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Chapter Twenty Three
The 1982 Prophetic Guidance Workshop
This workshop was sponsored by the Trustees of the E G White Estate to help work through a response to the new data coming to notice through the historians of the church, and the challenges of Walter Rae. Space forbids giving a detailed account of the presentations made at that conference and the discussions that took place. With so much material now available to challenge the traditional understanding of Ellen White's work, particularly as held by Fundamentalist Seventh-day Adventism, this workshop represented a high point in the church's attempt to honestly come to grips with the new information. The audio tapes reveal frank discussion among leaders in the White Estate regarding the borrowings of Ellen White and her mistakes in the area of history, science and theology.380 It was agreed that this material did not negate her inspiration, but would certainly affect her function and authority. It was also agreed that this material should be shared with the church membership at large.381
Tragically this was not to be. As with the 1919 situation, it was felt that Seventh-day Adventist church members would not be able to adjust to the new information because it was so different to what they were accustomed to hearing.
Where Are We Today in Seventh-day Adventism?
Recently one leading Seventh-day Adventist administrator, upon reading the 1919 Bible Conference minutes, said, "Those fellows are just where we are today." This observation is true. Their problems are still our problems. The inspiration of Ellen White is not so much under question as is the nature and function of her authority. Also in question is how prophetic inspiration actually functions. These questions will not go away. As Edward Heppenstall once said, "The most troublesome thing is suppressed truth. It will not stay suppressed."382
It is obvious that there have always been two schools of thought in Seventh-day Adventism. On the one hand are those progressives like the Daniells-Prescott group who expressed themselves freely at the 1919 Bible Conference. They are opposed by the fundamentalist mind set such as the Holmes-Washburn group who eventually succeeded in removing Daniells from the presidency and ushered in a period where no one could express themselves freely about the issue of inspiration, function or authority of Ellen White. At stake is how Seventh-day Adventists should use Ellen White's writings? Is Seventh-day Adventism truly a Protestant church that recognises the Bible as their sole authority in matters of doctrine? Are church members free to hold some positions different to Ellen White in their understanding of the Scripture?
Currently there are many divisive voices within Adventism. Some cry out that in the 1950s the church went into apostasy when it printed Questions on Doctrine and moved away from some traditional Seventh-day Adventist positions. Such a one is Ralph Larson, who states, "We consider historic Adventism as pre-1957."383
Part of the purpose of this book is to show that the Seventh-day Adventist Church received a setback in the 1920s when it succumbed to the influences that were operating in the Protestant Fundamentalist world. However, when a more healthy approach to education came in the late 1940s the church began to correct itself toward a more Evangelical stance with the openness of the 1950s. In this they reflected more the original Seventh-day Adventists who above all else wanted openness and honesty. They also reflected Ellen White who said, "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."384
After the 1920s diversion into Fundamentalism it was the understanding of Ellen White's commitment to education that led to accreditation of the church's educational institutions. Part of the fruitage of this move influenced the church to come back more toward an Evangelical stance, particularly in the area of inspiration. In fact, the material she left the church about how her inspiration functioned could have spared the church from this diversion. If only this material had been made available before 1958 in Selected Messages, Vol. 1, and before 1980 when more was published in Selected Messages, Vol. 3. If only the letter that W. C. White wrote to S. N. Haskell, and endorsed by Ellen White, had been made freely available. This letter sets out some of her limitations.385 If only Seventh-day Adventists had been shown the letter that W. W. Prescott wrote to W. C. White where he complains that our people were not being told the truth about how Ellen White's books were being put together?386
Well-meaning church leaders may have, over the years, felt it unwise to tell church members these things. But in failing to communicate the truth regarding Ellen White's writings to the membership they have by default caused irreparable damage in the minds of many sincere Seventh-day Adventist people in regards to her ministry.
As it was in Seventh-day Adventism in 1922 with the demise of Daniells and others so it was again in the early 1980s. Some who were well informed in regards to how her inspiration operated were perceived to be out of harmony with the teachings of Ellen White and suffered accordingly. The problem they faced was how they could explain their convictions regarding her inspiration in a few sentences and correctly inform those who had held incorrect views for most of their lives. Subsequent research and publications were to show that many of these people were better informed than their accusers. M. L. Andreason once gave words of advice to people in his day who were prone to accuse others of not believing in the inspiration of Ellen White when he said, "Never say that because someone disagrees with you that he does not believe the Testimonies. He may not believe your interpretation of them, but he may believe them as fully as you do, and have a more balanced view"387
Failure to have a correct understanding of the role and function of Ellen White has caused large numbers to leave the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Many others, while still remaining in the church, have become nominal Adventists. A survey in the South Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists revealed there is absolute confusion over this subject.388 Many good books have come off denominational presses that reflect recent research, yet few are read by the average church member.389 And because the average Seventh-day Adventist is barely aware of what has been learned over recent decades, they continue to have a more fundamentalist approach to the subject of inspiration of the Bible and Ellen White. Many would have sympathy with the position stated by Russell Standish: "The Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy are without error in their original manuscripts."390
Theological controversy continues within the Adventist church. Some Fundamentalist voices cry out that in the 1950s the church leadership took the church into apostasy, and today's leadership carries on the apostasy. Most of the theological controversy could be settled if the contestants would discuss the differences from the Scripture only and so be truly Protestant in their approach. However, this is not the case. Many believe they must justify their position from Ellen White. And yet, this is quite contrary to her counsel: "The Testimonies of Sister White should not be carried to the front. God's word is the unerring standard. The Testimonies are not to take the place of the Word of God. . . . Let all prove their positions from the Scriptures and substantiate every point they claim as truth from the revealed Word of God."391
The big issue here is, "Are Seventh-day Adventists a free people? Are they free to go to the Scriptures and seek truth as did their founding fathers? Or are they locked into the traditional teachings of their past? With all the knowledge they have now at their disposal the current generation of Seventh-day Adventists have lost their innocence. Heppenstall has said, "Freedom belongs to man on religious grounds. Freedom is the gift of God. . . . The most troublesome thing is suppressed truth. It will not stay suppressed. . . . Religion that is afraid of investigation and scholarship tends towards superstition and emotionalism. . . . Blind credulity as to the truth one holds is the refuge of sluggish minds. It relieves the individual from real study of God's word. It settles all differences by silencing all opposing voices and denying the right to ask questions. This takes the meaning out of religion, leaving it ignorant, superficial, intolerant. . . . The Christian possess both love of the truth and love of his neighbour. As the man who is sure of his wife is free from jealously, so the man who is sure of the truth he holds can afford to be courteous and tolerant with others. . . . It is easier to abuse a man by charging him with error and wrong motives than to take time to find out what he actually does believe."392
The theological battles taking place between Fundamentalist and Evangelical Seventh-day Adventists in the 1950s, and again in the 1970s and on, is in reality Seventh-day Adventism striving to re-align itself into its more natural position of Evangelicalism after its slide into Fundamentalism in the 1920s. Original Adventism, as it was meant to be is best personified in the writings of Ellen White. Both she and the movement she founded are by nature Evangelical and not Fundamentalist.393
Seventh-day Adventism was meant to be a free, open, living, dynamic movement. While Ellen White was alive she fought for this, but the church slipped into the narrowness of Fundamentalism after her death. Her legacy, with the setting up of an education system, caused the church to become better educated and return closer to Evangelicalism. The struggle taking place inside Seventh-day Adventism today is caused by a movement striving to be what God always wanted it to be. The great issues of the Protestant Reformation are still being fought within Seventh-day Adventism. That is, the battle for freedom to go directly to the Bible and the Bible alone for doctrine and teaching. Only as the Seventh-day Adventist church consistently takes an evangelical stance toward the nature of the inspiration and function of Ellen White can this be possible.
Church growth expert Carl George was invited to study the strengths and weaknesses of the Adventist Church by the Columbia Union Conference Executive Committee in January 1987. He stated in his published report these words of advice to the Seventh-day Adventist Church: "Your movement has to make a decision about Ellen White. I know this is a very, very difficult and touchy area, but sooner or later your movement has got to make a decision about the character of the ministry of Ellen G. White. . . . The dilemma facing Adventist in the days ahead is how you will value Ellen G. White and her contribution to the founding of your movement. She is indisputably a witness to Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. How much more than this should be imposed upon her will take a generation of scholarly debate to sort out. Adventism has nothing to fear from a close examination of its origin, its writings, its founders, because Adventism does not hang or fall with Ellen G. White. It hangs or falls with faithfulness to Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour."394
380 International Prophetic Guidance Workshop audio tapes available but currently banned from duplication from the EGW Research Centre, Avondale College, Cooranbong, NSW 2265, Australia. [back]
381 International Prophetic Guidance Workshop paper presented by Roger W. Coon Entitled "Continuing Education of Church Members and Providing Bases of Confidence." Available from the White Research Centre. Some of the points he stresses are that most Seventh-day Adventists have a seriously impaired view of how inspiration works and that we need to admit our mistakes in the past regarding the function of EGW's inspiration. [back]
382 Edward Heppenstall, "Academic Freedom and the Quest for Truth", Spectrum, winter, 1972, p 36. [back]
383 Ralph Larson, "Issues: the Real Issue, the Side Issues and the Pseudo Issues", (Steps to Life, 1992), p. 39. Response to NAD book Issues. Russell Standish also takes a similar position in The Remnant Herald, June 1993, Number 5. Under the title "Historic Truth Number 27." He claims that "The SDA truth was upheld in general prior to 1956. Since then many truths have been destroyed." [back]
384 CWE, p. 35, The reader is encouraged to read the counsels given in pp. 28-54 of this book. Also the writer's article in The Record, March 1993. "Increasing Light". [back]
385 Letter W. C. White to S. N. Haskell. October 31, 1912. In this letter W. C. White sets how that his mother is not an authority on history etc. The letter is particularly valuable in that it is endorsed by EGW. [back]
386 Letter W. W. Prescott to W. C. White, April 6, 1915. "The way your mother's writings have been handled and the false impression concerning them which is still fostered among the people, have brought great perplexity and trial to me. It seems to me that what amounts to deception, though probably not intentional, has been practised in making some of her books, and that no serious effort has been made to disabuse the minds of the people of what was known to be their wrong view concerning her writings. But it is no use to go into these matters. I have talked with you for years about them but it brings no change. I think, however that we are drifting towards a crisis which will come sooner or later and perhaps sooner." [back]
387 Chapel talk at Loma Linda University 30/11/1948 by MLA. To be found in the MLA file at the Heritage Centre, Andrews University, Michigan, U.S.A. [back]
"Ellen G. White And Contemporary Adventism In The South Pacific Division."
Eleanor M. Scale. Unpublished paper presented to the 1989 year end Executive
Committee of the SPD. In this she shows that of those involved in her survey of
She goes on to conclude "These people are at risk if they become aware of difficulties and are unable to discuss their problems with mature members or ministers. Perhaps as church leaders, we should accept a portion of the responsibility for some of the problems that still exist in this area. Whether consciously or unconsciously many have, at times, made claims for and demands on Ellen White's writings that far exceed those made on the writings of Bible Prophets." [back]
389 Books such as: Martin Webber, Some Call it Heresy. (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1985) chapter 15 "A Nonprophet Organization?" Tim Crosby, Is Your God Real? (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1988). George W. Reid, A Sound of Trumpets. (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1982) George E. Rice, Luke, a Plagiarist? (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1983). Alden Thompson, Inspiration. (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn, 1991). George Knight, Reading Ellen White, (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald. 1997). Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger of the Lord. (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 1998). [back]
390 Russell Standish. The Remnant Herald June 1993, Number 5. No publisher stated. under article entitled, Historic Truth No. 8, The Nature of Inspiration. [back]
391 EV, p. 256. [back]
392 Edward Heppenstall. "Academic freedom and the Quest for Truth," Spectrum, Winter 1972. 34-38. For more reading on Ellen Whites relationship to Evangelicalism see, A. N. Patrick's article "An Adventist and an Evangelical in Australia? The case of Ellen White In The 1890s". Lucas, no. 12, December 1991, pp. 42-49.[back]
393 For further reading regarding Seventh-day Adventism's relationship to Fundamentalism see W. G. Johnsson's editorial "Are Adventists Fundamentalists" in Review, January 8, 1981, p. 14.[back]
394 Carl George, Empty Pews, Empty Streets. (Columbia, MD: Columbia Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Publications, 1988), pp. 63, 68. [back]