by Jack Hoehn
What happened to the children of an early Seventh-day Adventist who questioned the infallibility of Ellen G. White?
By Jack Hoehn, June 5, 2014
Isabel A. Newbold was my patient when she recently died in Walla Walla on March 25, 2014, at 94 years of age. She was born February 23, 1920, in Battle Creek, Michigan, the youngest daughter of Elizabeth Reith Stewart and Dr. Charles E. Stewart of the Battle Creek Sanitarium.
Isabel was a short energetic woman who all her life would just show up anywhere. I mean in Korea; in Kenya; in Loma Linda; in Paradise, California; or Walla Walla, Washington. It was my privilege to provide some medical care for her in her later years, and arrange for hospice care for her last few hours. But my real connection is that she was the best friend and college roommate of my wife’s mother. My mother-in-law Dorothy Dutcher and Isabel Stewart roomed together at the Glendale Sanitarium School of Nursing, where they both graduated as registered nurses. During those years they each were courted by and then married young doctors from Loma Linda, and short petite Isabel and her young husband, the tall Robson Newbold, MD, were at the wedding of Dorothy and Dean Hoiland, MD, my wife’s parents.
Robson became a surgeon, and he and Isabel served the Seventh-day Adventist church as medical missionaries all their lives. They worked in African mission hospitals; they served in Korea; they raised six children in mission stations, several of whom became medical doctors and missionaries themselves.
All my adult life I have known Isabel and her family, and have found them to be cheerful, serious, dedicated, and conservative Seventh-day Adventists. One of their sons is now a colleague of mine in Walla Walla, where we both work for the Adventist Health Medical Group; Dr. Scott Newbold, MD, is also a surgeon. Scott himself served as a missionary in Guam before coming to Walla Walla, and like his parents, he and his family are faithful, church-attending, vegetarian, tithe-paying, 100% Seventh-day Adventists.
After his mother died, I asked Scott about his mother’s siblings, his uncles and aunts, the other children of Dr. Charles E. Stewart of Battle Creek. “Scott, I asked, did all your uncle and aunts remain Seventh-day Adventists?” “Yes,” Scott replied, “as far as I know, they have all remained in the church.” I have known some of Isabel’s siblings, there is a family line of ENT specialist Dr. Stewarts, all excellent physicians, all around five feet tall, and as far as I have known, all faithful Seventh-day Adventists–the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of the Battle Creek doctor.
Charles E. Stewart, MD, Adventist Rebel
The main reason I was curious about the spiritual condition of his other children is that Dr. Charles E. Stewart of Battle Creek Sanitarium was an Adventist rebel! Firstly, he was the right hand man of the founder of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, Ellen White’s protégé Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. In the Battle Creek Sanitarium reports of the early 20th century, Dr. Charles E. Stewart is listed as the second or third doctor on the medical staff and served as its vice-president. When the Battle Creek Sanitarium was taken out of the hands of the Seventh-day Adventist church, Dr. Stewart remained by Dr. Kellogg’s side. In 1907 he published what has come to be known in the history of Adventism as “The Blue Book.”
This notorious pamphlet (named for the color of its paperback cover) was published in the name of Dr. C.E. Stewart as A Response to an Urgent Testimony of Mrs. Ellen G. White, Concerning Contradictions, Inconsistencies and Other Errors in Her Writings.
Dr. Stewart claimed that the booklet contained materials that Ellen White herself asked to be compiled, quoting her letter to 22 of the leaders of the Battle Creek Sanitarium (including Dr. Stewart), dated March 30, 1906, which his booklet reproduces. In it Ellen White [her words are boxed] wrote the following:
- “Recently in the visions of the night I stood in a large company of people. There were present Dr.[John Harvey] Kellogg, Elders [A.T.] Jones, Tenny, and Taylor, Dr. [David] Paulson, Elder [William S.] Sadler, Judge Arthur, and many of their associates. I was directed by the Lord to request them and any others who have perplexities and grievous things in their minds regarding the testimonies that I have borne, to specify what their objections and criticisms are [emphasis added]. The Lord will help me to answer these objections, and to make plain that which seems to be intricate.”
- “Let those who are troubled now place upon paper a statement of the difficulties that perplex their minds, and let us see if we can not throw some light upon the matter that will relieve their perplexities [emphasis added]. The time has come for the leaders to state to us the perplexities of which they have spoken to the nurses and to their associate physicians. Let us now have their reasons for talking with the students in a way that would destroy their faith in the messages that God sends to his people. Let it all be written out, and submitted to those who desire to remove the perplexities.”1
Several people did write out their concerns about the fallibility of Ellen White’s testimonies. One was the previously-mentioned Dr. [David] Paulson, Dr. Kellogg’s assistant in the Chicago Medical Mission. W.C. White, Ellen’s son and chief assistant after her husband died, records the following: “In 1906, Dr. David Paulson, one of the most enthusiastic and interesting men I have ever known, wrote a letter to Mrs. White, stating his opinion, his convictions, regarding her and her work….I am…very much interested in Mrs. White’s response to it…I quote:
- “In your letter, you speak of your early training to have implicit faith in the Testimonies, and say, ‘I was led to conclude and most firmly believe that every word you ever spoke in public or private, that every letter you wrote under any and all circumstances, was as inspired as the Ten Commandments [emphasis added].’
- “My brother, you have studied my writings diligently, and you have never found any such claims, neither will you find that the pioneers in our cause ever made such claims [emphasis added].”
- “In my preface to ‘Great Controversy’… you have no doubt read my statement regarding the Ten Commandments and the Bible, which should have helped you to understand the matter under consideration.”2
Apparently, others wrote similar letters, for by July of 1906 she had sent out scores of letters totaling hundreds of pages, including one to Dr. Stewart.3 One year later, in May 1907, Dr. Stewart sent out his compilation of questions, demanding a reply within 30 days, or he would publish it. That seems to have been his intent, for it was published4 (although Dr. J.H. Kellogg claimed that Dr. Stewart or the Battle Creek Sanitarium did not publish it, but Archibald R. Henry, a former Review and Herald manager, did).5
Well, is she a prophet or isn’t she?
The booklet then has 18 sections, 16 of them with a specific complaint about alleged infallibility and inerrancy of Ellen White’s writings. It was a challenge to the growing “authority” of Ellen White against the doctors, nurses, students, and staff of the Battle Creek Sanitarium and their leader, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who was departing from Adventism theologically and administratively. The booklet show where Ellen White over time changed her advice, at one time writing that it was God’s plan that students at the Battle Creek College should sign a contract requiring two years of service from them after graduation, but later, as the college slipped out of denominational control, suggesting it was wrong to so indenture the graduates, when other institutions needed their services.
Another was Ellen White’s shocking statement made in the Battle Creek Tabernacle that “I am not a Prophet!” Yet her work was being treated as though she were another Isaiah or Jeremiah!
Another section features apparent contradictions between counsels against use of butter and then later cautions saying, “Don’t forbid all the use of butter,” especially for poorer Adventists who could not afford the more expensive oils and vegetable fats. He said that he had evidence that she herself ate oysters long after telling others to become vegetarians.
He challenged her use of other authors in her books, especially the withdrawn “Sketches from the Life of Paul” that was a hastily done rehash of another’s book.
He accused her of using her tithes for pet projects while telling the rest of us to put it into the conference’s hands.
And then there were specific issues to do with Dr. Kellogg and his expansion plans for a Chicago Hospital.
In 2013 these complaints may sound a bit tepid, since so many of them have either been accepted as valid but not troubling, or are only a problem for those who feel that verbal inspiration and inerrancy are marks of a “true prophet of God.” The White Estate has provided a rebuttal to parts of the book, and to the same arguments repeated in other anti-Ellen White literature since that time.6 This article is not, however, about any of the specific criticisms or the answers given. In general, I agree that many of the objections and issues have little impact on my personal evaluation of the inspiration and value of Ellen White to me and to my church. What I am interested in is the fruits of this questioning of infallibility to Adventism. Does it drive people out of the church founded by Sister White, or keep them in it, to have a broad and flexible view of her as an advocate for Heaven instead of an authority from Heaven?
What happens to the children of Adventists who question EGW infallibility?
What I have found more interesting is the influence such a down-to-earth view of Ellen White’s ministry had on Dr. Stewart’s family, children, and grandchildren. Dr. Stewart did not claim that Ellen White was not a messenger for God. In fact he was very troubled when she said, “I am not a prophet!” He considered her “a fallible messenger.” He believed that even though Ellen White spoke for God, she could make mistakes, be wrong, and change her message or edit it later to clarify it or even change it.
Here is what Dr. Stewart wrote in his blue-covered little book:
“In conclusion, lest my motive in making these comparisons and asking these questions be misunderstood, I wish to state that my only object in gathering them together and sending them, has been to comply with the request made by you in the testimony which prefaces this. I have an honest and sincere desire to know the truth, and I desire above everything else that the Lord will help you to make a plain and truthful statement of the facts. Ever since my first acquaintance with your work I have considered you as a fallable (sic) messenger of the Lord, and still continue to do so, and I know of no one outside of the Bible writers who has written so much which is so thoroughly wholesome and good.
Personally I have received great benefit from your instructions and advice, and trust my confidence in you and your work shall not be shaken by the determined efforts of some of the leading men of the denomination to make myself and associates accept their interpretation of your writings [emphasis added].
I firmly believe that the Lord has led you in a remarkable way. I also believe that at times you have been, as you stated in your testimony, influenced by what others have told you, and as a result have written and made statements which have been used greatly to the detriment of innocent persons. I feel confident that were you aware of all the facts, you would not for a moment countenance many of the things that are being done to undermine the confidence of the people in our work [Battle Creek Sanitarium].
The Seventh-day Adventist denomination as a whole has placed you in such a position that they must accept everything you say or write as being inspired and equivalent to the Bible, and for this reason, should you make a mistake you can readily see how far-reaching and terribly unjust the results might be, especially if there be individuals in places of authority who are of a designing nature [emphasis added].”7
So what happens to the children of a Seventh-day Adventist who accepts Ellen White as a messenger of the Lord, but a fallible messenger–one who could and did make mistakes–one who as a lesser light was useful but not equal to the Bible in authority?
Answer: They remain faithful, active, dedicated, careful Seventh-day Adventists to the second and third generations. They are supporters of the church; they are missionaries; and they are pastors, at least in the case of Dr. Charles E. Stewart’s descendants whom I personally know.
On the other hand, what happens to the children and grandchildren of Seventh-day Adventists who are taught that Ellen White is a supreme authority for Seventh-day Adventists, and must be believed as gospel fact that when she teaches that creation had to be in six short days about 6,000 years ago; that volcanos are caused by coal fires under the earth; that Adam was fourteen feet tall; that Christ will return through an open space in Orion and that we will take a week to travel to Heaven, stopping for the Sabbath on an inhabited planet on the way; that cheese is unfit for human food, and that drugs all kill rather than cure?
Others who know the true stories of the children and grandchildren of doctors and pastors and evangelists who promote an immaculate Ellen White need to answer that question. I know that many of them have left the church, and that many teachers with that “immaculate Ellen White attitude” have had their students leave the Adventist church.
I am just sharing a story that I can personally vouch for, having been blessed by personally knowing Dr. Stewart’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren as faithful Seventh-day Adventists.
Mrs. Stewart’s prayer
Isabel’s mother, Elizabeth Reith Stewart, left her daughter this poem:
And our thots turn to Him at the Easter tide
Who took up His cross and upon it—then died
For you and for me and for all who will come
And follow His steps ‘til He leads us safe home.
There forever to dwell through Eternity:
God grant our family united will be.8
It seems like Charles E. Stewart’s family has remained quite united as her mother prayed, perhaps surprisingly or perhaps not, many in a vigorous Seventh-day Adventism, in spite of the church controversies their parents were involved in.
A high appreciation for the ministry of Ellen White and a low acceptance of her as an authority on the details is consistent with a healthy productive Adventism, in spite of “the determined efforts of some of the leading men of the denomination…”
 “Blue Book” page 9. See: https://www.truthorfables.com/stewart/1-stewartarespon.html
 https://www.whiteestate.org/books/bhp/bhpc11.html pages 194, 195.