[Last of a three part series.]

by Jack Hoehn, February 13, 2015:    What to Do with a Deceased Prophetess –

[Part 1 of this series discussed the world Ellen White was born into and ministered in.  Part 2 of this series discussed the aging and death of Ellen White, and the steps taken by her church and her descendants after her death.  This article will attempt to offer some suggestions of what do we do, now that our prophetess is truly dead and gone, with the literary trove she left behind.  Do we bury her books with her body?  Or should we attempt a partial or total resurrection of Ellen White?]

Set Free From Inerrancy

Set Free from Inerrancy

What do we do now?

Adventism’s supporters and detractors struggled with the place of Ellen White in the church while she was alive.  And certainly since her death in 1915 at the beginning of the previous century, there has been no more divisive topic in Adventism than what to do with her now.

I am not going to do anything more than mention the pivotal 1919 Bible Conference suppression,[1] and then the decades of ascendancy in Adventism of a practicing inerrancy for both the ancient inspired writers of the Bible and for our recent prophetess’s inspiring works.  Personally, in my childhood and youth I think I was blessed by being taught that Ellen White spoke for God and that was that.  If Sister White said it, then God said it, so who was I to quibble?  And there is a concrete and satisfying solidity to this that can appear on a bumper sticker.

1.)   GOD SAID IT.  ELLEN WROTE IT.

        I BELIEVE IT.  THAT SETTLES IT.

It did not lead me far astray.  It kept me from many dangers and snares.  It made me a bit cocky and argumentative.  But youth thinks, I still have time.  I am not perfect now, but I am young, if I work a little harder, or live a little longer, or try a little harder, I will overcome cheese and sugar and pickles and listening to football games on Sabbath or enjoying Playboy magazine or releasing sexual tension by this means or that.  I’ll be an overcomer.

It is harder to do that when you get to the other end of life and you learn that pickles and coffee and earrings are not the real barriers to righteousness.  You also begin to see that a simplistic view of life does not answer the actual complexities of life.  That simple view of inerrancy may erode all at once when the guardian angels promised do not appear when you really needed them.  Or when a dread disease takes away some beloved perfectly practicing vegan health reformer.

Perhaps it comes like the young mother who suddenly understood that by not having sugar and cookies and icing in her kitchen, she was depriving her children of all the happy childhood memories she had had, by a health reform totalitarianism.  They’ll never know what a cupcake is, she suddenly realized.

Or in my own case, when time after time after time I began to see that the world absolutely, positively, conclusively was older than 6,000 years by so many different forms of evidence that my simplistic young earth creationism could only be supported by denying truth.

John Walton, a conservative Old Testament scholar who concludes that Genesis 1 is telling about the inauguration of worship by God, not the chronology or physical formation of life, was approached by a lady with her KJV Bible in hand who demanded of him, “Professor Walton, why don’t you just take the Bible and accept it as it reads?”

He says he wanted to hand her his copy of the Hebrew Bible and say,  “Here, friend, why don’t you?”

Inspiration Doesn’t Prevent Mistakes and Errors

Ellen White has written many things that are right (see below). But she has also said some things that are quite wrong.  You all know some of them.  It is not always a sin to be sick. Volcanos and earthquakes are not caused by burning coal fires underground.  Human children in heaven may not sprout little wings.  Waldensians may not have been seventh-day Sabbath keepers.  Amalgamation of man with beast may not have created certain brownish races of men.  Masturbation may be a blessing, not a curse, at some times in life.  And a vegan diet may only be healthy with great care, not being ideal for most of the world, although largely plant-based diets certainly are healthy, with a little animal food or with supplements.  All modern drugs are certainly not poisons although most 19th century ones were.[2]

The Bible itself must also be interpreted to understand the truth.  It is impossible to take every word literally without interpretation![3]

Errors and Sins

Scriptural inerrancy is an unsupportable heresy.  The same is true of Ellen White inerrancy.  Both views are idolatrous – worship of a fallen human prophet, instead of the Creator.   Bibliolatry – worshiping the words of Paul, John, James, or Moses – is an error that can be forgiven, as long as we don’t stubbornly refuse to believe the truth when it is shown to us.  Accepting as infallible truth every message Ellen White gave as from the throne of God was always an error, but persisting in this inerrancy error, when God shows us greater truth, is also a sin.

But there is another sin even worse than these.

2.)  WHITE’S ERRORS PROVE SHE WAS A FALSE PROPHET.  BURY HER DEEP AND THROW AWAY THE SHOVEL.

Jesus warned that the sin of ignoring the Spirit when He prophesies whenever or wherever or by whomever He wants to is not pardonable.[4]  Can you disregard Jonah’s message to Nineveh just because he was a coward and a grumbler?  Will you cut out the Psalms because David was a man of blood, sexually hard to satisfy, and at times quite dishonest?  Will you ignore Paul because he used hard-to-understand arguments, some of which don’t make sense?  Will you ignore the preaching of Peter because he lapsed into racial discrimination after God told him not to discriminate?

Dare you ignore these?

Will you deny this?  “True love is not a strong, fiery, impetuous passion.  It is, on the contrary, an element calm and deep.  It looks beyond mere externals, and is attracted by qualities alone.  It is wise and discriminating, and its devotion is real and abiding.” (Adventist Home, p. 51)

Or this?  “A Christian reveals true humility by showing the gentleness of Christ, by being always ready to help others, by speaking kind words and performing unselfish acts, which elevate and ennoble the most sacred message that has come to our world.” (Life Sketches, p. 86)

Will you refuse to be moved by this?  “The greatest want of the world is the want of men—men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.” (Education, p. 57)

The first book in her Conflict of the Ages series begins:  “God is love.  His nature, His law, is love.  It has ever been; it ever will be.” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 33)

Her last book in the same series ends:  “The great controversy is ended.  Sin and sinners are no more.  The entire universe is clean.  One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation.  From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space.  From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.” (Great Controversy, p. 678)

And most helpful to me personally:  “Every association of life calls for the exercise of self-control, forbearance, and sympathy.  We differ so widely in disposition, habits, education, that our ways of looking at things vary.  We judge differently.  Our understanding of truth, our ideas in regard to the conduct of life, are not in all respects the same… So frail, so ignorant, so liable to misconception is human nature, that each should be careful in the estimate he places upon another.” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 483)

Now I understand that Ellen White said her works were a lesser light to the Bible, and that she was not a prophet but a messenger or servant of the Lord (although I am not sure I understand the real difference).  But frankly, now that Ellen White is dead and has been physically buried, I don’t think we should resurrect her, or deify her, or ignore her.  I think we should canonize her.

3.)  TRUE PROPHETS LIKE ELLEN WHITE SHOULD BE CANONIZED.

“What!” you exclaim. Are you trying to make Ellen White equal to the sacred Scriptures?  Yes, but you may not understand what I mean, so let me explain a little more.

Canonizing does not mean taking all 2,500,000 words, all 5,000 articles, all her recorded sermons, all her Testimonies to individuals, all her 100 books or even Steps to Christ, and making them a new Bible.  It means doing what the church did to Moses, and to James, and to Esther, and to Nehemiah, and to the Psalms, and to the Gospels or the letter of Paul to the Laodiceans.

The church over time selected those portions deemed inspired and, as directed by God, preserved those that became sacred, not because everything the prophets wrote was of equal validity or was perfect logic and factually immaculate, but because through the imperfections of human messengers we glimpsed pictures of God.[5]

It is clear that all the Bible has been edited.  The Hebrew was edited; we have only copies of copies.  The Greek was edited; we have only copies of copies.  Everything James said (he made some errors in his speeches in Acts) is not accepted as inspired – just those key 5 chapters in his little book.  And even those Luther had problems with!  But they have been edited and selected by the church.

How dare we edit the messenger of the Lord?  How dare we not![6]

Ellen White is situational and persuasive

Ellen White need not be an infallible authority to remain our inspiration.  Wheat is a valuable seed, enclosed with a small coating of chaff.  You release the value of the wheat by smashing it and then winnowing away the chaff to leave the wheat.  You thresh it.  You refine it.  This is what has been done with all inspired writings.

I have read all the published works of Ellen White, and hundreds if not thousands of her articles.  I have learned time and again that her authority is both situational and persuasive.  Sister White did insist that we listen to her,[7] but she then tried to persuade us with logic, reason, and quoting scriptures.  She does say, Because God spoke to me, listen.  But she never says, Because I heard God, you just have to believe it or else, and I never make mistakes.

Much of her practical instruction was given in a 3rd world situation.  Ellen White’s details often fit better in a developing world than a developed world.  We may need one kind of book very slightly edited for use in the rural 3rd world not yet plumbed and electrified, and a different, more updated and edited book for use in the developed cities of the world.

Replace the Estate with an Institute

The time for the preservation in an embalmed form of all the 19th century writings of Ellen G. White as quasi-infallible is over.  The church needs to replace the Ellen White Estate dedicated to protection and conservation of a dead person, with an EGW Institute of Advanced Communication, where her works are edited and improved instead of merely conserved.  A place where the new and young of today translate her works not into German or Zulu or Chinese, but into videos and internet blogs.  Where the emphasis is not on preserving her words, but on reapplying her ideas and principles to the problems and needs of today.

The timeless insights and inspired ideas Ellen White was given should be edited, collected, freed of obvious errors and  misstatements, and republished in today’s language.

Two Suggestions for Readers

#1)  It is time to stop trying to believing something just because Ellen White saw it, if you can’t also see it yourself.  Ellen is now dead and asleep in Jesus.  You are the one with your eyes open, and if God can’t help you to see something, don’t pretend you do just because our deceased prophetess saw it.  She is responsible for what she saw; you are responsible for what you see.

#2)  On the other hand, don’t ignore anything she said just because you don’t understand it at first glance!  Is all fiction bad for you?  Are movies places where the angels leave you at the door?  Natural 21st century self says, What crazy ideas!  Wacko!

But is it?  Is it possible much or most fiction is bad for you, even if not all?  Is it true that all movies have no effect on you?  Would some things you watch not offend angels?  Would you and Jesus sit together and watch “24 Hours” or “Game of Thrones” every week?  I don’t offer an answer, but think about it.

Consider what she wrote; give it a chance.  Then reject the chaff and modify the absolute statements, but keep the kernels of truth found in most of them.  Cheese may no longer be completely “unfit for human consumption,” as it was before pasteurization, but it is still pretty high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Unlock Ellen White from the false burden of infallibility, and welcome her back into your life as a good and wise friend.  As we must do with all our friends, forgive her when she makes a mistake or is frankly wrong, but love her when like a good friend she is so often just exactly what we need.

Death Freed Ellen White of Infirmity; We May Free Her from Irrelevancy

By editing out the situational and questionable parts of her writings, by consensus of believers, we can offer our children and our communities a great blessing, inspired direction for their lives from Ellen White. Her edited words can stand beside those of the other inspired spokesmen and women for God through the ages.

I will close this series with my personal testimony that a fallible Ellen White remains the most important spiritual influence in my life, bar none.  God has spoken and continues to speak to me through her writings.  God who at sundry times and in diverse manners spoke to our fathers through the prophets, and then sent his only beloved Son, has not left us now without witness, His servant, Ellen White.  So I finish with a bit of plagiarism.

“Friends, Adventists, countrymen, lend me your ears,
I come to praise Ellen,
not to bury her.

The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones.

Must it be so with Ellen?

I speak not to disprove what others say,
But here I am to speak what I do know.

You did all love her once, not without cause.
What cause withholds you then to honor her now?

Bear with me.  My heart is in the coffin there with Ellen,
And I must pause till it come back to me…. 

Here was a prophetess, when comes such another?” [8]

 

(This is the last of a three-part series on The Expired Inspired. If you found this series interesting, please share it on Facebook or other media with interested friends. Concise constructive comments and suggestions on the proper use of the writings of Ellen White are now welcomed from readers. Please read all three parts before you comment.  All comments will be read with interest, but may be edited by the author to retain those that are constructive and on the topic of these articles.)

FOOTNOTES:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1919_Bible_Conference_(Adventist)

[2] I have published on Ellen White and Medicines in Adventist Review, April 25, 2002https://archives.adventistreview.org/2002-1517/story1.html 

[3] See Christian Smith,  The Bible Made Impossible—Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Brazos Press, 2011).

[4] Mark 3:29.

[5] Encyclopedia Britannica summarizes:  “The process of canonization was relatively long and remarkably flexible and detached; various books in use were recognized as inspired, but the Church Fathers noted, without embarrassment or criticism, how some held certain books to be canonical and others did not. Emerging Christianity assumed that through the Spirit the selection of canonical books was “certain” enough for the needs of the church. Inspiration, it is to be stressed, was neither a divisive nor a decisive criterion. Only when the canon had become self-evident was it argued that inspiration and canonicity coincided, and this coincidence became the presupposition of Protestant orthodoxy (e.g., the authority of the Bible through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit).”

[6] Ellen G. White:  “There is no excuse for any one in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an 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 error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation.”  (Review and Herald, December 20, 1892)

[7] I believe that to overcome the 1800’s culture of gender discrimination and general dismissal of Adventists after 1844 as foolish enthusiasts, the supernatural was necessary to gain the prophetess a hearing.  This is not simple enthusiasm; this is something more.  “Listen up!” is the message the public visions gave.  But being inspired did not overrule the need for persuasion and reason in Ellen White’s ministry, as all her written works attest.

[8] My paraphrase is, of course, from Marc Antony’s speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.