the Investigative Judgement doctrine. The Bible teaches that after death, the spirit of a person goes to be with the Lord. (II Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23)
- Ellen White taught that we would stand before God without a mediator (Jesus), to await the final judgement of our works The Great Controversy, p 495. Hebrews 7:25 clearly states that Christ will never cease His
work as our mediator.
As a second generation, institutionalised SDA, I have struggled to make sense of one key question.
Why are Ellen White's teachings, which are clearly unbiblical, and in part copied from others, still being upheld and defended in the modern church?
The entire belief system of the SDA church would be undermined if the truth of Scripture were to be seen apart from the ‘filter’ of Ellen White regulating its interpretation. Truth would flow from the study of the Word and doctrines would be contradicted - starting with the Investigative Judgement.
I believe that there are those in the upper eschelons of SDAism who knowingly and wilfully withhold the truth about the false foundations of the movement and their “prophetess”. The church has attempted to maintain control of members (through fear of the investigative judgement and works based salvation) and to guarantee continued the financial support of church members who feel they are not clever enough to interpret the Scriptures (especially prophecy) for themselves.
Generations of church leaders have wrongly and deceitfully ceded authority to Ellen White, whilst living hypocritical and spiritually fruitless lives. Therefore, God has given them over to believe their own delusions, and hence His will for today's church will never be done. The SDA movement is clearly not part of the faithful Body of Christ that God is building in these times.
I believe God's primary message for the SDA church is to reaffirm faith in Jesus' atoning work at the cross BEING THE PRICE PAID ONCE AND FOR ALL FOR OUR SINS.
Scripture tells us that Christ want us to know that because of His great love and His immense sacrifice, there IS no condemnation, no investigation of our works which determines salvation. There certainly will be a judgment – to reward the saved according to their works, but not to save them. Salvation can never be earned by works, and once a person has truly accepted Christ and abides in Him, they can be assured of their salvation.
* According to Bruce Weaver, “recently resurrected newspaper accounts of a February 1845 weekend incident in Atkinson, Maine, involving Ellen Harmon, James White, Dorinda Baker, Israel Dammon, and others, call into question the reliability of Ellen White's autobiographical sketches.” For more information, see Incident in Atkinson, an online publication by Bruce Weaver.