Disagreeing with Our Mother
By Jack Hoehn, November 19, 2012: I am a Seventh-day Adventist because of Ellen White, and I remain a Seventh-day Adventist using the writings of Ellen White, even though all Adventists, including the most conservative of us, understand that we have to give her permission to be wrong.
All healthy humans come to a time in our lives when we learn the necessity of forgiving those we respect and admire and love for being wrong. We begin life assuming those godlike parents of ours can do no wrong. We become mature when we forgive them for their errors and failures, and love them still, or learn to love them again in that acknowledgement.
A Personal Example
I was loved, nurtured, and supported by my late father Gus Hoehn, MD. But I had to forgive him for his German voice of command, and I was too different from him by temperament and personality to happily work with him for long periods of time. He was extroverted and I am introverted, and that led to my keen teenage ability to see his imperfections. But even in my dismay over our conflicts my father retained the deserved respect and admiration of which he was worthy. As life has progressed and I have learned more of my father’s history and background my recognition of his imperfections has been paralleled by an equally increasing admiration for his strengths. I love and respect my father more now that I more fully understand. I easily and happily have forgiven him his few failings, and continue to be blessed in many ways by his example and life. I’m proud to be his son.
May I suggest that for Adventists, if we are to become mature Christians, we need to have the same experience with our spiritual Mother. We need to learn to honestly see Ellen G. White’s failings and forgive her for them, so that our admiration for her and the value of her ministry to us becomes deeper and far less problematic.
Our Relationship With EGW Changes
In our spiritual childhood it may have been necessary and even helpful to see our spiritual Mother as immaculate. I personally don’t feel scarred by my early acceptance of the Spirit of Prophecy as straight from Heaven’s throne. What can be damaging, however, is a prolonged infancy and refusal to grow in spiritual maturity and learning to recognize when Ellen White was mistaken in details or when her emphasis may have been appropriate for a certain time and day, but is no longer useful in our time.
It has helped me a lot in maturing to my present admiration and use of Ellen White as my spiritual guide to remember the following points.
A.) She never called herself a Prophet, but a Messenger.
B.) She never claimed to be error-free, and she clearly is not factual error-free.
C.) She refused to permit her writings to be used to decide doctrinal, historical, chronological questions.
D.) Her writings are not in the form of Divine Commandments, but written as persuasive arguments. She claimed by spiritual authority the right to be heard, but she does not claim by spiritual authority that we have to stop thinking about or questioning her messages.
E.) She speaks of the necessity in the future of changing our doctrines and beliefs, as the Lord gives new light.
F.) It is clear she was at times in error in describing natural phenomena.
G.) It is rare that she was wrong in foundational spiritual truths, and this is why she remains for me the Messenger of the Lord.
Malaria Not Caused by Foul Miasma
All of us know that leprosy is not caused by eating pork, malaria is not caused by a foul gas arising from swamps, all drugs are not poisons, and masturbation does not cause insanity. Every Adventist who rides a bicycle, wears her slacks without a skirt, eats mustard on vegelinks, uses prescription drugs, or believes that volcanoes are not caused by coal fires underground and superheated steam disagrees with Sister White.
But many of us still consider she was God’s messenger to our church. We have learned that Ellen White appeals to our reason in her writings, not to supra-human authority, so we are free to accept what is reasonable and forgive what is not. And we thank God for using her to build our church and guide us in the right direction, imperfections and all.
White Errors Are Not White Lies
Ellen White was not lying and deceitful about these things, she was honestly wrong. For her to write things that were not true was not a lie, it was an error. An error becomes a sin only when we refuse to edit and correct it, once we learn better. We become liars if we continue to publish her writings without editing the factual errors in them. We become idolaters (worshiping the human prophet instead of God who inspired the prophet) if we continue to use and promote her words as verbally inspired, when we know they were spiritually, not factually inspired.
What in Ellen White’s writings are inspired spiritual insights, and what are applied facts added and used to explain or apply that spiritual insight?
Spiritual Insight Given Ellen White:
God is the Creator; life exists because God planned and executed it. It did not and could not have happened by itself by chance and self-organization of matter. Even the existence of matter itself is a Divine creation. The Sabbath is to remind us of that fact.
Presentation of that Insight
Context 19th Century Thought — Darwin and Huxley claimed to have found a principle of biology, making a Creator unnecessary. Geology claims earth is old enough to give plausibility to the claim that evolution had enough time to happen as claimed. Chronological tools have not yet been developed showing reliable natural clocks. Bacterial are not yet known, and nothing is known of DNA and genetics.
The Messenger of the Lord attacks Darwinism and Infidelity with the tools at her disposal, Bible reasoning. So she writes the following arguments:
“…the assumption that the events of the first week required thousands upon thousands of years, strikes directly at the foundation of the fourth commandment. It represents the Creator as commanding men to observe the week of literal days in commemoration of vast, indefinite periods. This is unlike His method of dealing with His creatures. It makes indefinite and obscure that which He has made very plain. It is infidelity in its most insidious and hence most dangerous form; its real character is so disguised that it is held and taught by many who profess to believe the Bible.”
She also admits, in 1890,
“Relics found in the earth do give evidence of conditions differing in many respects from the present….God designed that the discovery of these things should establish faith in inspired history…”
But she warns,
“ Those who doubt the reliability of the records of the Old and New Testaments, will be led to go a step further, and doubt the existence of God; and then, having lost their anchor, they are left to beat about upon the rocks of infidelity.” 
However she was surprisingly not denying science as a source of truth.
“All truth, whether in nature or in revelation, is consistent with itself in all its manifestations…Science opens new wonders to our view; she soars high, and explores new depths; but she brings nothing from her research that conflicts with divine revelation….the book of nature and the written word shed light upon each other.”
So in 2012 we find she was wrong about the age of the earth; it is not 6,000 years old. She may or may not be wrong about the length of the Creation week, it may have been longer and longer ago than she or anyone could prove in the 19th century. So is she discredited as a false messenger?
Same Battle, Different Tools
The spiritual truth of Ellen White’s message remains the same in 2012 as it was in the 19th century. God is still the necessary and only cause of life. Darwinism and Infidelity are still bankrupt.
But the difference is that today we would no longer use Ellen White’s Biblical arguments to fight Darwinism. There are better ways to do that.
Today we can show Darwinism is falsifiable by scientific arguments not available to Ellen White. DNA has proven there is no single tree of life. Evolutionary investigations have shown the limits of evolution, and show that evolution is not the creator of new features of life, but only adaptability to external conditions of existing features. It is an amazing conservation of design that has been proven by these experiments.
This frees us to go back to our Bibles and reinterpret the ancient stories to show their compatibility with proven science. But we can continue to oppose the philosophical hijacking of science to the cause of atheism and infidelity.
Ellen White’s inspired messages remain true. Adventists today will support the identical spiritual truths, but we need to use better arguments and different tools than were available to the Lord’s Messenger in the 19th century.
And my Spiritual Mother said something I never forget:
“There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make an error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation.”
ISBN 1-876010-73-8 in discussing Ellen White’s health messages finds that she is usually scientifically correct when she tells us What we should do(87% agreement), and sometimes correct when she tries to explain Why (45%) we should do it. This would suggest the Whats were inspired (they may all be correct and modern science may be 13% in error!), and the Whys were 19th century applications or explanations using knowledge accessible to the messenger and her audience, so they ended up doing the right things, even if sometimes for the wrong reasons.