Nomenclature and Honorific Titles in Ellen G. White’s Works
by William Abbott, August 19, 2016: Nomenclature and honorific titles in the Seventh-day Adventist church have a history. The practice of leadership, headship if you will, is revealed in the names and titles Seventh-day Adventists used, and did not use, to honor and distinguish themselves one from another. The entire works of Ellen G. White are now available and searchable online. In short order you can search individual words and phrases and study the context and usage comprehensively and directly from the primary sources. Everyman has indeed become an historian.
Reverend appears fifty-nine times in what I will call EGW Works. It is used as a title when historians are being quoted in reference to churchmen before and during the Reformation. It is used in reference to Psalm 111, “Holy and reverend is his name,” several times, and finally a few places along these lines:
If Christ were on earth today, surrounded by those who bear the title of “Reverend” or “Right Reverend,” would He not repeat His saying, “Neither be called masters, for you have one Master, the Christ”? From Heaven With Love, p. 409
According to the teaching of the Scriptures, it dishonors God to address ministers as “reverend.” No mortal has any right to attach this to his own name, or to the name of any other human being. It belongs only to God, to distinguish Him from every other being…. “Holy and reverend is his name.” We dishonor God when we use this word where it does not belong…. The Father and the Son alone are to be exalted. Sons and Daughters of God, p. 58
Not surprisingly, nowhere in EGW Works does Mrs. White use the term “Reverend” as an honorific title of address or use the abbreviation Rev. except when acknowledging source material in notes and bibliography (and as an abbreviation for the book of Revelation).
Pastor occurs 233 times. Interestingly Mrs. White uses “Pastor” as an honorific title only three times, all in the last years of her life, and only once in a written address. “Pastor” is used by Mrs. White in the context of a work, a labor. She never uses it as a verb, “to pastor.” I saw no references to women as pastors. If Mrs. White does in fact refer to women or a woman as pastor somewhere, we can assume from EGW Works it would be in reference to a work, not an honorific position or title.
Elder appears 9,770 times in EGW Works. Its usage is predominantly as an honorific title. It is invariably how Mrs. White and her Adventist contemporaries addressed the churchmen or leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist church. “Elder and Mrs.” was virtually the exclusive nomenclature of address for ministers of the gospel and the leadership, supplanting the early “Brother” (28,888 times) and “Sister” (16,360 times) which were frequently used in the formative years. In later years, “Brother” as a title was most frequently referring to a member who was not a minister of the gospel. Brother and Elder were simultaneously honorific titles and functionally terms of distinction. I did look at a couple of gender-neutral names that jumped out at me but I am confident the term “Elder” was exclusively used to honorifically address only males in EGW Works.
The overwhelming sense one gets from this brief overview of EGW Works is that the use of honorific titles establishes the “headship” of the Seventh-day Adventist church during Ellen White’s life as exclusively male.
William Abbott serves as a local elder in Columbus, Nebraska, and works in the forest products industry.